Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Truth

I have responded a few times to a couple of Bruce Tomaso's posts over at the Dallas Morning News' blog. Each time he has chastised me for not allowing for others' beliefs - not being "tolerant" of those who don't agree with me. Those who don't believe like I do. I haven't responded to him yet and probably won't. He seems to be a pretty cynical creature from reading his snide remarks when he posts something or replies to those he doesn't agree with. Considering that I am a pretty stubborn cynic myself who isn't likely to have his mind changed by someone whom I already disagree with, it's not worth my time and effort to debate him about his intolerance towards me (and those he disagrees with).

Still, I find it personally necessary to remind him of one verse in the book of John:

John 14:6

This statement does not support diversity of beliefs nor does it depend upon anyone agreeing or disagreeing with it. As a business associate of mine likes to say, "It is what it is."

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Church: Size, or Lack Thereof is Not the Problem

I was reading a blog the other night discussing why there are so many myths about mega-churches. The responses seem to be saying it's jealousy amongst the small church crowd.

I thought the whole discussion was an exercise in futility no matter the real answer.

The problem with church isn't about size. It's about relevance to our "post-post-modern-I-don't-give-a-!@#%-about-church" world. How is it that we seemingly have a church on every corner in this country, but a recent study, according to a friend of mine, shows that within the next X number of years (I don't remember the amount) less than 20% of us will be in church?

The reason? I have found that some in the church try to blame the lost for not wanting to come to church - or when that doesn't work, they claim the old "church people are just sinners saved by grace so don't blame us" argument.

Whatever makes you feel good I suppose. But I am more interested in reality.

The real answer is because we can't seem to show each other enough love to stick together through thick and thin. Instead we split apart and start new congregations right next door to each other, thinking we have the truth while no one else does. The fact is, why would anyone want to join such a group? Most can get that at home. They don't need to travel for dysfunction.

How dare the church pretend to say anything about how the lost world conducts itself! It has NOTHING to say to anyone until it cleans itself up and realizes that there are more important things than what kind of worship music is proper, or who is qualified to serve as deacons or elders or pastors, which convention is the right one to belong to (while at the same time condemning that "evil, nasty, liberal or fundamentalist competing convention"), who we should allow to grace our doorsteps, what color the carpet is or why did the pastor say that? how dare he! or what others wear or don't wear or what version of the Bible is the "right" version... and on and on and on it goes.

We worry about the incidentals when the real problem lies within ourselves. We don't care about the lost. If we did, why are so many churches completely irrelevant? Why can no one give me more than anecdotal evidence of the church actually making a difference in the world? Why, with the thousands upon thousands of churches in our country, we should be a "nation after God's own heart" right?

Wrong.

Why am I even bothering talking about this? I really am not sure. Most who really know me, know I have very little commitment to the local church. Right or wrong, it's where I am at because I fail to see the reason I should be spending time on an institution that doesn't seem to care about anyone but itself. Somewhere deep inside of me, I must care, because if I didn't, I would behave like the lost world who REALLY don't care. They ignore the church. They don't even react to it - unless it's to laugh at the latest headline about what those crazy [fill in your denomination here] are doing.

Really, the only discussion we need to have about the church is what the church needs to do to get back to being relevant to an unbelieving and cynical world.

We could start off with the following:

The most important thing: loving God in the most honest, non-churchy way you can think of. Forget about church (and the color of the carpet) for awhile and focus on loving Him - seeking His will - finding out what church should really look like and how it should act - and your responsibility in it. You'll find that church is actually God's idea, but making it Keeper of the moral standards and crowning it King of our lives was not. If you don't love God, then you are lost

The second most important thing: loving one another despite the fact that you can't stand some of them because they don't believe like you do. Or despite the fact that you think they have too much power in the church. Or despite the fact that they said something that really offended you. Or despite the fact... well, you get the picture.

The third: loving the lost enough to not only take the time to tell them about the real Jesus who loves them right where they're at, but demonstrate it for them in the way you act. Be willing to walk alongside them while they try to figure out what life is all about. Be Jesus with skin on. That's our calling, remember? And it also means we don't condemn them or require them to meet our standards before we allow them into our lives (and our churches) so we can show them what it looks like to walk along the path of the better way.

The question is: Do we, as the local body church in America even know what the better way is anymore?

We sure don't act like it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

News Flash: Mother Teresa Was Human!

I recently saw the following headline for a story on Mother Teresa and her doubts about God's existance: Did Mother Teresa Believe in God?

