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Courage Quote

Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.

Malcom Gladwell, David and Goliath, p.149

Who vs How

The message I delivered to Tapestry yesterday was the “Love All” section of Advent Conspiracy (the movement we participate in with other churches during Advent). I focused on being more concerned with the “Who” of love rather than the “How.” Specifically not just working out details of how we can love people that are difficult for us to love or people that we have forgotten to love, but instead to focus on Christ loving through us and allowing Him to direct. His “Who” can, and will, then direct us to love in ways that we can never do on our own. When we focus on “Who”, the responsibility is on Christ, with us having the responsibility to say “yes” to what He directs and empowers. When we focus on “How” all the responsibility is on us. ‘Who” leads us to work with God, we are responding to what He is already doing. “How” puts the initiative and direction in our hands instead of His.

Anyhow, I stopped into Emy J’s today for some office hours and while trying to finish “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace” by James B. Torrance I ran across this line, which I would have used yesterday if I had seen it previously. It is:

The question of how is not unimportant, but we must always seek answers in terms of who.

p. 93.

ARGH! It drives me nuts when I discover the perfect way to say something the day after I needed to say it.

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1st Pastoral Response

I am presently reading “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace” by James B. Torrance and was struck by this statement concerning the pastoral practicality of the Trinity. He says:

It seems to me that in a pastoral situation our first task is not to throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it, but to direct people to the gospel of grace – to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father. (p. 45)

He gives an example of this where while he was walking along a beach he ran into the husband of a woman who was dying. The husband  found out that Torrance was a Presbyterian minister and told Torrance that his father had been a Presbyterian minister also but that he personally had fallen away from his faith. Now he really wished that he had the faith he once had and could pray like his father. He told Torrance that he had been walking up and down the beach trying to pray and failing miserably. Instead of immediately trying to instruct the man on how to pray, and thereby placing more of a burden on the man, Professor Torrance introduced the man to the Jesus who is already praying for us. The Jesus who hears out groans and failed attempts at prayer and translates those as He intercedes for us. Torrance invited the man into the communion of the God who already works, rather than just throwing more duty onto the struggling man.

Torrance sums it up this way.

The first real step on the road to prayer is to recognize that none of us knows how to pray as we ought to. But as we bring our desires to God, we find that we have someone who is praying for us, with us, and in us. Thereby he teaches us to pray and motivates us to pray, and to pray in peace to the Lord. Jesus takes our prayers – our feeble, selfish, inarticulate prayers – he cleanses them, makes them his prayers, and in a “wonderful exchange” (mirifica commutatio – commercium admirable) he makes his prayers our prayers and presents us to the Father as his dear children, crying: “Abba Father” (p. 45-6)

It was a really good reminder for me. My first pastoral response should be to help people know that the Father, Son, and Spirit invite them into what they are already doing, rather than just trying to impose more religious duty. To throw people onto Jesus and his effort, rather than throwing them back on themselves and their own effort.

1914 Christmas Truce

Here’s the video I showed during the message this morning at Tapestry. I thought I would post it for those who wished to see it again, or weren’t there to see it the first time. The 1914 Christmas Truce is an amazing story and a great example of Christmas changing everything if we actually believe in the incarnation of Jesus and take risks to act on that truth.

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Q Commons

So friends in the Point area and “threads” I need your advice/opinion. For a few years I have gone to a conference called Q that I really like. It is kind of a TED talk for faith & culture. The conference is now going to do a national/regional collaboration called Q Commons and I applied to host one in the Point area. I’ve been accepted and now I have to commit or drop out. Therefore, I am wondering what your interest in this might be, because I figure if you are interested then there is a good chance it will work for us.

Q Commons is basically 3 national speakers that will be live feed videoed (Malcom Gladwell is one of the national speakers) and 3 regional speakers who will be with us.  Each speakers has around 9 minutes to talk about what they see that is right, wrong, confused, etc. in faith and culture in our nation and region. Gladwell is the exception to this, he will have 18 minutes. Part of the focus of the evening is interaction between those involved in the evening. This means that there are two times throughout the evening that participants talk through ideas that have been discussed. Heck they are evening planning on giving each of the participants a Moleskine to record their thoughts in – I’ll do a lot for a Moleskine.

