Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Just Dialed 9-1-1!

In 2010 I decided to run an ultra-marathon, which is any distance over 26.2 miles.  I tackled the race hosted by the canyon trails of the Texas Panhandle, a 50-mile venture.  Part of the running appeal is its individual nature - just me,  a pair of shoes (yes, clothes too), and dirt trails.  If completed I knew I would stand - okay sit, or at least lean on a post - and say, "Look what I did!  Just me!"  But I deceived myself!  Although my feet covered the 50 long miles, preparing and running an ultra was far more than an individual effort.  I needed help...
  1. I relied on a 16-week training plan to get my non-athlete physique in shape.
  2. If it were not for the company of Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, Rick Atchley, Matt Chandler, and Bob Babbit I would not have survived the 4-5 hour training runs.  Thank you iPod and long-winded preachers!
  3. I fueled my engine with Gatorade and Cliff bars.
  4. My wife gave up Friday-Saturday mornings so I could get up at 4 AM to trot around the dusty roads of the West Texas oilfields for 4-5 hours.
  5. A headlamp kept me from dining on dirt.
  6. On race day, the race organizers plotted a 12.5 mile loop.  After the 4th go around I knew to stop.
  7. Carefully placed aid stations, stocked with PBJ's, chips, Snickers, pretzels, fruit, were beacons in the night.
  8. Volunteers filled my water bottle with ice at every station (it was 86 degrees).
  9. Encouraging words from fellow runners and spectators propelled me forward when my legs were screaming, "Stop, you idiot!"
So I finished 50 miles in 8 hrs and 55 minutes but I had help!  I needed help!  So do you.  Coiled somewhere in America's DNA is the independence lie - that somehow I can achieve and succeed based on sheer determination, ability, and perseverance.  We admire and "pedistalize" individuals who overcome great odds "on their own."  I stress to my boys, "You need to learn how to do this because one day I won't be here and you'll have to do this by yourself!" As a result, we hesitate to ask for help.  In fact, we tend to look down our noses at those requesting help!  But we all need help!

Take Moses for example.  I want his epitaph: "Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel" (Deut. 34:10-12).  He was a powerful leader for Israel, the greatest of the prophets.  He stood toe to toe with Pharaoh; he led a whiny-baby group of people through the desert; he fought before God on behalf of the people, but even Moses needed help.

In Exodus 18, Israel has fled Egypt and taken up a nomadic desert life.  Moses' plate was full, so full he needed a salad plate for the extras.  Not only did he serve as God's mouthpiece but also as Israel's judge.  Some days Moses skipped lunch and his cigarette break to meet his dispute-settling quota.  He was on a one way train to "Burnout" when his father-in-law not only pays him a visit but offers some wise advice.  His father-in-law's advice? "Ask for help!"

“What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (Deut. 18:18-23)

Moses took his father-in-law's advice and went on to become the Moses we all know.  Perhaps if he had refused to ask for help he would have wound up popping anti-anxiety medicine and running far away from his calling.

As Americans, we glorify rugged individualism - Lone Ranger, Rambo, John McClane, Malboro Man... We hesitate to ask for help.  Actually, we avoid having to ask for help at all costs.  We see it as weak.  It is.  That's the point, we ARE weak!  We live under the illusion that we are self-sustaining and independent, but we are only one clotted artery away, or one ruptured blood vessel, or one driving text message, or one sinful decision, or one sinful decision by someone close to us, or one in-home spark, or one blown ACL, or one... from getting slapped in the face with reality - YOU ARE DEPENDENT and not just upon God and his Spirit but upon people.  God made us dependent!  God made us to need others.  When we ask for help we embrace the truth that life is greater than my existence, that the universe is large, that I exist by grace alone.


So, do you need emotional help?  Do you need spiritual help?  Do you need financial help?  Do you need mental help? Do you need marital help?  Do you need physical help?  Ask for it!  It is humbling.  It is hard.  It is weak.  But, it is REAL!

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    God Wears Asics

    I think about the prodigal a lot, Luke 15:11-31.  The more I live in and live this story the more I believe it is at the center of the gospel.  I think it should be the preacher's first sermon and the preacher's last.  To rehash... the boy gives his father a death wish by asking for his inheritance early. He journeys far away and burns it all on idiocy.  He ends up finding himself jealous of mud-wallowing pigs and so plots to return home broken and repentant, to beg for a position, not at his father's table but in the bunkhouse.  He makes that fearful journey home and...

     “...while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

    You, the reader, knows why the prodigal returns.  You have access to his inner thoughts, "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants."  But the father has no idea! For all the father knows, the boy may be on his way home to demand more money or curse him.  All the father knows is that in the distance a silhouette of his son approaches and so he...

    Yells,  "Is that you, you ungrateful brat?  Who said you were welcome here!"
    OR
     Says, "Hey Mother! Look who is coming.  Don't you go crying now.  Let's wait and see what he wants."
    Or
    "Security!  Please escort him off the property.  He is not my son!"
    OR
    He stood with arms crossed and when his son reached him he looked down and said sternly, "So, are you here because you've repented? Because, if you haven't then you are not welcome here.  If you have, then you are welcome but you have some proving to do."

    No! Read it one more time:  “...while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."   The father's love for his child was not based on the son's repentance.  He loved his son even if he were still in sin, for all he knew he was.

    God hates sin because it destroys but he loves you!  ALWAYS! ...when you are good, when you repent and come groveling home, when you are blatantly sinning.  That should blow your mind.  It should make you cry! So if you are reading this and are choosing sin, trust me, it will break you and those you love but GOD DOES NOT LOVE YOU ANY LESS NOW THAN HE EVER HAS!  When he sees you, no matter where you are, he runs, throws his arms around you, and kisses you! (Yes! I'm crying!)

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    To Tale or Not: Mulaff Bakes

    Mulaff was too thin to bale hay, and everyone in Dliev baled hay.  His peers called him Twiggers, because his arms were kindling in a city of logs.  His nose was too large for his face; his teeth more resembled projection screens than instruments of mastication.  So what does a large-nosed, big-toothed twig do in a city of burly hay balers?  It took Mulaff 20 years to figure it out, but when he did it changed his life and then changed his life again.

    To find the answer, take Center Street to Bulong Road.  Turn left.  Drive past The Ancient Barber and on the left, across form the cozy park and crystal clear pond, is a small eatery with "Guten Brotes" hand-painted on the giant windows, windows that let you peer into a wonderland of flour, sugar, yeast, milk, and eggs.  Only a few tables hold "Guten Brotes" to the ground, two lining the inside of the bakery and three keeping the outdoor sidewalk company.  Although this tiny pastry palace seats no more than 20, the line of customers adorns the neighborhood like tinsel on a Christmas tree.  And there behind the counter, his face still powdered in flour from the early morning, stands Mulaff greeting every customer, taking every order, and wrapping each pastry as a newborn in swaddling clothes.

