Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Be careful not to draft all your relationships

The NFL Draft was last Saturday and Sunday. And yes, I'm one of the football starved degenerates (I'm mad there's no NFL-Europe anymore) that actually gets excited about it. Of course I had an elder retreat, sermon prep, and dinner with friends on Saturday night that precluded me from wasting my time following it. And just for the record, I DO think I could do a better job drafting than the Bucs usually do. But I'm probably wrong.

Anyhow there are two dominant strategies for how to pick a player: go with an area of need (for instance if you need a QB, then pick the best QB you can) or simply go with the best overall player available, regardless of need. Either way a team is obviously picking a person based solely on what they can bring to the ball club.

While I believe it is important to network as much as possible (two of my musicians for our upcoming Coffeehouse came from networking: they were friends/contacts of my friends), I need to be very careful not to treat relationships like an NFL draft. We are all prone to pick relationships based upon what others can do for us.

But the pattern we see in Jesus' behavior and heart is very much the opposite. He perfectly modeled Phil 2:4 "Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others." I'm not discounting the need to have friendships that build you up and don't drain you. We need these.

But I know my tendency is to look at people like I would if I were drafting them to make "my team" better. Yet if I look at Jesus' life, he builds his team not with high draft picks, but with un-drafted free agents that all other teams look over. And strangely enough, just like football, these un-drafted free agents can (they don't have to) do amazing things for His Kingdom. Interestingly enough, retired Denver Bronco's receiver Rod Smith, undrafted out of Missouri Southern State University, is the NFL's 15th leading receiver.

But our final motivation to not look at others like an NFL draft is that Jesus doesn't look at us like that. Fortunately. He didn't choose us because of what we could do for him but simply out of love.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just for laughs

Sometimes its good just to laugh. Sometimes its just good to fish. This video combines both of them. Its a spoof on American Idol star Carrie Underwood's "Jesus take the wheel." Hope you enjoy.

A gay old time

I listened to a few very informative and challenging lectures during my study leave week. Due to the fact that I drove to Riverview twice, and Lakeland once, I had such time.

Anyhow, here is one of the lectures I would like to commend to you. The president of Exodus International (a ministry assisting homosexuals attempting to depart from the active gay lifestyle) spoke before Central Florida Presbytery. They get good speakers at that presbytery. We don't get any speakers down in our parts.

I realize the word "lecture" means something less to many than it does to me. After all, I don't have any music on my Ipod: only lectures and sermons. However I think this lecture/testimony (its more of the latter) and following Q and A session may be helpful in understanding more about the homosexual community. And of course that is one in which we know very little about-so anything more is good.

The president, who is now married with kids, openly discusses his unique struggle and story, as well as those of his dear friends. One main point in which he challenged the church was to aspire more to deep fellowship. Unless the fellowship the church offers is better than the gay bars, how can we expect gay folks to come? While what we display in the church IS POTENTIALLY better in many cases, many of us don't embrace the freedom, honesty, grace, and love centered around Christ. And so our fellowship boils down to eating food, surface friendships, being too scared to share struggles and doubts, never challenging others when they are clearly in the wrong, and never open to challenge.

How can we expect gay folks to leave gay bars when what we have isn't a whole lot different than what they already have? That was his challenge to the church and one that certainly convicts me and my shallow conversations and my fear to confess sins/struggles to others.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A different kind of tone deaf

Its not what you say but how you say it. Heard that one before? I've heard it plenty of times. El Guapo (from The Three Amigos) might say I've heard it a plethora of times. He would probably be correct.

Every so often Amy gets concerned over my 'tone.' Unfortunately she's not the only one to question my tone when I'm disagreeing or debating. Sometimes I'm aware of it, and the tone comes from a sense of anger or defense. At other times, the tone may sound harsh, and not only will I be unaware of the tone, but the heart behind the tone will NOT be defensive or malicious.

