Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Money Matters

I'm on vacation, so I'm going to be short on commentary.

A common theme in my study and blog reading lately has been finances; either the finances of the church, of individuals, or of this country. Maybe the recent debate over the "debt ceiling" stirred everyone's thoughts on this. But that wasn't our frame of mind the other morning as my wife and I were talking about stewardship. Coincidentally I had just read this post over at Cerulean Sanctum which hit on the very same points. (that's two posts in a row that Dan totally nails it IMHO, blogging on points that are on my heart at the same time he posts them.Three, if you count yesterday's post) I also recalled the first chapter of David Platt's Radical Together that asks us if the "good" things we're doing as a church are keeping us from doing the great thing of advancing the Gospel.

MSN Money had a recent article on "Rev. Billy" who isn't actually a minister (though since his growth in popularity has since been ordained) but makes his mark "preaching" against materialism and consumerism.

A combination of recent polls show that as financial difficulties hit people are less, not more, likely to attend church. That's contrary to conventional wisdom.

Jared Wilson asks what it means to be "Rich Towards God" over at A Gospel Driven Church.

Mark Lafler hits a hot button debating filing for bankruptcy over at Bibledude.net. Personally, I came to the conviction a while ago that carrying debt, in and of itself, is a sin because when you sign that receipt at the store you are pledging that you will pay it back. (Mortgages, student loans, and car payments are different in that they are intentionally scheduled to be paid off) Mark's argument is that even if you are forced by your circumstances to file for bankruptcy, that the "Christian" thing to do is to make every effort to still pay off your debt. I agree whole heartedly. (I don't want to come across as self-righteous here, either. My family is on the long climb out of debt, but we are committed to be debt free ASAP)

Finally Jonathan Keck at Theology21 asks if we really believe "In God We Trust" with our finances and shares his personal experience of losing a job.

(Meanwhile, we are paying out the nose for our all too short vacation. Such is life)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

But Why?

What if you find yourself on the other side of the story? What if it was your baby who had to die so that another could live? What if you find yourself asking why?

Our whys could be losing a job, a spouse walking away, the tragic death of a child. Or your whys might be an ongoing struggle that will never change, no matter how desperately you pray.

My wife is a Special Education teacher. While her caseload doesn't consist of the most developmentally disabled, daily she faces parents who deep inside are asking "why". Six months ago one of her students shared the proud news of a baby brother being born. Unfortunately, this baby was born with just about everything wrong imaginable. He was hydrocephalus, blind, under weight, under developed, and under responsive. Collectively most babies in his condition would only survive weeks or at most a year. Naturally our heart went out to this family. Not only did they already have one special needs child, but they also lacked the means to fully take care of this baby. He requires frequent trips to LA for surgeries, check-ups, and other treatments. Without a car or any other means to make his appointments, my wife jumped in without hesitation.

This precious little baby was quickly accepted like part of the family. My daughter loves him so much she now wants a baby brother of her own.

At the same time we were struggling in prayer over my friend's baby mentioned in my last post, we were also struggling in prayer over this baby. Do we pray that he will be healed? Do we even have that much faith? Do we pray that he finds peace and that God calls him home with no suffering? Do we pray for the family, facing this challenging circumstance? In the end, we simply pray that God's will be done.

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'
'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'" (John 9:1-3)

For all the reasons one could ask why: every tragedy, every adversity, every infirmary, every disability; maybe the answer is as simple as "so that the work of God might be displayed in your life."

Why is Tyler suffering through his short life while AJ is blessed with a new life? I don't have an answer, but I pray that God is glorified through both.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Praying for Bad News

A few months ago, a friend of mine had a beautiful baby boy. Beautiful, but in critical condition. He had a bad heart. After some time in NICU, the doctors concluded he would need a transplant. Upon hearing this news, and seeing his picture, my heart melted. All things considered, my kids are perfectly healthy. Yet I knew what my friend was feeling. I put the call out for prayers and immediately hit my knees.

Another friend later approached me and told me she had a hard time praying for this baby because she knew that if he got a new heart, then another baby had to die. I had the same feeling. In fact, the night earlier I had a dream where I was in the OR and it was my baby on the operating table. In came the doctors wheeling in another baby. I was told, "just say the word, and we'll pull the plug and your baby will be healed." I couldn't make that call. Yes, it would save my baby, but I couldn't sacrifice another. I quickly woke up in tears.

