- Michael Scott to Toby Flenderson
As our church has considered Christian community over the past several months, certain things have really resonated with me. As we strive to really be the Church and truly experience Christian community, diversity cannot be ignored. I think there are a few factors that have fueled this soapbox in my life.
My background plays some part, I’m convinced. I spent nearly the first 10 years of my life in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was born in San Benito, and then lived in Brownsville and McAllen before moving to Albuquerque, NM (and finally Houston). If you’re not familiar with the Valley, trust me when I say there is a pervasive Latino culture. Whereas larger cities have pockets of other cultures like “Chinatown” or “Little Italy,” most of the Valley is “Little Mexico.” So, I grew up celebrating Charro Days and next door to a boy whose name I thought was Meho and whose grandparents I called Abuela and Abuelo. (Later I realized they were calling him “mijo” which is a term of endearment meaning “my son” and abuela and abuelo mean grandma and grandpa!) Anyway, I’ve always been pretty comfortable around Hispanic cultures/people and probably a little more sensitive to cultural diversity, in general, because of my roots.
Another factor that has increased my cultural awareness is participation in international missions. Cultural diversity will definitely cross your mind when you go from being in the majority to being in the minority with regard to skin color, language or customs! If you’re a believer, you need to engage the world with the Gospel! Houston is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. Embrace it!
More recently, I’ve even noticed some lack of diversity within our existing church crowd. I don’t mean that our church crowd isn’t reaching people different than us. That’s the point I was trying to make in my previous paragraphs! The point I’m making now is that we’ve built up walls even between our mostly white, middle-class selves. I think I’ve been more aware of it recently because I’ve worked closely with or entered into several different church demographics over the last few years.
For my first 10 years or so on staff at HNW, I worked with junior high and high school students. That was my world. My community and fellowship was with students and student workers (mostly apart from their families). Then I transitioned to the College and Young Singles (CYS) ministry. Since I started working with CYS, I have gotten married and, in the next 3 months, will have a son! The changes in scenery, community and Life Groups have been distinct!
The predominant thinking in modern church culture is to provide a Christian community for every little stage of life. And while there is definitely something to be said for affinity and the power of the shared experience, it’s still important that we pursue diversity demographically as we pursue diversity racially and culturally.
It really irks me when Christian college students don’t want to be in fellowship with Christian twenty-somethings… or when married twenty-somethings don’t want to be in fellowship with married thirty-somethings… or when married folks without kids don’t want to be in fellowship with married folks with kids... or when marrieds and singles don’t want to be in fellowship with each other… or young folks don’t want to be in fellowship with senior adults, etc. etc.
This is not the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is what Paul writes about in Galatians 3:28 when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It’s the power of Christ to break down walls and unite the different into one, in Him. Shame on us for rebuilding walls that Christ has demolished and for creating walls that never should have existed to begin with!
Because, in case you don’t realize, Heaven will not be segregated into our convenient, customizable demographics and English is not the official language. One of the sweetest blessings I've ever experienced is worshiping with Christians in other nations. It’s a great reminder of how diverse the new heavens and new earth will be! We celebrated this truth in Kenya with a favorite praise song that the children sing, boasting, “We are many, but we are one!”
If you believe the plea in the Lord’s Prayer that says “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you should appreciate diversity now, because we can’t practice for eternity in uniformity.
Ok, so quite possibly the weirdest thing to ever happen in my life unfolded tonight!
I went with some of the college guys from church to our traditional, end-of-study dinner to cap off the summer. We decided on Paul's Pizza Shop because pizza buffets and college guys go well together.
Shortly after approaching the counter I thought one of the workers there looked familiar and a named popped into my head, Adam Watson. I said, "You look familiar. What's your name?"
"Adam," he replied.
"Adam Watson?" I suggested.
"No. Adam Somethingerother."
"Oh, sorry. You look like someone I used to know."
Later in the dinner it was still bothering me as to why I thought he looked so familiar. So I toyed with the idea of pulling up a picture of Adam Watson on Facebook and showing this guy so he could see the resemblance. I at least wanted to prove to myself that he looked like the person I remembered.
So, I looked up Adam Watson on Facebook (yes, a bit stalker-ish, but I knew we had mutual Facebook friends so I didn't feel TOO creepy about it).
As soon as the real Adam Watson's picture pops up on my phone, I realize he doesn't look anything like the guy working at Paul's Pizza. So now I'm really confused as to why I made the association. Then it dawns on me that the pizza guy might resemble Wayne Watson, Adam's dad. So I Google a picture of Wayne Watson to confirm my suspicions and find that I was right! The pizza guy looks a little like Wayne Watson looked at one point in time. Enough to trigger all these associations, anyway. But then it gets SUPER WEIRD.
