Monday, February 28, 2011

Conflict

It would be really easy for me to quote Matthew 18:15-17 for you. For those unfamiliar, that's the part where Jesus instructs us on how to deal with brothers who sin against us. And is anyone else like me, just hoping to someday see the 3rd option take place in Church?

I can see it now. The pastor stands up and outs the jerk who refuses to apologize, even though he was confronted by his small group of friends. All pandemonium breaks loose as the congregation chants 'Jerk, jerk, jerk' until he finally breaks down into tears and makes it all better. Then kittens and bunnies are released by the ushers to run amongst the pews, helping everyone to celebrate the joyous victory of this reconciliation.

Ok, I may have lost some of you there. You've probably never seen that and never will. The real problem is that not all conflict is because of outright sin on someone's part. Sometimes people just don't see eye to eye. Sometimes living with family members will cause tension. I used to think that kids would be easier than college roommates. After all, they are smaller and you can boss them around. That's a lesson I'm still un-learning.

Regardless, how do we handle conflict when matters of opinion aren't supported by Scripture? How do we let go of matters that matter, but only to us?

Well, Jesus' words in Matthew 18 can actually still help us, even if not in a disciplinary manner. The first step is to talk. I know, what a concept. I just blew your minds. The key is talking to the right person. If my issue is with my wife, the first person I talk to about the issue should not be my children, my co-workers, the mailman or Dr. Phil. I need to talk with my wife.

If the matter is not as simple as the color of paint in the bathroom, then step two could be to bring along some trusted friends. This is not to be confused with getting support for your side of the argument. This is seeking out the opinions to see what another person's perspective might look like.

When all else fails, listen to your pastor. (I was not paid or bribed by any senior pastor into saying this.) I'm not talking about complaining to your pastor. Remember, no sin in the issue means not making this bigger than it is. But all pastors preach on relationships and conflict at least 14.5 times per year. I think that's like a minimum league salary in other sports.

Listen to some wisdom that your pastor offers on relationships. Soak in the words from Jesus and writers of the Bible, who knew a thing or two about tension in relationships. Who knows, once you're done taking notes, you may even forget what you were concerned about in the first place.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Next Christians

I have to be totally upfront and honest about this. When I went to Waterbrook/Multnomah's blogging for books site in order to select a book, I did not want to select this book. There was a choice between this book, The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons, or some novel that had Lifetime movie written all over it.

I selected this book anyways because I figured it would be interesting enough. Then I could select another book that I actually wanted. (As it turns out, it was a glitch in their website on the very day I was selecting my next book. I guess I should exercise more patience.)

Now you know that Waterbrook/Multnomah does not make me say anything positive about the book. However...

I absolutely loved this book. This might get filed under I-can't-believe-I-ever-didn't-want-to-read-this-book. (I know, I have a very lengthy filing system that needs to be worked on.)

Gabe Lyons has done an outstanding job with this book. A few years ago he co-authored Unchristian, which I also read. Let's just say it was good, but could be seen as a bit hard and long to get through. The Next Christians uses that as a foundation but goes so much further.

It is, at the same time, an honest reflection on what is wrong with the Church and an optimistic view on what we could become. Even as I write that, I realize that is a bit understating the facts.

Gabe takes six different topics and details how the next Christians are interested in doing what the Church should always be about. And never fear, the next Christians does not simply refer to those in the youngest generation. Oh no, this is a mind-set. It is a set of values that many of us would say we have, but all of us need to embrace.

What he does is simply genius because he does not ask anybody to change what they believe. He offers how we should take those beliefs and apply them differently in the world around us. Just take some of the chapter titles for example; Provoked, not Offended / Creators, not Critics / Grounded, not Distracted / Countercultural, not Relevant.

All of it is based on this idea of restoration, best summed up in this quote;

God's story is made up of four key parts: creation, fall, redemption, restoration (and ultimately consumation). The truncated Gopel that is often recounted is faithful to the fall and redemption pieces of the story, but largely ignores the creation and restoration components. These missing elements are at the heart of what a new generation of Christians are relearning, and subsequently, retelling.
(The Next Christians, page 51)

This is great read and a must apply.

You can pick up a copy from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing.
You can see more of what Gabe does at www.qideas.org

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Luke, You're the Prince!

