Friday, October 31, 2008

Thoughts on manhood

The last few Fridays, some men and I have been meeting at 7 am to go through Living The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Meheney. The book has been absolutely fantastic, and I totally recommend it. All of us have been Christians for more than 5 years, and yet are getting so much out of going over the gospel. How simple, and yet how complex. If you ever get tired of, or think you've somehow outgrown this message, you've more than likely misunderstood it to begin with.

Anyhow, before we discuss the book we have some time of prayer requests, accountability, dialog, and confession of weakness and struggle areas. That's probably been my favorite part. Men coming together to talk about deep stuff. Men coming together to admit we are in fact weak. And this is the kicker-not being scared to talk about our need for accountability and prayer. How beautiful is that? And yet how deeply masculine. Instead of running from and ignoring our weaknesses and struggles (fear), we're embracing and confidently confessing them (faith). Sound a little more "manly" now?

Was Samson a picture of manhood? He kicked people's butts and slept with lots of chics. So up on the big screen, and in the eyes of our world, yeah, he was a man's man. But in reality, it wasn't until he called out to God in His weakness that he really displayed what it means to be a man. Unfortunately he died shortly afterward.

We're hoping to get a "head start" now in confessing our weaknesses to each other. And it's been very freeing, not to mention less lonely, to be around other needy people like myself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More with less

Well, the Rays' season is over now after a magical ride. They will probably go down in history as the team that did more with less than any other team. I have to admit that I doubted Joe Maddon's laid back style for a few years, but it seems to have worked. No one got more out of less (low payroll, young players, few "household" names) than him.

That's the way that God works with us. He gets more out of less. Jesus didn't establish some sort of "dream team" of talented, beautiful, highly educated people. He chose fisherman. That's why there's hope for us, even if you don't fish. It isn't any different with the church today. He doesn't accomplish anything through us because of how talented we are.

He uses jars of clay (II cor 4), not pots of steel. He chooses the foolish things to shame the wise (I Cor 1). He does more with less so that He gets the glory and we get to join him in His work.
Provided we use our gifts to serve the church and participate in mission, we'll see God do more with less quite often. So in some way, the lives of His children (who are using their gifts) parallel the Rays magical season. Except our season doesn't end in October.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I don't talk about politics and religion...

As I was reading Randy's blog today, I noticed some great political debate. I didn't agree with some of the ideologies and thoughts presented, but it was great to see some civil political debate. Like war, debate usually isn't very civil. Which is probably why someone coined the phrase that many people like to quote- "There are two things I don't discuss: politics and religion."

I can remember one of the few times someone threw that line my way. I was working in the meat department of a Food Lion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina the summer after my sophomore year of college. Milton, a big (literally he was huge) redneck (not used in a derogatory sense-this guy told me that gold fish are good bass bait, but "just don't let the game warden catch you...") used this line on me in between cutting and wrapping meat. He was a butcher, and I was the wrapper.

I said, OK, fine. I mean what could be more private than politics and religion? What could be more public is a better question! But I'm sure he'd experienced plenty of uncivil debate in his time on both issues. I honestly can't remember the rest of the content of our conversations because I was a sophomore (literally a "wise fool") in college.

I came back to Myrtle Beach the next summer after my mission trip to Mexico City. Wouldn't you know it, some friends of mine who had worked with Milton that summer invited me to celebrate his birthday at Ryan's Steakhouse (obviously someone's getting a little loose with the language). He had become a Christian. Looking back, I guess it wasn't a fruitless summer after all. I was just laying the foundation.

It often takes the witness of several people to lead someone to faith in Christ. Obviously, as Milton formed relationships with more than one Christian he could trust, "religion" got taken off the "the things I don't talk about" list. If people trust you, and you give them time, and involve other Christians they can trust in their lives, religion will drop from this list faster than you would think.

Of course you have to be willing to lay the foundation, realizing that it may be someone else down the road who sees the fruit. If you're lucky (providentially blessed), you may enjoy a "steak" dinner with them some time down the road like I did.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The 2008 Rays of Kindergarten classes

Tonight as I was preparing dinner, we heard a knock on the door. Much to our surprise it was one of Amy's former students (and his family of course-I don't know too many first graders who can drive). After tutoring today, Amy invited some of last year's kindergarteners to come again to our Xmas Outreach party this year, this December. One of the kids thought since the invitation was issued today, that the party was today. So his Mom called Amy's cell three times. No luck. The only way to prove to the little tyke the Xmas party was not in fact today, was to stop by the house.

