12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

The American Church Grieving the “Loss” of American Culture

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I’ve been an engaged observer of the church in America and it’s interaction with the culture in which it is immersed for some years now.  Last week, I watched through news articles and social media as Christians in America convulsed, reacting with deep emotion, ranging from anger, to sorrow, to bitterness, some even to satisfaction all in response to the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8.

On the other side, as the previously linked article noted, there was jubilation.  One quote I read in the social media wash of commentary was from an advocate of these laws being struck down, and it read something like this: “And now, in respect for our opponents, a moment of silence, as they have lost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

The sentiment struck me as extremely myopic, though I can’t fault the person for being so.  After all, Christians in America have not been overly sympathetic to those with whom we’ve disagreed, nor have we communicated our values or motivations in a way that was easy for others to understand, even if we do differ dramatically.

So, to those outside of our tribe, let me clarify the motivation for the strongly negative reaction of some in the Christian community.  They have lost an American culture that more accurately reflects their deeply held religious beliefs.  This had become an expectation for many. An inheritance that they believed they had a right to pass on to their children.  It feels to them that people have stolen their lives, or at least their lifestyles, and that of their children. And that of their grandchildren.  They grieve the knowledge that their line of descendants will look more like their “opponents” than like them, at least in what they value and accept as “normal.”  They know they’ve lost something significant.

That begs the question, “Do these people have the right to such an expectation?” and of course, different worldviews collide in the answering.  Hopefully in a respectful way, but if history is any indicator, probably not.

So let me now speak to the Christians of our nation, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why do you expect that the world not be worldly?  Is it wise or in any way Biblical to expect that those who do not hold your values to act as though they do?

Let me share with you when this American culture you value so greatly was lost.  It wasn’t last week.  Though I can not point to a single event or even a string of events, I can easily say that the American culture was lost to the American church when the church began to rest on the expectation that the culture would look like it instead of working to ensure that the culture would actually be transformed by the power of the Gospel.

You see, by and large, we’ve become quite a secluded lot. Not all of us, to be sure, but undeniably most of us.  We prefer the holy huddle of the frozen chosen in our Sunday gatherings.  A smaller bunch than years before, meeting in aging buildings that are far larger than are necessary and falling apart because we can’t keep them up as well as we once did.  After all, we are older, on fixed incomes, and our children have left our buildings.

And those large buildings where some of our children attend are flooded with just that: attenders.  Loads of people who show up, sing, drink lattes and frappuccinos, listen to whatever is being served up this week, and then go home and go about their business.

Again, not all of us are in that situation.  Not every church looks this way.  But to say that the majority of American Christianity doesn’t fit one picture or the other is, to put it not so gently, not really in touch with reality.

Still, I want to offer a word of encouragement to us all.  We believe in something miraculous and transformational.  We don’t have to be the people who simply shout dismay at those who value different things and see the world contrastingly.  We can be the people who offer the Gospel to people who need to know that God does not hate them because they are pushing back against Him, but loves them in spite of it.

The power to change the world, is in the Gospel.  That is not a word commanding conformity to an outward morality.  It is a word of redemption.  That healing can come to the wounded.  That fulfillment can come to the empty.  That those who are in prison in this world can be set free.

If we are failing to speak that to our world, and many of us are, then it is no wonder that our culture thinks we have no stake in this conversation.  They don’t know that they are the stake for whom we are to live and die, because we’ve not told them nor have we showed them.

The True Meaning of Love

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A high school classmate of mine (Bellaire, 1985), Greg Stanford, asked me to write an article on the true meaning of love.

The concept of love is such a mess in our world.  It’s hard to get a handle on it.  Teens and even pre-teens fall in and out of “love” while adults tsk tsk their seemingly frivolous relationships, talking about how “love is a commitment.” All the while we burn through divorce lawyers at an alarming rate.

