Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Danger of Building Projects

In Genesis 11:1-9, all of mankind are joined together by a single language and a common speech and as the moved eastward, they found a plain and settled there. It's apparently not too many generations after Noah, and the world is back in full swing...it's own swing.
"They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel--because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
So, what's the big deal? Why did God scatter them and confuse their language and stop their working together on a great project? From our culture's point of view, you really couldn't ask for much more, could you? People working together in harmony. Economic cooperation. Technological advancements (bricks were a HUGE improvement over rocks!). Ease of communication. It's almost like John Lennon's song "Imagine". What's God's problem?
A couple of big things: First, God had commanded all of mankind to keep moving. Go and mulitply, be fruitful, repopulate the world - spread out a bit. And their response? To stay together and not 'fill the earth'.
Second, they were determined to make a name for themselves. God had just wiped everyone off the earth earlier so he could start over with people who would honor him and follow the way they were made to live. And their response? It's all about us. God who?
So God's response is to confuse their language. Make them unable to communicate with the ease they had. No communication, no ability to agree about what to do next. It was time to move on and fulfill what God wanted them to do. They scattered and obeyed God, even if they didn't know why.
So are building project's dangerous? Not in and of themselves. But anytime we as God's people decide to do something that goes against what he commands us to do, it's dangerous. Anytime we do something to make a name for ourselves, it's dangerous.

So, as we step fully into a building project at Central, what is our purpose in doing it? Do our actions reflect a commitment to honor and obey the one we call Lord? Or is it all about us?

And more important than physical buildings, do our actions, the way we organize ourselves and the way we interact with each other - all the things that make up the body of Christ -reflect His call to love Him and each other AND to make disciples who will make disciples who will make disicples, etc?
As always, pray that God lead our hearts and minds to want to honor him and not to get sidetracked into wanting to honor ourselves, our own cultural heritage, or anything that reflects us and not God.
And may the Lord bless you in that...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Absence makes the heart grow...delusional?

"I remember the good old days when..." And the delusions begin. It's amazing how time has a way of erasing the not-so-good parts of our history and memory.
Sometimes you hear it at funerals. Sometimes you hear yourself reflecting on 'the simpler times' when you were younger. "If only we could go back..." Really? Would we really want to?
Even the writer of Ecclesiastes (7:10) said, "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions."
We have a way of fooling ourselves and not coming to terms with today. It's why we eat comfort food. It's why people drink too much. "Let me escape from it all."
And if we really could go back, we'd remember, upon arrival or soon thereafter, all those things that weren't that great and wish we hadn't done so.
It's like that Seinfeld episode in which George sees the woman he'd broken up with a good while back because she drove him nuts and NOW that he sees here with someone else, he's jealous...
...and wants to 'go back.' He pursues her, she resists and finally gives in. They're wrapping up their first date and as he walks her home, you hear him think "I've made a terrible mistake..."
Christians do that to with the past: bus ministry, Sunday night worship services, door knocking, gospel meetings, 'wearin' yer Sunday best', potlucks, good 'ol fashion singings, etc...
Lots of things are good, for a time. I remember with fondness my first car, but I certainly wouldn't want to have to depend on it for transportation for me and my family today!
What about you? What is it about past things that made them so good? For example, those who "long for" Sunday PM worship usually are really longing for comforting relationships.
What things does your heart drift back toward? What church things are 'comfort food' that you sometimes "wish we'd go back to?" What makes you think they'd be good for today?
Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 that "Each day has enough trouble of its own." Tomorrow isn't something we change by worry. Today isn't something that can be fixed by yesterday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

“Are you in … The Way?”

At church camp one year the teacher asked this question on the first morning of Bible class. He was from my home church, and I could tell by the way he paused before those last two words and gave them extra emphasis that he meant Big-T Big-W "The Way." I knew that this was what the earliest followers of Christ named themselves. And even if I didn't know that, I could have guessed it from a teen-friendly paperback edition of a popular Bible translation.

