Saturday, April 30, 2005

Saturday Night Song of Repentence

I don't know about you, but sometimes I get in this mood where I have to hear the same song about seven or eight times in a row. Tonight this was the song:

Wait For Your Rain
by Todd Agnew

I cannot believe I'm this dirty
I'm ashamed to even ask to be clean
'Cause I can't think of anyone less worthy
I have nothing to offer or to bring

I throw myself on Your mercy
I throw myself at Your feet
I throw my filth on the grace
of One who's beauty is beyond me
And I wait
And I wait

I'm not even sure how I got here
Wondered to this darkness from Your light
I still remember walking in the garden with You
Now I'm just stumbling through this night

I throw myself on Your mercy
I throw myself at Your feet
I throw my filth on the grace
of One who's beauty is beyond me
And I wait
And I wait

I wait for Your rain to fall
The waves of Your grace wash over me
I wait for Your rain to fall
Strange how forgiveness comes so easily
When I call Your name
And wait for Your rain

Lord, this desert is killing me
My throat's dry from screaming Your name
I want to come home but the
sands of time surround me
The dirt's finally covered my shame

So I throw myself on Your mercy
I throw myself at Your feet
I throw my filth on the grace
of One who's beauty is beyond me
And I wait

I wait for Your rain to fall
The waves of Your grace wash over me
I wait for Your rain to fall
Strange how forgiveness comes so easily
When I call Your name
And wait for Your rain

Written by Todd Agnew
Copyright 2003 Ardent/Koala Music (ASCAP)
All rights reserved.

Thank God we don't wait long for forgiveness.

Friday, April 29, 2005


It's funny how this topic keeps coming up. I answer questions from people at church about it. I come across the conversation while reading blogs like Walking Circumspectly, Marla Swoffer, Reflections of the Times and probably a few others lost somewhere in the browser buttons of my brain. And for some reason I'm led to blog on the topic myself, in spite of the fact that I very well may have nothing new to offer. But it touches me nonetheless.

The topic is swearing, cursing, using profanity, speaking in a vulgar way, uttering obscene words and all-around, old-fashinioned cussin'.

I'll be honest up front. I don't do it. Swear, that is. Or any of the other descriptions of the topic listed above. Don't misunderstand. I know all the words. I just don't use them. I attribute this to two things: an upbringing where I would have been in big trouble if I used those words, and working as a DJ on commercial radio stations where I would have been in even bigger trouble if I used those words. It was a habit I never developed. And luckily I have the personality where I don't get suddenly angry too often, so it wasn't too hard of a habit to keep.

So what kind of expertise do I bring to the topic? Well, maybe I have a bit of objectivity. Or maybe I don't have a clue of which I speak (or in this case, do not speak). Yet I have observed many people and their foul-mouthed actions over the past 43 years. And while there isn't much which offends me, sometimes profanity coming from the mouth (or the keyboard) of a Christian does just that. So why do people swear?

One reason is that because some people see those words as part of the language. I've long been told that if someone has to use foul language regularly, it's likely because they don't have an especially good vocabulary. Profanity is the only way they know to express themselves. There is wisdom in this reasoning. I see this in the younger people today. The obscene language is everywhere -- common, accepted, unstigmatized. What's the big deal?

Some swearing is of the expletive variety. You know. It slips out. You hit your thumb with the hammer. You drop your hot fudge sundae. Someone cuts you off in traffic. If you're old enough to remember President Nixon's Watergate tapes, you'll remember that the transcripts of those conversation were peppered with profanity which was replaced in print by "expletive deleted". Honestly most of those weren't expletives, just old-fashioned cussin'. But a few likely fit the description pretty well.

Some swearing is done simply to shock people. This is probably the only viable use of profanity to my knowledge. When the swear words come out, you know the person is serious. On the old All in the Family series, Archie was pretty foul-mouthed for television in the early 1970s but his wife Edith didn't use that type of language. Until one day she was seriously angry with Archie and ol 'Arch was pretty dismissive of her until she broke out the curse word. Then his face changed immediately. He understood the gravity of what she was trying to say. But of course that only works for someone who almost never uses such language. If you start cussin' everytime you get angry, you're not going to shock anyone into taking you seriously.

The reason which bothers me is that of a person trying to fit in. This is where the whole "swearing by Christians" topic comes into play. Many Christians see no need to clean up their language because it makes them more "authentic" to unbelievers. It's also a good excuse not to worry about what they say or write. I've heard the argument, "A non-Christian isn't going to take anyone seriously who doesn't use that kind of language." I've always said that a non-Christian who won't accept a Christian on that basis is much more bigoted than the believer who won't swear. I don't expect completely clean language from an unbeliever. Why would an unbeliever expect salty language from a Christian?

There are plenty of other arguments people have thrown at me. They still use "George Carlin logic" as well. Carlin was a comedian who made a name for himself in the mid 70s with a routine called "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". (Incidentally I've personally heard three of the seven on network, over-the-air TV in the past ten years, so his credibility should be shot by now, but I digress.) Anyway, Carlin's argument was that they were just words, but society and the speaker's intentions gave them their offensive meaning. It's an interesting theory, but for Christians we all know the meanings and our intentions before we say them. Thus we have no excuse.

So should Christians be using such language? I'm not going to go into a long exegetical reason why we shouldn't. We all have conscience. We should know better instead of simply looking for a way to justify our sinfulness.

I understand we're all sinners, so when the expletive pops out I'm not going to be the one to condemn. I think we can find more effective ways to call attention to what we have to say aside from shocking people by use of an obscene word or two. I'm pretty sure we have enough language skills to use words besides the offensive ones. And I'm also quite understanding that our Christian walk is a process and that it takes a good while, sometimes a lifetime, to clean up our language. Yet when a believer is writing a book or a blog or a note to the teacher or whatever, there is time to go back and eliminate profanity. But some don't. Is the need to be cool or to fit in really strong enough to mold your convictions?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Take the Arrows to Work

It's been a busy past 36 hours. It seems like there's always a lot going on this time of year around our house. Church for the kids on Wednesday night is such a burden on me right up until the time we start. Then when I'm with the kids, I have a great time. It's amazing how I can feed off their energy. It's also a good thing, because me and energy exist in different time zones many days. Today is one of those days.

After youth group last night, we came home. My family had to immediately get to the TV to see who had been voted off American Idol. I really don't like the show, but since they all have to watch every week I know most everything that's going on. The house was all in an uproar when everyone's least favorite (Scott) wasn't voted off. Lots of whining and moaning around here -- some of it from the kids, although much was from my wife. I've got to admit that when Scott was singing this week, I turned away from the computer to ask the kids, "What was that awful racket?" as he missed a couple of those high notes. Still the kids would buzz about who would go and what would happen next. Finally, I pushed them off to bed.

Then today I had a long business trip to make, but I had my Sirius satellite radio to keep me company. I spent much of my time listening to the radio morning show hosted by Steve and DC. As it turned out, today was "Take Your Kids To Work Day". If I recall correctly, this began some years back as "Take Your Daughter To Work Day" with the stated purpose of exposing girls to the working world to encourage them to have their own careers. But eventually folks began to complain that boys should get the same opportunity. So "Daughter" became "Kids" and everyone lived happily ever after, right?

Nope. Many businesses prohibit you from bringing your kids to work. And rightfully so. Many jobs are not exactly "kid-friendly", if you get my drift. But Steve and DC decided that they would have the entire radio staff (somewhere between 6 and 10 adults) bring all their kids (somewhere between 6 and 100 children) and let them play in the studio while the show was on the air. The result was a radio show which sounded like it was eminating from a school playground at recess. Those morning "zoo" programs have nothing on a radio show where kids are playing kick ball in the background! One little one who was probably around 6 or 7 would scream at the top of his lungs whenever he found enough wind in his lungs to do so. I'm sure he was quite proud of himself. I'm equally sure that the hosts were about at the end of their collective rope. One single woman called in to thank the show for being her "birth control" because after this, there was no way she was going to risk pregnancy!

What I found interesting is that I really wasn't bothered by the kids noises. Oh sure, the screaming kid was pretty annoying, but the yelling and crying and fighting and such just made me feel at home. I have 13 and 11 year old boys and a 3 year old girl. What kind of noises haven't I already had to deal with? Can't scare me!

I like that verse about children being arrows in your quiver. They are indeed blessings. Sure, I might want to duct tape their mouths closed from time to time, but blessings they are. I tell people that I can remember a time when I was sitting with one boy on my right, the other boy on my left, the girl on my lap with all of us seated right across from my wife. And I remember thinking, "It's hard to imagine that heaven is going to be better than this!"

Don't get me wrong. We've had our bad moments too. But they've been few and far between. And I don't even have to wait for "Take Your Kids To Work Day" to take my kids. Two of them help me with my secular job in the summer and everybody is with me at the church on Sunday. My kids have attended meetings, gone on hospital visits, attended conferences, and sat in worship with me on numerous occasions. The boys would only want to go on "Take Your Kids To Work Day" so they could skip school.