    Mulaff contributed his baking success to his handcrafted rolling pin.  It took him three years to make it.  He poured himself into its creation.  Some nights he couldn't sleep, not because exhaustion hadn't set in, but because he couldn't turn it off: the planning, the sculpting and the completion of the rolling pin. When adored Mulaff never referenced the ingredients or his knack for the culinary arts but the rolling pin.  Everything he baked he rolled and if it could be baked without being rolled, that item would not be found in his bakery.  Mulaff became so enamored with his rolling pin that he forgot that The Guardian had taught him how to make it. As a young boy The Guardian would stand him on a little stool in his kitchen and teach him, not only how to roll the dough, but how to craft the roller!  Mulaff forgot, but he never forgot his rolling pin.  He would often stare at it and smile.  At night he had a reserved spot on the shelf where he tucked his rolling pin away for the night.  If it weren't too bizarre, he might have whispered, "Good night, friend!" But his attachment to this rolling pin was already off-center.

    Outside of "Guten Brotes," there was one other dream camped in the back of Mulaff's mind: racing - not on foot, not in cars, nor on horseback, but boats.  He longed to race remote control boats in the big city of Kudrov only 25 km away.  Remote control boat racing drew crazed fans and big dollars.  In the moments when Mulaff wasn't in the kitchen he was at the crystal pond practicing for the broad ponds of Kudrov.  He would never get a chance.  Even if he possessed the talent it was too hard to get in and too hard to catch a break until that morning when the man in the long coat ordered a cheese danish.  As the man with the long coat fell in love with the danish he began to inquire of Mulaff's ability, "How do you do it?  This danish...this danish..." The rest of the conversation is a waste of your time.  Here's what you need to know.  The man in the long coat had power within the boating world and Mulaff told him, as with all his baked goods, "The secret is the rolling pin." By the end of a 30 minute conversation Mulaff sold his rolling pin to the man in the long coat for a chance to race in the big waters of Kudrov.

    Race he did, but he could never shake that in his soul he was a baker.  And so an ache grew in his heart, at first dull, but then crippling...so crippling that he returned to "Guten Brotes!"  Nothing had been put on the shelf for months and nothing would still.  Because no matter his longing to bake, he had no rolling pin.  Worst still, he had forgotten how to craft one.  He was at a loss, heartbroken, afraid.  He was too weak to bale hay, disenchanted with remote boat racing, and he could no longer do what his heart was made to do.

    The moment came when Mulaff prepared to ask hope to exit the doors of his life, and then Griegor the lumberjack walked in:

    "I'm famished!"
    Mulaff, "I'm sorry.  I have no baked goods.  I am without my rolling pin."
    "Well, buy another!"
    "I can't; it is handcrafted!"
    "Craft another!"
    "I have forgotten how!"
    "I don't know either, but I'm gonna guess you need wood!"
    Mulaff nodded.
    "I can at least do that," the lumberjack offered. "In fact, I know where the greatest of trees stands in all of this land.  I will bring her wood to you."

    Mulaff felt indebted, and he was.

    Griegor's offer became the refrain in "Guten Brotes" over the next several weeks.  After Griegor, Camelia, the finest carpenter in Dliev, showed up.  She offered to help him shape the rolling pin.  Then Elena, the artist, helped craft the design, Victor the finish, Tulag the assembly.  Another dozen or so hands merged to make Mulaff a new rolling pin.

    Finally, the morning came when Mulaff rose in the darkness and rolled and baked, rolled and baked.  Six AM hit and Mulaff flipped the sign, "Open."  Day one, no one came.  No one.  "I hear Mulaff reopened but is using a new rolling pin. It can't be the same"  Dlievians were skpetical and rumor was the pin was scarred, ugly to the eye."  And they were right.  The pastries and breads weren't the same and the rolling pin was scarred.  Mulaff had designed it that way, depicting his scars on the pin so that it might never take center stage again.  But day two came and Mulaff rolled and baked, rolled and baked.

    Day two.  No one, but Mulaff rolled and baked, rolled and baked.
    Day three. No one, but Mulaff... and so it went.
    Day 17. A family of 5 stopped for breakfast on their way to Kudrov for the Saturday boat races.  They ordered.  They ate.  They noticed the rolling pin, winced at it's scars but left saying, "That was better than the last time we ate here!" They spread the experience and the lines returned to "Gutten Brotes" and it was always the same response: shock at the rolling pin's scars but a surprise, "This bread is better."

    And the bread was better and it was better because of the rolling pin, but now when Mulaff looked at the scarred pin, he didn't admire it for its sake.  His heart was filled with gratitude for all the hands that built it, all the hands that were not his hands, all that hands that made baking possible again.  Every time he rolled the dough he thought of Griegor, Camilia, Elena, Victor, Tulag and the rest.  And unlike before, when people asked, "Wow, what is your secret?"  he no longer pointed them to the rolling pin, but rather said, "The hands that make these breads are far more than two, and my two are the least important."

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    There's Blood in the Will

    "Now if we are children, then we are heirs..." so begins today's memory work.  I've been spending time in Romans 8, putting it in my head so it will make a home in my heart..."heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ..."  Ooh, I like that. That would be a nice back tattoo, "Co-heir with Christ."  Not that I have a back tattoo.  Mine is on my neck! This is why we follow Jesus, right? For example, if I'm a co-heir with Paris Hilton then I predict cash, lots of cash, designer clothes, caviar for my punt-size dog, parties, and crazy-expensive cars.  And God allotted so much more to his son.  He was glorified, lifted up, and exalted to the right hand of God.  Sign me up for that.  "Heeellooo brother Jesus!"

    But the verse knows our tendency, "Oh, you want Jesus's inheritance.  Sure you do. Then you must have it all."  And so Romans 8:17 continues: "...if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."   Not only are we co-heirs with Christ in his glorification but co-heirs in his suffering!  We want the glorification, but the suffering... "Glorification" is inheriting your grandmother's yacht and diamond jewelry.  "Suffering" is inheriting your grandmother's dying, balding cat with a drainage tube.  But in the Jesus story, suffering had to precede glorification.  The cross had to come before the resurrection and ascension. 

    No one is a "resurrection" fan more than me!  I wake up everyday and taste, smell, see, hear, and touch the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but Romans 8 says there is something to the suffering.  We hate to hear that because in our world we try to hide suffering, to mask it, medicate it, flee from it, feed it, give it a makeover with cars, houses, clothes, and trips.  But if you are a Child of God, you inherit it. 

    8:17 just happened to be the verse on the day I was feeling the pain, when I was frustrated with myself, when I was struggling with the future (Where will my family end up?).  I wanted it to stop, but as 8:17 made its way into my head it said, "Don't silence the pain!  Listen to it.  It is trying to make you more like Jesus!"  How is my suffering (self-induced, I haven't forgot) pushing and pulling me into the image of Christ?  I'm learning dependence upon God.  I'm learning I'm expendable, relationships are all that really matter, compassion, the seriousness of sin, to find the Kingdom in the moment (every moment), to see the imago dei in all people, to trust in silence... All of this in the suffering.

    Perhaps you are suffering today.  Perhaps your prayer today is like mine was this morning, "When God?  When will you end this?  Take it away!"  That is a prayer of faith, a fair prayer, a prayer echoed throughout the Christian story.  But maybe today you can pray, in honor of 8:17, "Father, I don't like this suffering.  I want it to end, but please!  Today, teach me Jesus in my suffering.  Amen!"

     Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  Rom. 8:17

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Busted Sprinklers: Why Brett Favre Will Retire Again

    I build fences.  Okay...that's not the total truth.  I HELP  build fences.  I'm the least experienced and the least skilled fencer in the crew.  So, the menial, yet necessary (Do you like how I tried to make that sound better than it is), tasks fall to me.  I spend most days doing things any average kindergartner could handle: sorting, digging, lifting, carrying, cleaning, etc (too bad no coloring).  Although I enjoy what I do, I wake up every morning and give my ego a heads up, "Ego, today you're going to get a butt whipping! See you at dinner."  That sets the background for yesterday's events.

    We are working on a narrow curbless street. So me, being the the thoughtful person that I am, park my passenger-side tires on the neighbor's grass to allow room for traffic to flow easily.  Apparently, I also decide to park on a sprinkler head!  "Crack," goes the PVC pipe 18 inches below the ground.  "Gush," goes the water underground.  The neighbor yells.  My boss is annoyed and frustrated. And I'm "Yippee-Ki-Yay... Idiot-of-the-day!"  This happens right before lunch and so as I drive away from the disaster sight I feel worthless and useless. 

    "If I were only preaching again.  At least with preaching I have experience.  I have education.  I have more confidence.  At least I feel like I'm contributing to the Kingdom on a daily basis," my mind reminisces as I make the short commute home for lunch. As I reach home I start gathering lunch essentials: ham, Gouda, Triscuits, crunchy peanut butter, honey, ESPN, and the newspaper.  As I snack, read and listen, ESPN does an Urban Meyer segment, "Urban Meyer returns to college football as Ohio State's new head coach!" About the same time I read the line, "The Texans are looking to sign another quarterback due to injury, possibly Brett Favre." What? Hasn't Brett retired enough for 4 or 5 lifetimes? That's when it hit me.  Urban Meyer is Brett Favre and I'm Urban Meyer.

    Even though he is 42, of course Brett Favre wants to toss the pigskin on the Sunday gridiron.  He spent nearly 20 years of his life as a professional quarterback.  A massive part of his identity is wrapped up in being a quarterback.  When he isn't throwing a football; he isn't completely Brett Favre.

    Sure, Urban Meyer stepped out of coaching for health and family reasons, but of course he is coming back.  To be Urban Meyer is to coach college football.  It's who he is, so much so that he is willing to risk his health.  Urban Meyer can't be Urban Meyer if he isn't coaching football.  Lucky for you, Ohio State.  Not so luck for you, Michigan!

    So when I drive away from the disaster sight it is only natural that my mind wanders back to preaching.  I've been in ministry since the summer after I graduated high school.  Preaching is part of who I am. I spent too many years placing my value and my identity in preaching, in my profession, in what I DO!  And that is a lie!

    My value is not based on what I do.  It is not based on a career.  It is not based on preaching. I am valuable because God created me - period!  Your value is not based on what you do, on your profession (or your role as a stay-at-home parent, etc).  You are valuable because God created you - period!  My identity is not my career!  My identity does not come from what I do or how I perform.  My identity is found in God and he says, "You are a Child of God." Your identity is not what you do.  It is not your profession or how you perform.  You are a child of God.

    It is easy to find our value in what we do.  It is so easy to misplace our identity in our profession, but in the end it will leave us incomplete.  Only when we are able to rest fully in the truth that we are a cherished child of God can we be free to serve him in any circumstance - to live to our potential on a daily basis.  The striving will cease; anxiety will dissipate; contentment will find a home; peace will inhabit our hearts.

    Yes, I want to preach again.  Yes, I believe, by the grace of God alone, I will.  But first, I have to be content even if I never preach again.  This means I must place my full identity in God.  How about you?  Are you aware of how much your profession (or roles) dictates your identity?  Could you be content never doing what you do now again?  Is you identity really in God through Christ?

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    UNPREACHED #4 - THE END

    This is the final part of the sermon I wrote but never preached.  If you want to read the sermon in order click Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

    2.  Faith Practices are about a person not a performance. The Pharisees knew how to perform. No one knew the Law better.  No one practiced the Law better.  They were A+ students in Theology.  In fact, acts of righteousness became so much about their flawless performance, they missed their true function: to drive them to the heart of God.

    I understand their mindset.  It was engrained in me as a kid and it suited this task-oriented competitive child well.  First, there were attendance charts.  Every week I attended bible class I got either a gold sticker or a smiley face to put on my chart.  After several months, I could look up at the chart and see that I had more smiley faces than most of the kids, and for this I was applauded.  Sometimes we even received special treatment for perfect attendance.  Then there was the class where we were given verses to commit to memory and Bible passages to read and answer questions.  For each assignment and memory verse I earned points toward an end of the year trip.  If you earned enough points the teachers would take you to Six Flags.  If I performed I was rewarded.  I know these things aren't bad.  They are means of motivation, to encourage children to learn their Bible, but it engrained in me and many of my peers a paradigm, "Faith Practices and acts of righteousness are about performance."  The better you perform the more you please God.

    It carries over into adulthood.  Our faith tends to focus on perfect church attendance, reading my Bible more than you, praying more than you, and giving more than you.  We begin to rate our Christian status by our performance, as if God and the angels are in heaven placing bets, "Oh... Otis Adams just moved ahead of Tish Deffenbaugh.... wait, Duane Bells is gaining ground on the turn, but, hold on... here comes Susie Dawson from the back of the pack.  It's Susie Dawson in a last minute push pulling ahead.  Susie Dawson wins by two links!" 

    The church becomes about "What I do."  It becomes about how well I perform.  The focus is on me.  I place confidence in me.  My faith is in me.  That's when it all goes terribly wrong.  If you put your faith and confidence in yourself, you will always feel like a failure because you can never outperform Christ.  Try as you might you will fail and when you fail you will tell yourself, "I just have to try harder."  And so you will put more confidence in yourself, and you will fail again.  So you will try harder... and the cycle continues.  All the while Jesus is saying, "PUT YOUR CONFIDENCE IN ME!"

    Acts of righteousness are not about performance.  They are about a person.  They are about the person of God, about pushing us into a deeper relationship with him.  It's not about checking a chart, making sure you're winning the race against other Christians. Prayer, fasting and church attendance are practices that drive you into deeper intimacy with God.  When we realize faith practices are about a person and not a performance we no longer place confidence in ourselves but in God.  We realize that our worth is not based on how many "T's" we cross or "i's" we dot.  Our worth is based on a God who loves us unconditionally.  We realize our standing before God is not based on a merit system but on the precious blood of his son who pulled us out of the sloppy sewer pit in which we played, washed us off and put us in front of God as holy and blameless.  When Faith Practices are about performance there is no need for the gospel.  The gospel declares to us every week, "Your performance cannot save you but Jesus can!"  If you need Jesus this morning come talk to me when we are done here.  Faith practices are about a person and not a performance.

    Conclusion: If you take anything with you this morning, take this truth: Motives determine movement.  Ask yourself "Why?"  Why do I go to church? Guilt? Recognition? To earn points with my wife? Why do I give? Responsibility? Fear of what others think?  Why do I pray?  You've been told to your whole life? Why do I fast? "Oh, I don't fast.  I guess I should if I want to be a good Christian."  Ask, "Why?"  What is your motive?  Because, your motive will determine your inner movement - your movement toward God or your movement away from God.  Love you!  Let's sing!

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    UNPREACHED #3

    Last sermon continued.  See previous sections of sermon here and here:


    1.  Faith Practices are about Relationship and not Recognition.  Look back at Matthew 6:2, 5a, 16a:

    2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full... 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others... 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.

