Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Andrea Kramer and asking questions

Sideline reporters often have little to offer the coach, the athlete, or even the viewer. Their questions are often obvious, ill timed, or just plain dumb. With the Olympics happening only every 4 years, one might think that we would see an exception to the rule. One might be wrong.

Andrea Kramer, the gal entrusted with interviewing the successful or struggling swimmers just minutes after their races, has completely bombed. Now I realize that she is a two time Emmy Award winning broadcaster. But in my opinion, she seems to have miserably failed to "read" the interviewee. She has routinely asked the losers ridiculous questions (and even the winners-"which Michael Phelps will show up?"), so much so that when she thanks them for the interview, several have just walked away quietly and unresponsive with a gracious perturbation. The athletes don't like it. The viewer doesn't like it. So does NBC?

If we can learn anything from Andrea Kramer, it is this: Bad questions + Bad timing=people who don't want to talk with you.

Now in Kramer's defense, she has no option in regards to timing. Time is of the essence as the events just keep coming. But for most of us, as parents, pastors, and just plain people, we have time to let people cool down. Even good questions asked at the wrong time can lead to not so good answers and attitudes. Yet good timing probably even covers over not-so-good questions. Something for me to think through when teaching my passionate 4 year old soon-to-be Tee-baller, "There is no crying in baseball" (unless you get hurt of course).

Patience may be the difference in getting a good interview or just making folks walk away angry without listening to you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Don't Waste the Olympics

I've been digging the Olympics. It's only once every 4 years that I find myself caring bout such seemingly insignificant sports/events/hobbies that would have trouble finding their way onto ESPN8 "the Ocho." But because these games only occur once ever four years, I care that the USA wins Water Polo over Montenegro. I can legitimately say that I care.

But one thing that has put me in a more contemplative mood has been the losers. Micheal Phelps not medaling and Jordyn Wieber not being able to compete in the gymnastics all around have been my major "stand-outs." But since there is pretty much a new crop of gymnasts every four years, an every four years "fan" can't get to know them. So I'll briefly share some thoughts on the former American golden boy Michael Phelps.

Four years ago, this guy could simply jump in the pool and he'd win. According to an interview with his family, his sisters recounted that he had become more desirable than famous male celebrities. I can't remember which one, but then again, I'm not really into male celebrities or movies stars. And yet, during the grueling 400 meter medley, he didn't even medal. Losing to Lochte, who described these Olympics as "my time," had to sting just as badly.

The winner was now a loser.

How will he fare in the rest of the Olympics? Will he garner more gold or miss out on the bronzes again? 

But more existentially, who will he really be, now that he cannot describe himself as the best anymore? Who we really are is shown not in victory but in defeat. In victory, we can hide behind gold medals. We can hide behind successful careers, well behaved kids, new houses, thriving churches, approval ratings. But when we "lose," those things are revealed for what they often are. Simply places to hide behind.

I hate losing. I hate it when my team loses. I cannot imagine training for four years for an event or events (though Phelps did only for 9 months in that medley), and then blowing it. But sometimes God will tear down those walls. He tears down walls that not only serve as barriers to the horizontal relationships, but to the walls we erect in our relationship with Him. It's at that point, that we are no longer Olympic athletes, successful businessmen, parents, or pastors, but we are just His children. Or we're just losers grasping at something else to hide behind. Being is children is plenty enough. When it's not, God will in His goodness, show love by allowing you to lose. When the tears dry, lets remember to thank Him because losers can see Him more clearly.

My four year old asked if Micheal Phelps tells people about Jesus. I told him that Phelps, to my knowledge, doesn't love Jesus. His response, "Well then we need to tell him." I told him that we probably won't be able to meet him. So I guess we'll have to pray.

There are many ways to not "waste the Olympics." Here's just one: Pull for winners, but remember to pray for the losers. They've just had their walls broken down but they need their hearts to be made alive (Eph 2:1). As a family, we'll pull for Phelps (Lochte is way too arrogant) to win, but we'll pray that his losses, and/or even his medals, will only lead to his ultimate gain (Phil 3:8).

