Monday, September 23, 2013

New Blog Site

Thanks for all of those who've followed and read my blog. Like the Jefferson's, I'm moving on up. Not sure if its to the East side of the cyberworld or not. Regardless of the direction, I've switched my blog over to a new wordpress site. It now called "In the Key of H," and the address is simply I'll be blogging there from now on. You can click here to be redirected. Hope you make the switch and follow me there.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Walter White's Worldly Sorrow

Breaking Bad season 5, the final season, is soon to be over. I've said before that I've never appreciated a show as much as this one, and the final season hasn't disappointed. If you're playing catch-up, there is no spoiler alert here, just a common theme: Walt's worldly sorrow. 

Throughout the show, despite the continual hardening of his heart toward anything "good," he never stops displaying emotion. He's not a sociopath. He does have feelings. Yes at times he does things unthinkable, but there are other episodes where we see real tears running down his face. Even in this last season, despite his malfeasance and machinations, he still cries. 

While Paul wouldn't deny there are different types of tears, he classifies two major types of "sad tears."

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (II Cor 7:9-10)

We see Walt shed many a tear over what he has done: lives he's either altered for worse or destroyed. But not long after those tears, we see him get right back after it. Nothing changes. There is sadness for a time, and perhaps even for a season, but this sorrow only leads to death: the ultimate separation from God. But we see glimpses of this descent into death through alienation with his family, extended family, his conscience, and his partner-in-crime Jesse. In the book of Jonah, every step he takes away from God's commands is a step toward the place of death and separation, known as "Sheol." Every step away from God is a step away from life. This is "worldly sorrow."

When you see Walt's tears, you think you see a glimmer of hope. And then you remember the name of the show is Breaking Bad. Just about everyone gets worse. People left to themselves will often show some signs of remorse, but will only display worldly sorrow. And we are reminded in this scripture passage, this type of sorrow only leads to death. 

If you are a Christian, you are not a Walt. You have definitively passed from death to life and that life starts now. While sanctification is definitive, it is also progressive (please don't think Flo). The life you enter into is never devoid of struggle with the old Walt in us (or Adam to be theologically correct) who will inevitably seek to selfishly cry as a form of show, penance, or shallow regret. 

What's the difference? If death is alienation from God, salvation is relationship with God first, His people next, and then what He's doing in the world today. When Paul speaks of "salvation without regret," he is speaking in terms of reconciliation. People have shown a sorrow that leads to repenting instead of running from God and His people. They have repented from their sins against God and Paul, and are now "back on good terms" with the latter. This type of godly sorrow moves you to deeper relationship with God and His people.

Repentance always has a destination, and that first stop is God. Then His people. Then becoming involved with how God in Christ (gospel preached through the gathered/scattered church) is undoing what the first Walt, or rather Adam, did.

Watching Walt's worldly sorrow should lead me to a examine my sorrow to make sure it is truly leading me to repentance, which ultimately points me to the deepest experience of life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How much ya bench? Struggle spotting

After some time away from the gym, I've finally started getting back into the swing of things. It's been a struggle but I think that I have found a time that works. Until the baby gets here and things, schedules, sleep, (life in general) changes yet again.

Regardless, my favorite exercise is the bench press. It is the most easily quantifiable, measurable, transferable exercise. I can tell, care, compare how strong I am, particularly in relation to others around me. Or in the NFL....Remember the SNL skit, "How much ya bench?"

I haven't asked anyone to "spot me" yet, which is necessary if I'm ever going to actually get much stronger (not just back to what I could do in West Virginia). But I often hesitate even in asking people, because I don't like having to tell people exactly how I want it done. Particularly when I don't know them well. 

Sometimes when people "spot" you, they see you struggle and immediately put their hands under the bar. It then rises up very quickly. It goes from really hard to really easy. You don't need to be a trainer to realize that muscles grow best when they are exhausted. They grow best when and only when there is a struggle. 

So when I get a "spotter" I have to tell him, "Let me struggle. Only help at the moment I absolutely need it. And then barely help it up." 

When someone spots you and keeps you from struggling, it feels like you've just wasted your time. It's easy, but you just won't ever get much stronger.

I've heard the "faith is like a muscle" comparisons my whole life. But I've never really through the fact I actually seek such a spotter in the weight room. Such a spotter is loving. Such a spotter cares about me getting stronger more than he cares about easy lifting.

