Monday, December 28, 2009

viral messages

This weekend was an out-of-body experience. I was so glad when the last celebration was over. I know I don’t have the gift of martyrdom; I was whining to anyone who asked me how I was doing.


On Friday, Christmas Day, I started feeling like a truck ran over me and my throat began to hurt. Saturday morning I was sure there were tire tracks down the front of me and I was having a tough time swallowing. Anita, being the good wife she is, said, “Don’t be a guy. Go see a nurse.” and sent me to a place called “The Little Clinic” in Kroger’s.


Huh?


I had never heard of it, but she convinced me that it would be the quickest way to go, especially since I still had a message to write…and to speak that night. So on my way to the office, I swung by “The Little Clinic”.


Turns out that they can do a strep test quickly, no appointments are needed, and you can pick up a bottle of sauvignon blanc, brick cheese and Wheat Thins on your way out. Now this is healthcare that works.


The nurse asked me all the typical questions about any exiting body fluids and so on. My head felt like I was in a fog, so I made up stuff when she asked my medical history. She swabbed my throat, checked my blood pressure, stuck that thing in my ear (a major technological advancement over every other method of temperature-taking), listened to my lungs and my heart, looked in my mouth and said, “’Ewwww! That’s really red,” then said it wasn’t strep: “See, only two lines instead of three on this, uh, thing.”


I told her thanks because of what I do in my job: talk a lot. She asked me what I did and I told her I was a pastor. Turns out she goes to what she described as a “oneness” church. I told her I had some friends in the UPC (United Pentecostal Church) denomination. These are folks who believe Jesus is God…but they’re not Trinitarians. It’s complicated.


Then she asked me what church I belonged to. I told her and she said she had heard of it. Then she asked me what I spoke about last weekend and I honestly couldn’t remember…so I said, “Uh, God.” Okay, chalk it up to head fog, raw throat distraction or viral brain freeze, but that’s pretty embarrassing.


Anyone who regularly speaks wrestles with retention, or “how people learn”. I think that’s why we tell people that this thing that happens on the weekend is not “real church”. “Real church” happens in the framework of community and serving/wooing/healing those outside of the community.


That’s why it’s so important that churches become activistic. Any kind of “doing” connected with input is processed and integrated far better. Years ago the “Learning Pyramid” was promoted by National Training Laboratories and then discredited mostly because of unproven percentage stats (and a dude named Thalheimer who was on a crusade), but I think many educators would agree conceptually with it, though argue about context. Regardless, it’s interesting and from my experience, true. The short version is: people learn and retain information way, way better with “practice by doing” and “teach others/immediate use” than by listening to a lecture or reading.


That’s the reason we never wanted to be just a “come-and-see” church, but a “go-and-do” one as well. For instance, we never wanted ministry to the underresourced and marginalized to simply be a “drop-off-your-offering-for-the-poor”-type thing. We have to personally rub shoulders with the poor to understand the heart of God. Or as we’ve said many, many times: we need the poor more than they need us.


I don’t think we really understand—or integrate the message of the Kingdom—until we begin doing what the Father is doing. I have no doubt that there are too many people sitting in churches that really don’t get it, but it may be that they have done very little of what God says we’re to do, and that ranges from relationship issues (eg. forgiveness) to compassionate service to healing the sick to whatever Jesus did…and does. That’s when real learning kicks in. Or as Jesus put it, “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills.” (Matthew 7:21 The Message).


That verse alone should have the capacity to freak us out, but I’m not so sure that’s the intention. It could be that Jesus was way ahead of the National Training Laboratories folks: we learn best by doing and showing others how to do it.


Anyway, I was back at “The Little Clinic” today. This time whining for amoxicillin.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

a paper tiger

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Have you heard the news about Tiger Woods?

Yeah, right. I feel like I’m living at IHOT: the International House of Tiger with 24/7 coverage.

What is it that so captures the public’s attention? Like an I-75 car wreck, everything slows down for a potential view of twisted metal and who knows what else. And this is some serious wreckage; when indiscrete relationships hit double digits, you can count on TMZ camping on the doorstep. Pundits have taken potshots at Tiger’s past repeated references to how important his marriage is, with news clips and interviews of him espousing family-first values. Integrity is getting more difficult in a YouTube world.

It’s not unique. We could easily alphabetize a list of celebrities who got caught, from actors to preachers to politicians to sports stars to whatever the Kardashians do.

But what the public really loves is to lick its lips over hypocrisy. That’s when we smell blood.

I mean, come on. Even Jesus had his biggest rows with hypocrites. We get the word from the Greeks who used it for stage actors…a person pretending to be someone they aren’t. Jesus jumped all over that. And that’s where the media pounces: when someone espouses a view or projects a persona that turns out to be the opposite of what they say.

I think we come at this from one of three angles:

1. When someone preaches a value of virtuousness, it reminds us of how we fall short, and so we all nod like third-graders in feigned-serious agreement with a teacher’s lecture—we don’t want to be found out. Therefore, when someone stumbles publicly, we feel relieved that no one is really that perfect.

2. Or there is something grossly evil in us about secretly wishing for someone else’s downfall. It’s gossip, one-upmanship and wickedly appealing. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “How difficult it is to avoid having a special standard for oneself!”

3. Maybe we really want to see someone be true, virtuous and integrous. We want to believe that someone out there is actually who they say they are. Maybe we’re tired of people copping out with, “I’m an ______ (actor, athlete, politician, etc.), not a role model”, and wonder if there’s anyone who can step up to the plate and say like Paul, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”, or at least some secularized version of that. That’s gutsy.

It may be that whatever view we hold is dependent on how aware we are of our own brokenness or how hungry we are for “righteousness” (now that’s a quaint idea in the 21st century…). One thing for sure, Jesus has a lot to say about secret lives. Interestingly, He encourages a secret life when it comes to righteousness…and discourages any secrecy with our brokenness and sin:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:3–4 NIV)

…“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2–3 ESV)

What a different way of thinking. We could probably avoid a lot of heartbreak if we practiced that. But we would do good to remember this: accountability without the pursuit of holiness is silly.

Pray for Tiger.


Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9 NKJV)
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Monday, November 30, 2009

lost in translation

Whoa. It’s been four weeks since I posted. It’s been a crazy few weeks, I think maybe I needed to clear my head a bit of a few things…and not on the worldwideweb. Sorry to be absent, gang, but come on: I haven’t missed too many since starting this back in ’06, eh?

I’ve really enjoyed working through part one of The Jesus Underground series we just finished. I’ve notice in myself a bit of danger while studying our way through the book of Acts. It’s easy to slip into some wistful, idyllic picture of the early Church, especially the first few chapters. While we love the miracles, the big “come-to-Jesus” moments, and the apparent depth of community, we can miss what’s between the lines: the messiness, the confusion, the persecution and pain.

