Monday, September 23, 2013

New Blog Site

Thanks for all of those who've followed and read my blog. Like the Jefferson's, I'm moving on up. Not sure if its to the East side of the cyberworld or not. Regardless of the direction, I've switched my blog over to a new wordpress site. It now called "In the Key of H," and the address is simply I'll be blogging there from now on. You can click here to be redirected. Hope you make the switch and follow me there.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Walter White's Worldly Sorrow

Breaking Bad season 5, the final season, is soon to be over. I've said before that I've never appreciated a show as much as this one, and the final season hasn't disappointed. If you're playing catch-up, there is no spoiler alert here, just a common theme: Walt's worldly sorrow. 

Throughout the show, despite the continual hardening of his heart toward anything "good," he never stops displaying emotion. He's not a sociopath. He does have feelings. Yes at times he does things unthinkable, but there are other episodes where we see real tears running down his face. Even in this last season, despite his malfeasance and machinations, he still cries. 

While Paul wouldn't deny there are different types of tears, he classifies two major types of "sad tears."

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (II Cor 7:9-10)

We see Walt shed many a tear over what he has done: lives he's either altered for worse or destroyed. But not long after those tears, we see him get right back after it. Nothing changes. There is sadness for a time, and perhaps even for a season, but this sorrow only leads to death: the ultimate separation from God. But we see glimpses of this descent into death through alienation with his family, extended family, his conscience, and his partner-in-crime Jesse. In the book of Jonah, every step he takes away from God's commands is a step toward the place of death and separation, known as "Sheol." Every step away from God is a step away from life. This is "worldly sorrow."

When you see Walt's tears, you think you see a glimmer of hope. And then you remember the name of the show is Breaking Bad. Just about everyone gets worse. People left to themselves will often show some signs of remorse, but will only display worldly sorrow. And we are reminded in this scripture passage, this type of sorrow only leads to death. 

If you are a Christian, you are not a Walt. You have definitively passed from death to life and that life starts now. While sanctification is definitive, it is also progressive (please don't think Flo). The life you enter into is never devoid of struggle with the old Walt in us (or Adam to be theologically correct) who will inevitably seek to selfishly cry as a form of show, penance, or shallow regret. 

What's the difference? If death is alienation from God, salvation is relationship with God first, His people next, and then what He's doing in the world today. When Paul speaks of "salvation without regret," he is speaking in terms of reconciliation. People have shown a sorrow that leads to repenting instead of running from God and His people. They have repented from their sins against God and Paul, and are now "back on good terms" with the latter. This type of godly sorrow moves you to deeper relationship with God and His people.

Repentance always has a destination, and that first stop is God. Then His people. Then becoming involved with how God in Christ (gospel preached through the gathered/scattered church) is undoing what the first Walt, or rather Adam, did.

Watching Walt's worldly sorrow should lead me to a examine my sorrow to make sure it is truly leading me to repentance, which ultimately points me to the deepest experience of life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How much ya bench? Struggle spotting

After some time away from the gym, I've finally started getting back into the swing of things. It's been a struggle but I think that I have found a time that works. Until the baby gets here and things, schedules, sleep, (life in general) changes yet again.

Regardless, my favorite exercise is the bench press. It is the most easily quantifiable, measurable, transferable exercise. I can tell, care, compare how strong I am, particularly in relation to others around me. Or in the NFL....Remember the SNL skit, "How much ya bench?"

I haven't asked anyone to "spot me" yet, which is necessary if I'm ever going to actually get much stronger (not just back to what I could do in West Virginia). But I often hesitate even in asking people, because I don't like having to tell people exactly how I want it done. Particularly when I don't know them well. 

Sometimes when people "spot" you, they see you struggle and immediately put their hands under the bar. It then rises up very quickly. It goes from really hard to really easy. You don't need to be a trainer to realize that muscles grow best when they are exhausted. They grow best when and only when there is a struggle. 

So when I get a "spotter" I have to tell him, "Let me struggle. Only help at the moment I absolutely need it. And then barely help it up." 

When someone spots you and keeps you from struggling, it feels like you've just wasted your time. It's easy, but you just won't ever get much stronger.

I've heard the "faith is like a muscle" comparisons my whole life. But I've never really through the fact I actually seek such a spotter in the weight room. Such a spotter is loving. Such a spotter cares about me getting stronger more than he cares about easy lifting.

Yet such a spotter is there for a reason. I need him. I trust him. I have confidence he'll let me struggle, but I also have confidence he won't let me get pinned (that's not much fun-there is no more helpless feeling in the world!).

Church planting is not easy. But neither is life for most people who aren't church planting. Marriage, parenting, work, etc....Jesus is the spotter who seeks us out, but he does so because of His great love. I'm learning to see Jesus as a spotter and not get so mad at him when he lets me struggle. It's not that he's not there, but much the opposite. After all, that struggle is the best thing for me: conforming me to His image. That's what He cares about most in the end anyway. When I begin to line up His vision for me with my vision for me, I'll begin to appreciate his style of spotting a lot more.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cade, Goliath, and a Giant Penguin

I have two boys who love the bible stories. I have one who really loves one bible story more than any others. My almost three year old Cade can't get enough of David vs Goliath. Most of the time, it's the only one he wants to hear. He rehashes the story over and over. Of course, he pretends to be David (I guess that's better on a number of levels than pretending to be Goliath). And I can see why. He's a little guy for his age, and he, like all of us, wants to be the winner of the story. 

Last night Cade set up a giant stuffed animal penguin (though not quite as big as the penguin in Billy Madison), and pretended it was Goliath. He of course struck him down down dead. Thankfully he didn't decapitate it, because that could have been costly as well as messy.

Cade's impersonation is cute. Once again, he's a little guy.

But when he gets older, would it be good to let him continue to think of himself as David? 

I don't think so, and its not just because I'm an anal pastor type concerned primarily with theological precision. The reality is that most people exegete the passage the same way my three year old does. Most people find themselves to be David in this cosmic good/underdog vs evil/overdog saga of life. And its natural that we see ourselves as such. 

But let's consider what's really going on.

In Cade's Toddler Bible he has begun to notice certain people. Who are those guys Daddy?

Those are the God's people, scared to death.

No one can face this giant.

