Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fear and Love

In the song, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," Death Cab for Cutie sings about death and following a lover "into the dark." It's a song with that sees death as an unknown. There are many folks who see death and life after death that way. I'm not going to discuss that here though.

What struck me (and broke my heart) were the following lines:

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me
"Son fear is the heart of love"
So I never went back

I never went to Catholic school, but I did grow up in a religious culture that was fear based. We were told early in life that we needed to accept Jesus as our personal Savior so we could avoid going to hell. Lurid descriptions of hell, some going beyond what Scripture says, were part and parcel of the "gospel." Movies like "Thief in the Night," and stories of holes drilled deep into the earth and the screams of the damned coming from those holes, were designed to scare people into "making a decision" for Christ. Today, churches use things like "Judgment House," and "Helloween" to do the same thing.

There was also an emphasis on "living right," which of course meant following a certain set of rules and regulations. The motives for doing right included not wanting to lose rewards in heaven, not wanting to damage our "testimony," and not wanting to be "taken home" early because of our sin. We tried to live right because of fear of the consequences if we didn't. Even those of us who rebelled tried to make sure that we asked forgiveness before we went to bed, in case we died in the middle of the night.

While there are warnings throughout Scripture about judgment, and I do believe that there will be some sort of judgment when Jesus comes again, I think the more prevalent theme throughout the Bible is love. The Israelites were told that God was leading them in his love. They were commanded to love God with their entire being, and to love their neighbors as themselves.
God presented himself to Moses as the God who is, "slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." All through the Old Testament, the people of God were reminded of his love for them and of their responsibility to love God and to love others.

In the New Testament, Jesus states that all of God's Law can be kept by loving God with our entire being and loving all others as ourselves. He said that the way others would know that we belong to him is our love for each other. In John's first letter, he writes about the importance of love. 1 John 4:18 is the verse that puts to rest any notion that "fear is the heart of love." This verse sums it up:
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

Friday, January 29, 2010

TGIF

This week, like most others, has gone quickly. I have a rare Friday night and Saturday off. There is supposed to be some sort of winter storm hitting the area tonight so our basketball game tonight was postponed and tomorrow's practice has been canceled. So far, our town has received exactly zero inches of precipitation. :)

On to the good stuff:

Communities or churches?
Getting out of the insurance business.
Two weeks.
How to pursue justice without losing your soul.

Here is an update from iMonk.
The 20th Century's biggest change in evangelicalism. A change for the better, in my opinion.
The only doc. (HT: Scot McKnight)
Doubters, arise!

Life vs. news.
Legalism? Good?
When good motives go bad.
Learning to dance in the rain.

Like clouds and wind.
Losing Jesus?
What are you chosen to suffer for?
Brother Maynard prognosticates.

Have a restful weekend.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Explanations



This was posted on Brian McLaren's site. The picture was taken by Mike Todd at a church next to the Garden of Gethsemane. It's a pretty funny picture, and the wording is possibly due to the difficulties of translating from one language into another.

As I occasionally do when I see things like this, I began to think. I thought about how we in the church often come together. Before we gather, we put on our masks in order to appear as if we have it all together. We dress up, or down as the case might be, in order to look spiritual. (We either "put on our best for God," or we show that we "know that God cares about what's in our heart, not what's on the outside.")

If we're one of those who don't do everything perfectly, who sometimes royally screw up, (I like to call these people "humans") we come armed with explanations for the things we have done or said. We feel that we have to justify ourselves in the eyes of others because we don't want anyone to think that we don't measure up. Maybe we have experienced the judgement of those who condemn others in order to make themselves look and feel good. Maybe we can't forgive ourselves for something we've done in the past. Maybe we just don't think we're worthy of anyone's love and acceptance. For whatever reason, we think of a "Yes, but," to tack on in order to explain ourselves.

Sometimes we even try to explain things to God when we come to him in prayer. When you stop and think about it, trying to make excuses for something that the Creator knows everything about is pretty foolish. Yet, we continue to do it.

