Friday, August 31, 2012

That nuerotic parent just might be you

Just like every August for the last, well 20 years or so, the Little League World Series, has come and gone. With it another crop of kids thankful to play at such a high level, and others wishing they had just played one more game. Aside from the missed family vacations, the LLWS probably does more good than bad.

But one group which stuck out in my 15 minutes (total) of watching the LLWS was the parents. Numbers of parents had photograph face cut-outs on popsicle sticks of their kids. No doubt their kids names and numbers were on their mini vans as well. Neither activity is necessarily bad, but possibly more often than not, inform the world what these parents live for: their children's sports success.

Parents can be really neurotic about their children's success, and sometimes its very easy to diagnose that neurosis it others. And consequently it's very easy to be disgusted when you see it. My wife couldn't stomach the LLWS after seeing those popsicle sticks. I get disgusted when parents when parents will stop at nothing to make their kid front and center. 

But today I reflected upon my similarity to that neurosis I hate so much in others but often fail to see in myself. I had told someone recently that Connar was the best kid on his Tee ball team at the first practice. But on Tuesday he was hitting the tee, and actually throwing the ball "like a baby" (that's the most apropos comparison I could muster). On one occasion, instead of throwing to first base, he simply rolled it! Another kid, a 5 year old, hit better, threw farther and fielded better.  Connar wasn't the best anymore and I couldn't take it.

So what did I do? I went out and bought a soft Teeball the next day. When Connar hit the stitches off the ball, I went out and bought a bag of balls. At what point do I want him to be the best, and "try his best to honor God," for my sake, and for my glory. I was no different than those parents that made me sick: I need him to be front and center. I had already become (actually a while ago) the parent I had so quickly critiqued.

Here are some things I learned and may prove helpful

1.) Remember what is good about our kids performances. It is good to practice. After all we develop our spiritual gifts by practicing as well. Performances, whether in school, sports, plays, teach discipline and give us opportunities to do all things for the glory of God (I Cor 10:31). Praying, reading the bible, and telling people about Jesus are not the only "spiritual" things we do.

2.) Repent regularly. I think as parents we cross back and forth over the lines of my glory/kids glory/God's glory all the time. Therefore we need to reflect, repent, and rest in Christ often. Very often.

3.) Listen to ourselves talk. One way to examine our motives is not to look at other people's mini-vans, but to listen to our own words. Do we talk an inordinate amount of time about our kids interests or about Jesus? We talk about what we cherish (channeling my inner John Piper now). And we teach our kids by talking about what we cherish. 

4.) What REALLY is my primary goal?  Is it a scholarship for my kid? That would be great, but I'm not planning on that happening. As long as my son wants to practice hitting and fielding every day in our front yard, I'll keep pitching fastballs to him. Yet my primary goal is for him to walk with Jesus and connect to a church when he leaves the house. If that really is my goal, it will be reflected in my conversation, prayers, time spent, and even my dreams. I don't think it hurts to regularly remember and recast that vision to yourself and your spouse time and time again.

When these things are in place, I can get back to coaching, practicing, and simply enjoying and delighting in my child as the great gift from God he is. Regardless of his performance. That's how God looks at His children, so I figure that's probably a good model.

I can have a cut-out (though I doubt I ever will), I can put his name, number, and sport on my minivan (though I know I never will), when I remember who God is and who my child is not.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Risk, failure, and the gospel

This Fall at Redeemer, we are planning on launching 4 new CD (community/discipleship) groups, plus a morning bible study for ladies and a Reformed theology class on Monday evenings. We have plenty of folks not involved in anything outside of corporate worship. And the Lord has blessed us with a healthy visitor stream since the gift of our building. So we really do need more places for discipleship, community, fellowship, and service to happen. 

We could play it safe, and just add one group at a time. But as my life begins to enter into a busy season (only one in Tee ball now, but it won't be long for another...), I'm more sympathetic to how busy folks with families are. Therefore it is essential-if you can-to offer a plethora of opportunities that fit within schedules and rhythms of life.

The "danger" in offering so many opportunities is that it could be harder for one particular group to launch. One group could fail to get the necessary number to really sustain itself because another time slot works better (or only works) for more folks. And you really don't know which will work until a leader commits. So one group could "fail." Is it worth it?

I think the deeper question is, "Is it worth risking something so big that unless God is in it, will fail?" To that I give an unequivocal yes. Here's why.

1.) Risking is always better than not risking and remaining comfortable. Most people did not want to enter into the Promised Land because it was too big of a risk. God is always calling His people to risk and trust Him. If you're not risking, it could mean you're not following Jesus very closely.

