Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Waiting

There is a lot of waiting this time of year. Shoppers wait in traffic so they can get to stores and wait in line to pay for their merchandise. Students (and teachers) wait for vacation to start. Children wait to see what gifts they will receive. Other people wait for the season to be over. One thing that seems present in all the waiting is stress and conflict. Sometimes the very act of waiting causes the problems.

The people of Israel were waiting. Waiting for the promised Messiah, waiting for God to speak again, and deliver his people. They had been waiting a long time. Today, we wait for that same Messiah to return and deliver us. It has been a long time.

Some in Israel had grown tired of waiting and were content with just getting by. Others had put their hopes in their religious rituals, or political works. Before we are too hard on them, let us ask ourselves how we are waiting. Are we waiting for a trip off this old earth, up into the sky? Are we waiting for the right leaders to be elected or the right laws to be passed to turn our nation back to God? Have we given up and been reduced to just getting by?

We are told to not become weary in doing good. Jesus is King, and one day he will return and set
everything right again. Their will be justice, mercy, and peace. Creation will be renewed. The Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. That is what we wait for. That is what we long for.

This Advent season remember that we wait in anticipation of a Kingdom that is here now, and is still to come. We wait in anticipation and in hope.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Far Would You Go?

This was posted a few years ago.

The other night I was watching American Idol (no, I'm not really a fan - I was watching it with my son, who is a fan). Anyway, there was this girl who came on knowing she has no singing talent at all. She wanted to go on to Hollywood so the Idol people could teach her to sing and remake her into a pop star. She was desperate to move to the next round, and I wondered just how far she would have gone to get there. If Simon and the others were cruel enough, how much would they be able to put this poor girl through, how much would she have put up with to become famous - to become the next American Idol.

I was going to write something about how easy it is to allow ourselves to be caught up in being "famous", popular, well liked, etc. But instead, I'll ask how far we who call ourselves followers of Jesus are willing to go to be taught by him and to be remade into his image. Do we say, "Yeah I want to follow Jesus, just don't ask me to give up my dreams of a great career, or to spend time with those who are outside of the mainstream, or to get my hands dirty serving the poor and needy."? Or, are we like Peter, who was willing to get out of the boat and risk drowning to be like his Rabbi? Do we want a Savior who gives us all sorts of good things and wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Or are we willing to do whatever it takes and take whatever comes our way if it will form us into the image of Jesus.

Which Jesus do you follow?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent

As the season of Advent begins, we remember the longing of the ancient people of God for the coming of the Messiah. We also think of our own longing for Christ's return and the culmination of the restoration of all things.

Enjoy this video by Christine Sine:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thursday is Thanksgiving, the day set aside to stop and reflect on the things that we are thankful for. Then we fall asleep watching football. The good thing is that many people really do stop and think about their blessings.

There is much in my life for which I am thankful. First, and most importantly, I am thankful that the Creator of the universe is my Abba, and that he calls me son. I am thankful that I am a coheir with Christ of all things. I am grateful for God's love and grace, and for his patience with me.

I am thankful for my family. I was blessed to grow up with a mom and dad who loved me unconditionally, and taught me a lot about following Jesus. I am thankful for my sister and her family, and for their love. I am thankful that they live relatively close. I am extremely thankful for the wonderful woman who shares my life. Jan is a blessing from the Father, and her love and support are essential to me. God has allowed us the privilege of bringing up two fantastic children. Josh and Jennie have given us countless wonderful memories, and we continue to be very, very proud of them. I am thankful for my in-laws. I have always felt loved and accepted, and Jan's dad continues to be a strong support to us.

Like many folks in today's economy, I am thankful I have a job. Beyond that, I am grateful to have a job where I can see a bit of difference made in what I do. I enjoy working with the middle school kids, and love the opportunity to coach the high school basketball team God has given me.
I am thankful for the things God has taught me over the last few years. My faith has been tested and stretched, and my dependence on the Father and my love for Jesus has deepened. Although their are still areas where the answers aren't there, I am comfortable with the questions. I am grateful for the community God has led us to. We are a fellowship that is committed to loving God and loving each other. We are learning to open up to each other and accept each other, warts and all. We are seeking to live as free people in Christ and to help others find that freedom. The folks in our community have become a family, and they are all a real blessing to us.

