Friday, July 31, 2009

Commitment done in Favre Fashion

If you want an example of how NOT to make a decision, you need look no further than Brett Favre. He finally did decide not to come back and play for the Minnesota Vikings, and responded before the deadline of July 30th. However, as we've come to expect from Brett lo these many years, he could not bring himself to actually commit to staying retired. Concluding his decision to stay retired by throwing in a "Now come November 1st, I don't know how I'll feel if someone comes calling...." only fueled the ire of many.

In other words, if a team needs me, and is in a play-off race, and I don't have to put in the hard work of training camp (and that does look miserable, I watched some practices), then I may be up for it. As long as it serves my best interest, as James Taylor sang "I'll be there, Yes, I'll be there, You've got a friend," or a quarterback.

As much as I've come to lose any respect I had for Favre (never was a fan of him in Green Bay), I probably have to admit I have more in common, at least off the field, with him than I would like to think. You probably have a little Favre in you too.

Self-interest often collides against Kingdom commitment fairly regularly. However, He who considered others more important than himself surely offers us forgiveness and hope in this battle (Phil 2).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A "friends" post

This is an interesting post/interview about churches, both large and small, by my friend Ed Stetzer. Don't you love how people, especially pastor bloggers, like to name drop and say "my friend _______(insert big name ministry leader)?" Actually, I should clarify: he is not my friend, but my "friend" on facebook. Anyhow, the book in question is called 10 Stupid Things That Keep a Church From Growing: How Leaders Can Overcome Costly Mistakes and written by a dude named Geoff. So with a man who spells "Geoff" the original way, the book must be good read. At least the interview is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The All Star game and saving faith

Amy noted to me that it seemed weird baseball would have an all-star game during the middle of the season. Of course, many if not most sports, with the exception of football, include an all-star game of sorts mid-way through the season (basketball, hockey, perhaps soccer).

The problem with an all-star game which occurs mid-way through the season is that many players are rewarded for simply having a great
first half of the season. Sometimes they may finish extremely poorly. In fact several Rays players who made the all-star team would probably not have made the all-star team if voting took place at the end of the year.

So an all-star is an all-star for his first half performance. Period.

But the Christian life is about finishing, forgetting what is behind and straining to what is ahead (Phil 3:8-16). It is not about a prayer you prayed when you were little or about how you were at one time "saved" a long time ago. The truth of the matter is that we need to continue considering how is God "saving" us from the enslaving power of sin NOW, not just how he saved us from the punishment of sin THEN.

I don't mention John Calvin too much, but since he's like 500 years old right now and I'm a fan, here we go: the "P" in "TULIP" refers to the Perseverance of the Saints. That basically means that those who are "saved" will continue their walk by daily repentance and faith in Christ alone until their "season" is over. Finishing the race is an indication-not a reward, but Christ's completed work applied to their lives-they "were saved" from the Punishment of Sin, "are saved" from the enslaving Power of sin, and "will be saved" from the Presence of sin.

The Christian faith, unlike being an All-star, is not about first half performances. Instead it is a finishing and resting faith in Christ alone. Faith Now & Later, not some appearance of faith Then.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The gospel, sports, and a critical spirit

The gospel really should permeate all of life. There is no part of our lives it should not touch and change. Fortunately Randy challenged me, and of course the Holy Spirit followed up and sealed the deal to apply the gospel to something quite mundane: how I view errors in baseball. But again, since Christ will finish the work He started (Phil 1:6), the mundane is fair game from now until He returns.

Let me explain. I was "down" on one of the Tampa Bay Ray's players Willy Ayabar. He made several horrendous errors in one inning and mistakes that weren't deemed errors in another. All this after a game in which he almost cost the Rays the game because of another error. I argued that Willy shouldn't be playing the field. Nothing wrong with that.

But the heart behind my statements revealed a critical spirit. Randy posed the question, "What if someone just came to hear you preach one Sunday and you were "off" that Sunday (Ayabar doesn't play everyday)?" Certainly I've had better and worse sermon content, delivery, application, ethos, etc...some days than others. Wouldn't I hope people give me the benefit of the doubt?

Since I'm not the owner, manager, or even a teammate, my thoughts and discussion of the Rays don't count for anything (although Joe Maddon did seem to take my advice of moving Jason Bartlett down in the batting order to offset lack of production from the 9th spot). I'm simply dealing with a critical heart behind my thoughts.

That spirit came up again the next day when the umps blew a terrible call, which should have been strike 3 and ended the inning. The next pitch was hit hard, and center fielder B.J. Upton misplayed it, leading to a 3 run inning which proved enough to win the game for Obama's White Sox.