Yes, I thought confidently, I am in The Way.
Then he started around the circle, asking us each, by name, "Are you in... The Way?"
"I hope not!" "In the way of what?" My classmates’ answers indicated that they hadn't heard the pause and the capital letters in his voice. They took "in the way" to mean being an obstacle of some sort. I was shocked. Hadn't they seen friends toting "The Way" Bibles?
It got around to Gordon, an athletic, handsome, earnest, kind, smart guy who, if camp had a yearbook, would have been voted Most Humble (and would have immediately ceded it to whoever came in Second Most Humble). He’ll understand, I thought. He’ll give the right answer.
His answer was heartfelt and serious. He'd heard or interpreted something the others hadn't. He spoke with obvious anguish, something along these lines: "I never want to be in the way of anyone becoming a Christian. If I'm in the way, that would be terrible. If I couldn't encourage them to become a Christian, I would want to do everything I could to get out of the way and not hinder them."
Gordon was deep. He was without guile. But he didn't get the question either, I thought.
I had a decision to make. When it was my turn, would I say something like, "Yes. I am in ... The Way. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back”? Was I willing to be the one who answered differently? Would I sound like a know-it-all and make someone feel dumb for misunderstanding the question? Worst of all, would my giving the "right" answer diminish the best answer given so far?
I choked. I had a Peter-in-denial moment. I went with the sheep.
After every single one of us said no, our patient, long-suffering teacher didn’t point out that nobody gave the answer he was hoping for. He took a deep breath, and then started talking about the body of believers who called themselves The Way, who followed the man who was God come to earth, who said he was THE way and THE truth and THE life. I think we had another opportunity, like a make-up exam, to claim that yes, on second thought, we were in The Way.
I used to keep this memory in the file “A Time I Knew the Right Answer and Didn’t Speak Up,” and thought it would have been a better lesson if someone had given the expected answer. But if that’s true, then why is it so crisp 30-some years later?
Maybe it’s taken that long to see that knowing the answer a teacher anticipates is not the same as living the answer, and in this case that is really what he was asking.
“Are you in … The Way?”
Been baptized? Check.
Go to church? Check.
Able to find your way around a Bible? Check.
Make regular contributions? Check. Sometimes cash.
Love your neighbor as yourself? Sometimes …
Ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you? Well, no one has asked yet. Or they did in some other form and I missed recognizing the question. In which case … (open eye, withdraw beam) I was … in the way.
And that’s why Gordon’s answer left the deepest imprint. (And why that memory has been properly refiled in the much thicker folder "A Time I Was Sure I Was Right But Really Was Both Wrong and Clueless," also known as "Remedial Lessons in Humility.") By knowing the point is to share the way, by being so pained at the thought of keeping someone from finding the way, he showed he was, indeed, in The Way. And if The Way were a freeway, I was barely on the access road.
Now the journey, via this Central on-ramp, provides another chance to study what it means to seek the Way and share the Way - and to prune away what gets in the way of the Way, in order to enter it more fully and to welcome others along. Way cool. And possibly the ultimate in striving to be brothers and sisters of the first generation of brothers and sisters in Christ.

- Laura Brown

Monday, September 15, 2008

That stupid grin...

Ever see it on a person and wonder...why? I hear it occasionally said of Christians that we are guilty of manufacturing a stupid grin to wear to pretend that everything is okay and that even though we don't feel like it, we force ourselves to wear it anyway. Well, not so much with the stripe of believer I run with I guess.
Yes, some wear it for those reasons. They were taught to always have on a plastic smile and that to do otherwise would be a sin because, "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!"
Some wear it because they are perhaps indeed stupid in the true sense of the word. Or if you prefer, ignorant. But after conversations with some of those folks I (judgmentally) lean toward the former with some, the later with others, depending on each situation and the person's demeanor, overall lifestyle and the 'fruit' they produce.
Some wear it, however, out of a sense of peace. They aren't the one's who'll wear it perpetually, but they wear it in the middle of the worst stuff because...
...they know they are not alone.
...they know that this will pass.
...they know or remember or realize that they have been truly set free from it all.
I am certainly not one to claim balance on this. As I struggle to hold a paradigm daily, I know that I will have days when I wake up with my head stuck in a different one that shapes how I see things and thus how I respond. So will everyone else.
So, that stupid grin. It is what we make of it. You cannot always judge the person by the look on their face. Nor can you assume what caused(es) that look.
So don't. Remember that the heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy(Prov. 14:10).
While I can make an estimation about someone based on what their life produces, I really need to spend a great deal of time up front checking "Me" out first so that I can see clearly from whence I see and why...
...and usually when I do that, I get that stupid grin.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What does your God look like?

Bearded old man in the clouds? Eastern mystic? Baby in a feed trough? Powerful king or military man? Jewish carpenter? Accountant? Something really different? For a lot of folks, they don't express who they think God is, what God might look like or who God includes as a part of God's people! Sometimes it's because they haven't thought it through. Sometimes it's because they don't want to say what they really think in front of other. What about yourself? What do you think God looks like?

Yes, please spare me the God is spirit, etc responses - I know that - I am simply opening the door for anyone interested to say who they think God is, what God's character is, what God's personality is, etc. Also, don't say, 'Just read the Bible' and thus avoid the question! To many times, we offer not too well thought out answers that we've heard our whole lives but haven't really spent time reflecting on.