RIGHT AFTER THAT, THE REAL LIFE ADAM WATSON WALKS INTO PAUL'S PIZZA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was ca-razy. I was freaking out. I don't really even know Adam Watson. I just met him like 15 years ago and haven't seen him since. I told the college guys I was with who agreed that this was a freaky occurrence and then I got up and told Adam Watson all about it, too! I'm sure he thinks I'm a complete basket case, but I wasn't worried about it. He had to hear this nonsense.
And I'm so weirded out by it all that I decided to tell the world (or anyone willing to read our blog.)
I don't get it. I just don't get it. I haven't investigated all the ins and outs of abortion policy but as I understand it, the most recent legislation that was blocked sought to, among other things, ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Texas.
I believe abortion at any stage is the taking of a life. Is that not what an abortion is? There is a life that needs to be ended for an abortion to be deemed successful, yes? It's not simply a removal... it's a cessation of life. That's why Kermit Gosnell ensured "fetal demise" (killed live-born babies) in his clinic. Because the mothers chose abortion and he wanted to complete the procedure that was chosen.
Regardless, to focus (more so) on the recent legislation, how could anyone ever disregard the life of a 20 week or older fetus? It blows my mind and sickens my heart. I recently went to an ultrasound reading with my pregnant wife. Here is an image from the visit:
This image was taken at 13 weeks... 13 WEEKS.
My baby has a face, a nose, arms and legs. Baby Wilson is a person. Baby Wilson is alive. How could anyone, let alone the president of the United States, celebrate the blocking of legislation that would protect a life well after this stage of pregnancy?
I cannot wrap my mind around this thinking. Fighting for the "right" to choose? What is the choice, exactly? Can it be denied that the choice is to end a life?
Is that the logic in the argument? That women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies? Surely abortion proponents realize that the fetus is a BODY inside of a pregnant lady's body. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills and missing the point.
Pregnant ladies can't even ride roller coasters. Whose body is being protected by that policy? Where are the protests on that attack on choice?
We're worshiping ourselves. It's a scary day when each person is their own authority.
That's the self-exalting attitude that roused protesters to disrupt lawmakers in Austin. It's the same self-exalting attitude that celebrates the freedom to end the life of the unborn. And our nation is reveling in and rabidly fighting for it.
And I just don't get it.
We are a people who need fellowship with others. God has designed humans to be this way. It's not easy for all personality types to engage in fellowship with others, but that doesn't mean we don't all need it.
Consider the creation account in Genesis. God created Adam and was in fellowship with him. Before the Fall all of creation was as it should have been and yet God deemed it "not good" for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). You would think that man in fellowship with God only before the Fall would be perfect, but God didn't see it that way. God created man to be in fellowship with others. I realize that Eve was created to partner with Adam in ways that only husbands and wives are to partner (and "Hallelujah!" for those ways!), but I still believe there is a more general need for human interaction in all of us that is a part of how we've been wired.
The Trinity exists in perfect fellowship, independent of man, with three persons in one being and, man has been made in God's image (Genesis 1:26). I believe the image of God in man reflects and longs for the things that God experiences perfectly whether the person is saved or not. So, the need for fellowship is not reserved for the Church. It is a basic human requirement.
The rewards of community and the effects of isolation are manifested in good and bad ways throughout all levels of society and stages of life: parents put kids in time out, teens often seek belonging and community through gangs, prisoners are isolated to solitary confinement, people join clubs to discuss books and movies and wine, etc.
The Church, however, has to approach this need for community from a biblical perspective. If believers are to be devoted to the purposes of God since He has set us aside as His holy people (1 Peter 2:9), we need to understand community through His eyes.
As Christians, we do not have the right to avoid people in order to appease our preferences. We have been called to God's purposes. We are different parts of the body of Christ fit together by Him and submitted to His headship for His glory (Ephesians 4:11-16)
May we, as believers, better reflect God's nature in the ways we love our neighbors. May we engage our brothers and sisters in Christ in fellowship and unity to the glory of God. May we point people to Christ as we interact with each other and submit to the freedom He brings in overcoming our differences.
I'm so thankful for the community God has blessed me with and am hopeful that you will seek out and find it in your life, as well. It's not always easy or comfortable to be part of the Church, but it is our purpose and calling!
I was having a conversation with some fellow seminarians recently that got me thinking (believe it or not). This group of classmates was a mix of vocational ministers and laypeople and we were all discussing a recent trip to one of Houston's megachurches.
During our trip to this megachurch, the senior pastor led some sessions on how and why they do church the way they do. Many of his points were discussion worthy, but the one that I want to address here is his statement(s) about small groups in homes. He, if I understood him correctly, basically said that studying the Bible in homes does not work on a big scale.
I think the heart of his argument was that it's difficult to provide quality Bible teaching in an environment that is conducive to learning on a convenient schedule that fits the lives of SEVERAL families. (Enough qualifiers there?)
