Monday, August 29, 2011

Wisdom of Pooh Bear

The other night, Jan and I went to the $2 theater and saw the new Winnie the Pooh. We thoroughly enjoyed it, because we are longtime Winnie the Pooh fans, and because it was a well done film. As usually happens when watching a movie, the wheels started turning in my brain.

What struck me while sitting in the dark was the way the characters related to each other. In the Hundred Acre Wood, there is a wide variety of personalities, with accompanying idiosyncrasies. Each character brings something different to the table, and each has strengths and weaknesses. In spite of all these differences they all get along. As the story unfolded, there were misunderstandings, miscommunication, and a lot of times when one character would do something that would cause a huge disruption. Through all of the coming and going, no matter what happened, the entire Hundred Acre Wood community was characterized by love, grace, and acceptance. No matter how many times Tigger bounced into a scene and created havoc, there were no harsh words spoken. Even though Owl was a pompous windbag at times, no one was critical. Every time there was potential for conflict, it ended with grace and forgiveness. In the end, each of the characters contributed from their strengths and the goal toward which they had been working was reached.

I know that Winnie the Pooh is a children's story, and some may say that it presents an idealistic view of how things could be in order to teach. Think about it. Jesus said that we enter the Kingdom by becoming like a little child. In the Kingdom, we each bring our weaknesses and quirks, as well as our gifts. We are told to let our relationships with others be full of grace and love. We are told to forgive without end. We are told to look out for each other's interests ahead of our own, as Pooh did when he put his hunt for honey on hold to help rescue Christopher Robin. We are told to lay down our lives for each other.

Winnie the Pooh may be a children's story, but I believe there are a lot of lessons there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Two weeks of school have passed, and my schedule has already changed twice. Oh well, I guess it comes with the territory. It's a bit windy in our little corner of the sunny South as Irene churns up the east coast, but we don't expect to get any rain out of it. As we head into September it's looking like things may dry up a little. I'm in a somewhat reflective mood today, because five years ago on this date, I said goodbye to my mom and let her go to be with the Father. I still miss her.

Here are the links for this week:

Arthur Sido on the death of faith.
Dan Edelen on church budgets.

Donald Miller on flaws.
Good advice (HT: Scot McKnight).
Scot McKnight's new book is out. It's on my list.

Alan Knox on the "Lord's Supper."
John Armstrong on patriotic music.

Alan Knox on leadership.
Wayward Son on the Church's reputation.

The M Blog on the apostles' teaching.

Have a wonderful weekend. If you are in the path of Irene, stay safe.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Forgiveness and Wholeness

The readings this week in the Mosaic Bible are on forgiveness. In one of the selections, Bill Senyard writes:
"Think about this. If the victim and the perpetrator are both, by faith, made whole-
imagine the new dynamics between them and with others. The result is a new creation-
a community that looks strangely fearless, vulnerable, and intimate. Of the present fruit
of the passion of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18), I would suggest that this is one of the most
neglected.
Many Scriptures describe what redeemed relationships could now look like in Jesus
Christ - husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and workers. If each party is
redemptively healed, then relationships take on a radical trajectory - for no one needs to
steal, to use, to abuse. In the end, only forgiven people are free to give to others with
abandon."

I agree with Senyard that the most neglected, even forgotten, part of forgiveness is reconciliation. We are taught, rightly so, that God forgives us our sins, and therefore God will not punish us. That is true, but I believe that God's forgiveness does more than take away our guilt and punishment. According to 2 Corinthians 5:18, God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. One of the aspects of our forgiveness is reconciliation with God. Our relationship with him is redeemed and we are healed. We are made whole.

Because we are forgiven, we are to forgive others. As Senyard writes, only the forgiven are free to give to others with abandon. An important part of forgiving others is reconciliation. If I am wronged by someone, and I don't seek to be reconciled and see both of us made whole, am I truly forgiving? Am I whole if my relationship with others is not whole? Some who wrong me may have no desire to be reconciled. I believe that I should still go to them and make the attempt. If they do not wish to be made whole, then I have no further responsibility, but I can at least try. In that attempt, I believe healing will take place in my own heart.