So little Justin, his younger sister, his mother, Connar, Amy and I hung out for 15 minutes or so. Connar just so happened to be wearing the very outfit they gave us. Crazy. It was a great reminder to us how God used/continues to use Amy as a teacher to do more than simply teach (though that still would have been a good thing) but to touch lives. Justin, and we pray many others as well, are planning on coming back to our house for the Xmas party. Even though these kids are no longer in Mrs. Henderson's class, they'll always be Mrs. Henderson's kids.

That class was special. ESPN sport's anchor Stuart Scott has even compared called that class the "2008 Rays" of Kindergarten classes. We've had more than 75% of the kids over to our house to hear short gospel messages around Xmas and Easter. And now we have the chance to do it even after they "graduated" kindergarten. Who knows what the gospel (and a Spanish bible) could do in their lives?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A figurative wedgie

My dear friend Ande Johnson had the privilege of going to the Rays-Phillies World Series game a few nights ago. They were fortunate enough to witness what could be the Rays only win. Anyhow they were interviewed by someone from a Philadelphia paper. While Ande told me that the Rays fans were less than cordial, this article made them look a bit too nice. Nevertheless, even overly laid back fans can still get in on the "action." Look at what my buddy did to a friend according to the paper:

Also prevalent last night were lone Phillies fans among groups of their Tampa Bay friends, like Tim Stahl, 28, of Naples, Fla., who was the only red ship in his sea of blue friends. "I came in a car with four other guys in those shirts," he said, pointing to his friend, Ande Johnson, who claimed to have given Stahl a "figurative wedgie" on the car ride to the stadium.

I don't know what a "figurative wedgie" is, but it sounds quite painful. Far worse than a literal wedgie, with longer lasting scars I would assume.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Someone named David posted a comment on my previous post which included a link to Abraham Piper's brief testimony (thanks again for that!). After his brief testimony, he instructs parents how they can best seek after a wayward child. Since he was one for so many years, he speaks from firsthand experience. It looks like it would be helpful for parents, but really, most of the principles could apply to anyone who has a wandering friend. Click here for that article.

Reminder to pray

One of the blogs I usually check out a few times per week is Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds. He's a bit more politically minded than I am (though that's not too tough regrettably) so he's making me a little less ignorant. Anyhow, his posts are very often just cut and pasted from other books, articles, or blogs. One such post referenced Abraham Piper.

Abraham Piper is the son (I think the youngest son) of John Piper, my favorite Baptist pastor. Apparently he has joined his father in ministry.

About 8 years ago I went to a conference, which John Piper was the keynote speaker. Other than him bashing football (I've obviously since forgiven him), one of the main things that has stayed with me was his concern for his son Abraham. He continually pleaded with all of us college folk to pray for his son. He wasn't a believer. Very talented musician, but not a believer.

He pleaded with us several times to pray for his son. You could feel the passion in his request, as he earnestly desired for his son to come to faith in Christ. I knew his son had since come to faith, but I don't think I actually saw his name in print anywhere. When I saw it, I thought, "Wow, another prayer answered." Abraham had a lot people praying for him. That joker never had a chance! Just another reminder to continue praying for unbelieving family and extended family members.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lean Years, Fat Years, and Us

I called someone up last night to invite him to our neighborhood cookout. Apparently he lost his job, couldn't pay rent, and they were forced to move in with friends last month. In light of our crazy economy, though I guess "crazy" isn't a good word-since it only seems to be going down-the church is probably going to have to get "creative" in order to take care of folks: particularly, but not only, its members.

In a church planting meeting a few days ago, a pastor suggested that we might need to start thinking like Joseph in the Old Testament. Pharaoh had a crazy dream-and this time "crazy" is a good word for it-about fat cows and lean cows (Gen 41). Ultimately Joseph correctly interpreted the dream which explained the need to store as much as possible in the upcoming bountiful harvest years. For soon a famine would hit, and they would experience 7 "lean" years.

The dream applied to a national level of gathering for the purpose of distributing when the great famine hit. In fact, the very purpose of the bountiful harvest was so that people (specifically Israel, but obviously Egyptians as well) would be blessed. That was the purpose of every blessing bestowed on God's people (Gen 12:1-3).

But this pastor wondered if this shouldn't apply to us today at the personal level. Some of us may need to "store up grain" and save now so that we can help out our brothers and sisters in the faith if /when the economy gets even worse. It may be that God raises up certain folks for the specific purpose of taking care of those outside their literal families. And it may be that we will need to save now, (but not for flat screens or college) so that we can dig into our savings to help those in our church family with rent, electricity, food, clothing, etc...