I then talked to my friend. Turns out that there was a heart available the weekend prior. But the heart was too large. The kicker? The donor was a baby who had just drowned. I was shattered when the reality hit that another baby had to die so that this baby could live.

But I was reminded of another baby who had to die so that others could live.

"Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.'" (John 12:23-24)

Another baby did die a little more than a week later. My friend's baby got a new heart. He's now home, healthy, happy and loved. But there is another home that is a little more empty right now. Yet I'm confident that it wasn't just this baby who got a new heart. I did too and I pray so did the family that is now one less.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weight

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)






So what is weighing you down?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blurbs

Not enough time this morning for a full-blown post regrettably. But here are some other posts worth steering your attention towards.

Don't forget about this week's Blog Carnival, being hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. This week's topic is "fences". When I think fences, I think neighbors. And there's no worse neighbor than the one who hides behind his fence and doesn't interact with the rest of his neighborhood. That's me. If you participate in the carnival and I haven't commented on your post, that doesn't mean I haven't read it. I do most of my blog reading offline since I'm firewalled off from much in the blogosphere. I want to be a better neighbor, though. Just trying to figure out how in the schedule I have.

While I wrestle balancing career and ministry, needs of the day and passions for the future, a I related to a couple other bloggers recently. Johnathan Keck asks if we are destined to specific careers while Jay Cookingham considers a slight change of course to his writing passion.

This blog started off with more of a mix of politics in with our discussion of civil religion but I've drifted away from that lately. But both Carl Jones and Get Religion have write ups on the late Senator, Mark Hatfield, and how he bucked the trend of most Conservative Christians which made him hard to label.

Finally a post I should print out and frame because it hits on so much that I struggle over, Don Edelen has a terrific post on the visibly increasing divisions within American Christianity (TM). If you click on no other link above, I encourage you to click on this one.

All for now. Hopefully I can get more time to hash out some more thoughts later.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Do you need a fence?

Good fences make good neighbors -Robert Frost

When Peter first mentioned this week's Blog Carnival topic, fences, several thoughts ran through my mind.

I thought of the fence where I grew up. How it was effective keeping the dogs in the yard, but as time went on due to lack of care or concern, the fence began to fall down. I though of how I tried to mend the fence when it really needed to be rebuilt.

I thought then of my current home where we don't have a fence so much as a block wall. I thought of how just the other day I was in the yard and noticed a spot where the wall was right by a sprinkler head and the masonry had begun to erode.

I thought of the fence my wife and I want to build in our front yard so we will be without with less worry our kids will run into the street while playing.

Then for some reason I thought of the book Who Moved My Church and the different approaches people took once their church was again "found". One locked all the doors to close out the world. Another opened the doors wide and embraced the world. Neither had its desired effect.

The last thought brought up the question what are fences for? Are they to keep the dogs and kids in the yard? Or, like Frost alludes to above, are they to keep others out? Don't they do both? So fences are really about safety and security. Keeping what you want in, while keeping what you don't out.

So I think again of the church. In some ways the church could be criticized for building fences, even walls, to keep out the poor, the wretched, the sinners outside. So some churches over-correct and tear down the fences and accept any and all. But then where is the safety and security provided by the fence?

It would be easy to say our churches need to tear down the fences and walls that divide. It would be an obvious temptation to allow anyone and everyone in for the sake of Christ. But is that the right attitude?

I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:1-10)

But we need to see that it's not us who are to break down the fences or open wide the gates, but Jesus himself. Anyone who comes in any other way, as Jesus describes, is a thief or a robber.

That still sounds like opening wide the gate, letting everyone in, and let Jesus sort them out. But it's not. Because the gate is not wide.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

We want our churches to be "seeker friendly". We want them to be large and reach many. We want as many as possible to enter through the gate of Christ. But Jesus himself said that few will even find the gate. If few actually find and enter through the gate, then aren't most of the rest that come in in the name of acceptance or tolerance thieves and robbers based on the first parable?

Fences are built for safety and security. The Kingdom of God is surrounded by a fence with only one way in. Don't tear down your fences so that more can come in. Because if you tear down the fence, you don't need the Gate.