But I'm thankful for every moment with these three. Our first child was only with us for a matter of hours before his death. These three give me a lifetime of memories every day.

A quiver full of arrows means you are ready for anything. It means that you have more than you need to contend with whatever comes your way. It means you have been blessed. "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate." Psalm 127:3-5. (NIV)

Blessed I am.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The People That We Meet

I was greeted fresh out of bed today with an email that an internet buddy of mine dropped dead from a heart attack early this morning. John and I weren't especially close, but we certainly shared a lot of experiences as moderators on a racing bulletin board. I met him only once in person back in the garage area of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where we talked for a few minutes, mostly about the drivers qualifying for the race that year. We each figured it wouldn't be the last time we met face to face. But it was.

John wasn't a Christian, so I can't have a lot of joy in this event. And this morning after the news sunk in, the thoughts that came to my mind were not of the good times we had shared, but the arguments we had. John was the classic curmudgeon. He was stubborn as could be and wouldn't back down if he thought he was right. On one occasion, he wasn't right, but he still came after me with both barrels. And in my humanity, I went into defense mode. Now I wonder if it was worth it. It was months ago, but John was never the same to me after that. In fact in his last few months he got a little more crusty. I really wish I had been a better witness to John. I doubt it would have made a lot of difference to him in the long run, but I hate to have given him such a bad impression of a Christian.

Last week someone sent my wife a link to the sex offender database. I decided to run the zip codes of some of the local towns and to my surprise I knew two people on the list. I speak to both of these guys every week. One man I know nothing about his background and the other I know just a couple details. Yet on their records are a gross sexual imposition charge or a child molestation charge. When I started entering zips into the system, I didn't think I'd recognize any names. I was more interested in how many there were and how close to my house. Yet here were two people whom I carry on conversations with regularly on that list. Had I visualized the people on the database, I'd have imagined scraggly-haired, strung-out, vacant-eyed men and the occasional overweight woman with multiple tattoos and missing teeth. Instead, the two I know are nothing like my stereotype.

I was too old to watch Sesame Street, but when some of my younger cousins visited, they had to watch the show. One of the segments was a look at the people in your neighborhood -- the people that we meet each day. I suppose the purpose was to inform the average 4 year-old that the man with a long coat, rubber boots and big hat, carrying an axe was someone they didn't need to run away from. But it made you think of the people you take for granted; mailman, policeman, meter reader, convenience store clerk.

Often we don't give these people a second look. We might know them well enough to say hello or to talk about the weather, but there are lives behind each person. More than that, Jesus loves each one of those people. And still more than that, Jesus died for these people. I must do my part to represent Christ to everyone, whether we meet face to face or computer post to computer post. I think I failed that with John. I don't want to fail anymore.

Why is it that some people just blend into the background like another advertisement on the wall? One of the things the Lord has really been speaking to me about is seeing people as Jesus saw them. Not simply walking by the poor, but helping. Not simply exchanging pleasantries, but really listening. Not being so concerned with being right as to distort the image of Jesus Christ to an unbeliever. That's the stuff my Heavenly Father convicts me of.

Lord, help me to see people as you see them. May the people that I meet be filled with the love which You give to me. May I be a channel through which You bless them.


Just a few housekeeping notes here at the ol' blog. First, you may notice that I've added a blogroll in addition to my "Blogs Which Intrigue Me" list. I still have a few more to add, but I'm still in the middle of weeding out some old links and such. I decided to pare the "intriguing" list down to 30 (although I just checked and counted 31. Doh!) This means that a few links have been moved to the blogroll. If your blog is among those, don't feel slighted as this is simply an organizational system for my benefit. Those on the blogroll get checked at least once a week anyway -- most more than that. Lots of great reading all over the web.

Christian Carnival is now up at Wittenberg Gate. Plenty of good stuff at the carnival. It ain't all just corn dogs and Tilt-O-Whirls, people. I've added a little duct tape into the mix.

Carry on.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Handyman's Secret Weapon

Hundreds of years ago, St. Francis of Assisi wrote a prayer beginning with, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace." Most Christians long to be used by God as His instrument to do His Will. Usually our longing is to have some special use -- often flashy. We remember that the Lord told a Christian man named Ananias that Saul/Paul "is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." Pretty cool, huh? Wouldn't it be great to be "a chosen instrument"? After all, isn't an instrument a high class tool?

When I hear the word "instrument", my mind is drawn to something expensive, something designed to do a particular duty and do it well. I usually carry a ball point pen around with me. A Bic Stic is good enough for me. But I do have a Cross pen and pencil set. Those are not sold in packs of a dozen for three bucks at Wal-Mart. A Cross pen is sold as a "precision writing instrument." Using a phrase like that makes we want to be very careful when I pick up such an item. It must be delicate and meticulously made. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but calling it an "instrument" instead of simply a "pen" makes it seem like it.

That word also brings to mind a musical instrument -- something designed especially to produce a certain kind of musical sound. Whether a saxophone or a piccolo, each is made to produce precisely the right notes in the proper octave range. Sometimes a serious singer will refer to his voice as his "instrument" although I've got to admit, that sounds way too pompous to be believed. If I ever hear an American Idol contestant call her voice "her instrument", I may have to spend an evening lying in front of the commode, awaiting the return of my previous meal!

A doctor has instruments as well. Scalpels, clamps, scissors are all made to do a specific job to perfection in the hands of a well-trained surgeon. Dentists have instruments too, made to do something to cause immense pain inside your mouth. (At least that's been my experience with dentists!)

Now as Christians, the thought of being used as an instrument of God seems mighty rewarding.
"God needs a man to preach the word? Let me be His instrument!"
"The Lord wants to use someone to be a spokesperson to the media? I'll be His instrument!"

It seems almost glamorous. Respect and adoration will be yours if you just allow yourself to be His instrument. But is an instrument really a high class tool? I suppose any tool could be an "instrument" in the hands of the Master. And with that in mind, I've decided what kind of instrument I'd like to be.

I want to be duct tape.
Posted by Hello

That's right. I want to be duct tape in the hands of God. Why? Well being a trumpet is all well and good, but trumpets are good for only one thing -- making trumpet noises. Scalpels are great, but all they do is cut. Each are quite nobel in their own right. But I'm wanting to be a bit more flexible. I want to have more than one use. And you know that if most men can find over 100 uses for duct tape, God can certainly find more uses and make the tape work better as well.

There are all kinds of things you can do with duct tape. Belts, wallets, even fitted hats are all available if you know where to look. If you've watched The Red Green Show, you know that Red calls duct tape, the Handyman's Secret Weapon. He's right. Personally, I've used duct tape to keep an electrical cord in place, to seal up an old box of junk, to patch a car seat, to hold a pair of pants together, to attach a mailbox to a post, and, oh yeah, to tape up some duct work. What other "instrument" can give you that kind of range of use?

So I want to be duct tape. I want God to be able to use me to do anything. I want to be used to attach some lost soul to her Heavenly Father. I want to be used to hold somebody up through tough times. I want to be used to make what is needed, when it is needed. I don't care if I'm not all shined up like a brass tuba. I don't mind if I'm not flashy like a precision writing instrument. It doesn't bother me if my edges are ragged or if I have a couple of wrinkles here and there. I want to be used wherever I can be used and in any way imaginable. The Lord can make me into a hat or a wallet or whatever He wants. Just so that He uses me as He sees fit, for God can take the ordinary and do extraordinary things to bring glory and honor to His name.

What about you? Are you longing to be shown off or set aside only for a very exclusive use? Or would you like to join me on the workbench, dull grey and ready to be used as the Handyman's secret weapon?

Lord make me an instument of your choosing. I long to be useful to you.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Dress Code

When I was in college, a friend of mine had a theory which he lived out. It was a sort of mental preparation deal. Any day that Dean had a big test in a class, he dressed up. Often I'd see him on the south end of campus in a button-down shirt, tie and occasionally a jacket either walking to or coming back from an exam. Dean's theory was simple: dressing up put him in a focused frame of mind. When he had a tie around his neck, he knew that something more was expected. And it worked. He was a great student, whether clad in shirt and tie or not. But for Dean, dressing up was more than just physical, it was mental as well.

Then there was me. Usually I was on the other side of the coin. Baggy sweatpants, ragged t-shirt and the occasional pair of socks was standard attire -- especially for those early morning classes (which I defined as anything before 2pm). I tried Dean's approach a couple of times, but it didn't seem to affect either my grades or my confidence. Maybe I'm just weird. Well, OK, I am weird, but my outside appearance likely didn't make a bit of difference in my grades. My social life, yes; my academic life, no.

