Happy Mother’s Day Robyn!
We have a lot of reasons to thank you.
You have carried some heavy burdens this year.
You have carried the pain of some wounds and some loses.
You have carried the tension of uncertainty.
You have worked hard and put in extra long hours on your business.
You are still very involved at the kid’s school.
You are still involved in helping friends, helping the city, and helping the world.
You are still able to warn our children the ways that any dangerous activity could destroy the world. 🙂
Thank you for all of those things.
I also want to thank you for being silly, or as you say, a little crazy. (Don’t try to deny it. We have pictures)
This year has had plenty of challenges.
There have been times when we have felt pressed in from all sides. There have been times when we have even felt the tension in the air.
Sometimes we just had to lean into it and press on.
But at other times what we needed to do was laugh and dance and sing.You normally take the lead in those times.
You have the wisdom to know that sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. 
Thank you for that.
Thank you for bringing “an ample bit of crazy” when we need it.
I know that it is not always easy to do. I also know that it is important.
It is really good for our kids.
In fact, it is just plain good for all of us.
Thank you. We love you.
Happy Fun Mother’s Day! 

When Job’s life is about to be taken away from him, he can say one of two things. He can curse God, as he is tempted to do, and say, “God, why not fifty-one years of life?” Or he can surrender to love and say, “God, why even fifty years?” Why did I deserve life at all? When we take on that attitude, we’ve made a decision for grace.

“Naked I came into the world, and naked I will leave,” Job says (Job 1:21). What do we have, brothers and sisters, that has not been given to us? All is grace. All is given. Who gave me this hand? Who wiggles these fingers? Who created these eyes which I cannot explain or understand? I cannot even make this hair grow. It is all gift.

From beginning to end, everything is grace, everything is given. There is nothing that we have a right to or that we deserve.
– Richard Rohr

I read this Richard Rohr quote last night on Facebook.  It was both what I wanted to read and what I didn’t want to read.  It was probably what I needed to read. In the midst of a difficult week, month, year, I needed to be reminded that my life is full of gift, full of grace.  That is the beautiful reality that all of us live in.

So I enter Thanksgiving this year with both an honest recognition of the difficulties in life, and a renewed realization that my life is full of grace. My life itself is a grace. I have a tremendous amount to be thankful for … far more than I deserve. It is all gift.

Thank you.

Today Robyn and I celebrate the tenth anniversary of our wedding. I am thrilled!

While that probably sounds like an obvious statement, let me tell you that I struggled with our anniversary a little this week. You see, we are currently facing a number of challenges in life (This is not just the Gen Xer in me whining … there are some real challenges.). In many ways, this is not what I wanted life to look like when we celebrated our tenth anniversary. I was disappointed, and a little angry about the circumstances.

Then I remembered two pieces of advice that we give couples in pre-marital counseling:
– You will have challenges in life, that is not your choice. Those challenges will drive you together or drive you apart, much of that is your choice.
– On your wedding day you give yourself to your spouse, and they give themselves to you. There is not a greater gift that you can give. There is not a greater gift that you can receive.

Robyn and I have weathered some storms of life over the past ten years, more storms than either of us would have anticipated, many of them outside of our control. While we always have the choice of how we will respond, and we do not always get it right, the storms have strengthened our bond. We are in this together.
The point of today is that we are in this thing together.
That is reason for great joy!

Ten years ago Robyn and I exchanged vows of commitment to each other. We did not lay out a business plan for a worry-free life. There were no powerpoint slides with life graphs always going up and to the right. We gave and received something even greater – self. We continue give ourselves to one another. There is still nothing more valuable that we could give or receive
The point of today is we continue to give and receive the most precious gifts possible.
That is reason for great joy!

The current challenges of life have allowed me to focus on what Robyn and I are really celebrating today – our union together. Today we celebrate the existence of “us.” That is it, and that is reason for great joy!

In the years to come, we will have anniversaries with more favorable circumstances. We will also have some anniversaries with less favorable circumstances. The circumstances are not really the point. The thing that we remember and rightfully celebrate today is our sacred promise to each other.

So today I take joy in the mysterious reality that when the question was asked,
“Do you intent to have Jim as your wedded husband. Do you pledge to love him, honor him, comfort him and protect him – through good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want as long as you both shall live?”
Robyn answered, “I do.”

Robyn I love you. Here is a link to take you back in your memories to our first home together – that apartment made out of a boat factory – complete with strange pipes and mysterious bulges in the wall.  We sang this song about being together in the midst of challenging circumstances.

So … long time no blog post. Let me explain briefly what has occurred in the last few months.