Another part of seeking wholeness is making sure that we are blameless in our relationships. Sometimes we are guilty of sinning against others. Either we truly don't know about the offense, or we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't recognize what we have done. If my relationship with my wife is strained, and I don't go to her and find out what the problem is and seek forgiveness and reconciliation, can I really say that I love her? By the same token, if my relationship with a brother or sister is strained and I have even an inkling that I may have sinned against them, I am to go to them and do what I can to make it right. If I don't, can I really say that I love them?

Jesus gives both parties in a relationship responsibility to maintain the health of that relationship. In Matthew 5:23-24, he teaches the responsibility of the one who commits an offense. In Matthew 18 Jesus gives us the responsibility of one who has been wronged. In the passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul states that we who have been forgiven and made whole have been given a ministry of reconciling others to God. I believe that part of that ministry is bringing wholeness to our relationships with others, which brings wholeness to us and to them.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Qualities of a Learner 4

This is the final post in a series on qualities of a learner. In part 1 we looked at being caring and principled. Part 2 was about being open minded, a thinker, and knowledgeable. In part 3 we looked at being reflective, inquiring, and a communicator. This time I want to look at the qualities of balance and risk taking.

A learner of Jesus should be balanced. This is another dirty word for some. Some see balance as being wishy-washy and not passionate about anything. That is not how I see balanced. Someone who is a follower of Jesus is going to be seen as unbalanced by many in the world. The source of our passion in life is Jesus, and our wholehearted devotion is to him alone. I see balanced as being able to experience all of the myriad ways God blesses us, and the ways we worship him. It can be easy for someone who is an active, serving individual to neglect and even disparage contemplation and study. It can also be easy for a contemplative to neglect action. There are many ways for us to relate to the Father and to draw near to him, and we should be open to those at different times in our lives.

Lastly, the learner of Jesus must be a risk taker. Considering what Jesus said about what would happen to his followers, we should realize that simply throwing in our lot with Christ is taking a risk. We risk when we tell those around us that we owe allegiance to the King of Kings, and no other. We risk when we don't go along with the powers that be. Those actually may be somewhat easy for some. What many of us find hard is the risk taken in loving others and laying down our lives for them. That is risky because relationships can be messy. If I am not willing to risk rejection and pain, then my relationships will never be as deep as my Master desires them to be. It is risky for me to go to a brother or sister and ask their forgiveness, because they may refuse. It is also risky to go to another and tell them how they have sinned against me. They may well turn that around and hurt me further. My responsibility is not to change them or win them over. My responsibility is to trust my Abba to take care of me and throw myself on his love and grace as I seek to be reconciled. It may not turn out the way I want, but the One who created the universe can redeem any situation, no matter how hard.

Jesus, help those of us who are your followers to be caring, thoughtful, open minded communicators who are principled in our lives. Help us to not fear to take risks, to be knowledgeable inquirers who take time to reflect on you. In all this give us the balance that comes from living in your presence.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

"As the economic downturn continues and many American families struggle just to make ends meet, children across the country risk starting another school year without basic supplies they need to succeed in their studies." This quote from World Vision highlights the need for school supplies for children here in the United States. To find out more, see this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Qualities of a Learner 3

This is the third of four posts in a series on the qualities of a learner. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. So far, we have looked at five learner profile qualities in the IB program. Those five are: caring, principled, thinker, open minded, and knowledgeable. I have tried to relate these qualities to the life of one who is a follower (learner) of Jesus.

A learner is an inquirer. This person asks questions. They want to know, and are not afraid to reveal what they don't know. As Bob Edwards said in a comment, one of the qualities he thinks of in a learner is humility. I think humility enters in here. Inquirers do not sit back and pretend to know it all. They recognize what they don't know and will ask. Learners of Jesus have more to learn than we ever can in a lifetime, so we must be always inquiring.