I look forward to supper at my house. It has nothing to do with the food, although my wife can cook quite well. It has to do with the creativity that is unleashed like a group of teenage boys at a all-you-can-eat buffet. We encourage creative storytelling in our home. And our 4-year old, fondly referred to as Jilly-Boo, has taken a liking to spinning her tales.

About a year ago the stories were little more than a listing of characters. The sister became a princess, her brother, Luke, was named the prince, and king and queen were left for mom and dad. After the characters were all listed there was little time left for telling a story. But as the months have gone by we've heard tales of dragons and hobos bested by the efforts of the king and prince.

The stories are great. But the choice of who becomes whom is not always readily accepted by the siblings, especially Luke. He wants to be a knight or a ninja, someone who has a real chance to bring a beat down. So even after he has been cast as the prince, he'll raise his hand at the hopes of becoming someone else in the story. This causes Jilly-Boo to stop mid-casting, turn to her brother and remind him, 'Luke, you're the prince.'

I can't say I blame him. His sister's creativity is somewhat limited to Disney princesses and Dora the Explorer. There's not a whole lot of danger or change in the story. I don't always want to be the king. I want the Academy to know I have flexibility in my acting abilities.

Even in real life I am not always content with my role. I often want to be someone else. I have a hunch I am not alone. We often need to be reminded of who we are. What's more, we need to be told, and re-told, that who we are is a good thing.

The fact is that we are created, with care, by a Master Creator. Better yet, when we put our trust in Him, we are no longer defined by our choices. The Apostle Paul says it well in his second letter to those crazy Corinthians.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
If you're listening to the same story you've heard before, perhaps you need to be reminded of your real role. You're not leftover and used. You're not a has-been or a never-was. You're not the person the world has tried to pigeon-hole you into being.

You are loved.

You are cheered for.

You are watched and cared for by God.

Insert your name here, for you are the prince. And like any child of the King, you have a happily ever after in store for you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Much Do You Want?

Consumerism is our rear view mirror and God is in the blind spot.

Confused? So am I because when my dad was teaching me to drive he told me the driver's blind spot was a myth. 'Maniacs on the road just need to learn how to adjust their mirrors.' Regardless of the veracity on that little piece of parental advice, I do believe that our consumer mentality is causing us problems.

I listen to sports talk radio and I heard two similar stories this morning that make me wonder if I should have practiced my batting swing more as a kid. A pitcher for the Yankees is talking about opting out of his 90-million dollar contract so he can sign a bigger contract. Another player is asking his team to sign him for a 10-year, $300-million contract. (Excuse me for a moment while I ponder in which pocket to place the dime I just found.)

How much do you want? It's not just athletes who crave more. I watch families, including my own, as we take a look at our busy schedules and figure out how we can squeeze just one more appointment in. Much like George Costanza's wallet (from Seinfeld), our schedules are filled with too much. We just can't fit in everything, so choices have to be made.

But what seems to be missing is what God wants. Relax, there is no faith versus works discussion coming. But I did find a long sentence from the Apostle Paul which ends with 'this is God's will'. I don't know about you, but that phrase is like an excited 7th grade girl who updates her status in bold print, ALL CAPS and no less than 17 exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So what does God want for us? 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. There are 3 things.
  1. Be joyful always.
  2. Pray continually.
  3. Give thanks in all circumstances.
Among some of the things found in the Bible, this would appear to be towards the easier side of things. I would even say this could be the simple outline for each of our days.

Be joyful - start your day choosing to make this day a good day. After all, today is the day the Lord has made. You're alive, so rejoice (Psalm 118:24). In many ways, this day will be what you make of it.

Pray continually - the whole day should be one full day of keeping connected with God. Clearly, that won't mean that you have your hands folded and head bowed all day. But consider your day and ask yourself, 'Is there anything in my day that won't be better if God's involved?'

Give thanks - end each day with a thank you to God. After all, no matter how many hard things came your way, you did survive. If nothing else, thank God for that.

I believe that God is looking for a change in perspective in His creation. Instead of constantly consuming and looking out for ourselves, we should be on the look-out for the real #1.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Relationships Make Everything Better

This post could just as easily be labeled My Sunday in Review or One Way People Could Apply My Sunday Sermon in Their Lives. But the first one makes it all about me, which is totally against what this blog site is about. The second is a tad wordy besides focusing on me.