The week of my last blog post I discovered that I was going to transition out of my pastoral role at Elmbrook church. In December a new senior pastor arrived at Elmbrook. Those of you familiar with the church world will know that it is common for a new senior leader to restructure ministries and often reassemble the staff. That has happened at Elmbrook. The ministry that I led was integrated into the broader church, and I am one of a handful of pastors who have left staff.

It has been a difficult few months. Closing down the ministry was one of the hardest things that I have done in my vocational life. Being out of the role of pastor, at least in the official sense, has been both odd and painful. Being unemployed is stressful.
At the same time, we also see this transition as an opportunity. We have confidence that God will provide for our needs. We believe that God can work in this situation to bring us to the next chapter in a life of calling. There is always hope, so we cling to that. I will let you know what happens!
As far as the blog – I hope to get back to posting once or twice a week. I have a several drafts from the past few months. These are crazy days, looking for work takes a lot of time, but I will post when I can.
Grace and Peace,

The past nine months I have been attempting the ancient practice of the divine office. While it may take various forms, I am utilizing a liturgy of prayers, readings and songs six times a day. There is an Ap for that. Seriously, I practice the divine office on an iPhone application which is helpful!

Today’s office of morning readings included the homily that I posted below. It is about Jesus descent into hell.  To be honest, while Jesus descending into hell is a part of church tradition and even found in the Apostles Creed, I have not been convinced that there is strong biblical support for the idea. Regardless of what exactly happened on Holy Saturday, this homily beautifully describes much of what happened for humanity in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I pray that you find it encouraging.

An Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday: The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

When Jesus taught his followers how to speak to the God he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We often miss the power in that phrase. We simply recite the line without thinking. We view it as merely a request for Jesus to “come back.” We remove any meaning from God’s Kingdom and God’s will by treating them as unknowns. We make this into a prayer that we say with nothing to do with how we live.

But Jesus did not intended for this to be a throw away line. Jesus wanted this prayer to mold and guide us.

God has given us the Scriptures to reveal God’s character and God’s will. We have been given teachings on the Kingdom of God, and creative writing on what God’s Kingdom will look like when fully established on Earth. God’s will and Kingdom are not completely fuzzy concepts. Scripture reveals enough about God’s will and Kingdom for us to recognize when they are being realized in the world.

In addition to the Scriptures, the Spirit of God guides us in our understanding of God’s will and provides relational knowledge of God. The more that we know God, the more we will know what God wills in the world.

When we pray we are not just asking God to take care of everything, though there are situations when that is all that we feel we can do.  When we pray we are both asking for God’s intervention and aligning ourselves with God. As beings created in the image of God we have the ability, and responsibility, to act in a manner consistent with the will of God. While there are some glorious times of supernatural intervention, the answer to prayer normally comes in the form of a person. In other words, when we pray for God’s will to be done and Kingdom to come on Earth – our actions need to join with our request.

That brings us to a cup of water…  a fitting case study on World Water Day.

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you can easily get a cup of water in the next 10 minutes. That is not the reality for many people in our world. In fact, somewhere around one in three people alive today do not have access to safe drinking water. I do not mean that they have to wait in a line for it – I mean it is not an option for them. That reality translates into several tragedies, including around 4,000 children dying each day.

Does that look like the will of the God that is revealed in Jesus and the Spirit? Is that the Kingdom of God that we see revealed in the Scriptures? I think not.

When this currently reality does not fit the Kingdom of God we are called to pray for God’s will to be done, for there to be a new reality which reflects the Kingdom of God. We need to pray for God to intervene on behalf of people without water.

In addition to praying for the Kingdom, we are called to act according to the Kingdom. We are called to discern what direct actions we can take for the sake of God’s will being done on Earth.  There are other times when we are called to take a supportive role for those who are taking direct action. We need to intervene on behalf of people without water.

Act today! Follow this link to bring water to thousands of people by repairing existing water wells: The Adventure Project

This is my first Sunday Shout Out in a long time, and it is a very special one. This Sunday Shout Out is to my mother, Judy Vining.

I could give a Sunday Shout Out to my mother for a lot of different reasons. I could write about how she sacrificed and served to raise two children as a single mom. I could write about the warm hospitality that she has extended to hundreds of people over the years. I could write about her career as a nurse serving thousands of women and children living in poverty. I could write about the strong convictions that guide her life.

While all of those would make great posts, this is about something different. This shout out is for the profound things that my mother said to me recently.

First, you need to know a little back ground. A few months ago we discovered that my mother has pancreatic cancer. Since the diagnosis our family has done a lot of researching, praying, planning, and crying. It has been hard, very hard. In a recent visit I was inspired by how she is choosing to face this difficult journey.

