Shalom

[The following is the text from the Denver Christian School graduation commencement address, given May 26, 2017]

I’m told there is a formula that I’m supposed to follow for graduation speeches. I know because I looked it up. I am supposed to tell you that now that you’ve completed this graduation milestone, all your dreams are out there and waiting for you. Then I’m supposed to tell you that you can accomplish anything in the world if you just put your mind to it and work hard enough. And then I’m supposed to tell you to never stop believing in yourself because you are all such wonderfully amazing people. In all the recent graduation speeches I glanced over, this pretty well sums up the message I’m supposed to give you here. (1) Follow your dreams because all your dreams are out there waiting for you. (2) With enough hard work you can accomplish anything. (3) You’re amazing, so never stop believing in yourself.

Except for one thing, I don’t believe any of that is true. Not all of your dreams are out there waiting for you because some dreams are just never going to happen. You cannot accomplish anything if you just work at it hard enough. And sometimes believing in yourself doesn’t get you very far.

I made one commitment to my daughter Bethany in preparing this speech. I told her that I would not tell any stories about her. And I am going to honor that commitment. So instead I am going to tell you a story about my son, Andrew.

Many years ago when my children were small—I think Andrew was in preschool, maybe four or five years old. There was an evening when all the children were put to bed and the house was quiet. My wife and I were sitting in the kitchen talking about our day. And then we hear the thumping of little feet down the hallway and into the bathroom—which is not uncommon. Then we hear the sink turn on. And the water runs, and runs, and runs. Now it’s time to go investigate. Knock on the door and gently open it. There stands Andrew by the sink washing his hands. He’s got blue marker all over his hands.

“Now Andrew, it’s after bedtime. You shouldn’t still be up drawing and coloring. You can make pictures tomorrow. Let’s go back to bed.”

“Okay,” says Andrew. “Just don’t go in my room.”

What?  Now, of course, I have to go see the room. Upon entering his bedroom I look around and see on every single wall, etched in blue marker, what can only be described as the Sistine Chapel of preschool iconography. Robots, spaceships, race cars, aliens—you name it.

Then Andrew says, “Mom don’t look behind my door.”

Of course, now we absolutely have to look behind the door. More robots and spaceships. And several letter “A”s – he was just learning his alphabet, and knew his name stated with A.

I say, “Andrew did you do this?” As if I needed to ask. It’s his bedroom. He’s got marker on his hands. He initialed it. Of course he did it. He can’t hide that.

A few weeks ago I walked through this school when all the senior synthesis projects were out. I’ve seen the pictures and read the stories. You’ve opened your lives and let all the rest of us peek through a few doors and see some of the experiences that have influenced the person that you have become. In celebrating graduation we haul up the cute pictures and tell the fun stories and reminisce about the good times.

But let’s be honest. For every single one of us there are a few rooms in our lives where we don’t want anyone to go. There are a few doors in our lives that we don’t want anyone to see behind. Every single one of us has some marker on our hands, and we can’t hide it. So as much as I wish I could tell you that every single one of your dreams is waiting for you and they can all come true, that’s not the way life works. There are some rooms in your life that other people will see that sometimes you wish weren’t there. As much as I wish I could tell you that with enough hard work you can accomplish anything, there are some things in life you just cannot do. There are some doors we would rather have stay closed. Some other doors that we wish would open. And sometimes we don’t get to decide which ones are which. And I’m sorry to say that just believing in yourself is not always enough. Aa awesome as we all wish we could be sometimes, we’ve all got some kind of marker on our hands and we can’t hide it. That’s the world facing you. This is what you are walking into.

So if life is not all about your dreams, if it’s not about all the things that you can accomplish, if it’s not about believing in yourself, then what has all of this been about? What has Denver Christian school been preparing you for? The school summarizes its mission in three words: inspired, equipped, and engaged. Inspired for what? What have you been equipped for? What is it you are supposed to engage in this world? I can answer that for you in one word.

Shalom.

It’s a Hebrew word in the Bible that is translated as peace. Scholars such as Nicolas Wolterstorff and others have suggested that there is a much deeper meaning for shalom than simply peace. Wolterstorff suggests that perhaps a better English translation for shalom would be flourishing. Flourishing is what we use to describe when something has what it needs to exponentially develop and take off. After a good spring rain, the strawberry plants in my yard flourish. Meaning, they take off and grow and gain health in the way they were meant to do. They have just the right conditions with just the right nutrients in just the right environment to fully become everything they are supposed to be. They hit their highest potential because the environment and all their surroundings are just right for that to happen. That’s flourishing. That’s shalom.

God created the world for shalom. He created the world for flourishing. In fact, the very first instruction he gave to the very first human beings in the Bible was an instruction to fill the world and cultivate it, to develop it. God made this completely awesome universe and then placed humans here—men and women—and said to them, now this is yours to take care of. Figure it out, open up and unpack all the mysteries and all the potential that has been folded and packed into this wonderful universe by the wonderful creator.