We won’t get much farther in our understanding, either, until we understand that our love and inclination to love is an echo of the God who made us in His image.  When we understand what it means to Him, we will stand a chance at applying it to our world in a meaningful way.

The Bible defines love pretty clearly:

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

[sacrifice...] – mine, emphasis – mine

God created everything and made humanity in His image as the centerpiece of creation and we, all of us, turned away from Him. So for God, “Love” is that He pursued us and sacrificed of Himself to redeem us.  That we love God is in response to Him loving us first and demonstrating that to us.  He has wooed us with sacrificial redemption.

Sacrificial redemption. We need to apply that to our relationships and see what happens.

When we sacrifice ourselves in order to redeem others we woo them into a mutual love.  This is the image of God in us.

I know.  You were expecting me to quote 1 Corinthians 13 in discussing the meaning of love.  That passage is great at describing how true love acts.  1 John 4 describes what true love is.

But, so that you aren’t disappointed…  If we seek to redeem through self sacrifice, it should look a lot like this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.

Why is it?

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Why is it that after a prolonged absence, we feel the need to explain where we’ve been to the odd half dozen or so folks who still check in from time to time?  Really, most of the traffic (I still get some, can you believe it?) comes from search engines that are funneling folks to specific articles I’ve written in years past.  A few still hit my home page, lately to find my last article from October 31, 2011.  Yes.  8 months ago.

It almost begs an explanation, though I recognize that I’ve already published several over the last couple of years.  The only thing to do is ignore it or come clean.  Never one to miss an opportunity to over share, let’s go with coming clean.

Several things have conspired to to keep me from writing.  Among them

1) Discovering an emptiness in the topics of political observation within the SBC.  Old news and no reason for further comment.

2) Busy-ness within the responsibilities of the Pastorate that kept me from managing this blog and my church responsibilities.  I was new to the pastorate in 2006 and new to my church as well.  It takes a while to become fluent with the minutiae of any job and I had plenty on my plate.  Add to that the changes that we were working through and I was tired of writing.

3) (This is the coming clean part…) I had several church members that were frequenting my blog, often misconstruing or just misunderstanding what I had written (sometimes years before) and then repeating their misconstruction/misunderstanding to others at the church.  It’s no secret that change is rarely embraced readily by all and we had all our plates could handle moving through ours.  When some were adding the misinformation coming from others claiming this blog as the source, it just wasn’t worth it.  So I quit writing to remove a source of misunderstanding.

I should add that I am not accusing everyone from my church who read my blog of misrepresenting me to garner political support within our church.  I think that was actually quite rare.  Nevertheless, any stream of misunderstanding that can be removed, should be.  I prioritized the church over this blog and I doubt anyone would second guess that decision.

So what’s changed? Several things!

I’ve had a personal spiritual growth like I’ve never experienced before.  Call it a Gospel Awakening.  I’m sure we’ll get to that in the near future.  For now, simply consider that God, in His mercy, considered it His pleasure to crush me in order to shape me in an image more like His Son.  For this, I am grateful.  Honestly, “grateful” doesn’t cover it.  Even for an aspiring writer, I have no words for how I feel about this.  I consider it worth everything.  More later.

The church has come to a place of peace.  We still have some issues and we honestly need to move forward in some areas, which means change.  Small ones, but still…  Nevertheless, Earlier this year, God wrought a situation that allowed us to finally air our heart in a loving way.  It has brought a tremendous peace on the church and we gather together without fear of dissension breaking out.  We are praying for Spiritual Awakening and have been since the Spring.  We are beginning to see the fruits of it and have enjoyed God moving among us significantly over the last couple of months.

With my life and the church in the throws of burgeoning renewal, the desire to write as presented itself once more.

And since I’m paying good money to host this blog, I thought I would be a better steward of that opportunity.

If you’d like to subscribe to an email notification, there is a box at the top right to let you do that.  Every time I write a new article, it will let you know and should give you a preview of what’s here.

