Thursday, March 29, 2007

Things Should Make Sense!

Can you tell which point I'm on?

Call me crazy, but it just seems to me that things should make sense. I'm not for war. I wish we weren't in Iraq, but didn't we go there to change the government that supported and sponsored terrorist? And now, who are we fighting? An army? No, terrorist groups, both insurgent and sectarian, and because terrorist groups are making it tough to establish the government we helped set up, we need to pull out? Doesn't make sense to me. I don't want another drop of American blood to be spilt in Iraq, but I also don't want us to let the three thousand plus men and women who died there to have died for nothing. That's the lesson of Vietnam, not being bogged down in a protracted war! Sometimes things in the world don't make sense to me.

Sometime things in religion don't make sense to me. If the Greek word for "church" is ekklesia, which means "the called out" or contextually and literally, "God's people," how can we go to something we are? "Church" is used in the New Testament in only two ways. It refers to the universal church or body of believers, and/or a specific group of believers meeting in a place or district. I'm as much the church when I'm alone as I am when I'm with a gathering of Christians. It never was a building or an institution. It never really was a name. It describes who belongs to God - those who have been "called out of the world" by Him. So - going to church is really - going to Christians?

I also don't understand how an awesome concept has been turned into a dirty word by some of "the faithful" in our fellowship. How did "Change Agent" become a dirty word, a nasty label, a mark of the devil? The real question should be "How can any child of God NOT be an agent of change?" Stay tuned! I'm working on an identification list. I want to present a Top Ten ways "You know you're a Change Agent if..."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Under Construction

These pictures are of my latest project, which I just started yesterday, finishing our basement. It should be obvious which ones are the before and after pictures. I'm framing it now and then I'll run the electrical stuff, sheet rock the walls, put in a suspended ceiling, and then carpet the whole thing. Presto! A new living area. Well, presto isn't the right word because it's going to take a couple months to do the construction, especially since it's a pay-as-you-go project and I don't have loads of time to work on it. Turkey season is coming up next month too!

Under construction? That's my basement and the story of my life. God is so patient with me. Sometimes I look at the same passage of scripture a thousand times before it hits me. I got punched again this morning as I read First Corinthians. Why have I ignored Paul's simple warning in chapter 8 and verse 1? "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Wow! Have you ever stopped to think about how much of our "church life" is centered around knowledge? Why you HAVE to have Bible class! Why wast time visiting, drinking coffee and sharing doughnuts? Just hint that fellowship (i.e. learning to love one another) might possibly be more spiritually productive than a 45 minute lecture and you might get stoned by the faithful. How did we get so far from building love that we have to convince people that it's important? The answer is simple - our emphasis on knowledge - the very thing that "puffs up"! What declares to the world that we are disciples of Jesus? What is the fulfilment of that law and the prophets? What is the one thing that gives meaning to all other spiritual activities (chapt.13)? It's not knowledge! So why do we keep defining, directing, and driving the church with an educational paradigm? Maybe we like churches that are puffed up. That would explain why we avoid what builds up. Just thinking, and just thankful for another God-punch!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Future and Past

This is Joshua going to school on the day they all were to dress like they were one hundred years old. I think he's got it down don't you?

We are truly enjoying having family with us this week. We miss Chad, Jonathan, and Holly, but we have everyone else, and it's been a long time since Christmas. The grand kids are growing so fast that it makes us sad to not see them for two plus months, but such is life - such is ministry! So "don't be looking for much blogging this week" from this Seeker. I got better things to do - nothing personal towards you.

Sunday morning we sang "Faithful Love" (#18) and, like songs so often do, it brought a wonderful memory to mind. It was several years ago, at the Pepperdine Lecturship. Pat and Deborah were there with Donna and me, and their first-born, Joshua was with them. He had to be only about one and a half. He's five - almost six now. We were sitting up in the stratosphere area of the field house for an evening lectureship session. It was a full house and the singing of the thousands was incredible. Then we sang "Faithful Love." Well this is the song Deborah and Pat sang to Joshua every night as they put him to bed. I will never sing that song again without remembering the tiny little fellow, sitting on his parents lap just singing this song to the top of his lungs. People in the rows in front of us turned around and started smiling and whispering about the baby singing so sweet and so loud on such a difficult song. It was his song. A gift from his mom and dad, and his Father in heaven. There is nothing like the sound of a child's voice singing "Faithful love from above, came to earth to show the Father's love. And I'll never be the same, for I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is His name." Amen!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From Blasphemy to Heresy

If there is a subject in the church that is a larger sacred cow than our worship traditions it would have to be outreach. How could anyone dare question our views on outreach? It's heresy, it's satanic, and it's, it's, - well it's un-Christian! That's why I thought I'd give it a shot. You see, in my journey to understand God's will in my life- as I draw closer to him and know him better, I'm finding it harder to accept man made guilt. Two areas of never ending guilt for all Christians is prayer (see previous post: Prayer Giants) and evangelism. Why? Because you can always do more - and you should! Right? And how is that not a legalistic salvation by works?