Can you imagine these first Jewish believers in Acts 2 wondering how they fit into Temple worship and what to do about required sacrifices? What are the polity, governance and configuration elements of this movement? Remember, no New Testament letter existed yet; their theology was being formed by their experience…and whatever they could interpret from the law and the prophets that shed light on this new covenant. What was the discipleship structure for understanding this remarkable covenant? Should, or could, Gentiles ever be a part of this movement? And on and on and on.

Think how complicated—and risky—this all would have been. No wonder Gnosticism and various squirrelly theologies slipped in quickly.

And then Paul comes into the picture.

I tire of critics taking potshots at Paul and his supposed “reshaping of Jesus’ message”. Sometimes, people pit Paul’s letters against the less “legalistic” love-ethic of Jesus. But I can’t even imagine what Christianity, let alone the early Church, would have done without his clear-headed and revelatory insight into this strange and unarticulated new covenant. There are precious few verses in the prophets regarding the details and nature of this next covenant (there is far more about “the day of the Lord” which is sometimes interpreted as the same). The only place that even uses the specific language of “new covenant” is in Jeremiah 31 with God spelling out but a few basics: the forgiveness of sins, an individualized actualized deep knowledge of Him, and a new spirit concordant with the law and heart of God. Yes, Paul’s writing requires thoughtful and contextual understanding, but I don’t see a dichotomy with the Kingdom language of Jesus or the mysterious foreshadows and types within the Old Testament.

Somewhat sweetly, the apostle Peter put it like this:

This is just as our beloved brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of Scripture—and the result is disaster for them. (2 Peter 3:15b–16)

Even more so, taking into account what Luke recorded of the encounter pre-conversion Saul/Paul had with Jesus, it’s Jesus who calls a believer named Ananias to pray for Paul who was walking around in the dark, blinded by the light. In a vision, Jesus tells Ananias that Paul has been hand-picked to carry the Kingdom message to the Gentiles…and via some kick-butt suffering. Years later, Paul becomes the first real theologian of the Jesus Underground movement. Reading his letters is like, as historian Thomas Cahill writes, “watching original theology in the making.” Pretty amazing when you think about what he did.

When we say the word theologian, we tend to think of a bookish-kind of guy with glasses and a corduroy sport coat with patches on the elbows. But Paul was certainly not that.

• Think of a Jewish Shia LaBoef (uh, actually, he is Jewish) who’s constantly getting attacked, who once escaped some bounty hunters over a city wall at night in a basket lowered by ropes.
• Think of a guy who almost gets torn apart because his preaching about Jesus is so compelling that the idol-making trade union riots in Ephesus because of a Kingdom-driven recession.
• Three times he narrowly survives a shipwreck.
• Imprisoned multiple times.
• Five times he was flogged with thirty-nine lashes.
• Three times he is beaten with a cane.
• Once he survived a stoning…barely.
• Traveled all over the Mideast, Asia and Europe…pre Megabus days when it was extremely dangerous.
• Often going without food, left in prisons cold and naked for months.
• While calling himself the “chief sinner” (probably because of being a widow-maker pre-conversion), he humbly writes that he now has a “clear conscience”. Wow. Now that’s a deep understanding of forgiveness and grace.

Let me ask you: what do you think Paul would think of American Christianity? And what would you think of a guy who by his own admission was not much to look at and not very impressive in person? And this is the man who says to the people he’s mentoring: fight a worthy fight…a good fight. I’d say to the Paul-bashers: walk a mile in his sandals.

And I think that’s why I’m going to so enjoy Part 2 of The Jesus Underground in January with the fantastic adventures of Paul.

He’s my hero. Complicated, but he's the man.
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Monday, November 02, 2009

a rough stretch

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It’s been a rough stretch.

Way back when I was traveling and playing music, Terry Kranyak taught me how to do basic electrical work. He owned a small non-union electrical company called Daystar Electric. In a way it “saved” me; it enabled me to earn some money when I was home and yet be flexible enough to go on the road for weeks at a time (and not earn money…). My wife and I loved Terry & Peggy Kranyak and their two little kids, Jesse & Meghan. As a matter of fact, we’d take their kids to Ault Park sometimes just to give them a break. They were amazing kids…and actually made us want to have some of our own, even with my crazy schedule and me continually saying, “Let’s wait one more year.”

Terry was a special guy. He was a cheerleader for our “bring-people-to-Jesus” Christian rock band. He had all of our albums and would play them for any of his non-Christian friends. We loved him so much that when his business tanked during a recession in the eighties, we collected unemployment while working for him full-time for free to help him get out of debt. Hippie-ish, organic, fun, fearless, incredibly generous, entrepreneurial, and a Jesus-lover. Somewhere along the way, he had gotten burned by a church…apparently being part of what was then referred to as a heavy “shepherding” congregation—authoritative and controlling. For whatever reason, they never really connected with a local church again, but loved being with other believers. When they moved away for Peggy to pursue a medical career, we missed them terribly. Once when we visited them in Virginia, I sensed that things were difficult in their marriage.

Later, for various reasons, they divorced. My wife cried like a baby when we got the news in Cincinnati. We lost touch, but Terry eventually moved to Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie, started a few different businesses, remarried and began a new life. We visited a couple of times, staying in a bed-and-breakfast that he built. He was still fun, energizing to be around, and always interested in what we were doing in the Vineyard. He loved hearing about what we were learning/teaching about the Kingdom.

The last time I saw him was a couple of years ago. He called to ask if I would consider baptizing his daughter Meghan in Lake Erie, now in her early twenties. Easy answer: Absolutely. I hadn’t seen the kids in many years. Peggy drove in from Cleveland as well. It was sweet. Terry and I would connect at best once a year by phone, but it always felt as though we could pick up like we had just seen each other at Frisch’s that morning arguing and laughing about some theological point.

Last week I got a call out of the blue from Meghan. After telling her what a happy surprise to hear her, she told me that Terry had just passed away. He had been in the hospital for a few weeks, gotten out, then took a sudden turn for the worse. I was shocked, to say the least, and could only respond with a stunned—and lame—“You’re kidding me, right?” as if a daughter would joke about that. Eventually I asked what arrangements had been made and she simply said, “Oh, you know dad. So unconventional. He didn’t want an obituary, he didn’t want a memorial service…just a party at the restaurant.” On Kelley’s Island.

Terry and I were the same age.