Goals for my 45th year

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The day after my birthday, Friday, I spent some time in introspection and came up with a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish in my 45th year on the earth, if God is so gracious to leave me here that long.

I shared one of these goals that had been bouncing around in my head for a while with some friends last week and one of them replied, “It’s good to have goals.”  The unspoken phrase that followed in my mind:  It’s better to actually achieve them.  Or at least attempt to do so.

So here are my goals.

Spiritually

  • Continue to grow in the practice of Spiritual Disciplines.  This is something that has been a point of growth for me over a couple of decades, but I have much farther to go, I feel.
  • Take at least 2 Spiritual Retreats by myself.
  • Explore the Spiritual Discipline of Silence.  I don’t know much about this and I can tell you that my mind is rarely quiet.  I want to study and begin to practice this.

Financially

  • Eliminate (certain $ amount) of spending.
  • Apply above described saved money to debts. For reasons I won’t enumerate, though likely obvious for those of my generation, we took on a lot of debt early in our lives and have been working our way out of it for years.  While we have made significant progress at times, I am frustrated with how slowly it is going.  I want to move faster.
  • Give more to opportunities beyond my normal avenues.

Family

  • 1 Vacation with just us this year. Typically our vacation is spent visiting extended family, which is a good thing.  Still, we need some time with just us together.
  • Read more on marriage.  While I love my marriage and think it’s pretty awesome, everything is capable of being improved and I can do that best by improving me within our marriage.
  • Date Bonnie more.  We’ve been dating quite a bit since our kids got older, but we need to do this more.
  • 1 event (big, not small like an ice cream cone over 45 mins) per month with each child – just me and them.

Physically

  • Eat better, lose weight.  Again.  My weight is like a yo-yo and I struggle with it.  I need to get better control of it.
  • Continue to exercise regularly.  I’ve joined a gym for $10 a month and have been working out there.  Got to keep going.
  • Start running triathlons.  I know.  That sounds crazy, especially for a person struggling with their weight.  But it features running, swimming and cycling and variety keeps me engaged.  Also, I am not running Iron Man level triathlons.  Whenever people hear that word, they think of Hawaii and the Iron Man they do there.  That’s for elite athletes.  They have much smaller events (sprint triathlons) that are manageable for beginners.  Still, this is likely to be the most demanding goal on the board.

I have a few other thoughts about lifestyle issues.  I intend to read more, take more pictures, paint more, write more, etc. but they aren’t goals, so… I’ll just stick them here at the end.

Life Lessons on my Birthday

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It’s my birthday, and I’m 44.  According to the Insurance Actuarial Tables, I’m probably more than halfway through.

That just sounds depressing.  Especially if you are older than me.  Sorry.

Let’s look at it another way…  About half of my life thus far was spent just learning the basics, let’s say to my early 20′s.  After that, I’ve been in adult life graduate school, learning the more intricate things that I need to know.

That means that probably have 2/3 of my adult life left (let’s hope and pray) and I’ve learned a lot of good stuff on the way.  Here are a few lessons off the top of my head as I write this the night before.