Whether the athletes win or lose, here is a fitting verse to pray for the athletes and thus participate in the games, even as you spectate. 

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ"-Phil 3:8

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When kids say, "I don't want to go to church!"

One of the struggles of Christian parenting is shepherding your children into the desire of following God. If I make them learn catechism questions, or go to church, they will grow up and reject the church and the gospel because I have made them do it. That's sometimes what we think, and perhaps that's a legitimate fear, or "concern" if you don't like to admit to being afraid.

At what level do you "make" your kids do anything? How "religious" in nature should something be before you say, "OK, I don't want you to have to do this." For instance, school and breaking the Law are pretty much non-negotiables, right?  It doesn't matter if they want to do it, they have to or don't have to do it. 

Should it be the same for regularly coming to church? Bible study, catechism questions, etc...? Should we just say, "You have to come to Church?"

Right now my 4 year old lives for church. He has 3 years of children's church before he hears his daddy preach. Will he enjoy it then? What will I do when he says, "I don't want to come?" What should you do as laity with your kids? Instead of a road block, this is an opportunity to lead your family to Christ and His Church in a deeper way.

Here are some thoughts about the subject which have bounced around in my head for a bit.

1.) Don't assume that making your kid go to church will necessarily make him not want to go to church when he/she gets older. My wife and I had to go to church growing up, but I only missed a few Sundays even when in college. There is not a tit-for-tat relationship for every child and mandatory church attendance. However, some of had experiences of having to go to church and decided to be done with it later in life. Experience varies.

2.) The Christian life is not easy. There are things that I want to do that I can't. There are things God calls me to do that I don't want to do. Following Jesus involves taking up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23). If our kids only do the things they want to do, and as parents we regularly foster that attitude by giving into the demands of our children to stay home on Sunday, then we are setting up a pick-and-choose Lordship of King Jesus. But his lordship is to be entire (though obviously impossible, that is the direction we are moving toward). So just leaving them at home doesn't help in the long run either.

3.) The motivation of the human heart is never going to be perfect. Even when someone doesn't want to be at church, and is only there because of duty-on his or his parent's part-the Holy Spirit can still show up. He really can. I hear it all the time. When you put yourselves in the way of the oncoming train of grace, you are likely to get hit. His work of sanctification is there for the asking and we need to regularly point our kids to Him. Even folks driven by duty and gasoline can find grace in the preached Word, congregational singing, sacraments, and fellowship.

4.) Ask "Why" and get to the heart of the matter.  Don't simply make your kids go without any explanation. Don't simply just let them stay home from church whenever the want. Both will produce people who are either bitter or see no need for the church. Either of those methods completely ignore the gospel. But they are in fact easiest options in this saga, and so the tendency is to deal with it on a simple black-and-white level. Do or don't do. Very Yoda-esque, just not gospel-esque.

Instead of saying, "We're going no matter what" or "We're going when we/you feel like it," why not ask the deeper question: why don't you want to come to church? Sounds like a simple question, but simple questions are often windows into our souls. 

Here are some excuses which have come up in my discussion with adults and youth over the years on why they didn't want to come to church.

1.) Boring. Why is something boring? Having something not pertain to your life as a teenager makes things boring very quickly. But as a parent, you have the opportunity to follow up after the sermon and talk through the points, illustrations, gospel connections. Even if the pastor doesn't do a good job speaking to teenagers (which ours does), you as a parent can play a big role in discussing and applying the sermons. It also sets you up to talk to bigger issues. Boring is the response of the soul that doesn't really get the gospel. No one was ever bored with Jesus. Ever. They loved him and worshiped Him, or hated and tried to kill him. You never get to Jesus by simply a "come at all costs" or "just stay at home" mentality. Both stop short.