Today's post is part of a Blog Carnival hosted over at Peter Pollock's site. This week's word is "fences". Please check out the many other well-written, thought-provoking posts.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Amazing Grace

One of the most familiar hymns there is is Amazing Grace by John Newton. So recognizable, it can be identified just by its first two notes. I'll let Wintley Phipps give the background below. I think the circumstances under which it was written adds to its spiritual impact. But it is the theme- God's grace versus our wretchedness, that is eternal and so relatable.



Interestingly, though Phipps gives the background of the song, he sings as the second verse an addition to the original song written approximately 100 years after the original. The original verse was a little too bleak for "modern" hearers (or lukewarm Christianity, take your pick). But this verse was added back in by Chris Tomlin for the soundtrack to the film "Amazing Grace".

I started doing some research on "Amazing Grace," and I was blown away that the last verse ("When we've been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun") was written about 100 years later. The original verse by John Newton was "The earth shall soon dissolve like snow," this incredible verse that I'd never seen in a hymn book. I started thinking about where John Newton came from, the slave ships, and what God had done in his life. We're all made slaves to sin in our life, but God has set us free. He has ransomed us from our slavery. I just wanted to add this idea that I hope brings freshness to the heart of the song. -Chris Tomlin




As he mentions, he was hesitant to mess with the arrangement but it has been done numerous times before. Here's a recent version by Todd Agnew:



The simple song structure also allows it to be sung as a round (remember elementary school with Row Row Row Your Boat when a group starts to sing halfway in) as well as be easily integrated into other songs. I couldn't find an example of this being sung in a round, but you can get the idea from these kids (Amazing Grace shows up in the second verse).



It is also commonly integrated into contemporary songs. Two groups recently, Wakeup Starlight and Building 429, have used Amazing Grace as a bridge in their songs.





So what's your favorite version of Amazing Grace? Do you prefer the traditional or do you like contemporary arrangements? Is it best sung to an organ or a capella?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Mosaic

The second chapter of Unleashed, titled Kaleidoscope by Daryl Reed, discusses the need for racial diversity in our churches. That's something I've always admired in our family of churches. The most common reaction from visitors is surprise at the diversity of our congregation. I don't say that to boast, only to point out that our racial diversity gives us diversity in cultural perspective. For example my wife just learned some cultural norms regarding Latin families that helped explain an issue that came up in a Bible study. What is interesting is how some of our cultural habits affect not only our relationships but also our relationship with God. For some of us, it's a pressure that we have to be perfect. For others, it is patriarchal roles we feel we need to fulfill. Yet the diversity in our churches, when put together in unity in Christ, overcomes these traditions to create a beautiful mosaic.

The same is also true in denominational diversity. "Non-denominational" is a popular evangelical marketing term that only means you're not a part of a larger governing body over your church, but it says nothing about your doctrine or your historical tradition. True non-denominationalism is when the only thing that unifies is not doctrinal agreement, but the single standard of the Word of God. This diversity was evident in another Bible study my wife and I were having. Looking around the room, and talking about our religious backgrounds, it became clear that every one of us came from a different brand of "Christianity". But we were able to put aside our personal traditions when faced with the truths found in Scripture. The study was filled with, "I used to believe ____ but then I studied it out for myself and found that ___." Just as the multicolored mosaic creates a beautiful picture of unity in Christ, so does the mosaic formed by our unique religious traditions.

Daryl Reed notes that racial diversity is necessary in our churches for the sake of reflecting those to whom we are called to spread the Gospel ("every nation" or ethne in the Great Commission) and to reflect the unity Christ compels us to that overcomes any racial barrier. The same holds true for our doctrine. Carl Medearis makes this point in a recent CNN belief blog article. His point is that our evangelism should not be focused on converting to a specific doctrine, but rather to lead others to Jesus. It is in Him alone that we are saved into a single, unified body. This is not ecumenism or inter-denominationalism, for those do not create unity within walls but rather sweeps issues under the rug as "non-essentials". Instead, this is taking our experiences as a whole and examining them through the lens of the Bible and the example of Christ's own life.

If our churches can overcome racial divisions in the name of Jesus then we can unite under the banner of Christ alone.

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

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:3-6)