Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stuff Happens...

My title puts it a little more tactfully than some might, but the truth is, stuff happens. Sometimes good stuff happens…sometimes not so good stuff. The mark of a Jesus follower is not what kind of stuff happens to them, but how they respond when stuff happens.
                Years ago Zig Ziglar used to say that when things happen to you, you can either react or respond. He used the illustration of a prescription you get from your doctor as an example. If your doctor gives you a prescription and asks to see you in three days, he will usually tell you then whether you’re reacting to the medicine or responding to the medicine. “Reacting” is usually not what you want. What you hope to hear is that your body is responding to the medication. One is negative, the other positive.
                When “stuff happens” in our lives as Christ followers what should take place is a response not a reaction.  Our response should be faith, trust, an assurance that God is in control and that all things work for our good and His glory. But many times we react with frustration, fear, doubt and anger. Think of the negative testimony our reactions leave behind.
                Many are teaching today that if you have enough faith and believe God for His best that only good stuff will happen to you. Boy, somebody should have told the Apostle Paul: “I speak as if insane-- I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.…” (II Cor. 11: 23-25)… and yet Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11). Paul knew how to respond to “stuff” rather than react.
                Although we ought always to be looking for God’s best, hoping and praying for victory, expecting the miracles that will “part the waters” and send “fire from heaven” we also need to prepare for the correct response when things don’t necessarily go the way we hoped. What is that response?

  •          Praise God…regardless of circumstances He is still worthy of praise.
  •         Trust God…in spite of what seems like a setback, God is still in control.
  •         Ask God…He really doesn’t mind if we ask Him why and honestly seek    the answer.
  •    Believe God…He knows best and is working it out in our lives, even in       the middle of bad stuff.
  •    Thank God…for the end result which will always bring Him glory is we      allow it to.

Remember, respond…don’t react.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

That used to be OK...

Generally speaking, I try to stay out of the political fray. Partly because as a minister I am not supposed to use my influence to sway peoples’ viewpoints about matters of State, at least that seems to be the politically correct view. 

I, generally speaking, am not a conspiracy theorist, a close-minded fanatical type, or even a hell-fire and brimstone, name-the-sin kind of preacher. As far as I know I don’t hate anyone, I have no phobias that I'm aware of except mice, heights and fast rides at the amusement park, and I don’t picket or boycott things with which I don’t agree (at least not anymore).

I think I’m a pretty reasonable, likeable guy; at least I try to be.

But lately I’ve discovered that it doesn’t seem to be ok with a lot of folks that I’m also a man of conviction. I’m a man of faith, which automatically disqualifies me as a nice guy in a lot of people’s opinion. I kind of get that. People of faith, or at least people perceived to be people of faith have done a lot of nasty things over the years, and the rap kind of falls on all of us. 

I go to church, I believe in Jesus (as Savior), I tend to be conservative in most of my political views (not because I’m a person of faith or because I have an axe to grind but because those are my convictions), and I still believe that there are some absolute values that would make the world we live in a better place.

I don’t hate people whose values are different than mine, I just disagree with them. For some reason that’s not OK anymore. I’m not afraid of people whose values are different than mine, we just don’t agree about what’s important. That doesn’t mean I’m phobic, it just means we don’t see eye to eye. That used to be OK, but not anymore. If I state my opinion or decide not to support a cause, (according to some) that’s not me stating my beliefs, that’s me being “mean-spirited and hateful”, although those who may disagree with me are not being “mean-spirited or hateful” when they voice their opinions or boycott a city who has a law they don’t like.(I'm confused???)

Let me set the record straight. I don’t hate anyone. I have convictions. I’m not against anyone. I don’t believe in mistreating Muslims or gays or Democrats. I believe in America they have a right to live their lives in peace and without fear of hate crimes like anyone else. I have friends who are Muslim, some who are gay and even some who are Democrats. I have long admired Jimmy Carter (not for his politics but for his unapologetic faith in Christ) and read his devotional guide every morning. One item on my personal bucket list is to meet him in person. I’m not a hater.

I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom to hold unpopular opinions. I believe our words ought to be kind and considerate, our worship open and accepting of whoever wants to participate and our opinions protected even if they happen to be out of step with society. 

I long for a time and place where we are all considered important, none of us written off because of our convictions, and equally respected even when we differ with each other. You need to know that I respect you and your opinion, lifestyle and/or belief system, regardless of whether or not I agree with it.  I don’t hate you, I’m not afraid of you and I welcome your friendship and even the opportunity to build a relationship of mutual respect with you, even if we disagree about some things we both feel are very important.

That used to be OK…

Monday, March 3, 2014

I'm Afraid It's Us...

