Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blast From the Past: Gluttony

I went to an all you can eat pizza place today with the kids I work with today. It reminded me of this post from January 24, 2011. In the interests of full disclosure, I ate fair amount of pizza myself.

One night a couple of years ago we went to Ci-Ci's for dinner and I realized that one of America's biggest sins is gluttony. In the traditional sense of overeating yes (I admit I was rather stuffed when we left), but also in the larger sense of over consuming and wasting. As we were eating, Jan pointed out the amount of crusts and entire pieces of pizza that were left on plates. People go into a place like Ci-Ci's and see the tremendous amount of food displayed before them. So they load up their plate and begin to eat. Since this is an all-you-can-eat buffet, they go back for a second plate. Then, if they don't go back for a third plate of regular pizza, they have a few pieces of dessert pizza. The problem is many of those people find that they can't eat all they have taken. So they leave it. They leave it to be thrown away and wasted.

Then I thought about our culture. Gas prices keep going up, and how many really change their driving habits. There are many examples of wastefulness in our society. Most of you could come up with a few.

My question is: What does this say about our culture? More importantly, what does this say about those of us who claim to belong to Jesus? Are we doing what we can to conserve and not waste the things God has given us? These things include gas, food, natural resources, time, talents, relationships. Christians should be the best environmentalists. Not in a worship Mother Earth, man is a virus type of way, but in a way that recognizes that this world was created by God for us to wisely and compassionately use for the Kingdom. God didn't give man the right to abuse creation. We are stewards and are to take care of the gift we have.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

This weekend is the more or less official beginning of summer, even though the season itself doesn't begin until June. Here in the United States, there will be parades, picnics, and ceremonies remembering those who have fought and died in the service of their country. School children across the country, along with their teachers, eagerly await the end of the school year.

Enough small talk. Here are the links:

Good article from Jack Levison.
Interesting problem for the U.S. government.
You never know. This might work.
I think this might be carrying celebrity worship a bit too far.
Boz Tchividjian is grieving.

John Frye begins a review of The Story of God Bible Commentary: The Sermon on the Mount.
10 foreign films worth watching.
The cross challenge.
The wrong way to approach the poor.
Is education for life or ideas?

A church that imagines a flourishing community.
"Christian" individualism.
Seven states are running out of water.
Josh Ross on scars and stories.
The Hokey Pokey.

Maybe this is why he was excommunicated.
There's a series on good works over at the internet monk. Part 1 is here.
I think this is going a bit too far. Quite a bit.
Carolina BBQ! Part 1. Part 2.
I guess you've seen the Sprint commercials. Does anyone know what it is the ad agency people were smoking?

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and a blessed week!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sports? Yes, Sports

There was an on-line discussion a couple of weeks back about sports and the impact, positive and negative, that it has on people. I have been involved in sports, as an athlete or coach for fifty-two of my fifty-eight years. Currently, we are part of a church that has just a few folks interested in sports. It can make for some interesting conversations.

Our community's mission is to show the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus to our city so that it flourishes. One of the ways we do this is through the arts. We have a number of artists and musicians, and there are many different ways in which they seek to carry out this mission. Jan and I love being in this spiritual environment and we are learning a great deal. I've even had a few artistic stirrings my self. As I see my artist friends do what they do as a way of bringing the kingdom of God to bear, I am thinking more and more how that can be done through sports.

Sports is one of those things that can do a great deal of good, or a great deal of harm. I am well aware of the problems in the sports world. I have known my share of athletes who were sure they were going to make it in the pros, and didn't bother to study. I have known coaches who have been fired from their jobs, not because they didn't produce capable student-athletes who were good citizens, but because they didn't get into post season tournaments every season. I have seen the athletes, and coaches, who believe that the rules somehow don't apply to them as long as they win.

Unlike the arts, sports has not been neglected or shunned by the wider Christian church. In fact, it has been embraced by the church as something good. That is not a bad thing in and of itself. The problem comes when we begin to make idols out of athletes, teams, etc. Don't tell me that we don't follow the lead of the culture when it comes to putting athletes up on pedestals. We just have a different set of criteria for who we put up there. Unfortunately, when our idols fall off the pedestal, the fallout is usually worse.

