Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Relating to a dead pagan

In the biblical and historical account found in the book of Daniel, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar is portrayed for the most part as not-so-good guy. Chapters 1-4 of Daniel are an intriguing account of the works of God directed toward the most powerful ruler on earth to bring him to bow before the Creator of the universe.

In the last of the 4 stories the king has a dream which is interpreted for him by Daniel. And it's bad news for Neb. The dream makes the prediction that if he doesn't humble himself before God he'll spend "seven times" (months/seasons/years - we're not sure) as a crazed lunatic, living with wild donkeys and eating grass.

As Daniel finishes revealing the meaning of the dream he does a little "preaching", and advises the king to do three things:
  • Turn from your sins;
  • Do what is right;
  • Be merciful to the poor.

It seems to me that the first two are the action of repentance. He has to change his mind about his previous behavior, recognize that it was wrong and do the opposite. And specifically for this man the opposite was to show mercy to the poor in his kingdom. My hunch is that his greatest flaw as a man was in using and abusing the poor for his own gain. That's why the prescription was to be merciful to them.

It's also my hunch that everyone has one particular character flaw that we either can't or won't shake. One biblical writer called it "the sin that so easily besets us". We might not be murderers or adulterers or thieves, but likely we're something else and whatever that something else is, it batters us over and over.

For me it's insensitivity. After 41 years (as of today) of being a Christ-follower I'm finally coming to grips with it. What is it for you? It makes no difference really. And the solution to overcoming that flaw is the same for me, for you as it was for Nebuchadnezzar: Turn away from it; do the opposite and demonstrate that the change is real by what you do instead.

Next time I act like Don Rickles please call me "Neb". I'll get the point.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Feeling like a bonehead

An old song (before my days) said, "You only hurt the ones you love". How true.

Today I did just that. Hurt people I love. It wasn't premeditated. It certainly wasn't intentional. But it was careless; it was dumb and came across as caring less. And that's what made it painful to others. Now I'm left with embarrassment and shame, hoping their hurt doesn't leave a permanent scar on them our on our relationship.

I find myself standing in the middle of Romans 7 where Paul used his own struggles as a model for the rest of us. There he confronted the battle between natures - God's and our own - in allowing the Spirit of God to overcome the weaknesses of the human spirit. Why is it that we know better but still mess up?

He used the word "wretched". I know what he meant.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Maintaining Health in the Church

Two and a half years ago my doctor put me on a diet with the somber warning, “If you don’t take off the weight you’ll deal with diabetes and the have the potential of heart disease and stroke.” Say no more, Doc! Immediately – literally – I changed my eating habits. Not only that, I got serious about the need for exercise as well and started playing racquetball 2 to 3 times each week.

As a result, and I give thanks to God, Dr. Keenan, the South Beach Diet and a cooperative mate I lost the excess weight, gained a lot more stamina and went off the diabetic medication in about 3 months. But as most of us who have gone on successful diets know, once the pounds are gone you have to continue the new lifestyle to keep them off. It truly must be a change in lifestyle. A healthy body will only stay that way when it is eating right and getting exercise.

It’s no wonder the Bible compares the church to a body. Read 1 Corinthians 11-12. A decade ago we figured out that for a church to become healthy it must maintain balance in the 5 purposes of the church spelled out by Jesus in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. They are:
1. Fellowship
2. Discipleship
3. Ministry
4. Mission
5. Worship

So we worked hard as a church to find that balance. Somebody noticed, because in 2005 our church was recognized by the Purpose Driven Church organization as being a healthy church. We even have a little plaque in our lobby that says so! It’s great when a goal is accomplished, but what about since then? We certainly can’t rest on our laurels and say, “We made it!” The church isn’t stagnant. That’s the past. So how do we maintain that health now?

First, the church isn’t an organization. Her health isn’t reflected in administrative systems. If you look at the first church in the book of Acts they were administratively “flying by the seat of their pants” in those early chapters. Yet they were the healthiest of churches. Search the New Testament and see how much polity and administration you find. And while we work hard at being better organized, we’re not a corporate business or a civic organization. We’re a living, breathing organic body. It’s not our systems, or lack of them that gives us health.

The church is an assembly of believers who have been called together to accomplish the purposes of God. We’re individuals who know Jesus but know that for us to be who and what He wants us to be we have to be joined together. Each part of the body – each member plays a role in the health or disease of the church. Paul said it this way, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” (1 Cor. 12:26 NLT) Simply put, if you’re a part of the church, your individual spiritual condition as well as mine either makes or breaks the health of the church.

