Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Worst Day of their Lives

Day 6575 is the worst day of their lives. It is the day the Church in America turns on them.

It's not intentional...the Church doesn't even know it's doing it...but it happens nonetheless.

It is the day where helpless children become villainous adults.

Day 6575...also known as the 18th birthday.

You see, the Church in America has a passion for helping kids in need...kids who experience poverty and all that goes with it. We hurt for the children whose parents don't care. We cry out for the abused, the rejected, the forgotten. As Christians, we develop programs to take them in and show them love.

When they misbehave--say something inappropriate, break something carelessly, disobey our requests...we understand, because after all, THEY'VE NEVER BEEN TAUGHT.

They're just poor children who can't help that they've been born to lazy, undisciplined, barbaric parents (or so the story goes...). Those poor, unfortunate children...

Until Day 6575.

At that point those children, whose vices were previously so understood and justified, become adults and, as such, the object of wrath for the Evangelical Right.

Far too often, I hear "Christians" spew political venom aimed at the adults in poverty who are a "drag on our precious economy." They are attacked for taking health care and taxpayer money all without contributing their fair share. They are accused of having the same opportunities as everyone else, but merely choosing not to take advantage of them...likely because they are selfish, lazy, and (of course) Democrats.

Day 6574: "You poor kids with no one to love and teach you!"
Day 6575: "You lazy adults need to get your act together or suffer the consequences!"

What a difference a day makes.

To all my neighbors about to turn 18... may we never forget who you are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let's just call it "X-mas"

I'm preparing myself for the inevitable forthcoming "Christmas vs. X-mas vs. Happy Holidays" debates where Christians at large begin to hyperventilate over the fact that the pagan joystealers of the world are trying to take Christ out of Christmas.

Well, I've got news for you. He's been left behind long before now.

You see, as Christians we take up arms this time of the year with proclamations of "REMEMBER THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!!!" Which inevitably leads to the inclusion of manger scenes in our home decorating, perhaps a lack of the jolly guy in our montage, a Christmas Eve church service, and a not-to-be-forgotten reading of the Christmas story before we engage in our wild frenzy of present opening.

But the problem is that we are just adding a little bit of Jesus to a holiday that we have turned into something that mocks what Jesus stood for. Every year Americans spend $450 Billion dollars on Christmas shopping!!! All this while much of the world remains in poverty, fighting issues such as lack of sustainable food and water--issues that can be greatly impacted with just a fraction of the resources that we spend on Christmas presents.

I understand that the point of giving presents has been to remind ourselves that Jesus was the greatest gift--and we say things like, "It is better to give than receive." But if that's true, that giving is the enjoyable part, then it doesn't really matter who we give to. And if so, shouldn't we give to those that have the most need? Isn't that what Jesus would want us to do? Isn't that what Jesus DID?

For us, in our consumerism, to act in a way that so directly flies in the face of so much of Jesus' life and teachings, and yet complain that people are taking Christ out of Christmas merely by changing the name, or even insinuating that we are "REMEMBERING THE REASON FOR THE SEASON" by merely retelling the story, is laughable...like celebrating MLK day in segregated church services or commemorating Earth Day with a sale on Hummers.

This year, let's either change our habits and traditions to really reflect the priorities of Christ, or let's just go ahead and call it "X-mas".

P.S. Here is a video that my friend Lisa first posted that speaks well to this issue:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On Facebook and Prayer

(a follow-up to my lesson from Sunday 11/1/09)

I've always struggled with prayer, not in a for or against type way, but in a "this-is-extremely-awkward-slash-boring-slash-I'm-gonna-go-crazy" type way.

But lately, I've been experiencing some refreshment in this area, largely thanks to Facebook.

Facebook - the spiritual development tool (sort of)

I remember the first time I opened Facebook after signing up...there was that intimidating box at the top asking, "What's on your mind" I sat, cracked my knuckles and began to type..."Ryan is..." Nothing. I had nothing! So I sat and thought. 5 minutes...10 minutes...What was on my mind, anyway?!

I think I probably came up with something lame like, "Ryan is wanting Taco Bell for dinner," but it was the beginning of something for me--actually figuring out what was on my mind and heart and expressing it.

You see I'm a guy, and I have trouble stepping back and even considering what might be going on inside of me, whether I'm being asked by the Facebook box, or by my wife. The truth is, for most of my life, I just didn't know what was on my mind until after it (often accidentally) came shooting out of my mouth.

But now, a year or two into this Facebook thing, I can more readily come up with status updates..."Ryan is pumped about the Fire game this weekend!", "Ryan is frustrated with my girls always being sick", "Ryan thinks he's too selfish most of the time"...

Granted, their mostly still simplistic and shallow, but I'm much more aware of who I am and what's on my mind.

And you know what, I enjoy sharing that with others. I love posting a status, or a note, or a comment and seeing that little red flag go up in the bottom corner notifying me that someone I care about has interacted with me. It's great knowing that I am going through life with friends--not alone.

Prayer is the next logical step. I used to think it only a religious ceremony between a myself and a distant God. What I have come to find out is that God was not the one that was distant, I was.

