Monday, December 29, 2008
I had a conversation with my middle daughter's boyfriend, Alex, today. It started with Alex's comment about having to watch the movie Mamma Mia last night. I told him that as a father of three daughters, he has entered into an estrogen-loaded household. He comes from a family of three boys. Think: testosterone.
I've never been much for stereotyping gender roles. I've taken my daughters fishing, camping, to ball games, on high ropes courses and shooting guns. Like me, all three of them earned a black belt in Taekwondo. They are not sissies. But they are girls. One is an actress, one sings opera and the other dances ballet. All three liked Mamma Mia. They liked Anne of Green Gables. They liked The Notebook.
So I felt it my duty to prepare Alex. "They will do a lot of guy stuff, but they are girls. Just know that."
Like it or not, guys think about things differently, including church. For many guys, church is too feminine for them. We pastors talk about having a "personal relationship" with Jesus. Guys on construction sites or in business offices, hospitals or professional teams don't talk like that. We don't typically want to talk about being in relationships (even though that is exactly what God wants). We like the bold statements of Jesus like, "Follow me!," over relational statements.
Church values communal decision-making. This used to drive one the elders in my first church crazy. "Does everything have to be discussed?," he asked. "I'm a entrepreneur. I'm used to making decisions alone!" Guys like to be lone decision-makers.
Also, much is made of the compassionate side of Jesus, which everyone loves, but guys especially connect to the strong side of Jesus, like taking on the Pharisees or turning over the money tables in the Temple.
Without reducing women's power or going over the top with themes of virility, heroism or militant Christianity, the church needs to think about the way men hear the message of Christ.
At the church I serve, we are just beginning a men's ministry. God has raised up a leader for this ministry who is already talking about building things, outdoorsy activities, and mentoring boys. It is a welcome addition to ministry. It keeps this church and our ministries from becoming too girly.
Fear not, women. Our danger is not heavy-handed male domineering. A strong men's ministry can never be about that. The problem for us and many churches is that men are not being discipled. Men are not being shown how to walk in the way of Jesus as a man. Jesus showed great strength under control and Jesus showed emotions. He was the total man. He was the complete man. He was the model of manhood for Christians.
Men who follow Jesus can show great strength under control. When physical danger threatens people I love, I will act with as much strength as I have. When lies are being told, I will speak the truth with strength under control. When people ignore honorable and faithful living, I will challenge people to live the better life God has for them. The problem with strength is not strength itself. The problem is the abuse of strength. Jesus showed great strength under control. In fact, that is the biblical sense of the word meekness.
Men who follow Jesus can also have and show emotions. For me, the thought of my daughters getting married makes me cry with happy and sad tears all at once. All of the prayers and energy and love and hope of my life has been poured into these three amazing girls. Weddings are a rite of passage and a goodbye of sorts. So show me a scene of a movie with a parent and child at a wedding and I'm a goner. Predictable as Mamma Mia was, I still got all locked up when the mother was helping her daughter get ready for her wedding.
Churches need to man up. At least enough so the average male in our country can learn to follow Jesus in ways that allow men to be, like Jesus, complete men.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Christmas and Easter are the two high water marks for church attendance. With good cause. They are huge days as we remember God becoming flesh and then, at Easter, rising from the dead. There is also enough cultural memory of these days as somehow spiritually significant to draw otherwise reluctant crowds to churches. Most churches go all out for these high holy days which puts extra burdens on church staffs, especially at Christmas.
For youth staff, Christmas is the season when the students are out of school and all attention shifts to spending time with them. For worship arts staff, like choir directors or worship leaders, Christmas usually means some big event that requires hours of extra effort. Our church recently presented a choir cantata with a 15 piece orchestra and 45 member choir complete with narration, solos, light shows and congregational singing. It was a work that took several months of preparation. For pastoral staff and for me as lead pastor, this is the time of year where everything that family is all about--the good, the bad and the ugly--all rises to the surface. For healthy families, this is a time of great joy. For the rest, Christmas brings with it feelings of depression, irritation, sorrow, anxiety or bitterness. Add to that the cultural predisposition to spend too much money and the anxiety that brings and it makes for a wild ride for pastoral care.