A learner is also a communicator. As learners of Jesus, we are to be communicators. It's easy to get the idea that we are to simply communicate the "gospel." While we are to let others know that there is a King and that God is making all things new, we also need to remind our brothers and sisters in Christ of what the love that the Father has shown to us. We also need to remind each other that we are in this together, communicate our love for each other, and encourage each other to love and good deeds. Communication is something we all need to work on. How many problems would be solved if we really sought to communicate with each other instead of just talking at each other.

Another learner quality is reflective. This is the quality of taking the time to think things over. Many followers of Jesus would call this contemplative. While it is true that some are called to a lifestyle of contemplation, all of us could benefit by taking some time out of our far too busy lives to just be in Abba's presence, thinking about what he has done for us and listening to his voice. Jesus said that his sheep would hear his voice. That is tough to do with so much noise around us, but it is a quality that is vital to our spiritual life.

On top of the qualities of caring, principled, thinker, open minded, and knowledgeable, let us also be inquirers who communicate, and who also take the time to reflect.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Qualities of a Learner 2

In the first post, we looked at two of the Learner Profile Qualities in the IB program and how they relate to life for followers of Jesus. We looked at being caring and being principled. Today I want to look at three more qualities of a learner.

A learner is a thinker. They stop and ponder before they act. They use the mental faculties that God gave them. A learner of Jesus should be a thinker as well. While faith in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise and there are many things that are a mystery to us, we must be thinkers. We are told to test the spirits and to be alert to the schemes of our enemy, satan. To do that we must be able to think and understand. For too many years, too many Christians have blindly followed those who have been able to sway them with appeals to tradition or rules, or by the strength of their personality. Our relationships with others would be vastly improved as well if we would stop and think about whether what we are about to do or say is showing love.

A learner is also open minded. I know open mindedness is considered of the devil by some, and if it meant just blindly swallowing every thing that came down the road (see above) I would agree. I see being open minded as recognizing that I don't have a monopoly on truth, that there are some things that I believe now that will be shown to have been wrong. I always told my Bible students that I believe that when we stand before God he will tell us that we were all wrong about certain things (and no, I don't know what those things will be) Being open minded means being teachable and open to the Spirit changing us as we grow and learn more of Christ.

The next quality of a learner is being knowledgeable. It's close to thinker, in that being a thinker will make you more knowledgeable. Spend time with folks who have grown up in churches, and you will be amazed at the number who know things that just aren't so. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Some of it is spread by preachers who feel free to play fast and loose with Scripture in order to promote their agenda. Some of it is spread by preachers who, quite frankly, are themselves ignorant. Again, while I don't believe following Jesus is an intellectual exercise, and there is much that we just don't know, We have to use our minds so we don't become tossed back and forth with every teaching that looks good on the surface.

May God help us who are learners of Jesus to be caring, principled, thinkers, open minded, and knowledgeable.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Qualities of a Learner

The middle school where I work is part of the International Baccalaureate program. The program is designed to develop students who are able to think beyond their own neighborhoods and cities (and in the case of some middle schoolers, get them to think beyond themselves). One of the things stressed in the IB program is what are called Learner Profile Qualities. As we were discussing these qualities in a class this past week, I was thinking of how these qualities relate to living life as a follower of Jesus. I am going to attempt to put some of these thoughts here in a series of posts. I hope you'll bear with me.

One goal of the IB program is to develop life-long learners. If we are followers of Jesus, we are learners. We realize that we don't have all the answers, and that we need constant teaching. We are apprentices who are continually learning to be like our Rabbi. One of the qualities of a learner is caring. I don't know where this quality is ranked in IB, but I think it is the basic quality for a learner of Jesus. The most important command that Jesus gave us is to love each other. John, in his first letter goes so far as to say that if we don't have love we don't really belong to Christ at all. Jesus said that the defining mark of a follower is love for other followers. Beyond that, Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, after love God, is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. A characteristic of the early church is that there were no needy persons among them. We are to care for each other, to love each other, to be willing even to lay down our lives for each other.