2.) To risk is to put yourself in a position where you could fail. What happens in situations where you could fail? You pray more. You have to really trust God in the midst of uncertainty. Your faith grows in such situations. I think those three things are probably pretty good. While it may feel more comfortable to remain safe, your prayer life and faith will not grow without risking failure.  

3.) Risking failure gives you a chance to believe the gospel. The gospel tells us that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). None. Nada. When are we tempted to feel shame or condemnation? When we fail. Yet for the Christian, failure gives you an opportunity to say, "My worth before God and others is completely dependent upon Jesus' work and not on my ability to gather folks (although it is possible there aren't enough folks able/willing to come-which has nothing to do with you). Regardless, Jesus loves you just as much in your "failure." Do you believe that? You have that opportunity when you fail.

4.) Taking risks demonstrates you are currently believing the gospel. Faith is not merely an intellectual exercise. We demonstrate to others, and even the spiritual realm, that we believe the gospel when we step out in faith and risk failure. The one who knows he is free to fail will not be afraid to fail. But if we have a shallow grasp of the gospel, we will always stay put.

5.) Even though we are more than conquerors, I think God does really want us to fail some times. I'm not talking major stuff here, but if you believe you're God's gift to humanity, He will see that you fail. For your own good. When you become a self-reliant parent, pastor, friend, co-worker, Sunday School teacher-I can say with confidence-God does want you to fail! When we fail, we run to Him and find comfort not in anything that we have done or failed to do, but only in what He has done for us in the gospel. Sometimes failure is God's gift to us.

Of course risk for the sake of risk is ridiculous. It can be foolish without prayer, counsel, discernment, and encouragement. But risk, regardless of the outcome, doesn't simply demonstrate your devotion to Christ, it recalls His faithful devotion to you.

Ultimately, I use the world "fail" tongue in cheek because we can't fail when we're stepping out in faith. And since Jesus stepped out in faith for us, he now works that same faith in us. I'm thankful for leaders who will step out in faith with me this Fall. Regardless of outcome, I think God is honored.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: In the Presence of My Enemies

I regularly check Tim Challies blog for kindle deals. He has them almost every day. On many occasions I find books for under 4 dollars, and every so often I'll get one for free such as In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham.

At first I feel a little weird about reviewing a book I paid nothing for, but then I realized, several of the books I've reviewed have actually been sent to me by the authors for free so that I would review them. Most of the "professional" reviewers do this anyway. Although this is a non-commissioned book review, I promise the cost of the book did not lower my expectations the way Net-Flix streamers tend to lower their expectations when browsing the plethora of "free" B quality movies.

For those unaware of the Gracia Burnham-which was me before I read the book-she and her husband Martin were missionaries with New Tribes Missions in the Philippines. Martin served as a pilot and Gracia did everything else besides flying, often even serving as air traffic controller. While vacationing away from their children on a nice anniversary trip, a militant Islamic group called the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped the Burnhams along with a number of other vacationers.

The book chronicles their journey from that island paradise to a remote hellish rain forest  "with devils filled (another more famous Martin coined that phrase)." Burnham, do doubt assisted by fellow writer Dean Merrill-how much assistance is anyone's guess-gives more than just an amazing survivor story, but details how the two arrived in the Philippines in the first place. Because missionaries are not born but made over providentially guided "circumstances," this was very helpful. I mean, before you ask yourself, "How in the world did I get myself kidnapped," one deals with a much more existential question, "How did I get to the point where I put myself in this position?"

In her introduction, Gracia acknowledges the fact that she wants to honor her husband Martin. That should tip off the reader that the story does take a sad turn before her rescue. It saddened me greatly, as I got to know this couple and loved them even more with each click of the arrow button.

I found the writing simple but engaging, enjoyable, and painted all the picture I needed to get a grasp of what it would be like to be kidnapped by a gang of incredibly self-righteous yet hypocritical militant muslims. What would it be like for you and your three children? You miss a whole year of their lives while they wait and pray they will see you again. Unbelievable.

But there remains yet another battle beyond the homesickness, kid-sickness, uncomfortabilty and uncertainty: God-sickness, or rather "sick" with God. What do you do with a God who doesn't answer your prayers for rescue? Well at least not for 15 months and then you only get half your prayer answered. She details her struggle and how Martin walked with her through the dauting jungle of doubt and despair. 

