Monday, June 18, 2007

t-ball theology

When I started thinking about The Rules of T-Ball, I began first with the “no-one-keeps-score” rule and how that relates to our relationship with God. The typical scriptures jumped to mind: 1 Corinthians 13:5: (…love keeps no record of wrongs) or Isaiah 43:25 (“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”). But it seemed like a message about “God-not-keeping-score” sounded as sincere as a drugstore card. And a little theologically screwy.

There is a divine "score-keeping" with which we have to wrestle.

One of the most frightening scriptures for me is Matthew 25:31-33: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

That scene, honestly, is terrifying to me. The picture of a global accounting leaves me speechless; I don’t know how to fit it nicely into our Western approach to church that is essentially suffering-free. And hellfire preachers typically don’t do it justice either—they can strike me as style-over-compassion. But this cosmic shakeout of humanity is simply outside my scope of understanding. Even more fascinating is how utterly dumbstruck the sheep are that they had actually done anything for Jesus. And it’s not just the social justice aspect that gets questioned, like how we respond to the poor, the prisoner, etcetera, but power-encounter-spirituality as well. Jesus said earlier: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’” (Matthew 7:22). He frighteningly responds with, “Get away from me. I don’t know who you are.” Nearly every book in the New Testament specifically refers to this Judgment Day…and keep in mind these are primarily letters written to friends and churchplants.

Here’s the rub: we know it’s not by our works of righteousness that we enter into the Kingdom (Titus 3:5), yet we are still accountable for our actions. But as we see in the “Lord, Lord…” verse, it’s not just our actions, it’s how actions are connected with our motivations. And if our motivation isn’t love or compassion, then it’s disqualified. Or as Paul put it: If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn't love others, it would be of no value whatever. (1 Corinthians 13:3 Living Bible)

God does keep a compassion-check scorecard. It’s not just the things we do, but the things we do that are driven by true love. And I have to admit that’s more than a little unnerving for me, because I know I can't wait until I'm motivated, but it won't count until it morphs into compassion. That's sobering.

But as the psalmist said, the bright side is this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...” (Psalm 111.10).

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God has God living inside, and that person lives in God. And so we know the love that God has for us, and we trust that love. God is love. Those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. This is how love is made perfect in us: that we can be without fear on the day God judges us, because in this world we are like him. 1 John 4:15-17 (New Century Version)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

true confessions

Sorry to be so slow to post. I’m still recovering: what a frustrating weekend at so many levels.

Ever wonder what goes on in a pastor's head?

It started Saturday night. If you don’t mind a little personal whining, I never felt like I got on track with the message. It was one of those times where I honestly felt like walking off the stage in the middle of the message and saying, “I’m done. Would the last person out turn off the lights?” People said kind things afterwards, but that doesn’t matter when you feel like you dropped the revelatory ball, so to speak. And please, I’m really not fishing for a compliment.

Although you don’t have to say amen, either.

I know the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, but it’s a drag when you feel like you aren’t holding up your part. I thought the worship time was awesome and Sean & Evan were appropriately ridiculous with the transition, but it was downhill from there on Saturday night. I had an appointment in Reading afterward, didn’t get home until nearly 11 p.m., rewrote a good bit of the message until 3 a.m. and subsequently felt better (whatever that means…) on Sunday.

And then shortly after the 10 a.m. celebration finished, the electricity went down in Springdale. We heard rumors of what happened (a car knocked down a pole? the hamster died?), but the auditorium was plunged into darkness. As I understood it, legally we had to empty out the building.

Next, we had someone trapped in the elevator. It took twenty minutes to get him out.

Even truer confessions here: it’s a serious financial hit when your biggest celebration is shut down. Yeah, I know, I should have my mind on whatever is lovely and true, but this is a stream-of-consciousness reaction to a stream-of-bills. And I'm supposed to have this "sovereignty of God" thing somewhat personally reconciled as a pastor. Hmmm.

I’m still looking for the silver lining. In the end, of course, I default to Romans 8:28.

But reluctantly.

Oh yeah: I'm changing the name of this blog to "What I Meant to Whine..."

postscript: A number of people told me they really liked the retelling of the wheat parable on Saturday night, but it was one of the things I edited out on Sunday. It just didn’t seem to fit the focus of the message. Here’s a transcript of it…

“One day Jesus told a story about a man who owned a field that he worked in. He worked hard and planted good wheat seeds in it. But one night his enemy came and planted weeds in the field. Weeks went by and one day the farmhands came to the man and said, ‘Didn’t you plant good seeds in this field? Where did these weeds come from?’

He told them, ‘An enemy has planted them.’

They asked, ‘Do you want us to pull the weeds up now?’

He replied, ‘No, you might pull up the wheat too. Let them grow up together and then when it’s time to harvest, we’ll bundle up the weeds and burn them and gather the wheat in the barn. It will be easier then to tell which is which.’

That’s why it gets a little confusing now. And if the Big "C" Church—that is, all people who have surrendered their lives to God’s Son and are now working for Him—is God’s plan for bringing the Kingdom, then doesn’t it make sense that the place to plant phonies and fakes and busybodies might be among the people whom God is using? It shouldn’t be any surprise that there are hypocrites in church…and at this point it’s sometimes hard to see what’s wheat or weeds. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but I didn’t write the parable--Jesus did. If you’re faking the Christian life now, if it’s been a long time since you’ve had God convict you about something, if you haven’t had any interest in showing mercy to someone and compassionately telling how God is working in your life, if you find yourself thinking about yourself and living defensively, and yet you still hang out with church people—you’re faking it.

Live it up now…but it’s not good in the end.”

Monday, June 04, 2007

are you experienced?

We had a number of people ask about the music on the video of the bus ride. It’s an artist named Phil Wickham who has a great CD by the same name. You can check him out at He comes from pretty musical family…his dad played in an early California-Jesus-people band called The Way and his mom in a band called Parable.

Okay, that's way too much information. And you’d have to be really old to know any of that.

I hope this new series, The Experience Project, gets us thinking about God in the ordinary moments. A few of us were swapping emails about how God can/will speak into our lives at any time. I wrote that I was recently driving down I-75 and came up behind a woman in an older car in the middle lane driving slowly with the left turn signal on and no intention of switching lanes. Cars were buzzing around her. She had long grey hair, was older and overweight, had the window down, and I smugly dismissed her, thinking of a joke about how her turn signal had probably been on since she left her driveway this morning. But even deeper was a sharp cutting thought about her probable roots based on her license plate...which, interestingly enough, are mine as well. I immediately heard God telling me I was at risk of turning into an old judgmental man. It was a stinging conviction. And so I prayed for her and felt a stirring of grace and well as my speed slowed down.

My understanding was that my heart is like a pie graph: the more judging I do, the less is left for mercy. And as I understand it, our primary calling is not judgment.

I have to slice my heart differently these days.

Had any moments like that lately?