I was thinking about this difference between the two of us the other day. A friend was telling me about a church in our area which used to be very strict about the way one dressed on Sunday morning. You wore your Sunday best -- nothing less. That was the code. It didn't take a genius to break the code. Just look around at the rest of the church members and you could see how you were expected to dress. Then one Sunday a new family came to the service. They had just moved into a house half a mile from the church and were invited by one of the ladies in the congregation. But this family's Sunday best didn't exactly measure up to the church's standards. Dad didn't have a jacket and tie. Mom didn't have a beautiful dress. And the three kids, well, just wore what they could find. The new family felt very awkward, as did the whole congregation. These days, that church isn't so judgmental about clothing.

My church has been pretty "come as you are" for the eight years I've been their pastor. On my first Sunday here, I called the ushers forward to collect the offering and they were both wearing shorts! Even my eyebrows were raised -- more out of surprise than anything. I found that nobody was too concerned with the clothing (providing it was modest), but were instead just happy to have people worshipping. Of course we're in a rural setting, so seeing someone in a pair of Wranglers doesn't set off alarm bells. But is it proper in Sunday worship? Why would we "dress up" in the first place? Doesn't Scripture say that man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart?

Today I went to a funeral home to visit with a family. I had never met the lady, but I knew some of her relatives. Earlier in the day I was wearing some jeans and a sweatshirt, but to go to the funeral home I put on a suit and tie. Why? I did it to show respect. Respect for the deceased and for her family. And I believe that was the point behind putting on your Sunday-Go-To-Meetin' clothes for church. We would dress up to show respect for God. But somewhere along the way, wearing our Sunday best became a subtle way of showing just how (cough, cough) blessed (cough, cough) we were. We tried to look good to impress our fellow worshippers instead of impressing the Object of our worship. We may have claimed to dress up for God, but in our hearts we dressed up so that others would be impressed or at least not look down on us.

For me, I also put on a suit today because, frankly, people expect a pastor to be wearing a suit and tie -- at least when he's "on duty". I was instructed by a well-meaning older pastor that I should "always look like a pastor". The major portion of that directive seemed to be the instruction to wear the "uniform" -- the dark suit, white shirt and conservative tie. But honestly, I'm not a suit and tie kind of guy. Not for everyday wear anyway. Yet I feel strangely uncomfortable if I'm dressed too casually on Sunday morning. For board meetings and other functions, I'm liable to be in a t-shirt and jeans, but on Sunday I enjoy dressing up to show my respect for God. My congregation wouldn't care if I preached in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, but somewhere inside I drift back to my friend Dean's theory about dressing up: what you wear can affect your attitude. For me, it is often an expression of my attitude. I am more comfortable dressed up on Sunday morning, but if someone is more comfortable worshipping in sweats and sneakers, that's fine with me. I'm not the one who should be the focus of worship.

I've attended churches where Sunday morning looked like a fashion show, and I've worshipped in churches where guys where work shirts and ladies wear t-shirts and jeans. And from what I can gather from Scripture, it doesn't seem to matter much to God. At least the outside doesn't matter, but the condition of the heart is paramount. We shouldn't be spending our time deciphering the dress code or trying to adorn the outside without checking the inside -- the attitude of worship which should be our life focus and especially so on Sunday. So the clothes you put on for the worship service this weekend should help you to focus upon God. If you dress to impress man or woman, God is not impressed.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Feeling Persecuted?

Don't. Tracey at worship naked has an update on some Christians who are truly suffering persecution. Read it and pray.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Keeping You Busy

My life is about to get busy again.

The way my life works is that I pastor a small church, twelve months a year. There is plenty for me to do day in and day out, but technically I am a part-time pastor. Then during the warm-weather months I work for our family business. That job takes most all of my Tuesdays and Wednesdays and some other time during the week as well. Combining those hours with the hours I put in as a pastor makes me a little more on edge, a little more tired at the end of the day, a little more disorganized -- if that is at all possible. The days can be scheduled so thick that it seems like all I'm doing is running from one place to another, with no time to devote to my own Christian walk. Already the extra phone calls have started and the additional trips driving the kids around are mounting up.

I ran into a quote that Anne Lamott attributes to a Buddhist friend of hers, Jack Kornfield. (To a Midwestern boy, the name "Kornfield" doesn't look Buddhist, but I'm going to take Lamott's word for it!) Anyway, the line is something like, "If the Devil can't get you to sin, he'll keep you busy." Quite the nugget of wisdom from a Buddhist. It's the opposite of our old standby, "Idle hands are the Devil's workshop." But Kornfield's idea seems to capture an important truth: our busyness can keep us not only from evil, but also from good. After all, sin is divided into two parts: sins of comission (doing something wrong) and sins of omission (not doing something right). And one of the best ways to keep from doing something that will bring joy and comfort to someone else is to be too busy.

What is it about us that makes us think we're supposed to be so busy? Are we afraid of being called a slacker? I've never heard anyone called a slacker -- lazy, maybe, but never a slacker. Is that it? Is busyness the standard to which we hold ourselves to in order to look good to others? Or is it a matter of telling ourselves how important we must be; after all we sure have a lot of things to do. "Somebody unimportant certainly wouldn't have so many demands on his or her schedule as I do, hence I am important!" Somewhere we've gotten the idea that our daytimers and our Palm Pilots must have all the spaces filled in. But what do we miss when we are so busy?

Well for starters, we miss the opportunity to do something good for someone else. You know, things like helping someone whose car has broken down, visiting a friend in the hospital or an older person who is really feeling lonely. Those random acts of kindness are service to others, which God sees as service to Him. Remember when Jesus told the one about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25? The sheep are all herded together and the master tells them that they are being rewarded for giving him food, water, clothes and essentially doing good things for him. The sheep look at each other dumbfounded and finally ask, "When did we do all that for you?" And the master said, "Whatever you did for those who needed it, you did it for me." That should give us a great indication of those little good deeds mean -- to others and to our Heavenly Father. But if we're too busy...

The other thing that busyness does to us is that it keeps our focus squarely upon ourselves. Our appointments, our schedule, our interests; they drive us so hard that we simply don't see the people who need a ride or a meal or some companionship. We think we can't let up, but the truth is we have to let up or commit those sins of omission.

The busy schedule seems glamorous to some. Being busy implies that we are powerful, indispensible and important. Actually it means that we may be biting off more than we can chew, especially if we want to serve God by serving those around us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Cleaning out the 'fridge

Today was the day to crawl deep into the recesses of the refrigerator. The gunk on the shelves was becoming visible and the room on the shelves was all but gone. I've seen worse, but those refrigerators are not ones I'd be pulling a snack (or anything else to eat) out of. Cleaning out the refrigerator is one of those jobs which creep up on us. Eventually you just have to break down and do it.

I'll go through from time to time and do a partial-cleaning. You know, pull out stuff that is moldy or isn't going to be ever consumed by a human being. It takes almost no decision-making skill to toss out shriveled strawberries or tubs of margarine with only a trace of oleo inside. You also have to have a strong stomach for some of these leftovers. When I do it myself, I sometimes find myself singing (to the tune of Bringing in the Sheaves):

Cleaning out the 'fridge.
Cleaning out the 'fridge.
I am just disgusted,
Cleaning out the 'fridge. . .

You get the idea. When this job is a family effort (read: Mom and Dad), my job is essentially Vice President of Gross and Unidentifiable Food Removal. That was my position today. And it was relatively easy this time around. Some old pineapple chunks which had been shoved back into a corner. A couple of moldy bagels and a few mostly-empty jars were about all we came up with. Nothing with large fuzzy chunks floating in a gravy-like substance. No fruit which could be crushed by even the lightest of touches. Mostly it was an organizational effort today.

My wife likes to scold the kids (well, OK, mostly me) about standing there with the refrigerator door open, searching for something to eat. Most times we're told to stop standing there and get something. Of course I'm looking around to see if I can find something, but with the wifely warning I end up taking the first thing I can reach. Yet today her complaint was about all the things which spoiled near the back of the shelves. Now I have an excuse for standing there looking -- I'm checking the back of the shelves so we don't waste food!

The fact that we need to clean out the refrigerator is, in itself, an indictment on us. We are wasteful. I'll plead guilty to being wasteful. I'm not a fan of leftovers. Well, not exactly. I'm not a fan of eating the same meal two or three days in a row. Spoiled, I am. So food which hungry people everywhere -- not just the starving children in China --- would be happy to eat gets tossed in a Hefty bag and carried to the trash bin. How abundantly we are blessed and how foolish we are with the blessings we've been given.

What becomes even more of an indictment is that we need to continually clean out our lives as well, but we are so reluctant to do so. Somewhere among the back shelves of our hearts is the spot where resentment has grown rotten. Old sinful habits get pushed to the back, pulled out again and shoved back again. Some of those sins are right there in the center of the top shelf. Amazingly, the jug of lust doesn't seem to run dry. The containers filled with materialism never seem to be depleted. The carton of selfishness is full to overflowing. The package of pride looks almost new. Mustering up the courage to do a little cleaning is such a tough thing to do. But it's what God wants from us. Or should I say commands us.