Shalom. Flourish. That’s why you are here. That’s why God created you—for shalom, for flourishing; having just the right environment with just the right surroundings to take off and grow and become everything you were created to be. That’s what Denver Christian School has strived to provide for you, an environment in which to flourish—an environment for shalom to happen. Alright, I admit—because I know you’re thinking it—not every single class on every single day in every single subject has always felt like flourishing. But I bet you that if you think back upon all your years of schooling, there were moments of flourishing. There was a class, or a project, or a teacher, or a sports team, or an instrument, or a musical performance, or a coach, or an art creation, or a group of friends—there has been something, or in fact I bet there have been many instances in your time at Denver Christian School when you have flourished. The teachers and the staff and the parents have tried as best we can to make an environment here where you have been able to explore and unfold and unpack all the mystery and all the beauty that God has folded and packed into this creation.

A few weeks ago as I walked around in this building to see all the senior synthesis projects, I saw the way in which each one of you captured some kind of theme or idea or image that represents flourishing for you. For some of you it was expressed in music, some it was expressed in a sport, some it was expressed in color and art. For some it was expressed with an image like flying from an airport, or a bird venturing beyond a cage, or plants growing from lightbulbs. But each one of you took hold of an image or an idea that communicated the environment and surrounding for you to experience shalom—flourishing. Because that’s why God made you.

Tonight this chapter ends. And you move on to the next. But one thing does not change. You are still created by God for shalom—to flourish. Whether it’s science or math or art or accounting or construction—whether it’s college or a job or a gap year, God wants you to know shalom—flourishing. There is still more wonder and beauty in this creation to be unpacked and unfolded and discovered and developed.

So tonight, it doesn’t matter what’s hiding behind certain doors of your life. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got marker on your hands. Because shalom flourishing is not really about your dreams. It’s not about what you can accomplish. It’s not about believing in yourself. This isn’t about your world at all. Shalom flourishing is about God’s world. That is the reason why Denver Christian School pours so much into inspiring, equipping, and engaging. So that you will go from here to be a part of God’s shalom to this world. So get out there and flourish.

From Surviving to Thriving

Recently one of my vehicles wouldn’t start and needed a jump from another vehicle.  That was fine for the first time.  But then it happened again, and then again.  Realizing that the battery was pretty much dead, I borrowed a charger and plugged in the battery overnight for a full charge.  The next morning it started right up on its own.  Great! Problem solved.  But when I went out a few hours later to run an errand, nothing.  The starter wouldn’t even turn over.  There was nothing I could do to bring this battery back.  In the end, the only solution was to get a new battery.  And now the vehicle starts up perfectly every time.

But I got to thinking during that time when I was trying to constantly jump-start and charge a bad battery.  I was going around and around to no success with simply trying to get that car to survive, when what I needed was a solution that would get my car to thrive.  I would hop in the driver seat just hoping that when I turned the key, something would happen.  But what I needed was to turn that key with the confidence that it would not only start this time, but would also continue to start the next time and the time after that.

In a small way, this episode with my car reflects something much larger in the last two years of my life.  Since I first received my cancer diagnosis in early 2015, my life has been in survival mode.  There has been month after month of chemo, radiation, more chemo, and two major surgeries.  And the priority through those two years has been making it through to the next day.  I turn the key this day, hope I have enough energy to get by for this day, and tomorrow just hope I can find the energy to do it again.  2015 and 2016 were survival-mode living.

Now that I have been in remission for a while, and have been able to gain some of my energy back, I have been eager to get out of survival-mode living, and back to truly thriving and enjoying life again.  But I have to admit, the transition has not been as easy as I thought it would be.  After two whole years of backing away to focus on my health, normal life just doesn’t turn back on overnight.  I assumed that a one-time jump start was all would take to begin running smoothly again.  That hasn’t been the case.

What does it take to truly make the transition from surviving to thriving?  Jesus says in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Thriving begins by waking up each day in the realization that God has provided the blessings I need on this day to live fully for him, for his glory, for his shalom.  Rather than just turning the starter key and just hoping something happens, thriving is about living in assurance that, when I turn that key, God will make something happen.

picture2My car needed more than a one-time jump start.  The only way to get my car working properly again was to pop open the hood and make the necessary repairs to ensure the vehicle would not only survive, but run well enough to thrive.  Sometimes our souls need more than a one-time jump start as well.  Sometimes we all need to take time to pop open the hood of our souls and perform the necessary tune-up so that our lives can truly thrive.  How’s your engine been running lately?

till next time…
~ pastor tom

Revising Advent

During advent this year, my church is working through a series on the idea of revision.  Maybe this is also a good time to pause for a moment and look ahead at what this revision means.

