Monday, February 28, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 59

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 12-13.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 12: 6-10, "For even if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I would be telling the truth, but I refrain from this so that no one may regard me beyond what he sees in me or what he hears from me, even because of the extraordinary character of the revelations. Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

More than one commentator has made a list of all the negative things Paul has said about himself in 2 Corinthians.

In 11:6 he admits he's just not that good at public speaking (which would've been a big deal in Corinth as philosophers were known by their ability to be an orator and if they were any good, they'd gather large followings and make big cash).
In 11:21 he was seen as a weak leader for a variety of reasons, appearance and natural leadership skills among those.
In 11:23, well, um, he'd had a prison record.
In 11:28-29, he went through periods of self-doubt and internal struggles.
In 12: 8-9, he struggled through a prayer life that didn't seem to be getting any answers.
In 12:10, he'd been insulted by all sorts of people, he'd been in all sorts of trouble, and he'd been through real persecution for his work.
In 12:20, he'd been worried about disappointing people, he'd been afraid of being rejected by them, and he was afraid of what the future held for him.
In 12:21, he was worried that he'd be humiliated in public...especially if he cried in public. He'd also worried that his people wouldn't listen to what he was saying and carry on with their rebellious ways.

I have to admit, I get those pangs of jealousy when looking at some of the gifted church leaders and/or authors in my Tribe. They're having their podcasts downloaded at amazing rates (and I'm one of them doing the downloading) and they're part of those churches that get magazines to write about how influential they are in their communities and they get interviewed by all sorts of media and... anybody else, man, I kinda want to have their giftedness and talents.

They're good public speakers.
They're natural born leaders, with good looks and strong personalities and ability to think well.
They've been to all the right seminaries and Bible colleges. They've lined up with the "who's who" and networked well and get invited to speak at all the right conferences.
They ooze confidence and the ability to project that to others.
They all have stories about amazing answers to prayer and always manage to come out on top.
They get constant praise from people within and outside their congregations.
People are drawn to them and they stay loyal to them.
Every roll of the dice comes up 7 for them.
They get professional accolades for their work.
They have 10-year vision and plan for that and it always seems to work precisely that way for them.
Their churches seem to be on-board with their teaching and they see lots of immediate results.

See, I am a pastor in the Dallas-area. This means that it's a hotbed of ministry talent. You know, like how high-school football in Texas is a hotbed for players who will excel at the next level? Yeah. It's that way in Dallas. So many great churches, all pastored by great people with great gifts and talents.

It reminds me a lot when I watched Bo Jackson play sports when I was in college. For those of you who don't know who he is, well, he was the best athlete in America in the mid-80's. He was a football running back that was bigger and faster than most people on the field and he won the Heisman Trophy. In track and field events, he was Olympic caliber in sprints and any event that involved running, throwing or jumping. In baseball, he wound up being the number one draft pick in all the major leagues.

He went to the same university I did and when my friends and I (avid baseball fans and we'd all played baseball almost all our lives) would watch him play, we'd say things like, "Man, I'd like to step into his body for just one day to see what it's like to be able to hit a ball that far or run that fast or throw a ball that hard." The comparisons were inevitable, because we'd all played and knew where we came up short in the deal.

Same for when I look at the other pastors. They seem to be strong everywhere I'm not. This is why Paul is somebody I can easily relate to. The funny thing is, when Paul was moving up the chain of the Jewish hierarchy my guess is that he'd have never said these things about himself. He likely viewed himself as the ambitious and vicious guy who had the education and the stripes to get to the top.

Now that he's serving Christ, well, he even got a "thorn in the flesh" to remind him of his weakness. Anyone who tells you they know what that was, well, I'm not so convinced a definitive answer is out there.

