Saturday, October 30, 2010

Following in little brother's footsteps

Who doesn't love a good story of second chances, redemption, and Buccaneers football? Well, I might have gone a little overboard on the latter, but this is a cool story about how an older brother and convicted felon, followed the path of his younger brother to play football at the University of Illinois. Since the lad did hard time in West Virginia, I'm thinking he may actually be from West Virginia, so that might interest some of the readership. Check it out here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Henderson Halloween in Hurricane

Halloween in Hurricane W.V. runs a bit differently that Halloween in Bradenton, or Halloween in any place for that matter where I've lived the past 33 years. Its more of a socialist style. The powers that be regulate WHEN trick-or-treating will take place; this year it was Thursday, Oct 28th from 6-8 pm. Kind of weird, but this Halloween provided a number of great opportunities. 

We had some friends from our old apartment complex come over and share a meal with us. Then afterward Strawberry Shortcake and Batman traversed the neighborhood roads, forgetting all that we taught them about the evils of the street. I got to meet several neighbors, who had otherwise seemed to care very little that we had moved in near them. In addition, we received some more invitations to play with some families in the "younger" neighborhood just below ours (yes, here in hilly WV, neighborhoods are often below or above each other!).

If your conviction keeps you inside for Halloween, then that's fine with me. But I wanted to share how the Devil's holiday opened up some future evangelistic and friendship opportunities for the Henderson's. At least for us, I hardly think Satan was pleased with our evening.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yoke of Jesus longed for by Old Test folks

While reading through Lamentations, I came across a moving passage that sent me running to Jesus and thought I'd share it with you.

Lamentations 1:14 "My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together; they were set upon my neck; he caused my strength to fail; the Lord gave me into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand."

Israel, after years and years of unfaithfulness to the Lord, highlighted by idolatry and social injustices and oppression, was sent into exile. Most of them were taken out of the land that they loved, the land they were promised by God Himself. However, he told them that if they didn't follow Him faithfully, they would be given the old "heave-ho." This is spelled out clearly in Deuteronomy 28.

Jeremiah really examines and reflects upon the depths they have fallen. Like a one hit wonder, they were on top for a time, and now they are on the bottom. And they are now experiencing the punishment, for a season, for their unfaithfulness. They are given but a taste of ultimate judgment, the experience of carrying their sins around their necks.

But there is hope to come. Jesus calls people to believe and follow Him, and he promises the opposite of this passage. Instead of carrying the yoke of sin, in Matthew 11:30, He claims "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." That's way better.

How is this the case? Well, for one thing, Jesus experienced the wrath of God for us, being exiled from the love of the Father while on the cross. Israel's exile foreshadowed Jesus' exile.

The yoke of a Christian's sin has been carried by another. So it is good to lament, and right for Jeremiah, or whoever wrote that book, to lament. But because of our vantage point, lamentations can ultimately end up in praise.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Helpful thoughts from The Dilf on Favre

I never thought I'd defend or stick up for Brett Favre. I never even wanted him to come to the Bucs when Coach (now analyst) Gruden tried to bring him there. But last night, after yet another tough loss, his coach Brad Childress publicly blasted him. "We can't throw interceptions...we can't throw interceptions to be returned for touchdowns...."

Trent Dilfer, an ESPN commentator, and sometimes Favre apologist, but also a former Bucs QB and believer who had to rely on his faith to sustain him through the loss of a child (so I have huge respect for him) had some interesting takes on Coach Childress' public undressing of Favre. That was pretty darn long sentence.

Perhaps it was the "Dilf's" Christian insight, or just common sense which led to several conclusions which are very applicable to the church.

1.) Dilfer argued that can't say you are a family (which is a load of you-know what anyway), and that you will take care of everything "in house," and then publicly blast your QB during an emotional post game press conference. If Favre wasn't doing something he was supposed to do, you handle that between you and Favre. You don't say "we" when you really mean Favre. 

