Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Chicken or the Egg?

Well, which came first? Doesn't really matter when all that's at stake is a drumstick or an omelet. But sometimes it matters greatly, which comes first. I've been thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. How can we live out this new life in Christ? How can we be in this world but not of this world? There are no easy answers, I know, but maybe the place to begin is to put first things first. It's all about priorities, isn't it? Consider a few questions that I have been pondering. Which comes first in your life - the ways of this world or the way of Christ?

Money - Do we underwrite our desired standard of living and give what is leftover for God's purposes, or do we give generously, consistently, and biblically and adjust our lifestyle accordingly?

Time - Do we fill our flexible hours with countless leisure and recreational pursuits and serve God only when there is absolutely nothing else to do, or do we commit our time and our talents as God Spirit leads and enjoy all of our hobbies and interests as God gives us opportunity?

Politics - Do we allow our political views to shape our own personal theology, or do we apply our theology in the political arena? Does our politics shape our faith or does our faith shape our politics?

Culture - Do we allow our culture to inform and shape our values, or do we live out our faith in ways that may contrast with or even contradict the expectations of our culture?

Input - Do we feed our mind and soul on the same sick diet of warped views, twisted sensuality, and tainted truth, or do we grow wiser through the daily disciplines of scripture and prayer? 

People - Do we find ourselves influenced by the same biases and prejudices that pervade our society, or do we treat every person as one for whom Christ died?

Purpose - Do we make our life's aim all about our own comfort, our convenience, and our prosperity, or do we find our purpose in laying down and giving up our lives for Christ and for others?  

Just food for thought. Grab a piece of chicken or a hard-boiled egg and think it over. Which came first, or rather, which comes first in your life? Following Jesus may be harder to swallow than you thought.

Monday, August 27, 2012

An Insignificant Life

I was struck this afternoon as I read these words from John Henry Jowett, a great English preacher of an earlier time, on the subject of ambition. See what you think.

It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows by the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed, if a man's ambition is to avoid the troubles of life, the recipe is simple: shed your ambitions in every direction, cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and seek a little life with the fewest contacts and relations. If you want to get through the world with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass. Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side. As soon as a man begins to enlarge his life, his resistances are multiplied. Let a man remove his petty selfish purposes and enthrone Christ, and his sufferings will be increased on every side.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Homies on the Way Home

I had a great time this week just hanging out with my homies, or to put it in pastoral vernacular, I enjoyed our church's annual staff retreat very much. It's amazing to me how quickly people can connect, especially when we have Christ in common and a shared sense of God's call on our lives. I am truly honored and blessed to serve with such a gifted and dedicated team here at Memorial. And, we are having a barrel of fun working together, and that's a huge bonus blessing.

Getting to know a new staff so quickly really shouldn't surprise me. As I reflect on my life and ministry, I know I have found new friends and real homies everywhere the Spirit has taken me. Last month I heard from Clay who was my partner in ministry twenty years ago. Now he lives and serves near Seattle, but he still feels like a homeboy to me. I think of good and godly lay persons who reached out to me in friendship and love and who I know still remember me in their prayers. Bill and Linda, Hilson and Pat, Mike and Carol, Neil and Norma, Ellwood and Fern, and so many others. And, I have worked with wonderful staff and will always feel a deep bond of affection for Bruce and Lorri and Buff and Bob and Brian and Cara and Connie, more than I can name. And my homies are not just close to home, either.

I have a homie named Mickail who pastors a vibrant, little church in a small village in rural Belarus. Another one of my homies is Komatsu, still a teenager when I met him, yet he had started a new church in his hometown near Pretoria, South Africa. I wish I could tell you all about Ruslam and his family who lead Agape Church in a tiny apartment in Kiev, Ukraine. He's my homie, too, even though I only got to spend two weeks with him. 

God is so good and gracious, isn't he? He brings us alongside precious partners and friends all along the way, so that we can blend our gifts, share our burdens, celebrate our victories, and encourage each other in every circumstance. Homies on the way home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Political Ads and God's Stomach Ache

No one will hear me grinding my political axe during this political campaign. I have no interest in discussing my own political views on this blog or anywhere else for that matter. Frankly, I don't want to debate your views either. I find plenty that offends and frustrates me in both of our political parties, particularly as we are barraged with political ads from both campaigns that deliberately mislead and misrepresent the truth.