It gets to the point sometimes that many on church staff are eager for the season to end. Not that we don't love Jesus or Bethlehem's manger or Christmas in America. It's just that we are sometimes so busy telling the story or working with people on vacation, that we are worn out. One year, the staff and I decided to have a murder mystery theme for the staff Christmas party. It was completely non-Christmasy and we had a blast.
The real challenge for church staffs walking with Jesus is to not get so caught up in all of the production around Christmas that we lose sight of a baby wraps in cloths lying in a feeding trough who just happened to be the Alpha and Omega and the Ancient of Days. The challenge is to make sure that our knees are also bent in homage before this Christ child. The challenge is not to be professional Christians, but fellow journeyers who are in awe and childlike wonder of it all.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
After going back and forth on this for a couple of weeks, I’ve decided to just do it. I mentioned recently that I’m not sure I like Christians. With the help of some of my friends, here are the top…
10 Reasons I Don’t Like Most Christians
- They consistently seem angry and bitter and worried. I thought Christians were supposed to reflect joy and kindness and peace.
- They don’t dream big dreams. That seems odd given the fact that we’re supposedly worshiping a God who is “able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare ask or hope.”
- They seem to worship their theology more than Jesus. For whatever reason, this appears to be especially true for folks that come from a reformed theology.
- They don’t like it when other people or ministries experience success. Think about it. There are Christians who would be overwhelmed with joy if NewSpring experienced fewer salvations, fewer baptisms and our attendance dropped.
- They use prayer as an excuse for inaction. They’re waiting for God to do his thing, but they aren’t willing to step out in faith and obedience.
- They’re more concerned with the BMW next door than the lost person who drives it. Christians hate people with money. They’re willing to sacrifice time and money for those without it, but they’re satisfied to let “rich” people go to Hell.
- They would rather people live life without Jesus than give up their personal preferences. What happens when your preferred teacher doesn’t teach? What happens when your preferred worship leader doesn’t lead? What happens when you don’t like the music?
- They are fake. They dress up a certain way on Sunday and they live as completely different people the rest of the week.
- They think they’re better than other people. That’s why they create rules to follow. It helps differentiate why they are holy while others are not.
- They’re comfortable with mediocrity. Doesn’t matter where. Think Christian music and movies. Think how we invest our time and money. You don’t seriously think God deserves our best do you?
The reality is that I’ve sinned in just about every one of these areas. It pains me to say that, but it’s true. If people hear the Gospel and reject Jesus, that’s one thing. If I’m the barrier to people accepting Christ because of me and my sin, that’s a completely different deal. Fortunately, God’s much bigger than my stupidity.
When does your humanness get in the way of people knowing the hope, forgiveness and love of Jesus? Does your life make people curious about the claims of Jesus or does it make them flee? What would you add to the list?
Monday, October 13, 2008
When I was in seminary, I read two books about a ministry in New York City that sought to help bring girls and boys out of prostitution. The ministry helped rescue them and get their lives back, but the books told story after story from the perspective of the prostitute. Those stories have haunted me since then.
The reality is that as you read these words, 27 million women, men and children are sex or labor slaves in this country and around the world. It is a terrible and staggering reality. At this very moment, young girls and boys are being raped or pimped, children are being sold as slaves, adult men and women are being tricked into a "better life" in another country as a ruse to traffic them. Some are being sold for sacrifice; some for body parts. It is sickening. However they are trafficked, their lives are short-lived.
This is not just some far away happening. It is happening in America. It is happening here in Clearwater/Dunedin, Florida.
I have been praying. I have been asking God what he wants of me. I have been prayng fervently for God to direct me to very specific action I am to take as a follower of Jesus and as a man called to show the compassion of Jesus. This is not about me as the pastor who can get others to join in a mission. This is about me as a lover of Jesus. I do not know where it is leading me, but I am joining my voice and actions into the fight to end this horrible crime.
Lord, help the Christians get off their butts and help the 27 million desperate people. Lord, help me get off my butt.