2.) Relationships. Sometimes interpersonal drama (I wish it were only the case with teenagers!) makes kids not want to come. There may be something more than "I just want to stay home." Now you can apply the gospel to their relationships: forgiveness, peacemaking, truth telling, etc....I once heard an adult describe coming to church as "doing a dance." This woman didn't get the gospel. Even though the church was less than healthy, staying home allowed her to not apply the gospel to her situation. Perhaps she was right or perhaps it was simply her perception, but the gospel which tells her she is now in right relationship with God frees her up to not care what others thought of her dress.

3.) We want our kids to sense a "need" to come to church. Not that Jesus will like us more, but because we are dissatisfied with the substitute mini-saviors. Tell them, "Daddy needs to hear about Jesus big time. He desperately needs to hear about grace so that the mini-saviors begin to lose their appeal." They'll begin to see it's not an obligation but a need.

4.) We also want them to want to come to church. Tell them, "Daddy wants to hear more about Jesus big time. In light of what He's done, is doing, will do, I want to hear about Him and be among His people." Tell them-if it is true-that Sunday morning is the high point of the week and that you hate to miss. Let them see and hear not only your need but your desire. They'll begin to see it's not an obligation but a delight.

In conclusion-which I know is not how you should conclude anything (but this was a bit of 'stream of consciousness writing so I felt it necessary), don't fall into the easy route of saying, "OK, you can stay at home," or "You're coming with us."

Simply taking your kids to church every Sunday is not "doing all that we could do as parents." When they don't want to come, take pains to understand why. You will have ample opportunities to point them to Jesus, both to his commands and His promises. But you'll miss out if you don't take the time to ask the simply question, "Why not?"

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why have an annual men's camping/fishing trip?

The men of Redeemer headed for our 59th (creative license) annual camping/fishing trip. Due to my 2nd son's birth, I missed the trip of two years ago, but have had the opportunity to go on the last two. Part of what excites me the most about these trips is that they are almost entirely planned by someone not named "Geoff" and therefore not dependent upon me. It's always exciting to see guys take ownership of ministries.

On this last trip I really began to reflect upon why such a trip is really a ministry. And it doesn't depend on your definition of "is." I really think these trips play a part in all the discipleship, shepherding, and mobilization of men.

Let me explain.

Whether today's folks like to hear it or not, women and men are just different. And so you if you are targeting men, you can't do the same things you do for women and expect to get the same results. Often times men really need to get away in order to go deep. Women can have a brunch and get deep pretty quickly. Men can't. There is something about getting away, getting out of town, and pitching a tent that brings out depth and openness. Men take a longer time to know and be known. But this certainly speeds up the process.

I learned things about guys who I thought I was pretty close to this week that I had no clue about. I learned about parents who had passed away young, sibling rivalries (and sibling violence-a guitar broken over the head of another!), family backgrounds, war experience, a common love for Belize. I learned of church backgrounds, what people were reading and how Tim Keller had connected with them (and not to eat a pound of hamburger meat in a 16 hour period). 

I briefly mentioned a book I've been reading In the presence of my enemies, and found out one of the guys was actually in the Philippines at the time of this missionary couple's kidnapping. He even gave me some inside info.

None of this stuff had to be forced. If people love Jesus, and get together in such a setting, stuff naturally comes out and there is no need for a planned devotional time.

A shared experience draws men more so than a shared meal. I wouldn't have learned half of what I had if we went out to eat, even on a regular basis. I like going to eat, and that's a start, but men need relational help. We really do. This is a huge help in connecting people who would otherwise only have a surface relationship at church. Now that church relationship is enhanced. The lads may have little in common, but they have an experience now. When guys taste deep relationships, they want more. They are ripe to be plugged into small groups.

Maybe this is just as much true for women, but I think men profit to a greater degree from it.

With the glory of nature, I had the opportunity to worship God. With the glory of community, I had the chance to be know and be known, and then worship God in thanksgiving. And I needed it.

