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Community Encouragement

I am not always that encouraging, so I thought I would take an entry to encourage with some things with which I was encouraged this Sunday.

  1. I was encouraged by my sunday school lesson. David Richardson, our teacher, encouraged us to question whether or not we fell pray to the dangers warned against in I Tim 6:9-10 where Paul warns of being a lover of money and desiring to get rich. It is a message I need every day.
  2. I was encouraged in worship. For a second sunday in a row, I had a good worship experience. Not only did we sing some good songs that exalted Christ our king. I also enjoyed the addition of Kurt Baxley to the worship band. His electric guitar added an edge to the music that strikes a chord with me. Finally, I observed gracious love being given by an older lady who takes in foster children to one of her children. It reminded me of the love I receive from God, undeserved, radically free.
  3. I was encouraged by the sermon. While Rick Rigsby is not my favorite speaker of all time. He really preached. Oh sure, I have my criticisms, but I appreciated his exhortation to "live in the tent" an allusion to Exodus 33. One thing I particularly remember is his reminder that one moment of truly experiencing the awesome beauty of the presence of God lays all other loves in the grave of severe disinterest. If only my wandering heart would stay out of the grave

That was just the morning. I spent the afternoon with family and the evening with the brothers and sisters at Hill Country Presbyterian Church. Thanks be to God!

Who cares?

Today I overhead a co-worker say "Who cares? In 150 years, no one will even know that we existed." It sounded like exactly the kind of despair I read about the night before in an excerpt from The Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace the last night with my small group.

Lovelace talked about the three responses to the startling recognition that there is a God and I don't measure up. The first was despair. The second was lying to oneself, and the third was faith in Christ's righteousness.

I am so glad that God has saved me from despair. Though a billion years pass before God, he has said that my life is meaningful to him, so I have purpose and my life has meaning.

What happened to community?

I have been in pretty much two kinds of churches. I grew up in many small town churches, but since I was about 17 I have been in what you might call niche churches. Either the whole church was a niche, such as upper-middle class educated white people, or a church that was structured around smaller market niches such as college and career or single parents.

Looking back, I can see that the small-town churches, though theologically less sophisticated or correct, more accurately manifested biblical community. It was organized according to one principle, geography. Though there were ministries specific to the women or children, they were integrated with the rest of church life. It was a lively church life in which most participated. Some of my favorite memories of that time in my life are at church during services, Royal Rangers, church suppers, weddings, or just playing with the other children young and old while parents talked.

Unlike the church of my youth, both types of niche churches isolate me so that it is very easy to remain only around people like me. In my position at least, as a father of young children, leaves me seeing the world such that I have relatively little to offer and gain by community. The people with which I associate are have many of the same problems and capabilities that I have. This impedes the feeling of interdependence that fosters real community. When I depend on you and you depend on me, there is a real bond.

The mere fact that I would think in terms of what I have to gain and offer shows how much I have been influenced by the world. People in another time might have thought about their relationship with the church in terms of obligation and responsibility. Here to the church has given way to the world. Many churches tout their programs as ways to obtain fulfillment either through socializing, learning, or serving. Instead, scripture considers these things a spiritual act of worship. It is a worship that on one had God demands, and on the other hand, his subjects offer freely. It is not for us to decided what is best for us, it is only for us to repent and obey.

One way the multi-market niche church philosophy fails is that most of us are not purely one niche. I am a man (men's ministry), a father (children's ministry), a husband (young married class), and a learner-type (deep bible studies). It seems that many times people get involved with too many groups. One can only maintain a certain number of relationships so community is shallow. Conflicting schedules also contribute to inconsistency in attendance which also deteriorates community. Still some, overwhelmed or confused by the choices never get involved at all. People are so busy with all their existing relationships that they forget that one of the purposes of our being here is to gather more worshipers into God's growing kingdom.

The final impediment to real community has nothing to do with church structure. It is the lack of strong preaching of the Gospel. Without any structural help at all, the message of our redemption through the alien righteousness of Christ breaks down our selfishness, our pretensions, our shame, and our pride. It is then easy for us to love those around us in such a provocative way that we realize not only our interdependence but our mutual dependence on Christ. We are equal brothers and sisters. Our identity is no long in what differentiates us from others so that we can judge them, but our identity comes from our union with Christ and with each other.

Primary Locus of Identity

For a long, long time, I have been moved by the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has found the one thing that is necessary and it is the one thing that will last. I have ruminated over what it means to live for one thing.

There are examples of people that live such lives. Soldiers and athletes come immediately to mind. Since I have been watching 24, I also think of Jack Bauer. These people do not only do one thing. In fact, they do many things, but everything they do relates very clearly even if indirectly to their goal. Some athletes even cross train in other sports in order to improve their performance at their main sport. Soldiers must study, exercise, practice, prepare to fight the enemy.

