Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Love Must be Sincere

To continue from this morning's post to the blog carnival, let's look inside our church walls. Here is where the theme for this week, kindness, is most evident. We can fake our way with strangers, but it's much harder to fake with brothers and sisters in Christ that we see on a regular basis.

Or is it? I would challenge any of you to walk into a church that's not your own and not come away saying something like, "that congregation was so kind." Now return to your spiritual comfort zone. Isn't the same true? Isn't the Ned Flanders cliche Christian nice? Kind? Sometimes overwhelmingly so! But just like how we treat those outside our church walls, we fake our way with our spiritual peers. I'm sure you've had this conversation:

"Hey bro, how are things at home?"

"Oh, you know, alright. The same ole, same ole."

"Yeah, I hear you. Same with me. Well, I'll pray for you."

That sounds kind. But is the love behind it sincere? Remember the literal translation from Romans 12:9 is "without hypocrisy". When we think of hypocrisy, we often think of outright, obvious sins. But we can also be hypocrites with our lack of openness and transparency, our lip-service concern for one another, and our boastings of our own spiritual maturity.

That's just one case. Another, more painful, example is how we treat those with whom we disagree with spiritually, or worse those who have left our spiritual family. My fellowship of churches has a bad, but deserved, reputation for how we treat other Christians outside our spiritual clique. I was reminded of this again when my wife was spending quality time with an old friend from campus ministry. She left my church years ago and has been looked down upon ever since. It has been hard for my wife to rebuild that friendship because there was doubt about the sincerity of her love, of her kindness. What was my wife's motive? Was she trying to goad her friend into returning to church? Or is she herself struggling so much as to spend time with one such as her? Last weekend these questions and more came out and I admire my wife's maturity in addressing them. She does sincerely love her friend. She has no motive other than to be a friend, though she does have genuine concern for her spiritual health. She was kind.

Another sad example is how we are tempted to "love bomb" new visitors to church, but forget them once they become regulars. Again, this is not sincere and makes our demonstrated love at the beginning nothing but hypocrisy. Are you as excited to see someone new on Sunday morning as you are to see the same faces you have for years? I think about this often as I roam the fellowship on Sundays. I make every effort to greet everyone I know with a sincere "how are you? Great to see you!" And those I don't know I make sure to greet with a warm smile. I don't always remember the prayers I say I'm going to pray, but I always remember them as people, not as nameless faces that crowd the pews.

To be honest, I'm not always kind. I have a biting sarcasm that I'm tempted to use to passive-aggressively hurt others. I can be impatient and short tempered. And when that character comes out, the first thing I think of is how I'm not being kind. This is true not just at church, or with non-believers as these posts have been about, but also with my family at home. But no matter what, I always strive to love sincerely, without hypocrisy.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians 4:2)

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13)

Love Without Hypocrisy

The theme of this week's blog carnival is another Fruit of the Spirit, kindness. While the word "kindness" by itself didn't inspire any immediate thoughts, two Scriptures kept coming to mind:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." (Romans 12:9)

We call ourselves Christians, but do we show it with our love? This is where kindness comes in. It's easy to fake kindness by being cordial and polite. But the kindness described in Galatians 5 comes from the heart. It is sincere, without hypocrisy. (The literal translation of "sincere" in Romans 12 above is "hypocrisy") And that kindness can only come rooted in love.

So again I ask, can the world recognize us as Christians by our love, by our kindness? A couple recent examples remind me that by in large, the world recognizes us a Christians not by our love but by our cynicism and hate. Michael Hyatt blogged yesterday regarding Tiger Wood's apology. Several people have asked me what I thought of it and I honestly replied that I didn't see it and I didn't care. The cynic in me knows that this apology was scripted and the press conference was a PR stunt. Do I forgive him? Does it matter? But Michael puts it in its proper, Christian, perspective. We need to forgive, regardless. He broke his advice into these parts: 1, resist the temptation to judge; 2, accept the apology at face value; 3, believe in the possibility of change; 4, extend mercy and grace; and 5, pray for transformation. That is how I want to be treated with regards to my own sin, I should extend the same to others. To paraphrase Thomas a' Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, "Remember that the worst of someone's sin against you is nothing compared with the worst sin Jesus has already forgiven you of."

Anne Lang Bundy boldly brought up another example of the wrong example Christians set- how we treat homosexuals. Regardless of you opinions of same-sex marriage, the nature of homosexuality, or even personal experience, you have to admit that some facets of American Christianity (TM) treat homosexuality wrongly. The proper response in sincere love? Anne breaks it down as 1, love; 2, remember that we all sin; 3, remember that Jesus forgives all sin (but one); 4, give grace that not everyone has the same faith or biblical knowledge to deal with their sin; but 5, when they do, we need to address it; and 6, in case you forgot, love.