Theologically I give it two different grades: one for the applied theology, another for her stated theology. In regards to applied theology, the Burnhams clearly demonstrate a powerful grip on their sin and the gospel. Gracia recognizes her own sin in new and deeper way. It is only through this recognition, and the concomitant deeper picture of the gospel she embraces, that she begins to have love her enemies. Very challenging stuff and they get an A+ for applying the theological truth of depravity and need for grace.
When it comes to a stated theology, I give her a B-. How do you reconcile God not answering your prayer for deliverance (or rather answering with a "no" which He is OK doing), or for God allowing such evil like the Abu Sayyaf in the world? Free-will. God will not violate someone's right to be completely autonomous. She compares this "hands off" approach with the way America desired to perform the rescue operation, but yielded to the Philippines. The latter had right of first refusal and they wanted to do it their way. America had to respect the Philippines' rights as a sovereign nation and would not exert its will. As a result, the Phillippinos came in with guns a-blazing in the middle of the day and accidentally shot all three hostages. Gracia alone survived the rescue attempt.

I realize this is a common perception of God and evil. He has his hands tied and can't do anything about it. But can you imagine God talking in a booming voice, with the Earth shaking, "Sorry dude, I can't do anything about it. They have free will, which I will not violate. I want them to choose me and do the right thing, but I have my hands tied. Sorry buddy!"

That's not the God of the bible. At least how I interpret it. 

What made this analogy so saddening, if not befuddling, is that Gracia clearly gets the depths of the sin which has made its home deep in her heart. Yet I don't think she follows through with its implications. If a Christian is that sinful, and needs God to intervene on his/her behalf (isn't that what prayer is?), is it that much of a stretch to realize non-Christians need God to do the same thing for them? And that if he doesn't, they remain dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:5-6).

While she didn't connect the dots like I had hoped, I would only hope that my applied theology would be one third of hers. Of course, God is the only one who can make us love our enemies. So to Him be the glory and to us be the encouragement!

I highly recommend this book to you. We can read about WHY we should forgive. We can read about WHO and HOW to forgive. But there is something quite powerful to see WHEN people forgive and love their enemies. I'm encouraged and challenged the most when I  SEE the gospel change people. You'll see it here. It will renew your hope that people like you and I can love our enemies.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The gospel and baseball: simple yet complex

While playing baseball with my four year old son in my gently sloping front yard the other day, I told him, "You pulled that ball foul." Just a week or two earlier I tried to teach him another ball he hit was actually fair, but he had just hit it opposite field (that took a lot of explaining!). I have begun to realize that baseball, when you break it down, is far deeper than I originally thought. Not just with rules, but with concepts, with terms. Now football does have a number of different plays and formations, but baseball might just be as deep when it comes to terms, situations, and scenarios.

Yet at some level, the game isn't too complicated to watch. And play. If the batter hits the ball, the fielder tries to catch the ball in the air, or tag him/ base before he gets there. My four year old is beginning to grasp this.

Such is the case with the gospel. It is simple enough that a thief on the cross can believe that Jesus will save him (Luke 23:42). And it is also simple enough that a young child can get a hold of it and come to Jesus (Matt 19:14); we can only assume that an adult with the mental capability of a child can "get it" as well. As a result, let us not forget to praise God for the simplicity of the gospel. It's beautifully simple.

But its also beautifully deep. Like the game of baseball. Like the shipwreck or reef too deep to explore by snorkeling. It is both more simple than we think and deeper than we think. There are depths to plumb.

So what's the point of this comparison?

1.) Praise God for its simplicity. When you doubt, don't forget the simplicity of it. Jesus came, died, rose again, appeared, saved us and will be coming back to finish what he started.

2.) Praise God for its depth and never stop learning. If the thief on the cross had lived, he probably would have been the first in line to go to a bible study, learn some theology, familiarize himself with biblical terms that add depth in understand all that Jesus has accomplished. After all, Jesus does way more than just save us from hell. If the thief had lived, I imagine he'd read a bit, or at least have someone read to him. Imagine those little children that Jesus said, "Come to me." When they grew up, don't you think they would have wanted to go deeper, read, study and ask more questions? Now they wouldn't, or shouldn't lose that child-like faith, and that should always temper their study with humility and awe. But shouldn't deeper study and reflection only increase that awe and child-like faith? After all, we can learn more reasons to trust him.

3.) Don't assume everyone is at same level. When you talk to young believers, or unbelievers, it is necessary to recognize that your terms might be unrecognizable. Can you imagine a coach saying to my four year old, "Connar, you pulled that ball foul, choke up, shorten your swing, go with the pitch, hit behind the runner. Never assume the gospel. Instead start with and celebrate its simplicity before you expound on its depth and application in life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Only fumblers can speak to fumblers

Last year the NY Giants won the Super Bowl courtesy of a timely play or two, and a timely mishap from the Patriots that could have ended the game. Some folks may not remember why they were able to play upon such a stage. But certainly not Kyle Williams will never forget: his two fumbles provided the Giants the needed opportunities to overtake the San Francisco 49ers.