I don't know a ton of pastors in the area, but I do know it has not been uncommon for preachers to call out people from their pulpits. Seriously. Perhaps they used the words "we" like Childrenss, but really just meant YOU (not you plural, but YOU as ONE individual). That is busch-league, unloving and plain sinful, and will never happen at our church so long as Barret and I are preaching. If you ever hear the words "we" and you think we are specifically talking about YOU in isolation, please know that we aren't. Unlike a football team or work environment, the church is a family. God says so, not a coach or boss. We'll handle things person to person and not from the pulpit to A person.

2) The Dilf also commented about the necessity of not blasting someone for something they already know is wrong. He said, "Do you think Favre thinks its OK to throw interceptions, and interceptions for touchdowns?" Of course he knows that. When someone is clueless of their sins and errors, out of love we restore them in a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1). But there are times when you don't need to say anything because the person already knows it. How do you know when to speak and when the person already knows? Sometimes its pretty obvious. For other times, you'll need to pray for your love to grow in "knowledge and discernment" as Paul does for the Philippians in 1:9-11. My most recent sermon on it is here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

missional mothering

I came across this thoughtful piece on "missional mothering" at the Resurgence website. I always want to keep upholding the mission of motherhood. Of course, as someone who has to regularly recruit children's ministry volunteers, (many of whom are young mother) I'll probably have to soon eat my words.

Here are a few of my takes on this:
1.) This is a great reminder to men and women on the importance of mothers.

2.) I've found that if mothers can serve the church while at the same time ministering to their children, it is a win-win. They can minister to their children while they are blessing to the church. For instance serving in the infant nursery when you have an infant, toddler when you have a toddler, teaching the Sunday school age group that has your child, etc....

3.) Your children are your mission-field for a season, as this article so correctly states. But lets not forget "for a season." To ultimately ignore the mission field of your neighborhood is ultimately to neglect the mission field of your home. Who will care about mercy, missions, evangelism, if we don't instill that in them from a young age?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

One Favre worth pulling for

I've never been a Brett Favre fan, except when he played against the Bucs toward the latter part of his career and he would throw a bunch of interceptions. Now it has come out that he has allegedly sent picture messages and inappropriate voice mails to Jets employees while he was with the N.Y. Jets. Once again, Favre has done nothing to make me pull for him. At least I don't have to live with him.

But I do consider myself a Deanna Favre fan, who now who has to live in the wake of his selfish behavior. Check out this snippet of an interview on Good Morning America. She leans on her faith to get through this rough patch in life and marriage brought on by yet another Brett Favre interception (though this one was off-the-field). She discusses the importance of her faith. And it is not a generic American faith, but faith in the God of the bible; she quotes Isaiah 41.

At least there's one Favre I'm pulling for.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jesus is not offended by your doubts

On Friday evening, I had the opportunity to lead a youth devotion at a sleep over. Despite them having to stop a movie they were watching because of my arrival, I felt like the Friday night participation went well. We looked at a song by Nickel Creek called "Doubting Thomas." I learned from my prior youth group NOT to assume kids know the biblical allusion to "Doubting Thomas" in the book of John. So I made sure not to repeat that mistake this time and then played the song. Here are the lyrics.

What will be left when I've drawn my last breath,
Besides the folks I've met and the folks who know me, Will I discover a soul saving love,
Or just the dirt above and below me,

I'm a doubting thomas,

I took a promise,
But I do not feel safe,
Oh me of little faith,

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face,

Then I beg to be spared 'cause I'm a coward,
If there's a master of death I'll bet he's holding his breath,
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power,
I'm a doubting thomas,
I can't keep my promises,
'Cause i don't know what's safe,
oh me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth,

When I'm scared I'll find proof that its a lie,
Can I be lead down a trail dropping bread crumbs,
That prove I'm not ready to die,

Please give me time to decipher the signs,

Please forgive me for time that I've wasted,

I'm a doubting thomas,

I'll take your promise,
Though I know nothin's safe,
Oh me of little faith

I love this song's humble and honest approach to the doubt struggles all of us face.
And I think youth, of all people, because they are trying to discern or maintain what they believe in the face of high school and college life, need to know what to do with their doubts. I've seen doubts cause youth to leave the church, or simply study in isolation. Sometimes they are just ignored, but doubts, like festering tuna fish (gosh that practical joke back-fired on us in college) find a way of making themselves known.