The fishing was OK, with lots of small fish and the monster small mouth bass that broke my line. But because of the two aforementioned reasons, I'm thankful for this ministry. So if you are one of the women who sacrificed or were willing to sacrifice a weekend away from your husband, I thank you. Nay, I salute you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Magic Mike, 50 Shades, and actually asking real questions

Perhaps a week or so ago, I came across an intriguing (the Jesuits taught us never to use the word "interesting," but never suggested any alternatives!) article reflecting on the general issue of "Mommy Porn" in its specific expression through Magic Mike and 50 Shades of Grey

I commend the article to you, as a thoughtful and gracious resource to help women (though I think its helpful for men too) wrestle with in applying the gospel. Since God's grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12), then we should not be surprised that the gospel, which gives real freedom, enables us to say no to certain books or movies. I was reading in Thessalonians 4 today and reminded him of God's call to purity and abstaining from sexual immorality. Paul even reminds this group that "Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you."

It is no undocumented struggle that many men in the church struggle with pornography addictions. But to limit the struggle only to men looking at naked women is looking more and more foolish. Guys and gals don't have to be naked in order to be objects of lust. For instance, one could look at a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and not technically be looking at pornography. But the goal of looking lustfully on another woman not your wife is what is happening. 

When I was a youth director, I walked in the pastor's office on two young gals looking at "hot guys" on the computer. They were fully clothed (both the gals and the "hot guys" that is). But what was the point? I can't speak to what was going on in their heart, but I can speak to the tendencies of the human heart. I can ask the question, and I think I did-its been 12 years or so-how is that different than me looking at "hot babes" on-line? Whether an object of lust is wearing skinny jeans, jean shorts, no shorts, tankini, bikini, or no kini, the real issue is not what he/she is wearing but the heart of the observer.

Below are some of real questions that I think are overlooked in what we should/shouldn't watch or how, or how much we should watch what we watch.

  • Are you going to that person/image to simply feel pleasure, meaning, purpose, release from a hard day? How much more so when that object feeds your lustful appetite? That is called an idol, and anyway you slice it-fellas or ladies-that is not good, because that is not God.
  •  "Why am I watching this?" Is it to look at "hot guys" and drool over them? Is it to be sexually stimulated by someone other than your spouse? I don't see Jesus being OK with that. Do we really need a bible verse here?
If you can say that you are reading books, going to websites, staring at guys and girls and NOT doing so for sexual arousal and/or intimacy you should be getting from a relationship with Christ, your spouse, your church community, you may be OK (doesn't mean it is wise though).

Clothes, no clothes (as in Magic Mike) are not the issue. The issue is you and what God's will for you is: your sanctification (I Thess 4:3)

Now to apply the gospel, we have to get specific, don't we? That always opens you up to the charge of being legalistic or pharisaical. But there are times when you need to stand up and say, "These are the issues, and to partake in such a movie/book/activity is nearly impossible to live consistently with the gospel you claim to believe." I do believe this is such a time and am thankful for this bold young lass's assessment.

There are also other times when things may not be as clear but the issue is still the same: why are you watching it, and does watching it move you to sin? This is a slightly different scenario where you can't tell so and so not to watch something (pharisaical), but for you to watch something it would be sin (personal conviction).

For instance, I intentionally didn't watch a popular show because of a certain lead actress (she just happens to be from WV). My friends could watch the same show and be OK, but I couldn't. So I didn't. I don't say this as a pat on the back, but simply to show the fact that the problem is sometimes in the viewer.

Here's a more recent example. I recently received the "Body Issue" of ESPN the magazine. I did open it up and saw a naked Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski holding a football over his ______. I almost vomited. But the pictures of women would have put quite different thoughts into my head. Amy suggested I throw it away and how could I not agree? You don't have to throw away your "Body Issue," but it wouldn't be a bad idea to pose the question.

The scariest thing to me in the church as a whole right now is our relaxed sexual ethic. I'm not talking about being able to talk about sex, struggle through issues on premarital sex, bad sex, same sex attraction, etc...I'm talking about the fact that we have limboed our sexual standards so low that it seems we are competing with non-Christians. 

