Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Shaping Up - I

Vacations are a great time to review ones life. Beginning to Blog has given me a vehicle by which to process my life audit. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve been thinking of the things that have shaped me. Here’s my list:

What shaped me into being a Follower of Christ

Parents: Mom & Dad brought me to church regularly and influenced me profoundly

Rebellion: At one point in my life, I rejected everything Mom, Dad and the church taught me about being a Christian. It wasn’t fitting or working.

Return: My parents faith became my faith as I returned to Christ as a junior in high school. I became a follower of Christ rather than a churchy person.

What shaped me into being a Global Christian

Bai Bankura and Fanny Farmer: Bai Bankura came from Sierra Leone to stay in my home when I was 10. He let me ask all kinds of questions. I remember setting at his feet and listening to his beautifully accented English.

Fanny Farmer was a missionary I heard about in YMWB (Young Missionary Workers Band – we had no instruments) as a child. I think I just liked her name. I got to meet her when I was a young pastor in Brighton, MI. What a treat.

South Africa (1982): My first missions trip to build a church in Venda, South Africa. I discovered missionaries were real people and the world was far different than portrayed on the 6 O’clock news.

Subsequent Missions Trips: I began to have my world view changed as I began to see the philosophy shift from paternalistic to partnership. Still much work to be done there.

Steve Edmondson: Steve raised my view of what missions could be. Missions conference became the highlight of the church year rather than a tack on. Thanks Steve!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I'm back in New Zealand primarily for the birth of our grandaughter Raegan. It just happens to coincide with a church planter’s assessment center led by a team from West Michigan. A whole bunch of us are here – probably the most of any one time in the history of the partnership between the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand and the West Michigan District of the Wesleyan Church. So, this Sunday was an interesting Sunday for me to observe what has happened over the past six years.

It was about this time in 2001 when I received a call from Mark Gorveatte asking if I could host Richard and Jane Waugh at Berkley for a Sunday. I nearly said, “no” because I had just begun a new series of messages that week. What a fateful decision that was. By saying “yes” my whole life was changed. We had a great time and found our hearts knit together.

Less than a year later I had the privilege of leading the first team from WMD to NZ to do exploration of what a partnership might look like. We had a lot of meetings and made many friends in the process. The most important question asked me initially took me off guard, but has come to add new shape to my view of what partnerships are supposed to be.

“So, does partnership mean you give us money and then get to tell us what to do?” Kiwi’s are known for being direct, but the question was over the top even for most of them. It grew out of a frustrated heart – it put me on notice – partnerships have to be mutual – there has to be benefits to both sides.

Yesterday I attended services at two New Zealand Churches. East City – partner with Kentwood Community and Cession – partner with Lowell Impact. As Wayne Schmidt spoke to the ECW family I was struck by what a blessing again is mine to be one who simply connects people and then steps out. Wayne brought a powerful message appropriate for the ECW church as they are about to go ‘possess the land’ of their new building. The Kentwood people have done much to develop the leadership of ECW. But in one comment from Wayne’s greeting to the ECW people, I also saw what they were teaching Kentwood. ECW is the most culturally diverse church I know. Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) Maoris, Chinese, Indonesians and other Polynesian Islanders, all mixing and treating one another with great love and respect. Kentwood, like so many of our churches, is primarily a white church. And, frankly, Grand Rapids has more than its share of prejudiced whites. The Kentwood Community Church, to it’s everlasting credit, is trying to change all that. It’s a great challenge in North American culture. ECW becomes a model and an inspiration for the change.

Then yesterday as I watched Phil Struckmeyer pour into the lives of the Cession people during the morning (only hours after getting off a 4:30 a.m. arrival from the US) I was blessed again. It was great to see what both churches are gaining. Cession is looking at planting and Impact has gained a missionary heart for the world. I also loved the way Phil backed out and let Cession be Cession. He wasn’t the visiting dignitary, he was a praying partner.