Since sometimes I'm unaware of the tone myself, it would be helpful to have it recorded some time so I can hear it. I don't propose having someone follow me around with a video camera like Paris Hilton. That would be far too incriminating.
However the other day, I was caught on tape, so to speak. I left something at home, as I usually do before church one Sunday. So I 'kindly' requested through the answering machine that Amy pick up the phone ASAP. She did eventually.

She said my tone was back, and I of course denied it. I didn't really have any anger in my heart, so I assumed she was imagining this tone. Well it was on our answering machine, and there could be no denying it. Tone was quite present.

I didn't feel 'tonal,' but I certainly sounded tonal. One more lesson to teach me that its more than what you say, "Its how you say it." Supposedly communication is 80 % non verbal (I've heard different numbers, all of which seem too high). If that's the case, the remaining 20 % is probably 90% tonal, and 10% content.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Diversity Day

We just got back from our elder retreat. In case you're not Presbyterian, I'm not referring to a weekend get away with the numerous 55 and up communities that dot our lovely landscape down in Florida. Elders are those who have been elected by the congregation to oversee the flock.

5 of us got away, because the 6th is somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. We had a good time to reflect upon the goals of an elder, the way we live out the goals, and how we live them out (our attitude and disposition). Quite helpful, though I'm ready for a break since I have to preach and get some more coffeehouse stuff done.

Anyway, we found refuge at an Episcopalian retreat center in Ellenton/Parrish (I forget which one), as did a number of other like and unlike minded folks. There was everything from a theosophist group (I'm going to be googling that one soon) to Woodland Community Church's Men's "Wild at Heart follow-up retreat." It was kind of funny because they had a HUGE African-American dude as their keynote speaker. Probably a different cat than Eldredge.


Aside from the obvious departure from orthodoxy of the theosophist group (I did read some notes on their wall like "inner light" and stuff like that before folks started staring), there were a number of other evangelical groups pressing on toward the prize. Its always good to be reminded that my or your particular stream of Christianity makes up only a part of the Church as a whole. Otherwise we become a bit too myopic, and eventually frustrated-as though its only US who Jesus is using to build His Kingdom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Disciplines of Joy

I love to work out. I really do. But lately I've been hard pressed even to do the bench press (my favorite exercise). Why? I've fallen out of the routine. So today, because I have tons of stuff to do, I'm probably not going to make it to the gym. Tomorrow, I have tons of stuff to do, including finalizing my sermon for Sunday, so I might not make it then. And next week, guess what? Tons of stuff. There's always tons of stuff to do and I don't even have kids, yet. I'm not complaining how busy I am, by the way. I have a point, I think.

My lax gym attendance began when I took a week off for Amy's spring break/vacation to St. Augustine. From that point on, it has been harder to get back into it.

While routine simply for the sake of routine kills intimacy and delight, skipping that routine can really make it extremely hard for one to ever get back to doing what you love. For the last 6 years or so, the only reason I took time off from working out was due to either shoulder or back injury. That's it. I couldn't fathom how people could just stop going altogether.

But now I see. They were always busy, but working out was simply part of their busy schedule.
They skipped once, they skipped twice, and so on and so forth. Each time they skipped, it became easier to skip.

I think the same thing goes for any spiritual discipline. Once I get out of reading God's Word, its hard to get back into the pattern. I assume the same thing goes for people who stop going to church; they get out of the routine, and the more they don't go, the easier it becomes to not go in the future.

The weird thing is that I love working out when I get to the gym. Like church, I love seeing people there and find great joy in it. And I forfeit that joy by NOT GOING. So in order to get that joy and delight back (our highest motivation), I have to put important activities 'on my calendar.' While we may find it hard at first to put these disciplines back on our calendars, we are simply, though intentionally, exposing ourselves to Jesus: "thy lovely source of true delight." When we are confronted with continuing schedules devoid of corporate worship, private devotion, family prayer, time with spouse, let us be motivated by the joy that comes WHEN we get there instead of passively waiting for it to come to us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Baby fellowship

Last night we had our penultimate prepared childbirth class. While it has been a pain-in-the-butt to get out to Lakewood Ranch every Tuesday night, I would say the trek has also been well worth it. All four of the couples are quite different from each other, but we all share a common bond. We're all going through the same thing.