A day later Anita’s dad went into the hospital in Columbus. She drove up the next morning to check on him and the next day I received a text from her: He’s gone. I called her immediately, jumped in the car and two hours later ran into the hospital room. Anita and her sisters were there. David was lying in the bed, thin and pale with his mouth slightly open, his breath had slipped away with his spirit. He was a big, blustery, bigger-than-life personality. A lover of God. By Sunday we held a viewing, put together and spoke at a memorial on Monday and a graveside military sendoff that afternoon.

Two days later back in Cincinnati I awoke at 4:20 a.m. praying heavy and urgently in the Spirit for Charlie Matthews. I knew it was for him.

Charlie was one of the best pastors I’ve known, no fooling. Off-the-chart passionate about Jesus. Activistic, fiercely loyal, hard-working, authentically people-loving, fun, transparent, an intense learner…and ridiculously liberal in kind things to say about people. I knew that he had been through several tough and potentially cynicism-inducing church situations in his past, but I honestly never heard him say an unkind thing about anyone. And I mean anyone. The times we sat in Panera and the long-gone Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Kemper were always catalytic: Charlie asking lots of questions, always throwing out encouraging words, talking about his family and his desire to balance his love for them with his drive for the Kingdom. I remember thinking many times: this guy is going to bust up the gates of hell. He would take on any job in the Vineyard with gusto, but you knew he was like a racehorse waiting to rocket out of the gate to plant a church. He simply wanted to do what was right and whatever God wanted him to do. We knew he was the perfect fit for the relaunch of the Mason Vineyard.

Friday I received word that things were not good. More prayer. Saturday morning while at the office working on my message for the weekend, I got the phone call. Honestly?—expletive and anger. I jumped in my car, drove to Bethesda North, and went to his room. Family and friends were crying. Charlie was gone. After everyone left the room, I stared at Charlie for a long time from the foot of his bed. He looked exceptionally tired but peaceful to me. I cannot tell you what my prayers were.

The weekend was a bit of a blur. I sensed strongly that I had a message to deliver that was light-years from what I was feeling. It’s nothing heroic, but staying on point is part of the gig. Or at least that’s what I felt I should do. And, of course, second-guessing is somewhat continual.

Death sucks. There is absolutely nothing romantic about it; it’s flat-out ugly. On one hand it’s completely natural: everything we know dies. I’ve been at too many bedside deaths to not think about the whole cycle of life. I’ve spoken at funerals while watching a newborn wiggle in a mother’s arms in the back of the room. We’re born, we die. But at the same time there is this nagging drone in my soul that this is not how it’s supposed to be. Paul simply calls it the last enemy for Jesus to vanquish, the last step after all authorities and powers have been destroyed. And those early believers who lived with a hairline connection between costly faith and perpetually potential death must have longed desperately for the One they knew had conquered His own death to come back quickly. Maranatha. Rid us of this sword of Damocles, King Jesus. Please.

The questions are always around timing…and fairness. Some jerk who shafts his family, leeches off of society, and forever concerned with himself, lives a long unproductive and self-consumed life. A man who genuinely loves his wife and kids and fervently seeks the Kingdom is cut short at thirty-seven. I truly can relate to Paul’s words—and keep in mind Paul had more than his share of pain and loss—when he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8: “…we are perplexed, but not in despair.”

I could write about potential answers and some tidy theological thoughts, but I think I want—need—less of that and more venting apart from this blog. And I promise to write a bit more about the questions…and what they mean. Somehow the questions seem more important to me.

Pray for Charlie’s wife Angie and their two little kids.

And even so, Come Lord Jesus. I trust You.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

john parker painting

Had a few people ask me about the artist I referenced last weekend. Check him out here.
John Parker by Ken Swinson

Thursday, October 15, 2009

the power of the jesus underground


Sometimes talking about experiencing the Holy Spirit stirs up quite a bit of, well, emotions. Good and bad. One weekend after speaking along similar lines, a woman charged up on stage and literally yelled at me between celebrations. She was so angry she was physically shaking. She shouted that I had said she wasn’t really “saved”, that she wasn’t able to hear God, and she was a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God.

Wow. I tried to quickly mentally reboot everything I’d said that morning and for the life of me couldn’t think of anything that remotely implied that.

She was shaking her finger in my face. I finally had to say, “Stop it! You need to calm down right now and stop yelling at me.” She glared at me. “I never said anything like that,” I insisted.

She bristled, “Well, you seemed to say that if I didn’t have some sort of weird experience, something was wrong with me.”

Puzzled, I replied, “I’m sorry, but I never said anything like that either.”

“Yes you did,” she huffed. “You said I had to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

“I didn’t say that—Paul did. He wrote to the believers in Ephesus: be filled with the Holy Spirit. I didn’t tell you how to ‘manifest’ that…or what that should even look like.”

Obviously this is an emotionally charged subject. And too bad…because we shortchange the real purpose of the multiple fillings that the early disciples experienced: a bold passion for people who didn’t yet know Jesus. The extreme views and practices on either side polarize the issue. I cringe when I see some of the ways my charismatic brothers create a subculture of wackiness, often on TV. When Todd Bentley kneed someone in the gut on GodTV for healing purposes, you’ve got some puffed up showmanship that’s gone awry. On the other hand, the mean-spirited and frankly poor exegesis of cessationist John MacArthur who attributes any contemporary manifestation of the classic power gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 to Satan is equally embarrassing to the Body of Christ.

Please. Could we tone things down a bit?

Let’s keep in mind the mission of the church and how the moving of the Holy Spirit complements that. Let’s clearly define the purposes of our different gatherings and contexts. In my reading of Acts, it seemed to me that most expressions of the power of the Holy Spirit were in the street, beyond the church walls. But perhaps in some circles we’ve made the practice of the gifts in such routine Pentecostal expressions, that unless it looks just like that, we assume the Spirit isn’t moving. And on the other hand, evangelicals can have such a narrow view and lack of experience that we simply rule out the possibility of the power gifts. There’s a bit of self-righteousness in both approaches.

I believe God may have a third way. And it may not look how either party wants it to.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

kairos

I spoke this weekend at the Mason Vineyard Community Church for their relaunch weekend in their new digs.

The church was planted by a great guy about eight or nine years or so ago. Todd Pierce started the church after being turned on to a different way of doing church. He was pastoring a traditional church in the 1990’s that was bogged down in bureaucracy and a “this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” philosophy. And frankly, no outward focus to speak of. If I remember correctly, he once told me he spent a year trying to talk the elder board into getting a projector to do simple PowerPoint-type stuff. After a year, they rented one, tried it out one weekend, and then said, “Okay, we did it. Now send it back.”