Those are just a couple of examples. I'll be back later today with part 2, looking inside our church walls.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Movements and Messiahs

The Tea Party movement has gotten a lot of press recently, from being credited for Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts to CNN doing a week-long look into the movement prior to its first "national conference" to the recent article in the New York Times. The biggest questions being asked are will this amount to a third party and/or how much influence will this group have on the Republican Party?

Sounds a lot like what was being asked about the fledgling Christian Coalition thirty years ago. Like the Tea Party, the Christian Coalition was initially focused on local involvement from people with little or no prior involvement in politics (at the time conservative Christians). Eventually their influence grew to such an extent that they are now blamed for everything wrong with the Republican Party. Egos, internal politics, and the idol-worship of fame eventually led to this movement's downfall.

Another similarity is the lack of unity or homogeneity among the grass-roots supporters. There is no definition of a "Christian voter" that applies to all Christians as Jim Wallis so accurately pointed out in his book, God's Politics, Why the Right Gets it Wrong and Why the Left Doesn't Get It (the subtitle sums this up the best). At the same time, the media has been unable to nail down a universal platform that applies to each Tea Party other than the expected discontent with the current administration. Some want a new party, some want an overhaul of the Republican Party. All want a smaller government, but there is disagreement how. Again, sounds a lot like the "value voter" broad-brush the media tried to invent after the 2000 election.

Tea Party organizers would be wise to study the history of this group as it appears they are going down the same road. We, as Christians, would also be wise to remember our folly with the Christian Coalition and not be enticed by the promise of any political Messiah as there is only one true Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:4)

Our commanding officer is God, not country nor political party. And our battle is not political but moral and the prizes are not votes but souls. We will never be the salt that Jesus calls us to be as long as we are only striving to score political points.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Five Talent Player

Growing up religious, I always found it curious a "plus" baseball player is called a "five-tool" player given the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. It was the one with five talents that was given five more for putting his talents to use, pleasing his master. Of course we get the common usage for our talents from this parable even though a "talent" is a unit of currency.

Grant Desme is a five-tool, plus prospect for the Oakland A's. Or at least, he was before he decided to give up the game to enter the priesthood. In his defense he said, "But I had to get down to the bottom of things, to what was good in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. Baseball is a good thing, but that felt selfish of me when I felt that God was calling me more. ... I love the game, but I’m going to aspire to higher things."

He didn't catch much criticism even if his decision wasn't understood by all. One who not only understands, but also relates is former Olympic speed skater Kirstin Holum. After competing in 1998, she hung up her skates and joined a convent. While you may picture a nun's habit, you may not be able to picture a former Olympian in the inner city reaching out to gang-bangers.

While I admire the hands-on calling of a Religious Order, I don't think you need to put on vestments to participate in ministry. Like the parable cited above, God gives us talents to be put to use for His glory. I think turning your back on a natural talent like athleticism is akin to burying your talents. (Recognizing that not all skills are talents, and we are all given as many or as few as our faith allows)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is last year's National League Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan. "Everybody has different callings. Everybody has different blessings and different talents. For me, I believe my calling is to continue playing baseball. It's a platform to reach out to other people." Sounds very Tim Tebow. (Sorry, couldn't resist) But he's right. God gives us not only the talents, but the opportunities. One of my best friends always says, "there's no such thing as luck in the Kingdom of God." The traditional adage is that "luck is when preparation and opportunity meet." The two are perfectly compatible. We should approach our jobs, our relationships, our families with the faith that each are platforms through which we should live and share our faith. The opportunity that meets our preparation.

Even Paul, who was far from being considered athletic, approached his ministry in this way.

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

This scripture is often applied to spiritual discipline and can be abused to justify a list of to-dos. But a better way of looking at it is from the perspective of the Christian athlete. Train (invest your talents) so that you may win (gain five more). We may not all be plus, but we can all be five-talent players.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sweet Devotion

Two weeks ago, the theme scripture in my Sunday School class was from Acts 2, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42) We spent a majority of our time discussing what "devoted" means, and with Valentine's Day only a couple of weeks away it was easy to relate to committed loving relationships.

I'm devoted to my wife. My third and fourth graders are likewise devoted to their parents. I do things for my wife, not because I have to but because out of devotion I want to. Similarly, my students should obey their parents (always a point I stress, no matter the topic) not because they have to, but because of their love for them. This is devotion. A sacrificial, selfless, willingness to do anything or go anywhere for the object of our devotion.