Our common experience has created a certain level of fellowship. Nothing creates fellowship with others quite like suffering, and there has been plenty of that for some of the ladies (and soon will be for all parties involved). In Seminary, I became fairly close with a lad who had back problems. And over the years, I've developed a special connection with those who have anxiety/depression, those with kidney stones, gastro-intestinal stuff because I've had/still have some of the aforementioned.

Recently I've seen this same sense of connection with others as well. Paul reminds us that we share not only in the power of the resurrection (which we like), but also in the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings (Phil 3). A deeper fellowship, not only with others, but with Jesus, is entered into when we suffer. We have the opportunity of identifying more closely with Jesus, our suffering Savior. In Christianity we have a God who CAN identify with us because he knows first hand what its like. Just an encouragement to draw near to Christ (he already draws near to us) and to others even when we don't feel like it. Don't forfeit this deep fellowship.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More than soccer

This past week I took a "study leave." It's actually part of my package here at Hope, and am thankful it is (its not given de facto in the PCA-though it should be!). I spent time reading, reflecting, being refreshed, and probably some other 'r' words as well.

Part of my study time was to see what some other churches were doing. One church where I know several staff members and elders is Redeemer Pres in Riverview. They have been blessing their community for several years by offering a soccer league called Boyette Sports.

Boyette Sports has become a cheaper option than a regular soccer league (only 65 dollars per child) and the coaches have a devotion with the kids, accompanied by a league wide devotion for all involved. Currently they have 150 kids (now in their 4th year), though they started out with only 50 the first year. All of the coaches are members at Redeemer Pres and have been trained in both soccer and the gospel.

I think perhaps the greatest catch of the league is that everything takes place one day a week. They come at 9 am for practice and devotion and then a game from 10-11 am. Parents like not having their weeknights taken up by practices.

Anyhow, I finally got to witness this 'operation' on Saturday, and was greatly encouraged by the church participation in this ministry. But it was also encouraging to see folks embrace a mindset intent on blessing the community. The ministry is simply called Boyette sports (instead of Redeemer Sports), because it is intended to bless the Boyette area community and serve them by offering a cheaper, more time efficient place for families to enjoy a Saturday together.

Ultimately, one dude saw a need (those lacking money/time) in his community and encouraged the church to help meet it. Different churches do different things. We're doing a coffeehouse/art show again this year in hopes to give both the church and the community a chance to see some creative gifts. In the end, we want to be a church (and individuals) who bless our community. So much so that if we were to disappear, or spontaneously combust (it happened to the Spinal Tap drummer), our communities would seriously miss us. Can we say that about our churches or homes? I think that's a good question to continuously ask.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Faith like a child

I had to get to church a little bit early today to move chairs back into place. Randy was already there, along with his son Collin and another young adult who had anticipated practicing music-not setting up chairs. Collin, as usual, was full of questions this morning.

I was greeted by, "When the Israelites were enslaved, were they victims of war or was it something else?" Then it moved on to more natural stuff like Orca Sharks and the Ice Age-typical 6 year old questions. He really does ask me some good questions; in fact I've come to expect good questions from him.

And he didn't disappoint. While we were setting up the chairs, he asked, "Can you let me know whenever the church needs something done, so I can come up here and help?" Wow.

When I think of faith like a child, I tend to think of someone who simply believes because God says it in His word. But this child's faith also included participation and connection to the local church. And I think that's part of child-like faith: a simple connection and desire to serve the church. Not serving out of guilt or to escape problems at home, but out of true desire. Some have this faith, and some don't. But this is the kind of faith worth praying for. And I need to pray like this because even pastors (who HAVE to serve the church), are to do it not out of compulsion but instead with eagerness (I Peter 5:2). Thanks for the reminder Collin.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hospitality

Wed afternoon an acquaintance called me up to ask if he could spend the night. That night. He needed to get to a meeting at our church very early. I told him that I would get back with him as soon as I talked with my wife (I'm trying get better at not making decisions without her).