I have to be honest and tell you I’m getting pretty fed up with folks who think they are the only ones with the correct “take” on everything. I find myself having to confess the uneasy fact that I see this in the church as much as anywhere else. I mean, I expect it in politics, which is getting quite repulsive in its own way. Democrats blame the Republicans and vice versa when I think we can all agree there’s enough blame to go around several times. I even expect it in the world at large as we all have preferences about car brands, sports teams and the best way to cook a turkey. Everyone thinks they’re right.
But there is something particularly offensive to me, as a Christian, about those who are part of a growing group who believe their specific brand or sect of Christianity has all the right answers and opinions and are the final authorities on everything “spiritual.” I would agree with many who say we, as Christians, are under no obligation to please or pander to the whims of society and what they would like us to be. On the other hand, I do believe that since our own statistical data, compiled by Christian organizations and pollsters, reveals the world sees us as bigoted, phobic, intolerant and judgmental, it may be time for us to come out of our shells long enough to see if their impression of us is at all justified.
In most of the data I’ve seen over the last couple of decades, those outside the church have a generally favorable impression of Christ. However, those same folks have an overwhelmingly negative impression of Christians. My initial take is that one of us misunderstands who Jesus is and I'm afraid it's us. My guess is we’ve made a Jesus that looks an awful lot like us and therefore they reject Him. I wonder what would happen if we tried the opposite and we looked more like Him. I suspect the end result might be more positive for all of us.
In a world where we have access to nearly unlimited amounts of information, much of it unreliable and never verified before it is published on the Internet, we are quick to form judgments and opinions that end up making us look very foolish. I have pleaded with Christians to check the facts before reposting articles on Facebook. Some of those posts are years old, were not true when originally posted and time has not made them any more true. In short, we end up looking like horses’ behinds and then wonder why the world doesn’t pay any attention to us when we stand behind our pulpits and declare something to be true with the same fervor with which we “shared” our false claims and prejudiced remarks on the web. We hide behind vague claims of someone being “New Age” or “known to associate with liberals” or “emerging” as though simply our accusation makes them guilty and therefore rendering anything they’ve done, said or written worthless, without moral, social or spiritual significance.
It has occurred to me lately that Jesus Himself had lots of accusations very similar to these hurled at Him. I shudder to think what might have been had Jesus showed up in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Can you even imagine the lies, innuendos, and judgment?
I suppose what I’m a voice crying in the wilderness for is sanity, fairness, tolerance and grace. We’ve demonized those attributes in the church and equated them with a watered down, sinless Christianity. I disagree. I believe with all my heart Jesus was a man of fairness, tolerance and grace…like no other before or after. His motives were pure and his insight was keen. He did not come to condemn but to rescue and save…and this is why I follow Him.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about pictures…you know, snapshots, images, portraits, photographs. Pictures are everywhere, due in part, no doubt, to the fact practically everyone always has a camera (phone) with them. When I was growing up we had senior pictures and wedding pictures and that was about it…except in the country where my folks were from. They always took snapshots of their dead kinfolk in the casket. But these days we take kindergarten graduation pictures, engagement pictures and even pregnancy pictures where women show off huge, bare-skinned baby bumps. We take pictures at sporting events and banquets where our children receive trophies not for winning but for participating. We have become a society which immortalizes every event and non-event with a 10 megapixel memorial (perhaps because the pictures we take are reminders of events that are so insignificant they would be forgotten within minutes otherwise).
I read a few weeks ago that high school and college students are leaving social media sites like Facebook for sites which focus on pictures like Instagram. These sites use text and words sparingly…the story is told with a snapshot, and most of the time that story is an autobiography told with a picture of oneself. The unrestrained use of “selfies” (self-portraits) is a symptom of pandemic self-interest and self-love. It is no longer enough to take a picture of oneself, but now pictures are taken in front of mirrors so multiple self-images can be captured simultaneously. I even saw a news story this weekend about a famous photographer who has gone back and “photo-shopped” herself into famous pictures of people like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and The Beatles. Talk about making ourselves the center of attention! Camera shyness is a long eradicated disease.
There have been those who have noted the trend from text to image in our culture and have advocated for an image-based language of Christianity. I think a few years ago, maybe even a few months, this made perfect sense and represented an astute observation of our society. I would argue, however that our culture has moved past one that speaks in images to one that speaks in self-images. If an image does not represent in some way, does not connect on some level with the person looking at it, it will most likely be ignored. The marriage of self-centeredness with devices that make self-adoration so accessible has created a hideous monster-child who cannot get enough of himself.
So how is the church to respond? How can we communicate the truth about something greater than ourselves when what we are most enamored with is...ourselves? To even suggest that the gospel must start somewhere besides focused on the Cross of Christ seems at first glance like heresy. However, I would contend that a gospel that is solely focused on a subject to which no one is paying attention, is a gospel which will be ignored, passed over and go unnoticed. We sometimes think if we say it louder, with more flashing lights, in “costume” or using hipster language that somehow the gospel will become more relevant. In short…no it won’t. And not because it isn’t relevant, but because no one is looking where we’re pointing.  If we’re going to ask people to watch and listen, we must be pointing to an image they’re already interested in…and that image is them.
I would suggest this is not drastically different than what Scripture already does. If our approach is exegetical, isn’t Romans 3:10 and 3:23 a portrait of the condition of humankind? More importantly isn’t the metanarrative of Scripture a portrait of the brokenness, not of the world in general, but of us in particular? Aren’t the snapshots of Moses, David, Jonah and Peter images of the self-centered, terribly-broken human condition? Can we not assume that if the greatest of biblical heroes are tainted with moral failure, emotional breaks and cowardice in the face of peer pressure, that we are not at least equally flawed?
The difference is we have allowed the gospel to be contaminated with the “photo-shop” mentality. I saw a picture of someone I knew the other day on the internet but realized quickly the picture had been altered in order to make her look “thin.” In our obsession of a “better-than-we-really-are” falsified self-image we justify altering our image to meet criteria which we really do not meet. We in the church have fallen into the same trap. We are preaching a “You are somebody” gospel instead of an “all have sinned” gospel. We have put a “glamor-shot” spin on the image to help a lost world feel more comfortable in their “condition.” This is a fatal mistake. On the other hand however, we must never confuse the legitimate use of spiritual imagery with brow-beating, hateful attitudes, or drawing conclusions which are not ours to draw. Christ-directed imagery must show those who are broken a clear, monochromatic picture of themselves with no make-up, no colorization added after the fact, and no airbrushing out the imperfections, to help them see what is hiding behind the forced smile and blurred pixels, to see what is genuinely there, or not there, to realize the most important relationship in their quest to be fully human is broken. Remember a picture is worth…a thousand of our memorized, religion-laden words.
Once we see ourselves as we really are, we may become willing to look outside ourselves for a solution to our imperfections. This is, perhaps, when a different image, one of a Savior with outstretched arms and a healing touch, can be brought into focus. I am told by those in the “selfie” generation that photos of friends are often “compared.” If we could learn this lesson it could be the Church’s finest hour. We must learn the power of helping the world compare their “selfies” with a portrait of the Savior who came to wipe away the imperfections and the flaws not from our faces and bodies but from our spirits; a Savior who loves us in spite of our spiritual pimples, warts and big ears.
As I say, I’ve been thinking a lot about pictures lately, and I’ve found one I really like. It’s a picture of Jesus, laughing and smiling, inviting and forgiving, offering to make me over, from the inside out. It’s a picture I’ve chosen to share with others…I only hope they will take time to look.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Confessions of a Hippie-Wanna-Be

