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).


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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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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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.

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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.

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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.