I wonder how often Christians actually ask the question: should I watch this (as opposed to "can" I watch this)? I'm more concerned about the question then the answers. If people honestly asked such questions, and allowed the gospel to shed light on the issues, we would be in a lot better shape. Challenging people to really ask the hard and heart questions will keep Christians moving toward holiness and away from both licentiousness and legalism.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The gospel according to the Hatfields and McCoys

Before I went on vacation in June, I had the chance to watch the very well done History Channel original mini-series The Hatfields and the McCoys. A city slicker (although that's a bit of a stretch coming from Bradenton) from FL, I knew next to nothing about this deadly feud. Well other than it was a feud, and was quite deadly. 

I was astounded at the quality of acting and writing for a production like this. I did find myself changing sides every few commercial breaks. At the end, it wasn't so much a "side" I took, but which family elicited the most pity in me. The pity "ESPY" went to the Kentucky based McCoy's, primarily due to the fact that the patriarch Randall McCoy lost more than 5 kids, plus a beaten up spouse who never recovered.

The Hatfield patriarch, Devil Anse (not sure where that name came from), ended up losing a brother and extended family. No kids. So to me that's probably less of a blow.

But what saddened me the most was not only the loss of life, but the loss of faith. The very religious Randall McCoy ended up losing his faith when God didn't answer his prayer to deliver he and his family from the marauding McCoy clan. After he prayer for deliverance, he lost two kids and a spouse. That was the final straw.

And so this religious man, who told others that they needed simply to have faith, in the end, lost the only thing that ultimately mattered. 

But the opposite was true with Devil Anse Hatfield. At the end of the mini-series, this very irreligious man was baptized. The one who deserted the army, blasphemed regularly, and even told Randall not to mention "God" around him or he would shoot him on the spot, became a Christian.

Sound familiar? It should. It's just the Prodigal Son story told all over again. McCoy never deserted the army; in fact he stayed and he was the lone survivor in the prison camp. Hatfield left him high and dry. When the two saw each other in church, the religious McCoy wouldn't even talk to the irreligious Hatfield.

Yet the old son who never seemingly left, who did the right things and encouraged others to be religious as well, missed Jesus. That was the saddest part for me. And the irreligious one found Him, or rather was found by Him. 

Shouldn't surprise us. We've seen it before. And we'll keep seeing it. Both types of people are just as lost, they just don't look as lost to the untrained eye. But they are, and that's why neither type will "ask for directions" until moved by the Spirit. The beauty of such "lostness," is is that neither one is beyond God's reach.

So there was in fact redemption at the end of this bloody feud, just not how one might have expected it to come. But maybe we should have.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Knowing those inside your church but outside your generation

This is simply a continuation of the previous post on exegesis. The pastor, teacher, parent, friend, evangelist's primary object of exegesis is the scriptures. If we don't have that, we only have opinions. But as I've argued already, you will limit your effectiveness in applying and connecting the scriptures (their commands and promises) to people without also exegeting your culture and yourself. 

But there are a few more categories I head posited to me while at General Assembly a few weeks ago.

Exegete your church

Each church is different. They really are. I preached at a PCA church in Barboursville, WV last week. I'll be tweaking it and re-preaching the same sermon this week. My exegesis of scriptures will be very similar, just some minor changes here and there. However, my application section is very different. We have different people who struggle with different idols. The church's look different, music is different, and the people are just different. So my application section is being re-worked based upon my exegesis of this particular church: its idols, its issues, its sufferings. I'm aware of some of the struggles people face because I know them personally. Therefore I try to think through what people need to hear as well as how they will hear it. Any improving teacher is aware of what is going on not only in the culture of what his students, kids, are facing, but specifically aware of the lives of his/her students in his/her church.

Exegete the generation. 

I'm well versed on the need to exegete the culture in order to best apply the bible, but this was something I hadn't necessarily thought too much about. Mike Ross, pastor Christ Covenant in Charlotte, NC, discussed the need to think through how different generations see things differently. Sometimes these differences are not even sinful differences; they are just different. 