People don't necessarily recover from such mishaps. Think of Ray Finkle from Ace Ventura. Mishaps on such a big stage can almost define a person's career. Think of Bill Buckner who let a routine grounder go through his legs. Think of Scott Norwood's missed field goal in the Super Bowl (also against the Giants). Sometimes it's not just careers defined by one or two mishaps, but entire identities. 

Whether concerned about career or identity, two other famous fumblers (Earnest Byner and Roger Craig) took it upon themselves to go directly to Kyle Williams. Apparently the 49ers have been supportive, but supportive isn't the only thing someone like this needs. I mean, the 49ers didn't fumble the game away, Williams did. The 49ers didn't deal with the personal feelings of worthlessness, experience personal threats, anger, and all of the other stuff that goes along with such a blunder. Only those who've had famous, or perhaps in-famous fumbles, can speak sympathetically to such famous fumblers. 

Fumblers can also speak more authoritatively to fumblers than non-fumblers. They have the existential knowledge that other non-fumblers just don't have. 

Let me posit several lessons for the church:

1.) Only sinners can speak to sinners. If you speak of sin in the past tense, you have nothing to say to the struggling Christian (because you aren't struggling yourself-and how could you not be  anyway?) nor do you have anything to say to the non-Christian. 

2.) Fumblers listen to other fumblers. Sinners will listen to other sinners, particularly those who are self proclaimed, self-titled sinners. 

3.) The church is full of people who have "blown it in a big game." Maybe you've been a bad dad, bad parent, bad husband, bad kid, bad sport, bad _______. A pastor, parent, or friend can still speak authoritatively and point you to Christ and his forgiveness because God's word is authoritative. But never underestimate the authority and influence of the existential/experiential perspective. Don't let your mishaps (unfaithfulness, depression, anger, pornography, criminal record, background) drive you away from the church but toward Christ and other people. Fumblers listen best to other fumblers. I've fumbled games away and it hurts. I battle depression/anxiety and have dealt/still deal with different doubts. But I can speak more sympathetically and authoritatively now with people who struggle in those specific ways. In the end, I feel more than ever that fumbles can be incredibly redemptive, not only for myself but for my church community. I hope that will be the case with you too. We band of fumblers. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

How many leaders you got? Now that's a better question

The other day I received a similar question to the ones mentioned in my previous post. The question, probably posed out of mere curiosity, provoked a little more thought than the standard: "how many you got" type questions. Instead of how many kids do you have, it was more like, "How many leaders do you have?"

That is a different type of question and one that deserves a little more positive dissecting.

One common thread I've noticed the past several years in books/articles I've read, seminars attended, ministry leaders I've talked with, and years of extensive personal experience/reflection is that the kids who walk with Jesus have several things in common. 

And having one dynamic youth leader really isn't tops on the list. But what seems to always be present is that the youth have had a number of adult relationships. Perhaps it looks like adults investing in their lives through a youth group, Sunday School, mentoring, or simply an "unstructured" but invested relationship involving hospitality, normal activities, or a retreat. 

One youth leader, and/or two parents are not enough. It's a great start, but kids need multiple adult relationships. By the way, I'm not de-emphasizing parent-child discipling relationship for that is primary; I'm merely emphasizing the responsibility of those in the covenant community. The principle "the more the merrier" could not be more apropos.

So here is the kicker: kids aren't going to naturally seek out adults. Adults have to seek them out. That may look like volunteering to teach Sunday School or youth group. That may look like filling in as a sub from time time. That may look like simply doing something very novel and creative: trying to talk with them on a Sunday morning. It may look like serving alongside of them as they rake leaves or participating in fantasy football with them. It may look like inviting them over to share a recipe or grab a latte. Regardless, if you are an adult male/female without a record who loves Jesus and currently has a pulse, you can play a part. Take that first step.
They actually do like adults. And they need adults. But they probably won't take that first step, and we probably shouldn't expect them to. 

When I prayed for the graduates last Sunday, I thanked God for the number of adults who were involved in their lives. I'm hopeful for these kids leaving school. For the most part, they are connected to other youth and adults.