If you are anything like me you struggle with the stuff in the refrigerator of our life. Like a dieter on a cheating binge, we know that stuff is in there when we get the chance to indulge. God wants it cleaned out, chucked into the trash and hauled to the landfill. Yet still we let the contents stink up our personal walk with Christ. All for stubbornness. Or is it independence?

It's the time your refrigerator is at its messiest that you kind of wish the light wouldn't come on when the door opens so no one can see the condition of the interior. But Jesus is the light. He sees the putrid stuff you've kept crammed in the corner. And He wants it gone.

The good news is: He's willing to do it for you.

Pastor vs. the church

Not much more to add to this post and thread of comments at Monday Morning Insight.

Why do pastors leave the pastorate?

Monday, April 18, 2005


"Daddy, why do dogs have four legs, but people only have two?"

"Well, it's like we have two arms and two legs, but the dog has legs instead of arms."


"Well, that way a dog can run faster."


"When you have four legs to run with, it makes you go faster."


"Because. . . it just does, OK?"

"But why?"

"Because that's the way God made things. If you want to know any more, you'll have to ask Him!"


Kids love the "why" question. And who can blame them? They're just trying to figure out how things work. But I've got to admit, when I don't have the answers, I really don't want to hear the dreaded "why" coming from the children. Usually we don't really know "why". We might have a scientific explanation for the sky being blue or birds being able to fly, but we don't know why God made things the way He did. And God didn't see fit to fill us in on a lot of His motivations. On the other hand, God cares a lot about our motivation.

This is Monday, which means my wife will just have to watch Super Nanny tonight on television. This is the show where a family has a couple of kids who have either never been told "no" or have found some other reason for being as obnoxious as humanly possible. Seriously, if you ever question the doctrine of human depravity, watch Super Nanny. The kids rule the house and the parents have no control of the situation. Super Nanny Jo comes into the house, watches the kids slap, punch, scream, destroy, run, swear, cry and break things for a day, then comes up with a plan to get the kids to obey the parents. Obedience is the key. That's all that matters. When a child has to apologize, you can tell he doesn't mean it. He's just saying it to get out of the "naughty corner". The principle is that after a while, he'll actually mean it when he apologizes. Until then, the only thing that matters is that he obeys.

I find it interesting that the goal for Super Nanny (and for most parents) is simply obedience -- verbal assent. Yet that's not the way God treats us. He doesn't wait for us to finally mean it later, He wants us to mean it now. It's not empty obedience that God is after. God is into our motivation.

In the 50's and 60's many actors studied at the Actor's Studio and learned something called "method acting". After a few years, even script writers began to parody "method actors" in scripts. "Method actors" were concerned first and foremost about their character's motivation for doing something... anything. Why would she pick up that magazine? Why is she walking toward the door? The exchanges between actor and director became similar to the exchange between father and child at the top of this post. The thing was, most of the time the movie characters were so poorly developed that there was no motivation for some of the things the actors were instructed to do. The characters were doing something, but nobody seemed to know why. There was no reason behind the action -- just empty obedience.

There are many passages in the Bible where we are told that God's emphasis is on our motivation. When David was anointed king, we learn that man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. We're reminded that God loves a cheerful giver, and that we must forgive our brother from our hearts. But the one verse which has always stuck out to me is found in John 15:1-8. Verse 5 (NIV) reads, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Nothing? Certainly much has been accomplished by people who were not a "part of the vine." But that's not the fruit Jesus is talking about. It may look like fruit, but if it's not from someone who remains in the vine, then it's "nothing" to God. Why? Motivation.

The proper way to do something pleasing to God is to have the right motivation. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..." is how Paul puts in in Colossians. Everything we do is to be done to bring glory and honor to God. Usually, the "good" things people do are done to bring glory and honor to themselves. Non-Christians certainly aren't doing anything to bring glory to Jesus Christ. I know that I struggle with the same motivational problem. Am I doing something to glorify myself, my family, my church, my denomination or my God?

I face the same issue with this blog sometimes. There have been posts at other sites talking about how to become a more popular blogger. And while I'd like Attention Span to be read by as many people as possible, I have to keep a check on my heart. Do I want to be a "popular" blogger or am I blogging to bring glory and "popularity" to God. That's a tough balance for most anybody, and the same temptation is there for pastors, worship leaders, musicians and teachers. That same temptation is there for all the things we do outside of the walls of a church also. Our motivation must be the desire to lift up the name of our Lord and Savior, not to seek the admiration of men, women and cyberguests.

If we would carry a toddler with us everywhere this week, constantly asking "why", would your motivations measure up to the way God wants your heart to be?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Inconvenience Store

Most everyone in North America has been inside a convenience store. Gas station, snack shop, necessities, occasionally hot food, public rest rooms all located near where you are or where you're passing by. At one point my sister lived right across the street from one and if I wanted something to drink, I took a little stroll with my dollar and brought back some liquid refreshment. I called the store "My sister's kitchen."

Let's face it, these stores are set up so you have no good excuse not to buy something. They are convenient. But can you imagine an "inconvenience" store? Most items would be out of stock, the rest rooms would always be busy, the gas pumps wouldn't work right, the coolers would be broken down and the cash registers wouldn't give change. On top of that, the store would be in an out-of-the-way location, way off the beaten path and open only a few hours each day. Of course a store like that wouldn't be in business long. We, the consuming public wouldn't stand for it. We want our coffee hot, not tepid. We want what we want and we want it NOW!

OK, the inconvenience store is a stupid idea. But think a minute how much we value convenience. Much of the time, we'll take easy over cheap if there is a choice to be made. That must be the case because eating out always costs more than eating at home, but if it's been a busy day we'll gladly pay to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning up afterward. We treasure convenience. And because we do, our Christian walk sometimes suffers.

We are commanded to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves. Fat chance! (Sorry, that just slipped out.) But seriously when you think about it, sometimes loving your neighbor is very inconvenient. Let's say I see someone I know stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. If I take the time to stop and help change the tire, I'm going to be late for an appointment and likely end up with grease all over my hands. It's easy for me to justify driving on by, or maybe just stopping to offer the use of my cell phone for a minute. After all, why should my life be messed up because an acquaintance drove that car on those bald tires a few miles too far?

There are other needs too. Grandpa is lonely living by himself, but if I stop to visit or even pick up the phone I'll end up blowing two hours of my day. My son's friend can't find a ride home, but he lives 20 minutes out of my way. The single mom down the street can't afford to buy her kids new shoes to replace the outgrown pairs, but why should I give away the money I'd like to use for myself? The church needs someone to work with the youth, but that's going to require me giving up a lot of my free time -- as if I had much of that in the first place.

We have placed such a value on convenience in our culture. But why? I think the answer is plain. It's selfishness. We do not want to give away anything, or at least not anything that will hurt us in any way. Our comfort reigns. Give up cable TV and instead give the money to a homeless shelter? Unthinkable! Stop doing some expensive hobby to volunteer time for evangelism? Are you nuts? How dare anyone ask us to give up our convenience... our comfort... our excess.

But that's just what Jesus asked us to do. He who tries to save his life will lose it. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow. You know. Those verses we tend to blow right past without looking at them. Jesus told us to put our selfish desires to death, but that's oh, so hard to do. But if the only love we show to our neighbor costs us nothing, is that love really and truly love?

Strolling the aisles of the convenience store, we see all kinds of things laid out for us to easily pick up and purchase. But Christian service often is displayed only at my mythical inconvenience store where it's hard to get to, frustrating to find, and occasionally not as fulfilling as we'd like it to be. But the love of self and the altar of convenience is found on every street corner, is open 24 hours a day and is easy to justify in our own minds. We know where Christ wants us, but the call of personal convenience is so strong.

Lord give me the strength to deny myself and serve you by serving others.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Flip Wilson Theology - What you see is what you get

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More Flip Wilson remembrances. I'll make it out of the early 1970s soon enough, so bear with me, you young pups! But pop culture really hasn't matured much in the past 30 years. We still live from catch phrase to catch phrase. Simplistic philosophy to simplistic philosophy. As a species, we ain't deep, my friends.

It wasn't just a catch phrase, it was his motto. Flip claimed he lived by this phrase. "What you see is what you get." He said he didn't ever want to be a phony. I always thought it was odd that a man who dressed in women's clothing could actually utter the words. After all, what we saw definately wasn't. . . well, you get the picture!

This time, maybe ol' Flip was right -- theologically speaking. After all, shouldn't we be the same on the outside as on the inside? Authenticity, they call it. Strangely enough, I stopped by to read Testosterhome today and Rachel had written a post called "What you see is what you get." In it, she talks about men being much more authentic than women; or as she put it, "simplistic." Men don't play the games of holding grudges and withholding forgiveness the way women do. At least that's her experience. Your milage may vary.