    Part of what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount is reacting against the pharisees.  The pharisees were a group whose name means "Separate Ones." The pharisees were a group concerned about Israel maintaining her separateness as God's people.  They were also concerned about demonstrating their separateness from their fellow Jews had been contaminated and influenced by foreign culture and religion.  They proved their "separateness" by following religious law better than anyone else.  So, when it came to Faith Practices (giving, praying, fasting) they were to the letter, because they wanted to be recognized as better than the others.  They wanted to be recognized for their religious zeal.  They wanted to be recognized for their greatness, not for how great God was.  It was about drawing attention to themselves rather than giving glory to God.

    In college I had four roommates - all of us great friends.  We were all about 5'10", 30-32 inch waist and 32 inseam.   We walked in unity of stride.  It wasn't like walking with Kent Rogers (6'4") where I have to jog or take massive steps to keep up.  But every time we left the cafeteria there was an upper class man, Shawn Lewis... great guy.  Upon each cafeteria exit, one of us would bend down to tie his shoe and the other three guys behind him would turn to Shawn and say, "Bye Shawn!"  And then one guy would trip over the guy tying his shoes, and then like dominoes we'd all go down.  We'd act embarrassed and run out of the cafeteria.  Yes, we were mature.  Here's the thing... even though we used Shawn's name in our little stunt, it wasn't about Shawn.  It wasn't about drawing attention to Shawn; it was about drawing attention to us.  That's what the Pharisees were doing... they used Faith Practices as little stunts, not to draw attention to God but rather to themselves.

    That hits pretty close to home!  Often we act like the pharisees.  That's something I figured out in High School.  The best way for me to get known was to be the Christian kid.  Not all my motives were bad but a lot were selfish.  I realized I could leverage my faith to draw attention to myself.  It was as much about me as it was about God.

    And so many of us still do that today when it comes to faith practices such as going to church, reading our Bibles, praying, or serving in ministries.  Sometimes we do that because we want recognition for being a good Christian.  Honestly?... for being a better Christian than you.  In our Bible Belt culture we learn that if you can master the Christian look: listen to the right radio stations, attend church, have your quiet time, teach your kids memory verses, join the PTA and FCA then you are respected and people look up to you.

    And you may say, "Wait!  Wait! I thought we were supposed to let our good deeds be seen!  That's what Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Remember? Be salt!  Be light!"  Yes! True! But Jesus said let your light shine so that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven, but when we make faith practices about self-recognition... God gets cut his fair share.

    When our works of righteousness are about recognition then Christianity becomes about the appearance of perfection.  It is only an appearance of perfection because NO ONE is perfect. What ends up happening is church becomes a place where we go to show everyone that we have it together, that we read our bibles, we pray, that we have devos with our kids, and that we watch Veggie Tales on Saturday mornings and Ed Young from Fellowship Church on Saturday nights!  And so church and church friends become the place where we wear our masks the most.  As Rick Atchley says, "We are all 'fine' and if you are not then go back home and come back when you are 'fine.'"  Church becomes the place where we feel like we have it together, where we can't let the secrets out, where we can't let people see the chink in our armor, where we can't let people know that our marriage is falling apart, that our family is crumbling, that we're struggling with sin.  No!  Because, we have made Christianity about recognition, about getting all the practices right!

    It's like when you've got a mess in your room and you find out someone is coming over in ten minutes.  "Oh, I can't let them see my house like this.  I have to get this mess cleaned up."  But it's too much...not enough time.  So, you take it and shove it all in the closet!  The room looks clean but there is a pile of junk in the closet.  Your guest shows up and remarks, "Wow!  Your house is so clean!"  You say, "Thank you!"  You get the recognition but the junk is still in there.  Eventually the closet gets too full and it burst through onto the ground in the middle of a dinner party and everyone goes, "Oh, my!"  That's when the affair happens, the papers are signed, the suicide note is left, the child goes to prison, the habit becomes an addiction...

    When faith practices and acts of righteousness become about recognition instead of relationship then authenticity has no place!  People can't come and show their real cards.  They can't say life is more gray than black and white.  They can't come and admit their failures.  They can't just say, "Look!  Yes, this is the mess!  I know legos, pants, and magazines scattered all over the floor.  I wanted to put it in the closet but...this is me and this is my junk."  But, when it is about relationship, when coming to church, reading your bible, praying - when all of that is not about people giving you the approving nod, "Yep, you are a good Christian!" - but when it is about knowing God, seeking his heart, then church becomes the place where we can be our truest selves and still find love, acceptance, forgiveness, and family!

    Faith Practices are about Relationship and not Recognition. 

     

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    UNPREACHED #2

    This continues the last sermon: written but "unpreached."  You can read the first part here.


    ...And Jesus says motives determine movement!  In other words, simply engaging in faith practices does not move you in a Godward direction, because if it was simply about your actions both groups that Jesus addressed would be headed in the same direction.  It is the motivation behind the faith practices that determines the movement.  The Pharisees, or hypocrites as Jesus calls them, are motivated by the applause of men, by recognition.  Even though they engaged fully in faith practices, a spiritual exercise, they were not moving toward God; they were moving toward selfishness, toward self-righteousness and away from dependence upon God and intimacy with God.  Their motivation determines their movement.
    On the other hand, Jesus uses language about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, about praying in your closet, about cleaning yourself up when you fast to say, "Unlike the Pharisees, this group is motivated by their love for God."  The motivation of "love" will move them toward God, into greater intimacy, into a richer understanding of the Creator! Because motives determine movement. 

    I think about it this way.  When I was in high school 80% of my friends were girls but 0% of them were girlfriends.  I was the "nice guy."  Nice guys were the ones you wanted to be your friend.  Jerks were the guys you wanted to date.  I had several girls tell me, as they talked about their boyfriend troubles, "You are the kind of guy to marry." ????? I still don't get that one.  I was like any other boy in school - crazy about girls, but I didn't act like I was.  I knew if I were to impress and attract women I would have to be a "different kind of guy" - the "antiguy."  So, I built a reputation of treating girls the right way, of taking the stereotypical guy and turning it on its head.  I wanted to appeal to something deeper than physical attraction.  I had to! Now, I wish I could say my motivation was all good, but it wasn't.  My motivation was to get girls to like me and so although everything I did was good: being sensitive, sweet, and kind- my motivation was really moving me toward selfishness.  It was about ME and not about the girls!  It was about me trying to be attractive and desirable and so it moved me toward self-centeredness.


    Years later I'm married to the beautiful Mary Beth and I still want to be sensitive, kind, and sweet. [NOTE: this part is difficult to post considering all that has happened, but it was in the original manuscript and it is what I still desire].   I still want to be the "antiguy."  But this time it's not because I want to make her attracted to me - too late for her; she already committed... But this time it is because I love her, because I want to know her more intimately, and although I do many of the same things I did in High School, my motives move me away from the self and move me into a more intimate and deeper relationship with Mary Beth.  Because your motives, as much as your action, determines your inward movement.  Motivation shapes your character.