Leon Barnes, our pulpit minister, is teaching a series of classes using the same title as this post. It'd be interesting to see what other think as a backdrop for him to consider as he teaches this class and answers questions that people have about it. Thanks for thinking about it...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Abel, Cain, The Prodigal Son's Older Brother and The Father

Think about these two stories from the Bible (Cain and Abel, The Prodigal Son) and the way that Cain and the older, 'non-prodigal' brother respond with blame and hostility toward God/The Father when their heart about and toward God is revealed. In both stories God is obviously the loving father watching over his children, even when they 'go astray'. Cain and the older brother reveal that they are 'in it' for themselves and are frustrated that God/The Father would mess with their sense of what's right and good and question their heart.
Several people have recently said things to me about their struggles in following God and it made me remember that when we are 'in it' (it = being church going people, Christians, etc) for ourselves we often find ourselves frustrated with God. What's good is that he will patiently and loving (and if need be very bluntly) show us our heart toward him and others, if we'll listen. The question is for us, will we respond like Cain and the older brother? Or will we let the Spirit gently lead us to see God's love for us and his invitation to join him and step away from our own sense of right and good and into his love and grace?
What stories from the Bible have illuminated your heart about...your heart? Which stories have convicted you of the need to change your heart and/or your thinking? What have they taught you about God?
PS: Yes, I know that Cain, Abel and God weren't/aren't white guys. It's just a picture that someone painted a long while back reflecting their interpretation of the scene based on their understanding at the time.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Change - when and how?

Change is difficult for a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

In the church, we often hear or see people fear changes in how things are done in a worship service, in a class or in other areas where they'll quickly say either in their heart or even aloud, 'But we've always done it that way!'

Sometimes we'll see each other act fearful, defensive or at least be apprehensive when someone teaches something in a way we haven't heard, even though it's straight from the text.

Jesus didn't ever seem to be too concerned about making changes and how people would feel about it. There were times when he said things that made people so made that they wanted to, and eventually did, kill him.

Paul, one of Jesus' great messengers, comes along a few decades later and encourages Timothy to teach with gentlenss those believers who were having a hard time accepting some teachings or ways of doing things.

So, even the text comes at things a little differently sometimes. So how should believers deal with each other today, especially as they work together as a local congregation, when they face change and some people like it and other's don't?

Some thoughts...first, remember that there are really more than one or two perspectives in a congregation when it comes to dealing with changes. Your's, either for or against a change, isn't the only one and isn't the only one that has scripture, thought and prayer behind it. Well meaning and equally saved people can think completely differently on topics and ideas.

Second, remember that when changes come, especially from a thinking, praying, spirit-led leadership, they are made for the better or greater good of the congregation that meets in that one building. That's very helpful to remember! Why? Because everyone needs to remember that the needs or direction of a particular congregation are specifice to that congregation. Everyone is free to prayerfully consider whether or not they want to work with and in a particular congregation.

It may be that over a period of time that a person or family begins to feel that the direction of a congregation isn't where they need to be going as a person or family. They are free to leave and in good concience can say, "We love you all, but we feel led to go elsewhere to work in God's Kingdom. We pray for God to continue blessing this church as you grow along the path you feel God is leading you."

Remember that a leadership of a church is made up of people who are doing the best they know how to lead using the knowledge and information they have in front of them and that they simply may not be able to meet everyone's needs or desires given the choices they have to make about how their particular congregation needs to grow in God's Kingdom. With that in mind, remember that a church isn't a free-for-all democracy where everyone's perspective is or should be counted in an election. Sometimes leaderships must make difficult decisions.

Sometimes, even individual leaders themselves realize that their direction and goals aren't 'one' with the other leaders in a particular church and choose to move on to other places to serve. I've seen a lot of good people decide prayerfully, and without a great deal of the typical conflict normally involved in those situations, decide that it was time for them to move on so that God could continue to work in everyone's situations, sort of like when Paul and Barnabus went in different directions over their disagreement about Mark.

Third, consider that it's possible that you don't understand what's going on. Many times (way too many times) I have observed conflicts inside congregations and very often there was a significant lack of information that people were working with when they were making comments and criticisms about change.

Finally, know that sometimes God brings about change, even against our desires and wills. Sometimes he wants us to work through some things so that we'll grow in areas that only he can see at the moment.
What about you? What are areas of church life, teaching, worship services, etc that you've experienced changes in that were difficult for you? What are some things that people could have done to handle those situations better?