Sunday, February 27, 2011

Click Your Heels Three Times

So said the kindly witch to Dorothy. All the young girl wanted was to return to Kansas...home.

Some, like my wife live their entire childhoods in one locale, maybe even living in the same house their entire young lives. They graduate from high school 13 years later with the same classmates from their kindergarten class. Some have only known one church family their entire lives. For them, home is easy to find.

Such was not my life. I was born into a military family. By the time I graduated high school I had lived in 12 different houses/apartments. In 12 years I attended 8 different schools. Grades 6-8 were in three different schools. Think it's tough being in middle school? Try having to make all new friends every year. Then three different high schools in four years. And from the time I can remember 8 different churches. Oh yeah, my adolescence included four different church youth groups.

So I must really be messed up! Or at least I could be. (Some might say that I am!) But I'm not so sure being transient wasn't a character building plus.

I just returned from 5 days of going back to the place where I lived from age 3 through age 11. When I say "place", I mean area. We lived in six houses in those almost nine years. My purpose in going back was to capture some sense of "home" that typically escapes military families. It's a trip I've been wanting to do for some time. All of my elementary school years - kindergarten through sixth grade - were in this community.

Mostly by memory we found all the places I had hoped to see. Two of the first three houses are gone; one of those replaced by the government with a modern new town home. (I'm glad to see military families being better cared for, especially during this time of war.) My first school, Midway Park Elementary is gone. But the building that house the chapel we attended and the room where I went to kindergarten are still in use. The old theater I walked to on Saturdays and watched movies and serials for a quarter is still a functioning theater.

We drove by the three homes outside of town, in what was then a brand new development in the country. The church we attended has grown tremendously. I talked to the pastor at the church (a different church) where I discovered life in Christ as a ten year old boy. Gail took pictures of me on the field where I played Little League baseball. Best of all I had dinner with some very dear friends from over 45 years ago who still call me "Ricky".

Even though I have no family there, rekindling those long dormant memories and seeing the places were my life was shaped gave me a feeling like I was home, if just for a few days. Two months from now I'll have a similar experience when I go to the place where I lived for a period as a teenager 3,000 miles away and have a reunion with more people who helped me become who I am today. I look forward to seeing some of them for the first time in almost 35 years.

As a Christian I'm told in the Bible that I have a home I've never yet seen. That seems to mean that when I arrive there it will seem like the place where I've always belonged. And there will be so many I've known throughout this life already there to welcome me. I look forward to that homecoming.

Home. It sounds good. Last week I felt a bit of it, and it felt good! If you're fortunate to have somewhere to call "home", don't take it for granted.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Parenting by Proxy

Billy Ray Cyrus is an example of parenting by proxy. God gave your kids to you to instill within them (by your example) values that will take them through life. He did not give that responsibility to a ball coach, a dance instructor, the school system, day care or even a church youth pastor. It's not Disney's fault. The buck stops with parents. It doesn't take a village - too many idiots there. It takes parents. Parenting by proxy doesn't work.

Character counts in parenting probably more than any other facet of life, because it requires you to make the toughest of decisions, including having to say "No" when your begged by someone you love and don't want to lose to say "Yes". But hopefully parents have garnered wisdom from their life experiences to know what is good and what is not for their kids. They (kids) don't understand that - they don't yet have those life experiences. So they pout, argue, threaten, call you the worst names imaginable.

The time to establish those values and boundaries is not when they are old enough to start challenging them. So if you are parents of young children or not even a parent yet, now is the time to put those values down. Write them out. Hold yourself accountable. Be a team with your spouse - your values need to be the same or your kids will know how to team up with one of you against the other.

I'm no expert, but I am a parent who has survived rearing three children. How do you think I got this gray hair! I also learned young from those who had walked the path before me. Listen to your elders, parents. Gain wisdom from God and His Word. Surround yourself with other parents who have similar values and determine that you will be whatever it takes to love and protect the lives entrusted to you.

There are no second chances. Some things you can't control. But the things you can, you better. Wishing "Hannah Montana" never happened is a cop out.

And your heart will be achy breaky.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Company You Keep... Part 2

(Part 1 is the preceding post.)

"How dare that Jesus! He knows that Matthew and his buds are the devil's children, yet there he is, eating and conversing with them. I even hear him laughing at one of their jokes! Who knows what they're doing in there! How can he call himself a holy man? I knew he wasn't the real deal. Messiah? Are you kidding?"

My imagination, but the context of Mt. 9:9-13 makes it pretty obvious those were the kinds of comments coming from the lips of the Pharisees. They just didn't get it. Jesus' behavior was far too radical and revolutionary for them.

This preacher/rabbi/prophet was rapidly becoming the most popular religious figure in the land. He was sought after by outcasts, wealthy business men, community leaders and military officials. He went to places no one else would enter and touched people considered "unclean" by the guardians of the faith. Before his ministry was over he would be invited to appear before the religious elite and government officials. The conspiracy to murder him was orchestrated by those of his own race and creed who rejected him.