I'm angry, disgusted and heartbroken.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Two of the three who were baptized are brand new Christians. They are twin sisters in their 20s, Lisa and Tiffany. Next week I will also officiate at Lisa's wedding. The third was Sandy, who thought she had been baptized as an infant, but found out recently she had never been baptized. All three of them have professed their faith in the presence of the elders of the church and were in every way ready for this moment.
It was a great day. This was an extension of our Sunday morning service. Everyone in the church was invited. We went to a place by a bridge where the crowd could gather and hear as we talked and prayed, then watch as we waded out into the water for the baptism. Afterwards, Lisa, Tiffany and Sandy all talked about what being baptized meant to them. We closed by singing Amazing Grace and then I gave a closing blessing.
It had the joy of a wedding and graduation combined. There was something right about it. The laughter, cameras, boats going by, tears of joy shed, random onlookers joining in, singing and prayers combined with the actual baptism made the ceremony a grace-filled event. God even had several dolphins crest the water about 50 feet off shore just before the ceremony.
This was my first beach baptism. In fact, it was my first baptism outside of a sanctuary. I had to ask a few former Baptists how to do a full immersion baptism. I think it went well. I think Billy Graham would have been proud.
As you can imagine, I am a happy pastor today. God did for those three adult women what no human could ever do--God awakened them to faith in Jesus. Today, the sign and seal of that awakening was given. As I said to them today, the waters of baptism signify that they have died with Christ and then have been raised with Christ. "The old you is dead; the new you is alive in Christ." And down they went into the water. It was a great moment for us as a church and a great moment for the three baptized.
It occurs to me that more and more people in this world are like the three on the beach this afternoon. More and more of the people we will meet on our spiritual journey will be like Lisa and Tiffany--having grown up completely without a faith community around them. Leaders of all churches, even those like ours that practice infant baptism, should get ready. The day is coming when adult baptisms will be common practice. Get ready and enjoy the moments when they come.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
"Pray for all to put this in God's hands as many have before. Ask for patience, ask that they not panic, that they consult their own financial advisors for counsel, and that they exercise good old fashion common sense in their financial management. After all, with all the finger pointing going on, what usually remains unsaid is that borrowers made a lot of bad decisions that led to this moment in our history. Everything in life ebbs and flows and we need the Lord to feed our faith and character to work through this. My meager thoughts." Elder Kelly King
"I do feel a message to our congregation encouraging patience, no panic, courage and wisdom, with trust in the Lord would be timely and useful . It should be delivered by the pastor. If we have anyone who has the smarts to solve this one we should buy him a ticket to Washington. In my opinion 75% of the crisis is the result of our so called "free-press" and their constant long time crepe-hanging." Chuck Carter
"The message is: do not panic, do not sell low, the fear mongers and politicos and talking heads would have us dead and in the ground. This will pass. Run the race using the basics..." Elder Al MacKenzie
"The cause of this financial crisis is as old as sin itself – Greed. The lack of Christian principles in the business community has created huge debt that will take years to correct, but we will learn from these times. In a time when people are living beyond their means and spending money they don’t have, corporations have loaned money that should not have been loaned. Our fast-paced, every growing thirst for financial success has blinded those in leadership positions. CEO’s that have put millions in their pockets and walked away are not good stewards....The long and short of it is, we will survive, but millions of dollars will be donated to the school of hard knocks. Thank God we are not building our treasures here on earth, but in heaven." Elder Barry Dowdy
"God is good. This is what we share--our prayers, our encouragement along with our understanding of the situation, our discernment, our responsible stewardship and our faith. 'In God we trust.'" Elder Suzanne Plemmons
"Realize that this is a political season and any event will be ‘blown up’ by the combatants. Yesterday’s market drop of 777 pts. was six percent; this did not make the top-ten of one-day market drops and we recovered from all the prior ones.
- The October 1987 BLACK FRIDAY one-day drop of 22 percent would have equated to a 2,500 point one-day drop in yesterday’s market so, while yesterday's drop was scary, was not nearly as severe as it has been reported.
- The American people have an almost uncanny knack of seeing through the bull.
We are VERY STRONG and will weather this better, and recover sooner, than any other nation.