But is what others see from us what they get? Certainly that is my goal. However at the same time I don't really want to broadcast the sins of my heart to a watching world. It seems to work two ways.

One, I do not want to put on a false front. That's hypocrisy, plain and simple. Too many people walk into a church on Sunday pretending that all is right in their world. They try to hide the pain, doubt and fear behind a smiling-face mask. And when they put on the mask, they miss the opportunity to be comforted and encouraged by brothers and sisters in Christ. Besides that, they also miss a worship experience because of what is weighing down their hearts. The call for believers to bear one another's burdens is useless if a person will not share the burden. Christians always get criticized for being hypocrites -- saying they are good people when, in fact, they are a bunch of no good scum-suckers like everyone else. That's certainly not what we are called to be.

Two, I realize that I sin every stinking day. I'm not proud of that, but I will admit it. However, I'm not about to type out a confession of every hateful, lustful, selfish or proud thought I've had today. I'm certainly not going to detail the sins of omission -- not doing what I should do -- to a gathering of unbelievers, or even to just one. There is a limit to my authenticity. Those admissions are limited to certain people in my life and will not appear in the local newspaper or even this blog anytime soon.

I've blogged about the problem of authenticity for a pastor before (here). Some people want their pastor to be perfect, because how can one take life advice from someone who is just a common sinner. Other folks prefer their pastor to admit his or her sinfulness because a pastor who pretends to be perfect just isn't believable. So as a pastor, what am I supposed to do? Well, for me, what you see is what you get. I'm a man who chases after God but who never seems to catch Him. Or at least I can't seem to hold on to Him as long as I'd like before I have to resume the chase once again. I don't pretend to be anything more than that. But at the same time, I'm not someone who has given up the whole chase. Isn't that what we're all supposed to be?

Jesus told the Eleven that the world would recognize His followers because of their love for one another. We aren't to be recognized by our vestments or fine-tailored suits. We aren't to be recognized by our inspiring music or our charismatic speakers. We are to be recognized by the way we live out the love we have for one another and for the way we love the lost. If we truly love that way, we should live that way. That's the ultimate authenticity. That's when we live out the catch phrase, "What you see is what you get." And that's something Jesus is proud of.

For more Flip Wilson theology, try The devil made me do it! and Don't fight the feeling!

What's your favorite?

The latest Christian Carnival is up at Another Think, organized according to the Fruit of the Spirit. Tell ya' what. . . I'll tell you my early favorites, and you tell me yours. Just make a note in the comments so nobody misses the best posts. As for me, my early favorites are callmeteem's post on forgiveness, The Catholic Bashing post and discussion from Messy Christian, Paula at praise117's post Why Send Me? and Random Response's 10 Ways to Remain a Spiritual Baby. Of course, I haven't gotten through all the posts and I tend to skip around, so I really want to hear your faves.

Oh, and while you're poppin' around, check Nick Queen's Out of the Wilderness Showcase #9, featuring Sonspot and The Scriptorium.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Recapturing the WOW!

Sometimes I just stumble across stuff that I really don't have to expand upon much. This is taken from an article written by Marlo Schalesky which was published in the March 13 edition of Power For Living, a weekly pamphlet we distribute to all the families at our church. Not much ever strikes me in Power For Living. But this did. The author talks about a special time between mother and daughter -- reading at bedtime.

"Tell me about Jesus on the cross."
"Ahhhh," I murmured as I turned from the dresser and tucked the blankets around Bethany's chin." "Jesus on the cross."
"Please, Mommy."
"I smiled down at her. Then, I reached over, dimmed the light, and began. I told her about how the soldiers hit Jesus, and hurt Him, and spat on Him, and pushed an awful crown of thorns on His head. I told her about how they made Him carry His own cross up to the hill call Golgotha, and how they then laid Him on the cross and spread out His arms, and nailed Him there.
"Did it hurt very much?" she asked, just as she always did whenever I got to this place in the story.
I brushed the hair back from her forehead with my fingertips, "Very much."
"They not supposed to do that." She frowned.
"But they did."
"And then what happened?"
My voice grew quiet. "They lifted the cross high in the air, and the sky turned black."
"Oooo," she breathed.
"Then, Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."
"That's sad, Mommy." She clutched her sea otter toy even tighter.
I nodded, then told her about how they took Jesus down from the cross and put Him in the tomb for one day. . . two days. . . three days.
She waved her fingers in the air and counted the days with me.
"Then. . .," I said and then paused.
Bethany caught her breath.
"The ground shook," I rattled her headboard. "The stone rolled away, and. . . " I stopped.
As always, Bethany finished the story in her loudest voice. "Him not die anymore! Him risen!"
We laughed together as I hugged her and whispered in her ear, "And that is the most wonderful, incredible, amazing, important thing that has ever happened in the whole wide world from the beginning of time until now."
Her eyes grew wide. She snuggled deeper into her blankets, and said the one word that I'll never forget. Wow!
Wow! And somehow that simple word stuck in my heart and I saw the story of Jesus through a little girl's eyes -- it's wonder, mystery, and beauty. And in that moment, God rekindled in me the wow of the Gospel. Suddenly, it again was new, amazing, and wonderful. How had I forgotten the awe? How had it become "old news?"
I laid back on the bed next to her and looked at the ceiling. "Wow," I whispered, "Wow, wow, wow."

Does it still make you say, "Wow?"

Monday, April 11, 2005

Flip Wilson Theology - The Devil Made Me Do It!

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I just had to watch The Flip Wilson Show every week. I can remember begging my parents to let me stay up to watch Flip do Reverend Leroy with the four deacons sitting behind him, always ready with a quick "Amen!" Even as a child my favorite character was the good reverend, but by far the most popular was the brash Geraldine Jones. Flip based this character on an old girlfriend and transformed himself into Geraldine by donning a dress, some strategically placed padding and working his voice into a falsetto which still sounded a bit husky for a female. But the audiences would go crazy for Geraldine and her famous line. This catch phrase was so good it made the t-shirts in the 60's. "The devil made me do it," was the cry. And the audience would howl it's approval. After all, what a great excuse! It's not my fault. I had to do it. The devil made me do it.

Of course Geraldine didn't invent it. It's not only a classic TV catch phrase, it's also a classic excuse. That one goes all the way back to the first recorded game of "Pass the Buck" back in Genesis. That story has almost comic undertones to it.

"Adam, why did you eat that when I told you not to?"

"It was that woman you gave me. She. . . "

"Hey don't blame me! It was that snake! Yeah, that's the ticket. The snake said. . ."

I wouldn't have been shocked to see the snake try to point a finger, er, head at somebody else instead of taking responsibility. That's our nature! Adam's sin nature, just a few minutes old, wanted to pass the buck. Same with the woman. The attempted avoidance of responsibility is almost a reflex these days after being ingrained in our nature back in the Garden.

"The devil made me do it" is a symptom of our sinfulness. We simply don't like it when it's our fault. We do not like to admit failure. Well, maybe you do, but I sure don't. Who better to blame it on than the father of lies, our great adversary, the roaring lion looking for whom he may devour?

The devil is an easy mark. No one disputes that he's evil, so he has motive. And no one can safely rule him out as a suspect, after all who is sure of his whereabouts every minute? The devil is the perfect patsy for those times when we won't take the responsibility for our own actions. You cheated on your taxes? The devil made you do it. You lied to your spouse? The devil made you do it. Or in Geraldine's case, you bought a new dress that you really can't afford? "The devil made me buy this dress. I didn't want it. But he MADE me buy it!"

I'm not one to sell Satan short. I guess you could say that I'll give the devil his due. But the devil cannot make you do anything against your will. The devil or his demons cannot inhabit the same body which is infilled by the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said, how can a robber rob the house of a strong man? He must first tie up the strong man. And you and I both know no demon can tie up the Holy Spirit. So all this business about having the demon of lust inside you or the demon of alcohol or any other demon for that matter is all just screaming, "The devil made me do it!" But this time, the devil isn't guilty.

I don't know about you, but I don't need to devil to make me sin. I do it just fine on my own, thank you. Now he may talk and he may tempt and he may entice and he may try to shout out my reasons for obedience to God, but he does not and can not make me sin. If I sin, or rather when I sin, it's my own fault and I bear the responsibility. I can't go blaming the prince of this world when I'm the one who cheats or lies or robs or gets drunk or buys an expensive new dress I can't afford. The devil didn't make me do it. I rebelled against God willingly, the same way Adam and Eve chowed down on forbidden fruit of their own volition.

Being tempted does not equal being forced. We may be weak in our human nature, but with Christ in us we have the strength to resist. Thank God that He doesn't leave me on my own to try to forage against the wiles of the evil one. But even if He would leave me alone, it would still be me choosing to chew the fruit. I cannot pass the blame to peer pressure or a desire for more money or a friend who drags me down or the devil himself. It's up to me.