As soon as I talked with Amy, we felt it would be a good use of our baby's room right now. Just this week I took the bed out of that room, and so I simply put the mattress back on the floor, threw some sheets and pillows on the mattress and went to bed. Since he was arriving at 12 am, I left a key under the mat and then prayed it was him when the door opened at midnight. It was and so everything was fine. A shower and few bowls of cereal later, and we said our goodbye's. Not really a big deal sacrifice on my part. But it meant a ton to him.

What struck me was one of his comments before he came, "I don't know you that well (and he didn't, but since he was a 'legend' at RTS-I did know all about him) and feel guilty about asking to stay." Certainly, at the very least, a Christian brother, ought not feel guilty or even weired when asking to stay for the night.

I think most of us probably would have felt 'weird' if not guilty, if put in his same situation (though some of us would have asked a few days earlier). Why is this? Shouldn't we be so gracious with our homes that people wouldn't feel weird in asking? That they could approach us with their need? I know there is always a sense of weirdness when we display our dependence upon others, but some of it comes from the idea that a home belongs to ME. Sharing it with others is optional. Having others in it is optional. But its really not optional. We are blessed to bless others. Period.

Some folks at my church have astounded me with their hospitality (among other things like showing mercy to members in need!). Its challenged me greatly and for that I'm grateful. They've expressed to the world that their house is really not theirs to hog, but theirs to share. And its theirs to share, because they understand know God is responsible for them having such a home. Its His house, and they are the stewards of the house. All we have is ultimately His.

Things are always easier to share if they aren't ours, aren't they? A bag of chips, 6 pack of beer, kayak, money, etc...Well it should be the same way with our homes. And it shouldn't be weird for renters or many (or some) 'homeowners' since the bank owns just as much as we do! When we begin to view our homes as His and not OUR own private sanctuary to ourselves, I think we'll open them up more to others. I certainly need to think more along these lines, and I so I thought I'd pass it on your way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not tuning people out

As good as our speaker was at the conference, I could have missed all this great stuff if I had let some peripheral stuff he alluded to on Friday night bother me. He of course used the trendy word, "Christ-follower" instead of "Christian," and had a misunderstanding (in my opinion) on the place of corporate (Sunday church) worship.

Lately I have found it incredibly helpful to learn from others outside our own theological camps without completely embracing questionable or distinctive doctrine. I've enjoyed John Stott, but I will not embrace his understanding of Hell (very questionable). I love and have learned from John Piper and Marc Driscoll, but I'll not abandon my belief in infant baptism (distinctive). I've been challenged by Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What and Bill Hybell's Just Walk Across the Room video series, but I'll not embrace their soteriology (the how of salvation; not reformed-distinctive). Our comm group has really benefited from Hybell's emulation of Jesus' methodology of evangelism: being an actual friend to "sinners."

I love Reformed PCA writers like Tim Keller and Randy Pope, but there's a number of folks out there who will continue to challenge and encourage me. Yet I doubt I will ever depart from my Presbyterian distinctives. Nevertheless, the body of Christ at large has much to offer, even those who are outside your normal comfort zone. Perhaps even people who use trendy language like "Christ-followers" instead of "Christian."

A great weekend

Last Friday and Saturday were busy days for me, my wife, and 3 appreciated and very helpful volunteers. We, along with over 12 other churches, had our annual Disciple Now weekend. Just like last year, Stuart Hall came in and delivered some incredibly relevant, humorous, and challenging talks.

The first night Stuart took a page out of "John Piper's playbook (of course Johnny Pittsburgh as we call him 'stole' most of his stuff from Jonathon Edwards)" on having a deep passion for God. We have settled for less than God offers as we are far too easily satisfied (C.S. Lewis, and Jeremiah 2 if you want to get technical). Even our obedience has become duty instead of delight, and very often pastors can lead to that problem. So that hit me in the gut. But in the words of Mellencamp, it "hurt so good." I needed it.