And, yes. I know I'm not the most skillful speaker. I know I don't have natural leadership gifts. I didn't make all these great choices for my background to make an impressive interview (sure, I have some educational stripes that might get me to the interview, but there's plenty of skeletons that come out of my closet pretty quickly). I'm continually second-guessing myself. I pray about a lot of things that don't seem to have any answers (one I won't tell you about has been going on about 5 years now). My faults are highly visible and my personality is such that people feel free to tell it to me like they see it, sometimes in front of my wife and kids. I've had a lot of disappointments. I fear being rejected. I don't relish difficult situations as a chance to shine. I often think it's just a matter of time before people get tired of my service to them. I'm always doubtful of my own effectiveness in ministry because I simply don't see immediate results.

But, the funny thing is...

...I'm okay with all of that. I've become pretty comfortable in my own skin over the years. It's okay to have all those, because my guess is that the other folks I see in ministry who have all the a-list kinds of things...

...well, God knows they can humbly handle all those blessings and that they'll honor Him through all the good stuff and high times.


Well, it's probably best God hasn't given me those things. I'd probably let it go to my head anyway.

So, today, I'm thankful for the reality that for some odd reason, God chose me. I'm a bit overweight, of average intelligence and average gifting. I have all the doubts and insecurities most of the folks on the planet have. I have the same fears. Other guys can, and will, hit the home runs.

I'm happy just to be on the team and have the role of a utility player.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Joshua 1-5)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 58

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 10-11.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 10: 7-12, "You are looking at outward appearances. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should reflect on this again: Just as he himself belongs to Christ, so too do we. For if I boast somewhat more about our authority that the Lord gave us for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of doing so. I do not want to seem as though I am trying to terrify you with my letters, because some say, 'His letters are weighty and forceful, but his physical presence is weak and his speech is of no account.' Let such a person consider this: What we say by letters when we are absent, we also are in actions when we are present. For we would not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I know how I come across to people.

I blame The Clash, The Ramones, Black Flag, Social Distortion, and possibly X. The long hair and tattoos don't really help matters much, either.

I can have a punk-rock edge, that's for sure. If there were some sort of "matching" test where you drew a line from your name to which disciple you most resembled (listed vertically in the right-hand column) my line would move from me to Simon the Zealot. But rest assured, I have my "John the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" moments. Ask my wife who sees me melt whenever she walks into a room or when I get all sappy at weddings (which is all of them). Ask my daughters who have been doted on since they were in the womb and have every reason to believe my "smitten" factor rises each and every day for them. Ask my students who know that my favorite things on my to-do list involves laughing until I'm crying with them. Ask my dog.

But I get the power of perception. I really do. And the perception would turn out to be part of the problem.

The whole thing started on the last day of school many years ago. You know they have those deals where you go to your kid's elementary school and listen to the kids play "Love Me Do" on their recorders and they sing like crazy and then they all run and hug their teachers and get all sorts of certificates and such? Yeah. They're pretty fun and cute. Us dads promise our daughters we wouldn't miss them for the world because we wouldn't.

I'd promised.

I drug myself out of bed after one of the Top-10 worst ministry nights of my life because I'd promised. More on the Top-10 night later.

It was all I could do to get dressed and walk the half mile (we don't drive to these things because the parking is too much of a hassle because of all the parent promises) to the school. I got there, did the wave where you make sure your kid saw you, got the smile of acknowledgement and grabbed a seat in the back.

A man from my church saw me and asked me if I had a minute to talk. I simply said that I was there for my kid and didn't really have a minute and I just wanted to watch my kid sing. His body language told me he was VERY frustrated by my response and I heard him mutter that it wouldn't take long and that "everybody says you only have time for the people you like." Against better judgment, I told him to relax and give me an overview of the problem.

His overview lasted, literally, the entire length of the program. The gist of it was that his kid wasn't getting a fair shot in his extracurricular thing and he wanted to know how to deal with the leader because his kid was so much better than the other kids who were a part of the thing. He was still going when my kid came up and showed me her certificate and wanted a ride to some pool party some other kid was having. I'd had enough. "Hey, man. Can we continue this later? I've had a long night and I missed my kid's performance. Could we just do this when I get back to the office tomorrow? If you'll call to make an..."

"You're an ass."

Excuse me?