What seemed to stand out to me and some of my classmates was the idea that groups in homes are hard, so they "don't work" and we shouldn't pursue them. At least one of my classmates echoed the "megapastor's" sentiments that home groups pose too many problems logistically to be very effective.
This made me wonder, "What about Acts 2?" and "When did anyone ever say discipleship would be easy?" The message of Scripture, and especially of Jesus was that following Him would be difficult, painful and most likely inconvenient. Where did we lose that along the way? (Maybe I should remember from Church History...)
It's as if we've become tailors fitting Christians for the crosses they're to bear, "How's that feel? Nice and snug, but not too tight? Let me know if it's uncomfortable and we'll change it. We want you to feel the support and comfort of the cross, but not the suffering or persecution."
Hear me, I'm not arguing for self inflicted pain or asceticism. But it seems like a lot of church "strategy" is focused on making discipleship easier for people to embrace and fit into their lives. I know that we need to find ways to engage the culture, but I also know that we're not called to easy street in Luke 9:23.
Hear me again when I say I'm guilty of the very thing I'm indicting here. I just sense a dangerous trajectory in ministry that I'm sure has been around for years.
And I don't want people to lose sight of the fact that ministry and discipleship will probably be messy and will often be hard.
Jesus warned us:
Luke 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
I know I haven't experienced a fraction of the persecution that I've read and heard about, so I hope to not offend those who have from where I sit. I simply wanted to put out a reminder and a caution.
When Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30), I believe He's referring to our Spiritual efforts. The work there is finished (John 19:30)! Hallelujah! Jesus has done the heavy lifting for us!
But following Him while on Earth isn't an effortless piggy-back ride as we seek to proclaim His great gospel with our lives. The commandments to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves aren't just mental exercises (Luke 10:27).
further along, but not there yet.
can't help but think of the gospel in relation to mlk's dream. complete and final reconciliation will only come through christ...
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth ; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes ; and there will no longer be any death ; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain ; the first things have passed away." 5 And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."
the church should be leading the way in achieving mlk's dream...
A: a shepherd boy and horseshoes.
Q: name two things that can prove the sovereignty of God.
just wanted to share a few thoughts on God's sovereignty. some cool reminders have popped up recently, so i thought i'd write them down.
the first reminder that caught my attention was an aside of sorts spoken by matt chandler at a conference in maine last month. it caught my attention because it was a fresh take on a passage i have heard quoted NUMEROUS times in my life. i know that a healthy caution should be employed when anyone has a "fresh take" on scripture, but i see much truth and insight in what matt said. he referred to the story of esther, specifically mordecai's famous "such a time as this" line in esther 4:14. instead of taking the oft-used angle of "if you don't do this, it won't happen" or "if not you, who? if not now, when?" as a means of motivating people to action, matt talked about how God's sovereign plans will be executed because they are up to Him, not us. mordecai even emphasized this thinking in the same verse ("relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place").
it was an invitation for esther to, as matt says, "come and play." how humbling and encouraging that we get to take part in what God has planned! yes, we should be motivated to action by this thinking, but the emphasis is on God controlling the results, not us.
a much less significant reminder of God's sovereignty, that i "have" to mention because i put it in the title, occurred at our annual cys fall retreat. we were playing horseshoes and when i would toss a shoe that seemed like it was going to hug the stinking pole, it would crazily bounce off of the ground at some ridiculous angle and land several feet away. i needed my uncle phil's magic touch, apparently. anyway, it was laughable and made me comment, "if you don't believe in the sovereignty of God, play horseshoes."
fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. we are going through 1 samuel on sunday mornings and the account of david's anointing came up. i was reading in the preaching the word commentary series (which i have found a great teaching resource, btw) and came across another "fresh perspective" on a familiar passage.
this perspective is a bolder statement and, remember, i am not a hebrew scholar (or any kind of scholar, for that matter). the commentary on 1 samuel 16:7 mentioned that the phrase "the Lord looks at the heart" could better be translated "the Lord sees according to the heart," meaning God sees with His heart, not His eyes.
this translation would then also affect the meaning of "a man after His own heart" in 1 samuel 13:14. rather than taking this to mean that david has a heart like God's, it means that God has set His heart on david. to support this perspective, in 2 samuel 7:21, david prays that God has "according to [His] own heart" accomplished great things. apparently, the phrase "according to your own heart" is the same expression that is used in 1 samuel 13:14.
mind you, this was all presented in a commentary, i didn't come up with it!
it struck me as greatly encouraging, though! david being chosen for God's purposes was based on david's place in God's heart more so than God's place in david's heart! how much more secure and unwavering and faithful is God's heart than man's!
the Lord invited esther and david to "come and play," and He invites us, as well! and, praise God, the results of His purposes rest confidently on His will and ability, not ours!
we waver. we retreat. we balk. God doesn't.
i'm not a betting man, but considering God's will and mine, i'd go "all in" on the Almighty.
