Wednesday, January 30, 2013

World Vision Wednesday

In 2011 an historic drought struck East Africa. The cattle that are the people's livelihood were in danger. World Vision responded in an effort to save these vital animals. To read about the project and how it helped the people in the region, check this out.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God's Camera: Repost

This was originally posted on October 2, 2008.

Yesterday, I saw a sign in front of a church that read, "Smile, you're on God's camera". I wondered what was meant by that. Growing up, I always was given the impression that God was up in heaven watching what we were doing and grading us on our actions. This would determine whether God was pleased with us or not. I was always told that I couldn't hide anything from God in an attempt to keep me doing things I shouldn't. This worked, some of the time. Most of the time I didn't even stop to think that God was watching, so my "little hands" weren't careful what they did; my "little eyes" weren't careful what they saw; and my "little feet" certainly weren't careful where they went.

I don't believe that's what the Psalmist intended when he wrote, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" It is true that there is nowhere we can go that takes us out of God's presence. It is true that God knows our every thought and deed. But I believe that David wrote these words in Psalm 139 as praise to the God who was always with him and would always take care of him, not as a complaint that God was always watching so David couldn't get away with anything. I am not saying that God is not watching or that we can get away with anything, I just don't believe that's the thrust of this Psalm.

God is not sitting "up" in heaven taking a picture of us so he can hold it against us - "Look what you did". Jesus redeemed us, every bit of us, including the times we screw up. Anyway, does anyone really doubt that God already knows when we sin? Does he need to "watch"?

Now if the message on the sign meant that God was taking my picture just as any proud father enjoys taking pictures of his children, because he loves and enjoys them; well, I can live with that.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Bread and Life

Two weekends ago, Jan and I participated in a forum on food, creativity, and togetherness called A Place at the Table. The event was put on by a group of local artists called Friday Arts Project. We were blessed to be able to help, in a small way, our friends organize and put on this event. A Place at the Table brought together  nationally known speakers such as Molly O'Neill, Peter Reinhart, Tom Hanchett, and local barbeque provocateur Dan Huntley. We experienced a number of thought provoking talks, a film about food and community in New Orleans, and some absolutely fantastic food.

Peter Reinhart is a professor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte and is considered an expert on all things bread. On Saturday, he gave a talk on bread. That's right. Bread. As Reinhart said, all writing about food is about something else, so his talk was about much more than just bread. The talk was titled, "The Leaven Factor: Bread as a Living Symbol of Who We Are as a People." The theme was bread as a universal symbol of connectedness. I hope my thoughts here do his talk justice.

The word "companion" comes from two root words meaning "with" and "bread," therefore a companion is "one with whom we break bread." Breaking bread with a person means that you accept them. It also means that you are willing to share your life with them and make yourself vulnerable. As I wrote in Table As Truth, the masks come off around the table. Sharing food with another takes us out of ourselves, if only for a little while, and allows the other to get a peek behind the curtain.

The way we get bread is a metaphor for life, especially the life of faith. When the grain is ground into flour it dies. That is the first step. In leavened bread, yeast is then added. Yeast is a living thing that brings life to the flour. As the yeast works, the flour is transformed into dough. The dough rises and is kneaded into the shape the baker wants. Then the dough is placed into the oven to be baked. During the baking process there again is death. The yeast is killed by the heat of the oven so the bread can bake without growing anymore.

After the bread has baked, it is then ready to be a source of nourishment. The death in the baking process is necessary in order for the bread to be something that is good to eat. I don't know too many people that eat dough on a regular basis. It just doesn't seem to have the same appeal as a warm loaf of bread. Henri Nouwen, in Life of the Beloved, speaks of the bread used in communion and how it is taken, blessed, broken, and given. The bread must be broken before it can be given.

Life as a follower of Jesus is much the same. Jesus said that whoever wants to find their life must first lose it. We must die to our own ambitions, to our own way of living life, in order to be made alive in Christ. I don't see much in Scripture that tells us to come to Christ so all our problems will be solved, with everything we ever wanted in this life there for the taking. Jesus simply says, "Follow me," and then lets us know that doing so means we give everything else up. In dying to ourselves, we find that we have true, abundant life. It doesn't stop there though. The dying process is not a one time thing. Jesus calls us to take up our cross every day. That's more than just carrying a burden through life. As we go through our our day-to-day, we are called to die to what we want and do what our Lord wants. Like the dough in the oven, we die in order to be something that nourishes others. Like the communion bread, we are broken in order that we might be given. In the process, we are transformed, like the dough, into something that brings life to those who taste and glory to the One who shapes us and "bakes" us.