That picture tells much of the story. God's army is on one side, the Phillistines are on the other side. One representative is needed. The Jesus Storybook Bible (the dialog of which Cade has basically memorized and recites when playing with his toys-its really pretty cute if I can say that) depicts Goliath looking to fight a representative of the people. If that representative will fight and beat him, the Phillistines will become subject to slavery. If that representative loses, the opposite will become true. 

The point of the story is not that you or I can rise up and be that brave person and beat our own personal demons, Goliath's, or El Guapo's in our lives for that matter. The point is that God HAD to send a representative, who would become King, who would do battle for us. If we are on this brave King's side, then we are on the right side. That was the message to those who first read the story. Get on David's side (Davidic line of kings). But of course, the story doesn't end there. 

Jesus, the brave King, also born in Bethlehem, said "I will fight" for God's people in order to deliver them. I will be their representative. I will not let this cup pass from me.

Our representative had his shot and blew it in the Garden (Romans 5). Yet Jesus does exactly what David did, but this time on a cosmic scale.

If we would begin to find ourselves as the army which was too scared and faithless to fight, we would begin to see Jesus more clearly in our lives. He is the one who fought for us while we were not only scared and faithless, but while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:8). Instead of trying to muster up the courage we may never have, it's much more freeing to see how Jesus points us to David. And if that is so, we don't stand up and lead a bunch of other people who simply can't get their stuff together. We humbly get in line behind a conquering Savior and point people to Him. There's plenty of adventure in following Jesus (a la Steven Curtis Chapman) because we can't see the end of the story except through faith.
If Cade wants to dress up like David for Halloween, I'm OK with that. After all, my five year old already has some sense that David did "big sins" and Jesus is the real hero of the story. So it may not be too long....

But in the end, let's not forget those scared Israelites waiting for someone to "step up" and deliver them. That's us. Not a very glamorous start but the end sure is. 

Here's a video of Cade Vs the Goliath Penguin

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Meeting church plant needs behind the scenes

One of the things I already knew, but has been confirmed to me over my short church planting life so far, is that you need a ton of people to plant a church. You really do. You need to have a number of folks praying for you. That much is clear and we looked at Jesus reminder to pray to the "Lord of the Harvest" for Him to send out workers during our first core group meeting (Matt 9:36-39). If you want to follow our updates and pray for us, click here. We also need to have a number of folks financially supporting our work; currently we have 30 individuals and 2 churches. If interested in giving, go here. Most obviously, we need to have people actually get involved in the core group meetings who will invite new faces. I already realized all of that stuff before.

But I was definitely ignorant of many of the roles I needed people to play. Here are a few:

Folks outside our core group connecting us to others: A dear friend of ours, who for the time being lives in Bradenton but will clearly never personally be involved in our church plant, has helped us connect with several young families. Who knows what will become of those relationships, but that is how this church is going to grow. I can't meet enough people on my own through my neighborhood, fishing, gym, Tee-ball, Starbucks, etc. I try and I have met some folks from the aforementioned places, but I've realized how much help I really needed. And received.

Folks outside our area connecting us to others: I've had several pastors point me to contacts who live in the area. Neither of them live here, but they have sent me emails and phone numbers of people to call. Both of them are directing traffic from afar, and behind the scenes. Yet both have been playing a part that I just hadn't really thought much about. I needed, still need, and have received such help.

Neighbors: I had a neighbor knock on my door on Sunday morning and let me know I could have people park cars in the neighboring driveway because no one would be home for several months (snowbirds). In addition, he told me he would ask about any possible meeting space in one of the rooms at his Catholic church. And after our core group meeting, one of my neighbors took a look at my on-again-off-again air conditioner. And is still doing so.

So in addition to giving, praying, meeting, there are many ways of participating in a church plant. While ignorant of such need right off the bat, I am no longer so! And I feel there are many needs, and people to meet them, whom I've yet to discover.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Prayer: Are you talking to me?

A week ago, while worshiping at Cornerstone, I heard a succinct sermon on prayer from the Sermon on the Mount. It was quite a helpful little sermon that pointed out a few practical oft overlooked mechanics of prayer.


Prayers in public don't have to long. This is hard for Reformed folks. I think it might be hard for Charismatic folks as well. I think. Have you ever had a moment when you felt really "unspiritual?" Or I guess a better term might be simply "spiritually immature." I've had a ton of them, so it wouldn't be a great idea to rank them: not a great use of my time. But one in which would probably slide into my top 10 occurred after Sinclair Ferguson opened up his systematic theology class at 8 am with a 10 minute prayer. One guy came up to me and said, "Wow, how about that prayer. So...?" I filled in the blank with the obvious, "So long!" He replied, "No, so rich!"

I felt pretty low then. And perhaps I should have followed along better. But is longer necessarily better? The pastor indicated he thinks Jesus didn't think so. When people have a lot to pray about, it's hard to pack a ton in a public prayer. But remember longer isn't better. Something to consider when praying with your kids or at your church. 

Which brings me to the next point he brought out.

"You talking to me?"

To whom are you talking in prayer? Or better yet, who do you want to hear you? Sometimes prayers can really be more like talking to people, as though they are your primary audience.

One of the ways you can know if you consider prayer as though you're talking more to people, rather than to God, is how scared you are to pray in public. By public, I don't mean 20 or more people. I'm talking groups of 3-4 folks. If prayer is talking to God, then it doesn't matter how silly you sound to others. After all, prayer from God's saints (all Christians) is like a redolent fragrance. Like corporate singing, it is not the sound of the words, but from whence the words come: the contrite, yet joyful heart.

Many of us at various times have forgotten who our primary audience really is. I did too when in seminary, as I rarely volunteered to pray in front of a large number of future pastors. We've all forgotten this timely truth from time to time.

But when we are praying in a group, is it really only talking to God, as though it doesn't matter if people around you are listening? I mean, if it is only talking to God, others might as well just cover their ears or play on their phones.

Here's an illustration I've been thinking about lately. Have you ever waited in line for some event, or to check out of a department or grocery store, and had someone talk to you just a little bit louder than needed? Or maybe you've heard someone talking to his spouse or son or friend, and they are clearly intending for you to "overhear" the conversation. The person has a primary audience, but he also has a secondary audience. It is clear, due to his volume, word choice, that he wants to bring you into the conversation.  

Now often this can be quite annoying because you don't want to be brought in or you don't want others to be brought in. Or it can be annoying because the person might be talking to you, but their primary audience is actually another person or group "over-hearing." You can tell this because you've already heard what he has said before. The secondary audience has become the primary.

