Sunday, November 29, 2009

x's and o's

I'm a sports nut. My fandom unfortunately is not matched by my skill. When I played sports in high school, I may not have been able to hit the open three, but I could dissect the defense like no other. When playing in the secondary in football, I could read the quarterback's eyes, the way the line was formed, and the direction the backs were leaning and I could tell you exactly what play was coming. But if the play was a hand off to a big bruising fullback, I'd be lucky to get him down if he made it that far.


This problem also stretches to other areas of my life: my mind races faster than any of my natural abilities. When it comes to ministry, I'm always thinking of the whats and hows and seldom am able to put everything on my mind into practice. Part of it is a desire to have the perfect plan, the perfect results and a paralyzing insecurity that keeps me from acting out of fear of being imperfect.


One of the ways I try to overcome this is by digging deeply into things and learning as much as I can. I figure if I have enough tools in my toolbox, I can fix anything. The latest such obsession is in small groups. I've gone through a couple of iterations this year, have had schedules and focus changed, had people come and go, and am facing the new year hoping to chart out a course for my own spiritual growth and the growth of those in my group.


I've used study series from Living on the Edge, study notes from the Serendipity Bible, and my own Bible knowledge to come up with lessons. I just finished Sticky Church by Larry Osborne and my Evangelist gave me a copy of Purpose Driven Church by you-know-who as a follow-up. An elder in Atlanta is looking into doing lessons online, while Living on the Edge offers their R12 curriculum online as well. Now I just found this book from a post on Michael Hyatt's blog. All that, and I'm still open to suggestions.

Is there a perfect model for small groups and discipleship? As long as we're still imperfect people, the answer is no. I like the illustration my Evangelist recently gave during a lesson. "[with respect to church functions/activities] following the direction of the Holy Spirit is like surfing. You go out on the water and wait and wait for the perfect wave. You can't get up too soon and you can't wait too long or you won't be able to ride it. You can't ride just any wave either. So sometimes you wait for what seems like forever while other times it seems you don't have to wait at all. And when you finally do get on that perfect wave, you can only ride it so long before you reach shore and then you have to go back out and wait some more." I'm waiting for my perfect wave, so to speak, but I need the wisdom to not ride it too long.

"Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

Inspired by the most recent Coffee Break from Living on the Edge that referenced Psalm 103 and a desire to get at least one post up while on vacation. I'll focus on this part: "Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." (Ps 103:2, emphasis added) I want to take this time and remember his benefits over the last year.

Work related: I'm grateful for the job that I've been praying to get for the last few years. I'm grateful for the recognition I've received from my peers for the work I've done. I'm grateful to be able to pursue some of the things I have a passion for- even though that hos so far been fruitless. And I'm grateful that have the opportunity, and the trust from my boss, to pursue them.

Family related: I'm grateful for my son's improvement in every possible area- his discipline, his speech, his writing. I'm grateful for his interest in God and Jesus. I'm grateful for his health after his struggles breathing and sleeping. I'm grateful for my daughter growing up too fast and being too smart. I'm grateful for the relationship she has with her brother. I'm grateful for the joy she shows me ever day when I come home from work. I'm grateful for my wife finishing her teaching credential and having new opportunities at work. I'm grateful for her active attitude to always be out running and the friends she's made (or friends she's grown deeper with) doing so. I'm grateful for our relationship and that despite a 4 and a 2 year old, we still are able to have quality time. I'm grateful for my mom's move and the extra chances I've had to visit her because of it. I'm grateful for my sister and her encouragement and support.

Ministry related: I'm grateful God still considers me worth of leading others to deeper relationships with Christ- after two small groups dissolved, somehow I'm still at it. I'm grateful for my recovery ministry keeping me grounded and my continued sobriety. I'm grateful for the families we've grown closer to through our small groups and the battles we've fought together. I'm grateful for the continued inspiration through God's word to instruct and encourage. I'm grateful for the writer's conference I went to where I met Peter and the encouragement to pursue writing. I'm grateful for others that I've met blogging and the fresh insight they all provide. I'm grateful for the teen I mentor- his patience with me and his open heart for God. And I'm grateful for the leadership of my church, the relationship I have with our Evangelist, and the men in my life that call me higher.

None of these things would be possible without God. Without him, I wouldn't have the character to have these blessings in my job. Without him, I wouldn't have the good relationship with my children or my wife. And without him, I would have no purpose with an eternal significance.

I am often asked why I have the faith I do. These are just some of the reasons. There are more, but those will have to wait until after I finish the turkey leftovers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Such as These

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)

I've heard many interpretations of these passages on what qualities in children we should imitate: children are innocent in their hearts, children are mold-able, children need their father, and so on. I've always leaned most towards the need of a child for his or her father.