Let us not despise the grinding of the mill, the heat of the oven, or our brokenness. We can be assured that they are forming Christ within us and indeed making us bread for the world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

30 Years Ago...

...we welcomed a brand new person into our family. He was a considerate individual from the beginning as he waited until the day after the Redskins won the NFC championship to make his arrival. It was a Sunday morning and Jan interrupted my shower with the news that it was time to go to the hospital. We went, and a few hours later our son was born. We moved from the Washington, D.C. area within a few months, but the boy has remained a Redskins fan throughout his life.

We knew very early that we had someone special on our hands. (I know every parent says that, but in our case it was true). As the boy grew up we learned much about parenting, and made our share of mistakes. Through it all, we experienced the joy of watching this little boy grow into a young man, and then the young man grow into a adult. We have seen God work and shape our son into one who loves and follows Jesus. He is now a married man, having made a good choice.

It is said that there is poetic justice when a son or daughter has children who are like they were growing up. Josh, if you have a son who is like you, you will be truly blessed. We certainly have been. We love you Josh. Happy Birthday!

A Place at the Table

This past weekend, Jan and I were blessed to participate in a forum on food and togetherness. I'll have some of my thoughts here in a few days. In the meantime here is a recap of the event by local Charlotte food writer, Keia

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

Winter had made an appearance here in the sunny South. Thursday night saw a storm move into the area, bringing rain Friday morning. Thankfully there was not any ice. This weekend was a busy one. We went to a conference on food and togetherness put on by a group of local artists, many of whom are part of our church community. I may write more about that later.

The links are a bit limited this week, but here they are:

An iMonk classic.
Are you concerned? 
J. Scott McElroy on arts ministry.
Matt Appling on faith.
Alan Knox on edification.
iMonk on death and grace.

Have a blessed week!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

World Vision Wednesday

As winter deepens across the country, there are many who face long, cold days and nights without adequate utilities, clothing, or shelter. Check this out to find out how World Vision is helping and how you can be a part.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

Well, we survived the Fog Storm of 2013. At least, that's what a local weatherman called it. Thursday was foggy and damp all day and the temperature ended up twenty degrees cooler than predicted. Oh well. Jan and I saw Les Miserables yesterday. The theme of grace and redemption was strong throughout the movie. I may write a bit more about it later.

Here are the links of the week.

Eric Carpenter on the priesthood of the believer.
Jared Wilson with some encouragement.
Jake Belder has the answer.
Chaplain Mike on the hidden God.

Brain drains.
Being human.
Hating change.
A modern day parable.

Scot McKnight on fellowship shaped faith.
Keith Giles on forgiveness.
Anna Clark on Sabbath.
Wayward Son on the church.

Good question.
Jon Acuff doesn't believe in grace.
Hostile forces.
Jeff Dunn on saving evangelicalism.

That's all for now. Have a blessed week.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Christmas Program

Last month, I went with Jan to a Christmas program at the school where she teaches. As I sat watching the program, I started thinking that I was at a Christmas program that neither of our children were in, that I didn't know any of the students, and that the only reason I was there because some of Jan's students were participating. And, I was enjoying it. As I wondered why, I realized it was because it was a program that was full of the innocence of children, the joy of simple participation, and unconditional love. Later, I thought how that simple school Christmas program was a good picture of what the church is (or should be).

The participants in the program were not professional musicians or actors. While the performance was very good, there were notes that were missed and lines that were flubbed. It was what was there that is most important. There was innocence, an innocence that allowed each child to simply go through their part in the program and not worry about any missteps. There was also a joy in simply doing something in front of their families and friends. They were simply doing something and having fun doing it. None of the children ran crying from the stage because they had missed a cue or hit the wrong note. There was no embarrassment. This was because the children knew that they were loved by their parents and teachers, and that this love did not depend on performance. The audience applauded each part of the program, and showed sincere appreciation for the efforts of the participants.

This is how the church should be. Each of us has a part to play in the "program" that is the church. We are all called to be ministers of the grace of God. Whether that part is "big" or "small," we all have something to do in the body. We are called to be as children in our trust of the Father. It is an innocent trust that knows that, no matter what, our Abba has everything under control and loves us. Knowing this allows us to do what we do with joy, because we know that the end result doesn't depend on us and our performance doesn't determine our acceptance. We can miss cues, flub lines, and hit the wrong notes and our Father loves us the same.

That unconditional love of God calls us to love each other in the same way. Some of us struggle with a critical way of looking at the world. That is wrong. Just as no one criticized the children for not being perfect, so we should not criticize our brothers and sisters who may not do things as well as we do, or who may not be as far along in certain parts of their journey. We must remember that each one of us is solely responsible to God, and how he has called us may not be the same as how he has called another. We are also called to lay down our lives for our brothers. That will help free them to serve with joy and an innocent trust in the God who is sovereign and who can take our poorest efforts and use them for his glory and the advancement of his kingdom.

Let us be as children as we do what God has called us to do. Let us rest in the Father as we work, trusting him completely. Let us take joy in our calling, and let others know the source of that joy. Let us love one another as Christ has loved us and allow each other the freedom to play out our calling, even when it doesn't look all that pretty.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It's Too Hard

This was first posted on June 1, 2009.

