Friday, May 31, 2013

Spritual flopping

The N.B.A. technically stands for National Basketball Association. Of course over the years it has also stood for other things like "Nothing But Actors." But this year, particularly during the playoffs it will not stand for acting any longer. Even bigger named (and even bigger whining) players like Lebron James have been fined $5,000 for "flopping." Soccer players have done this for years and it drives me nuts, but the NBA, is attempting to do something about it. Now I know taking $5,000 from Lebron is like taking away a napkin from the "rest of us," but it's a start. I think.

Flopping can give one player quite an advantage over his opponent. By faking or exaggerating the result of contact, he can get the ball back and cause his opponent to be called for a foul at the same time. It's better than a simple turnover. And it often times works, until now, supposedly.

But it is completely disingenuous and harms the integrity of the game (though I rarely watch NBA so this is more of a hypothetical for me). 

Sometimes I think Christians are guilty of spiritual flopping, over-reacting and even acting at times. There is always going to be contact in basketball. That's part of the game. There is always going to be contact in a church (at least in a healthy church where people spend time with one another!). And just like in a basketball we will bump into each other; often times that contact is simply like two guys going for a rebound, or "boxing out" or "posting up." It is just part of the game. Feelings will eventually get hurt-how could they not when you put a bunch of broken idiots together in a room? I'm not excusing sin or insensitivity, just reminding us not to be surprised when it happens.

Of course there are "fouls" and even "flagrant fouls" which need to be addressed. But I wonder how many Christians simply "flop," and act as if they've been hit with a vicious elbow to the head when in reality they ran into a pick? Particularly when it comes down to players who have a "history."

In Ken Sande's Peacemaking steps, the first step is to overlook an offense. In order to overlook an offense, we probably would do wise to consider the actual contact we received. Was it really a vicious intentional elbow (as it really felt at the time), or simply the normal contact that goes on in a game?

Some have been "flagrantly fouled" a time or too and so it is legitimately hard to trust again. But for others, flopping might be more commonplace and have developed into a life long habit. I know I've flopped a time or too along the way, reacting as though someone had thrown a cheap shot my way. In reality, that wasn't the intent at all. We've all flopped, and then moped-though some of us do so more privately or in the privacy of house and home. If there's one thing we can learn from the NBA it is that flopping, which is ultimately disingenuous over-reacting and at times acting to gain an advantage over another, distracts us away from the real work going on inside and outside the four walls of a church.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Church plant update-May

If you are a blog follower, and are not facebook friends, twitter followers, or on my email distribution list, and would like to know what is happening with our church plant in Bradenton, FL, click here for our latest update.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Provisions by Rain instead of by River

When we read of the journey of God's people out of slavery in Egypt, the first thing most folks  marvel at is their lack of faith. I sure do. At times, they even mention how it would be nice to head back into slavery so they could eat vegetables (Numbers 11:5). Hmmm....I can't imagine missing vegetables that much.....But its more than vegetables I think-to be honest they also missed the Tilapia as well-it's the certainty of veggies. What I mean is that in Egypt, they had a constant water source. A little river called the Nile provided all the water needed to maintain a pretty aggressive agrarian advantage.

In Israel, folks had the Jordan River. Unfortunately it provided next to nothing in regards to irrigation. So they had to rely upon rain from above. 

Now when God's people finally arrived in Israel, and conquered the land, there wasn't much talk about going back to Egypt. Instead of wanting to give up, they chased after the fertility god Baal. Either give up or get or another god who could do the trick. Or they could rely upon God to provide for them in the midst of uncertainty. They had to pray for rain. What? Yep, they really didn't have to do that before. If Egypt had rain gods, they weren't ones you'd have on speed dial. Now they had to actually pray for rain.

After being down here in FL a week, and having worshiped in a great church this Sunday, it really hit home the fact that I'm no longer have a Nile. I came from land which offered a proverbial Nile, flowing with friends for us, friends for our kids, a great church where I served. It provided a certainty that wasn't wrong in any sense, but it was a certainty we felt called to leave behind. 