    In this passage, Jesus speaks specifically about faith practices.  He differentiates between two motives - a self-seeking motive and a God-seeking motive.  When you assess your motives you ask the question "Why?"  And so when it comes to our faith practices, we need to ask ourselves, "Why?" Why DO you go to church?  Why DO you give?  Why DO you read your Bible?  Why DO you pray?  WHY?  Using the two motives Jesus highlights in this passage, let's look at two truth's regarding faith practices.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    UNPREACHED #1

    I had one sermon left.  I had written it and submitted it but due to my choices was never able to preach it.  Instead of letting it digitally petrify on my hard drive, I am posting it as my next few blog entries.  As I read back through my sermon I was convicted and embarrassed knowing that, not long after crafting it, I would make choices contrary to its message .  But perhaps, despite my failure, these words can encourage and challenge you.

    We were in a Sermon on the Mount series called RED.  You can watch the series intro below:


     
     TEXT: Matthew 6:1-6, 14-18
    TITLE: "Why not What"
    ONE THING: Motivation determines movement.


    Introduction:
    We've just finished Matthew 5 in our RED series.  We are looking at Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  In chapter 5, Jesus spends the bulk of his time demonstrating how he had come to perfect the OT Law rather than abolish it.  He did so by taking his audience back to the original intent of the Law, which was to form a certain kind of people rather than create a group of rule-followers.  He was forming a people of reconciliation, of commitment and contentment, of covenant keeping, of honesty, truthfulness and integrity, of generosity, and of indiscriminate love!

    In chapter 6 Jesus takes a turn in his teaching from character to what I'm going to call "Faith Practices.Faith Practices are spiritual rituals or disciplines intended to move us into a deeper relationship with God.  Think of a marriage class or marriage seminar.  Attending a marriage seminar doesn't make you a better couple than one who doesn't attend, but it is a practice intended to help your relationship grow.  Or, why do you practice baseball everyday when you only play a couple of games a week?  Baseball rules don't change from week to week.  It's still about scoring the most runs.  You practice daily because it helps you grow as a player!  The same is true of Faith Practices. Engaging in such practices don't make you a better Christian; they help you grow in your relationship with God.  The three faith practices Jesus addresses in chapter 6 are: giving, prayer, and fasting.

    [Prayer]

    Move 1: 
    Turn to Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18:
    1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
       2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
        5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you...
        16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    In the NT times God commanded Israel to give alms, to pray and to fast, and so it would seem that you either did them or you didn't!  If you do these practices you get the smiley face and gold star.  If you don't?...bad!  If I tell my son to make his bed, he either makes it or he doesn't.  So you either gave, prayed and fasted or you didn't...right? According to Jesus it wasn't quite that simple.

    In his teaching, Jesus describes two types of people.  Both of these groups of people do what was required.  If you made them a chart saying Giving, Praying, Fasting and put it up in their room, both groups of people could put check marks or smiley face stickers by each of the Acts of Righteousness.  So what's the difference between the two groups?  What distinction is Jesus making between the two groups?  One group he calls hypocrites even though they do what is required; they give, pray and fast (perhaps more than the other group). But they engage in these Faith Practices in order to impress those around them.  They do it for their own glory.  On the other hand, the second group gives, prays and fasts but do so secretly, in the closet, or when no eyes are watching because they give, pray and fast as a gift to God.  SO... what's the difference between the two groups that do exactly the same thing?  MOTIVATION! The 'Why."


    Jesus is saying that motivation determines movement!

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Gigantor and Teeny: Brief Spew on Friendship

    The elders were hiring me as a the Preaching Minister alongside their hiring of a Worship Minister.  The two most visible ministers on a Sunday morning, and outside a brief phone conversation about cable TV (priorities), we met for the first time one minute prior to the start of Sunday morning worship.  The only thing I knew about him, "He's tall and he has lots of energy." So,I'm thinking, "I hope I like this singing giant."  And he is thinking, "I hope I like this preaching Hobit!" It could have been a disaster!

    But it wasn't! Kent Rogers became, not only a great colleague, but one of my dearest friends.  I'm short; he's tall. I can't sing; he can. I like to run and eat hummus; he likes to sunbathe and eat Butterfingers (and loses weight).  I'm a sprint eater; he's a pace eater.  I organize visually on a whiteboard; he organizes with lists on a yellow pad.  I like hip-hop; he likes classic rock.  I'm young; he's old-er.  You get the idea, so how did such a friendship grow?

    First, we love God, incompletely, but we do.  Second, we love the Church.  Third, we love Michael Jackson and both of us think we can dance.  Fourth, we love creativity and new ideas.  Fifth, we appreciate the arts.  Sixth, our wives love each other. Seventh, we decided to share our crap with each other early in our friendship.  Eighth, we love to eat.  Ninth, we love to laugh.

    Some of our best times came working on video intros for Sunday AM worship.  Most people missed them because of the great fellowship occurring around the auditorium, but we had a blast creating ideas and then filming them.  Here's one we did together.


    I believe God placed Kent in my life for such a time as this... the last sixth months.  He is a man of God, a man of integrity, an extremely gifted worship leader and minister, and he oozes creativity. I owe him so much.  (By the way, Kent is currently in transition as a Worship Minister.  Hire him! You'll get much more than a great worship leader.  His wife Rocks Cleveland too!)

    We all want to have a burning bush moment where God calls us by name out of the fire.  But so many times God reveals himself through those he places in our circle of friendship.  I have seen God in Kent.  Look around... do you see God in the faces of those around you?

    For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus... (II Cor. 7:5-6)

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Acts The Sequel: KWO

    In Acts 2, when the Spirit introduces himself to the Church, the Kingdom of God "makes an entrance."  It doesn't knock or call ahead; it just shows up, kicks in the door, hangs up the disco ball, and gets its swerve on.  Spontaneous foreign language fluency and an Easter sermon lead to 3000 baptisms!  What a logistical nightmare: there were not enough white jumpers for 3000 people, not to mention towels.  How many times did the song leader have to sing "O Happy Day?" Mary had only prepared communion for 120. "We don't even have a New Member minister."

    There are times I wish I could have been in the crowd that day, felt the rush of the Spirit, heard Peter speak of a risen Lord, seen the people's hearts melt, and watch the water ripple with thousands of immersions.  For that matter, I wish I could be a fly on all the pages of Acts - to feel and experience the unmistakable work of the Spirit.  I have thought before, "If only the Spirit did such amazing feats today!"  But he does... oh he does!

    While preaching at GCR, I stepped into the pages of 21st Century Acts.  During my first year, John Defore- a GCR member told me the story of the Spirit uniting a West Texas megachurch and the scattered rural churches of Kenya in an unlikely and powerful marriage that would change the shape of a country and the faith of thousands. The story follows OT genealogical phrasing: World Bible School beget Kenyan Christians, Kenyan Christians beget churches, churches beget orphanages, and orphanages beget KWO (Kenya Widows and Orphans).  Check out the story HERE.  It will blow your mind!!

    Although things didn't end at GCR as I would have desired (due to my fault), there were many joys and great experiences in my 2.5 years there... I met some dear people.  It was a great place to worship and preach.  I found a second family in the staff.  I learned hard and humbling lessons that are making me a better man and follower of Christ.  But at the top of the list is the miracle happening in the sugar cane fields and green hills of Kenya and in the hearts of GCR members. 

    "Thank you, Lord, for letting me see your Spirit in action!"