That means it’s not just contingent on the leadership. True, leaders have to be healthy as well, and God will require more from them than anyone else in that regard. (See Lk. 12:48). But every member, leader or follower, either contributes to the church’s health or to its lack of health. Again, quoting Paul, “Under [Christ’s] direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Eph. 5:16 NLT) That simply means every member is important and every member is vital to the health of the church. And, notice that a healthy church is a growing and loving church!

So, if we ask the question, “Is my church a healthy church?” the answer really begins when we ask ourselves, “Am I a healthy believer?” Take a look in the mirror (James 1) and ask, "Are those same 5 purposes being lived out in my life? Am I a contributor to our church health, or is my current spiritual state one that needs spiritual first aid?" Look at your own heart; not at anyone elses. (You can't see what's in there, anyway.)

Health in the body starts and is maintained with you and with me.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Happy and Tired

It's Saturday night and I am both happy and tired. The wedding went great! They're off to Orlando and I'm watching a movie with my nephews.

I was asked how I was enjoying the empty nest. I don't know. It just was emptied today. But Gail is sad with the realization that our house is childless again for the first time in 26 years.

As for me, just let me get some rest. Two daughters marrying in a 3 month span was a wild ride. I'm ready for some sort of normalcy to return...whatever that means.

And don't ask me for a loan right now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Slave labor

It's Wednesday. Three days before my middle child, daughter Sarah ties the knot with what's his name. (Just kidding, Terry!) Having been through this before in April with daughter Rachel, I am taking the rest of the week off to do whatever Gail wants/tells me to do.

Weddings are a lot of work, unless, I guess, you can afford to hire others to do it all for you. So, I painted an arch and set up 200+ chairs today at church. Tomorrow I tackle the yard, the deck and the bathrooms. Company's coming.

But I'm not complaining. I'm a dad and a husband. It's what I do (to keep in good graces with Mrs. Rick and daughter). Come Saturday evening I'll be tired but it will be a happy tired.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I'm struggling with temptation

I'm 51, almost 52 years old, and by now I shouldn't be having these desires.

But when Chris told me the '66 Mustang (like the one in the picture) he drove up to the church today was for sale, I had to take it for a drive. It needs some body work (mostly a new paint job), but has a rebuilt 302 that sounds soooo sweeeeet. The interior is original and in amazing condition.

I want it.

But my reality check will come when "the woman God gave me" (who has been my conscience on such things for 30 years) shakes me to my senses.

But it was fun dreaming.

Newborn joy

The past several weeks have produced not less than 4 new babies to our church family. I'm not sure what the deal was last fall, but it resulted in a population explosion in our nursery. And that's a good thing. What brings more joy than seeing a new mother or father cradling their infant?

But babies are also messy. They spit up, fill up their diapers, and if you're not careful, a baby boy will zap you with the fountain of youth while being changed. Ugh. I've gagged on more than one occasion trying to clean up after a natural disaster caused by by one of my own offspring. There's something about parental love that allows you to do things you never thought possible before!

Then when they mature a bit, they cause messes spilling, throwing, even spitting things like strained peas. I would, too, to be honest. Table manners take time. It's such a relief to be able to eat out at a restaraunt and not feel embarrassment by the landfill left behind under your child's high chair.

They're messy, but their presence brings smiles and laughter and makes adults say stupid things trying to communicate. It's a great time for a family.

Likewise, when a church is "doing what comes naturally" for missional Christians, the family gets a load of "newborn" believers. Guess what? They're messy. They're not mature enough to clean up after themselves or feed themselves yet. Hopefully that day will come.

But what a joy they bring to the fellowship! They haven't yet been ruined by those of us who have forgotten the newness of life. They can't seem to hold it in. They bring excitement and passion. They make church easier, but they sure make it fun.

I hope our nursery is never empty but always overflowing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Stiff necks

For some reason I can't explain (other than advancing age) my neck has been stiff the past few days. I'm not sure if it's muscular or if I'm in need of a chiropractic adjustment of subluxations, but it is uncomfortable. I can't turn my head like I would like, so my peripheral vision is impaired.

I've been trying to stretch the muscles, but that's painful, too.