Eventually he left and started attending VCC with a few other folks as well. They lit up, to put it mildly. I remember doing a free car wash with his entourage one Saturday when one of his guys said, “I’ve gone to the same church since I was a kid where my dad and granddaddy were pillars. Today at this car wash I’ve talked to more people about Jesus than I have my whole life.” They got hooked on serving.

Not long after, Todd and several folks launched a new church in Mason. But seasons come and go. After a number of years and some life-stage changes, I think Todd simply felt tired and a little “vision”-impaired. He graciously turned the church over to his friends and advisors, offered to stay as long as needed, but clearly wanted to hand the leadership off to someone else. I can’t tell you how wise, how selfless and how rare that is. Many of us hang on to something way beyond our level of energy, our sense of entitlement and perceived need for self-esteem. And often, the only way for us to truly live is by dying to something. When it’s time for me to lay my work down, especially for the sake of future healthy growth, I hope I wisely recognize the time—the kairos—and do it as gracefully as Todd.

Hence, as their “sending church”, we got involved in the process along with MVCC’s volunteer leaders and began to help them chart out some different courses. Along the way, one of our staff pastors who was looking forward to churchplanting in the future, became the obvious choice to lead the church forward. Charlie Matthews is a more than competent leader and hungry to get in the game. Full of energy, ideas and good experience in several different contexts and capacities, Charlie was the man for the gig. I couldn’t have been more excited for Charlie…and MVCC.

Anyway, this past weekend was their official new launch…and Charlie was sick as a dog, as my mom says in Kentucky. Double-pneumonia. The poor guy was super bummed. He’ll be back next week and ready to go, I’m sure. And it will be great for Mason. I think it’s their time now, their kairos.

As I understand it, in the New Testament the Greeks used several different words for what we translate as “time”. One of them was kronos; that’s the unrelenting march of clock-time and calendar-time. It’s how history unfolds. Another Greek word for time is kairos. Kairos means a moment of opportunity. Mark Buchanan describes it like this: with kronos we ask, “What time is it?” but with kairos we ask, “What is this time for?” When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, they used the word kairos for Solomon’s words, “To everything there is a season…a time to plant, a time to reap…a time to laugh, a time to cry…”

Perhaps wisdom is the ability to understand our kairos.

I’m thrilled with what I’m doing now. All the frustrations and strokes that come with pastoring are neither here nor there for me; it’s being in the moment, the flow, of my appointed time. Understanding our kairos is key to understanding this mysterious thing we label “our calling”, our vocation. I’m beginning to believe that discerning kairos may be more important than identifying our vocation…or at least they’re certainly joined at the hip.

How are you determining your kairos? Or has kronos crowded out the ability to pay attention to that? Do you have a sense of what this “time in your life” is for? Is it being used wisely? And of course all those questions can best be answered with a surrendered-heart attitude. As we develop an outlook of laying our lives down for the Kingdom, kairos becomes a little simpler to discern. And somehow the degree of my surrendering has always been an easier thing to identify in the deepest part of my heart, sometimes to my joy and sometimes to my disappointment with myself.

At least that’s been my experience over thirty-five years of following Jesus.


To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 (NKJV)

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

the investment

This weekend I used Jesus’ parable of the ten minas in Luke 19. There were a couple of different directions I could have gone, but I wanted to focus on the demand God has for productivity, and that’s a piece that often gets short-changed in high-grace settings. I used the business term ROI—Return On Investment. It makes sense when you think about it, but most of us bristle at the idea of some sort of “spiritual performance review” having to do with our kingdom-effectiveness, perhaps because some of us have had to endure performance reviews in our jobs that were painfully done or less developmentally focused and more punitive.

It was a difficult message to give only because I’m forced as well (perhaps more so) to take a hard look at my own life. I have to lean heavy into the grace of God on this one because it’s easy for me to slip into a “performance-based” relationship. One of the most troubling scriptures for me has been Jesus’ words, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It’s not that I think I have some abundance of gifts and talents, but it’s more about context: I live in a wealthy country, I’m a white male in a privileged majority (if you don’t think racism still exists, you’re amazing), a great marriage, I have more Bibles than I need, access to the world through the internet, never a thought about clean water or available food, and the pastor of a good-sized church. That’s a lot that’s been given to me. The requirement-part of that proverb feels, well, intimidating at times. I need boatloads of grace.

That still doesn’t excuse me from what God wants to see produced from my life. And that message regularly sobers me up in this consumer-drunk culture.

But the other part of this parable that would have required a lot more time to unpack was the judgmental message. I actually left off the last line of the parable from the video (so beautifully drawn by one of our young adult volunteers, the incredible Tahnee Torres). The final verse, voiced ominously by Max McLean, has the master of the land saying tersely to his servants, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” (Luke 19: 27 ESV).

Whoa.

The judgment of the servants who didn’t want the master to be king was hard and almost seemed to be an afterthought beyond the “productivity” lesson. Obviously productivity and submission are connected in this story. And what’s more, the king wanted them killed in his presence. The tone is more than dark. Whatever metaphor Jesus is painting here because of the apparent refusal of the subjects to submit to this new king, one thing is sure: God isn’t messing around. The setup for this parable in verse eleven is that the people who were following Jesus were expecting the kingdom of God to be manifest as Jesus strode into Jerusalem from Jericho.

Only one problem: He knew that He would be executed in Jerusalem and that the kingdom would not be fully consummated until He returns. That was not how His Jewish followers had interpreted the prophecies; the long-anticipated “day of the Lord” was a singular event ushering in a nationalistic new order.

But that was the wrong interpretation. Makes me wonder about the micro-managed “left-behind” eschatology of the typical American evangelical.

Anyway, to go beyond just a preaching of the judgmental aspect of this parable and not explore an apologetic for Divine judgment—while still zeroing in on the primary ROI aspect of the story—seemed way too overwhelming for a twenty-five minute message. It’s a matter of focus…and scope.

But I think I would have relished the challenge of talking about the judgment of God…mostly because I am acutely aware of the danger of putting words in the mouth of God; it’s a precarious proposition. It’s probably best to do what Jesus did so masterfully: simply tell the story, with all its sadness and in-your-face truth, and let the hearers wrestle with it. I was simply concerned that two big themes were too much to deal with in one sitting.

I think that’s a message for another time.

Hmmm. And perhaps my friend Joe can give it.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

learning how to die

I’ve had this Jon Foreman song stuck in my head for months and months. Can’t get it out. Need help. Click the song on the widget to the right...

Learning How To Die

“I'm gonna miss you.
I'm gonna miss you
When you're gone.”
She says, “I love you;
I'm gonna miss hearing your songs.”