"I'm telling you about a very important thing that's affecting my family and you're going to blow me off because you're tired and your kid wants a ride? So what if she's a few minutes late and I was up all night doing some work, yeah. You're an ass."

Black Flag inspired response coming up: "Yeah. You're right. I guess the family of that kid who committed suicide last night that I baptized last weekend and my own family should take a back seat to whether or not your kid gets more time in the spotlight. Oh yeah. You call me that again and you'll need orthodontic work, I'm sure of it."

Not one of my finer moments. Even if we were the only two that heard it. Even if it made sense at the time in my fleshly way of thinking. I was certainly out of bounds to unload on him.

So...I called him later to apologize for my actions.

He answered and informed me that he'd already talked to my bosses and such. There would be meetings.

There were.

He said some horrible things about me in those meetings. In front of a colleague. Some of them related to my appearance. All questioned my role as a pastor and indicated he'd like me relieved of my job.

He made some harsh accusations. When it was my turn to talk I simply asked him if he'd like to convene the elder board of our church and make the accusations to them. Because, fact of the matter is, if I'm guilty of the things he said, well, I need to be instructed and taught and corrected and restored. I told him that if my elders said those things were true, I'd take a leave of absence. I meant it. But...

...if those things aren't true...

...well, you need to be instructed.

See, like Paul, there was a reality that I didn't want to fight this battle using worldly ways to fight it. Sure, I could've spent my time in the meeting by defending myself against his accusations and even throwing in a few more of my observations about him and his life that would put me in a great light. I could've gone with the eye-for-an-eye deal and come out smelling like a rose if I'd wanted.

Like Paul, I wanted to take my thoughts captive and truly give him a hearing. I meant it. If the things he was saying were true, I wouldn't want a guy like that working for my church, either. But I'd searched myself and didn't agree, so I felt if we'd bring in the proper authorities then we'd get a more objective opinion than either of ours.

Like Paul, I'd hoped he'd looked past outward appearances. (Early records of Paul show him to be below average height, with a sharply crooked nose and even mentions what we call a unibrow--not even kidding) That he'd see my track record over the years of people who don't view me in that light and see that, even though we'd had some tough sledding, the people closest to me over the years know I'd never set out to tear someone down in their walk with Christ.

Like Paul, I wanted his faith to be enlarged because he'd been in my ministry.

Like Paul, I don't want my ministry to be a numbers game where only the outside looks good. I want it to be one that is known for preaching Christ and making disciples, not "comparing themselves with themselves." I want it to be on real stuff. I want my students to have a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Like Paul, I don't want anybody to think I'm in this gig for the money...or the prestige.

But, also like Paul, I'm not afraid to mix it up if people "masquerade as a servant of righteousness." I'll stand my ground against false accusations. But, also like Paul, I'll apologize and try to make peace if I'm out of bounds.

And, let's be honest, shall we? If Paul's resume showed up on a desk to apply for the pastor's job at any church, we wouldn't get too far on the outward appearances, would we? Racial and religious differences in background are there. Former job as a killer of infidels. Arrested...often. Beaten by the religious elite on a couple of occasions. Danger and trouble seem to follow this guy. Currently working as a tentmaker and hadn't worked for any one church in quite a while? Not too sure of many churches where he gets more than a form rejection letter.

Like Paul, I'm glad my church looks past the influences the Clash may have had on me to see the influences Dr. Suess had on me...

...and don't even get me started on how gracious they are in seeing and encouraging the influences Jesus Christ has had on me...

even when I blow it.


I am.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 12-13)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 57

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 8-9.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 8: 9-14, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich. So here is my opinion on this matter: It is to your advantage, since you made a good start last year both in your giving and your desire to give, to finish what you started, so that just as you wanted to do it eagerly, you can also complete it according to your means. For if the eagerness is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality..."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I didn't realize that I'd been given a very healthy view of giving to the church...or to missions...or to the building campaign, or whatever. In fact, the Bible church that I was a part of during my formative years was highly focused on being joyful when you were doing. I did, in fact, give joyfully out of my paycheck, first from Green Valley Country Club and later from Cobb's Hoover Square 6 Theaters. I never thought about amounts...just made a mental calculation in my brain of how much was in my bank account and how much I might need in that week and gave whatever seemed to make sense that week. I was glad to be a part of paying the pastors and for the air conditioning and the kids ministry and the various missionaries we supported. It seemed fair, and I had plenty.