My son and I battle every night at bedtime. As I walk away he tells me that he's scared. When I try and reassure him that his mom and I are right there on the other side of the wall he tells me, "but I can't see you!" I started to relate that to our faith in God. We believe in him and trust in him even though we can't see him. But that hasn't worked.

So a couple of nights ago, we're going through the usual routine and ensuing battle. Exasperated, I walk away as he cries about being afraid. Then he says something profound, "come hold my hand and pray." I couldn't resist.

My dad passed away 13 years ago. My son tells me I need to get a new one. I tell him that I have a perfect Father in heaven. I try and explain that God is like a Father to us. In fact, he's the best Father there ever was.

He doesn't yet buy it. And he is still scared when I turn away. He needs the comfort of knowing I am there. Like God, we can't see him but there is comfort he is there. Yet he will hear us when we cry out to him.

Clouds will rage
And storms will race in
But you will be safe in my arms
-Plumb, In My Arms

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Community

No such luck getting a blog together for this week's blog carnival. But head over to Bridget Chumbley's blog to read others' thoughts on 'community'. And if that's not your cup of tea, watch the show on NBC, it's hilarious.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sins of Our Fathers

"Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him." (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

This scripture refutes the commonly held theology of 'Original Sin'. But that does not absolve the son from suffering the consequences of his father's sin. I've pointed out before that often single and teenage parenthood are cycles that repeat themselves in the children of these families.

My Evangelist described it to his teenage daughter this way, "When I made the decision to follow Christ, I broke a long cycle of insanity in my family." The insanity he's referring to is a history of physical abuse and drug/alcohol addiction. He continues, "by choosing to follow Jesus, I don't have to subject my children to the same insanity. I can now live by a higher standard. I am no longer defined by my history, but by my relationship with Christ."

When children are raised in a home without active addiction present (the keyword: active) then they are less likely to either take up the same addiction or be driven to co-dependency. But that requires not only thorough repentance and a commitment to the higher standard of Christ. Without that, the cycle continues more subtly. The addiction may not be 'active' but the character remains.

I have to be conscious of this in my own life and my relationship with my children. At only 4 and 2, my children have already learned that my emotional reaction to their behavior is unpredictable. Will I respond with a fatherly sternness, appropriate and proportional? Or will I fly off the handle and let my emotions determine my response? Sadly, it depends.

At the same time, even though there is no 'active' usage in my home, I worry about the decisions my children will ultimately make as they grow older. I know they will let me down with their decisions. That doesn't mean they'll automatically be addicts, but it also doesn't guarantee they'll remain abstinent until marriage. How will I respond to that? Bottom line, I need to trust God over my own parenting.

Serving in an addiction ministry helps keep this in perspective. I was very moved a couple of years ago when a friend shared about the regret he had in putting his kids through literal hell because of his alcoholism. Last night I heard the other perspective, from a son expressing the regret in putting his father through the same hell. My experience as a son falls somewhere in between each of these accounts, but the book hasn't been written of the legacy I will leave as a father.

Praise God we have a Father in Heaven that can be the example to which I strive.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice

Today is Veterans' Day, where we honor and remember those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces. My wife asked why this holiday falls on November 11? At 11:00 on November 11, 1918, (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) armistice (or truce) was signed between the Western Allies and Germany ending hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. World War I was called "The War to End All Wars". We know how that turned out. But the holiday remained and is still celebrated throughout Europe as well as here in the United States.

Pause and think of that for a moment- The War to End All Wars. How we wish that were true. So we honor those who serve in battles across the globe while we enjoy the comfort of our home, hoping that the next battle will be the last.

Now think about Jesus. His sacrifice was The Sacrifice to End All Sacrifices so to speak (ref: Hebrews 10). He fought our sins for us so that we wouldn't have to fight on our own, and ultimately someday to never have to fight again. But like The War to End All Wars, it was not the end and battles continue. So we honor Christ, who fought and still fights for us, while we enjoy the comfort of our own lives.

While we remember the physical conflicts our Armed Forces are engaged in worldwide, let us not forget the spiritual conflicts that continue in our own lives and the soldier, Christ, who fights alongside us.

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Covenant

I mentioned yesterday that I sat in on a class on Abraham's Covenant with God. Actually it was a video, and I encourage you to watch the whole thing (40 minutes-ish with really poor audio to start, but gets better a couple minutes in). A disclaimer up front: I'm a naturally heady guy. I'm left-brained and I have to challenge myself during my Bible study that it is about becoming more Christ-like and building a deeper relationship with God than it is about finding something new. But when I learn something new, my wheels won't stop turning. So this post may not be your cup of tea, but bear with me. I'll try not to go a whole 40 minutes!