We all need to realize that we don't need explanations. The Father knows all about us, even more than we know, and he loves and accepts us anyway. We may try to explain ourselves, but his response is, "It doesn't matter. It's taken care of. Just let me love you. Trust me." We shouldn't need explanations in the church either. We're told in Romans 14 that we are to accept those whom God has accepted. We have no right to judge those who are forgiven by God, and they don't owe us any explanation for being human and acting like it.

Let's take off the masks, and accept ourselves and our brothers and sisters as who we are - frail humans who still sin, but who are accepted in the Beloved and are righteous in the Father's sight. Please: No explanations inside the church.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Children all over the world are being exploited for a number of reasons. This often includes the children being bought and sold like any commodity. One of the areas where World Vision is working to end child trafficking is Eastern Europe.

Here is an account from a World Vision staff member who spent time visiting child protection programs in that part of the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Existence of God

A friend on theooze.com posted a link to this essay. It's an excellent piece on "proving" the existence of God. I would suggest you read the entire essay.

A few paragraphs struck me as significant:

"The existence of God is a profound matter, and never something that should be treated perfunctorily. That “I believe God exists” and that “I know Him” are among the deepest things that a Christian can say, and are a confession of the grace of God. We have been given something that is consonant with purity of heart, and should thus confess it with extreme humility."

"We are living in a time of history in which saints are required. We have long passed the time in which rational arguments will carry the day. Nothing less than lives which manifest the existence of God will do. The world has heard centuries of arguments – has been subjected to crass persecutions and atrocities in the name of God (even if these were largely not the result of Orthodox actions). We have survived a century of extremes (Bolshevism, Nazism, etc.). That the world is hungry is beyond doubt. But the world is not hungry for a new and winning argument.
The world hungers for God (whether it knows this or not)."


"The proper Christian answer to the hunger of the world is to be found only in the manifestation of God. Thus the challenge of a modern atheist should not be met with an anxious rejoinder from our panoply of arguments – but with the urgency of prayer that we might ourselves become an answer through the reality of the presence of God in our lives."

"As witnesses of the God who exists – we should strive in our small ways – to become persons whose lives are themselves an argument for the existence of God – a God whose existence is indeed beyond all existence."


"It is a tall order. Nothing less than life in the image of the resurrection of Christ will do. Nothing less than that has been promised us in Christ."

May we be people who live in the reality and power of the resurrection.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spring Fever

I know it's only January 25, but I'm already feeling a touch of the malady known as spring fever. Basketball season is winding down, and even though I am enjoying coaching more than I have in a few years, the long days and the traveling are beginning to wear a bit thin. I'm also getting tired of winter. I know, we really don't have winter here in the sunny South, but I'm tired of it nonetheless.

Around this time of year, I begin looking around to see if maybe God wants me to do something else to earn a living. It's not that I'm totally unhappy where I am, although the job is more stressful than I would prefer. It's just that I try to keep my eyes open for opportunities that may be out there. Of course, there's not a whole lot out there this year. Not too many jobs are coming open, so I'm definitely grateful I do have a job.

There are some changes on the horizon. Some we know about, some will make themselves known later. Jennie has been promoted at the company where she works, and it sounds like a great move for her. Josh will graduate in May, and will then have to go out and find a job. Hopefully the economy will improve to the point that architectural firms will be hiring. Jan and I will celebrate our thirtieth anniversary this summer, and we hope to do something special.

St. Thomas Community Church is looking at a future that has uncertainties ahead and decisions to be made. We are very close to outgrowing the space where we meet, and we're not sure what the next step will be. There are many advantages to meeting in a bagel shop. We pay no rent, so any money that is given can go to help those in need. The setting is intimate so there can be good discussion during the teaching time. Right now, we're small enough that we can begin to know each other more than just on a Sunday morning. We're in the middle of the marketplace instead of being sequestered behind closed doors in "our place." We've had a couple of the shop employees express an interest in checking us out.