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Embezzling Anti-Semitic Head Shavers

    Fallon, "Apparently Herman Cain gave his first press conference since the sexual harassment charges. First, he took a bunch of questions and then he took a bunch of phone numbers." "Ha-ha-ha," goes the studio audience and those of us lounging in our lazy-boy with a bowl of Captain Crunch.  We take our fingers and point at Herman shaking our heads. Is he guilty or not guilty?  I guess that's for the masses, equipped with 'unbiased' information from rating-crazed news programs, comedians, and online tidbits, to decide.  I won't defend Cain and I won't condemn him because I have no idea what happened. Guilty or not he isn't alone... Schwarzenegger, Edwards, Clinton, Lohan, Gibson, fill in the ______________ (there are lots to choose from).  But, this post isn't about Cain or an other tabloid star or rating magnet.  It is about me and perhaps it is about you.

    As a human-beings living in an "Under Reconstruction" era we have a capacity to, a tendency toward, a pull toward contributing to brokenness - sin, screw ups, and choosing ourselves over others.  When all these celebs and pseudo-celebs (politicians) prove themselves sinners in the public eye, not only does the media highlight their poor choices with florescent lights and a high school marching band, but I have assumed the role of armchair judge and sometimes as armchair God.  I not only proclaimed the verdict, "Guilty!" but also somehow knew the heart, mind and character of this individual who I had never met.

    It is easy vilify.  Sometimes we need someone to vilify. So we take past mistakes of celebs and we destroy their character.  Sometimes we take recent mistakes of celebs and strip them of their humanness.  We laugh at them; we use them as sermon examples; we boycott their products; we define them by their mistakes. Don't get me wrong.  Celebrities make mistakes... sometimes BIG ones with devastating consequences.  I think they should  take responsibility, seek restoration, tackle the consequences head on with class.  Perhaps some even have faulty character...?  But whether guilty or not, remorseful or not, character-flawed or not I have taken off the robe and put down the gavel.

    I busted the sin pinata this summer; in other words I committed one of the 'big' ones.  I wake up every day with regret, not guilt or shame anymore, but regret.  I wish people could see my heart and my longings but too often it is overshadowed by the affair.  I'm not upset about this reality; it's part of the consequences.  That's why I breath-pray, "It is God who justifies; it is God who justifies." But, I have walked in shoes I hadn't worn before and it's changed they way I see celebrity screw ups.  My guess is some of them wake up with daily regret too.  Some of them try to cover up their mistakes with lies because they are afraid the weight of public scrutiny would crush them (many lay buried below its rubble).  Some live in great sorrow and pain knowing history will remember them by their mistakes.

    They are not victims but they are also not the sum total of their mistakes.  Now. Today. I focus on their humanness: people with legit feelings, people made in the image of God, people in need of redemption, people with the capacity to change, people just like me.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Join Frog

    I'm Charlton Taylor and I'm a People-Pleaser.  This week marks two months of being sober, and sobriety is a a necessary step in joining Frog's mission!  I know what you're saying, "There's nothing wrong with doing something to please someone!"  Correct!  There is also nothing wrong with having a beer or two... but 15 beers? Or 15 beers everyday with your oatmeal and fried eggs?  Enough said!

    People-Pleasing can quickly turn from serving another for their pleasure to a hunger for affirmation and acceptance. Both affirmation and acceptance, like food, are vital for human life and health, but when you live for the next hit they become destructive.  You find yourself serving, ministering, and giving for yourself - to hear, "Wow, great job!  Thank you SOOOO much! You are so amazing!  I can't believe you did that for me; you really are an incredible person!" A & A addiction moves the focus away from "The Other" and the act itself and places it on yourself!  That's why I want to join Frog.

    In Haruki Murakami's short story collection, After the Quake, he shares the tale "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo."  The narrative centers on a middle-aged loan officer, Katagiri, who receives a visit from a 6 foot frog.  Frog invites Katagiri to fight against Worm, who happens to reside deep below Tokyo.  In a few days Worm will become angry, an anger that will cause a fatal earthquake in Tokyo killing over 150,000 people. Worm must be destroyed and Frog says he can only defeat him with Katagiri's help.  Katagir tries to wiggle his way out of the invite but Frog refuses to accept:

    No, it is a matter of responsibility and honor. You may not be too crazy about the idea, but we have no choice: you and I must go underground and face Worm.  If we should happen to lose our lives in the process, we will gain no one's sympathy. And even if we manage to defeat Worm, no one will praise us. No one will ever know that such a battle even raged far beneath their feet. Only you and I will know, Mr. Katagiri.  However it turns out, ours will be a lonely battle.

    I want to do what is right out of honor and responsibility... and love and genuine compassion and not primarily for affirmation and acceptance. The key is to bring joy to others without them knowing I was the one who brought joy.  They key is to help others without them ever knowing it was me.  Jesus says it this way: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    So, I'm a recovering People-Pleaser, not because I don't want to serve others, but because I want to serve others for them and not for me, because I want to brave the battle against Worm, to stand victorious over Worm's lifeless corpse while the masses miles above go about their daily lives oblivious to the war that raged below .  So today... give, serve, and minister incognito.

    I'm Charlton Taylor and I'm a People-Pleaser. 

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    The Gospel According to AT&T


    MB and I headed to Big "D" for a Get-Away-Weekend, a weekend bullied by eating - In-N-Out Burgers, Panera Bread, Pinkberry, and Fogo de Chao (I'm still digesting the cow I packed into my gut).  But, we did manage to squeeze in some Swing lessons: triple-step, triple-step, back-step, step and a 60 minute massage!  It was that massage that spurred this post!

    As I lay covered with a thin white sheet, staring at the floor through the hole in the table that framed my face, with a stranger pushing, pulling, rubbing, and chopping my body I asked myself, "Why does this work?  Why does it feel so good?  Why do we pay so much for something that seems a bit strange?" Sure, there is something relaxing and healing in a massage. But, I can get a similar effect from a massage chair, a jacuzzi tub, or rolling my feet over a wooden stick and yet it's not quite the same.  The difference is the human touch, literally.  God created us to long for human-human contact.  We need The Other's touch.  

    Babies understand it because we haven't yet deprogrammed them.  I often hear people say, as the child cries, "Don't pick her up.  That will just train her to cry for what she wants." That is one way to see it, or perhaps the baby stops crying when you pick her up because because human touch soothes - being cradled and cuddled calms.

    This summer, as I isolated myself from most of my friends and family in order to cope with my sin, I started having "touch" withdraws.  There were some weeks I was starved for a hug.  One night, in the midst of a "touch" fast, I drove 35 miles to my parents, knowing they did not approve of my current choices, just to beg for a hug.  Another time, while living at my cousins, I was on my way out the door for work when his mom (who just happened to be in town) said, "Are you okay?  Do you need hug?" Earlier that morning, while I primped for work, I couldn't stop thinking, "I really need a hug.  I really need a hug."  She read it all over my face and so as my aunt embraced this 34-year-old man I wept.  I needed her touch.

    I've noticed the intentional touch of MB's and my therapist.  She conducts herself in a perfect professional and approprieate manner.  I notice how carefully she maintains strong therapist/patient boundaries, and yet EVERY week as we leave her office she stands by the doorway and gives us both a gentle tap on our right shoulder.  It's simple; it's light, and yet in that touch she says, "I care about you as a person and not just a patient."  Touch matters!