What was first pointed out was how this covenant, found in Genesis 15, followed the same format of common covenant/treaties at the time: the suzerain (sovereign)/vassal (servant) covenant. First, the sovereign is introduced (v 1, 7), then the servant (this actually is skipped and I'll explain why in a second), then the conditions of the covenant (v 5) with blessings and curses (v 13-16), then an animal is sacrificed and split in two (v 9-10). Next, the sovereign and servant pass between the animal carcases to seal the covenant with an oath by saying something along the lines of, "if I do not uphold this covenant, may what happened to this animal happen to me." Of course this happens in front of witnesses. But here's where Abraham's story diverges. Abraham falls into a deep sleep (v 12) and it is God himself who passes between the sacrificed animals (v 17) and Abraham was the witness. In other words, it is God's responsibility to uphold his covenant with Abraham, not Abraham's. Also, these treaties were recorded and referenced every year or so to remind everyone of their duties. Here, the recording and reminder shows up in Genesis 17 in circumcision. Instead of being written down and read as a reminder, this covenant left a physical mark so that the reminder was constant. I speculate the reason for circumcision is that the covenant is specifically related to Abraham's seed and therefore for all future generations.

Ok, so that's nice. But what does this have to do with the theme of this blog carnival? Well, we see the same structure in the New Covenant with Jesus. Jesus made this covenant with his disciples at the Last Supper. There wasn't a need for introductions and the disciples themselves were the witnesses. Blood was spilled (Luke 22:20) as Jesus himself was the sacrifice. But where is the circumcision? In Colossians 2, Paul writes, "In [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." (v 11-12) And like with Abraham, this New Covenant is for "you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39). As for the reminder, we go back to the Lord's Supper: "do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19)

Like I said, stuff like this gets my wheels turning. In this case, I'm in awe of how complete and consistent God's word is. I'm also challenged by the common Christian practice of downplaying either the Lord's Supper or baptism, when both are necessary parts of our New Covenant with Jesus. Hope you learned something, I sure did (and watch the video and you'll learn even more!).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Rabbi, who sinned...

...this man or his parents, that he was born blind? (John 9:1-2)

I grew up with this personal theology. If I tripped and fell in the playground, it must've been because of the white lie I told my parents to get out of cleaning my room. If my knee was skinned really bad, then it must have been a sin much worse. This theology led to a religious paranoia and paints God as the cosmic puppet-master instead of the loving Father that he is.

But this theology is also applied to prop up one's personal politics and biases. I sat in on a class on Abraham's Covenant with God yesterday and I was reminded that there is no covenant between God and my country. Despite what some may preach, the United States is owed no special favor by God. Likewise, God owes us no special punishment for violating the terms of his covenant. Tell that to the talking heads after Hurricane Katrina or 9/11. Some were quick to assign motive to these tragedies while justifying their personal theology.

It's a shame these recognized representatives of American christianity (TM) are not Ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20, Eph 6:20) instead because Jesus addressed this very issue in Luke, chapter 13: "Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them- do you think they were more guilty than all the to others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.'" (Luke 13:1-5)

These two tragedies, the Galileans whom Pilate killed and those who died in Siloam could be justified by the religious at the time because of their political ties. The Galileans were likely leading in a revolt against Roman authorities while the tower in Siloam was part of the aqueduct Pilate was constructing so those who died were in the employ of these same authorities. Jesus' reply was much like the traps the Pharisees and teachers of the law would try and catch Jesus in by trying to force him to take a side. But much like his replies to these traps, his reply here emphasised that which side doesn't matter. We should be concerned about our the condition of our own souls.

That's not to say we shouldn't preach against sin (despite the common strawman: judge not, lest ye be judged). But we should be preaching the Gospel of salvation, not the religion of condemnation. And we should never assign motive to what God chooses to do or not to do. I could close by saying something about why we shouldn't assume. But you know how the rest of that goes.

(more on Abraham's Covenant in tomorrow's blog carnival)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple, Stupid. It's a sound principle in management, but it's also worth applying to our own Christianity (though maybe leave the 'stupid' part out).

I've had a serious bout of writer's block over the last week, so I'll leave it to others to make my point for me. The bottom line is that we don't need gimmicks or flash to live out our faith and spread the Gospel.

What we don't need: christian products that rip off popular culture or a hip approach to Christianity.

What we do need: humble ministry.

What we really need: The Gospel of Jesus, period.