Thursday, July 31, 2008

An interesting "conversation:" take three: TOP TEN WAYS TO AVOID PERSECUTION

This should be my final post relating to our friend the "conversationalist." And seriously, I'm glad that we had the "conversation."

He brought up a solid point about persecution. Persecution will exist for believers. Jesus said that folks weren't fans of him, so folks would not be fans of his followers. Obviously some folks were fans of Jesus-they would clicked "become a fan of Jesus" links on Facebook, if they had Facebook or internet for that matter back then-and so some folks will be fans of Christians. Non-Christians can be our fans. I've shared the gospel with friends who are still my friends. So its not ONLY evangelism that causes persecution.

But we cannot ignore what Jesus says, though we often play the out-of-sight-out-of-mind game with scriptures we don't like.

To say that we'll be persecuted the same way in the U.S. as in Asia is the other side of ludicrous. People aren't allowed to sell our kids to slavery, throw us in jail, and beat us senseless (at least this is not normal practice here). So instead of focusing on what it would look like, I'd like to reflect upon "how" we may get that point of persecution. Or rather, "how not" to get to that point.

So here is my Top Ten ways NOT to get legitimately persecuted for your faith (as opposed to methodology or personality.) BTW-These sound angry, but I'm not angry at all. Most of them I put down because I've experienced them personally or "a guy I know" has struggled with them.

1o.) Don't ever point out sins in other professing Christians. Keep quiet and pretend you are just loving them.
9.) NEVER intentionally direct conversations toward anything which could eventually lead to the gospel
8.) Always stay shallow. If you only talk about Fishing and Football, you'll be safe and never offend anyone.
7.) Be like Oprah. Agree with everyone, and don't ask others to question "questionable" things. If you disagree or question anyone, you could be labeled "intolerant" and will not be The Nice Guy everyone likes.
6.) Don't have any standards in who you date. As long as they have a pulse, it doesn't matter if they are Christian or non-Christian.
5.) Blend in with unbelievers. Behave just like them. Drink as much as them, use the same language as them, have the same aspirations and life goals.
4.) Don't love your neighbors, and for goodness sakes, don't seek out new relationships with unbelievers. If you love folks, you might actually enter into their lives and they could reject you. On the contrary, if you isolate yourself, no one can hurt you.
3.) Just live for the American dream. Don't care about missions or your local community.
2.) Don't ever invite someone to church, bible study, or give them a book to discuss.
1.) This is the most important one, on which all of the aforementioned hinge. Forget the security you have in Christ. If you forget the security you have in Him alone, you'll seek approval from others and always try to keep them happy. Impossible, but you'll do your best to hide any truth that they will need.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An interesting "conversation:" take two

I referred to a third category of thought in my last post regarding an interesting "conversation" I had with a visitor at church. And by the way, if this post makes no sense, I now officially have no excuse (Connar, my 2 month old, has slept through the night on consecutive nights for the first time in his young career).

This visiting lad spoke to me of persecution in the context of evangelism. Jesus said that we would be persecuted. So did Paul to Timothy in the third chapter of his 2nd recorded correspondence: "anyone who wishes to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

That's a pretty darn challenging verse. If you are a true Christian (not just professing one), you want to live a godly life. And if the conditions of "A" are met, then "B" will inevitably follow.

The question is what does this look like on a daily level? In other words, how does this persecution come to us? Do we bring it on ourselves through evangelism and the persecution is their immediate response to us? Do we bring it on ourselves by living godly lives, and that inevitably offends people (i.e. not letting people cheat, confronting sin and injustice, etc...)? Or do we bring it on more through our methodology (how we share the gospel, disciple, discipline, teach, etc..) than our theology (understanding of God that we communicate with others)? And if that methodology brings about persecution, should that be subject to change?

First of all, in an attempt to make my blog entries shorter, I will just address one area of this idea of persecution and non-Christians (and unrepentant professing Christians) not liking us.

Let me give an example from my college ministry experience. Most big colleges-and UCF is a big college-have shouting evangelists in the designated "free speech" areas. They shout for people to repent. They really have no clue who they are shouting against. They have no clue of personal struggles, personal idols, or the personal beliefs that are stumbling blocks to even sitting down and talking about the gospel (and these must be addressed or people won't listen).

And they get made fun of. That's not being persecuted for Jesus' sake. That's being persecuted for not loving people where they are at. The shouting evangelist is hyperbole. You're probably not one per se. But if we fail to listen to others (which ticks people off), and simply make them listen to us, I wonder if that's really persecution. It's more likely that we're being persecuted for being a jerk and not loving others well.