I became angry at the Ump for his missed call, angry at Upton's fielding mistake, and then at Wheeler for giving up the third run on a single. I was still angry the next day. Baseball players and umps go through a 162 game season. That's quite a number of games. They will make mistakes. I would too.

And I make mistakes on my job, as you do on yours. While I'm not getting paid as handsomely as Aybar or Upton, I would hope that people show me grace when I screw up. The gospel reminds me how often I don't deserve grace, but that God still lavishes it upon me. I ought to extend that to others who make mistakes, and so should you. I still think Aybar would best fit at D.H. or first base, but I'm beginning to see the need for the gospel to change even how I enjoy-or don't enjoy-and follow sports.

Interestingly enough, while searching for an image for Willy Aybar, I came across a fascinating story of his redemption from alcoholism.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gidget's passing

Here is some sad news. You may, like myself, hate Taco Bell, but you can't hate on Gidget. Your favorite Chihuahua (and mine), Gidget the Taco Bell Dog, dead at 15 years of age.

Unlike most celebrities and celebrity dogs, we see no signs of foul play, rampant clandestine infidelity, or prescription drug use. Simply old age and a stroke took down this gentle giant. Well, giant in heart.
Gidget leaves behind a legacy rivaling other canine greats such as Spuds Mackenzie and Lassie. He truly paved the way for lap dogs to be taken seriously on and off the airwaves. May we never forget Jack Handey's Deep Thought:
I hope if dogs ever take over the world and they choose a king, they
don't just go by size, because I bet there are some Chihuahuas with
some good ideas.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Soloist

Before Connar arrived, Amy and I used to hit up the dollar theater in Sarasota on a regular basis because we like movies and it's a cheap date. We finally got a break the other day-just a week or so ago-and saw The Soloist (click here to see the trailer)

Now I wanted a bit more action so it took some cajoling to get me on board. However, Amy and I thoroughly enjoyed this film based upon a true story.

The story chronicles a L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez's attempts to help a homeless Cello virtuoso, at one time enrolled in the Juilliard College. But his mental illness has left him content with living on the streets playing a 2 stringed violin.

Lopez, played by Robert Downey Jr, runs into some rough patches with Anthony Ayers, played by Jamie Fox, as he does not always appreciate the help. Of course the Christian character in the movie is a putz, but since the movie is based off the book, perhaps it was just an accurate portrayal.

Nevertheless Amy and I found the movie an intriguing picture of redemption as well as the selfish and unrealistic expectations revealed when we seek to help others. I would highly recommend the film to others. I've not really heard anyone talk about it, so maybe it's just me and some other California nuns who enjoyed the film (several of movie critic Sister Rose's blog readers appeared as fans). If you've seen the movie, feel free to interact with me and tell me why you liked or didn't like it. Again, I found it a superb story and film.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Don't expect them to come to you

An elderly gentlemen the other day (and when I say "the other day," I can mean up to a year so don't try to figure out what church I'm referring to) mentioned to me nostalgically, "We used to have two night services and two or more morning services." This was juxtaposed against the backdrop of empty pews at the service. The gentlemen was saddened, and probably rightly, at the lack of attendance.

But it revealed a mentality that must change should this and many other churches see more folks involved in public worship. The hope was that maybe one day the pews would again be filled and services abound. And so the fundamental question asked is: "What can we do so that people will come?" Usually the answer is to tweak the service, getting more traditional or contemporary, or hire more staff, or develop more attractional programs.

But I think there is a problem with this philosophy. Here's why. More and more people are growing up without any church background and so folks are not actively seeking out churches. With only 20% of Manatee County connected to worship, it's hard to argue against that.

So many established churches cannot afford to continue to embrace this "We're expecting them to come to us," mentality. That worked at one time when the percentages were much higher and there was a more common understanding of spirituality and the role of a church. While I've detect a higher than average spirituality in Bradenton, the church appears unnecessary or less important to many.

The attractional model has worked for both traditional and contemporary churches over the years. In fact many traditional churches operate according to the same philosophy; they hope to attract people by preaching or traditional worship. Other churches expect people to come to them because of contemporary worship, children's, youth, or young adult programs or bible studies.

It can work for some churches. But its hard to argue that it works for most. Many churches need to stop thinking, "Why aren't they coming to us," and adopt a, "We'll go to them, love and live among them, and eventually bring them."

Our church is beginning to see members inviting visitors, as well as visitors inviting visitors. From children to young adults to elderly folks, we've seen some fruit across the demographic board from people abandoning the attractional mindset and living missionally.