I said, “Please.
Don't talk about the end.
Don't talk about how
Every living thing goes away.”
She said, “Friend,
All along I thought
I was learning how to take,
How to bend not how to break,
How to live, not how to cry.
But really I've been learning how to die.
I've been learning how to die.”

verse two:

Hey, everyone, I've got nowhere to go.
The grave is lazy; he takes our body slow.

I said, “Please.
Don't talk about the end.
Don't talk about how
Every living thing goes away.”
She said, “Friend,
All along I thought
I was learning how to take,
How to bend not how to break,
How to laugh not how to cry.
But really I've been learning how to die.
I've been learning how to die.”



In my little head, this is as true to the call of Jesus as you can get.

“If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” Luke 17:33 (The Message)


.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

we came...we saw...we grilled

I’m way overdue on this, but I thought you’d enjoy seeing some of the emails from the 1000 Barbecues a couple of weekends ago; I’ve deleted names to protect the innocent. The idea was simple: get one-thousand people at VCC to throw a neighborhood cookout on their street on one weekend and just love on their neighbors. How basic is that?

Beyond that, we were confident God would use the time to build/renew/restore some relationships…and perhaps create an opportunity to share God’s love down-the-road. How can we fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t even know their names?—at least, that’s my embarrassing confession.

Our party was great, but the best part was when we were all sitting around the patio tables, one of my newer neighbors put his Mike’s Hard Lemonade down and said, “And what do you do for a living, Dave?” I said, “I’m a pastor.” There were a few seconds of silence and then he said, “Really?”—except in the way you say it without sounding like a question, with the second syllable dropping down in pitch. Too funny.

And then we moved on to other conversation.

We all hung around for a good while laughing and telling stories and at the end of the night several people said “thanks for doing this…let’s do it again…soon.”

Remember, this isn’t friendship with an agenda, it’s friendship with a vision. It’s calling out the hidden dreams people have buried deep, deep inside: a life of intentionality, of meaning, of passion, of connection. And dreaming for them of a life of grace and beauty and love. It’s what we all secretly want.

And perhaps it all starts with a simple cookout.

Anyway, here are a few emails…


Hello Dave,

Just wanted to report on our neighborhood cookout that we had. Instead of inviting individual families, we decided to put up signs on Monday the 24th in our small 5 street neighborhood and invited anyone who wants to come. Probably 140 houses. We listed the time from 5:00-7:00 or until the food runs out. All we asked people to bring, was a canned good per person to donate. We thought we would try to help out the Healing Center too.

We bought enough hot dogs/beans/watermelon for about 150 people, and were hoping to have at least 100+. Not sure exactly why, but we fell a little short of our goal. We had about 25 show up. Fun with the 25, but not what we had envisioned. Maybe we scared them off with the donation, maybe they thought we were going to try and sell them something, don't know.

It was a gorgeous day, the ones that showed up had a good time. It was a good idea trying to show God's love in a practical way.

Keep the water flowing in Nigeria...

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Dave,

We participated in this event. . . . We invited the 14 households on our cul de sac to come to our yard to enjoy hot dogs and hamburgers. Six out of the fourteen came and had a good time.

Thanks for encouraging us to reach out in so many different ways. Most touching was the fact that an elderly gentleman who we rarely see out of the house stopped by on his scooter. He wanted us to know that he had received his invitation. Also he wanted to make sure we were still going to church. Being the "new kids on the block" (two years), we thought the neighbors knew each other. This event helped to bridge some of those gaps.

After eating, the adults left and the children/teens hung around, shooting hoops and eating smores.

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Dave,

We had our barebecue on Saturday. The theme of our event was "Just Because".....because in the hectic schedule of life we often forget our friends and the affect they have on our lives. So we sent out an invite to everyone we could think of...... imagine our surprise when we added it all up that we could have 100 plus people at our house.. ......we were a little scared, but then decided it was God's party and he would bring those that he really wanted to be there.

We ended up with around 60 people, kids and all. Had a great time getting to know them even better.. ...God knows what will come out of it. Thank you for making the challenge to step up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hey Dave;

…Last week after your message about neighborhood grill outs, we came home and made out invitations to come this past Sunday night to our home for one. We drove around and illegally :-) put them in mailboxes that night. Then we had the week from hell and thought "we don't have time or the energy for this party, what the heck did we just get ourselves into?"

We began to interceed that the Lord would orchestrate this party. After my daughter was taken to the hospital Friday night, it just put things into perspective for us. I didn't care if my house was clean or if I had enough food, it just didn't matter. I had to lay the "martha stewart hostess" aside and just let God do it. And you guessed it, HE DID.

We had 21 people show up. We have neighbors who live across the street from one another who haven't spoken to one another since Thanksgiving when they had a blow out and I knew this and had prayed that God would mend the broken friendship. When they both arrived only minutes apart, and they wouldn't look or speak to one another, I whispered under my breath for the Lord to intervene. And he did. By the end of the night, they were playing corn hole as partners.

A man who used to be mayor of our town has a mother who has been seriously ill and possibly in her final days and we've been reaching out to him since he is so alone with taking care of her and making hard decisions in her behalf. He showed up and asked us for prayer.

Another couple that we've known for some time and searching for Christ (but they don't know it :-) he is a firefighter of 26 years and he sat down next to me and first thing he said to me was how God had answered a prayer for us. You see, I just requested him to be my friend on facebook a couple of weeks ago, although I've known him for years, and he said that he and his wife were leary to add me as their friend because they could get a little raunchy on FB. I told them that I didn't care, that I loved them just the way they are. They make me laugh! And now he asks me to pray for these people that he helps to rescue….

So our grill out was a huge success. We had fun with the other guests too, but those were the three God stories that I wanted to share with you from the fruit of our grill out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dave,

Thanks to you and VCC for challenging all of us to have a neighborhood BBQ.

We held ours Saturday evening, and had three families come, but had a really nice time.
We've lived in our house for 9+ years, and have never done anything like host a BBQ.

We live on a busy street, not in a quiet "neighborhood", and don't really have a nice flat back yard, deck, or patio like some of our friends do. But, we figured we'd rise to the challenge. We invited people from eight houses, and three came.

I was worried about how we'd afford to buy meat for the BBQ, and it ended up we got coupons for beef and buns from my mom. We were able to buy enough meat for 35 hamburgers and three times as many buns for $12! When I was standing in my kitchen forming 35 hamburger patties, I thought about the loaves and fishes, because we truly were blessed with so much more food than we needed for our grill out.

Like I said, we've had our home for 9 years, and didn't even know the names of the people we always say "Hey" to when we see them. We got to find out where they work, who their kids are, and much more about them Saturday evening.

