Monday, May 28, 2012

Birds of a feather eat together, laugh together, and play hard together!

There's an old Russian proverb: "Show me who your friend is, and I'll tell you who you are."

One consistent piece of advice Tammy & I  repeatedly give to people we are ministering to, is to select healthy friendships.  When we are reaching out or simply counseling with someone, we remind them of the truth that we will be like the people we spend the most time with.  For new believers, we warn them of the need sometimes to find a whole new set of friends; leaving their old life behind them for "good".  For people who are being drug-down, we point out the bad influences and the effects of the unhealthy people in their life.  It seems like commonsense, but some people have a hard time recognizing what-a-hold the people around us have on us.

When our older boys were growing up, and for our younger two still at home, I have often quoted I Cor 15:33, which pretty much says: Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals/character.  Before they spent the night at a friend's house, we wanted to meet their friend & their friend's folks.  If there was trouble at school, we asked who were they with.  When they went off to college, we counseled them to find friends who were good students, not just good video-gamers...  One of the hardest times of parenting is guiding your child away from a friend that will drag them down, it's hard but the pain is worth it.

The paradox here is, we are called to reach out to sinful people, but we need to steer clear of certain unhealthy people too.  Well, it's not an either/or situation where we either spend all of our time at the Hog Wild Saloon or secluded and insulated in the Sanctuary.

Consider the time in Jesus' ministry when He was slandered for hanging out with the wrong crowd:   "And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”"  (Mark 2:15-17 ESV)

For us to share the good news with lost people, we have to be in constant contact with them.  Yes, sinners.  People who don't yet share our values.  So, we spend time with people who would corrupt us?  Aren't we risking violating I Cor 15:33?  There's a difference between giving of yourself, and giving yourself away.

What keeps us anchored then?  Acts 2:42 reveals several activities the early church engaged in, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  It's easy to overlook, but the early church was devoted to fellowship.  Prayers & Bible study, rituals like Communion, that all comes to mind easily enough when thinking about "church," but fellowship?  Hanging out?  Eating meals?  Yes.  I think playing board-games or grilling out together is equally as valuable for our development as hearing a sermon.

For any congregation to bond, it takes more than seeing the back of each other's head, in the pew in front of you.  Also, there has to be a balance between service to community, worshiping, studying, and down-time.  It's Biblical.  It's smart.  It's essential.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Doing what you love:

Lately I've been quite busy in the evenings.  As it would turn out, I've been blessed to work on a writing project that is stretching my skill levels.  We have a deadline approaching, like the end of this month, yet time-wise I feel fine.  I told Tammy last night I could write all day long, but... if I never edited other people's writing again, that would be okay with me.  My mind was numb by about 10 p.m.  In other words, I enjoy writing, but going over someone else's material with a fine-tooth comb isn't so energizing to me...

I did fine for the first 100 or 120 pages of editing, but last night I ran out of steam.  Everything eventually seemed to be blurring together.  I found myself re-reading the same paragraphs several times, and then I decided to take a break.  Looking up correct spellings, tweaking the structure, checking facts, and catching homophones all caught up to me.  I hit it again for a while tonight with my mind refreshed, and I feel like in another week my part will all be wrapped up.

Jacob and I were driving tonight to "flock" someone with pink flamingos for the Relay for life, and I was thinking about the way I like writing and about how people in general do best when we do what we love.  Then out of the blue, Jacob was telling me that he heard there might be a new factory going up here in Kingsport.  My first thought was, I hope the company I work for takes a shot at doing the concrete!  The second thought I had was, I would like the consistency factory work would provide, but not the actual work.  Doing the same thing over and over again on an assembly-line would be tough for me.

Can you see the difference between building the factory and then working in it, at least from my perspective?  Constructing the factory is attractive to me, but the purpose/logistics of what takes place afterward bores me.  I could get my feet moving every morning building the factory, but by nature, I'd probably have a hard time finding the motivation to punch a clock there every day.  Why is this important?

The Bible says to find what you love to do, and work hard at it.   "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." (Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV)  Work, labor, occupation/vocation isn't a curse either.  God set Adam in the Garden to work the soil before he & Eve ate the forbidden fruit...  We were created to partner with God, not as inactive recipients of Creation, but active caretakers as well.

I guess I feel blessed.  I enjoy the work I do.  I like concrete a lot, and of course I enjoy working in ministry.  Being bi-vocational, i.e., being a tentmaker, is rewarding.  I don't need extra motivation or prodding to get me moving in the morning.  I think it would be torture to be employed in an area that you dreaded.  I think the search for finding a career that you love is nearly as important as selecting a spouse.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers movie was Marvelous

We saw the Marvel movie the Avengers tonight and it was awesome. There won't be any plot-spoilers in this post; this isn't really a "movie review" either.   I am encouraging you to see it though.  Why? Without the use of sensuality, substance abuse, or gratuitous profanity, the Avengers delivered a great plot and an entertaining movie; a rare quality in movies these days.

Before I get too far, I want to share one of my favorite lines from the movie.  Captain America is responding to a comment about the antagonist, Loki, and Captain America says, "There's only one God, and I'm sure He doesn't dress like that."  People in the theater clapped in response, so I guess I'm not the only one who liked his line.  

The movie's plot was straightforward, Loki was the bad guy, and the Avengers needed to work together if they want to take him down.  The deeper level of the plot though is in the battle between good and evil, the good guys need to be in sync.  The greatest value of the movie's plot was how it revealed how in the battle between good and evil, if the good guys are divided, then evil prevails effortlessly.

What I liked even more though, is how the movie's plot brought out that the "good" guys have many failings. For example, the leader over the Avengers, Nick Fury relies more on subterfuge than transparency. Each Avenger had a major shortcoming, liabilities and imperfections the others were able to see clearly and the antagonist uses these faults to drive wedges between them whenever possible.  I.e., Iron Man had pride and vanity, Captain America was out of touch, Thor had ego & identity problems, and the Hulk was uncontrollable because he was controlled by rage...  And the greater lesson was within these different personalities of the good guys, their personal strengths complemented the team in such a way that the team would be incomplete without each member.  

This might sound bizarre, but I see the Avengers as a great movie that a leadership team at a church could utilize and develop a weekend retreat around.  The church of today needs to see the teamwork that developed among the Avengers, despite their differences and their weaknesses.  And, without spoiling the plot: when people we are close to betray us, we need to receive them back into the fold when they come to their senses.