Again, Florida is not the promised land, just as WV wasn't Egypt. We are extremely excited to have been called back to the area where we feel is really home for us. I've thoroughly enjoyed being back and have been thankful everyday for this opportunity to plant a church here. But for our family, and for many who will take the step of faith and join us on this journey, we have no Nile. We won't be able to see a church right away. We won't be able to see now what will become of this church plant 2-3 years down the road. We won't know exactly from where all of our friends, or kids' friends will come. We won't know what children's ministry, and youth group will look like, now.

And so we will be left with only one option: looking up to the heavens, from whence our help comes (Psalm 121). Those things which we could see before, have been veiled for us this season. But that doesn't mean anything other than God is offering us an opportunity to trust Him for what we can't see. Things we normally didn't have to trust him for, we are having to do so now.

It is scary. But it is also pretty cool. Just two nights ago, Connar really wanted to meet some new friends. He had friends galore in WV. We didn't pray too much for that. But now in FL, we prayed for exactly that. And in one hour, we had an invitation to the beach from a family with a 5 year old. 

I know things won't always be answered so quickly. And even though it is hard to not have the certainty of a river, it is pretty cool when you see God provide for things you would normally not have prayed for. In the end, there just might be more joy in timely rain than the steady flow of a river. I can't say for certain because I'm not there yet. But I can only imagine. 

Not everyone is called to leave and start or join a new church plant. In fact, most probably aren't. But those who support and leave just may find God answering prayers for things they never thought they'd be praying for. And consequently they may just receive more joy in the "ordinary" invitations and opportunities which come by rain instead of by river.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Travelling Contemplations: The refreshing freedom of dispensability

I finally made it down to Bradenton, FL this past week. Instead of driving straight home, I went out of the way a bit in order to see some friends I hadn't seen in a long time. In fact, for some it had been around 10 years since I had chatted with them in person.

I had some time in the car to contemplate, so here are some of my thoughts.

The Refreshing freedom of dispensablity 

When Billy Madison returned to his high school, some 10 or so years later, he found he had soon been forgotten. At first, for him, it had been a downer. No one spoke about him anymore. I returned to Clinton in 2004 (I left in 2002), after I got married, so my former youth could meet Amy. And to prove to them that I did, actually, get married. Friends in the area still spoke about things I did and started in Clinton. Good things. But when I returned this time in 2013, 11 years after leaving for seminary, it was completely different. A deacon thought I was a visitor. Now of course others recognized me, but things were different. The little kids were big. Really big. And old. And to quote Fleetwod Mac, "And I'm getting older still..." They had a new youth leader, and I had little to no impact in their lives. But just like Billy Madison, the fact that I wasn't remember or involved anymore, provided some catharsis. I moved on, they moved on, but Jesus didn't. He was still committed to this small town church. It was bigger than I remembered it, having waxed and waned and waxed some more. Wax on, wax off, wax on. 

There was a different pastor and different staff. And the church was moving forward in preaching the gospel. It didn't need me; and my dispensability, instead of making me sad, refreshed my soul. The only thing tangible I can point to in Clinton, SC of my three years "in office" is a flavor from the Tropic Delite shaved ice stand called "Woodrow" (a flavor I lobbied for named after our street). After reconnecting with Charlene the owner, and getting a shaved ice "on the house," I eased on down the road and headed on. And so did the city. And so did Jesus' church. It didn't need me, nor was it dependent upon anyone for that matter. Thankfully.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Boston Strong: A more accurate kind of "strong"

While listening to NPR this morning I heard a sobering piece about Boston, just one month after the bombing malfeasance. Three people died-which is obviously three too many-but I had forgotten about the many survivors who had hadn't lost life, but had lost limbs. For them, the physical wounds only represent the surface of their struggles to get life back to "normal." From learning how to walk again to coping with a life that will never be the same, their work has only just begun. 

Boston Strong T-shirts are selling at a decent clip up there as this mantra has gripped the area, an area known for its resiliency. According to this T-shirt, Texas isn't the only place that says, "Don't mess with us." I can see why they are selling well. I might even buy one if I were a Bostonian. And I get the attitude for the many folks who were indirectly impacted. And I don't dismiss it totally.  