    It is in God's design.  Genesis 2 paints a picture of God The Sculptor forming man with his hands - close and intimate. Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen. 2:7).  

    Scripture continues to reveal God's design for touch through the person of  Jesus.  Although able to heal with a word, time and time again he heals with touch:
    1. The leper in Mark 1:41 - Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
    2. The deaf and mute in Mark 7:33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  
    3. The blind man in Mark 8:32 - He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
    4. Jarius' daughter in Mark 5:41 - He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).    
    We see it also in Christ's interaction with children.
    1.   Mark 9:36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them... 
    2. and Mark 10:16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
    Someone will cross your path today in need of a hug, a pat on the back, a hand-squeeze, or perhaps to be held tightly as they sob and ache.  So... echoing the 1981 AT&T slogan, "Reach out and touch someone!"

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    They Rebuild

    BOOM! That explosion?  Just my life.  I built the bomb.  I lit the fuse and the blast radius was huge, the shrapnel penetrating everywhere.  I looked around at the carnage, the wounded, the demolition and wondered, "How do I put this back together? How do I rebuild? How do I reclaim?  How do I redeem?"  The answer?  I don't... WE do!  I cannot list everyone who has traveled to Charltonville for disaster relief but here are some of the key players:

     
     A wife who says, "I have never stopped loving you!" A wife who knows how to love, to REALLY love.  A wife, who although unable to trust you at first, says, "I will trust in God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  A wife who will risk her heart, her soul and her future again.  A wife who not only understands grace and mercy but who oozes it out her pores everyday.

     Friends who not only like to hang out and laugh together but who are in it for the long haul, who lay their life down in front of you and say, "Walk on me if you have to.  We can take it."  Friends who decide that they'd rather love you like family than acquaintances.  Friends to whom I owe my life.
      
    Looong time soul brothers (and sisters) who clear the schedule and reorder their world to clean up your crap...not only because they love you, but because they believe in you, because they act like they need you, and because they celebrate you.

     
    Adopted parents who say, "We will carry you right now with hope and joy. We will make sure on a daily basis that you know we are thinking about you and cheering for you."  People who when you think they cannot give anymore surprise you again... and again.

     Parents who love you more than you know, more than they can express, who cry over you, who welcome you home and hold you as you scream out the pain, who fight for you, pray for you, never give up on you.

     
    Sisters who believe in you, who know who you really are, who believe in who you are and not what you have done, who hope for you.

     In-laws who set aside the great pain you have caused them, the pain they have seen their daughter suffer and welcome you into their house as a son.  In-laws who will fight for your marriage.

     A brother-in-law who sets anger aside, puts the past behind him, and offers forgiveness with this simple phrase, "Glad you are back!"

     
    Friends who, in spite of the massive scar on your face, choose to focus their eyes on the features behind it and say, "We know who you are!"

    Second chances don't come from repentance. Second chances come because a community offers it and then serves as the foundation upon which it is built.  There are so many more, so many more... thank you!

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Eden Planters (Practical Redemption 3)

    If God created the Church for Practical Redemption, then what does redemption look like?  It looks like Eden, a time when everything fell in line with the desires of God - a world in harmony: humanity living at peace through love, people and nature benefiting each other, and God walking among us "in the cool of the day."

    Redemption looks like Jesus...  little Jesuses popping up around the earth because of the transforming work of the Spirit in the lives of his disciples: Jesus baristas, Jesus lawyers, Jesus teachers, Jesus hairstylists, Jesus businessmen, Jesus janitors...

    Redemption looks like heaven breaking into earth, and by heaven I don't mean some other sphere where a Spiritual Scottie magically teleports Christians in the "End Times."  By heaven I mean the domain where things align with the will of God.  It is the answering of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come; your will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN."

    Yes, there are commands, laws, and teachings throughout the great story of scripture, but all of them serve the overarching purpose of redemption.  In Revelation 21:5, God says it this way: "I am making everything new!"  We spend so much time camping out on the Means to the Ends.  The Bible isn't about morality,  justice, or orthodoxy, but these three serve as different means of redeeming a broken and hurting world.

    As the Church this is our lens, the lens of redemption.  Instead of putting acapella and instrumental worship in the ring to see who beats the snot out of the other, we ask, "How can our worship be Practical Redemption?  How can our worship best shape people into little Jesuses?"  It means we tackle conversations about women's roles with redemption as our guide.  It means we pour as much of our energy into what we do outside the building as to what we do inside the building.  It means we ask, "How do we grow Eden in our neighborhood and city?"  It means we spend less time worrying about conforming to the name on our sign and more time submitting to the Spirit in our heart.  It means that our presence in the world makes a tangible difference in the lives of people. We are a people of Practical Redemption.

    [Note: Sin is the antithesis of redemption.  It brings weeds to Eden; it mocks Jesus as a fool; it repels heaven's descent.  I don't write this as a trained theologian.  I write it from experience.  I bit off a big chunk of sin this summer.  It wasn't people telling me, "What you are doing is wrong!" or "Your soul is in danger of hell!" or "You're an a--hole," that broke my soul.  It was my eyes opening to how my selfish and sinful choices undid, on so many levels, God's plan of redemption.  I uncreated!  That's not what I desire. Instead, I want the Spirit to redeem through me.  This is my prayer.]

    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    Baptism, Communion, and Shriveled Hands (Practical Redemption 2)

    Blue Cheese makes a simple observation: "Too often The Church's conversations are completely irrelevant to the brokenness, needs, hurt, and loneliness of the world."  I think of greater concern is not that our conversations are irrelevant but that we are unaware of their irrelevance. Or, perhaps of greatest concern is when our churches are aware of our irrelevance but fail to care because we are so caught up mastering our religious system.

    The Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark play this role well.  They, with good intentions, weighed The Law down with regulations, legalism, and doctrine to the point of irrelevance.  You could roll out a 15 foot scroll with perfectly dotted "i's" and crossed "t's" and yet the man who sits in your pew at Saturday Synagogue still comes and goes with a shriveled hand.  Let me explain:

    1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
     4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
     5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)

    Jesus blatantly breaks the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law.  A jury would convict him.  He was guilty, but he was right.  God always intended The Law to be practical to every day life.  It was to redeem, in a tangible way, a broken world.  God didn't give The Law as a set of rules for rules sake, but rather to transform and recreate.

    For example, The Creator did not pull the "Keep the Sabbath Holy" command out of thin air to stroke his sovereignty.  The Sabbath command was practical for redeeming every day life. It challenged oppression.  Masters and Lords could not force their slaves or animals to work on Saturday.  Farmers could not tend their fields.  As a result, slaves and oxen could rest while their master was reminded, "These people and these animals do not belong to you.  They belong to God."  It also kept human arrogance in check. On the Sabbath Israel ceased all productivity and yet life carried on - the sun rose and set, the seasons continued as normal, the world refused to spin off its axis into the flaming ball of fire.  Every seventh day Israel tasted again God's sovereignty and their dependence upon Him.

    Jesus gets angry not simply because the Pharisees screwed up the Sabbath but because they missed the purpose of the whole Law.  In response, Jesus readjusts their perception by taking them back to the heart of The Law - to the heart of God... PRACTICAL REDEMPTION.  He stands the man up and gives him a new hand!  "There!" Jesus says, "That's the purpose of the the Sabbath.  That's the purpose of the Law.  That's the heart of God! - Practical Redemption."