I'm hopeful in a God who is faithful even when we as parents, youth leaders, or the rest of the church are faithless. But I'll take that as encouragement instead of a license to laziness. We often think of our kids in this way: "We ONLY have 18 years with them and so need to take advantage of this time." But for some reason I don't think we often view our covenant children with the same sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.

Thanks for all of you who have invested in not only your children, but the children of others. I hope you realize how important that time and relationship really are in the eyes of your Heavenly Father. Whatever the impact you notice or fail to notice (remember sometimes the impact isn't seen for years down the road, and sometimes there may not be the impact we desire), remember it isn't that type of "numbers game." And remember Henry Lyte's hymn Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, "Think what Spirit dwells within thee, think what Father's smiles are thine...." Those are the only smiles you need to motivate and remind you that you cannot fail.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How many kids you got? What ministries you got?

Every so often I field about questions like, "How many kids do you have in your children's ministries or youth group?" Sometimes the answer will determine whether that person will or will not choose your church. That's why they ask. And of course, sometimes folks are simply curious and want to know what's there.

In addition to the "how many you got" question, I'll also get "What ministries do you have?" Sometimes that will determine if the person will or will not come to your church (and I'm not saying that this is inherently wrong by the way!). Sometimes folks want to be aware of what's there.

A dear friend created a scenario of someone hit by a car and going to heaven. This was the first thing they said, "Well, Lord, at least as I looking for a church with a good youth program!"

Often times a consumer mentality overtakes us like a Jamaican sprinter-I refuse to give any more glory to the glory hound-and yet we don't necessarily recognize it at first.

The Good

First of all, I do want to say that these questions do have an element of goodness to them. You should care that your children have fellowship, good teaching, Christian friends. And so it's good to ask how the covenant community can assist you in raising up disciples. Some Christian parents don't care, feel like dragging them to church each Sunday completes their promise to look to Jesus for their and their child's salvation, raising him/her within the covenant family (alluding here to Presbyterians). So these questions are in and of themselves necessarily bad questions. They can be healthy.

The Bad

However, not all of our inclinations toward ministries are necessarily good. In fact they can be quite, well, bad-to stay consistent with the title of this section. Behind our questions (even my own) is often a deeper question: what can you do for me? This can manifest itself when our main choice of churches is simply what can you do for me, before, what do you believe, what is your mission, how do plan to accomplish that mission?

The Ugly

Another question behind the question (the one that is stated) is how can this ministry replace and lessen my involvement in the child's growth in the grace or coming to faith? What ministries do you have that can now let me off the hook in regards to MY teaching, discipleship? What can you do for me so that I can now be concerned about my child's social life, sports, grades, etc.....? 

So these questions, if unexamined, can leave us in our natural state of consumer.

I would like to pose some other questions that people can ask when looking for a new church, or staying at a current church. These aren't from Mt. Sinai, as Steve Brown always says. Just my thoughts which might be helpful to battle against our consumer mentality and put us more in a participatory mode.

1.) How many kids do you have in your youth ministry? If I come to, or join, or stay at this church, will I attempt to invite kids to the children's/youth ministry? Instead of focusing on the current numbers, might God use me to grow the current ministry? And if I go to a big church, will I and my child still be likely to invite un-churched kids to come? Or will it make it easier to invite? In other words, how can I participate in Christ's mission in either setting? Practically speaking if each person leaves or doesn't come because of there are low numbers, it can't grow.

2.) What ministries do you have? Again nothing inherently wrong with the question, but I would encourage asking more questions. If it fits in with the vision of the church, could I help start such and such ministry? Or how can I use my gifts to plug into existing ministries, or informal things like having parties at my house? I think some of the greatest ministry happens informally. Regardless, Church ministries usually have to start somewhere. The best ones seem to come from members who see a need, refuse to leave, but instead stay and meet that need.

Caveat: The longer I pastor the less black and white I get regarding a "good" (obviously meaning my opinion) time to leave a church or what things must be in place for one to connect and serve. I realize that sometimes the Holy Spirit "leaves the building" and Jesus removes the lampstand. At that point it is hopeless. If that is your conviction, then it might actually be better to head on down the road. My request is that you don't necessarily ignore these questions, but instead spend some time examining and adding deeper follow up questions. The church today desperately needs participators more than it needs consumers. Remember that pastors and members are naturally wired towards consumerism but the Holy Spirit supernaturally enables us to become participators in the gospel. What a privilege.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What to do with personalities?

Yesterday I continued my slow sermon series through the Beattitudes, landing on "Blessed are the peacemakers...."