But could this attitude be thoughtfully critiqued, particularly in regards to how it might affect those directly impacted. It is different to know someone injured than to actually be the one who was injured. Or to be the family, friend, doctor, rehabilitation worker who has to walk with them through the process. Not everyone thinks Boston Strong, with its connotations, is necessarily the right road to take.

According to this NPR piece, count professional trauma counselors in this group. One commented to the effect that "It all depends upon what you mean by 'strong.'" For many doing battle with a new lifestyle, is not something you can say after a month, "Come one, now get up, get moving, let's get this thing going! After all, we are Boston and we are strong!" Many folks emotionally are simply not ready for this. Whether it be grieving, forgiveness, bitterness, or a range of many other emotions, processing this tragedy will take time for those who have been directly impacted by it. 

Strong? Well, not how we usually use the word strong. But common grace wisdom affirms what the bible has already spoken about humanity in times of grief and desperation. We have a book in the bible that is called Lamentations, which is written in response to God exiling His people, bringing upon them a great calamity (destruction of Temple, death, and deportation). Those are bad "d" words. Sorrow may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning, as the Psalmist encourages us (Psalm 30:5). But lets remember, this is poetry, not prose. It is not science. Joy doesn't return right away; it doesn't literally return overnight.

This trauma counselor was really on to something. Strong can't be "I'm ready to fight and take on the world right now, because no one can take that from me."

What does "strong" look like? For Paul, "strong" looked like admitting that he was weak and even boasting in his weakness, insults, and persecutions (II Cor 12:8-10). In fact, when he was weak, at that point in time, he declared he was at is his "strongest." It also looked like admitting his need for people to minister to him (Phil 2) and that he really needed people to pray for his boldness (Eph 6:19-20).  In the Sermon on the Mount, "strong" looks like "poor in Spirit" which means spiritually broken and needy before God. Meekness means letting others defend you. All of the above require much more power than bucking up or pridefully sucking it up, so doesn't that imply this is the "stronger" route? Couldn't we ascribe strength to these such attitudes and postures, because plainly speaking, they actually take more "strength?"

I'm all for Boston Strong if it is this kind of strong. Even secular grief counselors would agree with me. At least in part.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My tears without fears: Reflections on what I'll miss at Redeemer

Yesterday, at least as I can see, was my last Sunday at Redeemer as a pastor. I look forward to hopefully coming back for a missions conference some time in the future. It was hard for us. And for our kids. I was hoping it wouldn't be hard for Connar and Cade, but it was. And it will be, for a time. Tears come with church planting. They always have. When Paul spoke his parting words to the Ephesian elders we see

 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.  What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. -Acts 20:37-38

Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.- II Tim 1:4

I'm no Paul, but what I see in the scriptures is that the process of starting new churches, and leaving people "behind" has always involved tears. It is hard to leave friends, family, and churches behind. And yet such tears are necessary for the Kingdom to advance. For some reason, just about the only time I cry is when I watch movies, particularly when there is a child/parent separation or death. No one sees it but Amy. Because you may not have seen any physical tears yesterday, I want to share with you some of my "tears" in leaving Redeemer. I feel confident and excited for this next step of our journey. I'm as certain as I could be that the Henderson's, as a family, have been called to West Bradenton. Yet we still leave with tears, so here are some I want to share. No particular order.
  • Barret. All pastors are replaceable and Jesus does not need any particular pastors to lead his local church. With that said, Barret is special. He let me preach once a month, and I know that was a big risk. I've grown in my preaching, which means that at one time I was worse than I am now. But Barret took the risk to let me grow, and wasn't afraid people would leave if he had me up front. Just like his senior pastor before him. Not only that but he prayed that I would be a better preacher than him. How cool is that? And when, as a church, we were really struggling financially, and thought we may have to lose our office, Barret said, "Don't cut Geoff's pay. Pay cuts will start with me." I don't think we ever had to go that route, but it was clear, that this guy was a servant leader. I mean, who does that? That's crazy. That's Barret though. I hope that God grants me such grace to do the same some day. I hope He grants me humility to pray for a greater success of others "under" me, even if it means people think less of me.
  • Elders. I will miss elders who were really on the same page. We were moving forward in a common vision. That is a beautiful thing, kind of like oil dripping down a dude's beard  (Psalm 133:2-yeah, not sure that analogy is still as effective today....) This is actually rarer than people realize, so it's a beautiful thing for a pastor and for a church.
  • Deacons. I like to make things simple to remember. A diaconate's job description includes overseeing three M's: Mercy, Maintenance, and Money. No one man is gifted in all three, but we have men who have gifts in at least one of those three areas. We need all three giftings to move forward as a church and we have them. 
  • Leaders in general. I will never forget our deacon who said in the midst of the financial crisis of 2011, said, "Geoff is not going anywhere. We are keeping him here and will make cuts elsewhere." I'll never forget that. God blessed our church and not only did we soon have enough money to pay me, we had a building of our own. Then they graciously gave me a raise in 2013. Barret took the smaller raise to give me the bigger. Wow.
  • Friendships. With good friends, you can live in places that you normally wouldn't pick to live. Even though I've been landlocked, and there are no snook for a 900 miles, these 3 1/2 years have been among the happiest of my life. Friendships have played a large part in that. I don't imagine that moving away will cause any of them to cease.
  • Worship. Sundays are my favorite day of the week. The quality of music, the simple liturgy of the worship service, the gospel centered preaching, fellowship afterwards, the joy of the people involved, the learning which goes on in children's church, etc...
  • CD group. Small groups have always been one of my passions, and I will miss our CD group, as well as the other CD groups which have been faithfully led by other leaders. Everyone of the small groups I've been a part of have been a blessing to me and I can't imagine life without one.
  • Gratitude. I've never felt at any point that people were not grateful to have me pastoring here. I've often been thanked and thanked again. And its often for doing things like personal discipleship-which I love!
  • Risk. The church took a risk in hiring an Assistant before it had a building. That's a risk. Money given to me could have gone toward a down payment on a building. But many people stepped out in faith. Just two years after bringing me on, a church gave us its building, which we would turn around and use as our down payment for our present building. As we see time and time again, God blessed the Kingdom driven risk of His people.
  • Youth and Children's workers. It takes a ton of people to run a children's ministry. In a month we use more than 40 different people in some way shape or form. Without these workers (from nursery leaders to youth leaders), we would have less impact on our covenant kids. And most of the workers go way above and beyond simply teaching. I wonder if they are now learning to be careful, because when I see this, I usually "promote" them to more oversight duties!
The point of this reflection is not to fill Redeemer up with pride or pat itself on the back. I wanted you to see my "tears." Barret and I are very different. He cries up front all the time. I don't and probably will never cry up front.

In addition, I hope you realize that Redeemer-even when it disappoints you (and it will as all churches will)-is a special place; so be thankful for her, pray for her, and labor with her. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How home inspections point us to the gospel

Today Satan, aka, the Home Inspector came into our home to discern everything that could possibly be/could go wrong with our house. Home inspectors walk through, (and this time the guy walked through with our potential buyer) and keep meticulous notes that can and will be used against the current homeowner. 

What is so hard for me, as I write this, is to think about all of the little things (or big ones) that the inspector can use against me. Because of his findings, I could lose a buyer or lose a lot of money. His judgments, even though they can often be flat out incorrect (as our last inspector proved), can cause great damage. And because they have real potential to harm, such inspections can prove quite frightening. Although I'm thankful that the Lord has brought much peace to me in this crazy time (today I also had to buy a new AC unit for our FL house), the inspector's judgment is real. It has real consequences, and therefore can elicit real fear.