Here's my question: If the Great Commission is so great, why isn't repeated by a single writer of the New Testament after the founding of the church? I told you it was heresy! Oh, I know all the places where it's taught in principle, mostly it's Paul talking about why he did mission work, but come on - it's THE GREAT COMMISSION - as we've been taught, it's the most important command in the Bible and the easiest thing to make everyone feel guilty about! No matter how many classes you've taught, sermons you've preached, and Bible studies with non-Christians you have - you still haven't gone unto all the world to preach the gospel! It's never repeated, quoted, or slightly referred to in all of the letters of encouragement, correction, and guidance from Paul, John, Peter, James, etc. Why, in Jesus' only description of Judgment, in Matthew 25, did he not include outreach? He only talked about compassion for the hurting and needy. Why did Paul say that only "some" were called to be evangelist, pastors, and teachers (Eph.4:11). Isn't everyone a missionary - if the great commission is for all?

I don't think it was ever meant to be for everyone. Okay, get out the smelling sauce. Jesus was sending his apostles on a mission trip that they didn't even understand until persecution kicked them out of the city (Acts 1:8 and 8:1). Are we supposed to "baptize" and "make disciples"? Absolutely! But everyone wasn't given the talents or intended by God to teach, evangelize, and speak to large groups. Everyone can and must be a light. Everyone can and must be a witness - tell their story - when the opportunity presents itself. Pray for opportunities. Create opportunities. Then don't wimp-out when he gives them to you. I think Peter said it best, and he wasn't talking about everyone being a missionary or knocking on doors and making cold contacts. He said, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Pet.3:15) That sounds awfully passive to me. Wait for someone to ask? Look for the opportunities he gives you and quit feeling guilty about not being a missionary or hating to have doors slammed in your face. Why isn't "The world will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" a Great Commission? Without it, the original one is meaningless and unappealing to the lost. It's also significant to remember that we can't give away what we don't have - and the message is still Jesus - right?

Enough heresy for one day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wine Review

Did God give us wine? I feel safe in saying he did. I haven't tasted it in many years and don't have any particular desire to taste it now. I'm a fan of Lipton 'o7, with a light bouquet and a slight fruitiness emboldened by a dash of Sweet & Low. I realize that to use wine as an analogy for comtemporary church folks is like telling folks in Green Bay about how uncomfortably warm it is in St. Louis today. The ability to identify is limited. Nevertheless, I think it's thought-provoking so I'm going to use it. You see, a glass of wine is just fine, all poetry aside. Paul, as we all know, suggested it to Timothy. Did you ever think about the transformation that takes place when a person goes from enjoying a glass of wine with their steak dinner to becoming an alcoholic? Something that is good, in and of itself, becomes terrible because it went from being a good thing to a control thing. Alcohol becomes the new master. A tool becomes a terror because someone lost perspective, focus, and purpose.

This caused me to wonder, after hearing some whining from Christians about what the church should do, if some of us aren't churchoholics. Yes I know that sounds like blasphemy, but with the institutionalizing of "THE Church" isn't is possible that many people are addicted to church and not Jesus? Especially when church becomes the crutch or the definition of our faith. It defines righteousness, law, rituals, and faithfulness for us and we can't begin to function as worshipping creatures without it being scheduled by the official church calendar. We can't possibly do outreach without an Outreach Program within our church. And why doesn't our church have a better plan for welcoming our visitors? Giving takes place "at church" and loving one another is an extra-curricular activity for those who do more than "go to church." Does it replace a personal walk with God? If so, it's not the church he build. The tool that God gave to help us draw closer to each other and to him, has become the idol to be worshipped and obeyed, because without it, how would anyone know you're a faithful Christian?