He concluded the final two sessions addressing the males and females, respectively, respectfully, but truthfully. Really truthfully. Guys were reminded that our specific struggle related to validating ourselves through what we do: am I good enough, do I have what it takes? Clips from movies like 300 and Saving Private Ryan helped illustrate his point. If illustrations are priceless, movie clips are one step better than that.

The ladies were hit the hardest for sure. He challenged them with the fact that women want to hear someone tell them they are beautiful, loved, cherished. And of course he showed clips from the
Titanic, The Notebook, and The Wedding Singer.

Ultimately only through Christ are these deep longings met. Yet he reserved the sharpest criticism to young ladies who often ignore the fact they have been bought at a price, and have cheapened themselves in settling for less. Anyone who will look at them (he hit the heart issue behind the way girls often dress) or tell them they look 'hot' or will make out with them is who they will settle for. And this is so often the case, isn't it? How many women settle for losers/deadbeats simply because they fail to grasp that Christ has already displayed their worth before the world?

This post was getting really long, so I'll continue some more thoughts on it later. However, because of my leaders that I trusted, I was able to miss the talk directed at the guys. Instead I accompanied Amy at the Baby class and saw some disgusting slide shows and I learned how to put a diaper on a baby doll. My first. Seriously.

The church needs leaders who will step up and do the work of ministry. And my leaders did just that: leading group studies, loving on the youth, and having deep conversations with them. It was beautiful to see God's church at work and how expendable I am! The more expendable I am the better.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Polk county reminds us why we study history

Unless you're completely out of the loop, you've heard of the "Polk County's finest" who beat up another cheerleader. Wisely, one of them video-taped everything and so it appeared on You-Tube. I'm not sure if one of them posted it, or if the cops posted it afterwards. Feel free to let me know who was responsible for the posting.

Regardless, video taping their malfeasance was on the other side of brilliant. It really was. Beating up a helpless lass reminds us of the affects of sin on the heart. Videotaping it reminds us again, that sin also affects our minds. We are dumber because of sin's presence in our world.

Sometimes we can limit acting on our stupidity by looking at history. A wise man (not sure who) once said that he who doesn't study history is doomed to repeat it. These young ladies probably didn't know about Richard Nixon and the Watergate recordings. I've done stupid stuff in my life (not stealing government information or anything like that), but Nixon's mistakes certainly taught me NEVER to videotape myself in the act!

Studying Church History can really keep us from repeating mistakes which have already been dealt with in the past. They can also actively help guide us as we deal with philosophical, missional, theological issues for today. None of us will probably video tape ourselves committing heresy, but we can save ourselves from much error as we look to the issues which have confronted the church throughout its history.

This post is not meant to be polemical against any particular person; it was primarily inspired by some rationally challenged teenage girls who right now, have to be scared to death as they face life sentences for a few very bad ideas.

Busyness artice in Herald

Here is a the link to my article from the Bradenton Herald. This time I have no 'beef' with them for changing the title. I forgot to give one. Maybe its just what psychologists call "learned helplessness:" subconsciously, why try when it never works?

Anyhow, they did leave out two particular sentences. Now these forgotten sentences didn't change the overall point of the article. But they did however, in my opinion, perhaps, slightly alter the tone of the article. It sounded as though I think of myself as just as busy as the busiest person. That is not true, nor do I hope that to be true. Some people are objectively busier than others. That truth was left out. Nevertheless, the evaluative questions I raise in the article can, and I think ought to be asked by us all. I have to ask them regularly so that my calendar doesn't fill up without thinking of relationships with my wife and family, (and soon to be kid), my church family, outside the church family, neighbors, etc...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reason for God

For one of our Christian Ed classes, we will be discussing Tim Keller's The Reason for God. It is a fantastic and easy read, and provides great insight not only for the non-believer to deal with, but also for the believer. We are constantly coming under attack from our own doubts, and so the book can be a helpful resource to strengthen the faith of the believer as well. For more info on the book, click here.