But I was encouraged by the gospel last night in our CD group. We looked at Romans 8:1-17, and particularly in the context of confrontation. Either in giving or receiving confrontation, the gospel offers so much in the way of this. There are simply no "home inspections" for the Christian. There is no outside judgment that will hold sway over the Just Judge of all the Earth. 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Because the righteous requirements of the law have been met, I don't have to consider criticism as if it were coming from home inspector. Whether the home inspector has a point or not, the fact that he writes something in his report, now puts me on the defensive. I have to contend or defend. There are no perfect houses, and so as soon as I let him in my house, I have a target on my back.

However, while there are no perfect people, there are Christians who have been declared perfect and therefore no longer subject to shame or deductions. And because they are no longer subject to punishment, they no longer should have any fear of others' home-inspector-like opinions. And judgments.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

We don't have to fear critique, which is meant to help. We don't have to fear judgments or punishment or check-lists, which are meant to harm and hurt. We don't have to fear confrontation, which is meant to help. 

Most of the times we treat those who lovingly confront us or offer helpful critique like home inspectors. But in reality, there are no more home inspections for us. We are set. Jesus took the home inspection for us, on our behalf, so the requirements of the law would be met in us. 

Loving confrontation is a beautiful thing. It says, "Stop choosing death when Jesus offers life." Loving confrontation does not come to another as a home inspector with a check-list, but a humble fellow sinner that by God's grace has noticed sin in our lives. He or she cares that we're stuffing our face with mud-pies, when we can have apple pies in the shade.

If we/I can begin to look at critique and confrontation, and even at times simple disagreement from God's Romans 8 perspective over us, we'll save ourselves the "need" to defend, contend, and pretend. Believing this takes a lot of work, but whoever said believing the gospel was for the faint of heart. Not Jesus.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Reflections on my West Virginia years, ammended

As my time in West Virginia is coming to a close, I wanted to share some reflections on this state. A state which boasts many fun-facts but has also been mired in misconceptions. I want to share some of those fun-facts, clear up, confirm, or dispute misconceptions and views "Gentiles" (non-West Virginians) still hold.

1. Country roads will take you home, and make sure that you will stay awake while driving on them. Because West Virginia is so mountainous, the shortest distance between two points (a straight line) is rarely an option. Someone described the cities to me as "islands separated not by water but by mountains." You will probably not fall asleep driving on the interstate because you will never drive in a straight line for more than a mile. But what about in-town neighborhood driving? Yep, you'll be awake for that as well, because you'll be avoiding potholes. Many neighborhood roads are not paved by the city, but instead left to Homeowners associations. My $100-a-year-fee for snow removal leaves little hope that our neighborhood road will not forever be plagued with potholes.

2. Pretty people? I didn't hold this myth to be self-evident but I know someone who did. He didn't believe there were pretty people in West Virginia. In fact, he didn't believe me when I first told him that so and so was from here. His reasoning: the gal was a very attractive. Of course he was from Virginia, and this neighboring state seems to hold a number of inaccurate prejudices. Finally, he agreed with me that his misconception was wrong. If you still don't believe me, Jennifer Garner is from West Virginia. There are plenty of pretty people here, just like there are in every state.

3. Family Values. I had heard that the family unit was strong here. Very strong. I wasn't disappointed, as this is true throughout all socio-economic levels. Birthdays are bigger here than anywhere else I've lived. Parties are only the start of it, as festivities also include, at the very least, separate dinners out with both sides of family. But because of this strong family unit, as an outsider, it can be hard to break in. Many give up and I've had conversations with folks who just end up leaving. I've found this to be a shared experience of both Christians and non-Christians. Fortunately I have had a wonderful church family that received me and my family as their own, so my experience as a pastor of an established church is a bit more unique. But for many who move here, it takes a long time to break through. Family units are so tight that brothers, sisters, cousins, are their friends. This is why a church has to think outward, as the opportunities to invite people into their family celebrations are not only endless, but necessary if the local church is to have an impact on its community. Of course it also has to think inwardly as well and consider the "orphaned" within the church.