Our devotion to our brothers and sisters in the church should have the same level of commitment, even if it doesn't share the same level of love. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." (Romans 12:10)

Think about the lengths you went (or will go) to to show your devotion to the one you love for Valentine's Day this year. Are you willing to go the same lengths for your brothers and sisters in Christ? No, you don't need to give the guy in the pew next to you a box of chocolates. But a hug would be nice. "Greet one another with a holy kiss" if you are so bold (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:26). But at least have the willingness in your heart to lay down you life for him.

"No greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

(For last years thoughts on Valentine's Day, go here)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Every Nation

Last Sunday our evangelist showed this video of a soccer crowd in Turkey. A massive sea of people all chanting and swaying in unison. The illustration was for the question, what kind of fan are you? (appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday) But I couldn't stop thinking about how the writer of Hebrews describes the heroes of faith as a "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). I imagine this is what Elisha's servant saw when he was surrounded by "chariots of fire" (2 Kings 6:17). Now imagine playing a match with such a crowd? Encouraging if you're the home team, but indescribably intimidating for the visitor.

Tonight is the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I am psyched to have the Olympics in the same time zone! I'm not a fan of any particular sport, and I couldn't tell you any stars to watch (I'm more a Summer guy). But I love the pageantry, the patriotism, the pride. These athletes aren't just representing themselves, but their entire nation.

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

One of my favorite parts of either Olympics is the parade of nations. Seeing everyone united, dressed in such a way to identify their home, waving flags and waving at fans, always gives me chills. This moment reminds me just how big this world is, seeing the racial and cultural diversity and hearing the multiple languages spoken. At the same time, I see how small our world is, as each athlete has something in common with another, and they are all gathered in one place for the entire world to witness. At the opening ceremonies, the competitors enter with their countries, but at the closing ceremonies you see these same competitors mingling with their rivals, exchanging hugs and tears, pins and photos.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Church on Earth is not limited by language or political borders. It is not held back by the global economy, war, or famine. We have no rival that God cannot overcome. We are under one Lord, and united in one holy nation. This world is both big and intimidating while small and taken for granted. But look around. See the crowds surrounding you, cheering you to victory in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

High Speed

A friend was recently complaining to me that it was taking too long for a game to load on his iPhone. I was thinking, "Dude, you're playing a video game on your phone that's not a monochromatic snake eating apples!" I can relate though, the wonders of 3G aside. I remember when the Internet became more than just forums and listserves and displayed graphics, full-pages of text, and even color. The wonder of it all! I didn't mind at all that a page would take a while to load, it was assumed. As the Internet became more widespread, Internet access no longer required a network, but could be accessed at home with a modest 14.4 kbps dial-up modem (a little evolved from the primitive modem in the movie War Games). As more people started to use the Internet and more and more web pages became available, modem speeds had to increase to compensate. Of course as modem speed increased, so did the bells and whistles on each page. Pretty graphics gave way to music and video, Flash and Applets, RSS and Twitter. Can you imagine accessing the Internet today with a 14.4 or even a 28.8 modem? Now we have High Speed, DSL, wi-fi, and 3G and for some reason web pages take the same amount of time to load as they did with my old 14.4.

Our lives are very similar. As we learn to deal with all that's on our plate, we add more and more. I have one kid figured out, let's have another. Two? No problem! Let's have three. Wait. No. Let me take that back and change subjects. One project at work? Nailed it. Give me another. One responsibility at church? No biggie, I can mentor that teen and lead that small group. Even though our dial-up is getting faster, we increase the data we need to download and the pace never seems to change.

This is where impatience comes in. Patience is the one fruit of the Spirit that I struggle to gain the most. I just can never seem to overcome my impatience. I cannot wait for my page to load and I long for the day of infinitely fast speed. The missing ingredient of course is contentment. As Internet surfers, we weren't content with primitive web pages and their blocky graphics. We then weren't content with online news services so we began to blog. We then weren't content with blogging so we added social networking. Social networking takes too much effort so let's limit our thoughts to 140 words and Tweet. I'm not content with my cell phone only being used for phone calls; I need to text. I then need to send MMS. Then I need games. Lots and lots of games.

In life, I'm not content with spending quality time with my family; I need to be busy doing something. I'm not content to just sit and watch a movie, I need to surf the Internet too. I'm not content with tackling one project at work, I need to add several more. So it's no surprise I'm so impatient. Instead of wresting to be patient, I need to slow down and be content. I need to be happy without the bells and whistles. I need to be grateful for the speed I have.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-14)

For other perspectives on patience, check out today's blog-carnival over at Bridget Cumbley's.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

My Last Tim Tebow Post... Really

Ok, today's the big day. Who cares how the Super Bowl turns out, most of us can't wait to see the ads (a poll in USA Today showed a 52/48 split between who is more interested in the commercials or the game respectively). The highest ratings might be in the first quarter when Focus on the Family's pro-life ad staring Tim Tebow airs.