And that's quite encouraging because that's really the only way most churches are going to grow. The attractional model can still work for certain settings, but many folks need to realize that those days when people would simply come like animals to a dinner bell are over and not coming back. So I think it's time to go to them, instead of angrily, frustratedly, or despairingly expecting them to come to us.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dawkins v. Lennox and assumptions

Last week I watched a DVD debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox called "Has Science Buried God?" Both men came well prepared and did a decent job of keeping their cool. I couldn't do one of those debates, not simply because I don't know enough and don't think as quickly on my feet, but because of the emotional component.

Dawkins at times came off as a tad bit belittling, but for a man without the Holy Spirit, he did quite well and didn't go too much beyond calling his opponent "petty" for believing in the resurrection.

The DVD is well worth the watch and I hope to show it sometime in our community group. You can click here for the free audio of this debate and two previous debates between these two lads.

During the course of the debate something did come out which I found a bit enlightening and it had nothing really to do with the material-though it was great.

Lennox claimed people were made in the image of God, assuming Dawkins would know what that meant. Even though Lennox had done his homework on Dawkins, Dawkins didn't do all his homework on Lennux. He responded, "What do you mean, 'We're made in the image of God? Does He look like us?'"

Lennox took for granted knowledge of this distinct Christian (or Judeo-Christian) belief. While Dawkins probably should have known this, he obviously didn't. Fortunately he asked the question during the debate.

I think this serves as a good lesson for all of us not to assume everyone is familiar with basic Christian beliefs, even the well read and learned who write books attempting to debunk Christianity! Such terms like "image of God" may have once been understood (not necessarily believed) some years ago, but more and more folks have no clue what they mean. And if one is not in a debate, but instead preaching, sharing the gospel, or conversing, he must not take for granted the many who are not "in the know" and may not ask or have the chance for clarification.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Teddy With Warts Is Worth More Than One Without

Some other PCA pastors and I have been meeting monthly for fellowship, prayer, and to discuss a book. This habit of reading a book helps keep me accountable to read books I normally wouldn't choose myself (though I have recommended 2 out of 3 so far!). Our last book was George Grant's biography The Courage and Character of Theodore Roosevelt.

I really didn't know too much about Teddy so I was grateful for the information. A fascinating man that somehow had more hours in his day than any of us. In fact I flew through the strictly biographical part and moved on to the "Courage" and "Character" parts quite quickly. The book is really divided up into Life, Character, and Legacy and doesn't read like normal biographies from beginning of his life to the end.

While the information was fascinating, and this was a unique way of presenting and providing commentary on his life, I found it a bit too choppy. And though I really did enjoy the information and writing style, my main complaint had less to do with structure and more to do with the ethos of the writer.

George Grant presents Roosevelt as a man without warts. And we all have warts. We all have issues, sins, and struggles. And this was a biography of a wartless man; it fell into the category of a hagiography or in laymen's terms, a "holi-ography."

Roosevelt appeared by all accounts to be a wonderful husband, father, scholar, leader, statesman, churchman, scientist, biographer, and writer worthy of emulation. And I believe he was. Yet Grant presents him so highly that if there were ever a vacancy in the Trinity, he might get the nod.

By the end of the book, one is left wondering if the lad ever did anything wrong. If he ever believed anything wrong. Roosevelt taught Sunday School, but I wonder what he actually taught. I mean Presbyterianism in Northeast in the early 20th Century was about as liberal as Sports Authority's return policy, denying denying miracles and the virgin birth.

I don't know what Teddy really believed and that's just it. I don't know how Teddy failed or that he even did fail.

And in order for most of us to follow a leader, we need to be aware of their weaknesses. We have to see them repent and admit failure before us. Otherwise we're really not following a real person, but simply a "presentation" of a person. And that's what I feel like I was left with: a presentation and not a real person.

I did enjoy the book because I knew so little about this fascinating man. But I feel Grant in the end, ought to have revealed a few warts if he truly desired to inspire the reader to emulate the "courage" and "character" of Teddy Roosevelt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ben Zobrist, Nebuccadnezzar, and the All-Star influence

Last night I got back from a drive down South about 11 pm, just in time to catch the last 2 innings of the 287th All-Star game. Just in time to see Tampa Bay Rays first time All-Star Ben Zobrist foul off a number of pitches, and then, well......strikeout. That's OK. He was an All-Star.

Ben Zobrist has played most of the positions in the field but has settled in at 2nd base since that's where the team needed him the most. His goal for this year was simply to crack the starting line-up. Now he is an All-Star. Peter Gammons has even considered him a possible first half MVP of the American League.

He is also a committed Christian who walks up to the plate with the background music from his wife Juliana Zobrist, who is a Christian singer.

How long will this crazy ride last for young Ben? You never can tell. He could repeat as an All-Star or stink it up next year. Sometimes God lifts people up for certain seasons of their lives. Sometimes that season seems short like a beautiful spring, and sometimes long as a cold, wet winter.