As a person of faith and a follower of Jesus, I'm looking for some shred of integrity wherever I can find it. But when it comes to our politics - local, state, or national - integrity is usually missing in action and truth is the campaign's first casualty. It raises some questions in my mind, questions we might put to both parties, but mainly to the average voter like me:
  • Does the end justify the means in a political campaign? 
  • Is it ethical to be less than candid about one's own views in order to avoid offending voters?
  • Is it appropriate to misrepresent the views of your opponent in order to win over voters?
  • Is it morally acceptable to actively twist and distort the truth in order to gain or keep power?
  • Are American voters as ignorant and intolerant as the political strategists seem to believe? 
  • Why do most political ads appeal to the basest side of human nature, fear and jealousy, bias and prejudice?
  • Is there even one political commentator who is truly fair, objective, unbiased?
  • Who can we believe?
A wise leader from long ago warned us about such things: There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV)

Sounds to me like the Almighty will be glad when this year is over, no matter who gets elected.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two Times at the Table

In his "Letters to a Young Evangelical," Tony Campolo shares a story from his childhood about taking Communion: 

Sitting with my parents at a Communion service when I was very young, perhaps six or seven years old, I became aware of a young woman in the pew in front of us who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading the passage of Scripture written by Paul that says, "Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27). As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman before me, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that my Sicilian father leaned over her shoulder and, in his broken English, said sternly, "Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?" 

She raised her head and nodded—and then she took the bread and ate it. I knew that at that moment some kind of heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer Communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.

In his sermon "The Sinner's Feast," Lee Eclov describes what should be the celebrative side of Communion in the context of worship: 

This table is different. This table of the Lord isn't where sinners find Christ but where sinners celebrate being found … 

Maybe some morning, instead of solemnly passing these trays, we should dance for joy. Maybe we should sing every born-again song we know. Maybe we should tell our "homecoming" stories and laugh like people who no longer fear death. Maybe we should ask if anyone wants seconds and hold our little cups high to toast lost sisters found and dead brothers alive.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Echoes of an Empty House

“How cruelly sweet are the echoes that start, when memory plays an old tune on the heart!” - Eliza Cook

All summer long I have been listening to echoes reverberating through our nearly empty parsonage in Arlington. Rebecca and I have been camping out in one barely furnished room and sleeping on borrowed beds waiting for our final moving day to arrive. The rest of the house is empty, magnifying the sound of every footstep and conversation, and making our hound, Duke, sound like a T-Rex. Suzanne said I even sound funny on the phone, like I'm down in a barrel or hollering through a megaphone. Just funny little echoes making little voices sound big and yet those echoes hold a promise that all these empty rooms will soon be filled.

But this week back in Sedalia I heard those echoes again, and it was a sad, melancholy moment. When all the packing and loading was finally completed, we gave our old house one final cleaning before our new renters moved in. We worked our way through the vacant rooms, sweeping the basement, vacuuming the bedrooms, dusting the shelves in the family room. That's when the echoes began, words and whispers, lots of laughter and more than a few tears, so many memories coming to life in the echoes of our empty house.

I could hear frightened little feet coming down the stairs to crawl in bed with us during a storm. A Christmas tree over in that corner and the frantic tearing of wrapping paper ripped and thrown aside. Shouts and hoots of laughter from the boys in the basement during yet another late night PlayStation marathon. Becca and her diva friends singing our halftime shows with her new karaoke machine. Suz taking pictures of the kids and their dates in front of the fireplace. "Smile! Jake, don't do that!" I could even pick up the gentle echo of those rare and real conversations when we listened and talked about the things that matter most, life and love, faith and family.

We were hearing fourteen years worth of echoes, memories of raising a family, echoes that turned a house into a home and now finally back to just a house again. Everything and everybody is gone now. Only the echoes remain.

One house empties and another house becomes a home, our new home. I'm thanking God today for the beautiful echoes of a very blessed life, my life, our life together. May they echo right on into eternity.