I wonder how my life looks from above. I wonder if it just looks like a hodgepodge of activities with no real unifying theme. Or, is it unified by some idolatrous principle or just my own pleasure. Unfortunately, I am quite sure that it does not look like a deliberate efficient seeking first of the Kingdom of God.

One reason I believe that I am off track is because I have, along with the church, been sucked into a cultural trend. It is the trend of moving one's primary locus of identity to the individual and away from the community. Much of my angst regarding living for the kingdom alone is due to my own fear and idolatry, but some of my angst over living for one thing is due to the modern American church missing the idea that Christ meant for the Church to be the primary locus of identity for the Christian and moving with the world in addressing man as an individual instead of a member of a community.

My next few posts will explore this idea.

Big Deal

I remember the first high school football game I attened after going to college. I kept thinking, "I really used to think this was all a big deal." It is strange how in one context a person, object, or activity can seem so important, and yet in another context seem so worthless.

Lately I have been challenged by the words of Jesus and James:

Mark 9:37 - Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.

Matt 25:34-36 - ...When did we see you sick or in prison...Depart from me you cursed...

James 1:22 - Be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves

James 1:27 - Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

These passages and more make me question what I put value on now. God has given us this instruction for a reason. He cares about us, and he cares about his kingdom. I suppose the questions we have to ask ourselves are, "Do we trust him? " and "Do we care about his kingdom?"

I hate to admit it, but largely my answer has to be "no". There are so many other things that I put my time and energy into before I put it into kingdom work. From entertainment to education to work to family, my mind and time schedule is often too full to look out for widows or orphans. I don#039t even have to to look for them. I know where prisoners are, who Christ specifically told us to visit, and yet I have never set foot in a jail. Instead I go shopping or out to eat or to a movie.

We might think that pouring ourselves into these activities is merely wasting time. Instead, we are setting ourselves up for a great fall. We will do more than just say, "I used to think this was a big deal." We will say, "Lamb of God have mercy on us."

Cross Cultural Experience In the Bathroom

Sometimes cross-cultural experiences can make for some of the funniest exchanges. Sometimes what is appropriate in one culture is just completely inappropriate in another. Beware, as many of these exchanges, this one is rated PG.

I was in the bathroom at work the other day out of the vision of those walking in the door. I thought I heard two men walk in. After a couple of seconds I heard each say a polite, "Hello" to the other. One voice I recognized as a relatively new coworker. The other was the voice of a small, old black man.

The next thing the old voice said was, "So, how big did it get?" After a couple of seconds, my large, tall coworker replied, "How big did what get?" "Your peter," the old man replied. Yes, you did read that correctly. There was a long, long silence. I was dying trying to hold in my laughter.

After a couple of seconds, the embarrassed old man apologized saying, "I didn't mean anything by that. I was only joking" Clearly, the old man had received the appropriate social punishment for such a statement.

This made me think about how I would react. In general, I don't really like to talk at the urinal, although, some would hold a perfectly normal conversation there with their pants unzipped. This is a good time for me to try to practice some spiritual discipline and love the guy anyway and just carry on as he does. Men should be forgiven if they violate a man-law.

It helps to be forgiving to imagine my grandfather standing at a urinal while some young guy comes up and says, "How's it hangin'" You can imagine the rest of the conversation...

Christian Anxiety

In Luke 12:33, Jesus says, "Sell your posessions and give to the needy." This seems like strange counsel in the wake of an exhortation not to worry. However, looking backward from the typical reading of verses 12:22-31 gives a clue why it is that Christ takes this approach.

The passage starts out in response to a question in the audience. It is actually a request that Jesus arbitrate in a dispute over an inheritance. In yet another strange turn, Christ tells a parable of a man who is successful, and is beginning to "kick back" because of his success. Ironically, this is just when God takes his life. All his planning and saving is for naught.

It does not matter whether or not people have plenty or little, putting one's confidence in money instead of the Father's care is at best foolish and at worst idolatrous. Both to worry and to rest because of one's own provision is equally disturbing to God. In the parallel passage in Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus even says that one cannot serve both God and money. When money determines anxiety or rest, money is being served. When man is living confidently in the Father's provision, God is being served.

Now the primary reference here is to money and to worry over material well-being. This in itself should be enough to chew on for a few days. However, their is a deeper principle at work. We might generalize the example of money and material well-being to any form of self-reliance and spiritual well-being. The elevation of any standard of performance to the level that it produces anxiety and rest is idolatry. And, this idolatry is ultimately pride and self-reliance. We abandon Christ and his finished work for some rule that we or our culture has chosen as the standard by which all men are judged.