Anyhow I was wondering what my friends’ thoughts might be. Is this something you would be interested in? Costs $29 for the evening Thursday, February 26th. Thoughts?

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Benjamin Watson on Ferguson

I haven’t blogged about Ferguson because I don’t really know how to express my jumbled up thoughts on the situation. So I’ll just share what New Orleans Saints Tight End Benjamin Watson wrote concerning his thoughts. I like what he said. I like it a lot.

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

ht Joy

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What if there Really is a War on Christmas?

As far as I am concerned it is not the Christmas season yet. That starts this Sunday with the beginning of Advent. Right now I am more focused on making sure that we smoke enough turkey for me to devour several smoked turkey sandwiches while I watch the Iron Bowl this Saturday (yep I have great priorities). Still there has been a thought that has been bouncing around my head for a few years that comes up around this time period each year. It happens when I begin to see articles and hear people comment on the “War on Christmas.”

The main point of this supposed “War on Christmas” is that some anti-God groups have made it their mission to wipe out all mention of Christmas from the public square. Be it government and community buildings or public and private businesses. It is all a conspiracy to have people say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” and thereby take us all one step closer to the end of Christianity. It all sounds terrible.

persecution-downloadIt also sounds ripe for mockery. Take the photo to the right for an example. A Facebook friend of mine posted the image to the right. I can’t remember or find which friend, I just remember seeing it on a friend’s feed. If you are the friend that posted this image please let me know so I can give you a hat tip.

Anyhow, the worry about this so called “War on Christmas” is that suddenly people can feel like they are being persecuted by an action that isn’t really persecution. “After all,” they think, “this is war we are talking about. If all those ‘happy holidays’ are a part of a war then they are about attacking an enemy, and we’re the enemy.” Thus many well meaning Christians fear that they are in the cross hairs of an enemy’s ideological weapon. This sort of behavior isn’t a war on Christmas and it definitely isn’t persecution against Christians. There is real persecution of believers in the world, but this is not such real persecution.

But what if there really is a war on Christmas and it is different from this so-called “War on Christmas”? When Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper he states the following concerning the manner in which the Corinthians were celebrating the Eucharist.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
(1 Corinthians 11:27-32 NIV)

Paul simply states that there is a manner in which we can “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (What 1 Corinthians 11:26 says we are doing when we participate in communion) that is unworthy of the celebration itself. That unworthy manner actually denigrates the actual celebration. It turns it from one thing, that remembers the Lord and unites His people, into something entirely different, that rejects the God of love and separates His people. How we celebrate something matters.

war-on-christmas2What if this is also true of how we celebrate Christmas? What if the way we celebrate the birth of the Savior, the coming of God to His creation, the Incarnation of God, shows whether we really trust in Him or not. Shouldn’t the manner in which a follower of Christ celebrates and remembers the birth of Jesus bring “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10)? When a follower of Christ celebrates the coming of the Lord to His creation shouldn’t it involve “proclaim[ing] freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19)? Basically, shouldn’t those of us who are disciples of Jesus be more concerned with whether we are celebrating His birth in a manner that He would be pleased with, instead of griping about whether are not a minimum wage cashier says “Merry Christmas” or not?

I fear that the real war on Christmas is more about getting Jesus’s disciples to go into debt to buy lots of junk that nobody needs, while turning the celebration of His birth into a time of stress and worry, rather than joy. The psuedo-war on Christmas is just a ploy, a diversion, to make us forget about the real war. The real war on Christmas is a war that is trying to get Christians to treat Christmas as something it is not. Christmas is not about us giving lots of crap to people. Christmas is not about being busier than we can handle. Christmas is not about going into debt. Christmas is not about Black Friday. Christmas is about Jesus entering the world. To use the words of the 1st chapter of the Gospel According to John, Christmas is about us celebrating when “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14 MSG). That’s what the true war on Christmas is fighting against. It is a war to keep us from remembering to celebrate in incarnational methods the time God became incarnate and showed up to free His people.

If we just focus on whether a company has Christmas decorations or not, then we’ll never stop to think “How does Jesus really want me to celebrate His birth?” Then we might celebrate the birth of our Savior in an unworthy manner and miss the point of Christmas completely. I pray that all of us who are followers of Jesus fight against that. There’s a war out there folks. Fight the good fight.

