Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NACC: Day One

Enjoyed the first evening session of this year's North American Christian Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Jeff Stone preached about grace tonight. Does grace still amaze us? It is a question worth considering. Jeff taught us that, if we value Gods grace it will fuel a lifestyle response of grace.

Makes me wonder . . .

Jeff mentioned Ephesians 4:32 - a verse that I preached on a few weeks back when we considered how we can defeat anger in our lives - "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

I wonder . . . if God can forgive me for nailing his son to a cross, is there anything for which I cannot forgive my brother or sister? Doesn't seem I have much choice, really, does it? The Bible is even more explicit in my need for forgiveness. Jesus himself said in Mark 11:25, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Am I right in understanding that, if I don't forgive my brothers and sisters when they offend me that I risk losing the forgiveness of the Father?


And so, I need to be more forgiving. 'Cause the truth is, I've been forgiven much.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ten things I love about Grand Ledge . . .

  1. As you walk through the produce section at the Felpausch, from time to time you hear thunder. It happens just before the produce is automatically misted so you know to get out of the way and avoid the shower.
  2. At the Sun Theater when the $2 movie doesn't start quite on time and when the sound stops working part way through and they have to stop to re-thread the film, nobody freaks out.
  3. The blind man who stops at the Lickety Split ice cream stand and talks with you while you lick your ice cream really fast to keep it from melting down your arm on hot summer nights.
  4. When you're waiting in your car at the Saginaw Highway and Hartel Road stoplight with the windows down you can hear music playing from the grocery store parking lot speakers.
  5. When you show up to bring your son to the first practice for Grand Ledge Area Youth Football, there are literally hundreds of parents in lawn chairs watching their kids run through drills.
  6. Several times a year there is a parade that winds down bridge street and across the Grand River as American flags wave and Police officers and Fire fighters toss candy to children.
  7. On Friday nights in the fall the Comet Marching Band marches from the band room to the football field and the drum line plays "Grand Ledge Series 96." Then, when the band reaches the home bleachers, they break into the fight song as the band parents lean over the back of the bleachers to catch a glimpse of their kids.
  8. Grand Ledge is exactly half-way between South Lansing Christian Church and my best friend Fred and his wife Mariah's house.
  9. As I look out my kitchen window I see a groundhog walking from the neighbor's barn to the pond and hear the fountain splashing and the bullfrogs croaking.
  10. Buying Michigan sweet cherries at the Meijer and spitting the pits out as my son and I walk across the parking back lot to our subdivision.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tough questions

I've been really impressed with Reggie McNeal's The Present Future and by the tough questions that he has for the North American church:
  • Is the church the mission or the missionary?
  • Are we "doing" church at the clubhouse, or "being" the church in the world?
  • Are we measuring our effectiveness with "church culture yardsticks" like, "Was the sermon well received?" and "Are church programs staffed and operating with good customer satisfaction?" or do we measure our effectiveness by our impact beyond the church walls?
  • Who gets more applause in our church: people who fix food for special occasions or people who introduce people to Jesus?
  • Are we so busy getting people involved at the church that we've neglected the fundamental agenda of spiritual formation?
  • Is our growth occurring because we're the best "church game" in town or because we are impacting the lives of pre-Christians?
Like many established churches, South Lansing Christian Church finds itself asking tough questions like these. We are a church in transition.

Truth be told, we have been a church in transition for well over a decade. Like many congregations, South made significant transitions in the late 1990s and early part of the the new century. The church moved from a more traditional style of worship to one that is more contemporary. "Under performing" programs like Sunday night worship were pruned away. Small groups were introduced as an alternative to traditional Sunday School.

This new reality we are facing, the next-level of transition, is perhaps tougher than all of the previous challenges, however, because it confronts the core values on which we are based and not just the methodologies with which we operate. Rather than ask, "What sort of music most appeals to our members?" (a question pertaining to people in the church) this transitional period deals with much deeper issues. Issues like: Are we willing to change in order to reach unbelievers? Are we willing to scrap that which is our definition of "church," if need be, in order to become "all things to all people so that we might win some?"

This may be the most difficult transition that any church will face. Clearly it is the most important, in that it is not only a matter of our church's survival, but also a matter of our relevance to a Christ-less world.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Love this

I invested some time with a pre-married couple tonight. We talked about the nature of intimacy and passion and how the two are interrelated. Together we unpacked this passage of scripture that is paraphrased uniquely in The Message.
Corinthians 6:16-20
There's more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, "The two become one." Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never "become one." There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for "becoming one" with another. Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.
I think this is some of what Rob Bell was writing about in SexGod. Its just cool, I think, that Paul said it first.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hoping to get my pants back

A couple weeks back the family and I were hanging out at Fred and Mariah's when I was surprised to see my pants hanging on the back of the Lab's bathroom door. I say surprised - not so much because they were hanging in their bathroom, but because I had been looking for them for some time and couldn't recall where they were. When I saw them on the back of Fred's door, though, I remembered: Fred borrowed my sweat pants when he was at our house once and got his pants wet, though I can't recall exactly how.

I walked back out into Fred's living room and told him, "Hey my pants! I'm glad I found them; I'll take 'em home tonight." "Nope," replied Fred.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you can't have them."

"But they're my pants. And they match my Chicago Cub pullover. That my wife bought for me for by 40th birthday."

Fred explained, "I'm not saying you can't have them ever. Just not now."


"Not until the NHL playoffs are over."

