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.