Younger people tend to take more risk, older folks tend to take fewer and focus on maintaining. The "greatest" generation is very loyal, and duty and commitment are important. My generation doesn't think too highly about either. Sadly. Can you guess which one tends toward legalism and which one tends toward license (though obviously not across the board)? Not only that, but you have the middle school generation which is prone to moralize things and thus miss Jesus. Can't forget them!

You have college students, you have singles, young families, empty nesters, you have retirees, and whatever is the next stage after that, etc..

When we preach, teach, direct, encourage, admonish, its best to think through the question: how would this person best "hear" what is being said?

Sound like a lot of work? Teaching, preaching, parenting, discipling, shepherding is. Of course most of this takes place organically in the context of relationships and not through extra study time. Knowing the bible, knowing yourself, knowing your church, and knowing your people will help them and you better know your Savior.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Before you accuse/teach me, take a look at yourself: exegeting yourself

Yesterday's post on choosing "fan" over "follower," or at least not throwing out the word "fan" was basically an exercise in exegesis.

According to Wikipedia, which as Micheal Scott points out, "Anyone can put anything up there, and change things at any time, so you know you're only getting the best information," here is a working definition:

Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι 'to lead out') is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used for greater specificity. The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance.

Typically when religious folks like myself think of exegesis, they think about examining the bible to determine exactly what it means so that they can apply the passage to life. But I would argue that my favor of "fan" is an exercise in exegesis as well. And even a much needed one.

A recent discussion on sanctification at General Assembly only confirmed my thoughts and even added a new categorie to my thinking. If one is going to exegete the scriptures and teach them to others, he/she must not stop at biblical exegesis, or his/her teaching and application will actually fall short. Exegesis of scripture without exegeting other factors will limit your effectiveness as a teacher, pastor, parent, friend hoping to pass on the gospel and its depth to both Christians and non-Christians.

Here are several categories that Bryan Chappell and Mike Ross put forth as exegetical necessities if we are to properly exegete and apply the scriptures. They were directed primarily to pastors and elders, but they are apropos for anyone seeking to share and/or apply the gospel.

1.)  Exegete yourself. You have to take a look within yourself. You have to know yourself if you are going to "get out" from the text what God intended, and what God intends to be applied today. When you teach others, you cannot simply assume your experience with a particular issue is universal. For instance, if your parents made you go to church as a child and you didn't want to, and it made you not want to go as an adult, you cannot assume that experience is universal. My parents made me go, and I only missed a few Sundays when I was in college. Same with my wife.  In other words, you might be prone to legalism and hate it, but your kids, neighbors, students, might be prone to thinking the gospel promotes freedom to ignore and discard God's law. We have to understand ourselves to understand and apply the scriptures. To borrow from Eric Clapton, "Before you accuse me (or teach me-my addition obviously), take a look at yourself."

2.) Exegete your culture. You have to know your culture in order to teach to those within your culture (you are also within that culture-we can't escape!). That's why I think the word "fan" means something here that it might not somewhere else.  I've already illustrated this exegesis of culture in my previous post.

Since I dislike, and don't read long blog posts, I'll stop here and post a few more exegetical categories tomorrow and the next day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fan Vs. Follower: I may go with "fan" in West Virginia

At my four year old's preschool, I noticed a sign for a some sort of study or sermon series called "Fan or Follower?" I think this has become popular as I've seen it elsewhere. While I didn't go to the sermon or study for obvious reasons (kind of busy at my own church!), I wondered whether the terms were the best suited for the distinction, at least in my area.

I get the reason for the question-are you a fan of Jesus or are you a follower (the latter is supposedly the committed one)-but found it a little ironic, if not out of place in West Virginia.

I even the get the answer: Jesus calls us to follow Him. He is not just someone we root for and then go back to doing whatever we were doing: work, play, school, etc...

However I wonder if the term "fan" actually connotes something even more committed than the term follower, at least how we think of the term.

I'm really not belittling the church for using this designation, I just wonder if these are the right terms to use here.