Ahhh. It was all becoming clear to me. Fred went on to explain that he was wearing my pants when the Red Wings won their first playoff game, and that they were now designated "lucky."

Now before I explain further, you need to understand that Fred is serious about hockey. Fanatical even. He has watched every Red Wing game this season. All of them. Including the pre-season. (115 total) What is more, he is deliberate - obsessive compulsive even - about his hockey watching habit. He records every game on DVR and watches them after his wife and children are in bed. So he won't be interrupted. In fact, if you try and call Fred on the phone on a "Red Wing night," he generally answers the phone, not with "Hello," but with, "I'm taping the game, don't tell me anything."

With playoff hockey, magnify that by a factor of, say, ten. You're lucky if he answers the phone at all, lest his DVR date be ruined by learning the game's outcome ahead of time. So serious is he about this that, when we were at the racetrack last Saturday and the track announcer said, "Red Wings fans, your score at . . . " Fred covered his ears with his hands and began shouting, "la la la la la la la la la," and literally ran out of the stands and headed for his truck. I'm not making that up.

Back to my pants. Apparently they have become part of a mojo ensemble. After the three Lab-lings are tucked into bed, Fred dons my pants, his white t-shirt (the one with the blue paint spots) and his Steve Yzerman jersey. He camps out in his leather lazy-boy and, with hockey stick in hand, watches the game. Don't even bother trying to call. He's in the zone.

Here's the thing I don't understand. Fred tapes the game, and the game is generally over when he watches it, so how helpful are my pants? I mean the game is over. So aren't my sweatpants' sorcery pretty much impotent at that point? I asked Freddo about this and his reply was simply, "Just let me live with my illusions." Okay. I can do that.


The Wings just lost
. I guess I'll have to wait until Friday night to get them back. Then again, with tonight's loss, maybe he'll decide the juju is all played out and finally wash them. And start answering his phone again.

Until Michigan football in September.

Thank God my sweatpants are blue and red and not blue and maize.

This guy makes sense . . .

I am reading The Present Future by Reggie McNeal. (I know, Mike, I am about six years behind the curve!) One paragraph that I read today really resonated with me. Here it is:
Part of the spiritual formation of followers of Jesus surely should involve helping them know how to introduce Jesus into conversations and be able to pass along pertinent insights to people who are being drawn to God. Because we have made evangelism a sales activity in the North American church, we have reduced how much of it goes on. In many cases, we're not peddling Jesus - we're peddling the church, with the assumption that if people will come to the church and convert to churchianity they will get Jesus. What they often get is a poor substitute. Evangelism that will introduce Jesus to this culture will flow from people who are deeply in love with Jesus. [author's emphasis] It has happened before - in the book of Acts. Their relationship with Jesus was what the early Christian community had to share with the world. They didn't have a Roman road, a New Testament, or any doctrinal treatises or "plan of salvation." They had Jesus. And people knew it. Their love for him turned the world upside down.
I grew up in a church where we learned "five finger salvation." Regrettably, we didn't learn to love Jesus quite as much. (That is no indictment on the church - that's just how things were done.) But then how is one taught to love Jesus? It happens, I think, when we see other people loving him and when we personally experience his love. Too often, though, my spiritual formation has centered around learning about Jesus and not as much in getting to know Jesus.

If McNeal is correct, and I'm pretty certain he is, then we need to recover the concept of helping people experience the love of Christ and thereby loving him back.

Frankly speaking . . . that is going to require me to rethink some things.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Heart Disease

I begin a new sermon series this coming Sunday. Honestly, it is a straight-up knock off of Andy Stanley's book, It Came From Within. Andy writes about four monsters that attack our hearts: guilt, anger, greed, and envy. More on that in later posts.

The upshot of the book, which I finished reading this morning about 1 AM, is this: we spend far more time adjusting our behavior that we we do tending to the heart. Odd, since it is the heart that is the source of our behavior. The heart doesn't so much reflect who I am, as it reveals who I am.

The book came at a good time for me, for it is an affirmation of something my spiritual coach, Dean, told me while back. He said that I need to reflect more. I need to pay more attention to the inner life. Andy Stanley agrees.

In fact, he lists several questions in his book that help us test the heart:
  • Is everything okay with my heart?
  • Am I mad at anybody?
  • Did anyone hurt my feelings today?
  • Did anyone break a promise to me today?
  • Am I worried about anything?
The answers to these questions can reveal if we have a monster lurking in the shadows.

These aren't the questions we usually ask, though. Truth is, we usually focus on our behavior.

Not convinced that you monitor behavior instead of your heart? When was the last time you asked your son or daughter, "Are you mad at anyone?" No? Me either. I ask things like, "Is your room clean?" or "Did you finish your homework?" I spotlight behavior and neglect teaching my kids to reflect. Why? Because that is what I learned to do.

There are other questions you can ask that will help you diagnose whether or not you have heart disease. These really require some boldness, though, because these are questions you ask the people closest to you. Try these on your husband or wife:
  • Do you feel I struggle with being completely open about things?
  • Do you feel like I have walls?
  • Do you ever feel like you're competing with my stuff?
  • Are you ever afraid to talk to me?
  • Do you ever wonder which one of me you're coming home to?
Did I mention these are tough?

I don't know if you're like me, but I am convinced that I need to focus more on my heart. When I do, I'm guessing my behavior will begin to change the way God desires. Or at least that is what I am hoping.