I am quick to tell you that I grew up in the 60’s, but just a little too late (much to my chagrin) to be a true hippie. I was more of a hippie-wanna-be.

I was just in time though, to be a Jesus Person. Jesus People were kind of “Jesus-hippies,” most of whom had never been real hippies, but liked the idea of long hair, bell-bottom pants, and VW vans. I liked all of that plus I loved the cool clothes, Beatles music and psychedelic posters. While my mom and dad wouldn’t let me be a hippie, they did reluctantly allow me to be a Jesus Person, but I think only because it had the word “Jesus” in it.

I had a room down in our basement that I painted with brightly colored stripes. I strung some lights up and rigged it so they would pulse with the beat of the music. I would sit down there for hours and listen to my albums and pretend to be tripping out, although I had no idea what that meant.

It was during this period of time that Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell became popular. I used to listen to the music in my hippie…I mean Jesus Person room downstairs. It was…groovy.

When the movies came out, I went to see them too. I was intrigued in both movies with how the disciples of Jesus were portrayed. Growing up in a very conservative church and home, I guess I always assumed the disciples had crew cuts and wore suits. And even if they wore something other than suits, I was certain they at least wore frowns. Every Christian I knew wore a frown…why should they be any different?

But in the movies, being a disciple, or following Jesus was portrayed as something enjoyable. The disciples actually sat around and enjoyed being with Jesus. The first song I learned from Jesus Christ Superstar was “What’s the Buzz…Tell Me What’s ‘a Happenin.’” I could just hear the disciples singing it. It was so fun to sing. But then, when Godspell came out…oh what fun the disciples seemed to be having as they danced, laughed and dressed makes me smile just to think about it.

The problem was I couldn’t reconcile what I had always assumed was true, (the disciples in their straight-laced clothing and hair styles following Jesus single file in lock-step) with the possibility that perhaps following Jesus was individual, creative, enjoyable and something that brought a smile to the faces to those in Jesus’ group (which of course was the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem).

A lot of people I talk to still think following Jesus is pretty boring and restrictive. I’m pretty sure they got that idea from us. I’m still not sure those of us who call ourselves Christians are convinced following Jesus can be a blast. Perhaps one reason those watching us are not too anxious to join us is because we look so miserable. Here’s a little idea that might help. Try singing, “What’s the Buzz” today. It’s a pretty catchy tune. Or maybe dress up as a clown and…well, maybe that’s going too far, but do something that makes you smile and maybe most importantly something that makes other people smile. I’m usually the odd one, but really I think it’s pretty great following Jesus. As a matter of fact one of my favorite things to tell people is that when I grow up…I want to be a hippie! That almost always makes them smile.