I certainly don't want to dig into my savings to help someone pay rent, but it's because my heart is greedy, selfish, and forgetful. And them I'm convicted by this verse: "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? (I John 3:17)." Ouch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Operation Christmas Child

I just came across a mercy ministry opportunity sponsored by Franklin Graham called Operation Christmas Child. It's quite easy to do and will bless a number of folks. Another church recommended it to me, and so now I'm going to try to get our Community Groups participating in it. But it looks like it would be something easy for individuals and families to do as well.

One just stuffs a shoe box full of goodies (they have some recommended stuff on their site), you pay 7 bucks for it to be shipped, and drop it off at a designated church near you. Easy, but it could be quite a blessing.

Spiritual Constipation

This past Sunday at Hope we started a series on "Spiritual Gifts." Instead of offering 2 classes as we usually do, we tried to get everyone at Hope involved in this particular class; we were about half-successful. Anyway, we believe that the use of our spiritual gifts is of paramount importance to the health of any church. Not to mention that the use of them is a command, not an option.

Randy used the illustration of a pond to portray the importance of both feeding yourself and feeding others. A pond that has no source of water flowing into it will dry up. You can't feed others (serving others) without being fed (being ministered to) yourself. The reverse is also true. A pond with water coming in, and no water going out, is not a healthy pond either.

Here's another illustration for you. What do you call a person who takes food in, but doesn't let any food go out? Constipated. It is equally as dangerous for someone to feed all the time (fellowship, worship, teaching) but never serve others with their spiritual gifts. Look at Old Testament Israel. God is not a fan to say the least! We are being fed so that we can feed others. We are blessed so that we can bless others (Gen 12:1-3 ESV). We are served so that we can serve others.

Spiritual constipation is rampant in the church. Stuff comes in, but never goes out. The result is people who aren't healthy. Spiritually they look like the dude in the picture above. We might think we are healthy because we know stuff. But very often we aren't joyful. And we wonder why? Sometimes lack of joy is a result of sin, sometimes it is just a dry time spiritually which we all go through (look at most any Psalm), but other times it is because we aren't using our gifts to serve the Church. We are uncomfortable and don't realize that nothing has "come out of us" in a month, or a year or two.

I don't apologize for using such a crass example of constipation. The bible is rife with imagery far more grotesque than constipation. Check out Ezekiel 23, Isaiah 64:6, Phil 3:8 if you don't believe me. The latter references two have been "pleasantly" translated, even though in the original language they refer to things far grosser.

This is a serious issue for all churches today. The larger the church is, the number of people serving the church statistically gets smaller. But smaller churches still have large percentages of people not using their spiritual gifts. The result has a communal effect: a joyless church or at least a church which is not as joyful as it could and should be. Ultimately the call to serve the church with our gifts is a fight for joy; not just personal joy, but communal joy. On the flip side, lack of service will lead to personal and communal spiritual constipation.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Grit of the Rays and the Church

Let's tip our hats off to the Rays. To not roll over and die after blowing a 7 run lead in Game 5, and then losing game 6, then give up a 1 st inning homer, then bring in a pitcher, who just got called up to the big leagues in the middle of September, with bases loaded in Game 7. Crazy.

It takes more than just physical ability to accomplish the feat of beating the Red Sox. A team has to be mentally skilled to do what they did. During a post-game interview with Garza, he was asked if even in the back of their minds they were dwelling on their past two losses. Did you or any of you have the slightest bit of doubt about winning game 7? He answered matter-of-factly, "No, not at all."

As a fan, I wasn't even mentally tough enough to watch the game (though I did watch it fully when the Bucs game ended), feeling that the Rays' relievers were going to blow it when they got the chance. And they probably would have if the rookie didn't come out to pitch.

The Rays modeled a special grit and perseverance which the church ought to embrace. Especially when building or rebuilding a church. Regardless of "odds" or what people might say from the outside, the church can't allow doubts to get in the way of it moving forward in discipleship and outreach. We can't feel helpless, much like I did as a fan of a team who had just lost two games in a row. Instead of being passive, or assuming the worst, a church which confidently embraces its vision will not be distracted by losing big leads or back to back games (people and resources). That church will actually look forward to playing and winning their proverbial game 7 (church health and concomitant growth).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rays and Relationships are worth the risk

Last night was rough. Well just late last night. I did have a great presbytery committee meeting and a great first 6 innings of the Rays' game. In case you didn't see, know, or care, the Rays blew a 7-0 lead in the 7th inning to lose to our hated rivals: the Red Sox. They choked big time. Hopefully they can recover in game 6 or 7.