What we don't understand we tend to disagree with. And when we disagree, in order to defend our position we tend to fight against with straw man arguments. A recovering Pharisee myself, I understand that side well.

What happens when a well-known pastor (that would exclude me) steps out of the box and finds room at the tables of infidels, atheists, liberals and people otherwise considered "tax collectors and sinners" by the self-appointed "defenders of the faith"?

Billy Graham was boycotted in the 60's and 70's by "Bible believing" pastors in every city where he came to preach. Why? In order to get the biggest crowds to come to his crusades he routinely invited ministers of every persuasion to sit on the platform, knowing that if they attended, their churches would likely attend, too, giving many the opportunity to hear for perhaps the first time a clear presentation of the Gospel. Yet my wife heard a pastor at her church in the early '70's proclaim that Graham's ministry was "of the devil".

Jerry Falwell was called "the anti-christ" by the president of a fundamentalist Christian university in the late '70's. Why? He dared build friendships with people like Teddy Kennedy, Larry King and Larry Flint - a porn publisher - so he could share the Gospel with them. Poor Jerry! He was despised by the left and right until the day in died in 2007.

Rick Warren is the current punching bag for the sons and daughters of Graham's and Falwell's critics. Why? He has sat down at tables with "tax collectors and sinners" to insert his Christian beliefs and influence where he is the lone representative of evangelical Christianity to address issues like AIDS and starvation. And because no one else dares to go out on the same limb, the separationist bloggers are abuzz in their attacks!

I've been around the block a time or two, and here's what I've come to accept. I may not have a clear understanding of why those men used the methods they did. There are others on the scene today whose beliefs are essentially the same as mine, but they do things that cause me to take a step back and raise an eyebrow. And my conclusion might be, "Well, I wouldn't do it that way."

But attack them because they are different in their methods? Find them guilty of a "crime" without giving them an opportunity to at least try and explain themselves? I hear enough of that kind of thing about my own church and ministry. So for me and the church I serve that would be the pot calling the kettle black.

If I don't "get it" my best response is no response and let God sort it out. Their fruit will reveal their validity. And that may not be known until eternity.

Rather, I take to heart what Jesus did and said. He was quite the non-conformist, wasn't He? Years ago two older, godly preachers said some things I heard that I'm still trying to apply to my life.

1. "When I've won as many people to Christ as *Billy Graham, then I can start to criticize him." (Sumner Wemp) That narrows it down considerably for me.

2. "I'll be friends with the friends of Jesus." (B. R. Lakin) Whether I agree with every thing they do or not.

*He said "Billy Graham", but you can fill in the blank with whoever.

Monday, February 7, 2011

You're Known By the Company You Keep...Or Are You? - Part 1

I grew up in a "camp" of conservative Christianity that placed high value on what is referred to a "doctrine of separation". The proof text for their doctrine is a verse in the New Testament that says, "Come out from among them and be ye separate". (I use the KJV wording because they would be offended if I didn't.)

And throw in the verse that says, "Avoid all appearance of evil", too. That's a biggie among that camp.

At the heart of their thinking is the idea that Christians, who now have a new "family" (the church) and a new life (the life of Christ) and a new citizenship (the Kingdom of Heaven) should be tee-total avoiders of anything "sinful", including hanging out with infidels (the unfaithful).

That doctrine kept me out of movie theaters my entire adolescent life. The Christian college I attended even had a rule prohibiting attendance at movie theaters! It was the idea that even a decent family movie was taboo because the money paid to see such was going to support evil, wicked people in Hollywood. As I recall Liz Taylor was the poster girl for that crowd.

Even as a teenager I found it interesting that while going to see the movie at a theater was unchristian, watching the same movie at home on TV was somehow OK.

And I remember the shock I created one Sunday night when I went to church wearing a collar-less shirt and "hippie" sandals!!

Is that what God meant by "being separate" or "being holy as He is holy"?

Questions I asked as a Christian teenager in such an environment were...
...Why is it wrong to go to the theater and see the movie but OK to see it on TV at home?
...If we are so separated from "worldly" people, how will we ever get to talk with them about Christ?
...If that's what holiness is about wouldn't be all do better by becoming monks in a monastery?
...Why should the devil have all the good music? OK. I stole that one from Larry Norman.

And if being separate wasn't enough, a doctrine of "secondary separation" was also in vogue. Secondary separation says that even if my life radiates Christ, if I associate with someone who doesn't fit the bill, then I'm in sin. I'm "unclean".

Then I read this about Jesus.

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" So he got up and followed Him. While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when He heard this, He said, "Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mt. 9:9-13 HCSB)

The "Pharisees" were the strictest of Judaism's "denominations". Today they would be called "fundamentalists" (a word that has been twisted, by the way). They saw appearances as the standard of holy living, and Jesus was violating every standard. And He did so just to push their buttons. He intended to get them to question their legalisms, which were man-made standards not God-given.

Certainly nothing indicates Jesus became a tax-collector, a drunk or a prostitute because of this lunch. His purpose wasn't to indulge in their lifestyle but to invade their lifestyle with His own. He was able to connect with them without conforming to them.