I would add these two that I have found helpful:
- Begin each day contemplating something that you are thankful for.
- Work on being happy – it takes work, but here is a tip: If you want to improve the happiness in your life – turn off CNN (and other 24/7 news outlets). Limit your news intake to no more than 30 minutes a day. While most news is important to someone little of it is relevant to our daily lives. Our voyeuristic news purveyors are competing by putting us in fear of life– our Lord advises otherwise: Be bold, be strong – for the Lord, thy God, is with you! Joshua 1:9 (paraphrase). Do not let them take you captive! Get on with what IS relevant to YOUR life and HIS work in this world.
I think that we should agree that the recent news is troubling, and can even be scary, but that we should strive to reassure our congregants." Elder John Corl
"We cannot hope to 'explain' the US banking system and its current crisis in a few minutes, nor can we give meaningful advice to all of the different people who are impacted by the ongoing macroeconomic events. But we CAN all be compassionate for those who are suffering, and slow to judge or lay blame, even though there is much to go around. I imagine that in our congregation, and certainly in our community, there are both bankers and borrowers, mortgage brokers and mortgage investors, regulators and regulated businessmen, etc., etc. Some of them have lost (or will lose) their jobs and/or their homes; some us are only losing wealth. But let us show compassion to all and be willing to listen, to comfort, and to try to help, especially those who most at risk in this crisis. It is the latter point where your leadership, as our pastor, can be most effective. Encourage us to set aside our own suffering and look for ways to help others who are suffering even more. And as Christians, in accordance with the proverbs, let us remember to always be fair, humble, upright and righteous in all our business dealings." Marcus Ingram
With the words of these wise leaders ringing in my ears, I encourage you to be patient, sensible, compassionate and calm in this present situation. I also remind you to trust God at all times and in all circumstances.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Common courtesy is uncommon it seems. Last year I started a letter the editor of the St. Petersburg Times to call people to common courtesy. I was challenging parents to model and teach their children good manners and respect. This may seem trivial in comparison to the world’s problems, but I suggest there is a spiritual foundation of courtesy that starts in Genesis 1 with God imprinting value on all humanity. Lack of courtesy ignores that indelible mark of God. Showing courtesy acknowledges it.
Other-focused common courtesy and good manners are waning in our day. Self-interest is what matters. Last year, Cile and I traveled back from Seattle. Our flight was delayed by the storms and the young man behind us was obnoxious. He beat on the seat, muttered under his breath, burst out with occasional expletives and, in general, irritated fellow travelers. The flight attendants watched anxiously. I thought a fight was going to break out. The young man’s impatience, immaturity and lack of respect were built on some 23 years of habit. His big problem: HE was inconvenienced. It didn’t matter that 299 others were just as inconvenienced. He didn’t care about anyone around him. HE was all that mattered.
That raises another spiritual issue. Courtesy, manners, respect for others indicates that we actually care about other people, even those we don’t know. There a generous spirit with courtesy that stands in contrast to a pervasive “what’s in it for me?” mindset. Courtesy costs something. Spiritually mature people care about others and will make sacrifices for the well-being of others. Rude people are basically big, selfish babies. All that is lacking is a big pacifier and diapers.
With that, let me share some suggestions that other-focused, mature Christians ought to internalize and live out.
- Help someone who needs it. Pick up something when it falls out of that stranger’s hand. Offer to carry groceries, get out of people’s way when they are in a rush, check on someone in crisis, visit the lonely, help the poor… the list goes on. This goes beyond just thinking about others. It involves action.
- Apologize. This one amazes me. Other-focused, mature Christians increase, not decrease with apologies. But wow, good, clear apologies are few and far between. This month’s Wired magazine said “heroes never pass the buck, so learn to say you’re sorry like you really mean it.” Three steps to a good apology: (1) Come clean quickly (no denials or equivocations a la Bill Clinton), (2) take the rap, and (3) made good on the wrong.
- Clean up after yourself. Put clothes or products back in the stores when you decide not to buy. Clear your place setting at home. Don’t litter. Pick up your clothes if you have others at home. Do you really mean to send the message, “You clean up my mess because that’s your job.” People who don’t care about others think exactly that.