We've never had anyone show up and then leave because we were too crowded, that we know of. The possibility exists that we will have to move, but for now we're going to stay put until we have a clear indication from God where we're supposed to go. Yesterday we talked about Abram in Genesis 12, and how God told him to go. Abram went, and there is no record that God told him specifically where to go, but that God simply led him. We feel like we're kind of in that situation as a community. God has called us to be where we are, and to bless those around us. He is leading us step by step, and calling us to simply walk with him and be ready to do what he wants us to do. There is no five year plan (heck, we don't even have a five week plan). There is no building program, and no plans to build a huge "ministry." There's just a day by day, week by week dependence on the Spirit, trying to listen to the still small voice of our Father.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Son

It was a Sunday morning in January, 1983. Just the day before, the Washington Redskins had won the NFC championship and were headed to the Super Bowl. I was in the shower, getting ready for church. It seemed like a normal day. Little did we know that our lives were about to be forever changed.

My morning routine was interrupted by the news that it was time to go to the hospital. You see, Jan was in her final days of her first pregnancy, and it was time for this child to come into the world. This first child was a son, someone to carry on the family name. We named him Joshua.

Within the first few months of this son's life, we moved to the Cincinnati area. During his time there, we began to get a hint of the person this son would become. From asking us to put money in a box set up to collect for a ministry to the poor to expressing concern for homeless people we would see when visiting DC, his concern for the least of these was evident early on.

We learned very quickly that this boy was very intelligent, and our challenge became helping him to develop that intellect. Fortunately he loved to read, and regular trips to the library became our ally. We found out though, that keeping him challenged in school would be more difficult. Although we never really had to worry very much about grade, we did have to nudge him a couple of times in middle school after we had moved to South Carolina. One thing we learned about this son during these years is that while he loved to learn, and was interested in a wide range of subjects, things like grades and class ranks didn't really interest him.

When he went away to college, we missed him. We knew that going away would be good for him, and for us. He was in a place where his faith would be both challenged and strengthened, where he could grow into the person God wanted him to be. He graduated ready to take on the world.

God had other plans though, and he went through a couple of years of temporary jobs and economic difficulty. As time went on, he came to feel drawn in a different direction. Deciding on a career in architecture, he made the hard decision to leave his friends and the city he had come to love and come back home to pursue a graduate degree. It has been difficult at times for him.

In four months, he will graduate. Then it's out into the real world. Jobs are scarce, but we are confident that God has something out there for him. One thing that has not changed is the heart for the poor and downtrodden that was there when he was a child. It will be exciting to see how God will combine that heart with the art and science of architecture.

Little did we know what the last twenty seven years would bring. We are extremely gratefully to the Father for the privilege of parenting this special son. Josh, we love you and are very proud of you. You have brought, and continue to bring, great joy to us. We pray for God's continued blessing on you, and for his guidance as you step into your future.

Happy birthday, Josh. We love you.

Friday, January 22, 2010

TGIF

This week has seen a terrible disaster hit the nation of Haiti, and the tremendous response of many governments, organizations, and individuals. More help will be needed, as the earthquake exposed and exacerbated the problems already there. Please continue to pray and help in whatever way you can.

Here are the links:

Dan Edelen has a vital warning for charismatics.
First hand info from Haiti. (HT: Annedroid)
One story of preventing child trafficking.
An update from iMonk.
Who is my neighbor?

A reminder that the earth is the Lord's.
I found this to be interesting.
A gentle tension. (HT: Scot McKnight)
Economic indicator? (HT: also McKnight)
Christian joy.

Kansas Bob on Scott Brown.
Jeff McQ wonders what to do now.
Mark Scandrette is living in the questions.
Christianity beyond belief.
No matter which side we're on, it's always good to seek to understand those on the other side.

A good question.
Haiti, poverty, and Christianity.
More from Alan Knox on edifying others.
Matt on the B-I-B-L-E.
A missional way for the pro-life passion.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

Just this morning, I read that an aftershock with a magnitude of 6.1 has struck Haiti. World Vision is already there, serving those affected by the original earthquake. You can go here to read about a portion of their efforts.