It was humbling and such a blessing for us to be able to serve our neighbors. The most rewarding part was at the end of the evening, the neighbors thanked us for hosting dinner, something that was way too long overdue.

We're talking about doing a cookout like that every year now. We're so glad we were held our BBQ, and we sure hope you hear from at least 999 other families.

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Hey Dave,

…Ok, so this was out of my comfort zone, and that's saying a lot because (my wife) says that I could talk to a wall and talk to too many strangers. This was a hard assignment because (my wife) was not able to make the call to action weekend's service because she was working. I had to move on the plans without her seeing why. Do not tell her that I told you but her reaction to me wanting to do it was "If that is what you need to do then..." So that did not help with my motivating. To her testament she let me be the spiritual leader in it. So, after convincing her that it would be ok to create a Word document invitation and not a wedding style invitation we began moving on things.

We recently rented our Norwood house out and are house sitting for friend in the Anderson area. So... it added to our apprehension. But you are our leader and you said to do it!

So (my wife), who I respect a ton for doing it, put the invitations out on the approx. 20 condos in our cul de sac. We prayed hard for the event, Sunday at 5:30. We invited my parents and (my wife’s) brother, his girlfriend and one of (my wife’s) friends. We wanted to have some other people we trusted there incase no one showed up. That was a real concern because for the month we hadn't met anyone and were told that no one had seen our next door neighbor but once. The other reason we were concerned that we would not have guests is our street is like a wild west ghost town. People drive-in in their air conditioned cars and close the garage door behind them.

So the time came for the party. I moved my big grill into the front driveway as "advertisement" to show people that we were serious about it. As the time grew nearer we put more stuff out and saw some neighbors stick their heads out of their doors. At the appointed time I just sat in a chair in the driveway and hung out with our "planted" guests (friends and Family) until our neighbors showed. The neighbors across the street were the first and began the awkward 30 foot approach. I met them part of the way and the party began. Other neighbors showed up and we had 20 by my count. We made it a point to talk with all of them and learn their names. It was great. Our planted friends and family helped if there were anyone not engaging and I believe everyone had a great time.

After learning someone's name the most common question was, "how long have you lived here?" Multiple times the answer was, "I am an original, I am the first and only owner." Then the other would respond, "Me too." The condo/townhouse development is about 11 years old and this was the first time they had anything like this!

Realize, they possibly have 12 inches of distance between their heads when they are sleeping! All this happening on a short street smaller than a football field and they had not met each other in 10 years!

…One of the funny things I noticed, was we just asked that the people bring their own drinks and chairs. So they brought desert. It was ok b/c we had some coke to share.

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Hey Dave,

Just want to drop a quick line before I run out the door to the Bengals game - ☺

I'm really happy you challenged us to do this...I have known for a long time this is one of my gifts but unfortunately my wife doesn't share this gift

My next door neightbor started going to VCC about a year ago and so I thought I would ask her if she wanted to "TEAM-UP AND DO IT AS A SHARED EXPERIENCE". She said that she had been thinking about it but was not comfortable with hosting it. I told her my idea was to host it myself in my backyard and asked her if she would coordinate the food from the neighbors. She said to me, "now I feel better and don't feel guilty" So (my wife) and I discussed it with her and her live-in boyfriend--fiance I think--and came up with a plan

We went around knocking on doors inviting people over. we had the BBQ this past Sun evening (4:00pm) and we didn't get to inviting people until the Monday before which barely gave people 6 - 7 days.

It was interesting bec only 1 or 2 people actually RSVP'd but about 75% of the people showed up...mostly those whom said they would prob come did in fact come.

Well in actuality we had plenty of food and lots of fun. Prob about 30 or more people came and they were all happy that we did this.

Some of the benefits are:
--The neighbors now want to have a "Chili Cook-off" this Fall and continue the get togethers (wasn't our idea, haha)
--One couple who hardly ever waves or ever say hi or boo or anything for many years showed up and was very pleasant to get to know - now they are waiving as we pass.

It truly brought us all closer together and I'm praying it will continue!!

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Once again, how simple is this? I'm convinced people are longing for something that they cannot articulate. Maybe sometimes our job is simply to give language...or words.

Or The Word.

Friday, August 28, 2009

1000 barbecues

Hey VCC'ers--don't forget the 1000 Barbecues this weekend...it's never too late! Just invite your neighbors for a backyard grillout and get to know them a little better. No agenda other than love. That's it.

Here's a sample of the flyer we used in our neighborhood. We printed it out at home with some borderline cheesy party stationery from Office Depot...and crammed them into mailbox flags.

Anyway, happy grilling!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

personal space invaders

In this three-week My Network series, we’ve been looking at how to invite, include and bring people to Jesus. As Andrew said to his friend Nathaniel regarding this apparently new legit messiah he met, “Come and see.”

I mentioned this weekend that there’s a continuum implied in this series. There’s no sense in giving people techniques, methods or tools if they haven’t experienced “square one”: a true, experiential connection with God through Jesus.

Then this weekend was all about hospitality. I quoted Dr. Christine Pohl, author of Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, from an interview years ago in Cutting Edge magazine: “Hospitality in Greek is ‘love of strangers.’ Welcoming strangers had great significance for the early church. Hospitality meant welcoming outsiders into personal space, mostly a home, and offering them food, shelter, and protection. …It had a strong component of recognition and respect—which was most characteristically expressed through shared meals. They understood that who you eat with says a lot about who you…value.”

Hospitality, particularly around the table, is simply a reflection of what God has done for us. We were once “strangers”, but God invited us to His table. It’s interesting that with the first covenant, in the Holy Place in the tabernacle, there was a table for bread to be placed upon it. Only the priests could enter that room. The table was located near the veil that separated that area from the Holy of Holies, where God’s very presence dwelled, where only the High Priest could enter...and only once a year.

But it began with a table.

And isn’t it interesting that Jesus initiated the new covenant with all of humanity over a table, with a meal served…what Christians call The Last Supper, the Passover meal? That we, who were strangers to God, were invited to the table, to share in the body and blood of Jesus. Think about it: this New Covenant was initiated at a dinner with God in the flesh. When you see Jesus as truly God, the power of that moment is overwhelming. That’s part of the reason why communion is such a powerful reminder of being invited to the table by God Himself—and an invitation to enter His presence.

But next week is about what my friend Evan Griffin calls friendship with a vision. That’s when you dream for the people you know to become all that God wants them to be, to envision them enveloped in God’s love, His mercy and grace, forgiven and clothed in power. That’s when you see what they could be in the Kingdom. That’s when you call them out of darkness and into His marvelous light. That’s when you know what they could be in Jesus, when you see them the way Jesus sees them.