    Practical Redemption was not only the purpose of The Law; it is the mission of The Church!

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Blue Cheese: A Parable (Practical Redemption 1)

    It was in the old part of town where local merchants sold organic produce under the open sky, where corner bakeries served gourmet coffees in anything but a Starbucks cup, and where the street was still paved in red brick.  The couple loved to take each other to this quiet and chic part of town for walks, talks, and of course the Bread Pallet.  The Bread Pallet was a small eatery with ancient wine, fresh yeast rolls you could taste by their aroma, and a heart-stopping Tiramisu.

    The hour hand had just reached eleven and the the couple had already settled into their  favorite corner table tucked away by the front window under a painting of Puck from a Midsummer's Nights Dream.  He had ordered the Raspberry Tea with fresh raspberries layered among the ice; she drank espresso on ice.  Each time they dined at this favorite spot they'd read the menu as if they were exploring the entrees for the first time, but like the sun breaking over the eastern horizon they always ended up ordering "The Regular."  The menu reading was more of a game.  Often they'd pick a dish, appetizer, dessert or drink and discuss it's strengths, weakness, origin, etc.  Today? - The Wedge Salad.  The menu read:

    Geyser's Wedge Salad
    A refreshing quarter of iceberg lettuce adorned with
    organic tomatoes, green onions, freshly cooked bacon,
    blue cheese crumbles, and topped with our homemade
    blue cheese dressing.

    She speaks first, "Mmmm!  That looks good, except for the blue cheese crumbles.  I'd substitute with cheddar!"
    "What?" he responds with disbelief, "You can't eat a Wedge Salad without blue cheese!"
    "Sure you can.  You just say, 'I'd like the Geyser Wedge with cheddar instead of blue cheese.'" 
    "No, no you can't.  If you cut out blue cheese it is no longer a Wedge!"
    "Of course it is!"
    "No, it is not!"
    "You order your burgers without onions.  It is the same thing!"
    "Shut up!  Not even close.  Ordering a wedge without the blue cheese is like ordering the burger without the meat."
    "I'd argue that cheddar goes better with bacon than blue cheese anyway.  Think, 'Bacon cheddar burger.'"
    "That doesn't matter.  Pull out Betty Crocker; flip to salads and guess what?  There will be blue cheese."
    "Seriously?  You are going to Betty Crocker me?"
    "Hon, you are wrong; it doesn't matter what you think because when it comes to the wedge...."

    And their banter carried on through the appetizer, through the entree, and even through his after-dinner coffee.  Unbeknownst to them, two blocks over in the ally out back of Danielle's Paninis, an middle-aged man rummaged through the trash looking for provolone that happened to cling to the side of the dumpster, or a half chewed piece of french bread, or some chicken scraps.  His stomach cramped with hunger, his head a little light, legs shaky and all the while they argued over blue cheese.

    This is a story, too often, about the church.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    What Was Is and Will Be

    All that I have left is all that I really had in the first place.

    I'm a sculptor of perception and my medium of choice has been the Christian Faith.  I learned early on which levers to pull, which words to say, which looks to sport, which verses to quote in order to win the approval of the masses.  It worked.  The school kids called me "PK" (Preacher Kid).  Mr. Integrity in High School.  Mr. LCU in college. "Charley and Terrie, you must be so proud of your son!"  It worked so well I eventually landed what I had planned from the beginning - the big preaching gig! I had sculpted a perception masterpiece.  The problem?  Any perception built on any foundation other than God eventually caves in under its own weight.  And so it did with the "big preaching gig."

    I was honored and thrilled that this prominent congregation had invited me to stand before them and offer a weekly Word from the Lord.  I also knew that despite its successful history the congregation was  currently in the early stages of organizational decline.  No problem, that's why I was being brought in (sounds pompous...  it was). Except that two months into the job my gut, or more likely the Spirit (sometimes I wish it were easier to decipher between the two), told me, "This isn't going to work." But there were voices out -talking my gut/Spirit.  My education said, "You have to give it two years before you can make any decisions!"  My experience said, "You are a trained theologian and minister."  My youth said, "You are exactly what this congregation needs to ride out of its slump into a new future."  My competitive nature said, "Taylor, you're not a quitter!"  In case you missed it, my pride and arrogance out-shouted my gut/Spirit.

    "I mean, I am an excellent preacher.  I will win the crowd over in no time.  I will WOW them with my first sermon and by the end of the first month they'll be thanking the elders for hiring me!"  So I delivered my first sermon with all the passion I could muster, but the WOW was more of an "Uh-huh."  The WOW didn't show up at the second or third sermon either.  Second month? Nope.  Third? Nah.  Sixth?  No way; it was bad by then.  The comments were coming "Talks too fast.  Doesn't use enough scripture.  Irreverent. Illustrations don't make sense.  Can't understand him.  He is a left wing liberal...."  Now granted, preaching always comes with criticism and I had many opportunities to taste that bitter herb.  Once after a youth rally, an elder rebuked me publicly in front of the entire congregation. That tasted sweet! Another time, at a different congregation, a member transcribed a section from my sermon, wrote a three page rebuttal and then emailed it to all my elders with out my knowledge.  Criticism and I had gone on several dates.  It wasn't simply the criticism but the reality that it began to awaken in me, "You're not that good of a preacher!"  At that point, I often considered quitting preaching altogether with dreams of serving as a park ranger in some heavily forested state.  I realized the weight I put on my preaching was too much.  It was too shabby of a structure, and would never carry this congregation through.

    With my preaching crumbling around me, I turned to my mad leadership skills.  "Come on, I have always been a leader: NHS President, Drama Club VP, Chorus Chaplain, Freshman Class President, Sophomore Class President, Meistersinger President."  I thought my credentials would speak for themselves.  But, this situation was different; overt leadership would fail.  I didn't have the chips, tenure, or respect to lead overtly.  I would implement second chair leadership: relational leadership, grassroots movements, invite outsiders with clout to speak into the situation, and use data...lots and lots of data.  I was confident... then less so...then not at all...then simply kissing failure right smack on the lips.  Throughout my leadership efforts several key individuals who I needed on board called my leadership ability into question.  KABOOM!  My leadership confidence exploded as my preaching collapsed around me.

    "At least I still have my integrity and character!  At least... oh wait, HAD."  The majority of people would never have doubted my character and integrity and no one was going to take that from me.  They didn't have to because I sacrificed it all when I let my heart wander into places it never belonged, launching me into a four month run of betrayal, deception, selfishness, and cheating.  At that point... "Let's see, anyone out there respect me?  Can we see a showing of hands? Umm, anyone?  Anyone?  Ok, no one!"  So with my preaching crumbling around my exploding leadership I decided to strangle my character and integrity with my bare hands.

    It all caved in... all of it and I was left with nothing - Preaching? NO.  Leadership? Funny.  Character and integrity? Shut up! - everything I had relied on for my identity.  All the little pieces I had woven into a beautiful tapestry and named "Charlton" were now shattered across the floor of my life.  I was left with nothing but God!  That's when it hit me; that's all I ever had, GOD!  Even when "I had it all," I really just had God.


    All that I have left is all that I really had in the first place.