take heart, believers. God's purposes and plans for you are set in His heart!
i obviously haven't spent the last month blogging... but i still refuse to throw in the towel on this thing.
much has been happening in "my" world (school, church/ministry, etc.) but the most noteworthy is that i got engaged!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
my now fiancée, danielle, has been jokingly busting my chops for some time about never dedicating an entire blog post to her. so, in more than one way, this post has been a long time coming!
i can't believe, after so many years of singleness, i'm going to get married! and to someone so amazing, at that. danielle is beautiful, inside and out. she's funny, smart and passionate about life and the Gospel. she loves Christ and ministry and is a great student and teacher of God's Word. her smile lights up a room and her laugh lights up my heart. i could, and probably should keep going, but i'll save more praises for a later time.
danielle and i have been dating for almost a year now and have been friends for a few more than that. this may come across as crazy, but when i decided to date her, i decided to marry her (if she and her parents would have me!). this decision was reached after coming through some less than ideal circumstances and poor decisions on my part. some of those decisions deeply hurt danielle and others and, while i can't change the past that i am still sorry for, i am extremely grateful for the grace and forgiveness i've been shown.
fast forward to the past couple of months: danielle and i had been discussing marriage and what kind of timeline might be unfolding before us, so because we are rarely in the same town, i knew when she would probably be expecting a proposal.
i also know she likes surprises, so i was left with the task of figuring out how to surprise her while we're in the same town... which naturally led me to a plan that would put us in the same town when she wasn't expecting to be.
so, i arranged to go up to dallas and propose the night before she was supposed to come to houston for her fall break. a lot of things had to fall together for this to happen, namely, obtaining the ring! i won't go into details about that, but i didn't have the ring in hand until TWO days before i flew to dallas to propose...
so, i had made arrangements with my friend to pick me up from the airport while she was in class/at work. the morning of, i find out my flight is canceled! yep, of ALL the HOURLY flights from houston to dallas, mine was the only one that got canceled! and they only offered me two alternative flights, one of which wouldn't work. so, stress level got turned up a few notches. this new flight wouldn't allow my friend to pick me up and i didn't know if her roommates (i had them on back-up notice) would be available either. PLUS, if danielle got the crazy idea of skipping her thursday night class (which she never does) and coming home early, she potentially wouldn't be in town when i got there! because i started to worry about this scenario earlier in the week, i had her roommates come up with an outing that danielle could look forward to after her class and would stay in town for.
ok, so the flight worked out fine and the plan was underway. danielle was scheduled to be in class until 7:45 p.m. at which point i would be waiting for her at the bottom of the hill she usually walks down. i knew the jig would be up as soon as she saw me, so i didn't plan some extravagant scavenger hunt or drawn out process. i just didn't want the element of surprise to be lost (even though it almost was).* instead i would just walk her over to a nearby pond and propose there. her roommates were LIFE SAVERS in that they made "the spot" look AMAZING. see for yourself:
anyway, i'm waiting at the hill she's supposed to come walking down and she keeps not coming! eventually her roommates, who have been guarding the spot, call me and say she had to go to the computer lab for class and would be coming a different way. "no problem," i thought. "except it's not as visually stunning as me waiting at the bottom of a hill." probably better this way, though, so danielle wouldn't risk falling down the stairs trying to get to me. (i don't say this like i'm so desirable she'd recklessly charge at me, but because she has admitted to me that she has fallen up and down the steps of this hill before, ha!)
so i head over to her town home and wait for her there. moments later she comes walking up. awkwardly, there is a really bright light behind her, so i'm not sure it's her until she's pretty close. because of this, i was standing there trying to look happy if it was her but not creepy if it wasn't! she's less than comfortable because she's in high heeled boots (i think that's what they're called) that she got dolled up in for her girls' night out and just walked the entire campus, basically.
she takes a moment to drop off her stuff (and change her shoes) and then comes back out. when we started dating last fall, i got really intentional about pursuing her after being close friends for a long time. danielle asked me back then what made me decide to do so and i told her that maybe i'd tell her someday.
so that's how i started the conversation as we walked over to "the spot." i said "you asked me how i came to that decision, and tonight i want to tell you." i also played make you feel my love by adele on my handy dandy smart phone. i knew she loved this song and thought it would crank up the romance of the moment, heh.
so we're walking and i'm going through my "planned-but-not-scripted" proposal. we arrive at "the spot" but i start to get in my head about it (shocker to you that know me, i'm sure!) because the music is still playing. i'm thinking, "i can't stop talking before the song ends and i can't let the song end while i still have a ton to say!" so, some of the filler may not have been my most heartfelt sentiments, but alas!
the main idea i wanted to express to her was how i knew i wanted to marry her. they say, "when you know, you know." but to me that only made sense when i chose to commit. it was more like, "when you commit, you know." or "when you know, you commit." because i had such a peace and strong desire to commit to danielle, i knew. and i wanted her to know how i felt about committing to her, hopefully leaving no doubt in her mind about where i stood on spending forever with her.