So in some ways, I think we may offend people by the methodology, and not the gospel. And that's neither the kind of persecution that is promised nor is it 'good.' So if its only the methodology that's bringing persecution, that ought to be evaluated.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An interesting "conversation"

I had an interesting conversation (although I had to take more of a listening and defensive posture, so I say 'conversation' for lack of a better word) after church this Sunday. The subject matter included evangelism. I love it when someone I don't know comes up and tries to tell me using preselected passages from the bible (ignoring one's that I pointed out) in an geographical area he knows nothing about (you can't go door-to-door evangelizing in this neighborhood when they won't even come to the door for carolers!), how to do ministry. Specifically evangelism.

After I left the 'conversation' (it would have never ended), I had a few thoughts, some positive, some negative, and some I don't know. I'll pursue the latter tomorrow.

1.) Positive-I'm a crock pot evangelist (wish I could say that I coined that phrase) who believes in sharing the content of the gospel in the context of hospitality, community, community groups/bible studies, church (preached word), and one-on-one relationships. Folks like me, who focus on the context can sometimes neglect or put off sharing or discussing the content of the gospel. We may not be intentional in looking for opportunities that WILL come up in conversations. So I need to surround myself, or at least be in communication (or accosted by out of town church visitors) with folks who are 'quicker on the draw.' This man was and he reminded of the sense of urgency that must be considered. None of us are promised tomorrow. So I'm glad we had the 'conversation' even though it bothered me some. It did challenge me.

2.) Negative-If you ignore the context of relationships and mercy, I think you neglect to do evangelism the way Paul the apostle did (Paul was his example for why you need to go up to pretty much everybody you see and ask them, "If you were to die today....."). I Thessalonians 2:8 reminds us that Paul's missionary team shared not only the gospel of God but "our lives as well." That spells relational ministry to me.

If one ignores the context, there is danger not only in ignoring relationships, but in ignoring real Kingdom work. For instance on Saturday, we worked from 8a-12 pm on a Habitat for Humanity house. Foundation work is a blast. But even if we are never able to share the gospel with those who eventually move into the house, we played a part in bringing the Kingdom (God's invisible perfect will done perfectly in heaven) down to Earth. And there is a real danger in ignoring stuff like that if one thinks that saving souls is the only thing that matters 'down here.'

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Changing Table

I used to think changing my kid's diaper would be like eating vegetables: a necessary evil. However, it has really become a delight. I love changing Connar's diaper. Well, usually. Since I don't usually do much breast feeding, this is our time to bond. This is THE time I'm guaranteed to get him to smile at me and do his baby noises. The Changing Table is one of my new favorite places.

I guess I'm learning a bit more about how God as a Father delights over His children (Zeph 3). When we sing in Sunday worship, I think its kind of like "cooing" before our heavenly Father. I think Sunday worship is like a big changing Table. Instead of the sound of one coo, there is a chorus of coos. And I know our Heavenly Father delights in the sound of His children even more than I delight in Connar's enjoyment. Our delight in our heavenly Father brings Him the most glory.

Here's a short video of Connar's changing table excitement (and his mom and dad's as well).

Friday, July 25, 2008

The evil that men do lives after them....

This is just a" follow-up post" reflecting on Marc Antony's Soliloquy in Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar: "the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." Providentially, yesterday, was the 25th Anniversary of George Brett's pine tar incident. He used more pine tar than was allowed (allegedly) and his game winning walk-off homer instead became just the last out of the game. The evil Yankees won.

But George Brett is a Hall of Famer. He has over 3000 hits, which is way good, and a career batting average above 3oo. But the first thing I think of George Brett is him running crazily and angrily on the field to argue this call. In fact I just found out Amy's Uncle Earl played ball with Brett down in Sarasota in the 70's. Apparently he's a heck of a fisherman and a nice guy. But when he mentioned George Brett, the first thing I brought up was the pine tar incident of 1983 (in which he is sorry for).

Oh the evil that men do does live after them. If you think of Bill Buckner (who had a great career), you think of his error that cost the Red Sox the World Series. Fortunately. If you hear the name Scott Norwood, you think of him missing the field goal that sent the Buffalo Bills to their 4th straight Superbowl loss.

If we only did this with sports figures that would be one thing. But we do this with people who have wronged us as well. I look back on my past and see myself doing this. For instance, I saw a high school classmate's name pop up on facebook and one thing popped in my mind (that was the guy who talked his way out of his responsibility for a ticket only to convince the cop it was solely my fault-its a long story and don't have time to tell it). That's the only thing I remember! of him. One of my college friends showed gracious hospitality to me over the years, paying for expensive dinners (never really sure where he got the money, though), and for a long time-not any more-the only thing that I remembered was his driving past my broken down Volvo in South Carolina.