Another Christian baseball player Josh Hamilton said something to the effect of, "As long as Jesus keeps letting me play well and get recognized, I'll use it as a platform to tell others about Him." Hamilton recently played in last night's All-Star game despite very weak numbers.

God lifts up people, churches, and kingdoms for set periods of time and for specific purposes. Yet all can disappear when pride enters in (Daniel 4:30) or should God simply have different plans. For some like former Babylonian King Nebucadnezzar and Arizona Cardinal's QB Kurt Warner, he may exalt, humble, and then lift up once again by restoring a literal kingdom or allowing one to lead the league in passing and go to the Super Bowl.

Positions of influence such as literal kingdoms and All-Star games happen to few of us, but relationships of influence happen fairly regularly if we seek them out or are open to them. Sometimes they may be literally or metaphorically "snowbirds," in our lives one season and gone the next; sometimes they last much longer.

Regardless of how long your "all-star" status lasts, it is wise to seek the Lord and ask, "What would you have me do with this relationship while I've gained his or her respect?" That way, like Josh Hamilton, we can make the most of our time "on top," pointing them to the King and Kingdom without end.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reality TV shows

The problem with Reality TV is that there is no limit to what can pass as a TV show. As long as its real, or marketed as real, it can be a show. The other day I was flipping past T.L.C. and found a show called "Obese and Pregnant." Really?

Well I thought that would exhaust the abnormal pregnancy TV niche until I saw another one on T.L.C. called
"I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant." Yep, a show about people who show up to the hospital because they feel sick and end up leaving with a kid. Their kid. That's a show with staying power.

I wonder what the founding fathers would have to say about our reality T.V. show options today. And which reality show would Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin likely watch? I can't speak for Jefferson, but I'm certain Franklin would be all about "The Bachelor."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Legacy and repentance

One of the most memorable lines, perhaps even the most accurate lines of any Shakespearean play comes from Marc Antony's soliloquy (which I had to memorize in high school, so perhaps that's why it's so memorable to me) in Julius Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar."

Obviously Mr. Antony (not the Latino pop start married to Jennifer Lopez) referred to the fact that Caesar would be remembered for his ambition and the negative stuff like turning the Republic into more of an Empire. I guess that sentiment and foul memory is probably to be expected when one is assassinated by friends.

But I wonder what the legacies will be of some of our recently departed celebrities, athletes, and pitchmen. Will McNair be remembered for giving to his community and humbly sweeping the floor of his own restaurant or for having an affair with a woman 16 years his junior who was as stable as plutonium? Will Michael Jackson be remembered for his music first or for the alleged molestation charges or literally having a new face every few years?

I think it would be quite exhausting to worry about your legacy by scrutinizing every decision you will make or have made. I think a legacy I would rather have made is not one of impeccability, but rather a legacy of repentance. That I screwed up a lot, but repented, ran to, and rested in Jesus a lot.

Maybe, just maybe, that's why we remember Luther more for his 95 Theses (the first of which stated "all of life is repentance") and less for his anti-semitism or other dirt he left behind.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

McNair, skeletons, and us

It's definitely a bad time to be a celebrity, athlete, pitchman. The most recent one to bow the knee to Jesus (albeit possibly too late to count) is former Titans QB Steve McNair. Reactions have been mixed. Some, like the Tennessee Titans, are celebrating what a great life he had on and off the field

Others, have blamed him for putting himself in the situation of dating another woman while being married w/four children. Former player and analyst Jamie Dukes had this to say about the situation of marriage and commitment in connection with the alleged murder-suicide. Radio personality Dan Sileo bashed McNair's inability to commit to his wife and family.

Regardless of how great a community man Steve McNair was, he did have skeletons in his closet. They eventually came out. They always do. McNair shouldn't have been put on a pedestal, but in his defense, none of us deserve to be there.

We all have skeletons in our closet. And we are all capable of infidelity (McNair) and prescription drug use (allegedly for Michael Jackson). The quickest way for these capabilities to become public realities is to believe that you're incapable of such mistakes.

I just heard a pastor of a PCA Mega-church (yep, we have a few) talk about his prescription drug abuse at our General Assembly. These things can happen to all of us. So if we can learn anything, run to and rest in Jesus early and often.

Back from the Keys

Well I've been out of town on vacation but am glad to be back in the saddle. So I hope to be posting more regularly. Here's a picture of our finest catch in the Keys last week: a 26 '' 9 lb. Black grouper. And a picture of Connar with his "Magnum P.I." look as well. I'm hoping to me more regular this upcoming week as you could say, much has happened in the world the past week or so.