so when the song eventually ended, i made it official by getting on a knee, presenting the ring and asking danielle if she'd marry me.
she said, "yes." in case you were wondering!
we then headed over to celebrate with her roomies, briefly, before heading to dinner at hattie's. we both made some crucial phone calls on the way, to let some folks know (i had to send a group text because my phone was dying.) then, the next day, i had surprise number two set up! danielle's bestest of best friends, marie, came down from oklahoma to celebrate with her! i knew this was a huge event that they'd want to celebrate and another surprise i could give danielle, so i'm glad it worked out! another friend was supposed to join us, but had to be somewhere else for a family emergency.
that night we all went to the state fair and had some engagement pictures taken by the great megan fortner.
saturday, we finally headed home to houston where we could celebrate with family! i definitely rearranged danielle's plans for fall break, but i don't think she minded too much.
*most of my wow factor was tied up in the element of surprise, so i was pretty nervous about preserving it. danielle and i usually exchange emails from work, but i knew on the day of the proposal i'd have to email her from my phone. only thing is, my phone emails don't have the same signature as my office computer emails. i didn't want this to look fishy that day, SO i started emailing danielle from my phone on monday of that week. BUT danielle didn't notice it early in the week and only noticed on the day of!!! she was already looking for the proposal, i guess, and her senses were heightened! apparently, she thought maybe i was coming into town to surprise her and kept going back and forth about it. it wasn't until her roommate texted her right before the proposal with "I'M HUUUNNNGGRRYYYY!!!!" that danielle was finally convinced i wasn't coming to dallas to propose! that's how dangerously the surprise hung in the balance and that's how easily the crisis was averted. my days of forethought were futile, ha!
i'm not talking about archie and edith, but there are a lot of us acting like meat heads.
i know i don't post often enough and i really don't know why i'm not compelled to write more often. i do know that one of the reasons that i'm ok with not having a super popular and highly commented on blog is the "discussions" that seem to arise.
maybe i'm too squeamish, but when i see tremendous brouhahas erupt like the current soul surfer back-and-forth happening at the thinklings, i get a bad taste in my mouth for blog "conversations." i'm not necessarily trying to argue for or against the merit of blogs and subsequent comment discussions (i do blog, obviously... occasionally) but the tone and fervor of some of the disagreements disheartens me.
assumed Christian brothers and sisters up at arms and going off half-cocked by not reading the entire thread or by honing in on one little phrase here or there (often out of context). it smacks of division and barriers and walls.
again, maybe i'm too sensitive and it's all just good healthy discussion, but it doesn't always feel like it. it feels like us versus them. i know i'm not the first person to think these thoughts, and there are much smarter and stronger people than i who have committed to writing and discussing via this medium. and they obviously have little to no problem with its nuances and consequences. but i'm still a little gun shy about it.
i've been burdened recently with the convenience of "clique-ation" that can be found in modern american churches. we have options to worship where we like and, even within those walls, with only those Christians we want to be around. let us not forget, believers, we are all one body and one family in Christ. when we build walls and avoid our fellow brothers and sisters due to any difference of opinion or preference, we make it easier to lose sight of the unity we are supposed to foster.
i see a lot of Christian blog conversations lining up with that multi-camp mentality. is there a way to disagree heartily and maintain unity? over some things, yes. i, personally, am not very good at it. but it doesn't look like i'm the only one.
peter writes that we are to "fervently" (strenuously) love one another and we are to be "hospitable" (loving towards strangers) (1 Peter 4:8-9). new testament believers didn't have the luxuries that we do to pick and choose which worship center had the most comfy chairs or which young marrieds shared their affinity for coldplay. their unity was in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. and peter acknowledges that it takes effort to cultivate the unity we're supposed to portray. is it wrong to gravitate towards like-minded believers? no. but it is wrong to lose sight of all the other believers around us. and it is definitely wrong to set them in our minds as adversaries. remember that by our love for one another (Christians loving Christians), the world will know that we are Christ's disciples (John 13:35).
i'm just hoping more believers will consider what the world knows them for, even if only based on our interactions with fellow Christians.
and if i might suggest, pick your battles. and continue discussions and disagreements with grace, patience and love. (reading more thoroughly doesn't hurt, either!)
God has recently been impressing upon me that Christian community is so much more than Christians being together and having good, clean Christian fun (in the name of Jesus, of course.) that's definitely part of it, and it's a part that i think believers have just about perfected.