But if the speaker truly is engaged with his primary audience (spouse, son, friend), he can honestly "over-speak" to others he doesn't know, drawing them into the conversation.

I think this is what can happen in group prayer settings. God is our primary audience and so how eloquently we speak is inconsequential. But how we speak still matters. We speak loudly, intentionally, and with words our secondary audience can understand. They "over-hear" our conversation with God, and thus are intentionally brought into that conversation. 

Considering our audiences frees us from the fear of sounding silly, and in addition, it frees us to love and lead people well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A-Roid, Vigilante Justice, and the need for a Judge

The other day Alex Rodriguez aka A-Rod or A-Roid, faced Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster. After several clear inside pitches designed to hit A-Roid, one finally hit the mark. Immediately benches were warned, but Dempster stayed in the game. Afterwards, Red Sox manager belied ignorance of any seeming intent on behalf of his less than star pitcher. 

As an avid Rays fan, I'm partial to both the Sox and the Yankees, always hoping against hope that both can lose. But since baseball is not soccer, that's just not really an option. Regardless of the fact that hit batter fueled a Yankees rally which proved the difference in their victory, the real discussion afterwards lay in the ethics of such a pitch, not in pragmatics (how un-American of us to push the pragmatic to the side).

Who was right? 

A-Roid is facing more than a 200 game suspension for his alleged involvement in steroids, which he admitted to using before. MLB has somewhat of smoking gun, so after his appeal is heard, A-Roid will be A-Bored for a season and a half. On top of that, A-Rod might be the most unlike-able baseball player on one of the more polarizing teams. Despite his individual and team success, he plays himself up to be the victim. Some of these players have been lying their whole lives, that they actually believe the lies they tell. Perhaps that, or an extreme narcissism, or both is at the root to why A-Roid won't simply admit he did wrong? 

So pitchers have every "reason" to hate A-Rod. The rest of the 10+ players suspended by MLB have taken their suspensions, but not A-Rod. That's why Dempster beaned him, even though it took him 4 pitches to do so. 

So who is right? 

Should pitchers be able to hit the "cheater" (allegedly)? Or is A-Rod right, for according to the letter of the law, he has the right to appeal-which will allow him to play the rest of the season? In that case, he shouldn't be "targeted" (again, allegedly because no one admits to hitting someone) by pitchers.

Who's side should one take?

It's probably important to look at something more than the arm that through the baseball. What's really being said by that pitch? You cheat, we don't, and we will punish you the best way we can for cheating. It's the position of the legalist. The one who says I follow the law, you don't, so I will punish you the best way I can. Perhaps shunning, running or gunning. Many folks fall into this category even though they would never admit to this. You judge, we don't judge, so we will judge you for judging. We will do something about it, and not leave it to the legal process.  

You don't have to be a Westboro Baptist member to fall into this line of work. You don't have to vote Republican. Behind the pitch, there is an unrealized self-righteousness which produces anger. Whether it comes out in a subtle form as with labels, racism, or blatant insults and violence, the heart behind it is the same. Self-righteousness always pops its ugly head.

Is it possible to take another route? Is it possible to believe that A-Rod shouldn't be allowed to play yet not personally take matters into your own hands? Can you disagree with someone's behavior, believe it a sin, and yet not judge them? Can you not make someone pay by shunning, gunning, or running, but instead leave it to another Judge?

That is the position the Rays will take when A-Roid and his company play the Tampa Bay Rays in a week.

"You know what, vigilante justice and unilateral decisions, I'm not into that stuff,'' Maddon said. "There's rules in place. There's a board  assigned to make those kind of decisions. I believe in players' controlling the game itself in regards to what's happening in that game, and we always talk about policing that. But  that is totally separate from the unwritten rules of baseball. So I do not agree with that at all. And, again, I don't believe in rogue unilateral decisions or players meting out discipline, whereas this is something entirely different.''

Asked if the Rays pitchers would act similarly, Maddon said: "There's no reason to. There's absolutely zero reason to do that for me. That's what I believe. I believe let the mechanism in place work and everybody do their jobs. ... Don't attempt to be judge and jury and just let everybody do their jobs.''

MLB, led by Bud Selig is probably not much more than a joke. The man who promoted the Roided out long-ball era now wants to be known by cleaning it up? Yet there is another judge to whom we can leave things. 

Without a Judge, on whom you can never pull a fast one, we are forced to take matters into our own hands. Without such a Judge, we only have the options of retaliating or overlooking. We only have the options of becoming an angry self-righteous legalist or driven by indifference at what we know to be wrong. A legalist or one with license to do whatever fulfills us at the moment. 

The irony behind removing God's wrath or judgment from our picture of Him is that we become more wrathful and judgmental. Or we become a completely self absorbed relativist caring about self before family and community. Neither seem all that good to me.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

If I ever lose my faith in you....?

One of my neighbors told me that he trusted that the closing of his property would take place even though he had moved out and the buyers were about to move in. All of this before the closing date. My realtor shared with me some horror stories and so didn't advise any sort of "early tenancy" for us. This guy didn't receive such counsel.

When I asked him if he really thought that was a good idea, he mentioned, "If you don't have faith in people, what do you have?' Or to put it in terms that Sting once sang about, "If I ever lose my faith in you...." What then?

I think that is definitely something to think about. Here are some random thoughts based upon a biblical anthropology. Should you have faith in people? No and Yes, yes and no, with some qualifiers.

Created in image of God and so reflect something about God
When you have found a trustworthy friend, pastor, teacher, parent, you have found a beautiful-or I guess rather handsome in some cases, thing or person. To be able to trust someone is huge, helpful, and brings great joy and relaxation. It is great to have some faith in people.

Created in image of God, but marred by sin and so naturally selfish
I personally didn't want to give early occupancy because I suspected some kind of spiritual conspiracy plan in the works (3 contracts and 80 days from last contract to closing). But even without that fiasco of selling my house, I wouldn't have granted folks I didn't know very well an early occupancy. Part of it is because I don't have a simple faith in people.

Created in image of God, but not God; not to mention man is sinful
Generally trustworthy is one thing, but 100% trustworthy, meaning that he/she will never let you down, is another. Expecting and demanding someone to be something that only Someone else can be is dangerously idolatrous and practically demoralizing. If you totally place your "faith" in anyone, even a spouse, pastor, teacher, brother/sister, or fellow church member, best friend, they will disappoint you. And if you are expecting them to never disappoint you, and then they disappoint you, simply by virtue of them not being Jesus, you will simply move on to the next disappointment. The little and natural disappointments over time can lead to serious division, anger, and divorce. Now I'm not excusing any time anyone lets you down, particularly when they sin against you. I'm simply saying there is a healthy expectation we can have that people will let us down. So don't make faith in people, general or specific, your foundation.