Revision

aqny0za7x0k-lionello-delpiccoloThere were a few times in my life as a student when a professor would send one of my papers back to me asking for revision.  To revise an assigned paper meant having to take a close look at what I had already written, and then analyze the content of the paper for something that might be headed in the wrong direction, or formed the wrong conclusion, or maybe just need stronger clarification to clearly communicate the main point.

But it is not just students.  We all face revisions in our lives all the time.  A job change may force us to revise our professional skills.  A health crisis may force of to revise our physical abilities.  A change of income or unexpected expense may force us to revise our budgets.  Changing schedules and events may force us to revise our plans and our calendars.  We are always analyzing, tweaking, and clarifying the many details of our lives based on changes that come our way.

Maybe we don’t want to think about Christmas as a time when God forces us to face the unpleasant—but necessary—revisions in our lives.  We live in a world that would rather embrace Christmas as a time of celebration and joy.

Revision Can Be Difficult

It often seems like revision is a forced activity.  We are not the ones looking to revise our plans, or revise our budgets, or revise our careers.  Rather, these are revisions that are pressed upon us by changing circumstances that we did not necessarily predict, and cannot necessarily control.

And so sometimes revision can be an arduous task.  We do not look at revision as a pleasant experience.  In 2015 when I was going through months of cancer treatment, my family and I were forced to make some revisions to our family life.  My wife and children had to revise their list of chores to make up for all the around-the-house jobs I could no longer accomplish.  I had to revise my time to allow for extra hours of sleep, and daily trips to the radiation department at the cancer center.  Those were revisions in our lives we would all rather not have to confront.  But they were necessary adjustments to make in order for my family to make it through that year.

Jesus Is All About Revision.

So as much as we may not like facing circumstances that force us to revise something in our lives, Jesus came at Christmas to bring much needed renewal to our world and to our lives.  Some of that we welcome with celebration and open arms.  We welcome the gift of God’s grace.  We welcome God’s forgiveness.

But what about the ways that Jesus presses us toward revising our lives in some not-so-comfortable ways?  Isn’t this at the heart of the conflict Jesus had with the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders of his day?  Jesus confronted a religious system entrenched with tradition and routine, and he turned it upside-down.  And for those who lived comfortably within the predictable routines and traditions of religion, this was a forced revision that was not at all welcomed.  These are the same class of religious leaders that would eventually push a death sentence for Jesus.

Revising Advent

dabkxsptaek-gareth-harperMaybe we don’t want to think about Christmas as a time when God forces us to face the unpleasant—but necessary—revisions in our lives.  We live in a world that would rather embrace Christmas as a time of celebration and joy.  And certainly Christmas is about celebration and joy.  But the birth of Christ also took place so that God could change us, renew us, and redeem his world.

In this season of advent, as we anticipate celebrating again the birth of Jesus, what revisions come along with it in your own life?

Peeking Around the Corner

Last month, the council of Horizon took a weekend retreat to pull back and spend some time contemplating and discussing where we see Horizon in the U-Turn Church process.  It has been a year now since the council adopted the U-Turn Church as a model for Horizon’s renewal.  Our evaluation of the process made a few observations clear.

Communication

The council recognizes that there may be several people at Horizon who have never read the U-Turn Church book, or have followed the forums, gatherings, or articles that have been made available.  And many of these people are asking some basic questions about the U-Turn and what it means.

So the council acknowledges that we need to continue to dedicate ourselves to communicating the details of the U-Turn with the people of Horizon.  This may be written articles, verbal announcements included in the Sunday worship time, videos showing the U-Turn in action, or stories and testimonies of others involved in the U-Turn.  We will continue to demonstrate the U-Turn however we can; with words, pictures, videos, and stories.

What we want to communicate is a glimpse ahead at what is coming around the corner.  We are peeking ahead to start showing what the U-Turn looks like further down the path.  This might be stories of ministries at Horizon that are already working ahead, or stories from other churches that have been working at the U-Turn longer than us, and can show us what is coming.

Only the Beginning

Churches who have been through the U-Turn process unanimously agree that it takes time.  We have been working on this at Horizon for a year.  And the council’s evaluation of the process acknowledges that we still have much to do.  That should come as good news—that the U-Turn is not a sprint.  It is not a quick burst of sudden energy, and then it’s over.  Rather, the U-Turn is a process that is meant to stick.  So it is worth taking the time to get it right.  And it is worth taking the time to include everybody.

One of the council’s observations of this pace is a recognition that Horizon is—in many ways—still in the beginning stages of the U-Turn.  This recognition comes with an acknowledgement that we still have further to go before we really start seeing the results we intend.  Our U-Turn goal is to become a church that embraces vibrant outreach to unchurched people in all our ministries.  This goal requires more than simply tweaking our programs.  It requires changing our culture so that all of our members embrace outreach to unchurched people as our highest priority.  Only after we make significant accomplishments in this culture-shift will we really begin to see results.