Everything in us wants to run to the one 'evil' that lives on in our hearts and minds. But I think the gospel enables us to remember the many good things that people do to us as well. And remember those. And again, I would hope that people don't ignore the things I do well, and only remember my failures. So I we ought to do what we expect others to do for us, eh?

Here's the video of George's "evil" that has caused people to forget his great baseball achievements.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A different take on Thomas

As I was studying John 11 yesterday I came upon a few verses that made me think a little more than usual.

....Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." 8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?"....Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 So Thomas, called the Twin,(1 )said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Here are a few thoughts:

1.) Thomas is known for one thing: his doubt. Yet at this point he has no problem with risking his life to stay be Jesus' side (and encourages his boys to do the same), even though the 'goons' have it out for Jesus. As Shakespeare (via Marc Antony) reminds us, "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones." Doubting Thomas was ready for the stones, and all we remember of him is his failure to believe. I wonder what my bad nickname I'll have after I'm gone.

2.) It's amazing to me that a man would find it easier to risk his life than to believe that Jesus truly did bodily rise from the grave. It took Jesus himself showing up and setting the records straight for Thomas to believe the resurrection really happened. For many people, it's the other way around. Believing isn't as hard; it's the facing persecution that can become a stumbling block. Different folks have different struggles. Some struggle more with intellectual matters, some struggle more with fear. Of course the Holy Spirit is aids us in dealing with either or both. That's our advantage.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Missions Rap

Different folks in different contexts have different styles of worship which honor God the same. And during some worship services there will be a prelude, or an offertory, which is sung, instead of merely played. It is not for the congregation to sing, but to reflect upon. And by reflecting we participate. I personally love this time.

I don't know exactly what part of the service this clip fits into, but it is definitely unique, biblical, and challenging. It's a rap song. While I don't usually dabble into the rap scene, I still think it is legitimate and God honoring. Yes, even in church. Click here to watch some rap which is couched in this theology: missions exists because worship does not, so send me. In other words, God is not worshiped by many folks, so let us reach them for His glory. Wherever they are.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pastor and Politician

I'm really not super politically minded. I understand the importance, at least somewhat (I'm referring to my understanding here) of being well versed and aware of politics. I watched an interview with McCain the other day and had some thoughts.

One of the reasons I find it hard to follow politicians is something that really isn't their fault. At least not totally. They really have to look like they have it all together. And I get that, in part. People wouldn't vote for them. And it seems like they really can't admit their faults. They can't be broken because people attack that brokenness. And if they were on one side of an issue, they really can't re-evaluate and change later, because if they do so, they're blamed for flip-flopping.

I'm glad I'm allowed to evaluate my philosophy and practice of ministry without being accused of flip-flopping. But if someone accused me of flip-flopping, I wouldn't mind. I'd just say "Always Reforming (I'll spare you the Latin)." That was the battle cry of the early protestant reformers.

Anyhow, I follow people most closely who will recognize they are broken. If they've never admitted their weaknesses, need for prayer, apologized, then that person will not get my 'vote.'
Pastors need to continually be reminded not to walk the road of the unbroken politician. So do all folks who lead. From churches to families. Fortunately my senior pastor has modeled that well for me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The End of the Tour de Preaching

I finished up my "preaching tour" of the Southwest, well Southwest FL Presbytery. I had a few "home games" and a few "away games." I finished up the tour on the road in Riverview, FL. Before the worship service officially started, we had the opportunity of hearing how God had impacted middle school youth group on their week long camp last week.

One of the little lads exclaimed, like the 80's smash hit-though he probably wasn't quoting it, because I'm sure had never heard of it or Dirty Dancing-"I had the time of my life." He said it was the best week of his whole life.

He had been challenged greatly and wanted to learn how to live out his faith, "sticking out" among other simply by his life. Then he told the congregation something to the effect of, "I want to be able to share my faith with my friends, but I have no idea what to do. If anyone wants to help me, you know where to find me..."

I was blown away. What humility to confess weakness, uncertainty, and the need for his community to assist him. I assured him I often feel the same way about evangelsim and a lot of other things, and I have to ask for help often. I of course used him as an example of the need for discipleship. But I what alluded to was his attitude. What would churches be like if not only youth, but adults were to embrace his posture? I want to grow, and I would love for someone in particular, and my church community in general, to assist me in that discipleship. I really wanted to go over there and hug that kid. But I think he would have thought I was a bit weird. Maybe next time I will, knowing that he'd be in good company.