Someone was satisfied. Someone invited you to the table. And someone had high hopes for your transformation…and helped you cross the line of faith.

Pass it on, friends.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the satisfaction quotient

“Open your mouth wide and I will fill it…” Psalm 81:10

Baby birds from my backyard...


We launched a new series called My Network in which we’re looking at our natural relational networks and how we become “bringers and includers” to the life of Jesus lived out in us. In the setup I mentioned that before we look at any tools, techniques, methodologies or ideas, we have to begin at square one: what’s the satisfaction quotient in your relationship with Jesus? The reason the disciples were so effective was because they couldn’t help but talk about what they had discovered and experienced. Thus, the old maxim: the best salesperson is a satisfied customer.

This is a dangerous area to walk through and could easily go south. I was waiting for: “I thought this wasn’t about me, but all about others? I mean, isn’t that what you talk about all the time, Mr. Smartypants Preacher Guy? So what’s this ‘I-need-to-be-a-satisfied-customer’ stuff?”

Okay, it’s a little tricky. Are we wandering into “bless-me-Christianity” world? Aren’t American Christians already obesely consumeristic?

Truth is, scripture is very clear that in the mind-blowing covenant God has made with justified, reconciled and transformed followers of Jesus, there should be an experiential transaction, a revelatory sense of God’s overwhelming goodness, fullness and presence. In other words, Pascal’s “God shaped vacuum” has to be experienced in a felt, known way or else we can’t really know God, only things about Him. I want to know my wife—if you know what I mean—and not just know things about her. And so scriptures like “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, or “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” or “No one will have to teach his neighbor or brother, ‘know the Lord’, for they will all know me…” have a definite experiential tone.

In other words, there is some internal sensing that something has been deeply fulfilled in us, a “knowing” that nothing else could have satisfied what was missing. When God told Israel to “open your mouth wide and I will fill it”, He was telling a people in covenant with Him that they were missing something vital in their relationship with Him: his ability to fulfill the deepest longings of our souls. He was frustrated with a nation that ran off to other lovers, other gods, trying to satisfy some craving that could only be met in Him.

I’ve always thought it odd when people would say to me, “I think God is whatever you want to make Him.” I personally don't have a problem with that. I think everyone has the right (whatever that means) to believe whatever they want. The only one who might find that odd is God. When my kids were little, if I came home from work and found them hugging the TV and saying "Daddy, daddy", I would be more than a little concerned. And probably my heart would be broken. Don't you think God's heart breaks when He sees His children wanting intimacy and fulfillment with everything but Him...and He's the only one that can truly give them what they really need?

My children act like my children and treat me like their dad because I am their dad. It is the most natural thing for them. The creation responds (or should respond) to the Creator in gratitude; it is the natural order of the universe. God, with a touch of sarcastic humor, told Isaiah “Even a cow knows its owner, even a donkey knows where its barn is. But Israel, my son, avoids me…” (Is. 1:3). When I humble myself before God in worship, I am affirming once more that He made me and I belong to Him. In my Father’s house I am safe and warm.

And a satisfied person.

That should make me incredibly open about what I’ve discovered and experienced in Jesus. To do anything less would be antithetical to God’s personality, the personality I’ve experienced.

Friday, August 14, 2009

health care reform and angry emails...

I’ve been putting this off, but I feel a need to respond to the emails some Christians are forwarding regarding H.R.3200: the Health Care Reform Bill bandied about in Washington. It’s not so much the merit or weakness of the bill itself that concerns me (that’s a blog for another time) as much as the tone of the emails and the paranoia expressed. What put it over the top was a mass emailing from Morningstar Ministries in South Carolina by Rick Joyner. Rick is a well-known teacher/speaker particularly among charismatics and the prophetic stream. I don’t know Rick personally, but I’m aware of his ministry and years ago read his bestseller, The Final Quest.

Several people forwarded his email to me. He was sounding the alarm about the bill. Alarm is putting it mildly: he used terms like “diabolical”, “SINISTER” (in caps), “euthanasia”, “totalitarian control…to a degree that Hitler and Stalin could not have even imagined”, “make America into a national concentration camp”, “terrible impending holocaust”, and “unimaginable evil…will be unleashed into our nation if this passes…”.

Following his comments was a cut-and-paste addendum from the Liberty Counsel, an organization connected with Liberty University/Falwell Ministries. I personally was never a fan of Falwell’s Moral Majority movement back in the eighties, mostly due to the methodologies, a weak Kingdom theology, the “Christian-nation” America-centric stance, and, in my little opinion, a self-righteous tone of their rhetoric. Regardless of whatever political advantages were made, it set in motion and ratified a clear “us-against-them” perception of the Church that’s had long-term damage. I don’t believe that’s what Jesus intended.

The Joyner email not only saddened me, but I consider it irresponsible for an influential Christian leader, especially one given a prophetic title, to send an editorialized cut-and-paste commentary without doing the homework, particularly after firing up people to “read it for yourself”.

It was soon followed by a second email: a very mild apology for actually not reading the bill themselves. It struck me as odd that the main point of the follow-up statement was a questioning of why the bill was being “rushed”. I would have asked the same question of why a mass email of untruths and disrespectful dangerous exaggerations was rushed out as well.

Frankly, the whole tone seems to me to be as embarrassing as Hillary Clinton’s famous “vast right-wing conspiracy” interview years ago. Please, brothers and sisters, I beg you: tone down the rhetoric. I have been told numerous times of “conservatives” being shut out of the dialogue, ejected from town meetings. Frankly, every YouTube video I’ve seen is mostly angry, disrespectful people yelling in the town meetings and disrupting any sense of dialogue.

I have some simple advice: Christians should be very, very careful of their moral certitude. I have been a Jesus-follower for over thirty-five years, and too many times I’ve seen the prophetic God-card pulled out, “watchmen-on-the-wall” language used, and a “moral-policemen-of-the-world” approach to Christianity that in the end hurts more than helps the cause of Christ. We often seem to confuse expressing the values of Jesus with methods that are fleshly. We water down the power and sovereignty of the King and His Kingdom with world-worn strategies.

Christians should think twice about implying a democratically elected administration is comparable to Nazi Germany. Really? That’s embarrassing to the believers who didn’t vote like them…and an affront to Jews who survived the death camps. And please don’t forward chain emails without researching the material, making at least some attempt to understand the other side of the argument, and listen to a little bit more than our own subcultures.

Preaching to the choir can have inflammatory consequences.


To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9–14

Monday, August 10, 2009

circumstances, fairness and bark mitzvahs

We finished up the Summer of Love series on the Ten Commandments with, of course, Number Ten: Don’t Covet. The slant on this was to love contentment. Okay, I know it’s a stretch to love a “state of mind and heart”, but you get the concept.