Now, my prayer is much more interactive with God, bite sized chunks...status updates, if you will. I almost pretend I that as I share what's on my mind with others, that I'm tagging God as well...waiting for his comment.

So, yeah, Facebook has refreshed my prayer life. Who knew?!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Village of (disappearing) Evil

The problem of evil is one of the most difficult issues to wrestle with for any religion that claims a single, all-powerful, all-good God.  The issue can be summed up in one question, “If God is all good and all powerful, how can evil exist in our world (wouldn’t he have to do something about it?!)?”

Lately, though I have heard a (slightly) different question.  Some people believe that certain amounts of evil are necessary in our world, so that we have the ability to choose (and the freedom to choose beats the heck out of being robots).  Many that believe this still feel this way—

“I understand that some evil needs to exist, but why doesn’t God at least step in a little bit more on the REALLY BAD things like (child murders, genocide, etc.)?” aka “Why doesn’t God draw a line somewhere?”

My weird path to thought...

I love M Night Shyamalan movies…at least before he fell in love with himself and started making flat out weird stuff.  I loved the old-school Shyamalan, trick ending stuff…particularly The Village.  If you haven’t seen it, don’t, because I’m about to ruin it for you.

The whole movie is about a Pioneer-style community that some people made together in the wilderness somewhere, apart from the modern world around them.  The kids that were raised there knew nothing of the outside world with all of its problems.  All they knew was the world they were presented with, and its problems.

My thought is this…

As  we look at the world around us, we see extreme forms of evil and cry out for God to at least draw a line somewhere—to stop the worst kinds of evil from existing.  But what would that look like –for God to really step in and stop extreme evil in our world?

Well, first of all, after eliminating the ability to act in those evil ways (such as genocide)  he would have to completely remove our ability to imagine those types of evil.  After all, it would be a strange feeling to be able to contemplate evil, but never really be able to act on it (for reasons we would never know).  It would be like this big invisible wall that we couldn’t cross, but could see the other side.  No, for God to draw a line somewhere, he would have to completely remove our ability to imagine it.

What a great world that would be--where things like genocide and child torture not only don’t happen, but can’t even be imagined!!

But would it be that great?  After all, if we couldn’t imagine those things existing, we wouldn’t know we were freed from them!  Something else would be at the helm of the “worst evil” we could imagine and we would be begging God to “draw a line” against such blatant evil.

So my question is…

How do we know that we aren’t living in a world like The Village, uncertain of another reality we can’t even imagine?

How do we know that God (in his love) hasn't already drawn lines to protect our world from worse evils than we could ever evin imagine?  If he had, we wouldn't even know it...we would be sheltered from it.

My (temporary) Conclusion...

The problem of evil still stands as a difficult one that I will probably wrestle with until I die…only my faith allows me to continue without my questions in this area answered—Why does evil exist at all in the presence of a loving, all-powerful God?

However, what we cannot do is ask God to draw lines, eliminating the worst evils while still giving us the freedom to make choices…after all, how can we be so sure that He hasn’t already done this?  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reversing the Reformation

I grew up in the world of Evangelical Christianity…and were we ever glad that we weren’t Catholic! Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t personal hatred toward Catholics, just complete disdain for the Catholic Church—it was stuffy, ritualistic, arrogant, and missed the point on much theology. So call me confused when I graduated Bethel College and began seeing many young adults leave the world of Evangelical Christianity and align themselves more with the Catholic Church. How could this be? This is the church of excommunication, Papal authority, and *gasp* a view of salvation that includes the necessity to live it out.
What did they see? Over time, I have begun to understand…
You see, while we were over in our corner, hating on the Catholic church, they kept plugging away. We fought to enlighten people to the pitfalls of Catholicism, they kept serving the poor. We kept begging that people get theologically correct, they kept being the church.
As a result, the Evangelical Church, overtime, became known as an argumentative, divisive, political entity, while the Catholic church once again became just the Catholic Church—and that was greatly appealing. You see, while we were drawing walls, the Catholic church began asserting the position in the Catechism that we all are brothers in the faith:
817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin:Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers. 818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church." 
…and people find that kind of unity appealing. For all of the faults that I grew up thinking the Catholic Church had, perhaps our rejection of them was equally harmful. In fact perhaps even more in that it distracted us from the mission we were called to.
So let me confess now that I repent. I still don’t agree on many theological issues, but I find myself experiencing a reversal of the separation that originated in the reformation. Let’s drop denominational walls and adopt the spirit of brotherhood the Catholic Church has put forth. Let’s reunite as the Church and see what God can do through a Church that is truly catholic. May our communities never be the same!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take Me To Your Leader

Who leads?  The person with their name on the sign?  The person with the POSITION of responsibility? 

This is the question I have been pondering lately with regards to the Church.  Who is leading the Church, specifically the Evangelical Church? Is it the guy that runs the Evangelical Association, the Haggard replacer?  Is it famous pastors like Hybels, Warren, Rob Bell?