A second quality of a learner is being principled. Being principled means doing the right thing, no matter what. This is a quality that some students have a problem with. It is also a problem that sometimes gives learners of Jesus a hard time. It's far too easy to not do the hard things that Jesus calls us to do. Sometimes we try to justify this by reminding others that we are under grace, and doing certain things is just being legalistic. Sometimes we look at something that Jesus clearly wants us to do, and justify not doing it because of other people. Either they aren't doing it so why should we, or I'm not going to do that because certain folks might treat us badly. Like a middle schooler, we are afraid of what our peers think or what they might do, so we excuse our failure to do what is right. We are called to obey Christ no matter what, and to leave the results of that obedience in his hands.

Be caring and principled.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

The first week of school has coma and gone. I don't know who came up with the idea to make the first week a full on, but by Friday all of us were ready for a break. It was a busy day today, although it doesn't seem like I accomplished a whole lot. Oh well, maybe next week.

Here is the good stuff:


Ronnie McBrayer on fools and drunks.
Alan Knox has a series on the priesthood of the believer. Part 1 is here.
Arthur Sido on why we give.

May God bless you and keep you. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

Kenya and the Horn of Africa are experiencing a famine causing drought. World Vision has escalated its response to the crisis. For more information, and to find out how you can help, see this.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's that time of year again. Summer vacation is drawing to a close, and the beginning of another school year looms. This past week, the teachers in our district went back to school for in-service training and to prepare for the students' first day on Monday. I don't know if everything is ready, but the students will be there tomorrow regardless. It's been a little cooler here in the sunny South, and we are grateful. Hopefully the trend will continue, although it has been known to get hot around here in September. We'll see.

Here are the links:

The M Blog on kingdom giving.
Arthur Sido on opportunities to serve.

Jon Acuff on joy props.
Pam Hogeweide writes about being a food lady.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Celtic Christians believed in "thin places," places where the veil between heaven and earth was thinner than usual. These spots were good places to experience the presence of God and hear from him. I have never been to a place that could be described that way, until today.


This evening while driving the Camp Canaan shuttle to Charlotte, I experienced something I never have before. We were traveling through Ft. Mill and it was raining. The sun was shining behind us and I looked up and saw the most perfect rainbow I have ever seen. It was bright and all the color bands were uniform. As we went down the road, it looked as if the rainbow was forming an perfectly centered arch over the road. The rainbow faded out as the sun went behind some clouds. When it came back it was joined by another rainbow, above the first and not as bright. The bows then faded again.


The sun reappeared, and the first rainbow was back again, but this time it looked like it was right in front of us. As I looked to the right and to the left, I could see where the rainbow began and ended. No, I didn't see a pot of gold. As I looked at the rainbow reaching to the ground, I thought of heaven touching earth, and I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of my heavenly Father, and of his love and care for me. I was filled with a peace such as I have not often experienced. That sense of God's love and of peace has stayed with me throughout the evening.


I believe I was in one of those thin places. I always thought I'd have to travel to some far away location to find one, if they existed. Here was one in Ft. Mill, SC of all places. It just goes to show you what Abba can do, when you least expect it. I don't plan on going searching for thin places every time I see a rainbow, but my prayer is that God would make my life a thin place, where heaven touches earth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Problems and Opportunities

The stock market is on a roller coaster ride. Some economists say the United States is headed for another recession. European nations are in crisis. The U.S. credit rating has been downgraded. Unemployment continues to be a major problem.

Some say the United States is being punished for "turning away from God." Others say that this is a sure sign of the end. These things may be true or they may not. I wonder if maybe God is finished with this country as far as blessing it and using it to bless the world. Many see these things as serious problems, and there are some who are even reacting in the same manner as those who put their trust in material things rather than God.

I do believe we may be in for some rough times in this country. What that will mean is left up to far wiser folks than me to figure out. What I do know is that the coming bad times, if they come, will present those who claim to follow Jesus the opportunity to put their money (or their houses, cars, or other possessions) where their mouth is.