Yet such a spotter is there for a reason. I need him. I trust him. I have confidence he'll let me struggle, but I also have confidence he won't let me get pinned (that's not much fun-there is no more helpless feeling in the world!).

Church planting is not easy. But neither is life for most people who aren't church planting. Marriage, parenting, work, etc....Jesus is the spotter who seeks us out, but he does so because of His great love. I'm learning to see Jesus as a spotter and not get so mad at him when he lets me struggle. It's not that he's not there, but much the opposite. After all, that struggle is the best thing for me: conforming me to His image. That's what He cares about most in the end anyway. When I begin to line up His vision for me with my vision for me, I'll begin to appreciate his style of spotting a lot more.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cade, Goliath, and a Giant Penguin

I have two boys who love the bible stories. I have one who really loves one bible story more than any others. My almost three year old Cade can't get enough of David vs Goliath. Most of the time, it's the only one he wants to hear. He rehashes the story over and over. Of course, he pretends to be David (I guess that's better on a number of levels than pretending to be Goliath). And I can see why. He's a little guy for his age, and he, like all of us, wants to be the winner of the story. 

Last night Cade set up a giant stuffed animal penguin (though not quite as big as the penguin in Billy Madison), and pretended it was Goliath. He of course struck him down down dead. Thankfully he didn't decapitate it, because that could have been costly as well as messy.

Cade's impersonation is cute. Once again, he's a little guy.

But when he gets older, would it be good to let him continue to think of himself as David? 

I don't think so, and its not just because I'm an anal pastor type concerned primarily with theological precision. The reality is that most people exegete the passage the same way my three year old does. Most people find themselves to be David in this cosmic good/underdog vs evil/overdog saga of life. And its natural that we see ourselves as such. 

But let's consider what's really going on.

In Cade's Toddler Bible he has begun to notice certain people. Who are those guys Daddy?

Those are the God's people, scared to death.

No one can face this giant.

That picture tells much of the story. God's army is on one side, the Phillistines are on the other side. One representative is needed. The Jesus Storybook Bible (the dialog of which Cade has basically memorized and recites when playing with his toys-its really pretty cute if I can say that) depicts Goliath looking to fight a representative of the people. If that representative will fight and beat him, the Phillistines will become subject to slavery. If that representative loses, the opposite will become true. 

The point of the story is not that you or I can rise up and be that brave person and beat our own personal demons, Goliath's, or El Guapo's in our lives for that matter. The point is that God HAD to send a representative, who would become King, who would do battle for us. If we are on this brave King's side, then we are on the right side. That was the message to those who first read the story. Get on David's side (Davidic line of kings). But of course, the story doesn't end there. 

Jesus, the brave King, also born in Bethlehem, said "I will fight" for God's people in order to deliver them. I will be their representative. I will not let this cup pass from me.

Our representative had his shot and blew it in the Garden (Romans 5). Yet Jesus does exactly what David did, but this time on a cosmic scale.

If we would begin to find ourselves as the army which was too scared and faithless to fight, we would begin to see Jesus more clearly in our lives. He is the one who fought for us while we were not only scared and faithless, but while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:8). Instead of trying to muster up the courage we may never have, it's much more freeing to see how Jesus points us to David. And if that is so, we don't stand up and lead a bunch of other people who simply can't get their stuff together. We humbly get in line behind a conquering Savior and point people to Him. There's plenty of adventure in following Jesus (a la Steven Curtis Chapman) because we can't see the end of the story except through faith.
If Cade wants to dress up like David for Halloween, I'm OK with that. After all, my five year old already has some sense that David did "big sins" and Jesus is the real hero of the story. So it may not be too long....

But in the end, let's not forget those scared Israelites waiting for someone to "step up" and deliver them. That's us. Not a very glamorous start but the end sure is. 

Here's a video of Cade Vs the Goliath Penguin

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Meeting church plant needs behind the scenes

One of the things I already knew, but has been confirmed to me over my short church planting life so far, is that you need a ton of people to plant a church. You really do. You need to have a number of folks praying for you. That much is clear and we looked at Jesus reminder to pray to the "Lord of the Harvest" for Him to send out workers during our first core group meeting (Matt 9:36-39). If you want to follow our updates and pray for us, click here. We also need to have a number of folks financially supporting our work; currently we have 30 individuals and 2 churches. If interested in giving, go here. Most obviously, we need to have people actually get involved in the core group meetings who will invite new faces. I already realized all of that stuff before.