In fact, I had to ask my friends in my small group (part of another organization) what they meant during a discussion we were having on giving, exactly what was "tithing." They showed me. Basically it came out to 10% of their paycheck. For some reason, without question, I started deducting 10% from my paycheck.

Eventually, my giving tapered off.

It wasn't fun anymore.

I began to resent it, too. Hence, the tapering off.

It wasn't until later that it came up in college when we talked about giving. Some of us didn't have jobs and others did, so we discussed it. Basically, we researched tithing for a few weeks. I landed back on joyful giving...but I didn't really have any money that was my own to give, but when I had a few extra bucks, I was glad to give the guy that was discipling me a few bucks to take his girlfriend out or treat him to a CD every now and then. It was fun again.

And never thought about again, really. Even when I was a part of a ministry that raised funds from believers to do the work of the ministry, I simply assumed that people were joyfully giving to the work we were doing and happy to be a part of it.

Then I got a job in a denomination that diligently teaches 10% tithing across the board. Interestingly, they wanted me to be seen as more than a youth minister so they asked me to teach an adult Sunday School class...and we were going through this very book/passage.

I didn't know the Molotov cocktail this little question would become: "So, what you're saying is that you don't tithe?"

I answered honestly. I also happened to ask a question along the lines of that if tithing were a part of the spiritual life don't you think that Jesus or Paul would've brought it up? Needless to say, I followed up with my belief that if you were to add up all the giving the Israelites were asked to do (which is far beyond the 10% mentioned in Malachi, the tither's key passage) it would come out to somewhere between 25% and 35% of their income, depending on the amount they made. Lots of festivals and every other year giving for the poor and some other odds and ends would make it that way. Of course, the rant continued with the fact that I think 10% could be limiting...I mean, what if someone was only giving that basic level when they could actually give away 75% joyfully and still be faithful to their other demands and goals? For good measure, I threw in my initial joyful giving story and what tithing did to it.

Obviously, I was excited to enlighten my brothers and sisters in Christ on the research we'd done in college as well as my current understanding I was garnering at seminary.

You got it.

There was a meeting on Monday.

Let's just say that there was a pretty direct line of questioning on all this. This particular denomination took this very seriously. Unfortunately, the pastor hadn't really studied much about it and he was starting to defend his position and we'd have a bit of give and take on the matter. He was starting to get curious. After about an hour of looking up verses and chatting, he actually said, "Well, that does make sense. And, I do think you can back up what you believe. So, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. But the official position of this church is that giving 10% across the board is what will be taught in our pulpits and classrooms. Let's be honest, if you're a mature believer, joyful giving works. But we have to get these baby Christians to give their 10% before they can understand that."

They sent out a letter to all Sunday School teachers and ministry leaders that if they weren't giving 10% they would be asked to step down from their leadership positions.

I didn't like me and another staff person decided we'd start giving cash.

The pastor asked us both why our giving had gone from one level to another in the last month. We told him we were giving in cash because we didn't think it should be monitored. We were having our own little protest.

He informed us we needed to use the cash giving envelopes so they'd have a record for tax purposes. We told him we didn't care about the tax deduction.

They started taking it out of our paycheck.

See where all this went?

Before all this started, I was a happy camper. Now I was back to grudgingly giving...even moreso now that I was being strong-armed.

I even recoiled during my current church's initial building campaign. Thankfully, our staff was like-minded on things like not having thermometers in the auditorium and all those kinds of things. But we hired a church consulting firm to guide us through such a "big-ticket" deal. At their advice (they were the experts and we were paying them, right?) we held a big luncheon with a slide show (back when those were harder to make than they are now) and a big old "Kick Off" way of thinking where people could make their initial donations and such.