To find the leader(s), I think we need to look at who is most responsible for any changes in direction or communication.  Who is most influential on what we say?  Who is most influential on what we do?

My first conclusion I came to for who is leading Evangelical America is Rush Limbaugh.  After all, more Evangelical Christians I talk to spend more time listening to and quoting Rush than anyone else.  He clearly has developed a following and clearly shapes both the action and talking points of Evangelical Christians—which is ironic, because I don’t think he would even label himself as an Evangelical Christian.

But then I began to realize that Evangelical Christianity is being led even more powerfully by someone(something) that even Rush is being led by.  The almighty dollar?  Perhaps that too, but something different.

The Missionary Church, of which I am licensed by is in the process of developing a document that they will (pending vote) have all pastors sign annually.  In this document, they have collected their core theological affirmation, and sprinkled in a couple of hot topic items as well.  In one section, labeled “The GOSPEL alone addresses our deepest human need”, the document addresses the fall of man and the need for redemption…along with our other deepest human needs of resisting abortion and our need for heterosexuality.

Now don’t get me wrong, I agree with both of those points, theologically, but it seems very strange that in a document of timeless theological statements we are seeking to sprinkle in two hot-topic issues of our day.  Isn’t all sin problematic?  How do we pick which sins to single out? 

The answer is (obviously) because these two issues are parts of the “Liberal agenda” of our day. 

Which brings me to my point.  We, as Evangelical Christians, have been reduced to a reactionary state against whatever the liberal agenda puts forth.  We wait, see what they bring up that we disagree with, and then we fight it. 

Therefore, THE TRUE LEADERS OF EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS, the ones who determine what we communicate and what we do, ARE NOT EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS AT ALL, BUT THOSE “WE OPPOSE”.

Here’s the problem with that…my sister, Erin is a Public Relations professional.  She teaches her clients to develop a message and communicate that message clearly regardless of what the interviewers may ask, or what distractions are taking place around you.  You cannot let someone else hijack your vision and communication.  STAY ON COURSE! 

The consequence of getting off topic, ever so slightly?  You may lose your identity and people will get confused as to who you truly are and what you stand for.

That is my fear for Christians today.  We have lost sight of our ability to present a message of the Gospel of Grace, and instead become led into discussions of whatever comes along.  PEOPLE NO LONGER KNOW WHAT WE ARE ABOUT, JUST WHAT WE ARE AGAINST.

In our (often benevolent) attempts to fight these moral battles, we have lost sight of our true Leader, our True Commission, and crippled our ability to accurately represent the love of Christ in our world.

Let’s pick a new leader!  Perhaps even the one in our name. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Children and Religion

We just watched the movie "Jesus Camp" yesterday and it brought up some interesting conversation for Robin and I.

In the documentary, you have kids trying to express the things they have been told about God.  Often, the things they say aren't too off the wall, but they seem to miss much of the nuances of the Christian faith, and lack the maturity to both understand and express the truth correctly.  As a result, you get a lot of kids that come across as brainwashed, militant, unloving, arrogant, and exclusivist...and likely will carry much of that into adulthood.

And I see that in Kali all the time, outside of the realm of religion.  The whole "Kids say the Darndest Things" effect is that kids are AWARE of adult issues, without proper understanding or ability to communicate them.

When applied to our faith, that is a dangerous thing.  Kids begin to form their worldview around their childhood (limited) understanding of concepts, forming bad habits of thought, and patterns of personal religion that stray from authentic living.

Robin and I have decided that we are no longer going to tell Kali to pray for her food or before bed.  Instead, we are going to make sure that she sees us praying and thanking God out of our own desire to do that.  Hopefully, she learns that thankful people thank God for his blessings, not that "everyone is supposed to pray before you eat", etc.

I am not yet sure what other areas of life this will play out in, but I would like to make the same promise that Erwin McManus made to his children, "I promise that I will never force you to act religious apart from your own desire."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Witnessing is not Loving

If I have had this conversation with you before, forgive me, but I wanted to blog it out as well...

I am still bothered by a discussion I had last year with a KPC member (at that time) regarding an upcoming "Block Party" we were about to host in our neighborhood.

I was told that by hosting a "Block Party" without any intentions of having an altar call, that we were being "carnal".  (I HATE theological jargon).   I explained that the point of the event was not to accomplish anything, but instead to just build relationships of love with our neighbors.

The response, "Well, at least I can go around sharing the gospel to people that show up, even if you don't preach anything."

My response, "I don't think I want you going around doing that, the point of the event is just to get to know and love people right now."

The response I received is the basis for this post:
"Isn't sharing the gospel with people loving them?"

So... is it?  Is walking around sharing the "Good News" with people always loving?

I believe the Bible shouts, "NO!"

Proverbs 27:14 - If you shout a greeting to your neighbor too early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.

What is the point of this verse?  It is saying that something that is good (greeting), when done in the wrong time (early in the morning), or the wrong way (shouted), will NOT ONLY be rejected, but will have the OPPOSITE effect (taken as a curse).