I mentioned the ways our personalities tend to get in the way of real peacemaking, primarily because our personalities more often than not, become our starting point for peacemaking. We tend to either be peacefakers (ignore the truth) or peacebreakers (ignore the love). Sometimes I find myself fluctuating between the two, and I think that might be common as well.

I call this personality-based peacemaking, which is often not real peacemaking. 

But then two questions may arise (at least in my mind): 1.) What role should our personalities play in peacemaking2.) To what extent CAN or SHOULD our personalities change?

1.) What role should personalities play? Whether you tend to fall into one of these two camps, or fluctuate back and forth, it is necessary to honestly examine your own tendencies. We naturally run from conflict or run over "conflicters." So self awareness is key.

Here's a practical difference it can make in your relationships. 

Ken Sande's The Peacemaker encourages folks at times to "look over" an offense. Because the gospel is the motivation, you can now do so. How do you know when to do so? Consider your personality. If you are naturally someone who enters into the fray, often times with your "truth guns" blazing, it's probably wise to not voice every concern you have. Even if you're right. Why not overlook or keep quiet at times? Like George Costanza, who chose to do the opposite of what he naturally thought (he realized he was always wrong) why not consider doing the opposite of your natural reaction? There's a good chance you could be mistaking the Holy Spirit for your personality. If you tend toward peacefaking, then it might be wise to pull the trigger a bit quicker, because you know you're tendency is to say nothing.

2.) What extent CAN or SHOULD your personality change? Unlike Lady Gaga or Oprah, Christians never make "just being ourselves" our highest aim or standard since we are now honest about ourselves: the thoughts of the natural man/woman are "only evil continually (Gen 6:5)." Now of course Christians have had hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezek 36:26), but we still have left-over sinful residue. So just being yourself is never the goal. 

However, personalities that are tainted with sinful residue still bear the image of God and so some parts should not change. Only you can be you and only you can image God in a unique way. So when the gospel is applied to a personality, the sinful parts experiences tweaking. For instance someone very timid may tend to overlook all offenses (because of fear), but that same person can and will speak up when necessary (now having a Spirit of power). And it's beautiful when that happens. The gospel has now freed that person from their personality constraints (always peace-faking) and enabled them to speak truth humbly and gently. And yet its that person's personality, now freed and highlighted by the gospel, which makes them a great truth teller when they need to be.

So personalities can provide limits on what we naturally do, but when the gospel gets a hold of them, individuals can then uniquely image God.

How much can personalities change? For some folks, personalities are changed by the gospel in the same way a sprinter improves from race to race. Allyson Felix is fast. Allyson Felix has always been fast. But in the last two Olympics, she has only landed the silver. Through much training, she is now the fastest lady at 200 meters in the world. Sometimes personality changes but a "hundredth of a second."

For other folks, who may have sinfully dominated personalities, the opportunity for change may look more like a distance runner. With much training, a 1500 meter runner, can improve by 5 seconds, whereas a sprinter may not change more than 5 hundredths of a second. Sometimes personalities can change a lot. 

Regardless, the gospel can redeem the sinful parts of our personalities and highlight those which best image God's glory. And when it comes to peacemaking, a careful look at Jesus, then an honest look at oneself, can make a big difference than if you simply start with "that guy" who needs to change.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Allyson Felix, Lashinda Demus, and Ricky Bobby

Last night I had the opportunity to watch someone win and watch some "lose." The gal who won, Allyson Felix, had been a "loser" the last two Olympics. Now that is accurate you want to define "loser" in a traditional Ricky Bobby "If you ain't first, you're last," sort of way.

Lashinda Demus the 400 meter hurdler, lost just a bit before Felix won. She got the silver. If you had seen the look on her face-which maybe you did since a number of people actually watch the Olympics-you probably thought someone had just kidnapped her cat or something. As though she had stumbled on a hurdle while in the lead as Lolo Jones 4 did years ago in Bejing.

Maybe she listened to her inner Ricky Bobby?

Silver on the highest stage possible with her husband and boys cheering her on is not too bad of a gig. She belied a tiny bit of thankfulness in the post race interview, but vowed to keep vying for the gold. Only gold would seal her "legacy." Although I would have preferred she use more accurate terms like "personal worth," or "reason for living," because I think her kids are probably OK with a silver legacy. They probably just love their Mommy for who she is and want to spend time with her. But maybe I'm reading too much into her twin 4 or 5 year old boys.

The interview was quite sad. But I didn't feel sad for her loss, just sad for her. Sad for the idol she had put her hopes in: behind the gold was a real search for significance.