I am thankful for the friends I have made along my journey so far, and for the ones who will come along later. I am grateful for those of you who read this blog, and for those who write the things that God uses to teach me. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I am extremely blessed.

I will have limited computer access for the next few days, so the blog will be silent. I hope your Thanksgiving is blessed. Enjoy the day, and spend a bit of time thanking God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

God's Response to the "War on Christmas"

James Stillwell posted this a few years ago. It's titled, "God's Response to the 'War on Christmas'". With Black Friday kicking off the Christmas shopping season this week, this is worth a read.

Dear Children,

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just get along and love one another. Now, having said, that let Me go on.

If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can and may remember Me anytime you see any tree.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list :

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

4. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

5. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile it could make the difference. Also, you might consider supporting the local Hot-Line: they talk with people like that every day.

6. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day, they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.

7. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary, especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name. You may already know someone like that.

8. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to some charity that believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

9. Finally if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Sincerely,

-God

P.S. Don't forget, I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work, time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those you love and, remember, I love you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

TGIF

In two hours, it will be Saturday. However, it's still Friday, so it's time for everyone's favorite links post. Or not.

Here they are:

More medals for murder?
Contradictions.
Squirrel brain.
Good, honest thoughts from Tim Hill.
Alan Knox says that we're not "called out."
Self-disclosure.
God's fool.

Exquisitely suited.
An iMonk classic.
The "one" always counts.
Bill Kinnon recommends a couple of books.
So is there a NeoReformed/New Calvinist movement, or not?
Secularizing Kingdom.
Secession? Really?

Have a great weekend. I pray that each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you are able to spend time with those close to you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Did you know that the sweet potato can be a life saver for people in drought stricken areas? Read this to find out more.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Am Sad Today

My heart is grieving today. Today would have been the 11th birthday of a little girl named Zahra Baker. She is the girl who was reported missing over a month ago, and whose remains are being found in various places. Those of you who live in the Charlotte area are familiar with the story.
My heart is grieving, but it also cries out for justice. I must admit that a large part of me asks for no mercy for someone who would abuse, and then kill, a child. Another part of me wonders what could cause someone to commit such unspeakable acts, and wonders at the injustices along the way that allowed this.

I could probably come up with a long list of failures on the part of people that caused this tragedy to happen. The whole story has not come out, but there was allegedly abuse at home. I don't know how many visits social service workers made, or if they noticed anything amiss. Relatives have said that they knew that things were not good at home. One of them was quoted as saying that Zahra had a horrible home life, and that, "this was something...we knew was going happen." The family's neighbors had not seen the girl out of the house for at least a month, and some of them didn't even know she lived there. My heart grieves for a world where relatives know something is going on and feel, for whatever reason, unable to step into the situation. I grieve for a world where neighbors don't know what is going on in the lives of those around them.

I am not condemning the relatives or neighbors in this case. I don't know their situations, so I have no right. What I do know, and what breaks my heart is that we live in a world where we have shut ourselves off from our neighbors, or in some cases, our own families. We leave our houses in the morning, drive to work by ourselves, spend our day barely interacting with our coworkers, drive back home, where we shut the door to the outside world. At the most, we wave to our neighbor as we drive away. How many of us spend time with those who live around us, getting to know them as people? How many of us who call themselves followers of Christ spend time with our neighbors without an agenda to "get them saved?" How many of us see them as beings made in the image of God, rather than as those on the "outside?"

Abuse and other problems happen in churches just like they do "out in the world." We don't pick up on these things because we do not build deeper relationships. How many of us really know those we call brothers and sisters in Christ? How many churches are filled with folks who show up on Sunday morning, settle into their comfortable seat, sing a few songs, listen to a stirring (or not) talk, then get into their cars and drive back home, waiting until the next week before they see anyone in the church again? Even many of our small groups are superficial, and don't let any "fellowship" delve into what is really going on in our lives. We worship with people who look like us, think like us, and drive the same quality car as us. We make sure that our time together is spent on things that don't unmask us, so we accumulate more knowledge. We equate discipleship to imparting knowledge about Scripture and the spiritual life rather than pouring our life into the life of another person. We are afraid to let others inside the wall, because we fear what they might say. We fear rejection or condemnation.