This week is exam week. As teachers have reviewed and tried to make sure that the students are prepared, some of the students make it clear that they have no intention of studying for an exam that could mean passing or failing the subject. Many of these decide not to study for the same reason they don't do homework throughout the year - "It's too hard." They take the "easy" way out, even though that way leads to summer school or a repeat of the grade the following year. Some of this attitude can be attributed to the age and immaturity of the students.

I wonder if this same attitude is infecting many in the church in America. We find it easier to let preachers feed us, rather than searching the Scriptures for ourselves. We sit back and let the preacher entertain us, even if it may end up being harmful to our spiritual growth. There are many who find it easy to show up to a church gathering on Sunday morning, go through the customary shallow greetings, sing a few songs without bothering to consider what they are singing, listen to a lecture for a (hopefully short) while, then go home to their comfortable lives without having any more meaningful contact with others until the next Sunday. In some churches, this pattern is repeated once or twice more through the week. Anything else beyond that, except for maybe morning "quiet time," just becomes too much. After all, we live such busy lives.

The result of this continual routine is a church that has no power, a church that focuses on other things than the Gospel. We have seen this in recent years with the religious right's attempt to legislate moral behavior, and with the religious left's attempt to legislate compassion for others. It is easy, it seems to me, to rally behind a cause, to attend rallies and write letters. It is easy to boycott advertisers and companies, to vote for the "correct" candidate. At the end of a day of doing all of these, we can still go home and live life as we are used to living it. In fact, I believe that many of the causes are more about protecting our pursuit of the American Dream than they are about what God wants.

Jesus calls those who follow him to lose everything, even our own life for his sake. I think this goes beyond merely being willing to lose our lives for the Gospel. What I believe Jesus is saying is following him means giving it all up to him and allowing him to give us what he wants us to have as a trust for his Kingdom and glory. We are called to love God with every bit of us, and to love all others as ourselves. That is not an easy thing to do, and sometimes the immediate gratification is not there. Just like students who can't see past the moment, many Christians can't see past themselves. We have become comfortable in our Christianity that is simply an addition to the American Dream. Christians in other countries can't even imagine having what we have, individually or in our churches. Yet we worry more about the possibility of losing tax exemption than the poor or hurting in our own neighborhood.

Following the King of kings is not an easy path. There will be hills, and curves that we can't see around. There will be times when Jesus will ask us to do something that is hard, or maybe even impossible. We are called to love like Jesus loved, to serve the unlovable, to give ourselves to those who are broken and messed up. We will be rejected, both by those outside the church and by some inside. Read the Gospels. Look what happened to the disciples and many of the early Christians. Many times it was too hard...for them. Not for their Savior. And, they turned the world upside down.

God help us all to give ourselves up for the King and his Kingdom.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

Christmas vacation is over and school is back in session here in the sunny South. It's been a good week here, with a great New Year's Eve party on Monday, and a good time gathering with friends for dinner the next day. That ham was the best I've ever tasted! The decorations have been put away for another year, and things are getting back to what passes for normal around here. The students in Newtown are back in a different school. Continue to pray for them and all the families as there is still a lot for them to go through.

Here are the links for this past week:

Arthur Sido defines insanity.
Matt Appling asks a good question.
Alan Knox on edification.
Jeff Dunn's purpose driven life.
Scot McKnight on reading.

Three marks of a successful American church.
Blessed are the undesirable.
An explosion of joy.

The fiscal flop.
Michael Kruger on the forgotten second coming (HT: Jake Belder).
Gratitude at the gate.
Nate Pruitt on where God is.
The Gospel: fear or fulfillment?

A good post on discipleship.
Nice try, Sauron.
nakedpastor on competition.
Good post by Zack Hunt.
John Frye on facing a new year.

Questions and answers.
A new evangelical manifesto.
What is edification? 
Making headlines.
Something to give some of us hope (HT: Scot McKnight).

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Event News

On January 18-19, the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina will play host to what is shaping up to be a major conference on food and the arts, put on by Friday Arts Project. Friday Arts Project is a collective of artists committed to pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty with their work, providing a forum for dialogue enabling artists to inspire, engage, and create toward the renewal of hearts and culture. The Forum on Creativity in Food and Togetherness includes nationally known speakers and chefs, a documentary film titled "The Man Who Ate New Orleans," works by local artists, and some fine dining prepared by local chefs.

If you live near Rock Hill, or would like to travel and experience Southern hospitality at its finest, consider attending. You can register on the Friday Arts Project website. I'll be there, is any of you loyal readers want to meet in person and hang out. It's only two weeks away, so you need to hurry.

Moving On

It's been a while since I've written here. Life has been happening the past few months. I have decided to start fresh, so I'm mo...