Please continue to pray for Haiti, and consider how you can help.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Update on Goal for the Year

Well, I had really planned on getting back in some semblance of shape and competing in Masters track events this fall. Unfortunately, those plans have taken a bit of a hit. I found out today that I have a small belly button hernia. It doesn't hurt a whole lot, but it probably will require some sort of surgery. So that will put me behind a few weeks in my training. I have a consultation with the surgeon tomorrow, so I'll have a better idea of what is in store.

There is a silver lining. If I compete this year, I'll be one of the older runners in the 50-54 age group. If I have to wait until next year, I'll be one of the younger ones in the 55-60 age group. So, maybe it will be for the best.

Friday, January 15, 2010

TGIF

It's a warm and sunny Friday here in the South. The temperature is actually going to be about normal, but compared the the chill we've had the last few days, it feels warm. Please pray for the folks in Haiti, and for those that are seeking to serve them. Consider helping in any way you can.

Here is the good stuff:

The unasked question of terrorism.
Women and religion.
I will build my church.
Jason Boyett had a 5 sentence story contest. The winner is here.
John Armstrong on house churches.

Where is God in the Haitian earthquake?
Jeff McQ weighs in on Haiti and Pat Robertson.
Brother Maynard on the emerging church.
A Haitian perspective on God, Satan, and the birth of Haiti. (HT: Tall Skinny Kiwi)
Embracing the adventurous way.

Alan Knox on mutual edification.
Say something good.
The scheme of God.
Born to dance with abandon.

I hope your weekend is filled with love and grace.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

As many of you have already heard, a major earthquake has hit Haiti. Please pray for the people there, already some of the poorest on earth. World Vision is preparing emergency relief. To find out how you can help go here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Story

I just finished A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. Miller is, of course, a brilliant storyteller and the book was an enjoyable read. The book is about the story that each of us tells with our life, and how to tell (live) a better story. Miller has been criticized by some of telling people that unless you are telling an epic with your life, something that could be made into a blockbuster movie, they are wasting their lives.

One of the bloggers that I read seems to, at first glance, come from the opposite side of the spectrum. Pam has written a number of posts about the dignity of living an ordinary (some would say boring) life. I would guess there are some who would say that Pam is telling folks that it's okay to live without ambition and just do whatever, never aspiring to anything big.

I think that both of them are on the right track. When I read Donald Miller's book, I hear him telling me to not be afraid to take risks in my life, to trust God when I hear him telling me to do something. When I read Pam's blog, I hear her telling me that it's okay to be where God has called me to be, that not everyone is called to the spotlight. Sometimes trusting God and taking risks involves giving up what the big time to live a story that takes place outside of the mainstream. Pam tells this story that makes the point.

I could very easily have read Miller's book and felt bad because the epic story I wanted to write with my life (competing in the Olympics, coaching college basketball and winning championships) has not come to pass. But I have come to realize that my story, and how it fits into God's story, is one of trying to be a good husband and father, and serving others in the places God puts me. I can still live a good story ( and try to tell a better one). I think that following Jesus involves risks, regardless of where he takes us.

I believe that Donald and Pam are both right. We are called to live the best story we can, whether it's a story that ends up in a book, or a story that gets told when our family and friends think about us.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

God's Facebook?

Last week, I saw a church sign that read, "God's Facebook is eternal. Are you on it?" Then Matthew Paul Turner posted this and this on his blog.

I wonder what those people were thinking when they came up with that. It looks to me like another failed Christian attempt at being culturally relevant. Facebook is hot right now, and so "Christian" copies are bound to pop up. There are already Christian social sites for those who seek to avoid the heathens in the wider culture. Now we have attempts to redeem cultural things by putting them on church signs and t-shirts and changing a couple of things to make them "Christian" and show that God is hip too.

I see a couple of problems with this kind of thing. First, and most obvious to me, is that these signs and t-shirts bring God down to our level. Yes, God came in human flesh and he calls himself our Father. Jesus calls us friends. There is a closeness we have with the Creator that is amazing. However, God is not our buddy. Jesus is Lord, and there is a certain level of respect that is lessened by things like this.