4. Not "Buck Wild." Many West Virginians were angered at the show "Buck Wild." And they should have been. The world outside West Virginia has one view of what West Virginia is, and this is it. Now I'm not belittling any way of life; I'm simply saying that there are plenty of places in West Virginia which couldn't be described by "Buck Wild." Where I live, it is simply a small, fairly Southern, suburban bedroom community in between the two "big" cities of Charleston and Huntington. It is known as "The Valley" and is not Buck Wild. Many places are not Buck Wild, but there are already too many "Desperate Housewives of Teays Valley," so I doubt that type of show could get good ratings.

5. Sports Passion. I've enjoyed the sports community up here. They enjoy their sports. Now of course, West Va fans got pegged as the third worst fans by a GQ poll some years back, just behind Philly fans. But I've never seen couch burning in Hurricane. Florida is so divided with FSU, Miami, UF, USF, UCF, and after the NCAA tourney, who knows where Florida Gulf Coast will go? In West Virginia, it is pretty much W.V.U., with Marshall making up the large minority. For the most part the two opposing parties co-exist, much better than fans within the Florida college sports sub-culture. When it comes to sports for kids, there is the same passion you'd find anywhere else. Unfortunately that passion gets misplaced, just like the rest of America, and many people choose travel sports over church.

6. Fix-it culture. Dudes can fix things up here. Period. I can't, so I've enjoyed being around people who can. Not only that, but people really do want to teach others to fix. They get "fix-it discipleship." I've really appreciated all I've learned in that regard.

7. Not a bastion of Reformed Theology, but ripe for picking. For a number of reasons, of which many are unbeknownst to me, Reformed Theology has not taken much root here the way it has in Virginia. Now there are some bright spots, and some Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches are doing some fantastic work in mercy, gospel proclamation, and theological training. Also there are conferences, and bloggers springing up that are beginning to have influence. Yet there are many churches who not only are hostile to the idea that God could actually be Sovereign over everything, but believe the only inspired bible is the King James version. I never came across that in Florida. Still, I've never seen such people who really want to learn more deeply the gospel and the doctrines of grace. Many folks at Redeemer feel cheated that they didn't get to really hear about grace all of their lives. And so now they are trying to play "catch-up" and can't get enough. They want to meet. They want to read. They want to learn. They listen on-line. And they are incredibly thankful. I will miss that hunger and teachable spirit greatly.

8. Fewer Mom and Pop restraunts than expected. We have a plethora of Bob Evans, Tudors Biscuit World's, and Applebees, but fewer Hillbilly Hotdog type restraunts than I had hoped. And expected. But again, that may be more in "The Valley" where I live. I can't speak for all of WV.

9. Outdoors. Many people here take advantage of the beauty of this state. Most camp, and many fish. In fact, a much greater percentage at Redeemer fish than in my church in Bradenton, FL. That has resulted in "official" yearly men's fishing/camping trips that I started and are now continuing without my involvement, planning, or participation.

10. Property Value. Many folks told me, "You'll be able to get tons of land and a big house for very cheap up there." That's actually not true. At all. Where I live it is not cheap, and for the same house size, it's not much if any cheaper, than Bradenton. It was actually a decent bit more expensive up here just a few years back. Now if I were to live in one of the smaller cities outside this Huntington-Charleston area, there would obviously be a price break. But if you want a neighborhood, and some quality schools nearby, it is not usually all that cheap.

11. Counties over cities. Because there are few "big" cities here, most people refer to where they are from with the county name, not city name. I have never come across that before and can't imagine explaining to someone I'm from Hillsborough county. But it makes sense why they do it up here.

12. Higher Car standards. My Mazda Protege did not pass the car inspection up here. I had to get two new side view mirrors in order to get my 12 dollar sticker. Will not miss that yearly inspection.

13. South Carolina? There are probably more South Carolina car stickers per car in West Virginia than in South Carolina. It is a bit odd, but this is where WV folks vacation each year, so that's the reason. Still I have found it intriguing that with a state with such state pride would don the South Carolina palm tree sticker so often.

These are simply some of my reflections (as somewhat of an outsider) on West Virginia the last 3 and half years. I hope that if you're from here, you'll find that that I represented you well and if you're not from here that you at least learned something.