Here's a short video of Connar using his new "bumbo." Unfortunately he thinks its a toilet.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fireproof and Evangelism

Last night Amy and I had a hot date. Literally. We went to a free screening of a movie called Fireproof at a place called Marriage Works (a marital ministry that looked pretty cool) in Bradenton. Because I'm some big shot pastor (yeah right), people can get a hold of my email without too much homework. I'm assuming this ministry sent out a ton of emails to people in the area asking if they would be interested in a free screening of this movie. And free Chick-Fil-A. Oh, about the "hot part." It was way hot with all the pastors, ministry, and community leaders crammed into the room.

From the people who brought you Facing the Giants comes Fireproof. Some time in September for the lay folk. Sorry for bragging. The plot takes you inside the struggling marriage of a fire fighter who encounters the gospel and the possibility of a renewed marriage. I was skeptical of how much Amy and I would enjoy it, since I don't really like "Christian" movies-though I did like Midnight Clear which I saw a few weeks ago on recommendation from a friend. I actually did like it. I was drawn into the story, which I guess is what makes a movie "good," at least in part.

The acting was fairly bad and the jokes were cheesy. But I still laughed. If I told you Stephen Baldwin was NOT in it, then can you guess who played the fire fighter? Its a no-brainer. Yep, Kirk Cameron. He was decent, I thought.

We had to fill out cards at the end which indicated whether or not it would be a good outreach movie. Sending non-Christians to movies to hear the gospel may work. But I can't imagine sending my kayak fishing buddies to it though. But maybe a neighbor or two.

My view of evangelism takes place in relationships, hospitality, and community, as opposed to in a theater. Why can't I just tell them myself? But do I?

When I left, I realized that many attending that night WERE those type of people who would bring their unbelieving friends to such a movie. And that's good. People will hear the gospel. But what would I do? I can say that I believe the gospel is to be proclaimed in relationships, in hospitality, in dialog, in mercy, etc...But if I never actually verbally discuss, speak to, investigate with, or preach (at church by bringing folks) the content of the gospel, and the response of repentance and faith, then my style of evangelism is not really evangelism. That hit me hard.

I have a few folks in mine that I could bring with/send to a movie like this. But otherwise, our hot date really challenged me to be more intentional in seeking opportunities to dialog with and discuss the content of the gospel.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Connar and the Pacifier Cycle

I'm pretty excited about Connar's sleeping. He went 6 hours last night between feedings! From 12:00-6:00 am. Unfortunately he sleeps like the Bucs played after they won their Super Bowl in 2003. He has yet to put back-to-back "wins" together and will probably go for three hours tonight. But there's some promise....

Anyhow, one thing we do to try to calm him and make him sleepy is to use the pacifier. It has quite the soporific effect. Sometimes Connar loves the pacifier. Sometimes he spits it out. And as soon as he spits it out, he wants it back in. He enjoys the pacifier, then spits it back out. And sometimes he won't take it at all.

I think Connar's use of the pacifier parallels our own desire for intimacy and relationship. At some levels, we crave intimacy. To be known, to be known deeply. Yet we are scared to be known because we don't want people to really know our thoughts and hearts. Their filled with all kinds of stuff. We're ashamed, and so we pull away. And yet don't want to be unknown and so we draw close only to spit the relational pacifier right back out. Sometimes we don't want to have anything to do with intimacy.

We were created for relationship and intimacy because we are created in God's image. Because God is Trinitarian (deep relational intimacy existing among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and we're made to reflect something about Him, we obviously are made for relationships and intimacy. Yet sin entered the world and Adam and Eve hid from God and each other by covering themselves with leaves. They spit the proverbial first pacifier out on the ground. And we've been spitting it out, and crying for it to be put back in, and enjoying it, and then spitting it out again, and refusing it back. And so goes the pacifier cycle.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Point of Clarification

I was listening to my sermon introduction from Sunday yesterday and something stood out. I would like to clarify something, particularly in light of my "Holy Spirit Trump Card" post. I truly did feel led by the Spirit to preach on the specific parable of the unmerciful servant. Allow me to explain myself.