I don't have much more to add to this other than to offer a little perspective. Teresa Heinz Kerry was blasted during the 2004 Presidential campaign for being "personally pro-life but politically pro-choice". Her "personal" reason was her faith, which was demonstrated when she had a miscarriage after a doctor recommended having an abortion, much like the case of Tim Tebow's mother. But her "pro-choice" argument goes that she was given a choice that wasn't limited by the government. I've heard the same argument against the Tebow example, his mother was allowed a choice. Fair enough, but what about the choice of the yet to be born child? They are defenseless, so much so that reckless behavior by an expecting mother can be prosecuted and that crimes against a pregnant woman that results in the death of the fetus can be tried as Second Degree murder. Yes, both Heinz-Kerry and Tebow had a choice, and both chose to have their child. And most importantly, and less debated, is that they both trusted in God to work things out. And he did. Note where the trust is placed- in God, not the government.

Another argument against the Tebow spin on abortion is what if Tim had grown up to be a serial killer instead of a Heisman winner? (This was one comment in USA Today's letters to the editor on the subject) So it's ok to abort a could-be Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler? This is a common philosophical/theological debate- would it be moral to go back in time and kill a future killer? See the ending of The Butterfly Effect for a stomach-turning answer to that one. But given free-will, there's no predestined fate for one child or another to grow up and be "evil". Yes circumstances come into play (what if Adolf lived in the United States instead of war-torn Germany?) but at least the person has the choice in their life. They are free to grow up and make decisions as they see fit. See the movie Gattaca for this take on the argument.

My take? I was adopted at two weeks old. My birth-parents were a teenage girl and a recently graduated teenage boy. Legally, they had every right to see to it that my life never came to being. I'm grateful for their "choice". But I'm more grateful that I was given the opportunity to make my own choices. Maybe someday I will be a serial killer. And I'll never win the Heisman. But at least I'm alive.

So the Super Bowl ended dramatically and now it's time for the postgame evaluation: which ads were the best. The infamous Focus on the Family Tim Tebow ad aired and didn't amount to the hype surrounding it. The world did not end with, the ads went on. The argument that this ad encroached on a tradition of neutrality, family, and escapism was contradicted by the Green Police ad by Audi, the suggested mastubatory Megan Fox Motorola ad, and the stereotype of the single black mom hooking up with a playa while feeding her kid junk food. Neutral and family-friendly indeed. Anyway, a better take can be found over at Get Religion.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

Surely by now you've heard of the 10 American Christians who were arrested in Haiti for child trafficking. The story goes that the children's parents gave the children up in hopes of a better life. These "missionaries" acted in good faith, believing they were doing the right thing. In fact, this same sympathy drives the popularity of foreign adoptions by American Christians- the idea that adopting a child out of a "godless" country to raise him or her in a Christian home is an effective form of evangelism. When the earthquake hit Haiti, it was not surprising that one of the first concerns was of the orphans left behind, just as it was for the Indonesian tsunami.

But there is a right way and a wrong way of "saving" these children. I just watched an interview with a woman from a local adoption agency that was in the process of arranging for the adoption of Haitian children before the earthquake. When that news broke, this woman took the first flight she could to Haiti to ensure the safety of these children. The group that went to Haiti from Lifechurch in Pennsylvania, went because of the orphanage they supported there. The group from Idaho however, had no prior experience, no existing relationships, and no required paperwork. Like I said, they went in good faith, but ill prepared.

In classic evangelical terms, what would Jesus do? I think of Matthew 9, "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Mt 9:35-36) Here, Jesus went to where the needs were. He did not remove people from their needs, but he stopped there to meet their needs.

This is a tragedy, no doubt, and it is encouraging to see the millions of dollars raised for relief. But once the Red Cross leaves, once the US military leaves, once the donations stop coming, there will still be a need. If you are so concerned about the welfare of the children in Haiti that you would spend your life savings to get there to save a few, then you should stay there. Save them by rebuilding homes and schools. Stay there to feed them. Stay there to care for them. Because stripping children away from their parents is not saving them. My first link above had some statistics that are telling that the updated article doesn't- nearly two thirds of Haitian children attend schools operated by Christian organizations and a majority of hospitals are Christian-run. That is meeting the need. Jesus "went" to meet the need. We should be so bold as to do the same. If hopping a flight to Haiti is out of the realm of possibility for you, look around your own city, your neighborhood, your schools. Find a need and go and meet it.