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Starting To Read the Journey

The photo above is the book that I am going to start reading tonight. I wouldn’t normally post about a book that I hadn’t even started reading yet, but this book is special. You see thanks to my absolutely amazing wife I received it as a gift from the author himself in the year 2000. That Fall Pam and I went to London for a week as an anniversary trip. It was a fantastic trip mainly because Pam is a very creative vacation planner (which is why the boys and I jokingly call her “Julie the cruise director”). Part of the plan that she established was a surprise visit to Oxford and an appointment to visit Dr. Alister McGrath.

This is me meeting Dr. McGrath again, but this time at the 2010 Q Conference.
This is me meeting Dr. McGrath at the 2010 Q Conference.

I have a few tiers of favorite authors. 1st tier – Holy Spirit (since the Bible is the single book that I have read the most cover to cover it is a good thing that I like it), 2nd tier – C.S. Lewis , 3rd tier – a group of other authors who I love and read and read regularly, 4th tier – authors that I like but a little less than the 3rd tier, etc., etc. If there was a hierarchy of the 2nd tier Dr. McGrath would be at the top. That is why Pam setup the appointment with him. Yep that is right, Pam arranged for me to meet with one of my heroes in his personal study. Of course, I wasn`t at my best (physically or mentally) when I met him. It began with me stinking.

The airline lost our luggage on the way to England. This shouldn`t have been a problem because we weren’t going to Oxford for a few days and the airline kept assuring us that they would have our luggage to us at any moment.  Their assurances didn`t mean much. On the fourth day, when we were heading to Oxford, Pam and I had been rotating the clothes we had in our carry on for two days and washing certain garments in the sink at night. I was reduced to wearing the sandals that I wore on the plane. Since it was cold I added socks to the sandals. Just in case, you don’t know this, socks and sandals are not a good look, I didn’t care because it was really cold. Yep I was going to meet Dr. McGrath wearing sandals and socks. And then I wasn`t.

I may or may not have stalked Dr. McGrath at one time.
I may or may not have stalked Dr. McGrath at one time.

We took the Oxford Tube to Oxford.  We would get to Oxford around an hour and a half before the appointment with Dr. McGrath. That was until the bus broke down. No big deal the Oxytube has buses leaving every twenty minutes, or so, for Oxford. We were told another bus would come by soon and we would board it and make it to Oxford with time to spare. “Soon” apparently meant over two hours. Turns out we were going to be 2 hours late for the appointment. We called and asked if we could reschedule our appointment. Unfortunately Dr. McGrath was a busy man and it wouldn’t be possible. Well, it was worth a try.

We arrived at Oxford and started to walk around the community and colleges. That is when it began to rain. Since our luggage was lost we were unprepared for the rain. We bought an umbrella to share and continued to walk through Oxford. Unfortunately we soon discovered that the umbrella didn’t completely cover us. That was when the right side of my body began to get wet.

Around lunch Pam and I thought “I wonder if Dr. McGrath would just sign my copy of his Systematic Theology?” So we went to Dr. McGrath’s office and began to explain the whole story to his secretary. We talked about losing our luggage, we talked about washing our clothes in the sink, we talked about the bus breaking down, and we ended with the rain. I thought she was going to cry and she decided right then and there that we had gone through too much and that Dr. McGrath would gladly meet with us during his office lunch.

That is when I began to back peddle REAL FAST. I suddenly realized that I would be in the room with a world class mind and I might have to talk to him. I am not a world class mind and therefore the thought of having to say something to him intimidated the heck out of me. Especially when I was wet, tired, and wearing the same clothe for multiple days. What if I said something stupid, like telling Dr. McGrath that he was my SECOND favorite author (which I actually did say to him). Nope, I would be more than satisfied with Dr. McGrath’s autograph and at most a handshake. She insisted and we were soon ushered into D. McGrath’s study. I was shaking in my shoes and acted on the only plan I could think of. I would ask dr. McGrath long winded questions that would keep him talking and keep me from having to say anything. My plan worked perfectly.