But I was definitely ignorant of many of the roles I needed people to play. Here are a few:

Folks outside our core group connecting us to others: A dear friend of ours, who for the time being lives in Bradenton but will clearly never personally be involved in our church plant, has helped us connect with several young families. Who knows what will become of those relationships, but that is how this church is going to grow. I can't meet enough people on my own through my neighborhood, fishing, gym, Tee-ball, Starbucks, etc. I try and I have met some folks from the aforementioned places, but I've realized how much help I really needed. And received.

Folks outside our area connecting us to others: I've had several pastors point me to contacts who live in the area. Neither of them live here, but they have sent me emails and phone numbers of people to call. Both of them are directing traffic from afar, and behind the scenes. Yet both have been playing a part that I just hadn't really thought much about. I needed, still need, and have received such help.

Neighbors: I had a neighbor knock on my door on Sunday morning and let me know I could have people park cars in the neighboring driveway because no one would be home for several months (snowbirds). In addition, he told me he would ask about any possible meeting space in one of the rooms at his Catholic church. And after our core group meeting, one of my neighbors took a look at my on-again-off-again air conditioner. And is still doing so.

So in addition to giving, praying, meeting, there are many ways of participating in a church plant. While ignorant of such need right off the bat, I am no longer so! And I feel there are many needs, and people to meet them, whom I've yet to discover.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Prayer: Are you talking to me?

A week ago, while worshiping at Cornerstone, I heard a succinct sermon on prayer from the Sermon on the Mount. It was quite a helpful little sermon that pointed out a few practical oft overlooked mechanics of prayer.


Prayers in public don't have to long. This is hard for Reformed folks. I think it might be hard for Charismatic folks as well. I think. Have you ever had a moment when you felt really "unspiritual?" Or I guess a better term might be simply "spiritually immature." I've had a ton of them, so it wouldn't be a great idea to rank them: not a great use of my time. But one in which would probably slide into my top 10 occurred after Sinclair Ferguson opened up his systematic theology class at 8 am with a 10 minute prayer. One guy came up to me and said, "Wow, how about that prayer. So...?" I filled in the blank with the obvious, "So long!" He replied, "No, so rich!"

I felt pretty low then. And perhaps I should have followed along better. But is longer necessarily better? The pastor indicated he thinks Jesus didn't think so. When people have a lot to pray about, it's hard to pack a ton in a public prayer. But remember longer isn't better. Something to consider when praying with your kids or at your church. 

Which brings me to the next point he brought out.

"You talking to me?"

To whom are you talking in prayer? Or better yet, who do you want to hear you? Sometimes prayers can really be more like talking to people, as though they are your primary audience.

One of the ways you can know if you consider prayer as though you're talking more to people, rather than to God, is how scared you are to pray in public. By public, I don't mean 20 or more people. I'm talking groups of 3-4 folks. If prayer is talking to God, then it doesn't matter how silly you sound to others. After all, prayer from God's saints (all Christians) is like a redolent fragrance. Like corporate singing, it is not the sound of the words, but from whence the words come: the contrite, yet joyful heart.

Many of us at various times have forgotten who our primary audience really is. I did too when in seminary, as I rarely volunteered to pray in front of a large number of future pastors. We've all forgotten this timely truth from time to time.

But when we are praying in a group, is it really only talking to God, as though it doesn't matter if people around you are listening? I mean, if it is only talking to God, others might as well just cover their ears or play on their phones.

Here's an illustration I've been thinking about lately. Have you ever waited in line for some event, or to check out of a department or grocery store, and had someone talk to you just a little bit louder than needed? Or maybe you've heard someone talking to his spouse or son or friend, and they are clearly intending for you to "overhear" the conversation. The person has a primary audience, but he also has a secondary audience. It is clear, due to his volume, word choice, that he wants to bring you into the conversation.  

Now often this can be quite annoying because you don't want to be brought in or you don't want others to be brought in. Or it can be annoying because the person might be talking to you, but their primary audience is actually another person or group "over-hearing." You can tell this because you've already heard what he has said before. The secondary audience has become the primary.

But if the speaker truly is engaged with his primary audience (spouse, son, friend), he can honestly "over-speak" to others he doesn't know, drawing them into the conversation.

I think this is what can happen in group prayer settings. God is our primary audience and so how eloquently we speak is inconsequential. But how we speak still matters. We speak loudly, intentionally, and with words our secondary audience can understand. They "over-hear" our conversation with God, and thus are intentionally brought into that conversation. 