Since I'm not going verse by verse through a particular book in the bible like I normally do, I've been preaching through the parables. So I've limited myself to choosing from those parables. Since I'm not going to re-preach the same parable, and there are several similar parables, that leaves a select number to choose from. Within that pool, I looked at a few parables but kept finding myself strangely drawn to the parable of the unmerciful servant. So I said that I "felt led" by the Spirit to preach that passage. I believe that God was leading me to preach that passage. I didn't just open up the bible, close my eyes, and see where my finger landed.

The reason I feel the need to explain myself is because "feeling led" is WAY different than saying, "God told me to say this to you, and you cannot question it!" I'm not a prophet, and I don't think you're one either. However if you say, "I feel led," then we can talk. Maybe you're right, maybe not; that's why we have community. Maybe the Spirit didn't lead me to this passage specifically. But I certainly didn't want to preach on this difficult passage and pleaded with God for wisdom, and that he would not allow any personal hidden agenda to get in the way. And since he plainly states in James 1 that he gives wisdom generously to those who ask, I'll believe He led me to this passage. Of course with the full awareness that I can be mistaken. Yet its no different than all of us being led each day to figure out when to speak, when to shut up, when to share the actual content of gospel, when to just listen, when to hug, when to speak boldly, etc...

Regardless, God's word is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. So if I were wrong, certainly there would be no harm, no foul.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Henderson?

Someone really liked my unconventional methods for interrogation/torture for terrorists. Just read the "Slightly cruel but certainly unusual post." Only for terrorists mind you, not for Yankees or Red Sox fans-though that is tempting. And he suggested I run for president; I assumed of the U.S., since I'm a citizen here. Have been since birth.

Well, apparently word has spread quickly and now it looks like it might not be a simple McCain vs. Obama race. Now it's a three-way race with "Henderson" smack dab in the middle of it. A news channel 3 out of New York has already run a special report. Click on the picture below to check it out. I've got work to do for sure.

Well illustrated sermon

One thing that people remember most easily from a sermon is an illustration. So if a preacher can give a good illustration, he can be more confident that the truth will be more 'accessible' to the hearer throughout the week. Obviously the HS is the one who will convict and apply, but the pastor is called to be a 'workman' and has the responsibility to illustrate and apply the truth-not simply explain what the passage means (that's the first part).

One preacher who uses them as well as anyone to communicate deep biblical truth is Jean Larroux, pastor of Lagniappe Pres. His stories connect you to him, and then he points you to really deep and challenging truths. A good illustration connects the hearer with the preacher. From there he can more effectively lead him/her to drink more deeply from Christ. And since Jesus, the prophets, and Paul all made use of illustration (for teaching, correcting, rebuking, training in righteousness), Jean is in good company.

And you know you're a gifted preacher when folks can do fine with only the audio. A lot of communication is non-verbal, but I don't feel like I'm missing that much by not being present. And since Jean didn't preach when we visited Lagniappe on our mission trip last year, I don't know what I'm missing (since I've never had a visual).

Amy and I have really been 'enjoying' (being challenged as well as encouraged) his sermon series on The Lord's Prayer. I-pods are great. He's called this payer the hardest prayer you'll ever pray. And so far he's "backed it up" from the passage. This one is on "Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven" but you can also click here to find more with their podcast. I often use these sermons for my devotional time on Mondays.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brett Favre and his un-retirement

As a Bucs fan, its nice to see Brett Favre not go back to Green Bay. As a football fan, it would be sad to see him leave. In case you haven't heard (and that would mean that you don't care-in which case this little parenthetical and entire sentence would be mute so I'll stop typing), Favre retired back in March, but now is saying that he was 'pressured' for a decision to retire. I guess by pressure, Favre meant that they wouldn't let him wait until training camp to give them a decision! Of course the Packers say something entirely different. Is one side lying? Did one or both parties misunderstand each other? Happens a lot, but I really don't care about it in this case.

Favre is free to un-retire. That's his prerogative. And because of all that he's done for the Packers, they probably ought to release him. But the question of why he is choosing to un-retire is the subject of my thoughts this lovely morning.

I'm no mind or heart reader, so I'll not accuse the lad of anything specific, but rather try to speak in 'generals.' I don't want him talking to Gretta van Susteren-yes he went on her show yesterday-about me.

For anyone who is an athlete, at least a football player, the training is year round. And for someone who is 38 years old, Favre has probably played football for 30 years. Probably close to 16 at the professional level. When you do something that people praise you for, for that long, you will become tempted to be defined by it. It's WHO you are. It's WHO you have been. When you quit, you're not a football player anymore. I think that's why its so hard for some folks to quit. So they often play for a different team at the end of their careers and end up not doing anyone any favors.