How does this apply?  The Gospel is a greeting--it's great news for the world!  But, if we don't love people and use discernment in our timing, presentation, and perceived reception, not only could the Gospel presentation not be received as a loving gesture, but it could be received as an act of spite.

Given this principle, we can know that WITNESSING IS NOT LOVING someone, when there is not love already present.  However, logically speaking, loving someone does imply (at some point) witnessing.

How about you?  Do you see the difference?  Know anyone shouting their greetings too early in the morning?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Suburban Sprawl

I need to go back to Sociology class and relearn about Suburban Sprawl - where everyone leaves the city and moves to the outskirts to start new and afresh.

I found an article today that I found disturbing: http://www.thestar.com/living/Religion/article/447409.

It is from Toronto, but hey, who doesn't love Canada?

The point of the article is this:  not only do churches often leave the city to reach the "Sprawlers", but churches actually are a "kick-starter" of Suburban Sprawl.

That's right, churches leave their property in the city to pursue greener pastures, with more (cheap) land to build on, paveable parking space, and more capable tithers.  When churches move out of the community, it leads to those in the community moving out as well.  


And the result:  neighborhoods left behind without the influence of the church, and many neighborhs, left to deal with their growing crime, poverty, educational, and family collapse on their own.

Can't churches be like the tree huggers and agree to not leave a neighborhood without planting another church to replace it on their way out?

Let's start a movement to reverse this trend!  Let's see people leaving behind the land of prosperity to engage the land of poverty.

Seems like something Jesus would probably approve of...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why I love our Church

This past Sunday (and for the next 4) David Cramer taught at KPC.  His message was great--on the wholistic simplicity of the gospel, tearing down the labels we have used to define various theological camps, and laying out Jesus' good news of rocking the world in every facet.

For someone like me, growing up in a world of labels and division (charasmatic vs. traditional, conservative vs. liberal, reformed vs. free-will, evangelical vs. mainstream) the lesson was quite freeing.  However, we found out that not everyone shared the same experiences and perspective.

There was a man who had not been around those labels, not seen the hurt and separation caused by words such as "Social gospel", "political gospel", etc.  The only presentation of the gospel he had seen was the simple all-inclusive gospel Dave was describing.   For him, then, the discussing of the different labels was a path of confusion, dividing what was already (for him) united.

Here's what I love:  there were clearly people on both sides of the aisle on this one, each frustrated that the other side couldn't understand where they were coming from.  BUT, as is a common theme for KPC, we are able to talk it out, right there on the spot, in the middle of the "service".  David responded with much grace and God moved us into a time of freeing discussion that brought us all to a point of trust as a community.

Different people.  Different perspectives...But willing to push through conflict, openly, for the sake of unity.

I love our church!

If you get a chance, check out David's transcript!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dr. Seuss and Christianity

I have found myself recently infatuated with Dr. Seuss.  Call it a casualty of the parenting trade, as I read a Seusser every night to Kali, but the guy intrigues me... to the point that I read straight through a 300 page biography of him last night.  And, upon further investigation, I believe we as Christians can learn something from Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel).

Some interesting facts:
1)  His Start:  He started writing and drawing for advertising slogans.

2) The Cat in the Hat:  challenged to help kids start reading, he was given a list of 200 words from his publisher and told to write a book using only those words.  He was stuck in the writing process so he decided he would just take the first 2 words on the list that rhymed and that would be his title--cat and hat.  This was the start of the Beginner Books label, where all of them have 200 unique words or less.

3)  Green Eggs and Ham:  Seuss' publisher thought he was getting too cocky, so he made a bet he couldn't write a Beginner Book using only 50 different words from the list, total.  GE&H was the book he won the bet with.  Only one word in GE&H is not monosyllabic:  anywhere.

4) Politics:  He was a very politically engaged guy, even in his books.  He claimed later in life that his writing was, "Subversive as hell."  When challenged by a political editorialist friend on why he wasn't involved politically, Seuss sent him a copy of his book, "Marvin K. Mooney, will you please go now!" with the M.K.M. crossed out throughout the book and "Richard M. Nixon" penciled in.  Seuss was political all along!  Other political themed books, "Horton Hears a Who"- American occupation of Japan, "The Lorax" - pollution, "The Butter Battle Book" - cold war arms race, and more...

5)  Personal life:  He was not a warm, cuddly guy.  He was rough, crass, and arrogant.  His wife of 40 years committed suicide, and he remarried his best friend's wife within months (after encouraging her to leave her husband for him)...not exactly the Santa Claus-esque guy I pictured.

Here's the take-home:
Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about Seuss, was that he was not a "kid" guy.  He didn't intially have a heart for kids or a passion for education.  He was a self-centered guy who was good at rhyming.  With his skill set, advertising, political cartooning, and children's literature were the places he could be successful.

In short, he wrote kids books because that's where he could make money, given who he was wired to be.

Substitute "making money" with "impacting lives" and that is ideally what God wants from us.  As Christians, too many times we are looking for where we can serve best, but too often that question is not about where we can be the most effective, but where we find the most fulfillment.  Even thought we are looking to serve, it easily becomes about us, not the bigger goal--assisting the coming of God's kingdom here on earth.