Thankfully Dr. McGrath was very generous and the whole experience turned out great. Before we left Dr. McGrath reached over, grabbed a book, signed it, an handed it to me. He told me this book wasn’t out yet but was his newest. I was thrilled.

Dr. McGrath and I in his study.
Dr. McGrath and I in his study. If you look closely you will see where the rain was landing on my right shoulder.

If you can’t tell, I married a pretty amazing woman.

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God As Word For Those With Language Disorders

Just a random thought so not a real post but, technically, an aside. Pam and I keep talking through the idea of whether or not people with language disorders understand the biblical idea of God doing so much through speaking and God the Son being described as the Word differently than those who do not have such language disorders. God speaking and being the Word are major themes that are found throughout the Bible. God speaks and creation happens. Jesus speaks and a man who is paralyzed is healed even though he is far away. God’s language is so much a part of Him that one of Jesus’s title is the Word, the Logos.

How is the realization of that truth affected by language disorders? Certain communication disorder affect a person’s very ability to understand language. i.e. language disorders. I don’t mean issues of fluency, articulation, and voice problems, which are speech issues. Language issues are a different matter and Pam and I find ourselves wonder how these language disorders affect the way people with them perceive and understand the God who speaks and is the Word.

Hopefully, if I post enough about this she will do some research concerning the question. ;) She has the opportunity to do some really cool research to present to ASHA and other organizations.

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Ministry Poker Chips

One of the most memorable lessons in ministry I was ever taught came from a conference I attended where Leith Anderson spoke about poker chips. This wasn’t the illustration that I was expecting to hear at a meeting full of ministers, but it was brilliant and I have tried to minister by it since I learned the lesson from Dr. Anderson.

Leith said that whether a minister realizes it or not each minister has an account of “”chips” that determines whether or not the people in the church will trust and follow him/her. Those chips are given by the parishioner and earned by the minister’s actions.

Wear a nice suit during your introduction to the church, earn a chip. Preach a great message during your first weekend as a minister at the church, earn three chips. Preach a good message when a parishioner invites a friend to church and the friend brags about the message, earn five chips. Preach a bad message that goes long on top of being bad, lose seven chips. Forget to visit someone’s great Aunt Gerdie when her dog is sick, lose five chips. Visit Aunt Gerdi when you are sick and everyone thinks you should be in bed, earn ten chips. Visit her on your birthday and earn twenty chips.

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An account of “chips” tell people they can trust you.

The point is that all these small events are adding or subtracting “chips” to the trust account of a minister. Over lots of time and lots of small events and trustworthy moments a minister build up a substantial account of chips and that equals a substantial amount of trust. You get to make big changes and survive big mistakes when you have built up a lot of trust.

Unfortunately, many ministers want to make the big change without ever spending the time building up the chips in their account to enable people to trust them with the change.  Then when things go wrong they often blame the church, rather than considering if they had built up enough chips to make such a big change. After all, Jesus told us to “count the costs” (Luke 14:28). You need to consider if you have the resources to finish the change that you are leading the church through. If you don’t have the resources of trust then spend time building them up before you start that big project. Sometimes parishioners think “You’ve never had a conversation with me longer than 30 seconds, why should I trust you when you say we are going to make big changes in the church?” Build up your chip account and that opinion very well may change.

One of the other things that Dr. Anderson said concerning these trust chips that really struck me is that the best ministers learn that they receive a greater number of chips if they learn to give away their initial chips. What does this mean? Here’s an example.

“Pastor, I really appreciated the Tenebrae service. It was very meaningful.”

“Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. You know George & Brenda really brought the whole thing together. They put a lot of work into the evening to make sure people connected with God. Could you tell them how much the night meant to them?”

There are some that you need to guard your chips from.
There are some that you need to guard your chips from.

See that is sharing the chips, also known as directing credit to other people.  When a minister makes sure and points to others, that is a chip multiplier. It shows parishioners that the minister isn’t just going to bogart all the attention and credit for him/herself. I’ve known a few people who you had to watch out for, because they were not only trying to selfishly make sure all the credit was directed toward themselves but they might also try to steal your trust chips for themselves if they could. I learned very quickly to guard my chips when I was around them.

Anyhow you can, and should, read Leith Anderson do a much better job of discussing this HERE.

My Thoughts & Ravings As I Try To Follow CHRIST

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