So, is this call to holy and separate living so much about where I go and with whom I associate? Or is it something deeper. And can we impact a world that doesn't know Jesus by avoiding them?

Just be warned: if you attempt to mimic Jesus and "eat with tax collectors and sinners" you can expect the Pharisees to rise up against you.

A Year Already?

The one year anniversary of our road trip across America - part of my sabbatical - passed the other day, February 5. It was one of those (perhaps) once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities that will always be one of our greatest experiences together.

In total we spent 42 days going from Kitty Hawk, NC to the Keys to the West Coast and back. Many of those 42 days it was just Gail and I. A few were long days getting from point A to B. Lots were spent with friends and family along the route. All of them enabled us to view this magnificent country in which we live.

I'll have to go back and read the blog I kept during the trip.

If you ever get the chance to do something similar, I hope you will!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

God Don't Make No Junk

A few years ago in a conversation with an older adult she admitted a weakness in her life and in her own defense said, "I can't help it. It's how God made me." In other words, "Don't blame me for who I am. Blame God."

Well, let me say this kindly: God don't make no junk.

Every one of us are imperfect. Not God's fault. Our fault. When God created humanity and placed a man and a woman in the Garden of Eden they were perfect. But He gave them a choice. They chose to disobey Him and we've been making that choice ever since.

The Good News is God has a way of redemption...a means of reconciliation. If we come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ He transforms us. And the amazing thing is that when we come to Him in faith He accepts us just as we are.

But He doesn't expect us to stay "where we are". His standard for my life is no longer "just as I am" and that's the end of it. His standard for my life now that I have been accepted into His family is for me to resemble His Son. That's a lifelong process that will never be fully realized in this lifetime. But it's my goal...your goal, too, if you're a Christian.

That's what the word Christian means - "little Christ". He's our older brother and the one we aspire to be like. That means I can't be content to remain static. I can't be resolved to give up and say, "It's just the way I am" if God wants me to mature beyond me. God's measuring stick is not who I am today, but am I becoming more like Jesus.

Never accept you cannot change or that God accepts you just as you are. Not if Jesus lives in you. He's started a change process in you. Let Him continue day by day with your transformation. Like Adam and Eve we have a choice. But we can't blame God if the changes aren't happening.

I'm going through changes...changes in my life.
Holding on to good things that I find.
I'm going through changes...changes in my life.
And I'm leaving all my emptiness behind.
- Chuck Girard and Denny Correll

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

You're judging me!

The farther our society moves away from the acceptance of absolute values the more it perceives those who hold to absolutes to be curmudgeons and self-righteous. So, whenever an absolutist, like a Christian reacts negatively to what his/her values hold to be immoral, those whose moral beliefs are dictated by culture and time are offended. "How can you dare to judge me?"

The Bible is clear regarding judgments.

First, Christians are not to be judgmental of non-Christians. This is where so many, especially those in "fundamentalist" circles fail. - 1 Corinthians 5:12

Second, Christians are to hold one another in the church accountable for the lives we live. That requires making judgments based on the Scriptures. You can't/won't tell me that the lie I just told is wrong if you don't believe it to be so. And to do so requires a judgment to be made. - 1 Corinthians 5:13

Third, because a Christian or a moral absolutist believes there are rights and wrongs does not mean they are judging those with different beliefs. The judging is done by the absolutes and the creator of them. - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Here are a few theoretical scenarios.
Scenario 1
I want to join your church. I work as a prostitute, but I believe in God.

Our standard of morality is the Bible. It says that your lifestyle/occupation is sin. Are you willing to turn away from that life and embrace a life of following Jesus?

No. I do what I have to do to survive. Are you judging me?

The answer is "Yes". If you claim to believe then you place yourself in the position of behaving as though you do. And it is a judgment necessary to the health of the church.

Scenario 2
I work as a prostitute. Can I come to your church?

Of course you can. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend our church.

Will people judge me as unfit if I show up on Sunday?

If they do then they aren't behaving like Christians.

Is that judgmental? No. We can be welcoming but not affirming. We can accept the person without accepting the lifestyle.

Scenario 3
I'm a prostitute. Can I come to your church on Sunday?

No. We don't allow your type in our church.

Is that judgmental? Yes, and it is inappropriate judgmentalism.

Scenario 4
Would you come with me to church this Sunday?

I'm a prostitute and no, I won't come to your church because I hear you people think what I do is wrong. You're a bunch of judgmental hypocrites.

I'm sorry you feel that way. Anyone is welcome to attend our church.

Who made the judgment there?

It's become more obvious for Christians that if we hold to an absolute standard of morality we are out of step with much of the world. In fact, we are considered fools for doing so. And as a result we should expect to be judged as harsh, uncaring, unloving and without grace by those who have a different standard. Be prepared to be misunderstood and even hated.

But we ultimately know that the judgment that truly carries weight isn't the opinion of any mortal. One day every Christian will stand before Christ and give an account of how he/she fulfilled the calling of God.