One of the primary things said about about the early church was that there were no poor persons among them. If you remember, this was at a time when there were a whole lot of poor people around the Empire. The followers of Jesus, because they were devoted to Jesus Christ and to each other, were willing to go so far as selling their possessions in order to help those who were in need. How far are we willing to go?

Are we willing to sell something to give to a fellow Christian who has lost employment? Are we willing to change our routine and patronize a business on order to help a brother or sister in Christ? Are we willing to provide living space for someone who has lost their home? Are we willing to share possessions (clothes, yard tools, cooking utensils, etc.) in order to ease someone's burden? In short, are we willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters?

A friend said to me that she believed God was telling her that the time was short. While this could refer to the end times, I think that maybe it's our time as prosperous "American Christians" that is short. I believe that it may not be very long before those of us who claim to follow Jesus will have to put up or shut up.

God help us to be found faithful.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Question

I have a question for you readers out there. Many of you are bloggers, and have opinions on matters of faith. I would appreciate it if you would answer this question for me. You can answer in the comments or if you have a longer answer, you can write a blog post. Thank you.
The question is:

What is community?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

The summer vacation is winding down. Next week, the teachers in our district head back for in-service, and the students come back the following Monday. Looking back, it seems like the summer has flown by, although it didn't seem like it at the time. It's been a good break, and in one sense I'm sad to see it end. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to some schedule changes that will make some parts of my life better.

Enough about the summer. Here are the links:

Interesting study on changes in the church.
Being Christ-centered (HT: Arthur Sido).
Jeff Dunn walks the broken road.

Lessons from Gomer and Goober.
This is pretty cool.
Arthur Sido on "nuclear war ethics."
Alan Knox has a series on a healthy diet for the church. Part 1 is here.

Good article on the Amish response to tragedy (HT: Scot McKnight).
Persistence pays off.

I'm not so sure about this.
Ronnie McBrayer says that hope is a verb.

Have a wonderful week.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Soup and Relationships

I know. You're wondering what in the world soup has to do with relationships. I'm glad you asked. For in-service training at the middle school where I work, we are reading Soup by Jon Gordon. It is a book about a company that makes soup and the lessons that the new CEO learns on her way to turning the company around. While reading this book, I was once again struck by the idea that all truth is God's truth, and that we can learn from unexpected sources.

At one point in the story, one of the characters makes this statement: "Communication, trust, and love create the foundation for any successful relationship. Without communication, trust, and love, your relationship won't be very strong; and without strong relationships you can't have a strong team; and if you don't have a strong team, then you can't have a strong organization. Relationships are the foundation upon which winning teams and organizations are built." While this statement does work for businesses, I believe it is just as true for those of us who follow Jesus.

Our faith is a faith built on relationship. We belong to a God who is a relational Being. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in a perfect love relationship with each other. I think you could say they have communication, trust, and love. We are also called into relationship with God. He has adopted us into his family, and calls us to accept his love and love him in return. God is someone who we can trust, and he communicates with us. Belonging to God is not a matter of saying or doing the right things. It is a matter of accepting and living in the love the Father has lavished on us.

Our relationships with others must be built on communication, trust, and love. Many of the problems in marriages, family relationships, and churches could be solved if we communicated with each other, if we trusted others enough to feel safe enough to communicate and were worthy of that trust, and if we loved enough to work through any problems that come from communication, or miscommunication. The primary command that Jesus gave us is to love each other as he loves us. We are to lay down our lives for our friends. How many times is our lack of communication, trust, and love due to our unwillingness to lay down our preferences, our "rights," our comfort. We don't put forth the effort to build relationships with fellow believers, and therefore our lives and churches are smaller and have less joy than what is possible.

Communication, trust, and love take work. It can be messy, and sometimes we can get hurt. But just as building relationships was the foundation on which the revival of the soup company was based, so relationships are the foundation on which God's kingdom is built. After all, Jesus did say that our love for each other would be the way the world would know that we belonged to him.

Third Week of Advent: Anticipation

This was first published on December 12, 2012. Jesus, as Israel waited in anticipation for you to come, so we wait. We anticipate your ret...