Disappointed person is also sinful
The person who has no faith in people in any sense, (aka cynical) has in some ways forgotten about his own sin. If everyone else is a sinful idiot, then what about you? To say you have no faith in people doing anything because they are all sinful idiots, is perhaps pridefully ignorant, as oxy-moronic as that may sound. One can hold to the doctrine of total depravity (sin affects every faculty of the person-though not to the nth degree) for other people, but consider himself to be unaffected by it. Theology is good only when it is actually applied.

Can't love if can't open self to disappointment
To have "no faith in people" is a great way to protect yourselves from being hurt. But you also protect yourself from loving and being loved. That is one of the recurring themes in Call the Midwife. A safe way to live, but it is also being less than human to live in such a way.

Can't delegate with no faith in people
To have "no faith" in people means you do everything yourself. You never delegate. Not good for a church plant. Not good for a family. Not good for a lot of things. 
In the end, the question of "what do you have" is not based upon how much or how little faith you have in people. Our ultimate object of faith is a Sovereign God who calls us into relationships with Himself (infallible), with His church (fallible yet redeemed) and His world (fallible but still bearing his His image). We have varying levels of "faith" in people that may vary as God works in them over time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shark Week 2013 Gospel Reflections

Every year towards the end of summer, I have one thing on my mind: Shark Week. Well, that's not totally true, particularly now that we're starting this church plant (somewhat thought consuming!), but you probably get the point. For many Shark Week marks not simply the close of summer, but also perhaps its zenith.

And for those who do actually anticipate the new week, they can almost always be confronted with the disappointment of re-runs and less than spectacular material. While this year kicked off with a mock-u-mentary (that wasn't even subtlely revealed to be fake until the end of it) on the pre-historic Megalodon, it seems to have let me down far less than other recent Shark Week's.

I love to hear the stories of shark attack survivors. Those are always my favorites. I'm not there to see the un-cut material, but I really do think Discovery does a good job with letting people mention God or Jesus. There is almost always a snippet of a survivor giving praise to God the Father or the Son (still waiting for a Holy Spirit "shout out" but that may come...). In a previous season, one story actually ended with Romans 8:28 being quoted after the wife had been killed by a Tiger Shark. This year was no different.

One South African lad of only 15 years experienced the wrath of two Great White Sharks attacking him and his surfboard. Here is Animal Planet's version. Unfortunately everyone abandoned the scene, so he was left to fend for himself. In his words, "Jesus, I need some help here....." Suddenly a big wave came and carried the lad in.

Jesus' "saving wave" was actually quite formative, for several years later, someone else surfing near him was attacked. Knowing what it was like to be left alone (and knowing what it was like to have been saved by a "third party"), he paddled over to rescue the other lad instead of swimming the other way.

What a great picture of how the gospel frees us from bitterness. That's a natural reaction when folks let us down, or for this lad, when people leave you in the water to die at the teeth of two not so friendly White Sharks. We become especially bitter when people scatter at pivotal times in life. Instead of only giving us a new life freed from bitterness, the gospel grants us a new mission, and a new motivation to move forward in that mission. No longer bound by what people did/didn't do for us (if they abandoned us) nor what people may do for us (praise or curse), we have a much fresher and lasting motivation. Freed from bitterness, and set free to serve.

Our bitter experiences can be redeemed and open the door for mission if we remember the truth of the gospel message:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. II Tim 4:16-18

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Disappointment: It's not as bad as I thought

As a church planter you have to ask for things. Lots of things. Now everyone should ask for lots of things, but I've found myself doing that more these days because I have less in some sense. Though much was already committed before I was even "signed," I still do have to ask for money. That's kind of hard. But I also have to ask for people. And you can't really ask people for themselves, at least not at first. Because of that I'm at the mercy of people returning phone calls, meeting me and meeting with me, showing interest in me, the church, or the gospel (preferably all three, but one out of three isn't bad). Since I cannot provide that interest, I have to ask God for it. 

And while scary, it can also be kind of fun. It can result in great excitement and praise. 

For instance, I prayed for several neighbors that I had made contact with a while ago, yet hadn't been able to connect with. I prayed specifically for two of them to return a phone call. Just 15 minutes after praying, I saw a name pop up on my I-phone. It was one of the two.

For a very short 5 seconds, I praised God out loud before answering the phone. There was talking, but it wasn't to me. He had "butt-called" me. If you're not familiar with that term, we'll just say he accidentally called me without knowing it or realizing I had actually answered the phone.

From the heights of praise to the depths of disappointment. In 4.5 seconds.

James 4 reminds us that we don't have because we don't ask. So we should definitely ask. But the problem when you do ask-and I've already mentioned that I have to ask for a number of things I haven't asked for before-is that you set yourself up for disappointment. You really do. I think we need to honestly count the cost of asking. 

Of course there is a reason that God says, "No, or not right now." Just like when parents tell there kids, which is always a good reminder. Why should I expect my kids to take it so easy, when it's hard for me?

With much asking comes much disappointment. Of course with much asking, comes much thanksgiving. But instead of basing my confidence in prayer or spiritual well being on how many times God said, "Yes" that week vs. how many times he said, "No" or "Not at the moment," I've had to reconsider how I view disappointment. 

The Psalms are full of highs and lows. Full of disappointment and full of thanksgiving. You might think the persons writing them were a bit unstable. But I think that's just a healthy vibrant spiritual life. If you aren't disappointed, you probably don't care all that much. And if you are disappointed, remember, that is so much better than being apathetic. Or even being dry. Going back and forth between disappointment and thanksgiving is far more healthy than a "stable" dry time.  

Disappointment is not a dark desert highway on the way to the Hotel California, but an experience of a real relationship with a Heavenly Father, who out of love, may say, "No" or "Not yet." 

I've been dry. I've been on spiritual auto-pilot before. I'm learning that temporary disappointing periods are actually much better. It means there is a real Father-son relationship taking place, just like the one which takes place in my house each day. Highs and lows, but it is real, not robotic. I'm learning to see disappointment in a new light.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Riley, Repentance, and Redemption?