John the Baptist brought his doubts straight to Jesus and asked if he really was the Messiah (Matthew 11). The man with a demon-possessed son brought his doubts to Jesus as well in saying, "I believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). They both came to Jesus and he did something with those doubts. That's how Jesus rolls. He's not offended by our doubts, and he can use doubters to tell people about Him.

In addition, we're to deal with our doubts in community, not isolation. Jude reminds the church to "have mercy on those who doubt."

In chapter 1, James has some harsher words for doubting, but in context, he really seems to be talking about a different situation (he does this type of things several times; its not contradiction, he just uses the same words differently, like we all do).

For the soul who is seeking the Lord, but finds doubts are getting in the way, there is hope. Come to Jesus and surround yourself with His community. I hope that you can be encouraged by this song and the scriptures to "take your promise" even though you "know nothing's safe."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Communicant Membership and why its important: Revised

This Sunday our church, Redeemer Pres, will be receiving two new communicant members. They are sister and brother in the 7th and 8th grade respectively. The only thing that is kind of weird is that outside a youth baptism, where we did receive her as a communicant member (kids become members when their parents join the church by profession of faith), we've not recently (the last communicants class has been several years) made a distinction betwixt member and communicant membership.

But there's a serious problem. Most Baptistic folks rightly find it special to declare VERBALLY that they in fact do personally believe in Jesus. For Baptists, this time is special because the child, youth, or adult now owns their own faith. And of course, whenever Presbyterians perform a believers' baptism it is also special. Less water, but just as special.

So if you join a Presbyterian church, or are persuaded to join the Dark Side on this issue (depending on who you ask!), do you forsake a special opportunity and sacrament? 

No, not at all, if the church follows the scriptural pattern of the Old and New Testament.

At some point in time, the baptized child, who has the sign and seal of God's Covenant Promise (the sacrament seals the PROMISE, not the PERSON-a Presbyterian distinction) still must decide one day if he will be a covenant keeper or a covenant breaker. When he/she decides to take in Jesus for himself/herself, he/she has the opportunity to make that public profession before Jesus and His congregation by affirming the gospel and concomitant scriptural membership vows-simply what it means to be a member of God's Covenant community.

THEN, the professing believer is invited to commune (hence the word "communicant") at the communion table. He has declared what he/she believes to be true and now partakes in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  He/she belongs there because of the work of the Holy Spirit. This is no less a joyous occasion than a baptism, and this is what is happening this Sunday.

At Redeemer, we're hoping to give believing children and youth an opportunity to profess Jesus publicly by going through a brief 4 part study based upon the gospel and membership vows. We're hoping children and youth will see this as an opportunity to exalt the saving work of Christ in their specific lives.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A 2 year old's interpretation and why it can be dangerous

On Sunday I got to watch a rare Bucs victory (though they have 3 of them so far, there won't be any more on TV I'm thinking), that was set up in large part by Safety Sabbi Piscitelli. Outside his interception, he played horribly, as usual. When he caught the ball, I told Connar, "That's the BAD safety!" Connar responded, with "mean guy." For Connar, bad is ONLY a moral category. 

Then we're outside playing baseball and he's running around the invisible bases and I'm telling him to "touch" the sidewalk chalked home plate. So instead of running over and stepping on home plate, he actually touched it with his hands. "Touch" ONLY means using your hands for Connar.

In reality, you can "touch" home plate with your foot and a player can be "bad" but still be a good guy or decent human being.