So Geraldine is sadly mistaken. And so is anyone who continues to use the same tired excuse, "the devil made me do it." The fault lies with the sinner. Yet if that sinner has Christ, the penalty for that sin has been taken by the Savior.

For more Flip Wilson theology, see Don't fight the feeling and What you see is what you get.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pastor in a Fishbowl

Interesting post and discussion over at Church Marketing Sucks regarding the treatment of pastors by their congregations. The contention is that many pastors leave the pastorate because they're sick of being abused by church members and boards.

I've heard some pastors talk about living in a fishbowl, with every portion of their lives on display for the congregation to watch and to criticize. I know that some pastors have had to endure endless micro-managing of their lives from members whose own lives were suspect at best. If a pastor's kid acts up, it's a sure sign of a bad parent/pastor. If a pastor drives too nice of a car, it's a sign he makes too much money. If his interpretation of a passage is different than the previous pastor, then he must not know much about the Bible.

In my own denomination, the older pastors will talk about the days of not so long ago when everyone in the district would gather for conference. The pastors and their families would literally not know what their futures held when the meetings would begin. The last agenda item of the conference was always the report of the stationing committee. This report was simply a list of churches and which pastor would be leading which church. Often a minister had two or three days to leave for the next assignment, uprooting kids from school, friendships and of course church relationships. I know many pastors who served at that time, but I can't think of any who didn't have their lives torn apart at least once by an uncaring stationing committee. Pastors were often rotated "just to keep things fresh" which only served to discourage the minister and limit the possibilities for the church.

As a pastor I realize that I am in a strange situation. I'm a big part of the church, yet I am not exactly a part of the church. I am a leader, yet I am not THE leader. I have authority, but the church board or my district can supercede it.

On top of that, there is the odd relationship between a church and it's pastor from an employment perspective. One pastor told me that he asked for a raise in salary only to be refused and told that it was the job of the church board to "keep him humble." When I hear stories like this my admiration for these men of God goes sky high. And I'll admit that at the same time my respect for them is diminished as well because I don't think I would be able to submit well to a group of people I was spiritually responsible for who treated me with little to no respect.

I think angle on this is that the church takes "ownership" of their pastor. The money in the offering plate pays his salary. Many pastors live in a parsonage -- a house owned by the church. That makes the church not only employer, but also landlord. The trend these days is to get away from the parsonage arrangement. For one, it keeps the congregation from getting too involved in a pastor's personal life. But it also stops the progression of pastors who reach retirement age without ever owning a home, thus having no place to live after their time in the pulpit is through.

All this is just a mental exercise for me. My church is wonderful. They give suggestions. They offer help. They respect me and my position. We encourage one another. They actually listen and even sometimes put my suggestions for their lives into practice! And just as their lives are not subject to my micro-managing, my life and my Christian walk are my own affairs to deal with. My fishbowl has privacy.

But for many ministers, the pastorate is misunderstood by the congregation, the pastoral mission is unclear to the masses, the pastoral responsibilities are defined as "whatever nobody else wants to do," and the expectation for the pastor is complete perfection in ministry and in life.

God bless the shepherd whose sheep just don't understand.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Flip Wilson Theology - Don't Fight the Feeling

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I heard a comedy clip this past week and it brought back a wave of memories. The bit was a take from one of my favorite shows when I was a kid -- The Flip Wilson Show. Flip was (at the time) a young, black comedian who did a lot of character or sketch comedy. He became widely recognized from his time on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in the late 60's. When he got his own variety show, viewers were able to meet a stable of characters which included Rev. Leroy of the Church of What's Happenin' Now and the irrepressible Geraldine Jones. He also had a fistful of catch-phrases which popped up on every week's show. "The devil made me do it!" "What you see is what you get!" And the phrase I want to look at today, "Don't fight the feeling!"

Around the same time that Flip was on the air, a popular philosophy was "If it feels good, do it." Feelings have always been important to us. Even before the early 1970's, people made critical decisions based on what felt right -- how it felt in their gut. It's probably always been that way. A personal experience seems to trump all else. How could a pleasurable sensation steer a person wrong?

Of course I could share the testimonies of many folks who found out how a series of good feelings worked out to have horrible consequences. There's the man whose life was a series of drug highs which made him feel good but left him broke and with a prison record. There's the woman who lived for sexual experiences -- one good time after another -- but ended up with two serious sexually transmitted diseases and other medical complications. When feelings are your master, logic and consequences are often not considered until it is too late.

But I don't even have to go as far as the horror stories above. Many people have been betrayed by their feelings. Love which is supposed to last forever lasts maybe three years. Curiosity turns to boredom. Yet still people will bow to their feelings over fact.

The theological problem with "Don't fight the feeling!" is obvious. Or at least it should be. I remember the little choo-choo train drawing from the tract with "Fact" written on the engine and "Feeling" scrawled across the side of the caboose. The point was simple: Feeling should never be what drives you, it comes along for the ride. And the point is correct. Feelings are notorious for giving us false information. Feelings lie to us about what the situation truly is. Still many Christians place such strong importance upon a feeling. Feeling like you're saved. Feeling like God is present. Feeling like what you believe is right.

I suppose we become more emotionally attached when our feelings are touched. They can be quite powerful. But, like a kidney stone, our feelings always seem to pass. And if they don't pass, you may need to seek medical attention! Facts can leave us cold. We don't feel like we have anything invested in them. Facts remain regardless of how we feel. How impolite! How rude of facts not to consult us as to how we want things to be. Feelings transport us to a higher plane. Facts keep us level-headed. And that bothers some people.

I've never been a drinker, but I've been around plenty of them. Most seek the feeling of drunkenness. It's a rush. . . a thrill. It's out of the ordinary. And the drinker decides to go and get drunk -- he or she has some control, at least at the beginning. Yet at the same time, the drunken feeling goes away. Sometimes it is replaced by a completely different feeling. The pounding head, the pain behind the eyes. The good feeling turns bad. Yet the drinker will return once again still chasing that good feeling. Eventually it takes more alcohol to get to that feeling again. The thrill becomes harder to catch. But when it comes, honey, don't fight it.

Since our human weakness is to desire and respect the feelings, some churches treat this as a sign from above to feed the worshipper a rush of warm fuzzies. Worship bands may repeat a chorus over and over to influence the worshipper's emotions. The mind becomes numb. Certainly a person will come back again and again for that thrill. They'll have to because the feeling goes away.

Ultimately, feelings push us into selfish mode. It's about us feeling good. It's about what we experience. It's all about us, right? But, it's supposed to be about God. Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz, put it this way, "The most difficult lie I ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me." It's a tempting lie to make worship and even life itself about our comfort, our feelings, our desires. But it's not supposed to be about us.

The feeling is supposed to be a fringe benefit -- a side dish. The main course is fact. Fact which is not blown to and fro with every new wave of teaching. Fact which stands unchanged like the One Who calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. Fact which doesn't fade away like the warmth of a mug of hot chocolate on a wintery day. Fight the feeling? Not necessarily. But treat it like it is meant to be. The feeling is fleeting and not worth seeking. Yet seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you as well.

For you budding Flip Wilson theologians craving more, try The devil made me do it! and What you see is what you get.

Funeral Emotions

I spent much of yesterday officiating at a funeral. That's nothing terribly new to me; I've done it plenty of times. I've preached at funerals for people I didn't even know. But yesterday was the first time I had preached at a funeral where I didn't know the deceased or even any of the family. I was a complete stranger to them. The closest any of the family even lived to my church was over an hour away.

How did this happen? It turns out that Mrs. D (the deceased) had attended my church as a girl and her husband was buried in this area. She had Altzheimer's for the past ten years and had no church affiliation that I know of. She lived with her only son, who, as it turns out, is a friend and neighbor of my sister and brother-in-law. Talk about providence. (I'd talk about coincidence if I thought that's what it was.)

Funerals are emotional times. There is usually a mix of grief, relief, sadness, and joy of being reunited with family all blended together in the room. Mrs. D's family and friends went through most of these emotions. Her Altzheimer's was so bad that she hadn't spoken in over three years. Her son was her caregiver, taking her on the road as he delivered trucks across the country. It wasn't until a few months ago that he finally had to take her to a care center. I'm sure he felt a bit of relief mixed in with the sadness.

As I looked over the assembled people crowded into this tiny funeral home, I saw many faces. One belonged to Mrs. D's twin sister, now also afflicted with Altzheimer's. She knew things were going on around her, but I am not sure she really comprehended what was happening. It was more like she was just following instructions. Sit here. Walk this way. Stuff like that. I wonder what her emotions would have been like. The twins were active as twins, even becoming presidents of the International Twins Association, and appearing together in a national ad for General Electric. I would think that the sense of loss for a twin would be greater, but I really don't know.