What I wanted to do was spend a little more time on how we view our circumstances. After traveling to several third world countries, it’s a little hard to talk about difficult circumstances, particularly ones that deal with finances, when we all drove to church and are sitting in cushioned seats with cupholders and free coffee.

But here’s the deal: we typically assess our circumstances by what we perceive as fairness.

Some time back I read an article on what American pet owners spend on their dogs. Sun Rooms Plus—a remodeling company in Albuquerque—had a brisk business building additions on homes for dogs, averaging $20,000 per unit. A store in Newport Beach sold sofas for dogs for $2000. Or at the Doggie-Do Salon in Manhattan, owners could throw dog birthday parties and “bark mitzvahs” with printed invitations and gift registries. A hotel in Beverly Hills offered doggie room service with a menu that included poached salmon belly with frothed milk or caviar with hard-poached eggs for only $98.

These dogs don’t have owners—they have a staff.

Two questions: Does it seem fair these dogs have it better than 99.99% of us? And is it any surprise why so much of the rest of the world often doesn’t like us? Hmmm.

On the other hand, it seems Jesus had a very different view of fairness. Consider the terse response He gave the man in Luke 12 who asked Him to get his brother to divide the inheritance. With this apparent issue of fairness, Jesus turned it into a pointed public moment of introspection for this poor slob. That was probably the end of Q&A time for everyone.

Or how about the parable on Matthew 20 of the factory owner who paid everyone the same amount at the end of the work day, no matter how many hours it was? Though Jesus turned it into a lesson of radical generosity and mercy, the issue of fairness is what drives it.

One thing for sure: How I view my current circumstances is a way to assess my level of servanthood to Jesus and His mission.

I love this line of thought from Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis in his little book of essays called God in the Dock:

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it as a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

Think about how Paul saw his own presumably unfair imprisonment:

And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ. (Philippians 1:12–14 NLT)

Perception is huge. It helps if we see life as a total learning experience…the place where we practice becoming what we will become.

Friday, July 24, 2009

one more thing...

I wanted to read the closing story from The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce last week, but simply ran out of time. The authors recount the true story of a wedding reception of thirty-somethings. Both bride and groom and the best man all came from broken homes. Therefore, an honest skepticism of marriage is understandable…and deep. But then came this poignant toast given by the best man, which I found so revealing:

“To many here today it feels strange to find that one of us is getting married. It’s strange because we’re a generation of cynical children when it comes to marriage. We came of age during a time when divorce became an acceptable alternative. Ultimately this is good. But the effect on us is one of caution, of skepticism. Who needs marriage? It’s an outdated institution. Why be burdened? But while we were uttering these cynicisms, we were privately nurturing the hope that we could rediscover and experience the romantic and very profound magic that we had heard existed in a far-off time—to see marriage through innocent eyes. But we didn’t realize it’s not about innocence. It’s about realism, about seeing what’s really there and not deluding ourselves with false expectations. Ironically, the wonderful thing about growing up in the Age of Divorce is that we have learned so much. It’s been very painful but we learned. So we look for signals. When one of our friends tells us he’s getting married, we look for signals to assess his chances. Well, I got a signal this morning. As the bride stepped out of the door, I caught my breath. I felt a lump in my throat and I leaned against the car for support. I was stunned. She was so beautiful. But it wasn’t just physical beauty. As Elizabeth walked behind Michael, he turned slowly and took her hand. I felt that calm electricity that happens when it’s right—the thing, whatever it is, that doesn’t happen unless it’s basically right. And I paused to appreciate the knowledge that our cynical generation has gained. And I choked back a tear. We’re okay, Michael and Elizabeth. Speak the truth to each other and be happy.”

There are three things that will endure—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love. ~Paul the apostle

Monday, July 20, 2009

love faithfulness

No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century. ~Mark Twain

This weekend’s message really should have been a “two-parter”. It’s impossible to talk about the seventh commandment on adultery without talking about marriage and then, of course, sexuality, divorce and subsequent remarriage issues. It’s a big topic. So many moral quandaries, so little time.

One of the more fascinating books that’s come out in the last few years on the subject of divorce is The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. It follows a twenty-five year study on the effects of divorce on children. Judith Wallerstein tracked the lives of one hundred kids whose parents divorced in the 1970’s. The stats are one thing, but her interviews and stories are a total sucker-punch.

Predictably, Unexpected Legacy triggered powerful responses from readers. The family-centered-evangelical folks slam people with it. Parents who have suffered through divorced feel guilty. Adult children of divorced families naturally get defensive. And, of course, stats don’t tell individual stories, just averages. But the reality is, God knew what He was doing with He invented the family system. In the long shadow of the Fall, though, all bets are off the table in terms of tenure.

If anything, it should give us pause in how quickly we rush into matrimonial nirvana.

My own experience after presiding over fifty weddings (it’s been over one hundred now…and I quit performing them years ago!) way back in the ‘90’s was depressing: in one year, I ran into so many couples I had married who were divorced that I was stunned. I went back and checked my records and discovered the success rate of those who had gone through premarital classes was off-the-chart; conversely, those who skipped the classes had an abysmal rate. I became less sympathetic to excuses regarding situations and schedules and made a personal commitment to no longer marry anyone who refused to go through our premarriage program. If you’re in too big of a rush to get counseling, you’re in too big of a rush. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

Let’s be honest: none of us went to the altar with divorce on our minds. We were all brain-dead and starry-eyed, clueless that anything could change. When we said “til’ death do us part”, divorce was a remote problem for other people who were not in love like us.

God designed marriage to be the most intimate friendship imaginable. When Jesus speaks of a man cleaving (or uniting) to his wife, it’s based on the same Greek word used for glue. It is the bringing together of two substances to make a new one. Jesus is saying that we need to enter this covenant with a measure of awe, a reverent fear and responsibility to God. The reason why we get married with clergy represented is because we are testifying before God and asking Him to join us together. The heavyweight words that He speaks are, “If I join you together, then don’t you dare let any mere mortal tear you asunder!” That word asunder (or separate) in the Greek means to place space or room between two people. Marriage is a picture of two people being in the same emotional space. I learned early on that security for my wife Anita meant being included in my emotional world and me in hers. She wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to fix her problems; she wanted someone who would emotionally befriend her.

It’s not easy. But not impossible. Frankly, I don’t know how people who are not God-lovers make it work. And even when they do, in my opinion they’re missing the real thing: the highest reason for marriage is to bring God glory by giving an expression of His love and faithfulness to us.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (Ephesians 5:31–32 NLT)