What was really strange to me was that this was a baseball game (baseball usually always plays second fiddle, or more apropos to the Rays-cowbell to football), and the loss really frustrated me. I've not been really bothered by a baseball loss since I jumped on the Pittsburgh Pirates bandwagon in the early 90's. Forgive me, I was in Jr. High. And here I was waking up several times in the night, thinking how can one blow such a lead?

I'm totally fine with it now. It took me longer than my standard 30 minutes recovery, but I'm totally not bothered by it anymore. And I had a thought. For better or for worse.

The reason the loss bothered me was because I had emotionally connected with the team. The team's story is amazing. Young guys, small pay roll, team-first mentality, etc....I also monetarily connected with the team by purchasing 4 tickets to Red Sox game in September (unfortunately their only home loss of the season to them!).

I used to watch a Rays game last year, see them lose, and be fine with it. But I feel I have much more personal capital invested this year. And that's why it was so hard to see them lose last night.

But the Rays, just like people, will let you down. They will frustrate you. They will break your heart and blow proverbial 7 run leads. And people, like the Rays-if they don't get the necessary fan base or new stadium-could potentially leave town someday.

So if you don't invest in relationships, you will be safe from frustration. But while you will be safe from rejection, frustration, feeling of loss when people leave, you will have far less joy. You are sacrificing your joy at the altar of protection. But unless you are investing in people in some way, (family, friends, church, and/or outreach), you are truly wasting your life.

It's been a blast following the Rays this year. They could totally choke the next two games. But it has been totally worth it. It's been fun to see 9th inning comebacks or 14th inning game winning sacrifice flies. Yet they're not my Savior, and neither are my relationships. I don't expect them to be-at least I try not to, though often fail at that.

People are worth investing in, despite the fact they will let you down and may only be in your life for a season. But if you're honest, you'll certainly return the favor in one or both of the aforementioned ways.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dungy and Me

I just finished reading Tony Dungy's book Quiet Strength. I totally recommend it. Much of the book chronicles his experience with the Bucs, which I found especially entertaining. I could remember-whether that's good or bad-every game he spoke of. In detail. I can even remember watching several games in person.

But one thing that really hit home was his retelling of the infamous OT Bucs-Colts game in 2003. Tony Dungy had been fired 1 and 1/2 years prior to that season and immediately became head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He came back to Tampa on his birthday. And the Bucs sure did give him a present. Up 35-14 with 4 minutes to go, Tampa Bay gave up 21 points, and lost in OT. On a really bad personal foul call which allowed his kicker to re-kick after missing, which he fails to mention in the book!

I can remember that evening. Oh what a night. That fateful Monday night. I'm not sure that I got a whole lot of sleep that night. I couldn't believe they had blown such a lead. And that call...As I was reading this section in the book, I began to realize how stupid it was/is to care that much about sports. In the book, the game ended, and Dungy went on to describe the next game. And the next game. And the next season. And the next, until he closed with his Super Bowl victory.

And who cares that the Bucs lost that game? Who cares that they were 7-9 that season? And when they actually did win the Super Bowl, did it stop me from being depressed?

Reading this book has given me a better picture of how to view sports. Enjoy sports and glorify God through them by using them as a connecting time or point with family, friends, church folk, co-workers, neighbors. But understand that after the season is over, that win or that loss means very little in the big picture. Even very little in the big picture of sports history!

Just don't remind me of this truth IMMEDIATELY after the Bucs lose a play-off game. God's really worked in this area of my life. But it still takes about 30 minutes or so to come back to reality.

Now of course with the Rays and Red Sox, it is more of a good versus evil thing that transcends sports. OK, maybe that's a stretch. But a small one....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Good Look Back

In response to my recent article on Nostalgia (which you ought to read, in my opinion!), I do need to state that there is a place for a backward glance. One such glance is called thanksgiving. I'm reading in Exodus now that God wants the Israelites to remember how HE delivered them from Egypt. One such way to remember was the Passover feast. In addition, they were supposed to eat unleavened bread to remind them that they left Egypt in a hurry. Some folks were even instructed to lay forth a pile of stones to remind future generations how God had delivered them.