So at this stage of the U-Turn we are still peeking ahead around the corner to envision what it will take to make the shift and begin to see results.  Our process at Horizon is still laying a foundation for the U-Turn.  Much of the U-Turn itself is still to come.

Grit (the art of determination)

Thom Rainer in his book Breakout Churches observes that most churches who begin the process of seeking renewal through a U-Turn type movement never make it.  The reason for this, according to Rainer, is not a lack of resources, or lack of expertise, or the wrong people.  Rather, it is a lack of determination.  Churches began a process of seeking renewal, but did not see it all the way through.

Because the U-Turn is a process that takes some time before real results start showing up, most churches give up before they get there.  Determination takes something called grit.  Girt can be described as keeping one’s resolve when faced with hardship.  All churches who make it through the U-Turn renewal acknowledge that the beginning stages of the process take enormous determination.  Many struggles come in the U-Turn at first.  There are some joys to celebrate along the way.  But initially those joys come through a tremendous amount of hardship.

In the middle of struggling through the U-Turn, it helps to keep peeking around the corner at what is coming.  We know that we live in a community of people who do not belong to a church—the harvest is ripe.  We can find assurance in knowing that Jesus is still Lord of his church—God’s heart for calling hurting people back to him will always be manifested in the church that abides in him.  And we can find assurance in striving ahead to the examples of other churches who have made it through the U-Turn—showing us that God continues to live through his church yet today.

till next time…
~pastor tom

Setting the Pace for a Marathon

Marathon runners aren’t born, they’re made.  That is to say, anyone who wants to run a marathon needs to train their body to build endurance for such a long race.  The apostle Paul compares the life of discipleship to a marathon.  And like a marathon, a life of discipleship takes training as well.

Running Too Fast

For over a year now, the council at Horizon has been pursuing a process of transforming Horizon’s vision that we have been calling the U-Turn Church.  The process has involved making changes that provide a more familiar surrounding and more familiar experience for people in our community who may be unfamiliar with church.  But at the same time, the council is very committed that we make these changes in a way that invites everyone to come along—new attenders as well as long-time Horizon members.

These two commitments—a vision for becoming an outreach church, and a desire to effectively disciple Horizon’s current members—give us a reason to constantly monitor our marathon pace.  So we ask ourselves, are we running ahead too fast?  Are we pushing so quickly into a renewed vision for outreach that we might be leaving others behind along the way?

Admittedly, I think for some of us the answer to that question has been “yes.”  Several people at Horizon have been honest to let me know that it has been a struggle to keep up with trying to learn new songs and embrace the new features of Horizon’s worship experience.  It is important that Horizon gathers in a ministry that is engaging and meaningful for everyone.  So as we move ahead, we keep tweaking the details along the way to make sure we are not running too fast.

Running Too Slow

But then there is the other side of our U-Turn commitment—a vision for becoming an outreach church.  And so we evaluate where we are in the process of moving in that direction.  We want to evaluate the process because we want to make sure we keep moving towards outreach.  One of the keys for implementing this vision is momentum.  Horizon needs to make sure we do not abandon or stall or turn back in our efforts to reach out to unchurched people.

Training for a marathon takes a consistent regiment of activity.  I know from a year of cancer treatment that once you let go of a regular pattern of activity, it’s like sliding backwards and having to start all over again.  Marathon runners set incremental goals and keep stepping forward and moving ahead.  They know that consistency is the key to making progress.

And so Horizon also looks to keep moving forward.  The command of Jesus for the church in Matthew 28 is a command to GO and make disciples.  We do not stay where we are.  We do not expect others to come to us.  We do not demand that unchurched people in our community conform to our preferences.  We go to them, and we bring the message of the gospel to them in a way that will invite them to Jesus.

Setting the Pace

The tricky part about running a marathon together is that we may all be trying to set a different pace.  Some of us at Horizon may be ready and eager to sprint ahead.  Others of us at Horizon may need to slow down.  But we know this from scripture: that Jesus wants us to run this race of discipleship together.  And so the challenge of finding a pace that we can all keep together is worth the effort.

For those who may be frustrated that we are running too slow, remember that we are still moving forward.  A slower pace is still a forward pace.  Slowing down does not mean we are quitting or turning back.  It simply means we are making sure everyone is keeping up.

For those who may be frustrated that we are running too fast, be encouraged that we value your effort and participation.  In fact, we value your participation so much that we set a pace that works for you.  This is a marathon of discipleship that is not about being the fastest.  It is a marathon of discipleship that echoes the words of Paul in Philippians 3:12–14.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

till next time…
~pastor tom