Yes, there are problems in the sports world. At times it can seem like the bread and circuses of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, sports can be a beautiful thing. I would even go so far as to say that one can find art in sports. The arc of a shot from behind the three point line, a soccer team moving the ball up the pitch with short precise passes, the graceful lines of a high jumper clearing the bar, the power of a sprinter exploding out of the starting blocks. All of these things have a beauty to them. Sports can also teach lessons that are life-long. The ability to work with others to accomplish a common goal is a useful thing. The discipline of practicing and constantly trying to improve skills comes in handy in many situations. Persistence learned in the heat of competition goes a long way toward helping one to not give up when things get tough.

As a follower of Jesus, I try to see the good in all of the abilities that God gives to those made in his image. Whether it's a painter, an illustrator, a writer, a musician, or an athlete, all of the abilities we have are gifts to us from a creative God. As a Christian, I believe we have a calling to show the glory of our Father to a watching world through through those gifts. I believe that we can show the truth, goodness, and beauty of Christ through sports. Hopefully, I'll have opportunities to explore ways to do that in the near future.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

Last May, a series of tornadoes devastated Moore, Oklahoma. A church stepped up and turned its building into a warehouse for supplies to help those who were affected.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

God In the Day-To-Day

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist comes on the scene, baptizing and calling people to repentance. A group of priests and Levites asked John who he was. They wondered if he was the Messiah, or Elijah, or maybe the Prophet that was to come. They thought that, since he was baptizing and drawing large crowds, that maybe he was the Christ, or at least a forerunner. They were looking for a big name. After all, the Messiah would have someone major setting things up for his coming, someone who would make a splash. John, however, answered that he was nothing more than a voice crying in the wilderness. The priests then asked why John was baptizing, if he wasn't an important person. He didn't answer the why question, but again stated that he was a nobody who was  unworthy to perform even the duties of a common slave who would untie the sandals of his master. John also stated that the One to come was among them, but they were missing it.

The people of Jesus' day were looking for a Messiah to come as a conquering hero, one whose arrival would be heralded by great prophets like Elijah, one whose rank would be obvious. Instead, he arrived as an ordinary man in a group of ordinary people and was announced by a strange character who wore skins, ate locusts and honey, and hung out in the desert. Not at all what they expected. All through Jesus's time here on earth, he failed to live up to folks' expectations of himself, all the while bringing God's kingdom to earth. Finally, he died as a criminal, crucified by the forces of the empire. Most of the folks didn't recognize that by dying, Jesus defeated the powers that be, including death itself. Most of them missed it because they were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong places.

I wonder how many times we miss Jesus. Like the 1st century folks, we have a tendency to look for the next big thing. We run from conference to conference. We read about this ministry or that church and their flashy programs, and try to copy them. Look at the speakers at conferences, or the popular speakers on television. They are the ones who have the huge churches, who write all the best sellers. We have created a class of celebrity Christians, just like other generations before us. Our celebrities are more famous because of the reach of media. We search for churches that have great music, dynamic speakers, and plenty of programs. We get so proud of them that we put their names on our cars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and whatever else we can put out there for others to see. I wonder if we have given the watching world the impression that Christianity is for those who have it all together, that our celebrities are better than theirs. We try to compete with all the flash that is out there.

As humans, we can easily get our eyes off the One we say we are following and onto the ones who are putting on the show for us. I'm convinced that many of the scandals that have happened in recent years are because a ministry began with good intentions, and then got too big too fast for the people involved. Those people then began to believe their press and started to think of themselves as bullet proof. Their are plenty of examples out there of good people being corrupted by the celebrity cult.

If we are not one of those that "God is greatly using," as evidenced by a lot of outward good stuff, we can too easily think that we don't matter. A mother who stays at home to raise her children, a man who works your basic 9-5 job, the pastor who shepherds a small flock with no TV presence and no invitations to speak before thousands of people. These are the folks that get missed when we think about the ones God is using for the kingdom. We forget that Jesus came as an ordinary man. His arrival was proclaimed by an ordinary preacher. The spectacular was not a part of what he did. Most of his followers down through the centuries have been ordinary men and woman who were simply following their Master as they went through their ordinary days. These are the kinds of people who turned the world upside down in the 1st century.

