Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Quickies



Good Morning and happy Monday - here are my Monday Quickies:

 - My son may only be 4, but he can already sarcastic at an 8th grade level.

 - More people have been married to Kim Kardasian than have died from Ebola in the U.S.  Just Sayin'.

 - I was blessed to be on an ordination council Saturday that included Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Cooperative Baptist, CME, AME, and Pentacostal ministers - and those are just the denominations we claim as of Saturday!  It was a special time, and my prayer is that will help the two men in their lives as ministers.

 - Jennifer turned her back for 1 minute this morning, and Amelia used that time to draw all over my dresser with a dry erase marker.  "I need you to hear me. You are not safe. No matter if you think you’re safe, you think you know everything about what’s going on around you, you’re not safe. No matter how many people are around you're not safe.  It only takes one second."

 - Labels lie.  That was my sermon yesterday, and its oh-so-true.  "Too old.  Too young.  Too fat.  Too inexperienced.  Too far gone."  These are all lies.  The only label you should wear is the one that says "beloved."

 - Some costume ideas I had, riffing off an idea Jennifer told me this morning about Quincy Taylor Swift: 
  1. George Jefferson Davis (talk about a guy that would hate himself from both sides!)
  2. Benjamin Franklin Graham - I don't think the son of Billy would approve of this founding father's lifestyle!
  3. Benedict Arnold Jackson - Whatchu talkin' 'bout George Washington!  I'm going to the other side!
  4. Harry Truman Capote - Give 'em Hell Harry!  Or at least Breakfast at Tiffany's.
  5. William Tecumseh Sherman Hemsley - ok, so George Jefferson ends up on the list twice.

Feel free to add more to this list!

Have a great Monday and a great week!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Quickies


My Monday Quickies:

Listen to people who disagree with you, and stop assigning motives to them that they don't assign to themselves.  For example:  So and so is a Christian who believes in evolution, so he/she is trying to go along with the "world."   It could just be so-and-so has just as much genuine love for the Bible as the speaker, they have just sincerely come to a different belief.  Or, to be fair:  Such-and-such voted against increasing SNAP, they obviously hate poor people.  It could be such-and-such just genuinely thinks there is a better way to help poor people.  I could honestly list a berjillion examples of this maddening phenomenon.

There is more hyperbole in the world today than grains of sand on the shore.  If ISIS is an "existential threat," then Congress should have come back from campaigning and reconvened, the President should have joined them, and together with our NATO allies, and/or the UN, we should be sending hundreds of thousands of the best trained troops with the best equipment there yesterday.

Best "Walking Dead" episode in a long long time!

I'm already tired of political ads, especially ones that don't make sense.  Also the ones that need to refer to quickie number 1.

I know its "cool" to talk about loving Jesus while simultaneously picking apart the church, but I don't know what I would do without the people of Grace Crossing.  Good hearted, good spirited, good people.  We may not be "cool," and we certainly don't teach easy answers, quick-hit, me-focused "Christianity," but we sure do share a bond that is hard to beat.

The Panthers tied yesterday.  Tied.  In American Football.  Blech.

The Blantons eat well.  Last week we had Fall Pot Pie (the real name is Sweet Potato, Pork, and Sage Pot Pie).  It is our favorite "kick off fall" meal.  We also had Huevos Rancheros, Jenn's favorite Jason-made breakfast.  Last night is was a North African chicken stew over rice.  I think I'm going to
start selling food tours to our house. 

For the first time in years, I'm not a basketball coach.  Its... weird.

There is no better way to start a morning, or a week, than having your two kids pile on top of you and begin playing and laughing in the dark, before the alarm goes off.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Weddings and Welding



The blog has been pretty quiet lately, so I thought today I would share the thoughts I shared over the weekend at Zachary and Rebekah Blackman's wedding.  I know Rebekah is a blog reader, so... stop reading the internet and enjoy your honeymoon!

The scripture I read at Bekah's wedding was this one:
  
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. - James 1:2-4

Not really the traditional marriage scripture I know, but one I think speaks to the heart of what makes marriage strong.

Marriage is joining lives together.  I think on that most of us will agree.  What I think we may disagree on is just how those lives are joined.

I've started looking at spouses like pieces of metal.  I think that many people think that marriage is the kind of joining that occurs when magnets bond, with a force of attraction.  Sure, like a magnet, attractive forces will make two metals stick together, but when pulled hard, or when the energy or attraction fades, those two pieces of metal will lose their grip on each other.  They will go back to being two pieces of metal.

Marriage is actually more like welding.  My dad was a welder, and I remember being fascinated with the whole process.  The heat, the light, and most of all the strength of a good weld.  Welding happens when energy is applied to bond two pieces of metal together.  It is sometimes beautiful, sometimes scary, and always full of heat and energy.  Sometimes as you weld, you have to knock some crap (flux) off and clean things up.  The more you weld, the easier it is to do it well.  The more patient you are, the fewer mistakes you will make.  Better material means a better bond.

This is married life.  There is heat and energy.  There are fights and mistakes.  Sometimes you have to back up, knock some crap off, and start again.  Sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is terrifying.  It is always full of heat and energy. 