Despite the fact that today's content is in fact a rundown of my day, don't be fooled into thinking it's about me. It's not. But here's what I learned from my day.

For me, it was the second week of filling the pulpit. Doesn't that sound awkward? Simply put, I preached. Unfortunately, it was also the second week of our church experiencing technical difficulties with anything that could be plugged in. Despite that, the services went well, which is to say that God was still the focus. It helped that the people in attendance are fun to be around, in spite of the circumstances.

The second part of this past Sunday revolved around a little football game that was played. Perhaps you heard about it. More people watched this than that final episode of MASH. I have never been a fan of steel or cheese, so I didn't care who won this game. That could make for a boring night, except my home was filled with many teenagers who share my love for awkward and humorous commercials.

It's relationships, people! This can't be overstated. There was nothing spiritual about the Super Bowl, except praying for the Black eyed Peas to hot two correct notes in a row. Praying for God to bless the pizza and Gold Dip* to our bodies seemed to be an oxymoron.

People were together for the sake of being together. That's important.

I wasn't there in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve got caught in their sin. I can only imagine that God felt the deepest sadness by the wall that now separated Him from His creation. I imagine that god had some pretty great conversations with Adam and Eve, but I don't think they were all theological in nature. In fact, I bet God, more than once, told Adam he looked funny without a belly button. But maybe that's just me.

Let's not ever forget that part of the Gospel story is relationships being restored. They are that important. And they do make everything better.

*Gold Dip is nothing to get excited about. It's cheese and chili, but for teenage boys, it's the jackpot of party food.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why Attendance is Important

As a pastor, I believe in the power of meetings. Call me naive, but I think stuff can still be accomplished at them. Plus, I have a fear of missing them. I worry about what will be discussed in meetings when I am not there.

This is not a simple junior-high fear of wondering what people are saying about me behind my back. No, like any long-term church members should know, I fear being volunteered for something I don't want to do. (Or as Jon Acuff calls it on Stuff Christians Like, being volun-told.)

Some people might call this an irrational fear. After all, you can just tell the committee later that their good idea will be great, just as long as someone else besides you has to carry it out. That works, right? Good luck carrying out that plan with a committe chair trained to get volunteers, willing or unwilling.

But I finally have Biblical proof that missing meetings is a bad idea, a very bad idea.

All the proof I need is found in Genesis 34. A young lad by the name of Shechem falls in love with Dinah, Jacob's daughter. Now, if you actually go and read the story, you're going to find some extra-curricular activity going on that is the subject of stuff not normally put in song, but I want to skip ahead.

Shechem falls in love and asks Jacob for his daughter's hand in marriage. Jacob seems ok with it, but Dinah's brothers have other plans. So they demand that Shechem and his whole town be circumcised.

Ok, first of all, this isn't like asking a guy if you can borrow $20. This gets very personal, very quickly. But Shechem seems to not even realize what circumcision is and he gets one quite hastily. (Genesis 34:19)

This is when the meeting happens. Shechem and his dad, Hamor, go and have a meeting with the leaders of the town. They explain that Shechem wants to marry Dinah and that Dinah's family will only allow the marriage if they all get circumcised. Convinced it's a good idea, they all agree.

WHAT!?!

Do they even know what a circumcision is? Was there an instruction manual? Did they see Shechem limping? Couldn't they just send gifts or money as a nice wedding gift?

I can't even begin to imagine hearing about the meeting afterward as every dude in town is called together for the wedding preparation. "Shechem wants us to do what?"

If I'm not at that meeting, I'm raising some objections. I believe I would instantly have a new resoluton to NEVER MISS A MEETING AGAIN.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pigeon Holing People

I think some people have one identity. Ok, that sounds weird. All of us only have one identity, though many of us entertain several inner voices. What I mean is that while each of us have many hobbies and interests, there are some people who get pigeon holed. One of their interests becomes the showcase that people know them for.

Sometimes it's a job they have. For some people, it's their haircut. Whenever I think of Billy Ray Cyrus, which is often, I think mullet. Sorry Billy Ray, but I do.