BUT Christian community has to be something that non-Christians can't do. not so believers can take pride in the exclusivity of it, but because they are to grow "into the fullness of Christ" and "spur one another on to good works." our unity comes from the Holy Spirit, not just from our similar interests.
if the extent of my Christian fellowship can be fully experienced by a non-Christian, it isn't the fulfillment of Christian fellowship. we have to be intentional about this. getting lazy in this arena is what leads to cliques within the church, Christian bubbles that lose perspective on the lost world around them and stagnate Christians who think they're participating fully in community/fellowship but are really just staying out of trouble.
a true biblical perspective on fellowship and community won't allow us to think we can only hang out with people just like us. a passion for Christ and His Church is evidenced by a willingness to get to know people that aren't in our demographic, people who don't DVR the same shows as us, people who are too old to know what DVR is, people who aren't yet married, people who are formerly married, people whose family tree isn't rooted in north america, people that we wouldn't have eaten lunch with in high school, etc.
if we allow consumerism to drive our fellowship, we only perpetuate the idea that church is about us and what we can get out of it, taking what we like and avoiding what we don't. i'm pretty sure heaven isn't segregated.
that's not to say that Bible studies and groups formed around affinities and demographics have no place in the church. but if you allow yourself to develop the attitude that you don't need/want to be around people who are not like you... red flag!
i've said it before and i'll say it again: the Holy Spirit can't not get along with Himself. if you refuse to pursue diversity in the church, you're not walking by the Spirit.
as usual, i don't speak as someone who has mastered this, but i recognize the need for it in my life. and church, i hope you do, too.
fyi, this post was sort of inspired by this post. so you may want to read it before moving on, but you don't have to.
just hear me out. i'm not hating on bieber in the sense of "i hate his music and teeny-bopper culture." i don't have strong issues with those who are fans of his, really, either. what i don't like (and i'm not calling shrode out on this, i'm just reminded of it by his post) is people trying to tout bieber as a good Christian influence amidst a sin-filled environment. (from what i read, shrode was hopeful that bieber could stand for something other than the world and that bieber came from a faithful family that he was rooting for to direct justin in the right direction.)
this has probably been addressed at stuff Christians like, but i know that Christians like to root for famous/successful Christians. heck, i praised tony dungy and kurt warner on this very blog for the confusing contentment they've demonstrated in their post-nfl lives.
on a minor level, the danger here is promoting a celebrity as Christian in such a way that they become models in the faith when they shouldn't be. on a an extreme level, the danger is following a "Christian" celebrity so that we can label our idol worship as something much more tame, like "support."
back to what spurred this line of thinking... in the thinklings post referenced above, bieber's faith-walk was wondered about and certain evidences were given in hopes that he might be a believer who is working hard at keeping his nose clean and sending out good clean, positive vibes. (i really hope i'm not misstating or misquoting anyone.)
in the comments, someone mentioned that bieber's rolling stone cover was already a sign that he was headed for or already on a slippery slope. i went looking for said photo because i had seen things of bieber on SNL that already concerned me. i really didn't think he was a Christian role model, anyway, based on the fact that he's a secular artist. shamefully, it's the cynic in me that doubts a believer who is serious about their faith can really be wildly successful in the entertainment industry.* to me, you have to sell out to some extent to be THAT successful. at the very least they aren't characterized by their faith in Christ. i could be wrong. please remind me of examples where i am.
anyway, what i found on rolling stone's site was not the cover photo in question, but a picture of bieber flipping the bird to some paparazzo. granted, this does not mean he isn't a believer. but it is evidence that we should be extremely careful in promoting any human as a role model who isn't characterized by imitating Christ.
i don't doubt that bieber is talented. i don't doubt that his music is positive. i don't doubt that he's a generally good kid. BUT what that all adds up to is as eternally significant as charlie sheen's recent tirades. beyond that, it might even be more dangerous than sheen's "words of wisdom" because bieber is safe, cuddly and encouraging. sadly, anything short of Christ just makes for a safe, cuddled and encouraged journey to hell (unless you side with rob bell (oooooh, booyah, didn't see THAT coming did you? obligatory rob bell reference: check.)) basically, #tigerblood is just as God glorifying as #bieberfever.
so, to sum up: i don't mind if you're a bieber fan. i really don't. shoot, continue to pray for him, hope he stays out of trouble, etc. but please don't try to champion him as a Christian role model or put him on a pedestal. it's ok to enjoy secular music, really it is. as long as we don't glory in it and don't idolize those who represent it. and whatever we do, we dare not label it as "Christian" so we can embrace, stomach and parade our worship of anything/anyone other than Christ.
looking for role models? look for this attitude: "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1
wondering what to worship/promote: "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God." Psalm 20:7
"But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14
*i believe pro athletes are different because their profession/success is based more on their athletic ability than their image or message/brand.
apparently it's a chicago tradition to cheer/yell DURING the national anthem. i like the result. some may find it disrespectful, but i think it's stirring. heard an armed forces member agree. (i realize that's not universal approval.) anyway, without further ado:
i'm anti soup (for the most part*). here's why:
-soup is more liquid than solid. this is not sufficient. there are verses about this in the Bible: Hebrews 5:13-14
-i don't know how to eat it. i feel like i can't eat soup without spilling it on the table or my chin, etc. maybe i need to try smaller spoons? it's frustrating.