  • Life’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Sometimes the hard things make life easier later on.  I could never have dealt with some of the things I deal with now on a regular basis, had I not been through what I thought was horrible earlier in life.  Now I think I was a wimp before.  Which I probably was.
  • Marriage is cool.  Be sure you get the right one.  It’s hard at first for everyone.  It gets easier if you just have one rule:  Nobody gets out alive.  That’s actually in the vows, if you look them up.  If you know that you are in it for the long haul, you work hard to make it better.  Go to counseling if you need it.  We did and it made an enormous difference for the better.  And remember that your family is the most important thing you are responsible for in this life (I’m including taking care of yourself in this sentence on the family).  If you don’t take care of that, what point is the rest of it?
  • Do what you love, if you can make a living at it.  If you can’t, then do what is helpful and do your best to love it.  It’s easier to do a job that you love and wretched to do what you hate.  A lot of the attitude you bring to the job is up to you, though.  Be positive in your mind about it, but if you just can’t do that then find something else as quick as possible so that you and everyone around you aren’t miserable.
  • Argue less.  A lot of things I used to think were life and death aren’t even close.  Most stuff that we get upset about isn’t worth the energy of being disconcerted and probably, if we are honest, we don’t have a right to be angry about it.  Let it go, if you can.  If not, deal with people in a way that brings reconciliation.  Don’t dump people if you can help it.  It’s probably a mistake to cut them out of your life.  Unless it’s not, in which case you should choose carefully who influences you.
  • Have a hobby.  Have twelve.  You need something to enjoy and accomplish that isn’t tied to work or making ends meet.  Consuming media (tv, music, internet, etc.) is not a hobby – it’s a pastime.  You accomplish nothing and get no sense of self worth from it, nor do you get to be creative and do things without limits from others.  You need creative, accomplishy sorts of things and lots of them.  My list of hobbies (some I am doing more than others) are:  cycling, exercising at the gym (I know, don’t laugh), frisbee golf, golf, photography, guitar, water color painting…  I’m sure there’s more.  Oh, yeah.  Writing.
  • Be outside more.  I had become accustomed to air conditioned office life and the heat was not fun.  Then, last summer, I started doing a lot of outdoor activities and my body adjusted to the heat.  It was awesome.  I loved it.  Outdoors is way more cool than indoors.  WAAAAAYYY more cool.  In the “hip” sense of cool, not the temperature sense.  You probably knew that.
  • Take care of your body.  It declines quickly and the more you ignore it early, the harder it gets later.  A 50 year old that has been fit all his/her life is in much better shape than the 50 year old that got in shape in his/her mid forties.  I learned this the hard way.  I’ve got so many things deteriorating on my body, it’s silly.  One of my biggest regrets is not staying shape.  I used to be in shape. Then I got married.  I did marry the right one.  The one I married is an awesome cook.  I quit even trying to burn off anything I consumed.  18 years later (the day after Christmas is 18 years), one of my hobbies is working out at the gym.  Ugh.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  Any you’d like to add?  Feel free.

Phriday foto: 11-12-10 The Rogers Family

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A few pictures I took of my family about a month ago.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge.

If you like these, you might like to browse my flickr or photoblog.  (Same pics, different layout)

Normal and the Preacher’s Kid

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My friend Cole Hedgecock posted an article detailing the causes of PK’s (Preacher’s Kids for all you non-churchy folks) leaving the church when they become adults.  Fascinating stuff, you can read it at his blog, Colemine Extractions: Why PK’s leave the church.

There’s a lot there, but I think you can reduce it all into the ability to make the home of the Pastor a “normal” one.  Where the experience of growing up at the center of the church’s perspective is not all that different from being the “average” kid in the church.

Here are some things we’ve tried to do in order to make sure our kids are as close to normal as possible.

  1. Make sure that you don’t ask your kids to be “perfect.”  Pastors are often times perfectionists (typically first borns) and they can be demanding.  Don’t be unrealistic.
  2. Be honest about your spiritual ups and downs.  They have them.  If they know you have them, they know it’s “normal” and don’t feel like they can’t live up to your seemingly abnormal spirituality.
  3. Be good talkers and listeners.  All parents need to be good listeners, but you need it more.  If you notice that your kid is not telling you something, then gently work harder to build the trust that allows them to talk about it.  And when they tell you something that sends you reeling, don’t freak out or it’s the last thing you’ll hear from them until they’ve made some huge mistakes.
  4. Communicate to the church that your kids don’t have special expectations from you and that you are telling them that they don’t have to live up to anyone’s special expectations from the church.  The church needs to expect the same from them as they do from the next kid in the Youth Group.
  5. Be there.  It is a must that your job is not 40 hrs/week and that you are always on call, however… you must lock out  time to coach their little league or soccer teams.  Attend their extra curricular events.  Take pictures while you are there and put them all over Facebook or Flickr.  Let them see that you value them.  If they know that you value the church over them by always being at meetings and other responsibilities instead of their things, you can expect that they will resent it.  Your first responsibility as pastor is to pastor your family.  The church has to accept this as well.  Not all churches do.  If they don’t, perhaps they aren’t the church for you.
  6. Laugh.  A lot.  We keep running jokes in our house and celebrate our kids’ senses of humor.  Nothing feels good like fun and a fun family is cherished, not resented.