After several months of "Rome-less" radio down in Bradenton, my wife let me know that Jim Rome was actually available on FM. That was music (ironically we're talking about 'sports talk radio') to my ears. Rome discussed the whole Riley Cooper racist tirade caught on video while at a Kenny Chesney concert (his first mistake). The "N" word was dropped like a set of dumb-bells by a meat head in a weight room. Only this meathead wasn't big enough to scare people after the racist ranting video went viral. Tebow's former teammate, and roommate, is in some serious trouble.

While the NFL doesn't seem likely to suspend him right now, it is tough to rebound from such a debacle. Remember Michael Richards who played Kramer on Seinfeld after his tirade? While he certainly has a career to think about, Cooper has to come to realization very quickly, that what he said (and probably thought-though seeing into the heart of another is impossible) was terrible and the consequences of said words could be around to stay long after.

Marcus Vick, who has done nothing good, well ever, has never been a great spokesperson for his older brother Mike. Getting kicked off Va Tech's football team opened the door to playing for the Miami Dolphins. For a pre-season. But with the help of a famous brothers name, and twitter account, you can always make enough noise to be heard by a number of folks. He actually put out a "bounty" (a la Greg Williams and the Saints, allegedly) of a 1,000 for a safety to take out Cooper in a game. Not sure where he gets that kind of cash, but that's for another day.

For today, I want to look at Vick's response.

“I know what type of person he is,” Vick said of Cooper.  “That’s what makes it hard to understand but easy to forgive him.”Mike Vick also disagrees with his brother’s remarks about Cooper, saying that Marcus should “not show a level of ignorance himself.”

Receiver Jason Avant also forgave Cooper.  “I just know him,” Avant said.  “He’s not racist.”

I wonder if there's also something else going on. Most people are centering their forgiveness around the words. But what about the thoughts? Could that be forgiven? If so, by who?

By someone who had been forgiven of something really big. Really stupid. 

Mike Vick did jail time for his role in dog fighting. It was bad. It was stupid. It was evil. But I wonder if that plays into his quickness to be able to forgive. Grace begets grace.

In Jesus parable in Luke 7:36-50, which he tells to some self righteous religious folks, he poses the question which person would be more thankful, someone with a small debt cancelled or bigger debt cancelled? The answer is obvious. Then he expostulates: 

47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Whoever has forgiven Vick, or whomever he feels forgiven by-whether God, teammates, owner, friends, fans-it probably plays into his take on forgiveness. He has loved Cooper much because he has been forgiven much. For those unwilling to forgive such racist remarks, or racism in general, it reveals how small a debt they had cancelled. Of course it does take time, and it seems as though it may take time for other teammates to come around. But if there is belief in the gospel, even racism, not just words, but beliefs, can be both called out as evil, while the forgiveness process (provided there is repentance) can begin.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Deeper than Weezer: Opening up a redemptive Pandora's box

One of my prayer requests for the "core group" of our church plant (obviously including me) is for a deeper personal conviction of sin. What I mean is that we would be aware of, and regularly repent of our particular sins. Not just that we engaged in sin like gossip, lust, jealousy, envy, selfishness, self-righteousness, or didn't engage in what we were called to (sins of omission), but why we did the things we did. Why chose to gossip (to tear down instead of considering how Christ builds us up) to lust (failure to see Christ as worthy of our gaze) or selfishness (failure to heed Jesus promise that there is more joy in giving life away). Why would a pastor pray for something like this for himself and Christ's sheep?

If that seems like a strange request, I promise you it is a prayer that will bring praise to Christ, joy to the believer, and blessing/opportunity to neighbors/co-workers/friends. To repent of particular sins and recognize personal sin in general opens up the opposite of pandora's box: the deep treasures of the gospel to you and others.

1.) For your neighbors benefit: The more you are aware of your own personal sin, the less self-righteous you become. You become the biggest sinner you know. You don't look down upon someone else for doing _____. Instead you look sideways, seeing them as a fellow sinner, also in need of grace. The difference have received grace, not that you're a "better" person. Often you'll find you aren't! You become a better neighbor when you realize God doesn't need your good works but your neighbor does (a la Martin Luther).

2.) For your benefit. Obviously you have to turn to Jesus, but if you have a constant recognition of your own sin, then you have a constant rest, appreciation, and joy that God's love for you is grounded not in your performance but in the person and work of Christ. That is freeing and makes you want to make a joyful noise to Jesus. The flip side is also true: if you have little understanding of your own sin, you have little need for Jesus. Maybe you needed him back a few years ago, but now, not so much. What happens? You'll find yourself becoming more and more self-righteous, angry, and bitter. Remember the "other prodigal son?" If not, check out how his self-righteousness made him and angry SOB (Luke 15:11-32). We miss out on joy and become more self-righteous by ignoring our sin.

We don't repent from personal sin regularly so that God will give us more stuff (health and wealth gospel), but so that God will give us more of Himself. On the other side of the cross there was joy for Jesus so that on the other side of repentance, which is faith, joy will abound to us.

3.) For the sake of the Commission. A deeper understanding of sin led Isaiah into volunteering for a mission done got himself killed (Isaiah 6). And he volunteered for it! In the presence of God's Holy throne he came undone (no it wasn't because someone pulled the thread of his sweater as he walked away a la Weezer) because of a deep recognition of his own sins of the tongue. Once God cleansed and symbolically atoned for his sin, he said, "Here I am, send me." His own sin, and the forgiveness by God, moved him toward mission. It moved him to sacrifice even his life for his neighbors. It move us to sacrifice comfort and convenience when we recognized that Christ has atoned the sins of our tongues (among a plethora of other sins). In contrast, a lack of personal sin is what led Jonah to self-righteously and unwillingly preach the gospel, and then actually, angrily hope for the worst (Jonah 4). Notice the difference?

4.) For the sake of Christ. One of the reasons we have been saved is so that we would praise God for the glorious riches offered to us in the in person of God the Son, with those promises sealed to us by God the Holy Spirit (Eph 1). Instead of morbid introspection where we spend time thinking how bad we are, we quickly turn from looking at our personal sin for the day or sin in general, and immediately cast our gaze upon Him who is already looking down from Heaven with a smile. When our countenance meets His, we burst forth in song, praise, and possibly dance (depending upon denomination or skill level). Regular, albeit brief glances at our sin leads to a panoramic view of Christ and His work.