This is how my mother is trying to approach each day:

I want to handle the days ahead with grace.

I only know that I have today.

Today, I know that I am loved.

Today, I have people to love.

Today, I can make a difference.

Her words are full of wisdom that all of us would do well to live by.

(Thank you mom for all that you have done for us over the years. We love you. Happy Birthday!)

Our culture is obsessed with success and fearful of failure.

Christian ministry often carries added pressure for success. There is a popular notion that really spiritual people will always succeed in ministry. In other words,  good Christians – people who pray a lot, know the bible, and stay morally clean – do not fail.  That idea is not biblical. That idea does not match experience. That idea actually stifle leaders and hinders the work of God. It is poison.

I am not a fan of failure. Failure is not the goal that we should set for ourselves (I hope to have more success my life!).  Yet, I think that in our success oriented culture failure is underrated.

Here are a few ways that a Fail can be a Win:

1. If you failed, you actually tried to do something! You probably tried to do something that you believed needed to be done. You probably tried to do something unique. Failure is not the worst thing.  Failure is better than selling out, or conforming, or cowering in the face of adversity, or just talking.  Find pride in your failure.

2. If you failed, you have an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure gives you a grip on reality that is not shared by those who have not failed, or risked enough to fail. The biggest “failures” in my life, I would never want to repeat them, have provided me with a unique perspective on life. Find wisdom in your failure.

3. If you failed, you have the opportunity to know your true self. Failure provides you the opportunity to check where your identity is rooted. Failure can strips away the false self of image and performance.  In failure you are valuable and you are loved simply because you are. Find grace in your failure.

4. If you failed, you opened up the possibility for something wonderful. Failure creates a new reality, a new context for creativity. When you factor in the God of resurrection into our failure, what seems to be empty is often the beginning of something new and beautiful.  God will bring light into the darkness. Find hope in your failure.

For more honest and liberating discussion of failure and success in ministry, I encourage you to participate in the the upcoming Epic Fail Pastors Conference April 14-16.  If you can’t make the conference, you will find even a visit to the website to be refreshing.

It is easy to see the impact of greed on a culture when the economy falters. We forget that greed was often embraced, even encouraged during the boom days of the past.

During both our economic ups and downs the scriptures have given us consistent warnings of the high price greed. The ancient book of Amos proclaims that our love of money and stuff will destroy our core relationships.

Relationship with Others:

Amos 2:6-8

This is what the Lord says:

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again,

and I will not let them go unpunished!

They sell honorable people for silver

and poor people for a pair of sandals.

They trample helpless people in the dust

and shove the oppressed out of the way.

Both father and son sleep with the same woman,

corrupting my holy name.

At their religious festivals,

they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security.

In the house of their god,

they drink wine bought with unjust fines.

When we love stuff, we begin reducing other people to either a means to or an obstacle to getting more stuff. We can continue de-humanizing others to the point that we begin viewing people as just stuff, good stuff and bad stuff. We see this today in everything from neglected children, to work conflict, to sex and labor slavery.

Relationship with God:

Amos 5:21-24

“I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.

I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.

Away with your noisy hymns of praise!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,

an endless river of righteous living.

Our loves direct out lives. When we love stuff we pattern our lives around stuff, not around God. As a result, our religious worship is empty. God is not interested in religious pomp and circumstance if our lives are not right. I am afraid that this is at the root of much of the superficial spirituality of our modern religions culture.

Relationship with Self:

Amos 4:1-3

Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria,

you women who oppress the poor

and crush the needy,

and who are always calling to your husbands,

“Bring us another drink!”

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:

“The time will come when you will be led away

with hooks in your noses.

Every last one of you will be dragged away

like a fish on a hook!

You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;

you will be thrown from your fortresses,”

says the Lord.

We become less than human when our lives revolve around stuff. While there will be divine judgment for greed, much of the punishment is self-imposed by living life outside of the design of the universe. We see this today in the empty eyes of teens who have every item that they want and in rampant chemical abuse found in wealthy communities.

While money and material goods are important, we must always keep them in right perspective. We can not allow the love of stuff to stifle our greatest calling to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.

Should we treat the church like our favorite restaurant?
Only if you are working in the kitchen!

(Sorry! I am having trouble getting the video to show up on RSS feeds and iPhones. I will try to correct the problem, but until then you can view the 4 minute video on my blog or at vimeo.)

Thanks to Robyn Vining, Tony Templeton, Sarah DePriest, the Impact Community, and The Original Pancake House for their crucial roles in this video!
(Filmed August 2009 at The Original Pancake House in Brookfield, WI.)