For instance, a fan to most of us in this area isn't someone that "likes" something on facebook, it is someone who is passionate about his team. In a culture driven by sports-either watching them, expecting your kid to get a scholarship from them, following them on internet discussion boards-the fan is much more than just someone who watches a team and then goes about his business. He takes that passion with him where he goes. He/she, as I should say, gets angry when his/her team lose, elated when they win. He/she think about the next time his/her team will play. The team's performance often determines his attitude. There is no offseason for a true fan. 

And I'm not dogging much of this behavior. I check the Bucs website several times a day, even in the off season. But what I'm saying is a "fan" is pretty darn involved, committed, and can even be obsessed. It can be a greater passion than anything else.

When you think of a "committed" (to those who don't share the same team the term is obnoxious) fan, you have to think of a West Virginia University Mountaineer fan. The fans are so committed-or some would argue obnoxious-that one of my friends stopped going to home games because he almost got into a fight with a fellow Mountaineer fan; he wasn't "in" to the game enough, apparently, from what I remember of the conversation.

3. West Virginia University. The school led the nation in intentionally set street fires from 1997 to 2003, lighting up an unmatchable 1,120 blazes. That includes 120 in a single night to celebrate a football win over Virginia Tech in 2003 and sixty infernos set to celebrate advancing to the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament in 2005.

Now setting fire to things is certainly going beyond what it means to be a fan, or at least what it means to break the law (I think couch burning is now a felony).

But consider that the term "fan" for many means someone who is passionate, who puts all his eggs in one basket, who is loyal, who follows a team whether at work or at play, who talks about his team to others and wants to hear others talk about his team, who's emotional state rests not on what is going on around him but what is happening in the game, who can't see how others could be divided in their "fan-ship." 

All that stuff, if applied to Jesus, seems pretty good. To learn about Jesus through other people, to think about him, to use the web to learn and share about him, to put all your eggs in his basket, to have your emotional state driven by His victory instead of your situations.

If I could be more of a West Virginia type fan for Jesus, I think I'd take that. That seems to me, in every sense of the cultural definition of a fan, to mean just as much, if not more, than a "follower."

Jesus did say, though not in English, "Come follow me." And in Greek, he predominantly, though not entirely, is recorded (he spoke Aramaic) to have use one term. But I wonder if in West Virginia 2012 if we wouldn't have said, "Come be the fan of me that you are for West Virginia football." 

I think fan is probably as good a term as follower. Maybe in a lot of places outside this state as well. Soccer-in any country but this one-anyone?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

People are God's letters too

While on vacation, on my way to and from a fishing trip, I listened to a sermon by Martin Ban out of Christ Church Santa Fe, NM . He unashamedly proclaimed that God's people, were indeed God's first letters of the New Testament. His text came from Acts 2, the story of Pentecost, but he also referenced Paul's 2nd letter to Corinth to borrow some of the same terminology.

"2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." -II Cor 3:2-3

Paul describes the believers at Corinth as God's letters. But of course the only reason this can happen is if God puts His Spirit inside of them-and that of course made possible by Pentecost, hence the connection. If that is true, then we can be confident we can hear God speak to us through other believers. While this sounds a bit on the charismatic side of things, we probably shouldn't be uncomfortable with this type of thinking. 

God does speak to us through other people. Ban challenged us to think through the great number of times when we learned something not simply from reading the bible, but by hearing instruction from another Christian. Now of course when people say things that aren't consistent with the scriptures, we know their words clearly aren't from God. But sometimes such words can actually clarify, and help us apply God's words.

Let me give you a recent example. 

I have been pondering the words in the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians during my devotion time. They have been helpful in thinking through evangelism, and the suffering it may take to minister the word or even to receive the word. I was further reminded of the incarnational component to ministry and evangelism where Paul and his team loved, labored, and lived among the people. Great stuff, but theoretical until applied.

Last night one of my neighbors came by at the usual undesired time at 7 pm (right when the boys were getting ready for bed). He rang the door bell to drop off some popsicles: the kind that you buy by the 100's. But there were only 4 of them. Connar was hoping for more. 