But the purpose of thanksgiving was to praise God in the present, and to help the people trust Him in the future. Instead of looking for a repetition of the event (another Exodus, Red Sea Crossing, etc....) or a recreation of the experience of the event (nostalgia), the backward glance was to help them move forward into the Promised Land. Ultimately it was to point them to the cross, which is the ultimate Exodus. Now it is our turn to look to the cross. Only we look back, to guide us in the present and trust Him in the future. After all, He who did not spare his own son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not, along with Jesus, graciously give us all things (Rom 8:32)?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bill Belichick and Utter Depravity

A few posts ago I mentioned something Calvinists call Total Depravity. Again, it means that we believe people are so sinful and spiritually dead, that will not choose to trust in Jesus on their own. It is only through the work of the Spirit that we are "born again." (John 3)

But to say that humans are totally depraved does not mean that humans are "utterly" depraved: unable to do anything culturally good. Obviously both Christians and non-Christians do nice things like help old ladies cross the street and partake in hurricane relief. Non-Christians can at times be more generous, nicer, and just plain more like-able. This is due to the fact that all humans are made in the image of God (reflect something true of our creator). So humans are not as bad as we could be. Fortunately.

Let me give you an example from someone I would not normally want to praise: Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots. Several years ago the NFL ran a seedy intro to a Monday night football game. One of the Desperate Housewives (I can't remember which one) showed up at the locker room soliciting Terrell Owen's time and intimacy during the game. He chooses the girl over the game in the segment.

Tony Dungy objected to the add on a number of levels, one being race. He was blasted by most folks. Enter Bill Belichik. He stood up and backed Dungy, agreeing with Tony that if the NFL needed adds like that, he would take a pay-cut!

So, yes, as much as it pains me to say, way to go Bill. He is not "utterly" depraved, but instead created in the Image of God. And that incident reminds me of this truth.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nostalgia uncut

The Bradenton Herald is nice enough to print my articles once every other month. With that being said, sometimes their editing can leave a little to be desired. Sometimes a lot. This month's article is one example. Unfortunately the editor included a partial thought, that happened to stop in mid-sentence. And the concluding sentence comes out of nowhere. I guess I'll just have to shorten up my articles from here on out. For some reason I couldn't find the article online. Again, that's probably not a bad thing. You can click here to download and read the unedited, uncut, unrated version of "The Danger of Nostalgia." I'm quite happy with that version.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Davin Joseph and his need for community

As I left the gym yesterday from another exciting elliptical machine experience (I hate it and can't wait for my stinkin' wrist to heal so I can get back to the weights!), I caught the tail end of the Davin Joseph radio show. He is an offensive lineman (Right Guard) for the Bucs, who has recently come back from a foot fracture.

When asked about his return to game action, he commented how other members of the line played a part in his decision on when to come back. He said his fellow lineman "know" him, meaning that they know his competitive nature and desire to get back in the games. He also said, "They know me, and they know me." His 2nd reference to "know" was referring to the fact that they know his competitive nature often clouds his judgment. If left to his own, he would return early from injury and thus do further damage to his body.

So they knew his strength (competitive nature) and they knew his weakness (tendency to come back early from injury). As a result of being in community with these guys, Davin decided to come back in Week 5. His teammates commended him for his desire, but graciously encouraged him not to come back too early. Fortunately for them, and for me the fan, he listened. He seems fine now.

This once again shows us the importance of living in community, not in isolation from others who can affirm our strengths and help us in our weaknesses.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sean Hornbeck and Total Depravity

Recently on one of the 48 Hours mystery shows, or maybe it was a Dateline, they interviewed former kidnapped victim Sean Hornbeck. He was gone for 4 1/2 years until finally rescued. The strangest and perhaps saddest part of the whole ordeal was that he never ran away. Even when stopped by police for something else, he never turned his captor in. It took someone outside of himself to enter into the situation and come rescue him.

You see, his captor told him that if he ever left, he would find and kill him and his family. So the then 11 year old was paralyzed by fear. He knew exactly what needed to be done: run away. But he couldn't. He was in a state of perpetual slavery. More so than that, he had no hope of coming out of that slavery.

That's a picture of what Calvinist's call Total Depravity. Some also refer to it as Total Inability. Just like the aforementioned child Sean, we may intellectually know we need rescue from slavery to sin. However, if left to our own devices, we will do the same thing as Sean: stay! We're unable to leave. It takes the Spirit of God entering into our hearts in order to choose freedom. At that moment, one experiences what the great Hymn writer Charles Wesley writes in And Can it Be, "My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose went forth and followed thee."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Drifiting Kayak

Yesterday I went to get on the Elliptical machine at the gym and felt my hamstrings tighten. I hadn't been on the thing in days. What could it have been? Then I realized I had done a little bit of inadvertent exercise on the kayak Monday morning. Only the exercise had not been exactly "on" the kayak. I was running to the kayak in waist deep water.