- Don’t use profanity. How would you like it if a six-year-old dropped the f-bomb constantly? The reason we don’t like that is because we don’t want to associate innocence of a child with foul language. And yet if an innocent, pure spirit is a goal of godly living, why would ANY Christ-follower use profanity?
- Don’t degrade the opposite sex with your words, attitudes and actions. They are created of God just like you. Treat them as equally valued and beloved. Build them up and honor them in every way. Inappropriate humor is just that: inappropriate.
- Open the door for your mothers, sisters, girlfriends and other women. Cars, stores, home, church doors… open the doors. By the way, you can do it for guys too.
- Stand when those same women leave or enter the room. It shows your respect for them.
- Keep your eyes in check. Look at their faces, not their body parts. Don’t treat women as a piece of meat. If you want to see meat, go to Publix and see the beef and chickens.
- Save the body noises. They are part of our physiology that common courtesy dictates you keep to yourself.
- Treat your bodies respectfully. Don’t show everything with which the good Lord blessed you. You don’t have to dress like a nun, but modesty is still a virtue. Most girls don’t know about the principle of completion. The principle of completion is where a girl shows a little skin and the boys “complete” what is not shown in their minds.
- Have a little class. Think Katherine Hepburn—poised and put together. Body noises, slouching, trash-talking, base language, girl fighting, and being a slob at the table are all signs of a girl who needs a little class. This isn’t a factor of money as if only wealthy people have class. After all, look at Paris Hilton.
- Remember you are a woman. You can do all that men can do, but you do so as one created uniquely female. Don’t flaunt your femininity, but don’t hide it either.
Basic courtesy may seem a small thing compared to war, famine, poverty, abuse and other world issues, but courtesy is the outward expression of a love for God and others. It is an expression of your life in Christ. Let your love for others show. Be nice, have good manners, and show a little uncommon courtesy today.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I'm not sure who I will vote for in November. I'm still waiting to get a long, hard look at the candidates and their stand on positions I think are important to this country. War, education, health care, cost of living are all on my mind as they are on everyone else's. For me, race is not the deciding issue. The vote must go to the most qualified who has the best agenda for the country at this time in our history. Having said that, I am interested in the story of race in this presidential election because like it or not, racism is an issue in this country.
Our pastor for congregational care is an African-American who is one of my best friends. That's him and me in the picture. Norm and I have had countless private conversations over many issues including racism. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He has lived with racism all of his life. As he often points out, he feels the prejudging attitudes of other human beings based on his skin color. It makes me sick to my stomach to hear how he has been given the worst rooms in hotels or tables in restaurants because "you don't waste the good ones on blacks."
People are basically idiots at times. Norm is one of the best guys I know. He is talented, articulate, way smarter than me, a great listener, and a man who loves the Lord head, heart, soul, and mind. And yet, story after story is told of people who put their guard up around him, think he is a lowly hired hand, and treat him with little respect. Why? "Why else?" Norm asks. It is because he is black.
I grew up in the military in a family from the southern United States. Basically, from redneck Florida. It was an odd mix. Racism is prevalent in the south and yet in the military, there is a higher degree of color-blindness, especially for the children of military officers. One of my best friends in school was Lance. You had to get me to take a long, hard look to remind me he was black. He wasn't a race. He was a friend. A smart, funny friend. And then, as they say, there's the real world.
I lived in west Tennessee for several years. Small town, western Tennessee. About fifty percent black, small town western Tennessee. I asked whites and blacks if racism was an issue in town. "Oh yes" was the typical answer. Great. Hard data. Now to press for specifics. "How," I would follow up. Crickets. Silence. "Um, I'm not sure." The problem was there were no race riots on the square, no overt discrimination and no separate bathrooms or water fountains. It was much more subtle. It was the way a black and a white looked at each other when standing in line at the grocery store. It was the distrust that lingered quietly just below the surface of the other race. It was the jokes told about the other race. It was the extreme stereotyping. It was the noticeable absence of socializing between the races. Work and going to school together was great, but each person went home to "their own people" until the next day.