I think we can learn something from Connar in regards to scripture interpretation and application. The writers of scripture can use the same words with different meanings just like I did with Connar. For instance Jesus and James can say "Don't judge others/neighbors (Matthew 7/James 4), while Paul can say we need to judge those "inside the church" (I Cor 5:12).

Those are clearly two different situations, and two different contexts, and so there will be different applications. We can't go Oprah Winfrey and say "swinging" (again a different meaning than baseball!) isn't wrong, but we also have to examine our hearts when we do notice Christians who are not walking with the Lord. In some ways we judge (discern and shepherd them), in some way we don't (look down upon ungraciously).

My good friend and colleague Randy Greenwald, got me thinking about how pastors/theologians regularly fall into the same trap when disagreeing or arguing against the use of terms like missional and in-carnational. There have even been articles by theologians arguing against such terms. Really? Is this really necessary?

Isn't it good to live with Jesus commission in mind wherever you are and to live among those who need Him? Isn't that what He did? Who cares what term there is?

Two up and coming young famous pastors are actually working on a book together to define terms so that they can "rescue" such good terms and place them into what they deem the correct categories.

I think folks which are much smarter than I are reacting more like my 2 year old than like the brilliant godly men which they actually are. Context, and how the term is actually being applied is far more important than simply trying to nail down a one-size-fits-all definition. It will sell books for sure, but let us not forget that language is just much more fluid than that. We know that from simply using it!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fixing things and evangelism

I'm often envious of folks who are good at fixing things. Sometimes folks are better at fixing things than myself because that's just the way their brain works. But for the most part, whenever I ask folks how they learned to fix cars or sinks or do home improvement, the answer is simple: they learned from watching a parent or friend, and just asked a number of questions over the years.

Truth is often "caught" just as much as it is "taught." In no way am I denigrating formal teaching opportunities like Sunday School, youth group, family devotions. These are huge.

But we also need to be reminded that there are a plethora of teaching opportunities that we encounter throughout the day when it comes to children, youth, and even evangelism.

We learn so much by doing and asking questions.

Here's a thoughtful article on evangelism which really takes into account this method of teaching someone about Jesus. Instead of simple information transfer, this pastor decided it was most like Jesus to simply say, "Come follow me." Over time, through witnessing Christian community, and what grace really looks like, this fellow came to faith. There wasn't a specific date the lad could recall where he got saved. Instead, through both formal and informal teaching, Jesus grabbed a hold of his heart, and he believed and followed.

We learn about fixing sinks this way, why wouldn't we expect ourselves and others to learn more about Jesus this way?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rome, Moss, and James

On Monday Night Football this week, wide receiver Randy Moss had few if any balls thrown to him. He had no catches, and you had to think that something was wrong for a pro-bowl receiver to receive this little attention. And something was. Not long afterward, he was traded to the Minnesota Vikings, the place where he began his professional career.

Sports talk radio host Jim Rome had some interesting thoughts on this trade the day it went down. Moss, in the last year of his contract, instead of playing hard, just complained about not having a new deal. That is not the right way to go about things, particularly with this football team. While I can't stand New England as a team, I completely respect their philosophy: if players put themselves first, they get the boot. 

So they traded Moss. Rome's problem with the Moss trade is that they basically rewarded him, shipping him off to Minnesota with Brett Favre. They didn't send him to Tampa, Detroit, Oakland, or a team which has little hope of winning. They sent him to a very likely contender, to the very place he has already become familiar, and to a place which is known for paying their players handsomely.

Rome's take was that he did everything wrong, and got rewarded! Why did he do it this way? Because he could. He could get away with it, so why not gripe and whine and complain while making millions of dollars playing a game? He got what he wanted, so why not do it again? Why shouldn't others follow his example?

It reminded me of a passage I had recently read while studying James. The passage is actually not directed to the reader, but to the rich, unjust, unmerciful, exploitative unbeliever. There will literally be hell to pay (unless of course, there is genuine repentance) for such folk. While it seems like such folks simply do what they do because they "can," there will literally be a hell of a judgment.