When I fish, I usually wade and tie a rope attached to the kayak around my waist. Then I proceed to go wherever my little ADD mind will take me. The only problem was that I was wading without my kayak. I had forgotten to tie the rope. After about 10 minutes I realized there was no resistance, so I turned around looked behind me. And there was my kayak. Floating the opposite direction. At least a 100 yards away. With the wind blowing from the East (in the bible the East wind is a wind of judgment....), pushing my kayak across Sarasota Bay.

Unfortunately it was blowing quickly and moving the kayak to deeper water.
So I raced across the grass flat hoping to get there in time. I can't describe to you the helpless feeling of watching your only ride home just drift away. I didn't know if I'd get there before it hit deep water. So I casted my lure to try and catch it. Once. Twice. No dice. So I put the cell phone and wallet in my ziploc bag and went deep. I was up to shoulders when I finally reached the rope. I was out of breath but thankful it hadn't drifted to the other side of the bay.

Eventually I did notice that the normal weight of a kayak dragged against the wind was missing. I eventually realized it on my own, feeling led by the prodding of God's Spirit. But I sure wish I would have had someone point it out to me earlier. It would have saved heartache and hamstring ache. There are some things which God will (if we are not quenching the Spirit-which is always a possibility) eventually convict us in time. But why wait until that point? Wouldn't it be better to have someone we love tell us that we are walking forward, yet leaving our proverbial kayak behind us? Just some thoughts I had Monday after I got in from fishing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nostalgia #2: Sanctification

This is the 2nd part of the Nostalgia Trilogy. I had previously mentioned the danger of expecting your worship time to mysteriously transport you to a time when you felt close to the Lord. But there can also be a nostalgic danger in sanctification: the work of God's free grace where we are made more like Jesus.

Nostalgia can pop its ugly head when we wish to return to the feeling we had during a retreat. At other times, we may simply wait for that feeling to return to us before we press on in our spiritual disciplines like bible reading, prayer, fellowship, etc...When that feeling returns, I'll get back "on board." But Habakuk reminds us that by faith we have to choose to rejoice in God as opposed to waiting for situations and feelings to return (Hab 3:18).

A final danger of nostalgia I've noticed is the constant tendency to compare. When we don't compare ourselves with others, we often compare ourselves with ourselves in the past. For instance, we might despair when we realize that we struggle with the same sins we've always struggled with. Or we might look back and feel we've gone "backwards." We might feel discouraged when we struggled with different stuff earlier in our journey and now we struggle with things we feel are "bigger."

The apostle Paul lays forth a healthy dose of present reflection (on how far he hasn't come), yet tempers it with a forward focus. For instance, he admits near the end of his life that he feels as though he is the "foremost" sinner (I Tim 1:15). That's a far more self deprecating title to describe himself than earlier in his life and ministry. But he still presses on toward the goal of finishing the race (Phil 3).

It is helpful to recognize how far we haven't come. But that is only for the purpose of relishing God's grace and to receive encouragement to press on. When that backward glance becomes nostalgic, making you wish you could just become that person you once were, you can rest assure that thought has the smell of smoke. Because it doesn't come from these parts, but instead from down below. Way below.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jack Russell Churches

Today our presbytery's missionary to Haiti Esaie Etienne picked up some clothes and other stuff like books, computer, and a mattress from our church. He's distributing them to his family and countrymen in Haiti. I asked him about other sister PCA churches' involvement in this "drop-off." I was really wanting to know because I felt convicted about not giving enough and was hoping the shorts I had worn the previous day could serve as a donation for another drop-off time.

But he told me that really not much had been done by some other larger churches in our presbytery. The one's participating were the smaller churches. Now perhaps the big dogs are running just a bit behind or they already gave graciously by shipping stuff. So I'll reserve frustration, table my "verdict" for a bit, and maybe ask some of them in person.

At the same point of discouragement, I was encouraged as well. You see, there are a number of smaller churches in our presbytery. Some of them may die off some day. And that may not be a bad thing. Yet, the churches responding were all quite small. What they lacked in size, they made up for in passion to help those less fortunate. And by this passionate giving they will be assisting Esaie in bringing Jesus' Kingdom to a place ripe for its reception.

Some of these churches, including ours, acted like Jack Russell Terriers. Small but full of life.