Keller, borrowing heavily from people who've gone before him (but expressing more clearly) operates from the pre-suppositional apologetic method. In layman's terms, this is a method which assumes that people are holding on to some sort of truth already, but they are suppressing it. So instead of attacking simply with external evidences (they are not neglected but used to supplement), the questions then are directed at the unbeliever's/believer's doubts. Their doubts actually require a greater step of faith.

This method assumes that every belief, whether in God or human rationality has some starting point requiring faith (read Romans 1:18-ff). In other words, every truth claim is ultimately circular. How does one know that the scientific method alone can lead to truth? How can there be no absolute truth? Ultimately it's circular. I believe that because it makes the most sense or feels right (faith in personal rationality or feeling). All claims come back to faith in God or faith in self to determine what is good, true, beautiful (what Adam and Eve did way back when). Proverbs 1:7 gives us the correct starting point: fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Keller tackles a number of common and specific objections to the Christian faith and shows that these objections really require a greater step of faith. A middle age (not middle-aged) Church father Anselm said we must believe that we may understand, instead of understand that we may believe (Aquinas). Keller invites people into the Christian worldview, which does make more sense of the world, and is what folks already somewhat believe (though suppressed).

Another Christian philosopher Pascal reminds us that "Submission-and use of reason; that is what makes true Christianity (Pensees XIII 167)." Of course the former comes first, and that's why I have enjoyed Keller's approach in The Reason for God.

I would highly recommend reading the book, but also listen to his lecture and Q and A at Cal-Berkeley and at Google. Here's the YouTube of his Google presentation. Yes he actually got invited to speak at Google. How cool is that? If you want the MP3 format from either of these-I just listened instead of watching them-leave me a post with your email address. I'd be happy to send it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Doppler Effect

On Tuesday, the doctor we were supposed to have went to a baseball game. That's OK though because we really can't understand what he says anyway. And he probably wouldn't have let me do what the midwife did: use the doppler thing.

Now when you hear the word "doppler" you probably think weather. I did too. But this doppler thing actually is something doctors, midwifes, and folks like me (sometimes) use to check out the baby's heartbeat. And in my humble opinion, it sounded like a good heartbeat. Its slowing down now to about 135 or so beats per minute. Of course I checked with the midwife just to be sure, but I knew what I was doing.

They have these doppler things on E-bay nowadays, but I figured I would probably rather spend large sums of money on the child when he/she is actually outside the womb. Nothing against the child or doppler things. Maybe its just me...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Women on the court vs. Women in the church

Someone called one of the morning sports talk shows I listen to on Tuesday. It was the day after the men's NCAA championship and she wanted to talk some women's hoops. Mistake number one. Apparently the Final Four was in Tampa this year. Who knew? Needless to say her air time was short lived.

Most dudes I know don't watch, follow, or care about women's basketball. My reasoning is this: I don't want to watch a slower game in which layups make the highlight reel. I can lay it up. I can't dunk. I want to watch people do something I can't do (I know several women can dunk, but it doesn't look nearly as cool).

Regardless, most men don't respect what women can do on the basketball court. But when it comes to the church, men must be careful not to take the same approach. As much as I don't like watching (I'm not arguing against its existence!) women's basketball, the opposite could be said of how highly I view women in the church.

I've personally been blessed by women in the church throughout my life. Obviously my mother has played a huge part in my life, as has my grandmother. But there have also been some more obscure folks who've just been around me for a season.
One particular lady about 8 years ago listened to me when I was at my lowest battling anxiety. And on another occasion she flat out rebuked me for speaking against my church. I'll never forget that-I needed it!

Just thinking about my own church now, I'm thankful for all of the "women's work." In addition to shepherding their own children, women here have taken initiative in ministry, reached out to neighbors, led discussions and bible studies, mentored others, served behind the scenes, shown mercy to those who didn't deserve mercy, provided me necessary encouragement at just the right time, etc....Without women serving in the church, we would miss so much that only women bring to the table. I don't think I could be part of a church that didn't hold a high view of women, and recognized the necessity of them being actively involved in the ministry of the church.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Our latest excorcism

According to Randy Greenwald, last week we had an excorcism of sorts. Our friends with the spray paint were back to leave us a clever little message on our church sign: "Satan." Actually come to think of it, they could have thought of something more original. A lot more original. Nevertheless, I shan't judge them by their lack of originality. They're probably just kids, eh?