If you are one of those "ordinary" pastors, moms, dads, whatever, take heart. Jesus does not ask us to be great. He simply calls us us to be faithful with what he has given us. Everything we have is a gift from our Father, and everything we do with love is important in his eyes. Simply live your life as a disciple of Jesus. Focus on loving God and loving others as you go about your day-to-day. Be who God made you to be. That is enough. Let God work through you as he worked through the countless unnamed disciples through the centuries.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

Thousands of children have been recruited into different armed groups during the conflict in the Central African Republic. Check this out for more information.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. It's getting warm here in the sunny South. Whether that will translate into a hot summer or not is yet to be seen. In news of the world, the radical Islamists in Nigeria are still holding the girls they kidnapped. Pray for these girls, that they would be rescued quickly.

On to the links:

When God is late.
A good for nothing God.
Love mercy.
In sickness and in health.

Confession from Ruth Wilson.
5 signs you might have a wrong view of God.
Falling behind? Maybe not.
iMonk classic on dangerous grace.

Cole Brown on what God will put on us.
Jen Wilkin on failure.
Tullian Tchividjian responds to Jen Wilkin.
This is just a bit odd.

Eerily beautiful.
Cave churches.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yet Another Bend in the Road

My journey is about to take another twist. After this school year, I won't be working at the school where I currently am. After eight years there, it's time to move on. As has happened before, I have no clue what the next chapter will bring. There are possibilities that I am exploring, some of which will allow me to make use of my education and experience. I've been feeling some disquiet for some time, and the desire to move on has gotten stronger.

I've been involved in education for 36 years, give or take a couple of years in between jobs. That has included coaching a variety of sports. Through those years, the ten to twelve hour days during the season have taken a toll on me. As my circumstances have changed, I've had more of a desire to not be so busy in the evenings and weekends in order to spend more time with Jan, and to be more free to serve folks in our church and community.

Any time my journey goes down paths where the way ahead is not so clear, there is always a bit of trepidation, a nervousness that comes from staring ahead into the mist and not knowing what awaits. As many times as God has shown his faithfulness in providing for us, there is still that bit of a gnawing feeling. My faith is stronger now, but there is still a "help my unbelief" quality to it. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm at the age where it is difficult to move into a new line of work. While I don't at all regret my education and career choices, they do affect me as I look for new areas of work.

The one thing I do know is that my Abba loves me and is going to take care of us. How that happens, I don't have a clue. If you would, pray for us as the the story unfolds. It should be interesting. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien,

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Blast From the Past: Too Comfortable With Jesus?

This was first posted on  February 16, 2010.

In Mark 6, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in his hometown. The people are amazed at his teaching and wisdom. Matthew 13 tells us that his neighbors also were amazed at his miracles. They asked how Jesus got all this wisdom and power. After all, this was the same man who had grown up in their town. They knew his family. He had played with their children. Jesus had probably done work for them. They knew Jesus, or at least they thought they did. He was one of them. They were comfortable with this neighbor.

According to the text, thinking that they had Jesus all figured out caused a lack of faith in them. They couldn't believe that this small town boy could do the miracles he was doing or teach with the wisdom he was showing. Even with the evidence staring them in the face, their familiarity with Jesus blinded them to what God was doing. Consequently, Jesus did not do many miracles in his hometown.

How easy is it for us to become comfortable with Jesus? Growing up, I heard the stories. I saw the flannel graph pictures. I became familiar with this soft spoken. gentle, fair-haired Savior who seemed to float serenely through first century Palestine ( except for the time that he really got ticked off at the money changers in the Temple). I was a Christian. I had asked Jesus to come into my heart, and since I had my "get out of hell free" card, I grew complacent in the relationship. I prayed, and asked forgiveness when I sinned, but the relationship was not really a close one. I had my image of Christ, and didn't really expect him to ask much more of me than being a good boy and "worshipping" him when the church doors were open. I'm afraid that the image many churchgoers have of Jesus is not very different from that.

