Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Own your faith because your forefathers deserve your best:

I'm amazed at the efforts we as Christians put forth to not offend.  Our faith is offensive; Jesus offend the defensive Pharisaical machine of His day.  Jesus says His followers with be on the ropes from friend, family and foe because of His message.  

That doesn't mean we try to be purposely offensive, immature, or obnoxious, it's simply true that the radical changes our faith calls for offends people.  If the Bible hasn't ruffled your feathers, maybe you need to re-read it.  If Jesus' message hasn't challenged you, maybe you aren't ready to challenge others to find their faith, yet.  

Our sinful hearts are prideful and stuck in a rut until God liberates us, and no one who thinks they are free appreciates being told they are a foolish slave to sin.  Therefore, our message is offensive, but not in a punitive way.  Think of it like an intervention with an addict; how many addicts start out immediately thanking the group?  No, there's the denial then defensiveness, and then the attacks they aim at the group and their refusal to accept personal responsibly.  Sharing the Gospel can sometimes have that same affect...

Oh, and for "religious people" or "intellectual superpowers" I Cor 1:23 clarifies most people are flat-out offended by our message, "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles..."  We either risk angering people or appear looking foolish, unless we are merely snake-oil salesmen...

More to the dangerous point I really want to make, in our efforts to not offend we sometimes try to not offend the memory of those who went before us in the faith.  It's not that I'm opposed to the proper respect due to those whose shoulders we stand on; I'm against misplaced respect that nurtures nostalgia over personal growth.  "We've never done it that way before" or a host of synonymous phrases become nothing more than the sandpaper we smooth our collective coffin with.   

A personal faith that truly honors our heritage will be a vibrant faith that goes deeper, gains more individual ownership, and reaches out with more influence on unbelievers than ever before.  If we want to authentically honor our heritage and respect our heroes in the faith, we won't memorialize the past to the extent that is handicaps our creativity or mobility to learn and grow.  Or, as Solomon put it in Eccl 7:10, "Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”  For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."

Paul wrote in I Cor 11:1-2, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you."  Paul advocated a tradition that reproduced imitators of Christ, not a cookie-cutter program that simply defended it's own self-perpetuation.  May we learn to follow Christ through those who went before us, with a consistent fresh vitality not with stale cliches that only make sense to those within our country club.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

The hardest part of change:

One lesson I'm learning well in our wilderness wandering is that looking back is pointless.  I want to look forward, perhaps more than at any time in my life.

Let me quickly circle back for one moment and say "yes" I said wilderness wandering, it's a great metaphor for where I feel we are.  Why? Having left the security of the enslavement of institutionalism, I feel like we are on the verge of the Promised land.  I can't go back to the golden-chains of the mainline, institutional structure that I was once deeply enmeshed in.  What the future is holding, only God knows for sure.  

I mean no disrespect for people who can thrive in an institutional-mainline church setting; simply put, personally I can't.  some of the people I love & respect the most are in that type of setting.  I'm not saying I'm out of full-time ministry for life, but I am saying I can't ever go back the same-ol-same-ol structure I've been in.  I love doing ministry because I want to, not because I have to. I'm thankful for being sidetracked in the desert, it's rather liberating.

Okay, back to the point I was trying to make about looking forward...
Recently we were having a great discussion with a few friends, discussing Bible things, and someone asked a question.  We had looked at a passage in I Timothy 2 at length, and we saw it in a different light than our heritage typically has.  Someone asked, "How would you help someone see this particular point?" (my loose paraphrase of their question)    

At that point something clicked in my brain, and I said, there is a certain powerful phenomena we experience when we weave/braid together: Nostalgia over our golden-years, our Comfort-zone, and our hesitation to rock the boat/upset, or make people uncomfortable.  That emotional rope can hold us back from seeing Scriptures in a fresh way.   At that point, the person who asked the question about helping others see I Tim 2 more clearly, mimicked wrapping a rope around their neck and said, if we aren't careful that rope we weave is the noose we hang ourselves with...  

So, as I work concrete these days and feel like we are being led by a pillar of Cloud by day & a pillar of Fire by night, I've thought about change quite a bit.  I know I can never go back to the garlic, cucumber or pots overflowing with meat (Check out Numbers 11:5) and I'm looking forward to where God is leading us.  Change, even when we can clearly see it is a change for the best is still hard for most of us. The hardest part of change just might be the willingness of letting go of the one so you can grab onto the other...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In God's hands:

After a 15 or 16 year break from it, I've been back into concrete full-time for a few weeks now.  My hands are past the stage in this picture, blistered; my hands are callousing up rather well..., well accept for the tips of my fingers and creases in my thumbs that have cracked open. But this post isn't about blisters or tough skin.

I want to write about how God works out awesome circumstance in my life:

For starters, one of our former neighbors had a new concrete driveway poured just days before we moved.  Tammy saw the concrete crew doing the driveway and mentioned to me that I should check-out the company.  The company had stuck a sign in the yard, kind of like a Realtor sign.  I didn't talk to the crew, but did look up the company online.  Turns out, on their website they were looking for a finisher.  Since I really only know two areas of work, ministry and concrete, I called.  I met with the owner, at Starbucks :-) and we spent the entire morning talking.  We really hit it off, and he hired me.

It gets better.  My new boss is a Christian, and, he's interested in developing his people...  He has in the past (several years in a row) taken his employees to Catalyst in Atlanta.  If you aren't in Church leadership, you may not have heard of Catalyst.  Catalyst is a conference I'd love to go to, haven't had the opportunity yet though.  

Think about this for a minute, a concrete company taking its crew to Catalyst.  To really appreciate this, picture your stereotypical construction worker in a setting like a Bible lectureship, but instead of a general audience in mind, the speakers are bent on equipping leaders.  Picture yourself at this high-powered leadership conference with speakers like Jim Collins ("Good to great"), and instead of "just" seeing preachers and youth minsters in khakis and Polos, you see a group of guys in flannels and jeans... and scruffy work boots.  Think Acts 4:13....

It is interesting to me that a concrete crew would end up at a high profile leadership seminar, one that is mostly directed to ministry leaders.  My boss paid for everyone's ticket, meals, lodging, etc.  The economy, being what it is the last couple of years hasn't been helpful, so my boss didn't take the crew last year or this year.  Oh, By the way, my boss doesn't know I blog, so this is for your benefit, no kissing-up here!  Bottom line, my respect for my new boss went way-up when I heard about the trips to Catalyst.  

I guess what I'm really trying to say tonight is that I'm feeling so very blessed right now.  I have a boss that not only is a Christian, he's truly interested in developing his people.  It blows my mind how God works.  When things went down last Spring the way they did, our friends said time and again (as they supported us spiritually and emotionally), "God has something great in store for you."  I know what they meant was, there was some awesome church "out there" waiting for us.  There was no "out there" in the end.  God had plans for us I didn't see.  We're still here, much to the surprise of most everyone.  

Don't get me wrong, concrete is tough work.  I come home exhausted, sore, and starved most nights.  But, I love where God has brought me though.  I thank God just about everyday for my job.  As much as I miss the rhythms and cycles of full-time ministry and look forward to being back in full-time ministry, God has led me to a place I never would've found on my own -- into a place where He is growing me in new and exciting ways.

One more tidbit: My blood pressure has dropped from 149/95 to 122/84, coincidence, I think not.   

Eccl 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going."