When couples learn to survive the tough times together,  when they fight fair and make up, when they reconcile differences, they are being welded together.  Fused in a way that doesn't let go when attraction fades. 

When done correctly, a proper weld will actually be stronger than the make-up of the metal it joins together.  That is marriage. 

When you are in the midst of a fight with your husband or wife, it is difficult to "consider it joy," but when you come out the other side, and you're still standing together, you have strengthened your marriage.  You have added to the weld.  Some couples fight more than others, some fight louder - what matters in the end is that they still stand.  They learn and grow and persevere.

Of course, all of the energy and heat isn't bad.  Those days you share that are full of joy are part of the weld too!  When you hold your kids for the first time.  When you share a laugh that is reserved for just the two of you.  When you celebrate a family milestone. 

When it is all said and done, you will find yourselves impossible to separate.  Welded.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Our Story... so far.


Sometimes I make the mistake of only using this space for trying to make a point, or trying to bring a perspective on a political/social/theological issue that happens to be on my mind, or in the public sphere.  Today, I'm just going to tell a little about what God has been doing at Grace Crossing.

We just passed the four year anniversary of our family's move here, and what God has done in such a short time is really nothing short of amazing.  As it is happening, it is hard to always see, but as I look back, here are some of the blessings God has poured out on us as a church.

When I first arrived, we were meeting in a 750 seat auditorium, and averaging about 70 on Sunday mornings.  The space swallowed us whole, the people were worn out, and the church was losing money.  My first prayers to God were that He would send us some talent.

I know that seems like a strange first prayer, but I knew we needed fresh, talented people, and I knew we certainly couldn't go out and hire them.  Within a few months, the Lee  and Durham families joined.  Jay and Martha Lee are now leaders on our praise team (she plays piano, he plays Bass), Martha is our Deacon chair, they teach Sunday School and lead small groups, and pretty much are dream church members.  Rick Durham is a Hospice chaplain.  He's also now a deacon, has led grief counseling sessions for our people to learn how to process our own grief, and help others in our church do the same.  He will be leading a living will  seminar at our upcoming health fair.  Oh, and having been a pastor, and being a trained counselor, he has been the greatest source of comfort for me - asking how I'm doing out of genuine concern for my welfare, and having just the right touch of advice when needed.

This isn't to shortchange all the amazing people that were already here, nor are they the only amazing people that have joined, but God seemed to know exactly who we needed when we needed them.

We needed a loan, and after a couple years of cleaning up the church budget we were still being refused by banks, including our own!  Then along came Russell Jones and the North Carolina Baptist Foundation.  They offered us rates that were better than most banks, over a term that was longer, and we knew that the money we paid in interest would be going to help build other churches.

We needed help with our praise team.  I was coaching basketball at Hickory Ridge High School, and just happened to meet another coach, who had a son who is incredibly gifted.(we cut had previously cut him from the JV basketball team, oops!)  Now Elijah is one of us, and bringing his friends along with him. 

Most recently we needed a new youth minister, as our previous volunteer had moved on to a paid position somewhere else.  I just finished having coffee with her.  She and her friends are students from UNCC, who have decided that instead of one of the super "cool" churches nearer to campus, they wanted a church like us.  Now Olivia, the daughter of a fellow CBF pastor is going to be leading our youth, and I couldn't be happier!

There are more stories, more people, more amazing things.  You get the picture though.  God is moving.  He is moving far beyond my meager skills as a pastor and beyond our gifts as a people.  I'm just happy to be along for this ride!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reconciliation





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, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. - 2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Before you read this, I would recommend you read the thoughts of Mark Labberton, President of Fuller.  You can find those HERE, and he says much more eloquently some of the things I think I think.  

My heart continues to break for what is happening in Ferguson Missouri.  I wish I had something more profound to offer, or more healing, or some kind of magic words that would be able to connect us with our brothers and sisters on both sides of the protests.  Honestly, I don’t.  All I have is a heavy heart, and the burden of understanding that I don’t understand.

I will never have to teach my son what African American parents will teach their children about how to act around police officers.  Unless one of my children becomes a police officer, I will also never know what it is like to fear for their lives in the line of duty.  I hope I never know what it is like to make a decision that ends someone’s life, or what it is like to lose somebody in my family under those circumstances.

This is what I do know.  As a believer, my words, thoughts, and actions should be aimed at reconciliation.  God has given us a mission of bringing wholeness, peace, and grace to broken lives in a broken world. 
 
My focus needs to be on seeing others through Christ’s eyes, and not through a “worldly point of view.”  In order to do that I need to listen.  I need to have conversations with people who think and believe and look differently than I think, believe, and look.  I need to try to empathize, not just sympathize.  I need to pray.  I need to be sure that when I do choose to speak, my aim is reconciliation, and not to further my own agenda, or opinion, or to simply add another voice to a partisan divide.  I need to repent, because in my life I have added to injustice.  I need to forgive.