Essentially, Mother Teresa didn't feel God's presence the last 50 or so years of her life and came close to questioning His very existance. The story is essentially a PR piece for a new book about Mother Teresa.

The headline to this story is a commentary on the unbelieving society we all inhabit. The headline supposes that those of us who believe do so without question or struggle.

How silly that assumption is - especially coming from a jaded and cynical world - a world that struggles to make sense of every bit of information it comes by. This story (and others on this subject) also seems to "dance on her grave" at finding out that she may have had doubts. Nothing like finding out that those we have mounted on a high moral pedestal are really just human after all and that they are fallen like the rest of us. We celebrate the failures of those we aren't as good as in this society. Plus it helps that these kinds of stories sell better than "feel good" stories.

I think this whole story says more about the character of the world - our society - than it does of Mother Teresa and what her weaknesses may be. Sad, but understandable coming from an unbelieving world.

Here is the link to the story.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Unity and Community

As I continue to read through the book of Ephesians at least once in its entirety each day, I am continuously looking for something new God may be speaking to me about. As I read through the book again tonight, I noticed a couple of things running like a winding stream through Paul's letter: community and unity.

Paul, even though he was in chains for the Gospel in a different location than the Philippians, considered himself to be a part of their community with them. he also wrote to them, exhorting and encouraging them to stand in unity.

Consider the following verses:

...your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now... (1:4)

...all of you share in God's grace with me... (7)

for I know that through your prayers... what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (1:19)

...it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again... (1:24,25,26)

...I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel... (1:27)

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ... then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (2:1,2)

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. (2:19)

...Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh (3:2,3)

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (3:17-18)

But our citizenship is in heaven. (3:20)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (3:20-4:1)

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel... (4:2-3)

...it was good of you to share in my troubles...you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. (4:14,16)

There's a lot of give and take going on. The Philippian church supporting Paul from afar... Paul praying for and encouraging them in turn. Sending "loyal yokefellows" back and forth between them with the latest news from one another. Sharing in struggles and victories - sufferings and joy. Sounds like a good long distance relationship to me.

How do we put what Paul was telling the Philippians into practice in our churches today? How do we support one another like Paul and the church at Philippi? Does it mean merely showing up each Sunday or Wednesday and just enjoying the company of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Does it mean serving on committees and teaching classes? Perhaps leading a small group? Mentoring someone? Sharing in the work of evangelism with each other to grow the family?

Probably all of the above.

One thing I do know: it takes more than just showing up and warming a pew every once in awhile to sing a few songs and listen to the preacher preach his latest and greatest sermon. It takes getting involved, getting messy sometimes and loving one another with, "...the affection of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:8).

Perhaps, knowing my own struggles with getting involved at church, I should take a little of my own advice...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are They Going to Focus on Baptists Instead of Methodists Now?



http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/16/wpapua116.xml

A Safe Place

Just returned from church and from an awesome testimony from a young man who spent the summer in New Orleans in the inner-city working with children. The center he worked in, which is supported by the North American Mission Board, is right smack dab in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood with all sorts of crime, immorality, etc. going on. It was, in essence, a summer-long VBS with a reading and math element injected into it. He taught the kids reading, math and recreation. His purpose there was to show the kids and their families that there is hope in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of the rubble that is New Orleans.

Out of everything he said during his time of sharing, one thing stuck out to me: He said the center was known as a safe place in the midst of this broken down neighborhood for kids to go to. That got me to thinking about the church - Christ's body.

Is it a safe place to go to for people who are broken down? Or is it a place of condemnation, judgement and legalism? Or maybe a place that they feel alienated and alone because no one welcomes them into the family when they show up for church? Are we willing to get messy and dirty helping people who most times don't even want or realize the need the Lord? Or are we satisfied to sit back in our complacency, mediocrity and apathy?

Just wondering...

Friday, August 17, 2007

How Much is Too Much?

How much money is too much? Can you make too much? Can you have too much? Should someone be able to criticize you for accepting more than they perceive your position is worth? How about when it comes to employees of non-profit organizations? How about employees of Christian non-profit organizations? Do the rules change in those instances?

Let's look at this with a little clarity and in keeping with my previous post, let's look at this issue with honesty. And after some basic, layman-level pointers on how our free-market economy works, lets also discuss the fact that God isn't interested in economics or in the amount of money we have or make. He is more interested in what it does to us and what we do with it.

We live in a country where the free market reigns. Only the strong/relevant/useful survive when it comes to doing business in our economy. The rest fall by the wayside. If someone puts a product out on the shelf or offers a service you think is priced too high, what do you do? Well you have 3 choices as I see it:

1. You look to see if there's anybody else willing to do/offer it cheaper.
2. You pay the price advertised.
3. You don't buy the product or service.