What amazes me is that the majority of people who feel this way in this country also claim to be followers of Jesus. The apostle Paul writing to a diverse group of Christians reminded them that "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Those who love Jesus have become new creations and former distinctions have all been replaced by a profound unity. All people who love Jesus have a profound unity and the distinctions placed by others do not exist. If you are a Christ-follower and Obama is a Christ-follower it is your duty to love and encourage him as you would any brother in Christ. Argue policy, make value-based decisions, but do not judge based on skin color.
Living the way of Jesus means color blindness. In Christ those distinctions we place on others mean nothing. If a person is "in Christ" we are blood relatives, no matter the color of the skin. The band D. C. Talk sang a song that said, "We're colored people and we live in a colored world." God made people of all races. Shame on human beings for creating labels on people God has only given one label--"my children."
Do you clutch your wallet when you see a black man? Do you put your guard up around white people? Do you entertain certain thoughts when you see a Native American? A Japanese or Korean man? Christ demands that what we see is a beautiful creation of His. Christ demands we see a brother.
Monday, August 25, 2008
When at last she took a breath I said, "Let's back up. Who are you?" After another five minutes of monologue about her family and roots, she returned to the subject of her wedding and why she had chosen our church to have the honor of hosting her wedding.
I had finally had enough. Words came out of me next that surprised me. "I want to tell you something and I want you to hear me clearly. I don't care about your wedding." I delivered the line well and let it hang out in space for a moment. For the first time, the chatty bride-to-be was silent. Stunned was more like it. She had the "You're a pastor and you're not allowed to say that" look on her face. With enough of a pause for effect, I continued, "Your wedding will be beautiful and IF it is here and IF I officiate, it will be Christ-centered. I'm not worried about your wedding. In that sense I don't care about your wedding. I care about your marriage." Compared to living with another person "until death do you part," planning a wedding is easy.
This month, my wife, Cile, and I have been married 25 years. It seems like yesterday we were married. Now, three children, seven pets, one career change, eight moves and three home purchases later, I can say I'm proud of this milestone. Few make it this far. Even fewer make it this far and still like each other. We've done both.
We've been pondering what kept us going these 25 years for several months. Usually with words like, "I don't know why I stuck with you," followed by a groan or a "you know you love me...jerk." Feel the love.
Marriage counselors have written at length about what it takes to have a healthy, long-term marriage. They deal with the patterns and emotional issues in marriage. I particularly like the very secular John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Gottman knows what makes relationships work. I've learned a thing or two in my years as pastor and a husband.
I attribute our success to one thing: we both recognize that above all marriage is a relationship designed to reflect the divine relationship. We didn't understand that right away, but finally, after 25 years, we understand it well.
When Jesus reaffirmed the "one flesh" concept given at the beginning of all things as the priority for marriage, he was saying marriage is about two people living in relationship as God exists in relationship. The two reflect the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Separate and yet one. Mutually affirming, other-focused, indwelling each other's being. Cile and I have failed miserably at this "one flesh" at times, but somehow we always found the strength to come at it again another day. Over time, it has only improved.
Another image of marriage reflecting the divine relationship is that marriage is to reflect the love Christ has for the church. Christ loved the people who make up the sacred assembly called the church that he gave his very life that she might be born and then flourish. Marriage is to reflect that full devotion and sacrificial love for the other that Christ has for the church.
The fact is that a wedding is one day and often one of fantasy play for most couples. Marriage is where real life happens. The marriage is ground zero for what God most wants--two people who love each other with the exceptional selflessness found in the Godhead. Or two people full of devotion and sacrficing love for the other. Marriage is a man and woman in a lifetime relationship that bears a remarkable resemblance to God's own eternal, relational existence.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Christians are expected to be humble, other-focused, Christ-centered people whose divine source of joy and inspiration is evident to all. And yet, following the way of Jesus today is often anything but that. WIth that in mind, I started this blog. The Way I See It. This blog is one pastor's thoughts on how to live as Christ-followers. I will include my thoughts, struggles and encounters that help tell the story of how we can live the full life Christ promises. Here's the thing: sometimes living the way of Christ ain't easy...but it is always worth it.