-soup leads to evil: Genesis 25:29-34
-soups try to deceive you by including words like "steak" ... "taco" ... "tortilla" in their descriptions. don't fall for it. it's still soup.
-soup usually consists mainly of "broth." G-to-the-ross.
-i'll throw down some hot & sour if it comes with a chinese lunch special (as it often does).
-i like chili and gumbo and do not consider these "soups."
-i like olive garden's "zuppa toscana" ... again, as a meal supplement.
i didn't plan on writing a like list but my recent trip to HEB demands one!
so here's my "why i love HEB" mini like list:
-they have see-through egg cartons so you don't have to open them to find out if any eggs are broken.
-blue bell's caramel sundae crunch is BAAAACK! it's been so long. (i realize this is not necessarily a reason to love HEB, but just go with it.)
-they have a coupon for a free box of HEB frosted flakes when you buy a box of kellogg's frosted flakes. hello? this deal is awesome, especially considering i was gonna buy a box of HEB frosted flakes straight up. suckers.
-it's from texas.
-no silly card to swipe. just lower prices. i think. i don't really compare!
inspired by a segment on the dan patrick show called "against the grain," i thought i'd share some of my sentiments that i THINK fly in the face of the general consensus.
-i don't like lemon in my water.
if i wanted flavor, i wouldn't be drinking WATER. not to mention the pulp and seeds dirtying things up.
-i don't like glee.
i recently affirmed a facebook post where the author said they didn't like glee because the songs are worse than the originals and the show is "totes inapprops" (totally inappropriate, mom.) i didn't expound on my distaste there, but i will here. i don't have a problem with someone not liking glee because it's "inappropriate," but i realize most shows on tv could be avoided and labeled as such. so, i don't cast the first stone on those grounds. my beef with glee is that it is inappropriate and markets to young audiences like a wolf in sheep's clothing. it pushes the tolerance of sin but masks it as love for people. it's like a machine of desensitization. i also REALLY have a problem with story lines that urge you to root against marriages, even "bad" ones. just really rub me the wrong way. we all have our soapboxes, that's one of mine.
-i prefer grey, overcast days to clear, sunny ones.
basically because they're more visually interesting/appealing. also because they're usually cooler, temperature wise!
-i'd rather walk to/from my car in the rain than run.
this stems from a fear that i'm more likely to eat it while running, so i'd rather get soaked than risk making a big fool of myself.
-i prefer old school, wooden pencils to mechanical ones.
not a lot of justification here... i don't like the clicking, the graphite breaking, the cheap plastic feel... all seems weak and too synthetic to me.
confession: i like words. i like phraseology. i've probably blogged on such things before, but if i've forgotten about it, chances are you all have, too!
i focus on words maybe too much sometimes. for instance, if a person is giving a really heartfelt speech or delivering an impassioned sermon or something and speaks incorrectly, i'll get hung up on the mistake. i often miss the impact that others experience because of my focus. that's how i roll. it can be a detriment, to be sure.
on the other hand, i can often appreciate things that others miss because of my word-centric determination. once when talking to a friend about movies and what we liked about them, she opined about the way they made her feel with general appreciation for the mood or something (can you tell this is a foreign concept to me) while i explained that i appreciate the writing that goes on a page before an actor even delivers it.
obviously, delivery and music have a lot to do with the power of a quote in the context of a song or show or movie. so, props to those who frame the words so effectively.
and undoubtedly, the most memorable lines from our favorite movies, shows and songs are the blending of great writing and great delivery. guess i just don't want anyone to overlook the brain that thought them up in the first place. it's just like running backs get all the glory while their opportunities come from a thankless offensive line. tracking with me?
to craft statements that actually evoke response, whether it's laughter, inspiration, encouragement, contemplation or simply instruction, is a really great thing, i think.
consider the power that God has associated with words. He spoke creation into being. He didn't have to. but He did. His two greatest and fullest revelations to humanity are Jesus (called the Word) and the Bible (the written Word). faith unto salvation comes from hearing the word of Christ (romans 10:17)!
i'm not trying to condone my grammar-nazism as biblical ; ) just trying to put some insight into the value of words! i also understand we're not all created to be wordsmiths and that there is definitely value in emotion/feeling apart from syntax (as alien as it may be to me!). and, yes, i realize that my lack of capitalization is contradictory to my entire post. i was an art minor, for goodness sake, allow me SOME creative license!