Which lets me segue to my concern about the ECW service. It felt very North American to me. The voices are primarily North American. The worship leader is Canadian, the interim pastor is from the US and then the main speaker was from the US as well. I’m not saying this is all bad or should have been done differently on that particular day. But I did miss that beautiful New Zealand brogue and I am concerned that ECW – especially in its position as “anchor church” not become a North American outpost.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tour de Specimen Cup

As a huge fan of the Tour de France, I am disappointed and perplexed by the way this “clean tour” is panning out. It is no longer a race of who is the fittest and most courageous. It’s about politics, power and who can get away with the most the longest.

It is really disappointing that the top riders in this year’s tour have been removed. They say Vinokourov was caught blood packing and Rassmusen lied to his team about where he was when he missed a couple tests. If so, I can’t abide what they did, but I can understand at least Rassmusen and lay the blame largely elsewhere.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has taken an adversarial role that begs resistance and rebellion. You can see them from time to time at the finish line being more obnoxious than a news reporter, grabbing the winner of a stage and hustling them off to be tested. Lance Armstrong, in his book Every Second Counts tells how the random testers would show up at the most inconvenient times and make a pest of themselves. At one point, his wife Kik is in labor and they are heading out the door for the hospital to deliver their twins. The people from random blood testing show up and insist that they go through with the testing. The only compassion they got was the female tester telling the male tester to hurry.

That anecdote came to mind when I heard about Rasmussen – I can see a guy trying to get away from the annoying pestering of the UCI’s yapping dogs. It doesn’t excuse him lying to his team – which makes little sense – but it is understandable.

So now the tour isn’t about teamwork and struggle and pain – it’s about rules and testing and cheating. I think I’ll just go out and ride my bike – and anybody who rides faster than me….they must be blood doping.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

If You Come to a Fork in the Road

Yogi Berra is often quoted as saying, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it". I love his befuddled comments because even though they appear confusing, they actually make a lot of sense.

Riding and driving here in New Zealand is also a bit confusing. When riding, I have to check traffic over the right shoulder instead of the left. Brett (son-in-law extraordinaire) loves to hang back when we are approcaching the car to see if I'll instinctively head for the right side of the car. He enjoys my embarassment as I find the steering wheel has somehow been moved to the opposite side of the car! Pedestrian crossings are the most dangerous. I'm conditioned to look left for oncoming traffic and then step out to cross. There is never traffic coming from the left - but lots from the right.

Then there are the round-abouts. They abound in NZ. One enters on a sign that says "give way" and you yield to anything coming from the right. Then you close your eyes, hit the gas or stomp the pedals and throw yourself into the mess. When you come to the proper exit, you signal and make your way on to the next round-about - ususally in the next block. Actually, I like round-abouts because like Yogi's quotes, even though they appear confusing, they actually make a lot of sense. I love not having to wait for traffic signals here.

American traffic signals are the bane of my life - particularly the one at Herbison and Old - 27 in DeWitt. If you are not sitting at the crossing into or out of the Meijer lot when the light turns green for those across from you, the light stays red. If you happen to be riding an aluminum framed bicycle at the same intersection, the light doesn't change even if you've been camped there for hours because the magnetic pick up in the pavement totally ignores you. And how often have we set at a light (im)patiently waiting while there is absolutely NO TRAFFIC coming on the cross road. Typically, some poor schmuck comes along just as the light turns green for me. It makes no sense.
I would advocate the installation of more round-abouts in the U.S.. Not for the aforementioned Old-27 intersection - a four lane round-about is a nightmare on a whole new level! But many minor lights and four way stops could be replaced with lovely round-abouts with planters in the middle. It would be great sport to go watch U.S. drivers deal with them for the first few weeks as well.

So, I'm out on my ride the other day and I'm making my way around a beautiful round-about with brick pavers and garden in the central circle and what do I come across...a fork in the road...literally. So, I took it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Hills Are Alive --- With the Sound of Wheezing