Those are a few of my thoughts.  Anything you’d like to add?

Phriday Foto 10-29-10 :: XC

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Little Photography for ya today.  My son’s Cross Country team.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge.

If you like these, my flickr account is here and my photoblog is here.  (Same pics at both places.)

The year ahead and the swirl of uncertainty

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I drove home from Church Sunday after worshiping together with the Skelly Drive family for the first time in two weeks.  A blizzard had hit and knocked us out of our Christmas Eve service and later the Sunday morning service on the 27th.  The latter service being canceled kept everyone from being together, though our family had crept out of town on snow and ice covered roads to go with family to ski in New Mexico.

The crowd was down and I imagine that it had to do with people traveling and the fact that our roads were still a bit sketchy and we had another small bout of snow the night before.  It was good to be with my church family.

Still, as I drove home the powdered snow moved like vapor down the road before me and the city had a desolate look about it.  The dregs of the blizzard had been shoved to the side of the streets, building 2 foot high curbs of crusty slush now gray with dirt and exhaust and very few were out and about.

As I drove, I was mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the snow dust that swirled on the road before me, being chased by the wind that came from behind, it created a surreal vision.

There are so many things that are swirling through our church and my life right now, that the scene before me took on a deeper representation for me.

Curious to few, then, that I had felt led to preach on Matthew 11:25-30 just a few moments previous.  God’s like that.  Knows what you need before you have the slightest idea.

The Scripture?  You might recognize the closing words:

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

I still feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, but I am so grateful that the success of all that swirls around me is not dependent on me, but upon the One Who Is Author of all things, simple and complex.

More to come soon…

Why I tell my teenagers “I love you” … in public …

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Last week my baby daughter – the pink princess – turned 13.  She’s been moving too quickly toward this date for some time, but there is no help for it now.  Both my kids are teenagers.

Serving for 19+ years in Youth Ministry kept me younger and more able to relate, but that only goes so far.  It’s like saying I’m the Limburger Cheese that stinks the least.

Nevertheless, I have adopted a particularly uncool behavior to my relationships with each of my kids:  I tell them I love them.  All the time.  In public. While they are with their friends. While they are getting out of the car on the occasion that I drop them off.  All the time and in every place we happen to be.

And they don’t disappoint.  In typical teenaged fashion, they bow their heads and move along as quickly and quietly as they can to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and the occasional snicker from their friends.

I know a few parents who might choose not to say this to them because it is clear they are embarrassed.  The kids might even request it, which is a wound suffered deeply, no doubt.

Another slight is experienced by the parent that expects a return promise of fidelity. The “I love you, too” that doesn’t come and whose absence hangs like an offensive odor before the parent now left alone to endure it.

I don’t care.  It doesn’t bother me one bit that they are embarrassed or that they don’t return my expression of affection.

I tell them “I love you” against their will and without any concern for reciprocation because I say it for them.  They need to hear it from me and they need to hear it often.  Who they are is greatly shaped by the confidence they are cared for and accepted, especially from their parents and especially in their teens.

So I give that affirmation to them even when they don’t give it back and I am the “uncool” Dad.  I can be that, if they will be whole.  Easy trade.

Sorry, Jimmy and Hannah.  You are going to be openly loved and hugged and cheered for and claimed.  I am unashamed.  It may not be what you want, but I am sure it is what you need. So just take your medicine and I’ll check you again when you’re 20 or so.

Oh, and I love you.  Always will.

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