The same thing happens with people in the Bible. I think I can guess the words you would associate with certain characters. After all, what is Samson without his hair, Jonah without his great big fish, David without Goliath or Moses without his burning bush?

But, just like us, these people from the Bible were deepr than that. And there is one character that I think I get more now that I have applied this truth.

If I were to mention Sarah, you might simply think, wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. Oh, but there's so much more. Don't any of the other parts of her story fascinate you?

She worries about God's promise coming rue, so she tells Abe to sleep with Hagar, her maidservant. Abe does and Hagar gets pregnant. No Sarah is mad at Hagar and mistreats her. What's up with that, Sarah? It was your idea.

How about Sarah laughing when she hears God talking? Besides being inappropriate to doubt God's word in such an audible way like that, she lies about it. Really?

I guess it really shouldn't surprise us that Sarah was an up and down kind of lady with her emotions. For starters, she was in the middle of one roller coaster ride of a life. You try moving from everyone you know because God tells your husband that your family is going to be a great nation, then you watch as wrinkles form faster than your family. How about getting to be a 90-year old first-time mom? Yeah, that might cause some problems.

I think the real issue lies in how we see her. We recall how she birthed Isaac at the age of 90. We cringe at the thought of our grandparents having a baby, say 'ewww', and then read on about Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. We remember the wrong parts when considering Sarai.


Here is where my perception of Sarah changed. Early on, we're told that she was stunningly hott, with two t's. The Bible doesn't say the part about the t's, but we're told that Abraham had her lie, twice, about being his wife. He was so scared that other men would kill him just to be with her. That's hot.
This piece of information changes everything. We no longer need be surprised if Sarah is moody one moment and laughing the next. Ask any man and he'll tell you that all the beautiful women are a tad more difficult to deal with.

Don't blame me ladies. It's in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Seems to be a Theme

As far as pastor's schedules goes, this one was considered a full day. In fact, my Sunday could not have held but one other teaching opportunity.

I praught in the morning. (Even though I have the helpful red line underneath praught, I'm holding my ground on this spelling. If the past tense of teach is taught, then the past tense of preach should be...?)
I taught at a youth group meeting that night, followed by a college group meeting. All in all, it was a good day. As I prepared for each of these unique meetings, I never saw a common theme building. But at the end of the day, it was unmistakable.

Here's the recap. In the morning I talked about how important connecting with people is in our lives. (By the way, it's Tuesday now and I still believe it to be true.) At my youth meeting, we discussed how to find happiness despite our circumstances. And in the night cap, college students and I discussed our true identity in Christ.

As amazed as I probably shouldn't be, the same theme kept returning. It is a simple, yet overlooked, truth. We never actually know what is going on in someone else's world. We can take steps toward being part of other people's lives, but it also takes them openly sharing their world with us.

I saw it again in my Bible reading this morning. I finished Genesis, which ends with Joseph, of technicolor dream-coat fame, being proved right. It's a story that takes the last 14 chapters of Genesis to tell, so let me be brief in my recap.

Joseph, the second youngest brother, has dreams where his brother bow down to him. It's fine to have the dream, but Joe decides to share it, inciting his brothers to sell him as a slave to Egypt, where God does what only God can, placing Joe in charge of all Egypt during a famine, during which Joe's bros come and (wait for it) bow down to him.

I'm all for God doing the miraculous, but Joe seems to be one of those guys that you wished were wrong every once in a while. I'm just saying.

But just as the story is about to end and you think the scene will fade to black while some tender song about friendship plays, we have one last moment of drama.

Joseph's brothers wonder if, after their father has died, Joseph will hold a grudge and put the beat-down on them. It's not all that crazy a thought. After all, it's probably what they did every time their dad turned his head at the dinner table. Anyone with a sibling knows how that game works. Parents look away and you take a shot at your brother or sister and then shove a forkful of food in your mouth to complete the picture of innocence.

But Joe didn't see this coming. He starts crying. He thought his brothers knew he had forgiven them. He assumed they were all good again. But he didn't know what was going on in their heads.

This seems to be a theme. We wonder what others are thinking. Instead of asking, we assume. Then we act on those assumptions. When this happens, crisis is unavoidable.

Perhaps we could change the theme.