AND, don't get me wrong. i'm no scrabble champ... but i DID win the 3rd grade spelling bee...
so here's to words! go do a crossword puzzle or something.
better yet, leave some of your favorite quotes, lines, lyrics, etc. in the comments section!
due to a need for content and the recent inspiration/reminder by my sister-in-law and her "good lists," here's a "good list" for you, quick six version:
-witmygracesays (the twitter account my brother started where he posts things my niece, grace, says)
-blue bell's "milk chocolate" ice cream (tastes like a wendy's frosty)
-chick-fil-a's honey roasted bbq sauce (SO good. also, looking forward to the chick-fil-a spicy chicken sandwich due next month.)
-volleyball nights are imminent
-david platt's radical (well the first chapter, at least... that's as far as i've read)
-got to go to radio music theatre the other night AND sat on the front row! (i laugh hard every time i go)
first, the incomparable keith green. he speaks some great words, too, when he's not singing. ("you know what the greatest healing is? it's the healing of the sin-sick soul.") LOVE IT!
and one of my all time faves for nostalgia's sake:
i recently heard some staggering sbc stat on the declining number of student baptisms over the last several years. i'd be lying if i tried to quote it. trust me, it's staggering. baptisms are down across the board, but students (ages 12-17) are WAY down. of course, much is being discussed as to "why?"
not coincidentally, i'm sure, is the fact that about 40% of sbc churches have plateaued in membership while roughly 30% are increasing and the remaining 30% are decreasing. that's a lot of stagnation and decrease.
i have a few theories on this. please consider the following my very humble opinions and perceptions from my limited experience. i hope they make sense.
i've daringly broached the subject before of parents worshiping their kids and may come close to that territory again here. i am not a parent, so i tread lightly.
i think there have been trends in familial life and trends in churches that have compounded the woes of evangelical student ministry but i can't point to which is the chicken and which is the egg.
parents and students now, more than ever it seems, are so focused on academia, extracurriculars, resumé building and "giving their kids what they never had" that the church and, more importantly, the Church are being neglected.
if soccer or band conflict with Bible study, guess what's getting nixed. now, hear me... i don't think merely attending Bible study is of greater value than soccer or band. BUT i think negligent attitudes towards spiritual matters can quickly be inferred if Christian parents aren't diligent to battle them. parents are right to stress the importance of grades, scholarships, etc. but Christian parents should somehow also show/teach their kids that spiritual matters are far more important. i believe, on the whole, this is not happening. more and more parents are relying on the church to be the main disciplers of their kids, but kids whose parents don't really value discipleship are not likely to see value in discipleship.
a similarly dangerous attitude that i think has evolved in student ministry over the years is the idea that student ministry simply equals good, clean fun. on this front, parents AND churches are to blame. this is where i won't venture to guess which is the chicken and which is the egg. over the last 50-60 years, youth groups have become a place where students can have fun, be accepted and stay out of trouble. parents like this. students, generally, like this. but this is not all there is to being the Church. this is moralistic day care.
i'd be interested to see the stat of how many "sweet" youth buildings were built over the last 50 years... how many pool tables, coffee bars and video game stations were installed? (and i serve at a church with a great youth building, so "hello kettle. it's me, the pot. you're black.") line that stat up next to the declining number of baptisms. where has our focus been?
it's been on entertaining. it's been on wowing. it's been on competing with culture and it's been on attracting. many parents and churches like that and still think that's what a good student ministry is supposed to do. i've seen some fruit from that era, no doubt. but most of the students that were reached from that type of ministry stayed connected to church and ministry because someone invested into them on a deeper, more personal level. (and, of course, the holy spirit caused the growth.)
the oft used adage is, "what you win them with is what you win them to." until parents and churches get on the same page about what student ministry should really be, i don't think we'll see much change in plateaued and declining student ministries. (again, i'm hoping and praying for change in my own ministry, not just pointing fingers.)
this is why students don't know what real life in Christ is and parents are confused when their "good" kids get in to trouble or completely walk away from church. teaching Biblical values to the lost is only producing well behaved (and often resentful) unbelievers. which i understand is unavoidable as nearly EVERY crowd has unregenerate people in it. BUT if we skip the cross altogether and jump to discipleship, we've erred, not the crowd. you want kids to have manners, firm handshakes and impressive credentials, send them to boy/girl scouts. you want to teach them that apart from Christ, they are nothing, preach the cross to them in your homes AND in your youth buildings. i realize that many students don't have believing parents to set that example. but that's another reason we can't "afford" to have Christian parents who don't value the cross acting as surrogates for these students.
as i've said before, we need to stop trying to reach/look past the cross for greater fulfillment. and we certainly don't need to stop short of it (as is often the case). we need to cling to it, kneel at it and proclaim it.
i hope to be a parent some day, even though the thought of it scares the mess out of me. so, parents, please don't take offense. i can't pretend to know what that role is like. i hope i haven't spoken out of place. i'm just offering my observations and theories... in an adamant manner ; )
(as a current student minister (and former youth), though, i think i can speak somewhat credibly concerning what i've seen in student ministry over the past 20 years!)