My heart grieves. It also cries, 'Enough!" It is time for the body of Christ to stop acting like a bunch of unconnected parts, and begin spending time with one another, building into each other's lives. This will be revolutionary for many in the institutional church, because it will mean that the majority of our time will need to be spent in going from house to house rather than from meeting to meeting. We will spend more time building relationships than building programs. Our money will go to help individuals in need instead of a building program. We will know who has need and giving will come naturally, not from a "benevolence ministry."

Relationships are not easy. They can be very messy, and sometimes painful. The alternative is continuing in the, "How are you doing?" "Fine," way of dealing with people. We can let down our guard and develop deep relationships fueled by love, or we can stay on the surface and never get to know others. We can know people and be known well enough to step in and help when it's needed, or we can say we never saw it coming when the world collapses on them. We can be the body of Christ, or we can be people who just "go to church."

Choose wisely.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Being Real

A few years ago, there was a thread on theooze.com titled "Which story are you in?" As I thought about what story I was in at the time, I thought of one of my favorite all-time stories - "The Velveteen Rabbit". The story is about a stuffed rabbit who becomes real because of the love of a little boy.

As I thought about all that has transpired in my journey the last few years, I thought how God's love is making me "real." The process has not been without pain. In the story the Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit that becoming real may hurt but that when you do become real you don't mind the hurt. So it is with being formed into the image of Christ - the hurt pales in comparison to the final result, so in some sense you really don't mind it.

The Skin Horse also said that while you might not seem real to others, the one that matters is the one that is causing you to become real through their love. Again that has its parallel in the process of becoming like Jesus. You come to the place where the only one whose opinion of you matters is God.

Obviously, I have a long way to go in the process of becoming real. But God is working.

What story are you in?

Friday, November 12, 2010

TGIF

For some reason it seems like this week has gone by a bit slower. It's been busy, and that usually means the time passes quickly. Anyway, Friday is here and that means it's time for the links of the week. Enjoy.

A narrative.
Shift-F7.
Post-election musings.
The passing of the greatest generation.

Why imonk was weary of weird Christians.
Test everything.
On reading the Bible.
It takes a movement.

Not the gospel of Left Behind.
Kansas Bob waxes philosophical.
Jared Wilson shares his view of gift giving.
Imagining the impact.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Screen in the Corner

In What Good is God?, Philip Yancey tells the story of the brave young woman who helped spark the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The opposition candidate, Victor Yushchenko, having already faced an attempt to poison him, had a 10 percent lead over the government candidate on election day. The government then tried to steal the election.

The state-run television reported the election results in favor of the state's man. What the authorities forgot was the small inset in the lower right hand corner of the screen, where a young woman provided sign language interpretation for the hearing-impaired. While the announcer was trumpeting the defeat of Yushchenko, this courageous woman was signing, "I am addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine. Don't believe what they are saying. They are lying and I am ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our President!" No one in the studio understood sign language. The message spread like wildfire and within days a million Ukrainians descended on Kiev and demanded new elections. The government was forced to give in, and Yushchenko became president.

Yancey makes the point that this is what the church should be, a small screen in the corner announcing that what the big screen is blaring is a lie. Those who control the big screen are telling us that our worth hinges on how we look, how much we make, what we wear, or what we do. As we look at the screen we see the bright and the beautiful, the rich and the famous, the powerful, those who are famous for simply being famous. The message is that we should strive to be just like them. That is the message we see on the big screen. Unfortunately, the message that is exported to the rest of the world is that everyone in "Christian" America is rich, spoiled, and decadent. And we wonder why so many hate Christianity throughout the world.

We have a perfect example of the small screen in the One we claim to follow. The big screen of first century Judaism told folks that the healthy, wealthy, and wise were the ones who could expect God's favor. The kingdom of God was reserved for them. Along came Jesus, proclaiming that the kingdom was open to the downtrodden, the poor, the outcasts, the very ones that were seen as unworthy. His kingdom would not be built on military might, or on wealth, or on religious tradition. It would be built on love, and the ones on the bottom would enter before the movers and shakers of society. This message is even more revolutionary than the one which sparked the Orange Revolution.

The problem is that much of the church has either tried to control the big screen or has put up an imitation screen. We have our version of the rich and famous. Just watch Christian television. Take a look at the shelves in Christian bookstore, or the speaker lineup at any conference. Many of those people are fine folks with good ministries, but I don't think you could argue that there is not a cult of personality out there. We just don't do a very good job of broadcasting that subversive message that our Lord proclaimed.