Seuss really only felt truly fulfilled by the end of his life when he was able to write more politically and be embraced by adults as well as children.  All along, though, he was making an impact that only HE could make.

What impact are YOU equipped to make?  Pursue that which is most beneficial for the Kingdom of God, even if you would rather be doing something else...

As Jesus says it, "Seek first the Kingdom, and everything else will be added to you."

As Seuss would say it, "Put Kingdom first, God's Kingdom first, and in your Heart be reimbursed."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eat to Live

Before I get started, this is Robin's area of expertise. I am trying to get her to start a blog on nutrition, so if you think you would appreciate something like that, post some comments so maybe we can get some peer pressure going :)

So...it's not really been a secret that last September, Robin and I started eating differently. Since that time, I have lost 20lbs. and feel more energy than ever before. Also, I normally get sick (colds and stuff) about every 2-3 weeks throughout the winter (I know, I am sickly), but this winter, I have only gotten 1 cold so far!

People ask what "diet" we are on...up until now, I didn't really know what to tell people except that we tried to eat mostly raw, unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, beans, and nuts. It's also been formed by our friends Red and Liz and the way they have been eating as Red recovers from cancer...

But now I would say that it most closely resembles the diet in the book "Eat to Live" by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Which got me questioning, Eat to Live...How?

My point is this: I have chosen to eat so as to live in the absence of sickness and the pursuit of longevity. However, others may choose to eat to live for different reasons.

None of my friends get sick like I used to. I was a bit of a immune system freak. Thus, most of my friends would see very little effect on their day-to-day life from eating the diet that I do. And, while I do think they would live LONGER eating like we do, perhaps they have different priorities.

Maybe some eat to live happily... (My father-in-law, "You only live once!")

Maybe some eat to live socially...

Maybe some eat to live caffeinated...

SO...I ask 2 things of you:

1) Figure out why you are eating: to sustain your body? to enjoy the moment? to connect with those around you? to wash away pain?

2) Don't have expectations contrary to your main purpose:
- If you choose to eat for health, don't have expectations of everything tasting great all the time. Trust me, it won't!
- If you choose to eat for taste in the moment, don't complain when your health goes bad some day.

Remember, no purpose is necessarily better than another, in my book, as long as we are honest with ourselves and understand we can't have our cake and eat it too. Thoughts?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

God and Death

This has come up recently in conversations with Robin...

For whatever reasons, I have found myself over the last 5 years in hospitals and funeral homes way too much.  In the 5 years I have been leading here in Keller Park, I have officiated 8 funerals, and only 2 weddings.  

And I think the thing that bothers me most is that people have been taught so many cliches about God and death that not only are not true, but keep them from properly understanding God's role in the midst of their pain.

Here are some examples:
1)  (Loved one) is an angel up in heaven now.
TRUTH:  The truth is this, the Bible tells us that we as humans are different than the angels.  In fact, we are in a more privileged position as God's treasured possession.  This is important to realize for a couple of reasons: 
1) We must realize that we are not pawns that God works for his own gain--we are His children, created in His image, and we will always be.

2) There is no redemption plan made for angels.  Once they turn away from God (like Satan and his followers), they are fallen.  God has made a plan of grace for us, and we should take joy in that!

2)  God just wanted/needed (loved one) with Him more than here with us.

TRUTH:  This type of thinking has some problems as well.  
-  First, it paints God out to be needy or selfish, which he is not.  
-  Second, it sets him up as the stealer of the one we love.  If God is Love (1 Jn 4:8), and Just (Is 26:7), than He can't pick and choose who to take from those he loves on the random basis of His desire to be with them.
-  Third, it paints God out to be too human, too FINITE.  If God is truly infintite, what is the big deal with another 7 years, or 70 years apart from those He loves?  To assume that God wants/needs someone RIGHT NOW, trivializes a God that is infinite.
-  Finally,  this assumes God removes our loved ones from us.  God does not take people from us, they leave us because that is the way the world (post-curse) works.  We live in a fallen world, where scientific patterns lead us inevitably toward the end of life.  Likewise the sinfulness and imperfection of people leads toward often untimely death.  The truth is, therefore, that God does not cause death.  

3)  Why did God allow (loved one) to die?

TRUTH:  While God technically could stop any situation from happening, the truth is that He allows the world as a whole to largely play itself out.  What is problematic is that when people ask this question, they are implying that God APPROVES of what happened, which is totally not the case.

In Matthew 11, we see the story of Jesus' friend Lazarus passing away.  Jesus shows up on the scene and, knowing that He is going to raise him from the dead in 2 minutes, begins to cry.  Why the tears?  Because he was going to miss Lazarus?  Certainly not!  He was going to see him alive again in 2 minutes!  Jesus cried because he saw the sadness that was the curse of death leveled against those he loved.  He cried because death is necessary for this time, because of the curse.

BUT THEN HE MADE ANOTHER WAY!  Let's just not assume that God allows our loved ones to die with his approval.  God doesn't like death any more than we do!