The second problem is Christians copying things in the popular culture, instead of exercising God-given creativity to make things that transcend culture and lift our attention to the Creator. All you have to do is walk into any Christian bookstore to see numerous examples. We do great harm to the Gospel when we display our faith on t-shirts and bumper stickers instead of by how we live our lives. We damage the cause of Christ when our art and music only serve as poor imitations of what is already out there. We are called to speak truth to the culture, not hide from it, or copy it.

Let's stop trying to be hip by copying what the culture is doing. Let's not hide from the culture either. Instead, let's go out into the world around us and live counter-culturally by loving others, sacrificing ourselves for their good, and doing what Jesus commanded us to do.

Friday, January 8, 2010

TGIF

This first week back from Christmas vacation has actually gone quicker than I thought it would. It was a nice two week break and we were able to spend some good time with family and friends. I hope your Christmas season was a good one.

Here is some of the good stuff floating in cyberspace:

Here we go again. (HT: Brian McClaren)
Thoughts on the Church and the economy.
Story.
An Ordinary Man.
There are days when I think this would be a good idea, although it probably wouldn't work very well here in the sunny South.

5 reasons not to make New Year's resolutions.
2009 tech fails. (HT: Scot McKnight)
Matthew Paul Turner is going to Uganda.
One way postmoderns are right.
Geese.

Ripples and discipleship.
Matt looks back, and then ahead.
Limping while dancing.
Jared Wilson tells us to chill out.
Tim Hill has an interesting discussion.

Don't sit with the mockers.
But believe more boldly still.
Four posts on the emerging church. Here, here, here, and here. (HT: Tony Jones)
Good thoughts on Christmas.

It's supposed to warm up here during the next week. I hope your week ahead is warmer as well. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

World Vision Wednesday

WVW is back after a couple weeks of vacation.

Who would have thought that a pig could make such a huge difference in a family's life? It's amazing what a small investment (for us) can do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Goal for the Year

I read recently that our goals for a new year (or resolutions, if you are so inclined) should more specific than just "lose weight," or "become a better person." As I thought about some of the things I would like to do this year, there was one specific thing that jumped out at me. One thing that would enable me to accomplish something that has been rolling around in the recesses of my mind for a number of years. And that one thing is: *drum roll*

To compete in the 100 meter dash in the Rock Hill Senior games this September. I used to be a sprinter in high school and college (in fact, I was actually halfway decent), and from time to time I get the urge to get out and lace up the spikes again. This usually happens in the spring when I see athletes competing in meets. The problem has always been that I have let myself get woefully out of shape, with the resulting knee and other joint problems. As I remembered back on the amount of work I had to do to be able to compete when I was younger, I would become discouraged and figure that my running days had faded away. The last three or so months I've been lifting weights, and as I have been able to lose some weight, my knees have felt better and I've been able to do a few more things athletically.

The other thing that has encouraged me is reading stories from some of the senior athletes who have done well at the same age I am now. Reading about the workouts they have done has helped me think that I may be able to get to the point where I can compete, at least on the local level. If I start slowly, and build up the amount of training I do, I think I can get up to a good level of fitness for a fifty-something year old man. I don't have to be as fit as I was in my early twenties (thank goodness!).

So, the decision has been made. I've told Jan about it, and now I've told the whole world. Or, at least that small part of the world that reads my blog. It's somewhat exciting to contemplate what is possible in the months ahead. It's also a bit scary, because track training involves discomfort, and if there is one thing I don't like, it's discomfort. But, it's for a good cause. Hopefully the rational part of my brain will prevail over the part that thinks I'm still a youngster, and I'll train at a sane pace so I don't totally destroy myself. We'll see.

I'll keep you posted from time to time on my progress.

Weekend Wanderings

Well, it's that time again. Seems to come around fairly quickly. It doesn't seem as if it's been a week. The second weekend of t...