But its really kind of sad. Not so much for their legacy, but (again I'm just saying this could be the case for some; after all its the tendency of the human heart) because folks are easily enslaved to this definition. It's their identity. How can I be someone else? Someone who is not a football player?

Now some folks can become coaches, but they will NEVER be able to define themselves anymore by the title of "Football player." And so the search is on for a new definition, a new identity.

It happens with all of us. The mother who has finished raising her kids (and has done well), the man approaching retirement, the athlete forced to retire early due to injury. Few identities will stand the test of time (such as athlete, mother, employee, pastor, etc...) and all fall short as idols. Our only secure identity is that of child of God. We can't be taken out of His hands, so that's a pretty safe one to stick with.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Slightly Cruel, but certainly unusual

Some folks have problems with torture being used to get important info out of terrorists. I haven't given it a ton of thought, so I won't really take a stab at defending a particular side.

When we think of cruel and unusual punishment, does that then give our government the right to use punishment if something is unusual but not cruel? Can something be unusual but not cruel? And would we be open to trying something that is slightly cruel but certainly unusual? Here's what I'm thinking.

I don't know how successful our present torture tactics are-not to mention I'm sure they're cruel, and perhaps unusual. But I have another idea that might be cruel enough-but not too cruel-and perhaps effective.

What if terrorists were forced to watch really bad movies? What if they were forced to watch Mama Mia, the musical based on Abba's hits? I can't think of any more painful way to spend 2 hours. Or what about Kevin Costner's Waterworld, Shaq's Kazaam (yes, the same Shaq)? Or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's smash hit Gigli? Or From Justin to Kelly? Or Paris Hilton's The Hottie and the Nottie?

Perhaps both parties could rally around this approach. But of course then there might be disagreement on which movies to show. But I bet watching hours of terrible movies like the aforementioned could really shake some security secrets loose. If I've missed any movies that are bad enough to be helpful, please comment.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What a bad economy can do to marriages

There have been a lot of things associated with our economy lately: lower home values, higher gas prices, and lower divorce rates. Could a bad economy actually help marriages? The latter initially surprised me and the subject of a brief spot on The Today Show: divorce rates in certain places were in fact down. In Dade County they were down something like 19%. Is the love in the air? Have people begun to take wedding vows more seriously? Not really, but maybe inadvertently.

The most likely explanation is the housing market. Since a divorce would require the selling of assets, and the house is the most valuable asset, and since that value has drastically decreased, people are holding off on divorce.

Perhaps many of these marriages will continue on miserably until the economy picks up. And then they can cash in. But one psychologist did admit that the slow housing market might be helping marriages in some cases. Some folks are actually seeking counseling to save their marriages. Instead of trying get out quickly, many are now not responding so hastily. They may be willing to put more worth into their marriages since their other main source of worth isn't worth as much. Some may end up salvaging their marriages. Who knows?

While their motivation for giving marriages another chance has sprung largely from monetary reasons, that's still a start. God in His providence may work things into our world, even into our economy, for the good of His children, and even for the good of those outside His Church. After all, he does display goodness, although in different degrees, to both. Remember that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. So does the economy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Holy Spirit Trump Card

Someone the other day told me, "The Holy Spirit told me to say this." Not an exact quote but close enough. Now it is clear that no one can by the Spirit of Christ say something bad about Christ as well (I Cor 12). So that includes those strange folks that say "Jesus told me to kill that my kids." Obviously the heard incorrectly.

But what if someone tells me "The Holy Spirit told me such and such," and that such and such is not contrary to scripture, well then do I have to accept what he/she said as from Mt. Sinai?

I don't think so. Many people like to play the H.S. card and assume it with such authority as "thus saith the Lord!" I have actually heard that one before as though he had as much authority as Jeremiah or Jesus. I never came back to that meeting again. But how do I know that person really did hear? Better yet, how do they know?

The bible is 100% certainly God's Word. I know for 100% certainty that lust, adultery, murder, slander is not God's will or plan for my life. The Holy Spirit confirms that in my daily life. He convicts me of sin. That's one way in which the Spirit speaks.

However I think a lot of times, people just think or feel something, and that thought or feeling automatically becomes God speaking authoritatively and clearly to them. But I wonder how folks can always be so certain. Could they not have misunderstood? Could it have been indigestion? Could it have simply been something that they just really wanted to do? I think that's the case more often than not.