And this is important. If you don't have this framework, you will become overly cynical and hopeless, or will want to take judgment into your own hands. We need a judge to forgive our sins, but we also need one who will punish wickedness. We should be thankful for both, and never sacrifice one at the altar of the other.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

God's presence and absence

Some of you may remember the tragedy of a hiker being trapped and freezing to death in Mt. Hood four years ago. That man, Kelly James, was the brother of my former RTS-Orlando professor and president Frank James. He is now the Provost, or "Head Shot" at Gordon Conwell Seminary.

Frank James gave classes on church history, but also led a 1 hour class called "Classics of Personal Devotion" my last year. The theme of that particular class was on suffering. So we read books like C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, D.A. Carson's How Long O Lord: Reflections on suffering and evil, and even Ellie Weisel's Night (which I had to read in Jr. High, High school, college and seminary-I could probably tell you what happens on each page by now).

If you want something raw and honest, and "Gosh I don't know if I'd have said that to or about God, much less wrote it down" type stuff, it doesn't get any better than Lewis' A Grief Observed. It's real, honest, and gritty spirtuality.

One of the critiques of the Carson book, which I found helpful, was that it was more textbook type stuff, and not something you could give someone in the midst of great suffering and loss. For that, you would opt for Lewis' book. But as far as preparation for suffering, which we all ought to be doing (because its something Jesus actually promises us), the Carson book gives some helpful framework. 

Then it just hit me, reading this article by Frank James, which is simply his reflection on both God's presence and absence (yes God can intentionally be distant from us at times, just as He did with the Psalmists to teach us something) that we had all been discussing together what it looks like to suffer. He was simply facilitating the discussion.
Now, in this article, it is his turn to be the teacher. But he does so simply by raising the question: "Where was God when my brother froze to death?" I highly commend these reflections to you. In the end, I wonder if those hours studying suffering in the classroom helped prepare him for this. Maybe or maybe not, but having a solid foundation may give us a more robust Jesus to hold on to during the night.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A thought provoking one-sie

For people who love football like myself, there is always a danger of really loving it too much. The same could be said for coaches. The Tennessee Titan's defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil clearly loved it too much when he flipped the bird to an official who made a bad "roughing the passer" call. There is no word on what type of bird was flipped-and yes there are different types of birds-because it was fuzzed out. It is weird how a "bird" can be fuzzed out, as though it is more inappropriate than TV adds which now regularly show women in bras and underwear. I don't get that one.

Anyhow, why did this lad flip the bird? He loved football, or more specifically something he gets from football, a lot. The referee's bad call stood in the way of that "god," and so the "bird" was let out of its proverbial cage. Not rocket science.

But what about for fans like myself, who may be in danger of loving football too much? My favorite baby gift for Cade (though I'm thankful for all who gave) so far is one I appreciate because it is so simple, yet so profound and challenging. It is a one-sie which says, "My Daddy loves me more than football." Now we could say, "Of course, we love our kids more than football."

But that's not fair to us or those we proclaim to love. Our actions are always representative of a deeper heart belief. They are a window into our real heart idols. If I love Cade more than football, I'll not neglect playing with Cade, and at times have to press pause and watch the game later or not at all. If I love football more than Cade, I'll let him see the lingering frustration of a tough loss, even if it is more subtle than flipping a bird, because my lifeline has been cut. If I love Cade more than football, I'll teach him how it can be a fun hobby which helps connect me with both Christians and non-Christians. If I love football more than Cade, football will be all I talk about or think about during the week.