The TV show Breaking Bad, probably better than any other show I've seen, reveals the cosmic affects of personal sin. But the gospel message and power invite us to live within a different narrative. Personal sin has/has had cosmic consequences, but personal gospel dynamics also have a cosmic redemptive affect.

If you've read this and think of someone else who needs to take sin more seriously, you've missed the point. If you've read this and think I'm writing this about YOU in particular, well there's a Carly Simon song you might remember called "Your So Vain-I bet you think this post is about you." But if you read this and have begun to recognize how messed up you really are, and then how perfect, righteous, gracious, satisfying, loving, merciful, powerful, holy, giving Jesus is, and that he offers all He demands, then you'll have read this post correctly. 

If you begin with your goodness, you'll love Jesus and your neighbors a whole lot less. On the contrary if you begin with your sin, Jesus will be honored and your neighbors blessed. They may just thank you-even if they don't understand exactly how such sacrificial love was kindled.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Atheism, de-conversion, and The Puppy Who Lost His Way

This Sunday I'll be preaching for St. Petersburg Presbyterian Church for the third time. I'll be wrapping up a series on faith and doubt. Thanks to a facebook friend, who actually happens to be a real life friend of mine-though now separated by 900 miles-I came across this article of an Atheistic de-conversion. It is the journey from faith to doubt to disbelief (although if you read the article it does seem that doubt preceded disbelief for only a very short period of time). I love reading articles about conversion, particularly someone coming from a hostile atheist background to saving faith in Christ. But I think these articles of de-conversion are also helpful, even though they can be quite discouraging. We can still usually learn something from them.

Here are some things I took away from the article, aside from simply being saddened by this dark descent into disbelief.

1.) The relationship with one's father is often key.While this gal couches her disbelief in science and rationality, I think there is much more going on.
According to one pastor who started an outreach ministry, asking a friend or neighbor about his/her father opens the door to understanding barriers to a relationship with God. For instance, people often reject faith because their father rejected faith. It is of course no tit-for-tat, but there does seem to some connectedness. Understanding that relationship can help you minister to that person.
When I read in this article that this gal ran away from home and has no relationship with her father, I cannot assume that had nothing to do with it. Yes her mother is a Christian, but how much of her rejecting God is her rejecting her father? I wonder. 

Bad relationships with fathers seem to be incubators for doubt. But, according to this pastors experience in ministry, they can also be open doors to faith based discussions.

2.) I don't think anyone makes a decision to follow or un-follow, believe or disbelieve in God or specifically His plan of salvation through His Son from an entirely rational basis. I've heard atheists on a discussion panel explain that they got into Atheism because their friends were such. This story of de-conversion is not a treatise on a pure quest for rationalism. Now I think she advertises it as such, but there is too much baggage she is so quick to leave behind. And I don't blame her for some of this seems pretty sad. But there is an emotional experience she is quick to leave behind, and I don't think it is simply because "the bible lied to me."

3.) What question is the person really asking? In general the post-modern mantra is "does it work or help" (pragmatism) more so than "is it true" (modernity/rationalism)? This gal seems to fit into the modernist quest. I just read Andy Stanley's Deep and Wide, and he argues that most people simply want to know "does this work." But I find very rarely does someone fit into a purely rational or purely pragmatic category. Where I live now, and when I lived in Bradenton, I found skeptics to fit into more the modernist rational variety. Many people do ask the question, "Would I like what I would become?" So we have to make sure to present the gospel in such a way as to respond to these "defeater" beliefs (what Tim Keller refers to as the barriers we have to deal with before we can actually get to the gospel). For the Jews, Paul discerned it as "power" for the Greeks it was "wisdom." (I Cor 1). What is it for your friends?

4.) Where was the gospel?  This gal was allegedly raised in a grace-less home. One always needs to consider the source (an estranged daughter), but it is hard to misinterpret 10-15 beatings based upon a child not obediently responding the first time. Regardless, from her perspective, there was plenty of law but not a lot of gospel or good news. And regardless of whether or not the dad felt like he was showing grace, the message perceived (which is still important, for if someone doesn't feel like we're showing grace, maybe we're not!) was I'm proud of your performance. Not a delight in the person but a delight in the performance of your child. That's not grace. As a parent, that's something I never want my kid to think. I was only proud of how well he did and not simply that I loved him simply because he was my son.

Would a gal be so quick to "jump ship" if she had at least had an experience of grace, where she could honestly struggle and question? I would like to think so. But in the end, I think what this gal is rejecting is more than just a belief in God; she is rejecting a form of moralistic behavioral performance based Christianity that has at the very least been perceived as Christless.

5.) Don't be so quick to jump ship. Doubting is not a bad exercise. But doubts are best done within the community of faith. If you try to discern whether or not God exists, and you posed certain question, and you don't get satisfactory answers, then it might be good to look a little bit harder.

...This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?

Alex had no answer — and I realized I didn’t either. Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. 
But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.


I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.

Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.

That's not a big question of mine. I have them. Plenty of questions, but they are more of the "why did this happen variety" (which ultimately reveals a latent belief anyway but that is for another post) than of the philosophical variety like this. But as Billy Madison so eloquently argued in reference to the book The Puppy Who Lost His Way, "You can't give up looking for your dog after half an hour, you have to put up some signs, and get your butt out there and find your bleeping dog!"

 I know this gal had grown up believing the bible, but according to her own words, she disbelieved very quickly and in isolation from real gospel centered community.

If answers aren't satisfactory, we have to spend time and be willing to spend time with doubters. There are people smarter than us who have asked harder questions and have found intellectually satisfying answers. CS Lewis anyone? Please don't be like the boy in The Puppy Who Lost His Way and give up after half an hour. Don't let doubt grow into disbelief in the matter of minutes, hours, or even days. Let's put up some posters and find, or help others find, that bleeping dog.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The freeing affect of a father's non-frown

I have two boys right now. One five, and one almost three. Even though my five year old has been around a few years longer, my two year old has broken far more things in his shorter life. Lamps, glasses, dishes, radio attenanae on mini-van, and missing Roku controller-I can't prove he discarded it somewhere but I'm pretty sure he did.

The other day while working in my first office (Atlanta Bread Co is office number 2), I heard a loud crash. Cade knocked over the lamp, again, but this time it landed on tile instead of carpet. That ended its 5 year period of providing light. 

But I didn't get all that frustrated to come down and see the cracked lamp. Better it land on the tile than his little frame. And I don't get too attached to lamps. 