I would recommend adopting more of a "feeling led" mentality. I can be mistaken on what I think I feel led to do. You can be correct, and you can be mistaken as well. And that's OK. We've been given the certainty of God's Word, and the HS to understand and apply it to our lives. And a community to help confirm those applications. So don't feel bad if you don't believe the next person that tells you "God told me this or that." Maybe He did, but maybe He didn't. The latter is always a possibility.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Truth and Satisfaction

A woman at my church gave me a Christianity Today article the other day because it had an interview with Tim Keller. And she knows I'm quite a fan. Below is a quote from that article.

“C.S. Lewis said not to believe in Christianity because it's relevant or exciting or personally satisfying. Believe because its true. And if its true, it eventually will be relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. To be a Christian is going to be very hard. So unless you come to it simply because it’s really the truth, you really won’t live the Christian life, and you won’t get to the excitement, the relevance, and all that other stuff.”

If we don't come to Christ because he is truly the Savior of the world, the one who has/is/will bring about restoration of the entire cosmos, but instead to make us feel good, we will not make it through trials. I'm reminded on the parable of the seed and the sower (the seed with shallow roots who received the message with joy but pulled away because of trial). Personal satisfaction and joy can be lost during periods of our Christian walk. Sometimes all we have to fall back on is the truth. I would imagine we've all experienced that.

But on the other hand, to see Jesus as only true and not relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying is also a danger (Keller and Lewis are not saying this, mind you, they are just arguing the order). Lately I've been reading through the book of John and have seen Jesus revealing himself as the true fulfillment of our desire to worship something. When he approaches the woman at the well in chapter 4, he explains to her that he is "living water" and that "she will never thirst" if he gives her a drink.

It seems pretty clear from John 4 that Jesus is personally satisfying, and that as a result of being satisfied in Him, she will not continue to have a ton of husbands and lovers. For she will be able to worship in Spirit and in Truth.

I think its another one of those BOTH/AND things. Jesus has to be true. And we have to receive him as the truth without waiting for any emotional response. But glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever is the chief end of man (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q#1). Therefore we must call people in the church and outside of not to neglect the normative (truth) or the existential (experiential) components of our rich faith. I'm going to try to present both realities side by side, still understanding that the truth will eventually produce joy and deep satisfaction (if it doesn't at the time of reception).

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"That guy"

I really don't want to be 'that guy.' The guy who lives out his competitive spirit through his kids. No one likes 'that guy.' No one wants to be 'that guy.' No one expects to be 'that guy.' Yet I wonder if I'm not heading toward a nasty collision of becoming 'that guy.'

I can already see the seeds of 'that guy' in my own heart. Let me explain. For most guys, everything is a competition. Everything is a race. Yes, even their child's growth. While Connar is 30% in head circumference (I've given up hope for this one since I have such a small head), he is in the 90% in height and close to it in weight. And that makes me a little too excited. I want him to beat everyone.

I was even glad that Connar weighed a few pounds more than my neighbor's kid despite being 6 weeks younger. And I continue to hope he can 'beat' other older kids. But I'm realizing that the distance between pride over his growth and putting pressure on him to beat other kids in fishing, baseball, or pranks is not so great. Not so great at all.

I'm not that far from becoming 'that guy.' It will only be by God's grace that I don't become 'that guy.' However, I still have the responsibility to actively repent (from my insecurity-its alright to lose) and believe (that Christ has already fully accepted me despite my insufficiency-he's made me 'man enough.') Now I'm off for another late night Connar feeding. Let's see if I he can make a PR (personal record) and sleep longer than 4 hours....

Saturday, July 5, 2008


On Thursday night, our family went to a really nice steak house in Tampa called Bern's Steak House. Its an expensive and upscale joint. Even the waiters have to work themselves up from the bottom to make it that 'high.' And I'm sure they do quite well.

Anyhow, our waiter was from the Philadelphia area, and I asked him if he was a Philly fan. He told me since he'd been down here 20 years, he pulls for the Rays. So we got talking about the great game on Wed night. The comeback. The drama. The excitement.

Another gentlemen from an adjacent table took notice. He chimed in with his thoughts on the game and Rays. Soon we were all coming together in bringing forth our praises of our beloved Rays. Each had a slightly different experience and angle. Yet we were all in unified in our praise.

To me that's worship. Different folks with different backgrounds coming together with different experiences, and slighlty different reasons for thanksgiving. Yet all come with a unified understanding that God has granted us access to His throne of glory through the blood of Christ. Skipping out on Sunday worship is like enjoying a great baseball team like the Rays, and yet not being able to share with anyone, "Did you see that amazing 6 run seventh inning against the Red Sox?"