Another face I saw was that of a lady who later told me that she played the piano at Mrs. D's wedding. (It was actually a double wedding - twins, you know.) She was one of a handful of old school friends who were present. There were a mix of distant relatives, neighbors and acquaintances also, many of whom hadn't seen Mrs. D in years. And then there was me.
I've always wondered how people see my role as a minister at a funeral. At a wedding, the minister is to signify God's approval and acknowledgement of a marriage, but certainly God doesn't need a preacher to make a death official! For many people, a funeral ceremony is done simply because of tradition or simply to honor the deceased in some way. I'm sure God doesn't enter into the equation for some. At least they try not to let Him enter. Thoughts of death can change that though. Perhaps the overriding emotion at a funeral for many is a sense of fear about the end of their life and the sheer joy that it's not them in the casket.

My emotions yesterday were mixed. I felt the sorrow and the relief from those gathered in that room. I also felt a large sense of uncertainty about what I needed to do. Could I in good conscience assure those people that Mrs. D was in a better place when I had no idea of her spiritual condition during her life? Should I give some kind of false comfort that would confirm the hopes of many that heaven is open regardless of how you treat Jesus Christ?

I preached the Gospel - the Good News that Jesus saves, not that we are saved by being a "good person". I reminded them that the love that Mrs. D had for them was but a dim reflection of the love that God has for them. And we celebrated Mrs. D's life. We prayed. We went to the cemetery where I read Scripture and prayed again. Then we all left and went our separate ways. Mrs. D's son went back to his home. Her twin was taken back to the care facility. The rest of the crowd took their emotions and went home as well, hopefully with a better understanding of what this life is about and with a great sense to get to know better this God who loves them so much.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Don't miss out

Nick Queen has up two blogs in the Seventh Out of the Wilderness Showcase. This week's features are:

Stand Up and Walk and Thoughts of a Stranger. Go check them out.

And don't miss any of the 62 entries in Christian Carnival LXIV at Proverbs Daily.

And check out Amy's new home for her Humble Musings and search around for a double chance to win a book and DVD from Challie's.

Lots of good discussion around the web too. I've got some good things almost ready for you also, but I have a project to finish up tonight so use the three minutes you'd normally spend here on one of the above links!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

So, I did

I was paying for $25 worth of gas. The lady behind the counter asked, "Did you fill it up?"

I said, "No, but I had to get some. My warning light has been on for miles."

"Well, the price is going up 20 cents a gallon today."

"Twenty cents?! Oh well, I guess I'll deal with it."

I signed my receipt and she said, "Have a nice day!"

"Thanks! You too!" I shot back. Then I went to my truck to finish my errands. I started to think about twenty cents more for the other ten gallons which would fit in my tank. So I stopped at the next station I came to and filled it up the rest of the way.

Sure enough, as I drove my that station again an hour later the price of gas was twenty cents higher than what I had paid earlier. I guess she meant what she said about gas prices. Then for some reason, my mind drifted back to her last words to me -- "Have a nice day!" Now those words are repeated ad nauseum with little meaning at all most of the time. It's like when someone asks you, "How are you?" They really don't want to know about your arthritis and how little sleep you've been getting or about that spot on the bottom of your foot that you have to bandage every morning. They're just waiting for you to say, "Fine," or to make some cute comment that will acknowledge that the two of you had some sort of conversation. But what if it was a sincere wish? What if that woman really wants you to have a nice day?

I decided that since she knew about the price of gas and was so nice about it, I'd go out and try to have a nice day. So, I did. I figured it was the least I could do.

It wasn't tough to have a nice day. The afternoon temperature was around 72 for the first time this year with sunny skies. We sat out watching my oldest son's baseball game and he hit a bases-loaded double to score three runs. We came home and my wife made a quick dinner. Then afterward, my three year-old went down and played a computer game while my wife and I sat around the dinner table talking to our sons.

The boys are 13 and 11 and different as night and day. The older one is quiet and reserved while the younger boy is loud and a bit crazy. But they are both very good kids. And funny. We sat and laughed like we hadn't done for weeks. We didn't have to hurry to go somewhere else. We didn't have to rush around getting things done. We just stayed and enjoyed one another's company. It was wonderful. It was a great way to finish a "nice day." I sure am glad that lady told me to have a nice day!

I'm not a big "Possibility Thinker" a la Robert Schuller. But I do think our values have a lot to do with our happiness. Paul wrote that he had learned to be happy no matter the circumstances. Now that may seem extreme to us, but is it really? If we are not content with what we have, why would we be content after acquiring the next item of our dreams? Is any situation in life enough for us to finally accept it with joy?

Most everyone has met a classic pessimist. This is the person who not only sees the glass as half empty, but also wants to know who stole the rest of his drink! These are people who can see the dark cloud on any sunny day, and quite frankly will never be satisfied. They will get on your last nerve if you spend much time with them. On the opposite side is the eternal optimist, always thinking things will get better. But neither one of these people is looking at things the way Paul did. The pessimist revels in despair. The optimist is certain that better days are ahead. But the Christian outlook as explained by Paul is that your happiness is not determined by the things in your life, but in the relationship with your Savior. Troubles come and troubles go in this life, but Christ brings true happiness. And we are called to remind ourselves of that fact. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." Your happiness is easier to maintain if you are happy in your realtionship with your Creator. If you decide that your happiness depends on what happens to you today, then good luck because you're sure to need it.

Oh, and have a nice day.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Report Cards

They came in the mail on Saturday. The boys' report cards. I'm not sure why they mail them instead of just sending them home with the kids. Possibly because Friday was April Fool's Day and who can believe a low grade on an April Fool report card? More likely the school realizes how many papers sent home with my boys never see the light of day in this house. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get a lunch menu out of those two. So the wisdom of the school board prevailed. The cards got mailed.

The boys were anxious to see them. They have each been good students, but this time around each one was worried about seeing a "C" where Mom and Dad were looking for a different letter. As it turned out, the grades were all A's and B's for each of them. Fist pumping celebration ensued as I read them their grades. One more grading period to go for the year.

I remember waiting to see my report card as a kid. The grades were always good, but I think it was just a time for a little affirmation. Like most anybody, I liked hearing when I did a good job. And I knew the report card would be an honest indicator -- no "making me feel good" if I didn't deserve it. I kept that attitude on into high school. I set a goal of getting a perfect 4.0 grade point average for high school. And for two and a half years I managed to keep getting A's.

Then as a Junior, I was enrolled in a journalism class in my small high school. The class' responsibility was to publish the school paper. Six of us did all the work with a teacher advisor occasionally showing up to take the proofs to the printer. I'm not sure he ever read the articles or noticed the sometimes off-color captions for the pictures. My job was sports editor. It wasn't too difficult, but it was a job I had to do most every day since there was always a team doing something the day before. When I got my first report card grade for Journalism it was a "B". I asked the other five and everyone else got A's. So I asked the teacher who told me that I got a lower grade than everyone else because the sports page was always the last one turned in. I tried to explain that it was last because it had to include sports from the night before. Features could be a week old, but my part was always fresh. He didn't buy it. I'm not sure why. It was true, although if I would have been features editor I'm sure I would have waited until the last minute to turn it in too!

So with my "B" permanently on my record and my goal now unreachable, I relaxed and enjoyed myself for the rest of high school. And when I went to college and received a "C" in my first math class, the pressure was off. My grades were still good, but I didn't live and die by my grades. Sure, I knew exactly how to get good grades; what to parrot back to the prof to get a good score. But so much of my undergraduate work was so useless unless I stopped concentrating on getting a good grade and instead worked on learning something from the course. Cramming useless facts into my brain during Finals Week was a futile exercise, and I finally figured that out. Then when I went to grad school some twelve years later, I fought off the urge again to parrot back the right answers and instead tried to learn practical lessons. I better understood the point of a grading system and used it to improve how I learned, not to try to simply get an "empty A". I'm very grateful that the curriculum was practically oriented, not just "book learning."

I suppose it will be a bit like hearing a report card read when I stand in judgment before God. Like a report card, I will be given an honest indication of how I performed for my Creator. The good fruit and the moldy peaches. The triumphs and the miserable, rebellious failures. Nothing will be held back. But I've been assured that there is no condemnation for those found in Christ Jesus. In other words, I can't flunk if I'm relying on Jesus. So while my rewards for obedience may be few or many, I know that the ultimate reward awaits me. I'll hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant," or something along those lines, and I'll take my place with the saints who have gone before me.

I think we can get a little too tied up sometimes in trying to merit a good grade from the people around us. We know what to say to get people to be impressed with us. We can parrot back what people want to hear. Then we'll hear the affirmation we crave so much. But at what cost? I can't allow myself to put on a Christian front instead of truly living out my faith. Grades given by people who don't really know me cannot be my main concern. Sure it's nice to be nice. It's great to serve other people. But my first priority must be my relationship with God. I need practical learning from my Savior.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

More Good Reading

A quick compiliation of my favorite posts from around the blogosphere this week:

Amy's husband Greg guest blogs at Amy's Humble Musings about Aaron's laundry.

reverend mommy has a great post about Thomas, ready to die for his Master.