Allyson Felix didn't "lose." She got gold after 4 years of intense training with a somewhat unlikeable at times coach Bobby Kersee (husband of Jackie Joyner Kersee). She wanted that gold bad. She might have tried-and might still try-to get that gold in Rio. But from what it appears, I think the interview might have gone in a different direction.

I've always pulled for Felix. Now I know why. She grew up a preacher's kid and her father is now a professor at The Masters Seminary. Check out this great article about her. Here's but a snippet.

My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life. My dad is a pastor and I grew up in a very strong Christian home. Our family was very involved in our church. I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal savior at a very young age. Ever since then, I have continually been striving to grow in my relationship with God.

She plans to be a school teacher some day. I can imagine the kids not in her class will be quite jealous of the lucky ones some day!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tim Tebow's meekness

When one thinks about a Christian athlete, one who works hard and plays tough, he can't get around Tim Tebow. Clearly this guys is as tough as beef jerky.

However many in the media, besides Skip Bayliss (who is a huge Tebow fan), critique or rather criticize Tebow for his inability to throw a crisp spiral and complete more than 50% of his passes. 

It's hard to find great examples of meekness in today's culture, and I'm not willing to nominate myself either. For good reasons. But I think Tim Tebow gives us a more than a picture of strength, but one of meekness. And I think this is helpful, because we usually think of meekness as weakness or timidity. But I really think meekness flows from a poverty of spirit and expresses itself in an unwillingness to defend oneself. Your strength is used to defend others and you simply let God or others defend you. At least that's the picture I see in Numbers 12 and Matthew's Beattitudes. 

Yet another media personality and former QB Boomer Essiason-those guys seem to be the greatest of the Tebow haters (remember Bronco's Hall of Famer John Elway got rid of Tebow)-has spoken out against Tim. I'm OK with people who don't like Tebow, for any reason. I really am. But it has become almost cliche to pull against this kid. Kind of like the word "interesting" or the expression "It is what it is." I expect a little originality.

Here is a good display of meekness in action:

“I’ve heard nothing but great things about Mr. Esiason,” Tebow said, in comments distributed by the team. “I know he was a great player here, and I just wish him nothing but the best in his announcing and God bless him.

No need to defend.

Tebow later goes on to explain that he's heard all of this stuff before in high school, in college, and now in the NFL. In other words, "I disagree with him, and I have reason to disagree." But I don't need to defend myself or attack him; instead I'll let God make this guy look prophetic or idiotic. He'll take care of it and He'll take care of me. 


Monday, August 6, 2012

Non-political reflections on "You didn't build that"

The other day President Obama ruffled a few feathers with his statement on business, "You didn't build that." These words below have certainly rubbed Republicans the wrong way, and I would imagine perhaps Democrats-though I can't confirm that. I've just seen facebook post after facebook post mock Obama's infamous or in-famous (depending on your vote) speech.

“If you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own....I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there!  ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”

And you can imagine that within the same dialog, this probably didn't endear him any further to many:

"If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Now this blog is for the most part like myself, fairly a-political. So I won't comment on the political or economic component, but instead the anti-individualistic undertone which comprised Obama's speech. Mitt Romney and other Republicans have opposed this idea, as well want to remain consistent with their own ideology. But I want to say that I think Obama is actually on to something here, that would be quite beneficial to all Christians. Let me explain.

Obama's driving force behind this comment is his own democratic ideology: successful businesses should pay a larger amount of taxes than those less successful because they have benefited from someone else's hard work or government structure. At least I think that's the gist. They didn't do it entirely by themselves: they sprang up from good soil.
I think the Christian has to agree with this to a large degree. For instance, none of us could run a succesfull business in communist China, right? But consider the other factors of success. Yes some folks work harder than others; that's hard to argue! Yet who gives man the intellectual and physical capability to do hard work? Clearly some folks just don't have it; they were not born with the right tools.

Now think of environment. There are always rags-to-riches stories, but consider the fact that these are in fact "stories," meaning they are not the norm.

Now none of this obliges you to pay higher taxes to the government. I get that and don't necessarily see the tit-for-tat connection.

But don't we (I'm saying those of a more Republican persuasion-which is my personal bias) carry the, "Yes I did build that with my hard work" sentiment into church? I worked hard and continue to work hard at this job, therefore it's my money. It is my house, so I'm not accountable to use it for hospitality. These are my kids and this is my family so why should I bring someone else into the picture for Thanksgiving or Christmas?

On the contrary, we are dependent upon the Lord who ordains all things. Perhaps this passage may help remind us (I'm pretty forgetful) that ultimately we didn't build our families, houses, or businesses independently. This is what God has to say on the matter in James 4:13-16

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

God does ordain all things and has ordained your opportunity, experience, background, situation, environment, and even ability and drive to do hard work.