BTW-I Just saw this article from the St. Pete times. In case you needed some more reasons to hate the Red Sox, click here for some fodder. It was in the St. Pete Times today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Running with the Racer

I don't think I'll ever walk outside the front door again. Yesterday Amy informed me that a big black snake noticed her as she came in from getting the mail. As I went out to look in the yard, I saw nothing. That is until out of the corner (or middle, perhaps it was the middle) of my eye, the black racer suddenly earned its name. It raced toward the front door where Amy was haplessly standing. It literally footed ('inch' isn't a good word, it was moving too fast) right over Amy's feet. It could have bit her if it wanted. And I've heard they can.

Amy jumped inside as it tried to literally come through the door. Then it turned its attention to me, heading straight toward me at about 45 mph. Easily that fast. I yelled out for help, or back-up, and ran for the garage.

We both survived this brief scare and our heart rate dropped down to normal exercise levels after 15 minutes. Fortunately Connar was inside with Grandma and slept through it all. Gosh I hate snakes.

I found him again and watched him as he slithered through to the back of the yard. I should have 'shoveled' him to death. But I guess he eats rats or something like that. He better eat his weight in rats, or else it wouldn't have been worth it to let him live. Gosh I hate snakes. Hope you can stay snake free.

NoiseTrade Widget

Wright on Heaven and Colbert

Sometimes I feel like a politician. Let me explain. I have several folks in my church that seem to scour the internet, magazines, and other resources, and bring stuff to my attention. I've never been a politician before, but I think that they have like tons of people who work for them, always keeping them abreast on what's happening. Maybe I'm wrong. But they sure do have such teams on movies. Anyhow, one such folk who sends me updates throughout the week, sent this link to me a week or so ago.

It's from the Colbert Report. N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop, wrote a book called Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the mission of the Church. Colbert invited him on his show to discuss it. Click here to see the clip. You really ought to do so. Its both humorous and truthful.

I would not direct anyone to N.T. Wright to gain insight into the issue of "justification." However, when it comes to a picture of heaven, resurrection, and the responsibility of the church to be engaged in building the Kingdom, I think he hits it on the nose. At least that's what others I trust have told me. And certainly what he says in this clip seems to be "Wright on." Sorry I had too. I really did. A muse was holding me at proverbial gunpoint, and looking quite trigger happy. Really.

Richard Pratt, a professor of mine, taught a lot of the same stuff about the kingdom as N.T. Wright, and did so without questioning the standard understanding of justification. And since he's not a Brit, he gives it a baseball analogy (which I can't expect from a cricket person). Heaven is like third base and the New Heavens and New Earth are the home plate: final destination for all believers.

In summary, I think Wright does a fantastic job getting this message out to the "masses," fighting against the short time allotted him and Colbert's intermittent disruptions (which do make it funny.) It's worth your 5 minutes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sunday evening and movies

I went over to a friends apartment Sunday evening. She was having a housewarming party for her new place (which is why you have housewarming parties). Obviously I couldn't pass up this chance to support her in her hospitality. That's one of the drums I tirelessly beat.

So I got the OK from Amy and Connar to head over there for a bit.
After some time, most folks had left with the exception of a smattering of youth and young adults. For some reason we began to talk about movies. And talk we did. I gained some more insight into Lars and Real Girl and got some recommendations for some other movies.

Then I realized that movies were one thing that this group of folks had in common. It wasn't fishing. It certainly wasn't football, or Rays baseball for that matter. Though it should be, since they just beat the evil chowder heads.

It was movies. I realized then that I probably needed to be more aware of what my flock, and my generation, was watching. Two thoughts. At least its not 3 points, like most of my sermons!

1.) I need to be know how to minister the timeless truth of the gospel to my particular cultural setting. Seeing movies and how folks interact with them aids in that process.

2.) Sometimes football is the great equalizer. Dudes can sit and talk about it for a while. But in my setting, football hasn't been a big connecting point within my church. Yet no one (ages 16-30) was quiet on the topic.

My time that evening really challenged me to be not only a better interpreter of scripture but of my culture. One can't have any impact if he/she does not become students of both.

Now if I were
in Berkely, California, like some pastors I know, I would probably need to read more than watch. It is a highly intellectual post-Christian area and would require my reading stack to look differently than it does here. The pastors there are always referencing books I've never heard of. But they wouldn't do the same thing if they were planting a church in Bradenton.

But since I live here, and now that Amy and I are fairly sequestered, I plan on renting a number of movies. My biggest problem is returning them on time....

BTW-when I got home to watch my Dateline special, I found this little joker in MY seat. I had to let it slide. This time.