In the past couple of years, I've begun to learn to see Jesus more as he is. Through a few authors, particularly N. T. Wright and Dallas Willard, I have seen a different side of the Savior. Jesus the King has stepped into my path and shown himself to be exactly who the Gospels say he is. He is the Christ, the Anointed One of God. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is God incarnate. His Kingdom is now, not just in the future. Along with that, he is my brother and friend, and he calls me to follow and obey him out of love and gratitude for what he has done for me on the cross.

Jesus also calls me into a relationship with him, a relationship that is in many ways like those with other humans, but is so much better. That relationship is one where I am learning to not think that I have him all figured out, but rather to be open to anything he might do. In the Gospels, Jesus didn't fit into any one's preconceived notions, and he dealt with different people in different ways. So it is in my life. I am learning to expect the unexpected.

May we never say, "We have Jesus figured out. We know how he does things, and we know how he doesn't work."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

Hopefully there won't be any technological (user error) problems with the links this week. The big news in the sports world this week is the Donald Sterling drama. Oh, and there are also a few basketball games being played.

Without further ado, here are the links:

A school for kindness.
Dan Edelen is rethinking spiritual growth.
The love of Jesus.
Lisa Dye is hanging up her magic wand.
Books about sustainable living.

In case you're looking for a distinctive name for a daughter. Or a son.
Jesus and pain.
Courage to fail.
Good post from Keith Giles.
Five things the church can learn.

Jesus, or his stuff?
Three little words.
Arthur Sido on Sarah Palin.
Beautiful stained glass windows.
Just in case anyone believed China was allowing religious freedom.

Evidently, antibiotics are losing their effectiveness.
The lie we all believe.
Living in the freedom of Easter.
Tolkien and the Germans.
Biblical and political.

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Room for Redemption

A firestorm erupted in the sports world recently with the revelation that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers is a racist although, as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and others pointed out, the NBA has known that for quite some time. The controversy continues to swirl, as the league looks for a way to force Sterling to sell the team. Now reports of prostate cancer and a possible divorce have been added to the mix. Donald Sterling has become a pariah. He has been banned for life from the NBA, and his name is becoming a byword for the worst kind of individual.

Sterling's statements and his attitudes are reprehensible and should be condemned. I don't see anything in them that is defensible. What strikes me about this incident is not the fact that a rich owner of a sports franchise has been outed as a racist. The fact that a human being is a sinner is not a surprise at all. What strikes me is the seeming impossibility of any chance of redemption for Donald Sterling. Now, whether or not Sterling should be redeemed by the league is something that is way above my pay grade. Most would say that there is no way he should ever be involved in professional sports again, and I think I would agree with them. Sometimes the consequences of our actions last a lifetime.

When I think of Donald Sterling and the way all of this has come down, I realize that I was in a similar situation. I was a sinner by nature, and everything I did was unacceptable to a holy God. Humanly speaking there was no chance at all of redemption. I was hopelessly, irrevocably lost.
What awaited me made Donald Sterling's lifetime ban seem like a walk in the park. I deserved every bit of it. But...

That holy God loved me. Even though I had nothing that would cause him to look on me with favor, God loved me and Jesus died in my place. This not only made my redemption possible, it made it a finished fact. It is as if someone stepped up and took Donald Sterling's punishment and Sterling was accepted back into the league with open arms. Actually, it's a whole lot more amazing, and scandalous, than that. The Son of God came down, became a human like me, and died the death I should have died, so I could live. Now I am accepted in God's family with open arms as a beloved child. All of the inheritance that belongs to Jesus also is mine because I am now in Christ. It's not Fred anymore, trying and failing to be acceptable to God. It's now Christ living in me, and the Father's acceptance of his Son is now mine. I am redeemed!

There probably isn't any redemption for Donald Sterling from the NBA, or from society. The only redemption he could hope for would have to come from Christ. If you're reading this and realize that you are also a person without hope of redemption, I would encourage you to call on Jesus, the only One who can and will redeem.

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...