We will not stand before God with our church family and give account of our ministry record. We will stand before him, and "each of us will give account of himself to God." (Rom.14:12) There will be no "yes, but the church didn't have an outreach ministry" or "they never called me to help with benevolence." When the tool becomes the addiction, what was good becomes bad and what was a help becomes a hindrance. Churcholoholic? It's when we depend on "church" to "guide, guard, and direct" our spiritual maturity instead of developing a personal devotion to God. Kind of makes Paul's call to "be sober" even more dramatic. I never said it wasn't important, essential, and something we deeply love - it is the Body of Christ, but it's a tool not an end. At some point, we are to be filled with the Spirit, not living on wine. Didn't Paul say that first- somewhere?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A View of last Sunday

Our resident photographer is, at my request, experimenting with taking some pictures during our assembly time on Sunday morning. He's an awesome photographer, but he's trying to use no flash and a super zoom lens and hasn't quite figured out the best way to do it. I just thought you might enjoy seeing some action pictures of me preaching last Sunday, and my poor wife trying to interpret it in sign language. I'm sure she straightens out a lot of my stuff. Not many preachers (esp. C of C) get to share the podium with their wife. She is silent! Now if we could just figure out what "in the church" means when it's a 24/7 proposition....I digress (to which many say "What's new about that?") And just for the record, I'm not in all black because I want to be like Randy Harris - or Johnny Cash for that matter.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Leadership and Lordship

We talked about elders today. In our staff meeting we read Hebrews 13, which to me seems to settle the issue about who wrote it because it's so Paul in this chapter, but we spent a lot of time talking about the authority of elders. It was interesting to reflect on why we totally twisted the biblical picture of shepherds into something more closely related to business bosses and military ranking. Jesus warned his apostles that leadership in the kingdom would not be like the world thinks of leadership. It's a call to serve, to lead by example, and to mentor members into a closer walk with God. How can "people of the Book" see the servant shepherd role as primarily a decision-making job? They had executives in Bible times! If Jesus wanted us to understand that it was a job for Lording, he would have said so. I still remember, in the past, how "toxic" it sounded to hear elders dismiss the staff from the meeting so they could have an "executive session." And yet, in my 40+ years as a Christian, some of the most wonderful, compassionate, and highly respected men I've ever know where shepherds. Some of the biggest encourager's in my life have been elders, and the most disappointing Christians in my ministry have been elders. I guess most people could say the same thing about preachers. Nevertheless, I thank God for everyone of them. I'm thankful for the ones who showed me so much love and Christ-like character, and yes, even the one's who where very un-Christ-like. Maybe the negative ones even more because they drove me to a deeper relationship with Jesus as I sought help, guidance, and wisdom. I have been so blessed to know so many wonderful men of God and some absolutely incredible shepherd's wives too. Presently I have been placed with some of the most humble, sensitive, and godly disciples of Christ that I have ever known. It's a joy to be in their presence and witness their unity and servant hearts in action. A great church family with wonderful shepherds; what more could a preacher ask for? I can only think of one thing. I'd love to be able to do it for nothing. I'd love to remove any possibility of having an employer - employee relationship. But then, I don't think I'd enjoy making tents.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Self-esteem vs. Self-control?

I resisted the urge to comment on my daughter Elizabeth's blog when she wrote about self-esteem because I knew I couldn't do a short comment. I have been fascinated by the news reports and the response of others to the new research that shows the emphasis on building self-esteem in children has led many children to lack self-control, especially as they become college aged young adults. How can it possibly be wrong to encourage your children, to build them up, to want them to experience winning, and to want them to feel good about themselves? Hey, I was teaching the importance of self-esteem to teens in a teen seminar twenty-five years ago! And I can guarantee you that every Root-kid got plenty of positive reinforcement that they were important, talented, and supported completely by family and friends. Remember the three key elements of self-esteem are significance, security, and capable. We gave all three. BUT, like everything in life, there are limits and there must be balance. So I offer these two observations.

First, as we raise our children to feel good about their victories, we must, I repeat MUST, allow them to fail and learn to cope with it without it destroying how they feel about themselves. That starts by teaching them to live with "NO!" Everything can't be "wonderful," and they can't always win or get their way. In fact, a smart parent will look for appropriate times to make sure that happens and that it can be a training experience.

Second, and most important, the only true balance comes from knowing God. He is the only one who can give totally healthy self-esteem. It's called grace! It declares us valuable and important to Him, and at the same time totally unworthy to receive such love. If we don't help our children experience His love, his disappointment with our sin, and his complete forgiveness, they will grow up thinking the world rotates around them, and that's a sad world for anyone to live in. We need to help our children, as well as ourselves, get our self-esteem from Him not man.

It never really was SELF-esteem, but rather GOD-esteem. Then we can figure out who comes before the "control".