I told Amy, "Why would someone want to bring by 4 popsicles? And during the kids bed time? How dare he?" 

Amy responded, "Geoff, because he just wants to spend time with us." 

I responded, "Oh...."

God spoke to me through Amy. God was telling me about incarnational living, and loving, and spending time-when it wasn't necessarily convenient. He spoke to me that I needed TO do it in my time in the Word. But he spoke to me WHO I needed to apply this passage to THROUGH Amy. For some reason it just didn't click until God spoke through her.

Don't ignore God's written Word. But don't forget that we ourselves are His letters which need to be read by His people in relationships. If you do ignore God speaking to you THROUGH others, you'll miss out on following and experiencing the Living Word made flesh: Jesus.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Thoughts from the Outage

In case you didn't hear about the massive power outages across West Va, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, well, we had them. A majority of West Va was actually without power because of a devastating storm that somehow managed to sneak up and do quite a bit of damage. Sunday morning power was restored at Redeemer, and the Henderson's got it on Sunday night. Almost exactly 48 hours after it went out.

After sitting in air conditioning all day, here are some thoughts about this ordeal.

1.) Thankful. I will try not to complain about power bills. I usually don't (I complain about water bills because I think I have a leak but can't prove it-how else would my water be as high as a neighbor with 3 daughters!), but now you could probably put me down in the happy-to-pay-the-power-bill category for at least 4 months. I won't take power for granted, at least not for a few months (I know myself).

2.) Need for community.  When you don't have power, your need for others is exposed and increased. Someone gave me a car charger for my I-Phone and it worked. For 5 minutes and then my phone realized it doesn't recognize knock-off I-phone chargers from Walmart. So I had to go to my neighbor and ask if I could plug my phone into his generator. I'm glad I did because it gave us a chance to catch up. But I wanted to take care of it myself, and would have, if I could have done it alone. Then while Cade lay fast asleep in our basement, Amy, Connar, and I got locked out of our house due to a broken door knob (courtesy of our boys).  We had to run to different neighbors this time. After library cards couldn't pick the lock, we borrowed some wire cutters, cut the screen and then slid Connar into the window for him to unlock the door. I might have been too big to climb (or do it comfortably) through the window over the deck, so the 4 year old came to the rescue. And it was Amy's idea to use Connar that way. We needed everyone.

3.) Need for worship. We got power on at the church Sunday morning. Whether we had to meet in the parking lot, we were going to gather. I needed it. I needed the rhythm of the weekly sabbath to gather for hearing God's word (whether planned or extemporaneously preached), the singing of songs, confession of sins, hearing the assurance of grace. I needed to hear about others hardships with the power outage. I needed to hear that as Christians we don't have to act as the rest of the world does and freak out when things like this happen. I was thankful to meet indoors in the cool of the sanctuary, but it was Christ who I think I would have found regardless. It was he who calmed and refreshed my weary soul. We need Him each week, and we have the opportunity to find Him in a special way when we gather for worship.

4.) Lack of power is a great equalizer. I waited in line for about 30-40 minutes for coffee the first morning of the power outage. I was standing behind some carnies, who were trying to grab a cup of joe before heading back to fix the carnival stuff at the high school. Behind me was a church member. Beside me were wealthy and lower income. We were all without power. Regardless of class, smell, number of teeth, skin color, appearance, we were all helpless and in need. It reminded me of another great equalizer: God's law. It reveals to us how we are ALL powerless to measure up or keep it. One of the purposes of God's Law is to remind is to lay us low. But being laid low helps us identify and humble ourselves with fellow sinners all around us. And being laid low makes the good news of a complete pardon and perfect record that much greater. Fortunately we don't have to wait 48 hours after a look at God's law for relief! Both Jesus and electricity are much more precious to me after this trial. Even Connar told me, "Daddy, I like electricity." Hopefully he'll have an appreciation for both kinds of power for a while.

And please don't forget to keep praying for those who won't get power on for a few more days. Thanks.