Thankfully, our staff was like-minded in our thoughts about that event: We didn't think it was "us." Sure, it was a quality event. Sure, it rallied the troops. Sure, it gave us some nice start-up giving. Make no mistake, this company is good at what they do and certainly did what we asked them to do. But in our review of the event, it still didn't "feel like us." Someone actually asked in the staff meeting if we could just stand up in front of the church, tell them how much we need and what it's going to go to and how we're going to minister to people more effectively because of it and just trust God to bring us what we need? That wasn't me, by the way...but he said what I was thinking.

That became our plan of action. Beyond tithing, I simply don't like anything about giving unless it's presented in a joyful way. this was. We even had people thank us for the approach, even if it took a few months longer than we thought and caused a few changes to building plans/designs along the way. Nothing major...but still.


I know.

My church also uses a course from a well-known Christian money manager who spends 55 minutes of video teaching on the importance of that 10%. I approved that class (back when I was in CE) on the condition that they would send an elder in after that portion of the course to teach what my current church believes about...

...joyful giving.

They did. Still do as far as I know (I'm not in CE anymore). But I was dead serious. I don't care if you spend the first 5 minutes of the video saying that every church doesn't teach this and they need to check with their elders. The 55 minutes of emphasis certainly buries that belief. In fact, I have a former student who works for that very organization writing curriculum. I should call him. Nonetheless, it's nice to work for a church that has a document saying we believe in joyful giving.

But the point is, folks, give joyfully to causes you love and causes you believe in with all your heart and that you want to be a part of. Let's be honest, shall we? Nobody really likes getting a Christmas gift that the giver really didn't want to give, right? And if you joyfully tithe, well, rock on...You have major denominations and big-time radio hosts in your corner. It's all good.


It is.

Let's just all give to the Lord's work joyfully. Or save your cash, man. Seriously.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 10-11)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 56

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 6-7.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 6: 8-13, "...through glory and dishonor, through slander and praise; regarded as impostors, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well-known; as dying and yet – see! – we continue to live; as those who are scourged and yet not executed; as sorrowful, but always rejoicing, as poor, but making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart has been opened wide to you. Our affection for you is not restricted, but you are restricted in your affections for us. Now as a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts to us also."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

Early in my ministry I was pretty diligent about building relationships with other youth ministers. In particular, one of the guys with the biggest ministries and had been doing it the longest was high on my list to try to glean information from. One particular lunch, I was tired.

He asked why.

I'd told him that kids were over at the house until almost midnight (there wasn't school the next day) playing a Nintendo basketball tournament on a game called Double Dribble.

He was incredulous. "You let you students come to your house? Why? That's a very bad idea. You need a teen-free zone that NEVER needs to be violated."

My turn to be incredulous. I respected this guy's opinion and valued his input. But one of the major drawing cards of our ministry was that the teens were over to our house all the time it seemed. We even had a system. The big bay-window in the front had curtains, and if the curtains were open, the kids could just walk in and hang out unannounced for as long as they wanted. If the curtains were closed, we were having family time. Tracy and I also took almost every single date-night to a high school football game or play or pep rally or even awards banquets where we got invited.

It seemed to me that the gospel was best shared in the context of relationships, and we needed to be at THEIR stuff to do that. They also needed to be involved in our lives and giving them reasons to come over helped them do that.

Our mindset was, to use Paul's words, along the lines of if we opened our hearts to them, they'd open their hearts to us. Then we could most effectively minister to them. The teens might not like what they see, but what they see would be...


Christ was real at church. He was real at my home. He was real when we had Bible study. He was real when we watched a football game. He was real when we prayed. He was real when we discussed which girl in the group liked which guy in the group. And so it goes.

I look back at all the opened hearts both ways...