I've never had my thoughts so provoked by a one-sie before. What a gift. While I love Connar's Bucs bib, and can't wait for Cade to wear it, I'm going to get that "Daddy loves me more than football" one-sie on during this Bucs season because I think I'll need that reminder if/when they start losing again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Tampa Bay Rays and the Church

Well the baseball playoffs are at hand. Now it is football season of course, but baseball, like most sports becomes more interesting during this time. My beloved Tampa Bay Rays finished the season yesterday with a dramatic 12 inning victory versus the Kansas City Royals giving them the best record in baseball. It is hard for me not to love the Rays because I'm a Tampa kid. But its also hard not to love the Rays for how they win. 

They don't have a huge payroll like the Yankees and Red Sox, and are easily near the bottom of the league in that area. They tend to only play with character guys, even though some of the character issues they've had have performed well elsewhere. And several of the players like their All-Star LF Carl Crawford and closing pitcher Rafael Soriano will soon depart for teams willing to pay them big bucks (look for one of the two to be on the Yankees or Sox next year). As a result, next year, new unproven, and cheaper players, will have to step into place. Finally, I love the fact that their manager, Joe Maddon, puts players wherever he needs them.

Here are some parallels I see with the Church. But please by no means think that I think God likes the Rays over the Yankees; that would be creating a God in my own image and we don't want to get that whole creation thing in reverse!

1.) Budgets do not determine the effectiveness of either the church or the team. Yes the Yankees have a huge budget and usually win, just like some churches have huge budgets and God blesses them. However, the size of the budget is far less important than the gospel centered character and mission of the church. God doesn't need a large budget or a building to do His work. He is far more concerned with people loving the gospel and depending upon him. We'll see far more success by relying on the gospel to motivate us to make a difference where we are.

2.) Turnover. Churches are always experiencing turnover, in the same way the Rays do. For the Yankees and Red Sox, they can simply replace departing players by throwing out the most money or trading for other already established prayers. They are less dependent (though I'm not saying they NEVER develop players) on developing talent from within than teams like the Rays-because the Rays have to do so. The church is no different. Instead of seeking replacements via trades (church transfers), we ought to seriously consider the need to actually spend the time it takes to develop new leadership. Churches must always be seeking ways to develop new leadership and never become complacent with existing leadership.

3.) Positions. The Rays regularly put their position players in different positions. Ben Zobrist, who happens to be a solid Christian, has played just about everything but catcher and pitcher. But this is normal when you're on the Rays. If you play 2nd base, you may be used at 3rd or Shortstop, 1st base, or even right-field. People at Redeemer seem to have adopted this mindset as well; I've heard, "Just put me in where you need me."

Anyhow, the Rays could end up losing to the Rangers in the first round of the play-offs. But still, the success they've had ought to at least cause us to examine what is really going on there. I think they can be a great encouragement to the church.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Justin McRoberts and Nine Inch Nails

I've been getting some good free music (although I really ought to start tipping the artists) on There's a plethora and decent variety of indie, folk, rock, and hymn projects. Some music is distinctly Christian music, some praise, some is simply music by Christians, and at least half is simply secular music. I recently downloaded the Noisemakers Sampler and have been incredibly impressed. It comprises artists like Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Green River Ordinance (a new band I'm high on who have recently toured with Goo Goo Dolls and Switchfoot), and bunch of non-famous ones who are just as good. I highly recommend this sample, which is completely free.

One song on the Noisemakers Sampler sounded strangely familiar. Because it was. It was a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song called "Head like a hole," by an artist named Justin McRoberts. He has compiled an album of covers appropriately named "Through songs I was first undone." Now he is blogging here, and explains how someone so sac-religious as Trent Reznor of N.I.N., can still offer a helpful and healthy critique on reality here and here. The abuse of power this lad sings against is the same abuse of political and religious power the Old Testament prophets divinely preached against. McRoberts gives a thoughtful explanation of how this song, written by someone so antagonistic to Jesus, left him "undone" and running to Jesus.
McRoberts takes some of the angst out of his rendition and turns it into more of a lament. Again, you can download the album here. I wasn't a huge fan of one of his albums, but b/c his Christian thought and art is so deep, I'm going to re-listen to his original songs, as well as look into his newest project.