Stop by Cerulean Sanctum to say goodbye to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

joe at Words of Grace has some interesting thoughts on Attractive Churches.

Phil at healthy churches relates about trying to live a life out of square.

and don't miss molly's look at a Christian Community over at my three pennies worth.

And if you haven't done so already, check out Nick Queen's new blog showcase blogs for the week:

Proving Up: The Art and Science of Placemaking
Musings of MicahGirl
And the previously mentioned Amy's Humble Musings.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Long Term Vision

Last night was the first baseball game of the season for us. Not Major League or even Minor League, although we've stepped up from Little League for one of our boys. This year my oldest is playing Junior High baseball, but since we live in a small school district he plays with many of the same kids he played with in Little League. Many of those kids also were on his youth and Junior High football teams as well. So there is a core of parents who have sat through many a game together. We follow the teams, showing up to all the games and rooting for all the kids.

Last night the boys' coach gave some pretty faulty directions to an away game. That resulted in a bunch of us parents trying desperately to find the correct diamond somewhere in an unfamiliar town. After checking the better-known diamonds and not finding our team, the parental vehicles began to search the town for some long-forgotten diamond where the boys could be playing. We formed a line of traffic, eventually reaching eight cars long, winding through every possible area of town big enough to house a ballpark. Finally after four failures and a few group u-turns, we found the right place just after the game had started. We parked in a row, got out and took our seats on the bleachers and rooted our kids to an 8-4 victory.

It's an odd dynamic between baseball parents. We all have separate lives, yet we come together as a team in many of the same ways the boys do. We encourage one another's kids. We even join forces to heckle the umpire (all in a spirit of Christian love, of course!) We transport kids to and from practice if a parent can't make it. Last night we even had to sit close together to keep warm! (Baseball on April Fool's Day in the northern climates may not be a great idea.) But through it all we share the same goal. We want our kids to have fun, play their best and win. Pretty simple, huh?

Now there are other issues that we have to deal with along the way. We have the occasional injury, so we support one another by getting whatever is needed. A bag of ice, a bandage, a couple Tylenol, a Gatorade. . . we freely give where it is needed. Some of us bring along our other children to the games which essentially makes us babysitters for one another's kids. Someone always has an eye on what the "other kids" are up to. Last night my two other kids were playing on a playset on the other side of the outfield fence when my wife saw what she thought was a lone adult walk onto the playground. It turned out to be a bigger kid coming to play with his brother, but we couldn't see that. So I went over to check and make sure nothing funny was going on and sure enough, another dad was following me to back me up. Neither of us had said anything -- it was just understood. And his kids weren't even at the game last night. Yet he was as focused as the rest of us. Our goal for the players on the field hadn't changed and the love we have for one another was a part of that relationship.

Of course everything doesn't always go smoothly. We don't always agree on which player should start at which position. We don't always agree with what the coach does or how he does it. We might not even care for some of the things some parents do which embarrass the rest of us. But our goal remains the same: the kids on the field and taking care of our team "family".

Why am I boring you with baseball parent stories? Because I think it's an illustration of how a church should be structured for the long term. There is a goal which everyone should be able to agree upon -- glorifying God. That should be basic. Just as we baseball parents gather to watch the games, the church should gather to praise, worship and glorify God. Of course, it's not a side interest for us as Christians, but a constant goal personally and corporately. All we do should be done to glorify Him.

Then there are the side issues; those of loving one another. As a church, we should encourage one another, bear one another's burdens, love one another, pray for one another and about another fifty or so "one anothers" listed in Scripture. Just like another parent encouraging my son, or me giving a kid a ride because his mom isn't home from work yet, so we as church members and as brothers and sisters in Christ must support one another in our Christian walk.

There is a third aspect of my long term vision for church which is where my baseball parent analogy breaks down. As Christians we must not only worship God and love one another but we must also reach out and love others -- the ones who are not on "our" team. That comes naturally sometimes, but other times we really have to work at it. Face it, some folks are easier to love than others.

But our call is to love. We don't love by becoming just like them, although we are much more alike than we care to admit. Instead we stand for God's truth and we speak that truth in love. Shouting Scripture through a bullhorn is not speaking the truth in love. Everything must come through the "love filter". Too many times Christians like to speak with authority or with knowledge, but we forget the love filter. Dana Carvey's Church Lady character captured that sinful attitude beautifully years ago. But we must love, just as the Master loved.

If my church can live up to the goals of glorifying God individually and corporately, loving one another and loving others, then what will the church look like? What should I expect to observe from my church in the year 2105? First, I would suspect that the group would be larger. Sharing the truth in love should bring more people to the Truth. I would also imagine that there would be precious little emphasis on what the church building looks like or what the people inside it look like. Instead we would focus on loving people both inside and outside our congregation. I would think that the people of the surrounding communities would know where our church meets; whether it's a permanent church building or a rented facility. And I would also imagine that those people would know where we stand on doctrinal issues as well as social issues -- not because we force our views but because we live them out.

Sure, it's a dream. But if a group of baseball parents can demonstrate community with common goal, why can't a group of believers empowered by the Holy Spirit do even more?

Friday, April 01, 2005

What's in a building?

I'm sort of piggybacking on this post about the huge buildings churches often build because I've been mentally processing what a church needs to be and what a church should be. Of course when I write "church" I'm talking about the congregation and not the building. This post at Pseudo-Polymath really got me thinking, (hat tip to Jollyblogger) and I'll likely address that issue soon enough. But for now, I'm going to concentrate on the physical facilities.

I realize there are plenty of churches in underdeveloped countries which use precious more than a grass hut with a thatched roof. I've heard from enough missionaries to know all about cement block rooms with tin roofs and makeshift facilities in abandoned buildings. But I'm thinking mostly of church buildings in this culture. That is, assuming a church wants to deal with a building. Many churches don't want to deal with the hassle of upkeep, opting instead to deal with the hassle of set-up and tear-down.

What are the minimums? Some kind of central room to gather in, such as a sanctuary, for one. Face it, if you don't have one of these there isn't much point to dealing with a building. The size of such a room obviously depends on the size of the congregtaion, but it's hard to imagine having too big of a room. Well, I'll take that back. A few dying churches have 20-30 people sitting in a huge sanctuary on Sunday morning. It's a shame that space can't be moved and rented.

Is there anything else which is manditory? Aside from restrooms and a nursery, that is. Yes, some kind of nursery is a definate. You don't want anybody changing a dirty diaper or tossing Cheerios around during a particularly riveting sermon. In many churches, some kind of kitchen is a must. I've already written about my church's relationship with food here. A church can do some wonderful things based around food. Of course, you also need somewhere to eat the food and that usually means some kind of dining room. Our church building is growing.

Now how about a few classrooms? If you use the traditional Sunday School model, then you need some classrooms or at least some good soundproof dividers to partition your dining room. Many churches are going to a small group format with no Sunday School, but there is still a need to have smaller rooms available for groups, boards, and other sets of people to meet in. Toss in a few classrooms.

A lobby? Or use the old churchy word "narthex." Ever want to confuse a visitor? Tell them to go to the narthex. They'll be running around with no clue what they'll find if they ever see a narthex! OK, there needs to be a little room, at least for an entryway to the sanctuary. We should probably add in some room for an office or two. However at my church I have no office on site -- it's all at my house. So I guess it's not that essential after all.

One thing my church lacks which we could really make use of is a space/room of some kind for the kids. Be it a gymnasium or an indoor play area, we could surely use an indestructable room. Let's call it the Rubber Room. That way when the kids are done with it, the parents can be sedated and placed there. The Rubber Room can be home base for all the youth activities. Is it necessary? Probably not. Although any good church shopper will check to see what you offer for kids, even if they've never even babysat for an evening. A Rubber Room is proof positive that a church is ready for growth, especially in the younger generation.

Beyond that, I can think of plenty of other things we could include in a church, but nothing that strikes me as essential equipment. Cafes, bookstores, workout rooms, and all the luxurious extras strike me as just that extra. (And a bit extravagant too.)

So to recap, in this culture a church building is expected to have a sanctuary and entryway, a kitchen/dining room, some classrooms, rest rooms (modern), a few classrooms and a nursery. A Rubber Room would be a good idea also, but not essential. Same for an office. Now I realize that there are some reading who are screaming, "What about the Prayer Room?" or "You forgot about the library!" Perhaps you consider them essential. Personally, I'm still thinking about axing the kitchen and dining room. We can eat anywhere right?

So what does all this say about us in this culture -- as people and as church members? Are we more worried about glorifying the church or the Creator? Should the visitor marvel at the sanctuary or the Savior? Are we building church structures with an eye on ministry or with an eye on opulence and comfort? Are we trying to impress God with a puny building made of ingredients He created out of nothing? Or are we trying to impress others outside of our church with "the way God is blessing" us?

I think we have much to repent of.