It’s official! I am out of shape. I thought I was doing alright, but the hills around Auckland, New Zealand will not endure fat slackers. I’m about 15 lbs heavier than I was 2 years ago when I rode around here – and a year of living in the flat lands around Lansing has robbed me of my climbing legs and lungs. It was foolish, but as I headed out this morning I decided to take on the toughest hill in the area – PointView Dr. It is less than a kilometer long and climbs steeply about 400 feet in that distance. There are places on the climb that are so steep that concrete trucks lose bits of their load and leave it on the pavement. So, it is really steep, but I climbed it non-stop two years ago. Today, I stopped about 2/3 of the way up, waited for my heart rate to slow down to near red-line and then got back on. I made another few hundred feet linear and 30 – 40 feet vertical when I had to get off and WALK! I haven’t walked a hill in years. It is so humbling. From there I got to ride up and down several other challenging hills including a 2 k climb of 300 to 400 vertical feet. I only covered about 16 miles, was passed by another cyclist like I was standing still – which I almost was – and then crawled back to Brett & Kristen’s apartment.

This Saturday, I’m supposed to ride with the Manukau Veterans Cycling Club. I did well with them the last round, but now I’m fearful of another humiliation. But, I will be out there anyway – giving it my best and trying not to shame my American roots. After all, we’ve
dominated the Tour de France for eight years, how dare I let the home-team down. Perhaps I can pull out a Floyd Landis-like recovery and power past all other pretenders. All I need is an extra dose of testosterone.

Or, maybe I’ll be humbled again. That would probably be the best. Humiliation can do one of two things – give you a view of reality that you are an older, overweight, cheese and ice-cream loving lug or it can motivate you to train harder, discipline oneself to push back on the ice-cream and go out and kick some scrawny Kiwi cycling butt.

As with so much of life – there are always challenges and choices.
(The first photo is of the bottom of Pointview Rd and the second is a veiw one gets of the same hill from across the valley.)


A year ago we left the security of a position at a church that loved us and was so very supportive. So, why go? Mainly because the position was so secure. We loved our BHWC people and they loved us, but they had become content. Content to stay in one place – even better, to go back a few years to the “good old days” before I moved on in my development as a person and pastor. So for the good of the church and ourselves, we began searching for a new place to serve.

Enter: Faith Church

Shortly after announcing my resignation, I began a long conversation with Joel Gorveatte – lead pastor at Faith Church in Lansing, MI. The more we talked, the more I liked the possibilities of becoming the Community Life Pastor. Several persons asked me about how I would handle not being the “big dog”. In retrospect, it’s been about what I’d expect. A few times I would have liked to make decisions my way, but for the most part, it’s been no big deal. As with so many things, there are trade-offs. I haven’t had to deal with a lot of the leadership hassles – hiring, firing, budgets, nominating committees and annual reports.

On the other hand, I’ve been able to focus on some things I’m very passionate about. I’m loving the CIA (Christ in Action) ministry. It is remarkable to see the number of people who have begun to come to faith (church) and later come to Faith (following Jesus) through simple acts of service. It has been my pleasure to guide the re-visioning of the church’s Global outreach. Similar efforts are underway for the discipleship and men’s ministries.

Turning Points

When we hired in @ Faith I asked Joel about his plans for the future. He told me how he had been approached in the past, but had no interest in changing churches. He would be happy to be at Faith for his entire career. With those words of assurance I signed on the dotted line.

On a Thursday a few weeks ago, Joel called those of the staff in the building together and let us know that he was being courted by another church and he and Tracy believed they were to pursue the position – which meant he was resigning as lead pastor at Faith. Since I and the rest of the staff are technically hired by the lead guy, our jobs are also suddenly up in the air. By all rights I should be upset and anxious. I’m not.

Why? Could be that I’m just in denial or not in touch with reality. But I don’t think that’s the case. First of all, I know when Joel told me he had no plans to move, he was being absolutely genuine. I’ve been in the same place. I have served in several places and in most of them, I planned to stay for the rest of my career, until the call to move on became clear to Marcia & I. I knew this when Joel gave me his assurance and accepted the risk – because Faith is where I am supposed to be right now. Secondly, experience has taught me that life is only as uncertain as the foundation upon which it is based.

My trust is not in my current position and paycheck. This is not what I’ve planned, nor expected, but I am called to a career of serving Christ in the vocation of a minister. The next thing may not be convenient nor as good a fit as I find at Faith, but following Christ has always been an adventuresome journey. Why should I expect it to change now? And who knows, maybe the next place is the same place.