The fact is that all men are judged by a much more stringent set of moral principles or pragmatic powers. This is the rule of the Holy Triune God. We all fail and are all doomed to hopelessness if we must rely on our own ability to keep this rule. Just like Jesus ask the readers to give up on money as a way to rest. He asks us to give up on living up to God's holy standard. Instead, we repent and believe that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to pay for our punishment and that his life was sufficient to pass the test of judgement for us. Our anxiety is proof positive that we fear God and we do not trust in Christ. It is proof that we believe that no one will take care of us, so we must control our environment. It is always the result of idolatry. The opposite, in a sense, is to flaunt our sin as a sign that we are no longer relying on ourselves just as selling all our goods would prove our dependence on God's prevision.

So, go and repent openly of your sins. Feel no shame. Associate with those that violate your "rules" for living and believe that they are the same as you. By these kinds of disciplines we can come to truly believe in Christ.

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Kindness in Leviticus

"You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:14.) God took precious space on papyrus to write to be kind to disabled people. This is not the kind of thing that you would expect from the king of the universe.

Ironically, it might seem, he later in chapter 21 prohibits any man born into the priestly line with any birth defect from becoming a priest. Moses lists explicitly some defects, but specifically says that the person must have no physical defects. He is to be as spotless as the sacrifice.

The first passage is part of the broader concept of loving one's neighbor only a few verses later. But, why the injunction against birth defects?

The priests and the sacrifice pointed forward to Christ in his sacrificial priesthood. Consequently, they needed to be as perfect of a representative as possible.

This shows that man is a worthy thing because even the disabled are cared for. However, man is not ultimate, so his own glory can be sacrificed for the glory of Christ.

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Out of touch

Blue Denim Jumper Mafia is a term used by The Discoshaman. If you don't know what I am talking about, either you aren't a Christian, you don't live in America, or you're one of them. Sorry.

Well, my place of business and CEO's conscience was hit by a bombshell from this squeaky wheel. PDI has a summer picnic every year. For the past 2 years, they have produced a shirt for the kids calling them "Jr. Teammates." Teammate is a parent company thing: don''t ask. Anyway, they sent out the design for this year and asked for orders.

I thought it was very cool. We picked our colors and ordered our 2 (oops should have been 3). Picking colors is a company thing: don't ask. I was proud of our normally conservative CEO for going with such a cool design.

Then, we all got an email that there was a problem with the ordering and that we were to stay tuned. Then we got an email from our CEO saying that he feared that some parents might object to the "gaming" theme. The company logo is in the PS2 font, and there is a controller and directional pad. Last I remember he "gaming" industry referred to games played in Las Vegas not on your TV in your living room. Anyway, he was asking if he was off track.

Then we received a clarifying email triggered by a reply to him objecting to the design. The reply to him voiced some concern about a mom letting her seven year-old wear it. The only problem was that she was referring the ad and not the shirt design which required you to follow a link. She said she couldn't see it very well, but she wouldn't let her seven year-old wear it.

First of all, the email was clear. Why is it that reactionary people have trouble reading? There was a link to the shirt and a picture of a PS2 ad. It was not ambiguous. Secondly, why would we have a shirt that said PS2? Finally, if you can't see the design, how do you know if you object?

At this my group broke for a conversation. I wouldn't call my group the most conservative group in the company, so maybe we were not representative, but I think they were more offended by the fact that someone would think this than by the original design. They thought it was pretty ridiculous, and I must say that I agreed when them. My four and three year-olds play Xbox with me. Now we regulate it and only play age-appropriate games, but I as a hard-core Christian have nothing particular about kids "gaming."

In fact, I think this may show why there is a culture war and why Christians are so poor at reaching the lost. I am not saying you have to be a fan of Grand Theft Auto or even Halo, but come on. I found it highly ironic that someone is offended by the "gaming" theme in a company that gets most of its money from customers whose primary products are fossil fuel, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and beer. Could there be a more offensive industry? I really just wish that Christians would just shut up about small things. There are just too many big things out there.

Now that you have heard the controversy. Here is the shirt.

To make matter's worse, now there is an alternative shirt. This way we can split up into two groups at the picnic and gossip about each other. I am hoping my boys pick one of each, or maybe we should get the non-gaming one for our 4 month-old since we think that is too young to start gaming.

Law vs. Grace

Is it grace to overlook someone's sin? I say, "No." It is better to acknowledge the sin, forgive, and restore. We shouldn't just act like people sin is not there, we should acknolwege it and in Christ forgive it. In this we demonstrate the love that Christ had. It doesn't take nearly as much love to continue in a harmonious relationship when there is no offense. The person needs to know how deeply we love them. They can only know this through forgiveness.

To keep their offense from being known is to do them a disservice on two accounts. First, they will think that you love them because they are lovable. If we are emulating Christ's love it is from sheer benevolence. There is nothing external that moves it, so nothing can move it away. Secondly, it follows, that in believing their own righteousness upholds them in your eyes, they now have the burden on both maintaining righteousness, even when it is not genuine, and hiding unrighteousness.

In this you can see that both law and grace are two sides of the same coin. The law is required to reveal sin to the guilty. And, only with knowledge can faith be exercised. God's salvation is grace from beginning to end.

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