They dropped in when we'd been fighting.
They had Nintendo tournaments with Double Dribble, Tecmo Bowl, and Blades of Steel.
They left baby bath bubbles on our front porch when they found out Tracy and I were having a baby.
They purchased a croquet set and one spring played games daily on front lawn.
They came by to sell Krispy Kreme's every Saturday because some group was having a fundraiser.
They brought food to throw on the grill on Friday nights and we'd supply a video.
They discussed dating.
There were Bible studies in our den sometimes 3 nights a week.
There were cheerleader breakfasts.
There were big wins for Alabama or Auburn football games where jumping and dancing were a big part of the celebration.
There was prayer.
There was confrontation, and one night did it get really heated.
There was confession, and boy were there tears that night.
One girl will tell the story about how her first kiss got interrupted because the youth pastor was bringing more burgers out the deck to grill.
One guy practiced his balloon animal making skills on my daughter for his summer job at an amusement park.
And so it went.

My point is that for the Christian life to hum along like it's supposed to, well, it's to be lived out in community. And manalive did we have community in those five years. Our first five years of marriage, man. They moved us from our first apartment to our first home. They came in WAY past visiting hours after the first baby was born at the hospital. They threw a baby shower for the second baby...after she was born because, well, let's just say she came into the world a bit early. And when we left, it hurt. Them and us. Oh, yeah. Through their tears they paid for our moving van.

We opened our hearts to them. Sure. They saw us at our best. They saw us at our worst. Sometimes I wonder if we got more out of the deal than they did.

Nonetheless, I think that's what Paul was after here.

This idea that we'd love each other.

That we wouldn't pretend at the spiritual life...that we'd live it out. That we'd love one another through the muck and the mire. Through the celebrations and all that.

In fact, I heard another favorite youth minister friend say that "when you stop pretending, you'll expose the pretentiousness of others." Truer words have never been spoken.

I don't want to pretend.
I want to do life together.
I want it to be real.
I want to dive deep into people's lives and have them dive into mine.

So, my friend can have his safe haven from his kids if he needs that.

Me, on the other hand, when we moved here we didn't have a big bay-window for them to see about the curtains. So, we simply installed one of those decorative flag poles and when the flag is up, they can come in without knocking and all that jazz. We have a cabinet full of only food and candy and sodas for them...which also expanded to an additional refrigerator out in the garage (they love Pop Ice...who knew?).

And, yes, we have red meat & movie nights.
We have Wii contests with Michael Jackson Experience dancing going on.
We have had full-contact Uno (don't ask).
Just last week, I suspect I interrupted another girl's first kiss. She says I didn't. My suspicions tell me otherwise.
They've watched our "nest" start to "empty."
They've broken a hammock.
They've put a foot through our attic floor into the garage.
They've eaten 117 Pop-Ice's in one afternoon among 6 of them.
There's been Bible study.
Confrontation. Some of it gets heated.
There's been college acceptance letters read in my house before their own parents (yes, we sent them straight home) heard the news.
And so it goes.

We open our hearts and dive into their lives.
They reciprocate.
But we don't pretend.
And they expose our pretentiousness.

And, manalive, is it a beautiful thing. So I know how much it hurt Paul when they were restricted in their response to him...even if I don't experience that all that much.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 8-9)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 55

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 4-5.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 4: 1-5, "Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected 3 shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I can tell you when I knew.

See, I'd graduated university and headed off for seminary long before the days of e-mail or Skype or mobile phones. My girlfriend and I had to communicate by letters or photos on the desk or using the hall phone in my dorm since she had another year of college to finish up. 660 miles of distance between us.

Anyway, her parents had given her a trip to Dallas for her birthday after we'd been apart for nearly two months. Back in the day, you could go and wait for your friends or family where the plane unloaded...right there at the gate. She came off the plane and I knew.

I knew that was the girl I wanted to marry.

And I knew this was going to be a "make-or-break" weekend for our relationship. We'd talk about what we thought our marriage would be like...specifically what it would be like to marry a youth minister. I'd known enough youth ministers and their wives to know we should give serious discussion to the demands a ministry puts on a wife and family.

So, we ate dinner at a restaurant atop Dallas' landmark Reunion Tower (it spun around to give you different views of the city) and discussed what we thought that lifestyle would be like.