For the more entrepreneurial-minded, there may be a 4th option: you start a business offering the same product/service at a better price than the rest of the competition and make a little money doing it! But in any case, no one dictates to you on your decision. You decide how long that company or organization will be in business with your buying decisions.

When it comes to salaries in our secular economy, competition, supply and demand win the day. What someone is paid is based on the demand for that position and supply of workers available for that position. It has nothing to do with skills, experience or anything else. Those things just simply dictate how you compare with others in your industry and the level someone is willing to pay you at for your level of skills, knowledge and experience. As an aside, the area you live in tends to factor in somewhat also. I most likely make more than an art director working for a non-profit in Tulsa or OKC - both much smaller markets than Dallas - but considering costs of living etc., it probably doesn't amount to much more. But nonetheless, there probably is a difference.

The same principles apply to non profits - the free market dictates them too.

I once told a colleague who owns his own ad agency that the organization I worked for really didn't have a product to sell. And besides, I told him, we don't compete for "business" anyways. We simply serve those that need our help along side other non-profits who offer the same services. He begged to differ on both counts. He said we absolutely did have a product to sell and we were actually in competition with other non-profits. Our product is how we use the donors money - how effective our ministry is, and of course, we compete for donors dollars. We must show that we are the best organization for people to donate money to based on how we spend it. To use that example, if donors thought employee compensation was too high, then they would deem that organization unwise in handling funds and not give to that organization. It's that simple. I have watched people walk away from supporting organizations because they found out that what they considered a large part of their donation was going to overhead to run the organization. Or maybe that organization wasn't spending their donation in the wisest way. That is their choice since it's their money. The organization now has a decision to make: is that (now former) donor right or wrong? The process involves two entities operating freely to make decisions based on what they deem best for their respective causes.

Biblically speaking, the verse that comes to mind is the one that talks of a worker being worth his wages (1 Timothy 5:18). It doesn't dictate how that worth should be compensated or what level of compensation other than saying that elders and those that preach and teach in the church should get a double share (double honor) in a prior verse. The fact remains that when it comes to money, there really is only one overall message God wants us to understand: You cannot serve both money and God.

For some, the overwhelming need to make more and more money is a hindrance to their spiritual lives. They may only make $20k a year. But if they long to make $40k a year and that is their singular goal in life, then they are not serving God, rather they are serving their own selfish desires. If on the other hand, someone, because of market conditions, their skill set, experience, knowledge, who they know, etc. finds that he can make $1 million a year, and he serves God and not his money, then he is better off than the one who longs to have the $40k.

So we can all get upset, complain about another's salary, say it's more than the national average, etc. But in the end, it's driven by economics - supply and demand. But like I pointed out, economics and free market principles are not very high on God's list. He wants to know where you stand in how you deal with the money He allows you to make. So if you make a ton of money and are not ruled by it, good for you - even if I or anyone else thinks you make too much! Make sure you are using what God has blessed you with for His Kingdom's advance. On the other hand, if you let money rule you in any way, then you should be worried. What little that has been given to you will be taken away from you and given to the one who already has much, but is not ruled by it - and is using it to advance the Kingdom.

It's 2am and I am Thinking About... Honesty and Transparency???

I have been battling lately with a severe case of insomnia. After reading awhile in bed and still not feeling sleepy, I decided to check out some blogs and ran across a freshly minted one about transparency and preachers at Wade Burleson's blog. His post got me thinking again about this issue. Here are my thoughts:

Honesty and transparency destroy the dark. They shatter the illusion we've constructed about who we really are and what our true motives are. The light of the truth invades our otherwise secret world, making it almost impossible to continue in our sin. With the choice to be honest and transparent, we are forced to live our lives out in the open - for everyone to see. Most of us would feel stark naked, terrified, ashamed and embarrassed if we chose to do this.

But I think it a necessary choice nonetheless.

It is a good and healthy habit to live transparent lives before others - to share what's going on in our lives - to confess our sin. It protects us. It protects those we love. And it protects our ministry.

If we choose not to be transparent and honest, our sin will stay hidden, we will continue in it - that's what fallen people do, they continue in their sin if given the opportunity. And sin will eventually destroy us, along with our loved ones and our ministry. It will ruin our lives if left unchecked.

The question Wade's post raised for me is, "How honest and transparent should we be? Especially from the pulpit?" Well, that depends... How serious are we about making sure we do not let sin rule our lives? Last time I checked, preachers were no different from the rest of us as far as our humanity goes. They need to deal with the secret areas too and maybe more so considering they will be held to a higher standard as preachers and teachers of the Gospel.

Don't get me wrong, there is much to be said about being careful about how you share and to whom you share to. But in the end, from my own personal experience, you'd be crazy not to share. By remaining in the dark, you are risking everything. Find someone or a group of someones whom you love and who love you. Have honest discussions with them and allow them into your lives - especially those dark places you don't want anyone to see. You know... those old bones you were hoping to just ignore. Let them help you clean out the skeletons. Let them hold you accountable. Pray together with them and for them. Allow them to speak God's Word into your life. After all, it's the only book that has all the answers. You'll be set free - no longer ashamed and naked - and well on the road to redemption and healing.

Sound too good to be true? Don't take my word for it, try it yourself and see what happens.

Monday, August 13, 2007

We Should Live as Citizens of Heaven

As I have said in this blog before, I am reading through Philippians once each day in its entirety. I want to focus on this passage for this post:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. -Philippians 1:27

I looked this verse up in the NET Bible's notes (www.bible.org) and found this about the above verse:

Translation note: Grk “live as citizens.” The verb πολιτεύεσθε (politeuesqe) connotes the life of a freeman in a free Roman colony.

Study Note: Conduct yourselves (Grk “live your lives as citizens”). The Philippians lived in a free Roman city, and thus understood from their own experience what it meant to live as citizens. Paul is here picking up on that motif and elevating it to the citizenship of heaven. Cf. 3:20 (our citizenship is in heaven).


The idea here is that we are citizens of heaven now. Right after the above passage, Paul says that if they conduct themselves as citizens of heaven (or worth of the gospel) in his absence, he will have confidence that they are "...standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents." So that seems to explain - at least in part - what living as citizens of heaven looks like.

I often do not live as a citizen of heaven - though just as the Romans had freedom to live as citizens of Rome and enjoy the privileges that come with that citizenship - so do I have the freedom and privilege to live as a citizen of heaven. But I don't. I don't "fight the good fight". I don't stand firm in unity with my fellow believers in contending for the faith. Rather I live as if this world is the only heaven - like there is nowhere else I am going to spend eternity - really as if there is no heaven or eternity. I focus too much on things temporary instead of things eternal. Why is that? Because I get wrapped up in chasing after things that give me comfort or security - money in particular - but also relationships, fun things to do, etc. In general, "bling". When I do that, I lose sight of what's important to God. There is a reason He says you can't serve both God and money. Living as citizens of heaven involves turning away from the over emphasis on chasing after those things and returning to that which God deems important: bringing people into His Kingdom - the only "bling" we can take with us when we go to heaven. What am I doing to see people's lives changed? Or more correctly, what am I allowing God to do through me to change people's lives? The answers should involve those things that Paul mentions in the passage above: standing firm in our faith, uniting with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to expand God's Kingdom, living Godly lives.

It's a question we should all ask on a regular basis - and then re-orient our lives and priorities to match up with what God is calling us to do.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pressing Onward

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


I was reading through Philippians and ran across the above passages. I want to focus in on verse 13b-14:

...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

If we are to press ahead and forget the past, does that mean not dealing with past or present sin in our lives? Now when I talk about dealing with our sin, I am talking about more than just saying: "Sorry God. I goofed. Please forgive me." I am talking about gut-level dealing with your sin. What does that look like as you deal with this particular passage? Should we move forward and kind of act like our sin in the past never happened? Or that there really isn't a need to really deal with it since Jesus died for those sins?

It sure would be easier - and probably feel a lot better not having to feel the guilt and shame of having to relive and deal with God and those we have offended with our actions. The reason bring this up is that I have known myself and others who have take this route. Somehow, since Christ has already paid the penalty for our sins past, present and future, then I shouldn't have to deal with them other thansimply asking forgiveness.

What do you think?

Attacked by a Blogger AHHHH!

The organization that I work for was attacked yesterday and today. It was attacked by a guy who apparently cares way too much about what the state denomination is up to or not. Our organization has ties to the denomination this guy is frustrated with - from what I can see - he's frustrated pretty much constantly with it. I really can't say I blame him there since I think denoms are pretty much pointless. But a little more on that later...

Problem is, while we have ties to it, we are not an institution of the denomination, we simply have a history of cooperation with it and our leader has led the demonination in question for a year in the past. So I guess he was trying to attack the denom through us. In any case, we responded to his attack with the truth and with grace. I personally think we should have trounced him in some way or another. But that's just me in all my fleshly glory. I tend to be a bull in a china shop when it comes to this kind of thing. I like to think of it as having a sense of wishing justice on someone where justice is due.

I guess this blogger doesn't realize that denominations and their institutions are long past the point of being relevant. I guess he hasn't heard that we live in a post-denominational era. To throw money at any denomination in my opinion, is to waste your money. To me it's akin to expecting the government to be more effective if we continue to throw more money at it. Just my opinion - and admittedly, a blanket statement and coming from someone who abhors bureaucracy - which in case anyone hasn't noticed, the denomination in question, like most of them, is fat and happy with all kinds of bureaucracy. But then again, my spiritual roots don't come from a denomination or really, even a church. So I am, of course, biased.

On another subject, today is day 4 of reading through Philippians at least once a day. I am asking God to show me something new from it every day. He has shown me a few things that I want to talk about... in a different posting though frmo this one.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Transparency

I went tonight to a meeting of about 8 guys who are intent on reading through Philippians everyday for the next X number of weeks. The X is because there is no time limit. They also seem to be pretty intent on being completely transparent about their lives and where they are at - what they are struggling with. It was refreshing to hear the stories of their lives - the down and dirty stories that you won't hear in your average "we must act like we're perfect sunday school class" or in a church service where everybody is "fine". "How ya doing this morning?" That's my cue to say, "Fine, and you?" And that's the other person's cue to say, "Fine." And then we both go on to the next person to repeat the same question and answer session again. None of that in this group. No B.S. allowed.

Being a cynic and all, I am skeptical. But I am going to continue to go and continue to read through Philippians, and ask God to show my someting new with every reading. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Thanks for the Warning!

My wife and I celebrated our 11th anniversary tonight by going to see a movie and then to eat dinner. On the way from the theater to the restaurant, we drove by our old church building. When our former church merged with another church, we sold the building we were in at the time to Parkside Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Baptist church. I read their marquee sign by the road with amusement. It said:

Old Fashioned Services
King James Bible
Hymn in Every Pew

My wife and I both looked at each other and said the same thing:"Thanks for the Warning!"

I fully expect to see "Turn or burn" on their marquee next week. Oh wait! My mistake! It will more likely say, "Turneth or Thou Shalt Burneth"

I am thinking, at least in my opinion, that it would have better to raze the buildings and sell the land to some secular company to develop than having sold it to these folks. Legalists do more damage to Christ's cause than anyone or anything else with the possible exception of apathy... maybe. Actually, it would be better if these folks were apathetic.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Ragman

I thought about this short story earlier this evening. It's the most beautiful picture of the sacrifice Christ made for us. The story is called "Ragman" and is by Walter Wangerin, Jr.


I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will tell it to you.

Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice: "Rags!" Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.

"Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!"

"Now, this is a wonder," I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city? I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking. The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers. "Give me your rag," he said so gently, "and I'll give you another." He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear. "This IS a wonder," I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.

"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!" In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek. Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart. "Give me your rag," he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, "and I'll give you mine." The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood - his own!

"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman. The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry. "Are you going to work?" he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have a job?" "Are you crazy?" sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket - flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm. "So," said the Ragman. "Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine." Such quiet authority in his voice! The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman - and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one. "Go to work," he said.

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, and old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond. I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.

The little old Ragman - he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died. Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope - because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep. I did not know - how could I know? - that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence. Light - pure, hard, demanding light - slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.

Well, then I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me." He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Blind Guides - Part 2

A thought occurred to me: what if I am a blind guide? I don't mean, what if I am requiring people to measure up to my standards before I allow them to come to God. God forbid that I am dragging around that pointless cross again - I have not only dealt with those who think I should do things their way, but have also myself, tried to require others to tow my own lines of interpretations on what to believe on various issues, both moral and practical. There really is only one non-negotiable when it comes to God: the only way to Him is through His Son, Jesus Christ, who paid for our sins on the cross. I gladly tow that line. All else, while not being irrelevant, does not even come close to this eternal truth.

What I am talking about is when I try to live my life for Christ and when I help others, am I trying to do it on my own? Or am I relying on God to lead me - even if it means the decision I would like to make immediately isn't what He wants? How do I know what He wants?

Hurry Up and Wait!

Most times, I want to move faster than I perceive God wants to move. I want to force an issue - use my own reasoning apart from God's leading. Is the advice I am giving not only wise and practical, but is it of God? Have I even sought His advice before doling out what I think should happen in any given situation? This is my biggest struggle. When I see someone stuck in sin that has their lives in a tailspin - I immediately want to tell them to "Stop it! Just stop sinning!" If you have any experience with addictive behavior, you know that this is not a possibility. I know our God is all powerful. He is supreme and above all of creation. But, for some reason, He does not commonly intervene with a miracle and take away a besetting sin from someone to never have to deal with again. Why not? I don't know. He leaves that unanswered. All I know is that we have to trust Him and His process for healing someone from their addiction. And therein lies the true miracle: He uses people to do His healing and on His schedule - if we are willing to listen to him.


See Through God's Eyes

So our marching orders are to see through God's eyes and be His instruments of healing as He seeks the lost and in my case, those stuck in addictive behaviors that are looking for a way out. We need to be in prayer with Him - staying in touch with His heart. How else do we know what He wants to do?

We also need to be willing to wait when He wants us to wait and be willing to move when He wants us to move. He doesn't heal on our terms. He heals on His own mysterious terms. We become blind guides when we don't do things His way - even if our motives are pure.

We also need to remember that Christ has left a helper - the Holy Spirit for us to rely on for insight and guidance. We need to invite Him into our situations and ask Him to show us along the way.

Lest I forget to mention this: We need to be clean ourselves - or at the very least, be far along on the road to being clean. I hesitate to say we must be perfect - none of us are. But we should not pretend to be able to help others when we are ourselves stuck in sin and addiction.


Conclusion

The blind guides Jesus was talking about in Matthew 23 were purposely leading people to do and believe things that benefited their interests. They ruled selfishly and self-righteously.

What I am writing about here is different, I don't want to control anyone for my own purposes. But I can still fall into leading someone in a direction that God doesn't want to go in simply because I didn't seek His counsel or direction - thinking I know what's best. I am a blind guide in that instance. I must reject the tendency to give a quick answer and expect quick results. I need to allow God the time and room to work in that person's life. As I tell those I have helped, God's way of healing is a process. It takes time and it's usually pretty messy. If I am willing to do these things, I will have become an instrument in God's hands, and will be a part of the healing process and not a hindrance to it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blind Guides

As I have pointed out in the past, I am reading through the book of Matthew. The other night I was reading through chapter 23 - the culmination of the the Pharisees, Sadduccees—the teachers of the law trying to trap Jesus in whatever way they could. Jesus finally fed up with all that they were trying to trap Him in - well, he let them have it - he ripped into them to their faces and in front of the very people they were afraid would rise up against them because of the Savior's teachings.

I have read through this passage before - but I have never read it like I am this time. I am, for some reason, realizing the depth of Jesus' righteous anger, disgust for these "authorities" and His passion for those they were leading to hell.

I will let Jesus' words speak (to you, without any commentary from me) for themselves...

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’

“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

“Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’

“But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tell my Wife and Kids I love Them

I was on the way home from work today and heard another report about the terrible fire in South Carolina. The fire killed 9 fire fighters when a firestorm erupted and the roof suddenly collapsed in a big, warehouse-type building. A bystander was being interviewed and told of being within earshot of one of the fire fighters on the street and his radio. He was communicating with his comrades inside the building after the roof collapsed. The bystander said that he heard one of the men trapped inside the building say, "It looks like I am not going to get out of this thing. Tell my wife and kids I love them." Then, apparently, there was radio silence. The bystander couldn't listen anymore and he walked away - overcome by the emotion of it I guess.

The fire fighter's request reminded me of a couple of things:

1. God has ordained our days and He gives us only one shot at this life.
2. Money and "stuff" ain't important.

1. God has numbered our days.
I don't know how this works practically speaking - especially when there are terrible accidents that take people's lives. You can't explain why God didn't save those people - or any others caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. If He is so powerful - then why allow all of the death and destruction? Don't know. Won't try to explain it away with simplistic, pious sounding soapbox speeches about how we sin and live in a fallen world, etc. Those kinds of answers don't really answer the question we are asking. The only response (notice I Didn't say "answer") I can give is that though we don't understand, God has proven himself faithful to me as I have sought to follow Him the last 10 years or so. He has provided for me even when I didn't want anything to do with Him. He can be trusted. We don't have His perspective, so we can't pretend to know what He is thinking. All we can say is, "Lord, we don't understand why you allowed this tragedy to happen, but we love You and we trust You." Easy words to say. Hard words to put into action when your in the middle of the crappiness of life. But let's face it, they don't call it "faith" for nothing and it's faith that is required to make it in this world - even if your faith is put into something other than Christ (though I wouldn't recommend that - you'll be sorely disappointed in the end). Speaking of the end, when it comes right down to it, Christ is our only hope - now and in eternity. Hold fast to the one who is the author and perfector of your faith. If you don't know Him, begin the journey of faith by asking Him to come into your life and have His way. His way is through His Son Jesus, Who died on the cross for your sins. Through Jesus is the only way to God. I know that's not popular in today's world (nor was it during Jesus' time by the way) - but popularity has never dictated truth and it never will. Settle things with Him right now - before it's too late.

2. Money and "stuff" ain't important.
We have all been told this, Problem is, money makes the world go 'round - and actually we do need it. But to elevate it and the chase after it as being anymore important than simply using it to provide for our needs, is pointless and not really who we are about as human beings. We weren't created to make money and accumulate stuff. We were made to worship God and give Him the glory by loving Him and those in our lives - our families. If this was not true, why then did that man not say, "Dang it! Why didn't I make more money before I died?" or "Tell my wife to be sure to invest my money wisely!" No. He said, "Tell my wife and kids I love them." He knew in an instant what was important. Family. It's embedded into us by God that we KNOW what's important - or I should say, WHO'S more important - even if we act otherwise. We need to remember that in the end, it's the memories and time and moments we spend with those we love that matter - these are what makes a legacy worth leaving - and a legacy that will last. Money is nice, but it's a terrible legacy to leave if it's the only thing left. It's been said that we all leave a legacy whether we like it or not. What's yours going to look like?

So to end this rambling post (I'm exhausted from a long day and little sleep) - I was reminded once again, that despite my failings in working too much - trying to make more money to buy more stuff (or buy a bigger security net - which is another issue altogether!) - and despite the fact that I have been told a cazillion times that family and time spent with them is the most important thing in this life apart from knowing my Savior - that there is still time left for me to focus on what's important: my wife and my family.

Trudy I love you! (assuming she takes the time to read her hubby's blog!)

Chelsea, I love you and miss you! (hoping that she is reading her daddy's blog)

Christopher and Zachary I love you too! (hoping that Trudy will share these lines with the boys while I am at work)

I know of at least 9 families that will never hear those kinds of words again from their husbands and fathers. It's good just to be able to type them and even better to be able to turn around now and say it to them in person!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Voice in the Wilderness

I was thinking tonight about my blog and of course trying to think about what I was going to write. I thought, "Who cares? I am only one voice out of many - a voice in the online wilderness." Maybe my family members and a few friends will read this. But that ain't many people. So why bother?

Then of course, being a good Christian and remembering my reading from Matthew, I remembered John the Baptist, a lone voice in the desert - a wilderness of sorts. Now, he is not to be confused with the fighting, bickering, sometimes-they-try-to-get-along-but-it-just-never-seems-to-work-out, Baptists of today. I have heard that it is more correct to say "John the Baptizer" anyways. But that's besides my point.

John lived out in the desert, an outcast, a weirdo who dressed funny and ate bugs dipped in honey. He was a prophet who called - more like shouted - "Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is Near!" Picture a guy standing on the corner in downtown Dallas screaming that your going to hell. That's the picture I get when I think about John the Baptist.

John was a prophecy fulfilled in that he made way for the coming Messiah and he was also Elijah returning according to Christ - which was another prophecy fulfilled.

And Jesus called him the greatest man ever born.

Quite statement for one small voice by none other than the Savior Himself. But, you know, Jesus was always focusing on those that no one else considered worth paying attention to. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised at His estimation of John.

John made a difference - he prepared the hearts of the people of Israel for Jesus' impending arrival. And he was just one small, seemingly insignificant voice in the wilderness just doing what he knew God wanted him to do - not worrying too much about being an outcast.

But if you read on in that particular passage that Jesus was speaking about John, you read that as great as He considered John to be, He also said to the disciples and the crowds around them that the least of the rest of us is greater than John. Go figure that one out!

I think you can see my point, we can be one small voice in the wilderness of life and it will count. We can make a difference in someone's life by trusting Christ enough to step out and take a chance, obey His commands and follow His will for our lives. For out of His will for our lives flows the hope and the help He wants to give others. He provides for others through us.

It may not make the news or even be known by anyone of stature, but it will be known by the person who is encouraged by a kind word; by that person who is thankful for a few bucks you gave him to buy a meal with. It'll be appreciated when a single mom can get a few moments of freedom from the pressures of her life because you took her kids for ice cream or maybe to the park to play.

Your kindness will be noticed by the orphan who puts on the new shoes you bought for him (unashamed plug here: www.shoesfororphansouls.com). Or even more so if you take those shoes to him or her on a mission trip. Trust me, the kids LOVE getting new shoes and socks. It may seem insignificant in all of our wealth here in the States, but in the orphanages of Russia, Guatemala, Africa or any number of other countries the organization I work for (buckner.org) serves, it's a BIG deal to the kids. Sometimes, it's all they have for the rest of the year until someone else brings them another pair the next year.

Those are just a few off the top of my head. There are a myriad of other ways both near and far that you can fulfill God's command to love others.

This blog is called Stumbling About for Truth. I think we have stumbled into truth when we stop to help someone who needs it in Jesus name. Where else would He want us but involved directly with other people's lives - helping them - encouraging them - leading them to the One who can provide for all of their needs.

So like me, don't fret about being just one voice in the wilderness. Look for ways to use it. You may be surprised at the impact you can have.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jesus' Traveling Instructions for the Itinerant Preacher

I am a part of a group that meets every other Saturday morning for prayer and for breakfast. One of the requirements of belonging to the group is that we commit to reading our Bibles, journaling our thoughts and then sharing with our group what we have learned. Here lately, I haven't been either able or willing to get up at 5:30am to go pray and meet. I am sure Jesus would treat me the same way he treated the disciples who just couldn't stay awake while he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemene!

At any rate, I have been faithful to keep up with my reading even if I haven't been attending the meetings and we have been reading through the book of Matthew. As I read through Chapter 10 where Jesus is sending his disciples out to preach to the people - the Jews in particular that the "Kingdom of Heaven is near", it occurred to me that he had some very interesting instructions for them. What follows is a few lists to consider along with a conclusion at the end. I will spare you and me both the hassle of having scripture references at the end of each item on in the lists, but you can find them all in Matthew 10. Read this as if Jesus has just handed you a list written as if He was giving the instructions personally to you.

Packing List
1. Power to cast out evil spirits and heal diseases. You can pick this up from me before you leave.

Instructions on what to do (and not to do) as you are traveling.
1. Go to only those I have sent you to - the people of Israel - God's lost sheep
2. Announce to them my Kingdoms imminent arrival
3. Heal the sick, cast out demons
4. Give of yourself freely - after all, I have given you much.
5. Take no money
6. Don't pack a suitcase
7. No walking sticks allowed
8. But be sure t accept the hospitality offered you as your work is worthy of it
9. When you arrive at a town, look for a place to stay - someone who will give you shelter, comfort, food and rest. Stay there until you leave. Be sure to bless those who have offered their homes for you to stay in - if their home turns out to be unworthy, rescind that blessing.
10. If a village rejects you and my message to them, leave and shake the dust off of your feet as you leave. You tried, they wouldn't listen. When you are persecuted in a village, flee to the next one.
11.Seeing as how I am sending you out as sheep amongst wolves. Be wary as snakes and harmelss as doves. In other words, be smart, but act with humility and integrity.
12. Don't be afraid. They may (and will) kill your body, but I have your back spiritually - they can't take you soul - it's mine. You will ive on for ever with me in heaven.

What to Expect.
1. You will be beaten in the synagogues (those local pastors won't care much for your message)
2. Expect to be arrested and brought into court to stand trial for being my disciples. DON'T forget to remember to use your opportunities presented by being arrested and prosecuted to share my message with the kings and governors you will go before.
3. As for your defense, don't worry about what to say. I will give you the right words at the right time when you need them.
4. Everyone will hate you because you follow me, but stand firm in your convictions and you will be saved.

Warnings/Things to Remember as You Travel.
1. You are mistaken if you think I came to bring peace to the world. I have actually came to shakes this world to its foundations!
2. If you love anyone, thing or place - including yourself and your family more than me, and refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not really my disciple. If you attempt to hang on to your life and all its trappings, you end up losing it all. But if you surrender all to me, you'll find life - and find it abundantly!

Now consider these lists. Are you still as excited about serving Jesus as you might have been before reading them? Or would you seek to theologize, contextualize or otherwise dismiss them as being irrelevant for your life today? If you read on to the first verse of the chapter 11, you'll see that Jesus left to practice what he just told His disciples to do. As a matter of fact, He was already practicing it. He came to earth with what? How many supplies did he bring? How much power did he bring? He didn't bring anything - He came naked, a helpless infant born to lowly parents. But just as He told His disciples he would provide for them as they had need (or at least He told them how to get their needs provided for) - God also provided for His needs as He went about His Father's will. So we can naturally assume that He will also provide for our needs at the right time - when we need His provision most.

So... are you ready to travel?