I don't know how much money Cade has cost me in broken items over the years, but I would guess it doesn't add up to all that much. Whenever I become frustrated when one of my kids break things, I remember back to all of my father's stuff I've broken over the years.

For some reason, in middle school, I worked on my baseball swing in the garage and dented the Porsche. In high school, I crashed a boat into our dock one afternoon because I had neglected to take the weeds out of the jet in the jet boat on the previous trip. After college, I left the boat lift on, went inside, and came back outside after I realized my mistake. Too late. The beautiful ski boat's windshield was completely shattered against the roof.

I'll never forget my father's face. Instead of anger at what was one of the most expensive, avoidable, and stupid mistakes I've made, he said, "Hmmmm.......well......" Or something like that. I screwed up big time and my father's face, instead of being filled with anger, was instead filled with compassion. He moved toward me, not away. He knew that I knew I had screwed up, and how bad and embarrassed I felt.

I've broken way more than my son will ever be able to break. So how angry should I get when he breaks things? Even more so, when I remember my father's reaction, not angry at me for destroying his otherwise flawless boat, how can I become angry at my son? Believing in grace makes you a better parent. I need to believe more. Much more. 

If my dad had become vehemently angry with me, I would then be scared to mess up in the future. I would follow the best I could out of fear. That wouldn't be the last thing I would break. I flew a remote controlled helicopter into a ceiling fan a few years ago. While I didn't want to break it, fear wasn't my motivator. I thought I would break it, and I even told him I would probably break it, and yet I wasn't afraid to break it. And I did. But I desired not to break it out of love, not fear. You see, that's one mark of a son.

Fear of failure may work for a job, but it doesn't motivate sanctification. Jean Larroux, one of my favorite preachers, posed a question in a sermon, "Describe God's face toward you now? A smile? OK, well what does His face look like after you sin? A frown?" 

Does God look down upon you with a a Jon Gruden-like scowl when you sin, but then smiles over you when you do something good? 

I don't believe we lose that smile when we screw up. And I don't believe we can put that smile back on His face when we don't screw up. We're just not that good, and our faith isn't all that much better. 

If our Heavenly Father's face doesn't turn to a dark scowl when we screw up, doesn't that motivate you to follow after Him with all of your heart? I didn't cost Him a boat, but a Son. That's steep. 

My dad could afford to pay for another boat. My Father already paid for all the "boats" I could break. Doesn't this make me care about sin more than those who don't know about grace? Doesn't this make me want to honor a God like this in all that I do? If not, then we're probably not really "getting" it.

I'm reminded of the old Hymn: "What Wondrous Love is This?"

When I sinking down, beneath God's righteous frown, 
Christ laid aside his crown, for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul

The righteous frown for the Christian is over. We follow Him now in freedom, not in fear.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Method to his Maddonness

My previous post considered the danger of having a "sales-report" type mentality when it comes to your relationship with God. Now I want to consider another fairly unique management style.

If know anything about the Tampa Bay Rays, you'll know that they have to be one of the loosest teams in baseball. When they travel, they have themes: they all dress in some sort of themed attire. All of this flows from laid back manager Joe Maddon. After one of their losses against a struggling Toronto Blue Jays team, when the Rays almost came from behind to win, Maddon irritated a local sports talk by posing the question, "Aren't you just so proud of our guys today?" They lost. "Aren't you proud?" Really?

Yes, that is Joe Maddon, often known for his calm demeanor as "Merlow Joe."

Joe's relaxed ways haven't been without results. In fact, after mired in myriad losing seasons, Joe's Rays teams have been to the world series once and playoffs two other times, just missing out last year by a game or two. 

But of course, it is the players who ultimately have to perform. And when they get to Tampa Bay (or rather St. Pete to be precise), perform they do. In fact, player after player comes to Tampa after previously under-preforming with other teams-which is actually why the Rays can afford them. And then something clicks.

Previous let-downs become All Stars. Fernando Rodney, who bounced around with several teams, had the best season ever for a closer last year. This has happened with relief pitchers on a yearly basis, but the same rings true for position players like James Loney. This 1st baseman should have been an all star and is now batting .318 after only posting a .230 mark last year. This happens over and over. It is not coincidence.

There is something to Maddon's madness.

He told Loney, "Don't worry about hitting home runs." In other words, relax and just hit it where you hit it. Just be yourself out there. So Loney hits it wherever the pitch dictates.

This year Fernando Rodney started off very poorly. He gave up runs. He blew saves. He blew opportunities when he was up by several several runs, several different times. I was done with him. Maddon wasn't, and much to many fan's frustration.

Luke Scott, who under-performed last year as well, was again under-performing this year. I was done with him. Maddon wasn't, much to the dismay of many media. 

Now the two are playing fantastic and making a huge difference. They actually are performing. 

But they had the freedom to fail. They had the freedom to not be obsessed with how they were performing. They weren't afraid to get benched, sent down to the minors, or released. And it has made a huge difference. It does every year. 

Maddon shows patience with struggling players, and it shows. They blow it sometimes. But they don't fear losing their position on the team.

It drives me nuts sometimes as a fan, but Maddon gets more out of these players than anyone else does. In fact, when they go elsewhere to make more money, they usually once again, under-perform.

Now I'm not going to argue that God is laid back and loose with sin. He is Holy, Holy, Holy. But because He has paid the punishment of sin HIMSELF,  we can now approach him and no longer fear about "under-performing" for Him. When that fear is taken away, what happens? We do end up "performing." We do end up changing, loving, pursuing holiness. What happens when God is patient with us? We love him more and don't use our freedom for selfish gain but instead to serve others (Gal 5:13). His kindness moves us to repentance (Romans 2:4). If it doesn't, then you probably don't understand His kindness.

Don't think these Rays players don't want to perform. But Joe knows in order for that to happen, they have to know that even if they don't, they're not going anywhere. 

I think such is the case with our sanctification. As Steve Brown put it once, "The only ones who really get any 'better' are the ones who know if they never do, God will love them just as much."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Taking the wind out of sales?

I'm sitting in my 2nd office (Atlanta Bread Company) and overhearing bits and pieces of a medical sales meeting. Numbers are being scrutinized and folks are being told that they are doing well or that they are below the national or state average. A computer screen is pointed to and a man says,"You are here, but should be more" Fortunately neither of the two subordinates have numbers that are going to get themselves fired today. That's a good thing. But there's no real assurance that such meetings will continue in the future.