4)  I know that God took (loved one) so that He could do something really good, I just don't know what it is.

TRUTH:  Just like above, God doesn't selfishly use death to do something good.  The timing of death is granted through science and free will.  The truth is:  God does something good IN SPITE OF deaths, or THROUGH deaths, but not BECAUSE OF deaths.  God takes bad situations and can allow good to come from them, but does not create those bad situations.

It's like a firefighter.  His existence helps us feel safer, because we know that if there is a fire, he will be there to help...possibly becoming  a hero.  However, if we feel like he starts the fires so that he can help us, that's not really that comforting.

We have to get beyond the cliches surrounding death and realize that God hates it just as much as we do.  God is our friend, who can empathize with our pain.  But he IS NOT the cause of our pain.

Dos a Cero

They came through for me!

Last night the US Mens National Soccer Team defeated Mexico in Columbus once again.  And once again by a 2-0 score.

That is the 4th straight home World Cup Qualifying game (including the World Cup Finals game) we have defeated them 2-0.

Honestly, at this point I would rather beat them 2-0 than 3-0 or even 5-0.

Here's to a birth in the World Cup 2010 in South Africa!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TOP 5: I love tonight!!!

That's right, sports fans, get your popcorn.

7pm ET on ESPN2:
World Cup Qualifying:  United States vs. Mexico

Here's the TOP 5 reasons to watch (and love the US/Mexico rivalry):

1)  Locations:  Not only are the US and Mexico neighbors, but when it comes to their soccer fans, MOST of the Mexico fans in the stadium tonight live in the US, and are rooting against their current country in favor of the country of their ancestry.  This gets my blood boiling, but makes for great intensity!

2)  Hatred:  These teams do not like each other.  In Mexico this year, to lead up to this game, Radio Shack and Blockbuster ran ad campaigns where they distributed voodoo dolls dressed like the US team!  In 2004, the Mexico fans chanted, "Osama, Osama, Osama" in the stadium during the game.  US star Landon Donovan even took a leak a couple years back on Mexico's hallowed Azteca Stadium turf.  Each time they play, there is so much unsportsmanlike conduct.  The last game I remember the Mexico goalie taking a swinging kick at one of our players after he scored a goal...just for good times.  

3)  Frequency:  We play each other on average 1 time per year.  This is often enough to keep the rivalry heated, but also means you have to make the most out of every opportunity.  WE MUST PREVAIL!

4)  Sven:  In addition to having a cool name, he has been one of the top coaches in the WORLD in soccer.  And now he is Mexico's coach.  Here's hoping we beat them soundly and encourage Sven to find a good job somewhere.

5)  2-0:  aka dos y cero.  2001:  The US beats Mexico in WC Qualifying (in Columbus) for the first time in 20 years by the score 2-0.  In 2002, the US faced Mexico in the World Cup Finals for the first time, defeating them 2-0, a staggaring blow to their notion of dominance in the region.  In 2005, the US again defeats Mexico in the finals of WC Qualifying (In Columbus) with another 2-0 win!  In 2007, we defeated them 2-0 once again.  That's right, folks!  Four 2-0 wins in 8 matches with another 2-1 win to boot!

All that leads up to an AMAZING game tonight.  Here's to another 2-0 win for the good guys!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Crawling Kids

So...last Sunday Sophie started crawling.  I am so proud of her, and yet saddened.

Robin and I have talked about possibly being done with having kids, for various reasons:  financial stewardship, ability to move forward with life and ministry together, longing to sleep just ONE time through the night peacefully...

And so the possiblity lingers that ever phase Sophie leaves is the last time we will see that phase in our family.  No more swings?  No more bouncers?  No more crazy, springy, jumpy thingamadoos?

It's crazy how when you have kids you load up on all that stuff, and then how quickly it can be obsolete for you.

Any thoughts?  Any advice from those who have been there?

One Step Behind

So...I have been wrestling with some concepts of leadership and how they apply to the Church.

Over the last year, God has been doing some pretty amazing things in the Keller Park Church and Community.  And the coolest thing, is I have had no clue what he is going to do next.  Everything that has happened has just been God piecing things together.  

Proof-in-point...about 3 years ago, I had the audacity to create a 5 year plan for the church.  Although, that seems like a great thing from a leadership standpoint, I am sure that I had God laughing outloud (does God speak text lingo 'lol'?)  It included when we would start a "Sunday School" program, and when we would hire additional staff people in this area or that.  At this point looking back, it's hilarious.  Not only did NONE of that happen, but MUCH better things have.  Needless to say, God knows what he's doing.

So here's the crux of my issue.  I recently attended the "Catalyst" conference with Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel.  After hearing their hearts, I am now big fans of what God is doing in them.  However, one thing bothered me.  Andy said something like, "If you ever look at something and say, 'I have no clue what's going on, it's a God thing,'  you are on your way to poor leadership and mismanaging the work of God."

Don't get me wrong, I understand what he's saying, but I just don't fully agree.  It bears the assumption that God always works in systematic ways that make logical sense, and that just isn't true.  If Bible characters started forming systems around the unique workings of God, where would that have taken them?  