Although there is still a great deal of "big screen Christianity," there are those who are working in the corner, spreading the revolutionary message of a kingdom that doesn't come with great fanfare, but arrives quietly and spreads like yeast, working its way through. It's a kingdom that is built on sacrificial acts of love, not displays of might. Its subjects lay down their lives for each other, rather than using them to climb the ladder.

May their tribe increase.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

In Romania, a generation of HIV infected women is giving birth to children at risk of contracting the disease from their mothers. For more information, and to find out how you can help, look here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Where Do You Stay?

One of the things about working with young African-American students is the things you learn. I have noticed that they will ask someone where they "stay" while I would ask where they "live". I was thinking that maybe they are closer to speaking correctly than those of us who speak "good" grammar. The house that I share with my wife is the place where I stay when I am not out at work, etc., much like someone stays at a motel. But I "live" everywhere I go and in everything I do. I'm certainly not dead when I am away from home.

Now, think of the words "church" and "worship". Growing up, I was always taught that "church" is the place you go to a few times a week to "worship" God. You know, "This is the church, this is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people." I have since come to the realization that this is not the correct way to use these terms. The little ditty should go, "This is the building, this is the steeple, open the doors and see the church." And since we are the church, we continue to be the church everywhere we go and in everything we do. In the same way, "worship" is not just something we do a couple of times a week in a "worship service". Worship is what the followers of Jesus should be doing in each thing we do. It should be in the fabric of our being. The weekly service is the church coming together to do corporately what they have been doing individually throughout the week. Our Sunday worship should be an overflow of what we are about the other six days.

Think about the difference it would make in our lives as individuals and as congregations if we re-thought those two terms (as well as others.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

TGIF

Another campaign season has gone by, and the smears and half-truths have been put away, for awhile. The political landscape has changed, and it remains to be seen how it will all shake out. It's getting cold here. We have a freeze warning tonight, and it seems to me like it's earlier than usual. I don't know.

What I do know is there is some good stuff out there in blogdom. Here is a sampling:

Kansas Bob has written an open letter to the President.
Recovering our creativity.
Kathy is creating messes.
Evangelicals, elections, and blindness to sin.

Donald Miller writes about the fear of doing.
A paint-by-numbers life.
Jeff Dunn writes about creativity overcoming safety.
It takes a movement.

Scot McKnight on the eschatology of politics.
Unfree in Christ.
Bill Kinnon asks why big name Christian leaders aren't decreasing.
Woodpeckers on the wall.

Mark recommends payperform.
A community with no one in need.
Jonathan Brink writes about anger.
No money, mo problems.
Alan Knox on community.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Without treatment, HIV-positive moms have a one-in-three chance of infecting their children. Yet a few simple measures can dramatically reduce these odds. The problem: Too many moms can't access the HIV care they need. But we can help give the next generation an AIDS-free future. See how you can be a part of the solution.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Don't Forget


  • A few years ago I watched a video from the "That the World May Know" series. It was titled "Walk as Jesus Walked: Don't Forget Us". It's about following Jesus in suffering and persecution. I'd always thought that while Christians in countries such as China or the Sudan were suffering for their faith, we here in the "Christian" West had it easy. And that is true to a great extent - the biggest thing we have to worry about is having someone make fun of us. The video showed me something that I had never thought of before. In 1 Corinthians 12:12, 26, Paul writes, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ....If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

    Do we suffer with the parts of the body that are going through persecution and suffering? Do we even know when they are suffering? I think the fact that we generally don't enter into or even know of the suffering of our brothers and sisters is because we have lost that sense of oneness in the body that the early church had. Most of the time we don't even know the struggles that others have in our local churches, so how do we expect to know what goes on around the world? There is no excuse for not knowing what is going on out there. Voice of the Martyrs and other organizations are constantly giving accounts of the suffering in the body. It does take a little work, but it can be done. Find out.

    If you want an object lesson about what it means when the whole body suffers because of one part, hit your thumb hard with a hammer. Then tell me if your whole body feels it or if you can keep the effects localized on your thumb. That is how the body of Christ is. Or at least how it should be.

    Find out how your brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering. Pray for them. Let their suffering affect you. Above all - never forget them.

Weelend Wanderings

The first weekend links post of autumn is here! The weather is beautiful here in the sunny South. It was fifty degrees on our back porch thi...