God called the stubborn wandering Israelites a "stiff-necked people" (KJV) because they wouldn't be stretched. As a result of their stubborness, they lacked the ability to see with the eyes of faith and vision that Moses possessed. And it frustrated God and Moses immensely.

One of the challenges of leadership is stretching. The leader has to be stretched at times or he loses sight of the big picture. Those being led need stretching, too, or they will want to be stationary or will retreat. Unfortunately the stretching is usually accompanied with pain. But no pain....

Right now I'm being stretched as God puts a "holy discontent" within my heart. Like my stiff neck, it's really frustrating me. And I want those who lead with me to experience that same stretching so that we can as a team stretch those who follow. The ability (or probably lack of it) to effectively communicate vision and motivate others to own it has me in pain.

I know what's ahead. In the words of Clubber Lang in Rocky III when asked his prediction for the fight against the champ: "You want my prediction? Pain!" But after the pain of stretching a renewed vision will move us into new ministry, mission and growth.

In the meantime I'll take an Advil or two.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Living on the edge

A friend took some aerial photos of our new church facility and emailed them to me this week. One of them is found on this blog. Taken while flying over Jockey's Ridge, the east coast's largest sand dune, you can easily see how close we are to the Atlantic.

Most of the time that's a great location. From our balcony above the spacious lobby you have a bird's eye view of the ocean. Every day. Most days the ocean is beautiful and non-threatening. But as those of us living on this sand bar know too well, it can also be a treacherous place as well.

A major hurricane would most likely do us in. But that's the price you pay for living in paradise.

The church (I mean now the church, not the building) exists in a precarious environment. Fortunate are we for those days when the surroundings are not threatening to destroy us, but we never know what the next atmospheric front will bring, do we?

But that's the price you pay for preparing a world for paradise. The Kingdom is worth the risk.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mirrors, But No Smoke

Last night was our third weekly Vintage gathering; a new outreach/worship gathering for generation Xers. It's growing, which is exciting, especially since there are new faces each week.
Matt Glock, a missionary we support with International Teams led last night's gathering. Our theme has been heroes, using vintage comic book superheroes as springboards to insights about biblical heroes.
Matt did a great job moving us to looking at Jesus, using mirrors with scripture references written on them about what it means to look into the Word and at Christ. Of course, while we're looking at the verses, we're also seeing ourselves and making the comparison: How do I look? What do I see? Is my life a reflection of Jesus? Matt told us up front that he gets off on doing things "differently", and he did! It was all very effective in communicating Jesus to those who might not know much about him.
We were also invited then to write out prayers and requests on post it pads and affix them to prayer lists on the walls.
I heard great comments from those attending, paying particular attention to the guests and what they had to say. One comment that was repeated was "Where was the band??". I hope they'll be back next week.

Friday, July 6, 2007

More "They Like Jesus..."

This morning I spent an hour reading on in Dan Kimball's book "They Like Jesus But Not the Church". Interestingly enough, the place where I was reading was a place I frequently meet with those outside the church to talk and build relationships. I say that because Dan makes a huge point about the necessity for pastors to get out of the office and into the culture.

Much of what he says has been ringing in my head for years, actually going back to my teens when I witnessed up close and personal the Jesus Movement at its epicenter in Southern California. Jesus People were the emerging generation nearly 40 years ago, seeking Jesus but running away from the institutional church.

Indeed, we in the church have become progam minded and forgotten how to be missionaries to our communities. And the perceptions - right, wrong or indifferent - that the emerging generation has about Christianity speak loudly to our becoming a machine rather than a movement.

It's a great read. So far. I'm getting lots of ideas!

Do I smell a continuation of the transition?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

God Bless America

Here I sit on a holiday in the middle of the week in an air-conditioned coffee shop playing oldies via satellite radio enjoying a big cup of decaf and checking emails on a lap top provided me by my employer. I just finished 3 games of raquetball and am headed out to the beach for the afternoon. Tonight I'll enjoy a cook out with my family, then watch an awesome fireworks display provided by my town. I'll go home and to bed without fear of danger or attack.

Having been to other countries, I'm not ignorant of the fact that we live privileged lives as Americans. Despite our flaws and shortcomings, this is still the greatest nation on earth. And today is our national birthday.

Let's pause for a moment and give thanks for the heritage we possess and give up prayers for our sons and daughters half a world away fighting for others to have the same freedoms we enjoy (and take for granted). May our flag wave freely for generations to come.

By the way, where are all the flags we used to see after 9-11?