After the Gideon story where he had to get rid of nearly all of his troops before God brought victory, what if every army went in fighting with  300 men?  The truth is that God frequently works in ways that make no sense and aren't a result of any systematic obedience on our part.  He just does things, and we are left to react appropriately.

And I like that.

I like not knowing how God has done what he has done here in Keller Park.  I like not knowing why.  I like not knowing why now.

There is just something that seems right about reacting to God a step or two behind, instead of trying to keep up or run ahead and asking God to come alongside.  I've lived there for too long..."God please help me do this...God please bring resources for me to do that..."

God works best in me when I can't keep up.  I need to be one step behind.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Leaving Room

I know, I know, a little late for an update on our Sunday gathering, but here goes:

God was doing something amazing in our midst last Sunday.  I can't explain it, I can't even really describe it, but I know that something was going on.  And I know that I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

And that feels good.  And that scares me a little.

This Sunday was our kickoff for our basement project.  For those of you unfamiliar with the KPC facility, let's just say the basement is a mess.  It is still largely unchanged from the early 1900s when it was a corner grocery store.  It is unclean, unsafe, and not capable of being used to the full extent we need for all of our community relationships at this point.  

God has provided a unique opportunity for us to have donated labor to get 'er done now, so we have just stared raising the funds to do so...and I HATE raising funds and even talking about money in churches because it has been so abused through the years.  The thought of a building project makes me sick.  We set a goal for $10,000.  Needless to say, we won't be doing stain glass windows.

So this Sunday was our kickoff, where we began to accept pledges toward the project and went downstairs and wrote prayers all over the soon-to-be-covered cement walls.  As I was planning the service, I kept stressing out over how to make it this great Mountain-top event.  And I was getting nowhere.

My friend, Redford, said, "Why are you so stressed?  This thing is bigger than you.  Just let God take it."  Not normally good at taking advice, I decided to listen, step back and just let God roll.  Nothing special planned, just a time of simple prayer and worship...


It was so cool.   Our worship team is great (in heart as much as talent), and totally led us before the Lord.  But then it went beyond even them.  At one point, the team became disjointed and the song fell apart into a capella...and I heard people worshipping God louder than I have EVER heard in KPC before...not because of the great music, but because of our Great God.

And it didn't take well-structured programming to get us there...just leaving some room for God to do HIS thing in our midst.

Hopefully I have learned my lesson for the future.

Friday, January 30, 2009

TOP 5: Cereals

Let me preface this list with my starting assumptions:

1) Anything that changes the milk color shall receive negative points.
2) Any cereal with anything but milk added to it outside the box does not qualify as said cereal (i.e. Raisin Bran with added sugar or splenda is not Raisin Bran...). They must be cereal au natural!

Here's the list:

1) Grape Nuts Trail Mix Crunch - it's a little sugary, but what more could you want?

2) Basic 4 - this stuff costs a fortune if it's not on sale, but soooo good.

3) Grape Nuts - nothing needs said, you love it or you hate it.

4) Crispex - i ate an entire box of this once at one sitting. so light and crispy, but the best part is its ability to capture the milk inside.

5) Cracklin' Oat Bran - it might as well be cookies. if you've never tried this, you must - TODAY! Just be willing to shell out $4 for a small box, it's pricey!

Honorable mention to cereals that don't exist anymore:
1) Graham Chex - perhaps the greatest cereal ever created. Graham flavored chex pieces with actual Graham cracker wafers thrown in for good measure. TOUCHDOWN!

2) Fruit filled Shredded mini-wheats - they had plain (non-sugared) mini wheats with strawberry, raspberry, or blueberry filling inside each piece. they were great in milk or dry as a snack. The people who pulled them from production need fired...and perhaps admitted.

What would you add, according to my assumptions? according to your tastes?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

True Community

It seems to be the job of pastors to try to encourage people toward community.

We plan events, have coffee times before services, make people shake hands for 5 minutes...you know all of the tricks.

But can true community that people are looking for ever really be planned?

We have a small group that gets together once every-other-week.  It's a great time.  We talk, eat, study, discuss, and play Seinfeld TV games.  I can assume that we genuinely enjoy all of our time together.

But is that community?  or just an enjoyable evening together?  Is there a difference?

For me, true community is when people begin to naturally interact and flow together in the midst of daily life - when you can go to someone's house without a reason, just because you feel like being with them, when you can spontaneously call and talk through an issue at the moment you are experiencing it -without waiting until your next get-together.

Don't get me wrong, small groups, coffee time, and even the 5 minute handshakes are great on-ramps to community, but let's not mistake them for the real thing.

Community means getting messy, vulnerable, and a little out of control at times.  But that's the beauty!

Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

False Assumptions

It seems every time I prepare a lesson for church, I start out with a direction that is proven incorrect by my studies of the scripture.  I come to the table with assumptions of what the Bible says and how it applies, often looking for scriptural support for my already held belief.

Time after time, however, I not only can't find support for my assumptions, but I actually find that scripture presents the topic in an entirely different light.

On one hand, I like the learning experience, but do I really have to have my world rocked every week?

It never ceases to amaze me how much common assumptions have formed the way I look at the world.  I am scared to see how much my life will change by the time I am old as I continue to study each week.

What assumptions have you ever made about God or scripture that you seem to find incorrect upon further study?

Friday, January 23, 2009

TOP 5: Loving Husbands

I am a list kindof guy...I have my top 5s in so many categories from favorite cereals to biggest fears.  Every so often I will put forward one of my lists for discussion, with explanations.  

Today is Top 5 loving husbands I have seen...I apologize to anyone who is on or off this list incorrectly:

1)  Tim Yazel - my dad.  I don't know that I have ever met a more patient person.  He is grace giving in conversation and life with my mother.   Also, he serves her constantly, in every way without any words of complaint.  My mom has yet to ever pump gas, I believe.

2)  John H. - a man at KPC.  He is getting along in years, and has been married for probably close to 40.  His wife has struggled with mental issues for years now, often talking nonsense or even accusing him publicly of many things.  He takes every comment without a word, and day-in-and-day out just lives his life to serve her without any return.  What love!

3)  Joel Boehner - a friend and KPC brother - He has only been married for 6 years now, but he is another guy who always looks at his wife with love in any situation.  You can just see his love in his countenance with her.

4)  Tim Courliss - a great friend from Bethel on - his wife, Karen, is an actress/singer with goals to perform across the world.  Tim believes in her abilities, and supports her fully, and is willing to pick up and move wherever her career deems necessary.

5)  Harry Holycross - "The godfather" of the KPC church - Harry adored his wife Flo and acted as though everything she touched was gold.  Flo passed away last year from lung cancer, and Harry has taken it upon himself to live his life according to every last detail of what Flo wanted for him.  Even in her passing, his life is still lived around his love for her.

Any you guys see around you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Working too much?

So I struggle with the tension between 4 ideals:

1) The pattern of God who worked 6 days and rested the 7th, and commanded the same from us.

2) The pattern of traditional American middle-class jobs to work 9-5 Monday -Friday, then rest Saturday and Sunday.

3) That the advancement of the Kingdom should be pursued at all costs, which happens to also be the charge of my job as a pastor.

4)  I have been given the responsibility for raising my daughters to know and love God and people.

So where do we draw the lines?  

Clearly if we work 6 days dusk to dawn, the 7th better be one of complete rest (that means no chores, honey!)

If our work week is 40 hours, then Biblically, I don't think we are given the freedom to vacation the rest of the remaining time in our week.

If we have the choice to stop at 40 hours, or work more, SHOULD we stop?  or did God expect more from us with the example HE set?

As a pastor, in addition to my work week, should I build in "volunteer" time as I encourage the rest of my congregation to?

I really have no answers, but would like to get this all figured out at some point!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Recession Proof

The Church of the Heartland here in South Bend is doing a series called "Recession Proof".  I like this for 2 reasons.

1) In a world where our Christian culture reigns supreme, the series is not about the Christian movie that just came out, but the world we live in.

2) It's true!

We as Christians have had our primary citizenship placed into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This means, regardless of what goes on around us, WE have only Kingdom ramifications to worry ourselves with...and btw, God's got those taken care of.

IT'S BEAUTIFUL!  If the economy tanks, does that change where we or others stand in the Kingdom (if it does, it only helps...according to the ramifications of the rich young ruler parable, shouldn't we be almost rooting for the economy to tank?)?  If sin gets a political vehicle to reign more openly, does that change the story that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?

Our job is not to minimize sin in the world, fight evil, or guarantee the American dream.  As a church we have been charged with helping our neighbors take steps toward Christ.

As the underground church has shown us by growing more rapidly in countries where there is no freedom to worship freely, politics play such a very small role in the advancement of the Kingdom.

So...as we have a new president set forth today (I am excited!), remember your primary citizenship!

Monday, January 19, 2009

I have a dream

In honor of MLKJ Day, I have decided to kick-off this blog with an "I have a dream..." blog of my own.  Here goes:

I have a dream that one day...

- people won't confuse charity-from-a-distance with full-blown love.

- churches everywhere will ask themselves "Why?" and answer themselves honestly.

- large porches that actually get used by people sitting on them will make a come-back

- the wedding industry will go out of business (can you believe how much they charge for stuff?!!)

- this country will awaken from our denial regarding our unhealthy living and stop blaming genetics for everything (I loved the social commentary in Wall-E!)

- churches will start treating all sin for what it is...that the idea of "socially acceptable" sin goes out the window.  I'm sick of rooms full of people struggling with gluttony, greed, pride, etc. sitting around passing judgment on homosexuality, drunkeness, etc.

- the United States will win a World Cup.

- ESPN will realize that making fun of soccer is not good for their soccer ratings, and bottom line.

- my daughters will not date until the age of 20.

- Christians will focus more on the Great Commission than the Republican Mission.

- Mocha will realize that getting her tie-out wrapped around a tree in sub-freezing weather is NOT appropriate behavior.

Any you would add?