Considering our audiences frees us from the fear of sounding silly, and in addition, it frees us to love and lead people well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A-Roid, Vigilante Justice, and the need for a Judge

The other day Alex Rodriguez aka A-Rod or A-Roid, faced Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster. After several clear inside pitches designed to hit A-Roid, one finally hit the mark. Immediately benches were warned, but Dempster stayed in the game. Afterwards, Red Sox manager belied ignorance of any seeming intent on behalf of his less than star pitcher. 

As an avid Rays fan, I'm partial to both the Sox and the Yankees, always hoping against hope that both can lose. But since baseball is not soccer, that's just not really an option. Regardless of the fact that hit batter fueled a Yankees rally which proved the difference in their victory, the real discussion afterwards lay in the ethics of such a pitch, not in pragmatics (how un-American of us to push the pragmatic to the side).

Who was right? 

A-Roid is facing more than a 200 game suspension for his alleged involvement in steroids, which he admitted to using before. MLB has somewhat of smoking gun, so after his appeal is heard, A-Roid will be A-Bored for a season and a half. On top of that, A-Rod might be the most unlike-able baseball player on one of the more polarizing teams. Despite his individual and team success, he plays himself up to be the victim. Some of these players have been lying their whole lives, that they actually believe the lies they tell. Perhaps that, or an extreme narcissism, or both is at the root to why A-Roid won't simply admit he did wrong? 

So pitchers have every "reason" to hate A-Rod. The rest of the 10+ players suspended by MLB have taken their suspensions, but not A-Rod. That's why Dempster beaned him, even though it took him 4 pitches to do so. 

So who is right? 

Should pitchers be able to hit the "cheater" (allegedly)? Or is A-Rod right, for according to the letter of the law, he has the right to appeal-which will allow him to play the rest of the season? In that case, he shouldn't be "targeted" (again, allegedly because no one admits to hitting someone) by pitchers.

Who's side should one take?

It's probably important to look at something more than the arm that through the baseball. What's really being said by that pitch? You cheat, we don't, and we will punish you the best way we can for cheating. It's the position of the legalist. The one who says I follow the law, you don't, so I will punish you the best way I can. Perhaps shunning, running or gunning. Many folks fall into this category even though they would never admit to this. You judge, we don't judge, so we will judge you for judging. We will do something about it, and not leave it to the legal process.  

You don't have to be a Westboro Baptist member to fall into this line of work. You don't have to vote Republican. Behind the pitch, there is an unrealized self-righteousness which produces anger. Whether it comes out in a subtle form as with labels, racism, or blatant insults and violence, the heart behind it is the same. Self-righteousness always pops its ugly head.

Is it possible to take another route? Is it possible to believe that A-Rod shouldn't be allowed to play yet not personally take matters into your own hands? Can you disagree with someone's behavior, believe it a sin, and yet not judge them? Can you not make someone pay by shunning, gunning, or running, but instead leave it to another Judge?

That is the position the Rays will take when A-Roid and his company play the Tampa Bay Rays in a week.

"You know what, vigilante justice and unilateral decisions, I'm not into that stuff,'' Maddon said. "There's rules in place. There's a board  assigned to make those kind of decisions. I believe in players' controlling the game itself in regards to what's happening in that game, and we always talk about policing that. But  that is totally separate from the unwritten rules of baseball. So I do not agree with that at all. And, again, I don't believe in rogue unilateral decisions or players meting out discipline, whereas this is something entirely different.''

Asked if the Rays pitchers would act similarly, Maddon said: "There's no reason to. There's absolutely zero reason to do that for me. That's what I believe. I believe let the mechanism in place work and everybody do their jobs. ... Don't attempt to be judge and jury and just let everybody do their jobs.''

MLB, led by Bud Selig is probably not much more than a joke. The man who promoted the Roided out long-ball era now wants to be known by cleaning it up? Yet there is another judge to whom we can leave things. 

Without a Judge, on whom you can never pull a fast one, we are forced to take matters into our own hands. Without such a Judge, we only have the options of retaliating or overlooking. We only have the options of becoming an angry self-righteous legalist or driven by indifference at what we know to be wrong. A legalist or one with license to do whatever fulfills us at the moment. 

The irony behind removing God's wrath or judgment from our picture of Him is that we become more wrathful and judgmental. Or we become a completely self absorbed relativist caring about self before family and community. Neither seem all that good to me.