I think its hard at times to tithe-though I get that I'm a pastor and it would incredibly hypocritical not to-because we have to trust that God will take care of us when we give back 10% of our income. But I really don't think fear is the primary driving force.

I think it is primarily an issue of ownership. Whose money is it? If it's God's money, God's house, God's business, God's family, then it's much easier to trust Him with continuing to provide the money, or provide for our houses, businesses, and families.

If you are one who has worked hard, regularly works hard, has taken great risks for a business venture, I personally applaud you. Any sort of work, particularly starting businesses, takes guts, vision, determination, risk, and perseverance. I just think that the hardest working among us are perhaps the most vulnerable to forget the truth found in James 4:13-16.

Distinctly Republican thinking (of which I lean) or distinctly American individualistic thinking (of which most people lean) can sometimes replace-albeit in a subtle way-distinctly gospel-centered thinking and living.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Missy Franklin vs. Gabby Douglass

Last night I had the opportunity to watch the Olympics "live" (I know that technically that is not true, but its more "live" than 2 degrees removed on the DVR) with my 4 year old. His nap "promoted" him to watching gymnastics and swimming "live" with Mom and Dad. 

When I look at him, I wonder how good he will really be at baseball (he is better than most 4 year olds I know-though I confess to know a dearth of four year olds). Right now I think he's pretty good. But does that mean a decent player, an all-star, high school standout out, college scholarship, etc....?

Parents want the best for their children. That is typically the case and it should be so. However "their best" can present quite a problem when "their best" becomes the ever-consuming-yet-leaving-you-drained idol that "their best" most often is. For the kids, but more often for the parents.

As a parent, will I be willing to do all that I can to make sure he is able to do his "best?" There might be good things which I should ask myself will I be willing to sacrifice? Like fishing, watching football, sleep, etc..

But there is another pertinent question for parents: should I do all that I can do so that he can do his "best?" What should parents sacrifice and what should they not sacrifice? I'm at somewhat of an advantage (in my opinion) in that I'm a pastor, and so travel leagues taking Connar away from worship on Sunday are an impossibility. So will he then be able to do his best? Most parents jump to the conclusion and say "no." But I would caution folks to not jump to such a conclusion.

For many Olympic athletes not in communist countries, yet still in high school, the question really resides with the parents. Will parents do ALL that is possible to see the young athlete succeed?

When that "best" is not the all consuming idol of power, significance, fame, pleasure, I do think that it is possible to do your "best" without taking the normal "at all costs" sacrifices to which most parents willingly offer. 

Let me give you two examples of different approaches, yet both seem to have done their "best."

1.) American gymnast Gabby Douglass moved from Virginia Beach to Des Moines, Iowa, to get the best training possible. Wow. Her older sister had to convince her to keep training, when she clearly wanted to quit. Looks like it paid off as Gabby is competing in the individual all around competition in place of favorite Jordyn Wieber. Doing her best however, meant sacrificing much of her childhood.

2.) By contrast, let's look at Missy Franklin. Missy is just a teenager. An incredible swimmer already with a gold medal, she's still just a normal kid. When questioned about moving away to Florida (would have been tempting for me!) or California from Colorado because it wasn't a "swimming state," she responded, "Why leave family or school or friends?" In other words, the pursuit of swimming was not an "at all costs" thing. It wasn't an idol upon which she would sacrifice other more important things. She stayed at home, even resisting the sponsors which would have precluded her from competing on her high school swim team. She didn't sacrifice her childhood.

Now whether her parents had a say in the whole "we're not moving so you can do your best at swimming" decision, I don't know. The interview was silent on this part. But perhaps they had parented her in such a way that "her best" didn't become an idol? She could do her "best" in Colorado, alongside family and friends who would love her even when she fell short of her best.

Was her training stunted because of inferior coaching? Doesn't seem to be. This girl is gifted and a hard worker. In this case, that seems more important than the "opportunities" she could have had elsewhere.

I wish more Christian parents would think through these two questions more carefully

1.) Is honoring Jesus more important than my/my kids' performance?

2.) If my kid is really gifted and works really hard, can he/she still compete at the highest level, even when my commitment to Christ may preclude some "opportunities" which would regularly take him/her away from corporate worship?

We see the answer to the latter question is yes. Talent and hard work makes some "opportunities" superfluous. You can say NO and still see your kid succeed. 

Just some things to think through when we look at our little ones and genuinely want for them to be the best that they can.