Regardless, what was really quite encouraging was how one chap exorcised our demons (or the biggest demon of all) for us. He actually is a member of our sister church Cornerstone of Lakewood Ranch, and the reason we know this is because someone 'busted' him removing "Satan" from our sign.

He lived in the area and saw a need, knew how to erase the paint, and 'got to it.' Unprovoked, unasked, he just saw the need, felt the passion, and served. This 'grassroots' desire to serve is exactly what we hope to see at Hope, and at any church for that matter. People who see needs within the church and in the community, have a passion to meet those needs (and take some others with them), and simply 'get to it.'

So in light of one of my posts a week or two ago, "We salute you, Mr. Unasked Satan Spray paint remover guy."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Things I learned at the mall

If you are debating whether or not to have, or when to have kids, don't go to the mall. Amy and I are having a kid, and are really excited, but our recent trip to the mall gave us something to think about. Or rather worry about.

First there were the teenage girls wearing long belts for shorts and giving their breasts as much oxygen as possible. I guess these girls fear that if their breasts don't get enough oxygen, they'll turn blue or something. But that's really not true-they'll be just fine if fully covered. Nevertheless we really did feel compassion for these girls. Seriously.

Next we saw many dudes that looked like, well, like I would not want my kid looking. I'll never get the skin tight jeans that dudes wear these days. The jeans we saw even tapered at the bottom, just to make sure the ankles were included in the tightness.

We of course had ideas of how we wouldn't let our daughter out of the house looking like that and how our boy could buy those tight jeans with his own money. But I really discovered a lot more about myself than just future parenting strategies.

Amy and I were expressing the difference between compassion and prejudice. For the most part (our motives are never 100% pure), we felt compassion on these girls because they had fallen prey to a worldly picture of how girls should act, interact, dress, etc...Their lack of clothes expressed more than a fashion statement. Jesus had compassion on those who had no shepherd but the status quo.

For the lads, I saw their tight jeans and immediately judged them. Simply by their appearance and nothing else. My evaluation of them had nothing to do with their heart. I was concerned my child would one day look like them. This exposed to me how I was way different than Jesus. He hung around folks who didn't look socially acceptable. And he rebuked those who did look good on the outside.

So I had to repent and realize that while tight jeans are not my style, they are not inherently sinful. Not my taste, but not sinful like my own judgmental heart. Things I learned at the mall.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Reason for the Season

One of the reasons why I needed to get back from vacation was because of a Candidates Committee meeting. I'm the chair of the committee, so it doesn't look good when I skip it; and I'm not really sure if that's a possibility anyway. Anyhow, our committee oversees (the best we can) potential ministers who spend time developing their gifts in their respective churches for a season.

In addition to tough oral examinations which require extensive study (so that the minister can articulate difficult theological truths, not just know them), the candidate has to do an internship lasting the equivalent of a year. It is during this time when his gifts are developed, tested, discovered, etc....It may be that the candidate may find things he is not gifted in at all and that may affect his ministry direction. And vice versa.

That's why its so important to surround this candidate with people who can speak love and truth into his life. What gifts does he display? What are his weaknesses? How are those gifts being developed and tweaked? He can't do this on his own.

A self-evaluation misses tons of stuff. I mean you really don't know your weaknesses and strengths, nor can you tell what needs to be improved, perpetuated, dropped unless you have people involved in your life. Ignoring and seeking this feedback time is quite comfortable, but also quite irresponsible.

More than just having a 'feeling of calling' or folks who simply say, "You're our man," without a season of testing and developing, the candidate can say, "God's people have seen proof that He has indeed called and gifted me for ministry." Having this season benefits both the church and pastor, particularly in tough seasons that will certainly lay ahead.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

When a fort is more than just a fort


Well, we're back from St. Augustine and thankful for the 'mini'-vacation. Always nice to get away for a bit and feel refreshed. Neither of us slept all that well, both because of me. Amy's pregnancy kept her up, and eating late night white-chocolate peanut butter fudge wasn't a good idea for me.