Jesus, friend of sinners
Break our hearts
for what breaks yours.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Weird



It was a beautiful, slightly cooler than average, Sunday morning as some of the church folks and I stood out under the covered drive.  The greeters at Grace Crossing (some official, some unofficial) were all gathering and chattering about whatever it is people talk about on Sunday morning between Sunday School and worship, when a lady pulled her car into a parking spot, hopped out, and headed towards us.  This lady was clearly a little disheveled, and if I'm honest, my initial impression was, "I hope she feels welcomed here, even dressed like that."  As we greeted her, she revealed her real reason for coming - she needed gas money.  Her tale was that she was leaving her boyfriend and moving back in with her mother in Asheville, and she needed enough gas to get there.  I told her (truthfully) that I never carry cash, but that I was sure we could find her something.  Before I finished speaking, the man I had been talking to reached into his pocket, handed her more money than she asked for, and spoke kind words of blessing.  This may not sound like a completely strange event for most people, but what if I told you this man is the most politically conservative member of my congregation?  You know, conservatives, who are supposed to all believe that "I got mine, so who cares what happens to you."  This man certainly doesn't fit that mold.  If we listen to the people trying to tell us what to think, then this man is... well... weird.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the stoop there is another conversation happening.  This one is loud and brash, because the man speaking has no other volume setting.  I imagine that even when he whispers sweet nothings to his wife, it comes out sounding like a drill Sargent chewing on gravel.  He is a Korean war veteran whose name appears on the memorial in the town of Mint Hill, where my family and I live.  He was telling everyone he knew exactly where he was on that day 61 years before, because that was the day the armistice was signed.  He was staring across a valley at the Chinese soldiers who, the day before, were trying to end his life, and he theirs.  He will admit to having ended quite a few.  This man is a war veteran, who served our country faithfully.  He is a true patriot, a history buff, and a coin collector.  He is also a liberal.  You know, liberals, who are all supposedly soft and don't care about America or the military or national security.  Weirdo!

What's the point of these two anecdotes?  People aren't stereotypes.  They aren't caricatures or statistics or the demons that the official American Division industry want you to believe they are.  People are complex, just like the God who made us.  If we can learn to take people one at a time, we can go a long way toward regaining respect for each other as Americans and as citizens of the world. We're all a little weird, some of us need to learn to embrace that, and love it - for ourselves and others.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

God's Order of Operations



Sometimes during a sermon, something will come out of my mouth that I don't fully reflect on until much later.  I know, that probably says more about my sermon preparation and focus than anything else, but some of those "utterances" end up brewing in my head for days after, even if they don't impact anyone else listening.

We have been going through the story of Moses, using him as an example of leadership - with all its ups and downs - and Sunday we got to the "Ten Commandments."  You can hear the full sermon here.  At the beginning, I talked about how surprising I found it that God waited to this point to give Israel a set of rules to live by.  If I had been God, and thank...Him I'm not!, I would have maybe made it through one of the 10 plagues before saying, "ok, listen up you ungrateful heathens, this is how things are gonna be, and if you don't like it, you can just stay slaves!"

But God didn't do that.  He rescued Israel.  He led them from bondage, led them across the sea, led them safely away from Pharaoh's army, fed them manna and quail, gave them water to quench their thirst, and established a covenant.  It was only then, after all of that Grace that God established His law.  

First, lets not over spiritualize things - yes, God is rescuing them spiritually, but He literally, physically rescues them.  He meets their very human, very earthly needs.  He establishes relationship.  They abuse His kindness, and He continues to pour Grace on top of Grace.  Only after He has completely rescued them and met their every need and created a bond of covenant, only then did God say, "ok, now that you've got all that, here is the best way to live as a community."

Why can't we get that as Christians and as churches?  Why can't we understand that it is only after we have poured love and grace into people, only after we have established relationship, only after we have traveled the extra mile to show our Kingdom nature - only then should we expect them to begin living in response to that outpouring.  Why do we talk so much about people's souls, and so little about their poverty, their depression, their many bonds, and the many structures of this world that continue to create those bonds.   

In math, if you don't follow the correct order of operations - Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction - you will get a wrong answer.  You can do all the "work" right, but still get the wrong outcome.  I think the church in the United States has done a great deal of the "work" right, but we're getting the wrong outcomes because we're trying to do things out of order.

We're declining because our faith has been focused not on God, but on what God has done for me.  Its been focused not on a God that is greatly concerned for this world and every atom in it, and instead has said cynically that God has no use for this broken place, and we're just waiting for Heaven.  We've talked about "personal" salvation, but not about communities of Grace, Kingdom living on earth as it is in Heaven.  We expect people to listen to us without earning the right to be heard, and we've failed to come to grips with the many sins our churches have committed that have made our burden of proof that much higher.

Talking about God as a personal savior certainly isn't wrong.  Talking about life after this life is a hopeful message that people need to hear.  These things, however, shouldn't come first in our order of operations, and we should most definitely not expect people to live by whatever moral code we hold to before we first help them to see why they might want to.  

I think hidden in that Exodus story is a formula for deliverance.  Real, lasting, community based, world changing deliverance.  If only we can get our selves in order.