a sermon in the making

At church this past Sunday, I was on deck for the message. To say it had been a while since I’ve been up in the main service is a bit of an understatement. For various scheduling reasons, this was my one and only message all summer long. Our church has spent the summer reading and preaching through the Psalms and we’re pretty close to finishing up.

So which psalm does one choose when you have only one shot at it all summer? No brainer. Psalm 137. I’m not posting here to recap the message, if you are interested you can go listen HERE. My contribution to the service was average at best. And yet, many people appreciated the message and seemed to be impacted by it.

And here’s the reason why…

rocks church worship service idea
photo by lexi

Yup, rocks. Because when you preach a message about smashing infants on rocks, it makes perfect sense to have some rocks in the pews as a visual aid.

Please don’t stop reading here.

No smashing happened with these rocks. The reason I’m taking the time to post at all is to recognize that some of the best ideas for a message/worship service are not my own. For those of you who know me, this comes as no surprise. You’ve been unimpressed for a while.

The rock idea came about the way so many good preaching ideas come to be – through the input of others. Two weeks prior to the message, I met with a small group of people responsible for putting the worship service together. You are probably thinking… “You guys plan for what happens in Sunday?” Shocking, I know.

During that meeting, I shared the direction the message was taking. Something about how the psalms teach us that we can be honest with God. One of my team mates, Donna, suggests that it would be nice to have some way for people to respond. That maybe we could encourage them to have some sort of written response of their own. I agreed that it would be nice to have a way for people to tangibly respond, but I had a small concern that there are folks for whom having to produce something with paper and pen can be a little intimidating. We all agreed that some sort of response would be appropriate, and hopefully I didn’t kill the creativity with my reservation.

I don’t think I did, because one week later we come back to discussing the upcoming Sunday. We were still mulling over what might be a helpful response. Then Sarabeth, another person on the team, says that one time she was encouraged to write what I’m guessing was some not so good stuff down on rocks and then take them to a lake and throw them as far as she could.

At this point, I’m wondering how liable we would be if one of our congregants had their head split open by rocks we encouraged everyone in the service to throw. I guess that just goes to show how my stunted creativity truly is. It took me a while to figure out that there are other options besides throwing the rocks. Donna says that she really likes the rock idea and so we take the time to figure out how to make it work.

And come Sunday, it ends up being an incredible way for people to connect with what is really going on inside of them. People wrote all sorts of things down on their rocks. Honest things. Towards the end of the service, many of them chose to come forward and symbolically place these things before a God who is never surprised by who we really are.

rocks church worship service idea
photo by jalissa

And all of this came about because I have the privilege working with wonderful people who have good ideas and keep pressing on them until they become great ones.

Currently Reading: The Awakening of Hope

With all this talk of camping and the outdoors, I may be losing some of my theology-nerd street cred. So maybe it is time to dive back into some thoughtful reading. Today’s post isn’t quite full-on over the top boring academic theology; we should probably ease our way back into this.

Over a year ago, I had the pleasure of reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability. I not only love what he had to say, but how he said it. So when Alison told me that he had written a new book, I couldn’t wait to dive in. His new book is called The Awakening of Hope:Why We Practice a Common Faith.

As I expected, this new book is filled with poignant reflections on the Christian life – particularly as it is lived in community. This doesn’t come as a surprise, largely because so much of what Wilson-Hartgrove draws from is his own experiences in the Rutba House, a new monastic community in Durham, North Carolina.

The table of contents gives a good sense of what one might expect in picking it up…

  1. Pictures of Hope
  2. Why We Eat Together
  3. Why We Fast
  4. Why We Make Promises
  5. Why It Matters Where We Live
  6. Why We Live Together
  7. Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
  8. Why We Share Good News

I’m only about halfway through, but he has already given me lots to think about. Each of the topics he addresses are things that I’ve previously encountered and spent some time reflecting on, but he comes at them in ways that I haven’t really considered before. Or I guess maybe a better way to say it is that we share a similar view or opinion, but the way he expresses is how I wished that I had.

Some great thoughts here on infidelity and trust…

Infidelity is a tendency deep within us. But it also comes to us through the constant barrage of powers at work in this world’s broken systems. Because sex sells we are inundated daily by the suggestive poses of women and men to whom we’re not only not committed but whom we do not even know. Their images come to our senses not as icons in which we might glimpse the divine but as products to be consumed. This pornographic imagination is extended to real estate, destinations, entertainment events, and even educational opportunities. Our broken economy does not invite us to ask how we might be faithful to our people and place but rather how we might use them to satisfy our base desires. Infidelity is sold to us as a good … To make promises is to proclaim that a culture of mistrust has been interrupted by One whom we can trust. It is to live as a sign of God’s faithfulness, even as we struggle to grow into fidelity ourselves. We make promises because we’ve glimpsed a picture of hope and know that it points us toward the life we were made for.

I’ve probably re-read this paragraph a dozen times and it is no less convicting the twelfth time through as the first. If the second half of the book is as thought-provoking and spirit-stirring as the first, I may need to take a breather before forging ahead.

Anyone out there reading anything great right now?

high adventure

Once we were down from Snowmass, Craig and I had a day to clean up, rest up, and gear up for our next adventure with our college friends from back home. Monday morning, they pulled up in not one but two church vans and start spilling out into the streets of the small town of Dolores in southwestern Colorado.

I’ve shared some before about the significance of a week together in the mountains. And my friend Tyler spent some time describing what impacted him about this specific trip. But there were a couple things about this week that made it unique for me.

First, the group was huge. In fact so large that we had to divide our group in half to fulfill the wilderness area imposed restrictions. Craig took the college students who already had at least a year under their belt, and I had the group who had freshly graduated from high school plus a handful of adults.

Which brings me to the other thing that made this trip so special. It maybe should come as no surprise that I ended up with the class of 2012. These guys belong to me (well, me and Rob). For about three years now, we have had the privilege of being the small group leaders for the male half of this group. We have watched them (and at times helped them) navigate the challenges of adolescence. Week after week, they would show up in our homes and we would break bread together. Laugh together. Get upset with each other. Learn together. Pray together. Year after year, we would take them on various camps, retreats, and trips. We poured into them. And whether they realize it or not, they poured into us as well.

Of course, there is the actual mountain itself. We climbed Wilson Peak, which like Snowmass is another Class 3 mountain. That means it looks sort of scary, but it isn’t super dangerous. These guys and gals climbed like champs and through perseverance, team work, and the grace of God we made it to the top. The last pitch is especially intimidating, so it makes for a rewarding and emotional payoff on the summit. Of course, once you’re standing on top, you are really only half way there. The return trip, while not quite as strenuous, is no piece of cake either. While we got a little wet and were a lot exhausted, we did manage to all make it back to camp safe and sound. That evening we huddled underneath the “magic tarp” and delighted in the gift of being dry and warm. But mostly we enjoyed simply being together.

While our trip to the high-country brought this leg of our journey together to an end, it also marked the beginning of a new chapter in which they would discover just how high they can climb on their own.

snowmass epiphany

Yesterday, I shared briefly about my climbing Snowmass Mountain. Not twelve hours later, I get a Facebook message (oh Facebook, how I love/hate you) from one of the guys I met up with along the way. He tells me that his friend, Joel, who was climbing with us made a short video of their experience on the mountain.

In a word… stunning.

Worth every second of your four minutes. Yours truly even makes a blink of an eye cameo appearance.

Snowmass Epiphany from Joel Pilger on Vimeo.

I don’t want to ruin it with too many words, but two quick observations. One, I had no idea that he was videoing all this. Granted, I was pretty busy with what I was doing, but come on. You think I would notice a dude whipping out his camera every few minutes. Two, you just have to appreciate the art of telling a story through video. Of course, not anyone can pull this off. Joel obviously knew what he was doing. Great angles. Great material. Great music. Even great words. But a four minute video tells a story that I couldn’t have even if I had all the paper and ink (or screen space and pixels) in the world.


Snowmass Mountain

While we were all in camping heaven, our ever so enjoyable time at Crested Butte needed to come to an end. The Chino-lings attend a “year-round” school which meant that summer was being cut short for them. We loaded up and the family began the long drive home. The whole family minus one… or two. Craig and I would be staying to wait for the college folks from our church to show up for our annual backpacking/climbing trip. However, they weren’t due to arrive for another couple days. So what do you do when you have a little time to kill in Colorado?

Go climb a mountain, of course.

Our destination was Snowmass Mountain (not to be confused with the ski resort). I should say it was my destination. Craig has climbed all of them and didn’t necessarily feel the need to hold my hand up the mountain. So we loaded up our packs and hiked a couple miles up to a pretty typical (meaning gorgeous) mountain lake high in the Rockies.

We set up camp.

We feasted on a few trout that Craig caught and turned in early.

The next morning, I was up before the sun and began the climb. Snowmass is a pretty straightforward mountain. It is Class 3, which means it is on the challenging side. Route-finding is a little tricky, but not overly so. I met up with a team of three other climbers and was grateful to have some company on the mountain as well as a few more sets of eyes. We made it to the top around 10 or so. Snapped a few pics and headed back down.

All in all, it was a great climb. People always ask me how many “fourteeners” I’ve climbed and I never really remember. I tallied them up when I got home and Snowmass was #28. Or 26. Or 29. All depending on which ones count.

Back at base camp, Craig had caught and prepared another fresh trout feast which I swallowed in two or three bites. We quickly packed up and headed out. We were eager to get some rest for our next big adventure with our friends from back home!

Crested Butte

During our stay in Moab, we mustered the troops for a visit to Canyonlands National Park. I had always heard great things about it, and so we made the short drive to go take a look. I can’t tell you what a great decision that was. Truly amazing. I’ll let Alison tell you THE REST.

I should mention that while we were in Moab we were joined by another longtime Seattle friend, Jermaine. These days, she lives in Turkey where she is pursing her doctorate, so a visit with her – no matter how brief – was a real gift.

So with Jermaine in tow, we woke up one morning, said our goodbyes to the Peterson’s and headed back across the border to Colorado to meet up with Alison’s parents. But we weren’t just returning to Colorado. In route, we figured out that due to circumstances outside our control, we were going to be headed back to Crested Butte. This news was met with joyful ‘whoops’ by every Chino, because you see, Crested Butte is our very favorite. I anticipate that Alison will do more of the sharing here as well, but I leave you with just a couple photos.

This is taken from the Oh-Be-Joyful Campground and over the years I have had the pleasure of staring up this valley repeatedly. Coming to Crested Butte in many ways feels like coming home. We camp. We hike. We bike. We visit town. We go to Camp 4 Coffee. We go to The Alpineer. We go to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (yes, another one). We go to Teocalli Tamale. We go to the park. We ride the “bus that costs no money.” It always very familiar, very good, and we never get tired of going back – again and again.Who knows? Maybe sometime we could show you around.


Four for Friday

I’m not sure what you have done over the past few months without “Four for Friday” to scratch that music itch. I’m trying out Soundcloud. If you hate the Soundcloud format, let me know and I might change it.


Photography in Arches National Park

After a brief but enjoyable stay in Aspen, we ventured westward to meet up with some dear friends from our Seattle days. They were a on a multi-week journey to see various national parks west of the Rockies. And after a flurry of email exchanges, our paths crossed in Moab, Utah.

Lots I could say, but Alison has shared some great photos and thoughts over HERE. You should go take a look.

The only thing I have to add is this handy guide for helping someone figure out the best time of day for taking pictures of the various arches in the park.

I realize that this is a pretty dorky thing to put out there. But what can I say? I’m a dork. It’s not like I’ve been keeping it a secret.

vacation in Aspen for less than $50 per day

The recap of Chino summer adventures continues. Since Alison has already shared some about our time there, I’m going to try to come at this from a different angle.

There is so much that I appreciate about camping vacations. The cool clean mountain air. Drinking in the beauty of our surroundings. Being outside. Time with people I care about. Fires (when they haven’t been banned). Quiet. Good food. Hiking. Morning coffee. But there is a benefit to camping that sometimes doesn’t get near the recognition it should…

It’s cheap.

Aspen is possibly the most pretentious (and expensive) resort town in Colorado. If you need to be reminded of this, let me recommend seeing the time-honored classic, Dumb and Dumber. Most of Aspen’s vacationers are burning money in the streets and are proud of it. I haven’t a clue what four days of room and board for six people in Aspen would cost, but my guess is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2000.

Contrast that with the $21 a night scenic campground located 6 miles outside of town. It was far enough from town to make you feel like you were really away from it all, but close enough for daily forays into town to shop for groceries, use the internet, play on the playground, visit the library, and people watch. And did I mention… it was $21 a night.

Likewise on the food. Saving so much money on accommodations easily could have justified eating a couple meals in town, but  we didn’t.  And we really didn’t have much desire to. We were usually on the go around lunchtime and so picnic fare just seemed to make sense. Plus, our breakfasts and dinners back at camp were meals fit for royalty. I can’t imagine that food cost us more than $15-20 per day for our family.

While there are any number of places to part with your hard earned dollars in Aspen, there are only three establishments that will repeatedly suck us in.

1) Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory // This isn’t true only in Aspen. Any mountain town that has one (and they all seem to have one) is sure to get another $10-15 from us. Worth every penny.

2) Ute Mountaineer // This particular store caters to an addiction of mine that I am neither proud of – nor ashamed of.

3) The Thrift Shop of Aspen // The name itself seems like a oxymoron. And yet, there truly are bargains to be had in this funny little store.

So there it is. A four day stay in Aspen that ends up costing a couple Benjamins. Hard to believe… but true.

Next stop – Moab, Utah.



Welcome to Square Pegs, my little corner of the blogosphere. Glad you took the time to drop by.

Here’s where you can find my sometimes coherent reflections on theology, books, music, camping, ministry, and the occasional tidbit on my personal life.

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