Anyhow, I do want to make one last post about the city we left behind. Perhaps the most famous (and my favorite) part of St. Augustine is the fort, also known as Castillo de San Marcos. The cool thing about the fort is that it was attacked numerous times, and even flew several different flags. But those different flags were not the result of breaching the fort. Each one came about by treaty.

The fort was never taken. Even a month's worth of British canon balls in the 1700's didn't do the trick.

The fort was constructed exclusively from coquina: a local rock, fairly soft, and loaded with shells. So when folks fired canon balls, the walls of the fort would literally 'suck' them in and be no worse for wear. I can only imagine the frustration of soldiers firing those things for a month.

The bible describes God as a refuge and fortress. Forts today are cool, but they are no big deal. We don't really need them, so they're just cool or interesting. Yet for several hundred or so, several hundred years ago, this fort would have been more than a cool thing. It would have been shelter. It would have been a refuge. Folks and even their livestock fled there and found safety during attacks.

Looking at the fort as a monument (knowledge about) and looking at the fort as a refuge (experiential) would give one a totally different perspective. Often times God throws stuff our way so that we would stop simply reading about Him (still a good thing to read the bible, books, blogs, etc...) and start experiencing Him as a refuge. Coming to him out of interest is different than coming out of great need.

But we're always needy, just sometimes we don't realize it. However when attacks come, we realize our need, and get to experience and find delight in God as our refuge.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Listening" to ghost stories

We're about to check out of our 30 square foot room in about 10 minutes. The stay was nice. The owner of the bed and breakfast was not nice. How do you run a B&B and not be friendly?

Fortunately the Breakfast was also nice. And so were the people eating it (not just Amy and myself). Some of the folks from yesterday were back eating with us this morning. I made the mistake of asking how the Ghost Tour was last night. He then proceeded to tell me of all the ghostly encounters of his own life. Ghosts from both sides of the family. I thought he might stop after one. Then two. Then three. Then four. Then back to the first.

I learned a lot about my listening skills. They are for from perfect. They are far from good, especially when it is material (or immaterial in this case) I don't care about. But I think we're supposed to listen as best we can. Why would James 1 tell us to be quick to listen about things we already are 'in to?' And I don't think he's only referring to sermons or alluding to fishing shows-both of which are easier to listen to then this man.

If nothing else, listening may give us a not-so-abrupt way to change the conversation. And maybe the 'conversation leap' from spirits to the Holy Spirit won't be so large.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The father of Florida winter residence?

Today was a fairly active day, at least fairly active for someone with only 7 weeks left to deliver. We learned a lot about this amazing town, much of which I'd love to share in a different format. Maybe through "face-talking." Also known simply as talking, or conversation. Someone actually called it that. Crazy.

But for now, I think I know who to 'blame' for the phenomenon of Florida winter residence. It is kind of a phenomenon really, even though animals do it. But they don't have the benefit of actual shelter, heating, grocery stores and the like.

Anyhow, Henry Flagler may be the father of this phenomenon, or behavior, if you want to call it that. In the late 1800's, Flagler, co-founder of the lucrative Standard Oil Company, erected the lavish, ahead of the times, colossal hotel Ponce de Leon.

If you were loaded, you could come down to this hotel. The catch? You had to stay from January through March. Even if it wasn't a leap year, that's a long time. Of course you didn't have to stay (it wasn't the Hotel California), but you had to pay for the whole three months up front with cash. So rich northerners often ended up staying the whole three months.

Eventually the Great Depression hit and the hotel lost its luster a bit. But then cold fronts hit too and people made their way farther south. Winter residence soon became a way of life for more than just the wealthy-although I'm still not exactly sure how people swing that. Anyhow, I just found it interesting that Flagler gets credit for a lot of stuff, but not this. He may deserve more credit for other things as well. Amy and I found it interesting since both of us grew up not really hearing much about 'winter residence.'