I'm reminded of a few things.

1.) I'm thankful that I'm not in sales. I'm not sure that I would be good at it. Maybe I would, but I never did well selling chocolates door-to-door in high school, even when I embellished where the money actually went. Not condoning this by the way, just showing how poorly I performed.

2.) I'm thankful that God doesn't do this with me. I'm thankful that I'm not evaluated each week and compared with other people. With other pastors. Other church planters. How freeing is that? Don't ever get tired of hearing this.

3.) In some ways, regardless of whether or not we are in sales, I think the "sales review" mentality is still part of us. There are plenty of ways in which we are evaluated by others. How do your house, spouse, kids look? What is in the bank account or in your back yard? How many friends or "friends" do you have? You may be evaluated by many people, but that's okay (for us, not for those evaluating). It really shouldn't bother Christians all that much. What if there were only One with a computer whose evaluation really counted?  After all, in the end, there really is only One with a computer. So probably a good idea for us to start thinking like that now.But that's only part of the story.

What if the One with a computer said, "You are HERE, and you need to be THERE, but relax, I'm going to count Jesus' performance for you. He's over THERE, and His are the only numbers you need to be concerned with. 

If that's the case, let the haters hate, judges judge, and performers perform. If Jesus' performance counts as ours, then we will judge less and be less concerned when others judge us. Far from taking the wind out of my "sales," it moves me to want to be a better parent, pastor, friend, neighbor, without fear or over-frustration when I fail. Now I'm off to pound this into my head...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And that is why we are here......

After having been slightly let down by the first few episodes of Arrested Development, Amy and I were in the "market" for a new show. Since we've always been interested in midwifery, particularly during the 1950's in England, we thought Call the Midwife would be a perfect fit. Obviously I joke, but I was in fact the one who questioned why there were no male duolas (I called them dude-las) in the field while going through our first birthing classes. Strangely enough the question wasn't taken too seriously. 

We're only one episode into the series, but I was impressed from the start. It depicted a privileged and unsuspecting midwife graduate taking her first job in a rough section of England. And to her surprise, and dismay, she gets saddled with a bunch of nuns. Nothing against nuns, of course. The main character is blown away by the rough conditions in the apartments, particularly after one of her patients has a huge syphyllus sore that she just "hadn't gotten around" to checking out. 

She opens up to one of the "veteran" nuns, "I can't believe people live like this."

The nun immediately responds, "But they do live like this. And that is why we are here."

What a beautiful scene! What is a local church to do with the sin, shame, and at times syphyllus in its surroundings? Should we be surprised? Should we bring more shame upon shame by distant judgments and telling people to simply change? Should we vacate the area and head for "higher" ground? 

Since we are all sinners, we certainly have common ground with non-Christians. Lots of it. I sure do. And my theology reminds me that I shouldn't be surprised at any condition people live in; should I expect people who have not tasted the gospel to live as though they have tasted grace (regularly repenting from sin/self righteousness and resting in Christ's performance for and approval of me)?

Now "living like this" may look like gross personal sin: syphyllus and shancre sores. Or it may look like poverty, crime, disease, and other affects compounded by personal and communal sin. Or it may look like good old-fashioned self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and idolatry. Regardless, people everywhere, all over, "do live like that" and are in great need of the gospel (as are Christians too by the way-so we have that in common as well!).
Instead of running from them, a church and its people have an opportunity to run toward them. Shouldn't we say, "That is why we are here?" That is why our church plant is here. "Living like this" is a result of disbelieving the gospel, and doesn't that give us and others hope? Our answer to the surrounding world isn't "live like us" or "live like Jesus" but turn and rest in Jesus. I suspect that many people who have rejected Christianity as a whole, reject moralism or self-helpism without really understanding the actual gospel message.

Why is this church here? To bring the gospel to both the needs of believers and unbelievers, for it is robust enough to provide rest for both types of sinners. On Sundays and in between.

Monday, July 8, 2013


This is a follow up from my last post on reflections on I Peter from our church plant bible study. Someone posed a few good questions to me in response to the post: are there any times where Christians demand their rights, and shouldn't we stand up for our rights?

It is hard to qualify what exactly counts as a right (as opposed to a privilege) today since most people-and it is usually divided politically-rarely agree on what comprises a list of rights. Owning a machine gun, welfare check, government provided health care, gay marriage, etc....But in general, most people are probably in agreement that there are some rights that you should never touch.  However, finding agreement on which rights those are might prove more difficult since the same person who may hold to freedom of religion could at the same time, be limiting his neighbors' freedom if his neighbor is forced to accept certain government mandates.

So the lines are probably more blurry than fine. 

Are there times when the bible advocates not standing up for your rights? Yes. Paul actually tells Christians not to take other Christians to court. He tells them not to defend themselves in a court setting because doing so would present a bad witness to the community. But that's not fair is it? Well, sometimes it's better to take one for the team (that's what Jesus did, right?). Yet, for the sake of the gospel, Paul reminds them, "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" (I Cor 6:5-7). This is a hard one for believers to follow. I've even seen pastors bring law suits and that has always astounded me. So yes, some Christians have demanded their rights, when in fact, they should just rather have been wronged. 

I am thankful for people who feel called to stand up for the rights of Christians. Some use political clout to hold sway. Some are called to lobby. Some are called to study, and others to be aware of infringements on free expression of religion. And I'm thankful for such people, because my calling puts me in different places. 

I'm called to plant a church that makes disciples who will then be salt and light to its community. Each Christian has different gifts and callings, and the freedom, power, and hopefully training to pursue justice and mercy in their jobs, and neighborhoods throughout the county. Ideally their hearts are on the rights, or privileges, or simply welfare of others before their own interests (Phil 2:4, James 1:27).

If I had to re-word my original post I would probably have used the words "preferences" or "privileges." The church which I hope to plant will be one in which its members are willing to sacrifice personal preferences and privileges, without sacrificing the distinctiveness of the gospel, so that more lives would be reached.

And simply leaving an established church, to head out into the "glorious unknown" (cue Stephen Curtis Chapmans' "Great Adventure") is a step in the direction of sacrificing the privilege and preferences. You exchange a building for rented facility, familiarity for a vision, known identity for uncertain status, security for insecurity. But for those whom God calls to leave, a blessing of His promised presence awaits and is worth every penny. At least it has been for me so far.