What we didn't know is that we were pretty much pooling ignorance. The poor girl agreed to a lot of things that weren't reality...

...but make no mistake: If we'd read this section of scripture that night, we'd have been a little more informed, that's for sure.

The first section is from verses 1-4...the pastor's life is living in a fishbowl. We live "out loud" in front of a watching world. All too often, people think this lifestyle is one lived in the spotlight with the whole world applauding your performance. Hardly, kiddos. We've had people watch whether or not we were singing in the service or watching how we interacted together or what movies we came out of. There's a beauty in that, though. Sure, it's pressure. But, if you're on the up-and-up, it's also a joy. It's one of the reasons we have teenagers into our home so much, because they get to see the people they love and the message they give as the same thing. Verses 5-7 remind us that the spotlight is never a reality if you're doing it. Unless that spotlight shines on Christ then it's a colossal waste of time.

The section in verses 8-11 are a reminder that there will be all sorts of circumstances in ministry. Our first home didn't have a dishwasher or central air conditioning (which mattered in Birmingham, AL) and now we have both (which matters in Dallas, TX). We've had times when ministry was easy and it seemed like every kid was growing, followed by times when it was very hard and it seemed like every kid wasn't even close to even an elementary understanding of anything we were talking about. We've had congregations that overworked us and underpaid us and we've had a congregation (our current one) that goes to great lengths to show me love, and after 15 years they are aware of all my warts. There have been times of tremendous joy and deep mourning. The pastor will live life in a community...the good, the bad and the ugly of all of it.

Verses 16-18 are that reminder that even though we're in the midst of all the wins and losses that life with those we love brings our way, we're to view it entirely in a different perspective. This isn't all there is here, man. I still am drawn to that quote I use so frequently from author Douglas Coupland: The only valid viewpoint for any decision is eternity. Manlive is that ever true. Because that whole king coming back thing and eternity and all that jazz is either true or we're all living a lie anyway.

And going into chapter 5, we see that famous verse that we walk by faith and not by sight...and brother, that is another thing about ministry. You can't ever really gauge results by what you're currently seeing. People are good actors, especially at church and double especially around the pastors at their church. You simply go along and preach the message and let the Holy Spirit have His way with people. There's a spiritual world going on that we NEVER see...doesn't make it any less true, though.

Then you get to verses 11-14 and you get another reality of ministry: That you can get discouraged easily if you only look at what people are showing you. In my own experience, I'm not sure that I understood exactly why this particular guy chose me to build into my life in a spiritual sense. I had no idea why he put up with as much immaturity as he did, or as much inconsideration as I gave him, as much stupid-head as I used. One day I asked him. His response was, "Well, for whatever reason, God showed me supernatural possibilities in a very ordinary kid." I've hung my hat on that for almost 23 years.

Why bother? It's simple. The love of Christ compels us in verse 14. When people ask me why I spend all day every day in student ministry, I always ask them why they assume that I have a choice. I mean, I love Christ. I'm unspeakably thankful for the work He did for me, is doing now in me, and will do for me in the future. I love teenagers. It seems like a pretty natural Reese's chocolate and peanut butter.

Christ came that we might have life, and have life with abundance (again with the resurrection)...and we can't live that life if God is dead. So, He rose again, lives through us now, and it's pretty easy for me to see that chocolate and peanut butter mix that your love for God and them allows you to teach that life as an occupation? Beats my other options (which are two: slim and none), that's for sure.

Lastly, we're ambassadors for Christ. While He isn't with us in the flesh, we can represent Him and tell others about Him.

We'll live in the fishbowl. Not under spotlights.

We'll have ups. We'll have downs.

We won't ever see the same world that other people see and the things they think are important in most cases really aren't important at all. So, we'll feel like odd ducks even among those who love us most.

We'll spend most of our life together making decisions based on things we can't really see...and we'll often be misunderstood by even our own families.

And you'll spend all day every day among people that you love talking about the Person you love most.

It'll be your life.

That's what we should've been talking about as the restaurant was spinning and giving us different views of downtown Dallas. