Friday, November 30, 2007
As relationships are formed, conversations regarding things more important than football or fishing will eventually come up unprovoked. They will come up naturally. And that is the 'pitch' I've been 'selling.'
I've become good friends with a guy I met working out one day. We now workout together several times a week. But up until last week, we had never really had any 'spiritual' conversation. It just hadn't happened, and I was beginning to wonder why nothing had happened; I was questioning my own sales pitch.
However last week that all changed, and he brought it up. We got to talk about some meaningful stuff. Church, protestant/Catholic questions, books read, spiritual background, etc... I prayed regularly for opportunities and after 6 months or so, just a month before he'll be leaving the state to take another job, the ice finally cracked. I was stoked.
At the very least I made a friend: a friend who will probably be coming to church to hear me preach. Hopefully we'll get some more chances to talk. But regardless, making friends with unbelievers will put us in opportunities where we'll eventually be used to express the truth. It may take a while, but it will happen if we pray and put ourselves in such situations.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Since football players are not afforded the normal opportunity to go to church, many attend chapel. Apparently this lad had not missed a chapel all season. While chapel is no substitute for worship with the body of Christ, this is all that many players get during the season. Apparently his coach Joe Gibbs feels he was a believer; recently people had also seen some sort of change in his life. While his death is certainly a tragedy, there is at least some small evidence that he might have found something more important than football.
Many football players interviewed expressed the fact that this death continued to reinforce this truth: what they do is not a matter of life or death. This is basically the standard athlete's response to any tragedy. Football, coming straight from the horse's mouth (or at least close enough-I guess the NFL would actually be the horse's mouth) is not a matter of life or death.
Neither are sports in general, nor many things that keep us up at night (provided that you don't think about death at night-in that case, check out Romans 8:38-39). It's a shame athletes can belittle the importance of their teams performance during a season, but fans (including myself) have a much harder time taking hold of this thought. I mean its really kind of silly.
Let me give you another example. Yankees and Red Sox hate each other, right? Well their fans do. But Johnny Damon went straight from the Red Sox to the Yankees. We fans make a bigger deal out of sports than the athletes themselves. I think that's kind of interesting, if not sad.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Someone came to the church the other day looking for work, love, family, hope, etc...I tend to be in between cynical and hopeful about people wandering in off the streets. Unfortunately, I was much too close to hopeful.
I wanted to believe this guy was worth spending my time with: driving him to find work, giving him clothes, having others drive him to find work, even having the church help him with rent. But the problem was that the guy destroyed my trust totally by his actions (which I really don't want to get into). Basically, he followed the Steve Miller Band song, "Go, take the money and run."
It angers me that someone who knew the bible as much as I did, who seemed so trustworthy, was a charlatan. A quack. A liar. A liar who deceived me totally, through and through. And it hurts. Right now my thoughts towards this gentlemen are not love. In fact they are very much the opposite, I confess. And if I saw him right now, I might have to keep my hands in my pockets for fear of putting them to use (although that's really not an issue-I hit one dude when I was in elementary school and it hurt my hand so bad I never did it again!)
Perhaps its my pride which hurts the most. I took the bait, hook, line and sinker (which is why I only use artificial lures when I fish). But its also the fact that someone may actually need help, and I won't believe them. Ever.
We do have a service in town which actually investigates the needs of people, reports quacks trying to use the system, and refers people to churches. Because of several issues, I didn't refer him to them. From now on, I shall.
I guess I should have been more cynical. I should have had greater wisdom. I will learn from this mistake. I honestly don't have a merciful heart towards people such as this gentlemen. I was starting to get one. Who knows where it will go?
However, if I allow this experience of being burned to cause me to neglect the poor in toto, I believe I would just be making an excuse for a sin of omission. After all, if I were burned by a church, I couldn't just not go to ANY church (although that often happens). Same thing. If a white/black/Jew hurts me, should I expect that all of 'them' are out to get me? We call that racism. So I'm stuck! I guess I'm guilty of 'poorism.'
However, I will from now on (at least that's my stance now) not give any money, time, or even T-shirts to those not fully investigated by Manatee Religious Services. Many are quacks, but some aren't. I just am not going to try to figure out who's who. That way, maybe I won't become a 'poorist.'
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
This seems to me overly pragmatic, emotionally influenced, and contrary to reason. Let me explain. Normally I like to point to the idea and need for the atonement that is unique to Christianity (just to be clear, the atonement is presented in OT, and uniquely fulfilled in the God/Man Christ; but some Jews still look for that atoning Messiah, some see the atonement paid through the Holocaust, while others don't think much about it).
However, if we look simply at Islam itself, we do find some irreconcilable differences. "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. This statement was not made in a vacuum. Statements never are. It refutes the rampant polytheism of the day. That's good. But it also refutes the Trinity, and denies that Jesus was fully divine (some believe Mohammed misunderstood the Trinity as Father, Jesus, Mary). That's bad.
If one lad prays to Jesus, believing that He is fully God listening to His prayers, and another lad prays to God, but is very clear that this Jesus guy was a nice dude-but never crucified and resurrected-are the two people praying to the same entity but using different names?
If someone refuses to pray to Jesus, there is a reason. It is not a nominal thing. Its not just a different name, but it is a different Person. Jesus is either fully God/Man or he is fully a quack. We have to take a pick. You hear the phrase often, "Let's agree to disagree." I think this is one more instance in which we can say, "Let's just agree to disagree."
We can be friends. In situations beyond our control, we can be family. But we can agree to disagree and pray. And so that's what I shall do.
Monday, November 26, 2007
To say I felt precarious the whole time would have to be the understatement of the year. I didn't know exactly how to act, disapproving of the marriage itself, and yet hoping to somehow not destroy the relationship (I'm the only pastor in the family; maybe one day he'll seek pastoral advice from me and not the presbyterian pastor who assisted in the ceremony). At least I can hope.
But since I was not excited about the marriage, it was hard to feign positive emotions. Sometimes I can act, but most of the time I can't. Probably the best word to describe my experience is "vertigo."
U2 sang a song called "Vertigo" reflecting on the difficulty of living out your faith among non Christians. Difficult, but we are called to do it. Unfortunately many Christians isolate themselves and never have to deal with "vertigo." They then forfeit a great experience of dependence and humility. But 'vertigo' makes our fellowship that much greater, sweeter, and deeper. When I came to church the next day, it was an even greater blessing than usual.
Although I have to admit during the trip, I had fellowship with my family and some extended family members which helped with the "vertigo" experience. While U2 probably ought to spend some more time in fellowship with believers, many others probably need to experience 'vertigo' more often. But I recommend it in smaller doses and in far different circumstances.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
But the problem with this dinner trip was that we had already ordered garlic bread before the meal came. So I wasn't as hungry. I could have easily stopped eating. I was full. I was content. But I simply wanted more, so I ate. And then I felt bad the whole night. I was a glutton.
Gluttony is not mentioned much in the bible (certainly not enough for it to crack the Catholic top 7 list!). Jesus was accused of being a glutton and drunkard because he hung out with gluttons and drunkards. Gluttony is mentioned negatively in Proverbs 23 as leading to poverty. Other than these specific references, we don't find the word too often.
But what about the concept? Is the concept of gluttony (unnecessary over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste or lack of self control) really all that biblical? Is it really a sin to be conscious of?
I once heard someone say, "You can be addicted to food, just like pornography." I thought that was ludicrous. Sin is a hard enough battle; don't invent new ones with which struggle. But the other day someone confessed to a large group of people, "Seven years ago, I would have joined you on that run. But now I've gained so much weight and that isn't an option. I've worshiped the idol of food, and indulged in it."
Fortunately my metabolism is probably faster than this guy's (and I do work out with weights-though I'm not sure that will do anything about my mini-gut), but I could probably confess the same thing. Although I don't not run because I'm physically unable; like Seinfeld once said simply and confidently, "I choose not to run."
Looking back on my life, let me show you how I think this sin has manifested itself. I don't have self control in eating things. If its there, I eat it. All of it. I don't like to share food. Ever. I'm like a dog eating at his bowl. Do not disturb him, or me.
While gluttony is not mentioned that much, issues of self control certainly ought to concern us. God's grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness, and enables us to live self controlled lives (Titus 2:11-12). So I think I'm going to rely on God's grace to encourage, forgive, and challenge me while at the dinner table more often.
BTW, this post really has no real intentional connection to Thanksgiving. It was just on my heart, and stomach, I guess you could say. But its proximity to a Thanksgiving feast does seem apropos, if not at the very least unsettling!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Regardless, I've been amazed at the 'baby process.' Its absolutely crazy. We had our 2nd doctor's visit last Friday, and we got to hear the heartbeat. I think the count was like 158 beats a minute. A little fast more my liking, but the lady (I can't remember if it was a nurse, doctor, midwife, other person-there's so many folks coming in and out that I get confused) said that was plenty normal.
One thing that I'm amazed about is all the 'thought process' that goes into the whole gestation, or whatever you call it, thing. I mean its amazing that at 13 weeks, something forms, at 15 weeks, something else, and so on. You can tell I'm well read on the matter. That's one thing I need to be better at.
But its so cool how the body 'knows' what to do, and how it all works. Amazing. I know I'm biased, being a Christian and all, but this whole baby thing ought to make one rethink Atheism or evolution. Like I said, anyone who is a Christian has a bias, and anyone who is a non-Christian also has a bias. We are looking at facts from differing point of views, which makes us arrive at different conclusions.
Nevertheless, it seems much harder to believe that this whole process comes about by mutation and chance. Its just too amazing, complex, and interdependent. While the ancients knew little of the development of babies in wombs, David's claim in Psalm 139 divulges he at least knew God had a part in it: "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well." 139:14-15
In our short experience together, Amy and I would echo his sentiments.
Monday, November 19, 2007
In case you're not familiar with it, it features Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) and Adam Sandler. I'm becoming a huge Don Cheadle fan these days.
Adam Sandler's character's family dies in the 911 crash, and he is emotionally unable to continue his dentist practice. Don Cheadle hasn't seen him in years, and finds him in this state. Much of the depicts this overwhelming relationship.
But there's more than just that relationship. By the end of the movie, I think it portrayed a realistic and hopeful picture of marriage. Cheadle's character (like all dudes) desires to have hobbies of his own (this is not bad in itself). More than that, he feels suffocated from his wife's desire to do things like puzzles and photography classes together. And of course like most lads, he remains silent in his frustrations.
Well, in walks his friend who needs help, and Cheadle spends most of his waking hours with Sandler. In other words, he runs. That's what guys do: we run. When there are problems with marriage, we want to find anything to which we can run. Since Cheadle doesn't have any hobbies, he throws himself into this relationship hoping to help Sandler. In part, that's admirable.
But he does so to the neglect of his family. In addition, I think there's a secondary motivation going on. It's easier. It's easier to run to anything outside, be it a friend, hobby, beer, etc..., than to deal honestly with your marriage and family. It just is. And guys are notorious for it. And this movie captures it very well.
By the end, Cheadle begins to see his own errors, his own selfishness, and his own dishonesty. He apologizes and the two come together. And so overall, we see an accurate, and redeeming picture of marriage. By the way, don't NOT see it because of Sandler. He's really quite amazing in this movie.
Friday, November 16, 2007
He mentioned to me some of the frustrations of being in a denomination with which he wasn't 'on board.' He's hoping to make the jump to a non-denominational church somewhere, some time. However, he did really long for the connectionalism that presbyterianism offers, and lamented there was not nearly such a defined 'network' in the non-denom community.
Independent churches (baptist) and non-denominational churches don't have the connectionalism offered in the presbyterian form of church government. And it is clear that they long for that. That is why they form networks and 'conventions' (Baptists) or associations. There's no doubt in my mind (and probably in others' minds) the presbyterian/connectional form is the most biblical. I think the argument lies in whether or not that model was meant to be normal for all times. I think that's the question.
But existentially (experientially), it also makes the most sense. People long to connect. The problem with many is that they long to connect, but don't want to commit or be held accountable. That's where I feel the presbyterian form makes the most sense. If we look at our own hearts, we cannot help but be honest and admit we need accountability.
And certainly others do as well. If a pastor is being a bum, we as the presbytery have the responsibility keep that bum accountable. I'm not a presbyterian Nazi, attempting to 'convert' everyone. I'm really not. It just seems that if you think about our needs for connection and accountability, it just makes sense.
I love GOING to presbytery meetings to connect, network, meet, establish, and nurture friendships. I often hate SITTING through them because they are extremely inefficient. But I'll still defend our need to meet together quarterly, even though we can do in 3 hours what it takes us 8 to do!
Perhaps if everyone was a pragmatic as myself, we'd lose something. I have to tell myself that at least, or I'll go crazy.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
But in case you're too stubborn to do so, Facebook is an online way to post things, activities, pictures about yourself in a way that is easy to network, find, and keep up with others doing the same thing.
As I clicked on one of my former youth (during the dog days of Clinton, SC 99-02), I noticed several of his 'friends' pictures and profiles (or contacts to the laymen). One girl was dressed provocatively like "Catwoman." Just a picture, but a picture is often worth more than a 1000 words. Pictures of people partying or scantily dressed usually reveals something much deeper: a lifestyle in search of something outside Christ.
In addition, I thought about some other things that were posted on a few other of my former youth's profiles and I began to wonder. Did I totally waste my time there? After all, I had a molester, a killer (though in self defense, after I left), and several who professed faith and then turned away. And I didn't have a large group.
Certainly I wasn't perfect there. I should have probably been fired for attempting the live mouse toss, and for several (that's being conservative) other things.
But I guess with all ministry (not just youth) one has to go back to Jesus' parable of the Seed and the Sower (Matt 13). Not all seed grows up to produce fruit. Some receive the message with joy but fall away due to tribulation or love of the world. But some seed does fall on good soil and produces fruit.
My responsibility lies in sowing. I can't produce fruit for myself, much less someone else!
I did sow there. Not perfectly, but I did sow.
As I look back, some seed did produce fruit; others didn't. At least for the time being. But all may not be lost. They may return one day. Hopefully.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
One was a 'talk' centered around a U2 song called "Still haven't found what I'm looking for." In the song, Bono claims to know Christ, and to know Christ "carried the cross of my shame....you know I believe it...." However, it feels like there is something more. Perhaps he's missed something?
My point was that those who know "Christ has carried the cross of our shame" still feel like we are missing something. But is not that Christ is insufficient, but that until we get to heaven we experience "groans like in the pains of childbirth (Rom 8:22)"
Everybody groans. All creation, or as R.E.M. put it, "Everybody hurts." Not just Christians.
Life is not all that we would like it to be. We don't experience the full glory and full joy of Christ while here on Earth. Our best life is NOT NOW (contra Joel O.)
However, we have been given the first fruits (first installment of what is to come in the Holy Spirit) even now-says Romans 8:23.
And so about 10 years or so later, Bono wrote a song called "Yahweh." In it he laments, "Why the pain before the child is born?" But now he's come back to Jesus, and has reflected. And so he offers his hands, and his heart BACK to Christ as he did earlier in his career as recorded in "Gloria."
This was supposed to be a blog about somebody remembering what I taught, but it turned into an explication of the joy and difficulty of living between Christ's First and Second Comings. Sorry about that. I guess you get double the info for today.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
But as I look back, I never really felt like a made a sacrifice. After all, at least for my sophomore year, the only alternative was the infamous ‘sophomore’ dorms. In the freshmen dorms, the doors are ALWAYS open. People are constantly coming in and out. They’re new. They don’t already have relationships and are always open and looking.
On the contrary, if you were to walk through the halls of ‘sophomore dorms,’ you’d find doors which were ALWAYS closed. Their relationships have already been formed. They don’t feel any need to keep their doors open to their neighbors.
Some neighborhoods are like freshmen dorms. While their doors are not literally open, their garages are, or they are out in the yards, etc…They are looking for relationships actively or are willing for new folks to come to them.
However most neighborhoods are like sophomore dorms. Garages go up, cars go in, garage doors go down, and people go inside.
So then should we not seek relationships within our sophomoric neighborhoods? No. Building community where there is little or none is a tiresome, prayerful effort. While difficult, it is not impossible. It takes small strides, big prayer, and a little faith. But a little goes a long way. Even when dealing with sophomores (which literally means 'wise fool!')
Sunday, November 11, 2007
It all worked out well, and we had tons of food (and good food at that) and were able to actually meet some new people. One of them actually liked to fish, so I look forward to getting out on the kayaks with him some time soon.
There are actually a number of couples in their early 30's with kids on our block now. We'll be among that elite crowd eventually. I can't wait.
All in all, I recommend any such endeavor. Even when our cookouts were not well attended (3-5 households) it was a great way to get to know our immediate neighbors. This was our 4th, and definitely won't be our last. And by the way, we had fun. So that helps as well. If you prayed for us, thanks.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Last night I knocked on a few more doors, and eventually got one more couple to come on Saturday to our cookout. I really think that these neighborhood cookouts (or any neighborhood activity) really honors God.
If we are created for community, than doing anything which builds community, even if there is never the slightest mention of Jesus or church, is a good thing. It honors God as we try to put aside our solitary existences to a more communal and relational way of living. The picture we get of heaven is of great multitudes worshiping; there will be no solitary living. So doing anything which promotes community is really furthering God's Kingdom on Earth (which is essentially bringing what's already present in heaven now, down to earth).
With some there is great excitement. With others there is great inertia. Right now we're at 7-8 households participating. But even if it were just the houses on my cul de sac coming, I still think it would be a good thing. Heaven is not a place on Earth as Belinda Carlysle sang in the 80's. However, she wasn't totally sans truth.
Heaven will one day be a place on Earth (Rev 20), and our participation in Christ's mission brings a little bit of heaven down to Earth. As we live out our faith in the community we've been placed, God's Kingdom/reign/will moves forward. And heaven becomes a little more visible on Earth.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
After all, they've not come into my world (church); I've come into their world. Its kind of like when people get into the water with sharks. They always say, "We're in their world now." Of course those nestling within the confines of a cozy cage, have nothing to worry about (that's why I refuse to watch the "Shark Week" episodes when they're in cages-their not risking anything), but when they step out of the cage-that's when they really risk their lives.
My partner (a fellow black pastor) was kind of my cage. He's not going to make it now, so I'm cageless; I've got nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide-or something like that.
Back to the sharks. Despite the initial fear, and perhaps fear throughout their dives, they always seem to come up excited. Even overwhelmed at the opportunity they just had.
Yet I don't think that only happens while free diving with Great White Sharks. I think it happens any time we truly step out in faith. Along with fear comes great excitement. But that fear often proves too great a hurdle, and we settle for a safe and boring spirituality. However, interestingly enough, neither words are used to describe the Christian life in the bible. I've looked.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
As I drove out of my neighborhood yesterday afternoon I passed by several houses which I assumed would simply not come. And it made me very angry. I took that anger with me to work out, and it continued until one of my friends at the gym said he was coming to play Paintball this Saturday.
Then I began to realize that God was doing His work whether I realized it or not. By the time I got home, I had forgotten this, and was angry about all of the households which I assumed would not be coming. Amy reminded me that I had done all that I could in personally passing out flyers door to door, and praying. If its just several houses that come, then that's who God wants to be here. Just one family at a time. Sometimes I want more though.
But I'm thankful for those near neighbors who are coming. And we'll pour ourselves into the relationships God grants us and get to know them better.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
One of the communities I've enjoyed being a part of is the paddle-fishing web forum. Sure there are inside jokes that I don't get, and people can be picky about using certain types of lures (smelly one's that don't take much skill to use), and disdain the use of boats, but I was impressed by the bunch two Saturday's ago for their semi-regular tournament series.
I generally stayed away from any type of web forums, because they are often used as a cyber-community in place of actual human community. But this community was not the case. Most were very friendly, and saw the fishing tournament like I did: a chance to meet some new people, and fellowship with old friends.
It was scary going into a new place and really not knowing many folks at all (I had previously fished with two different lads before), but meeting people was fairly easy. The first question after you meet someone is "What's your screen name?" And then go from there.
Instead of people fishing alone (which was nearly impossible due to the fact there were like 60 kayaks in a small fishable area, and on an extremely low tide-even less water), many folks went off in pairs, some in groups of four-five. Some folks even asked to fish with me because I knew the area better. Of course one of them got the largest snook of the day, and 100 bucks for my guiding skills (I just said let's head south and didn't seem him for a while).
At the end of the tournament everyone went back to the "weigh-in" (just pictures of the fish) at a restaraunt to eat, drink, and of course BS. It just goes to show that people really do crave community. Perhaps even as much as fishing. One of the guys told me, "I'm never fishing alone again." Even if some do fish alone, they immediately post the report with pictures on the forum. It just goes to show that we are created for community. And when people aren't part of a church, they'll just find a replacement.
Friday, November 2, 2007
So the Hotel becomes like an Oasis in the desert of death and destruction. The question I have is what similarities/differences exist betwixt the Hotel and the Church? The question is not rhetorical, and please feel free to comment. But do please allow me to go first, seeing as it is my question.
- The Church is to be a place where needy people come to find refuge, shelter, protection. It is not for the well, but for the sick. People can only become a member of the Church by recognizing their need for a Savior.
- In the movie, some of the refugees actually served and helped out at the place. It was probably like the 10%/90% rule, where 10 % of the people do 90% percent of the work. Another point for similarity! Regardless, those who come out of great need to the Church, are then called to serve within it.
- Hotel Rwanda was a place concerned with issues of social justice. The Church today should be concerned and do all it can to seek justice for the oppressed.
- The Hotel Rwanda was constantly under attack from its enemies. Physically or spiritually, Satan is not a fan of the Church and will do what he can to stop, disrupt, cause dissension. Sometimes its small like someone stealing our roadside banners on Halloween. Sometimes its with more forceful entry.
- Hotel Rwanda was primarily a place to which people simply arrived. They were not invited; they simply came. In the OT we see a vision of people flocking to Zion (an idealized/'souped up' Jerusalem), but that vision never really materialized for reasons I don't have time to write about. But in the NT, we see very clearly that Jesus calls the church to GO forth. The Church has to be both defensive and offensive. We are sent forth.
- Some people did drop refugees off at Hotel Rwanda-but these 'rescuers' were not part of the Hotel itself. The Church consists of people who have been rescued. So it's different in that we the rescued, now become involved in the rescue operation. Different mentality. A beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.
- The Hotel Rwanda was only a temporary refuge. All who lived there knew it could not last but so long. With the Church, Jesus promises that He will build it and the gates of Hell will not overtake it. Pretty cool, I think.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
So the question was raised in our movie discussion about what God might have thought about these bribes to save the lives innocent folks. In other words, can we do things like lie in such desperate times of war and cataclysms? The unanimous answer was "Yes," and people were quick to point out the scripture passages which included people lying to save God's people such as Rahab and the Hebrew midwives. There are several other similar instances which need not be pointed out.
Probably none of us would have a problem lying to the Nazi's in denying we knew of any Jews hiding in our guest rooms or lanais. We wouldn't think twice about it, and we really shouldn't. In times of Holy War and attempted genocide, we see that lying sometimes becomes the righteous decision. We are to uphold life before truth in certain times when God's commands are pit against each other.
However, in the NT we don't see ANY examples of righteous lying of which I'm aware. And even in the OT, we see righteous folk lying to save their own butts. And there is no sense of approval from the writers. Abraham passed his wife off as his sister to save his own tail. The purpose of his lie was primarily self preservation.
In the NT we see that we are supposed to speak truthfully to our neighbors (which may be enemies-Eph 4:25). Since I'm not involved in war (I would have NO problem lying to a Taliban man to save my fellow soldier's lives) or in any genocidal activity, I don't know that I've ever had the right to lie. I'm not sure that any of us have been in that situation.
Most lying is simply a case of self preservation. It wasn't wise for Abraham, and it still isn't wise for today except in VERY few circumstances. But I doubt that any of us have ever been in one. If you think you have, feel free to post a response. You can literally remain anonymous when you do so by clicking that box.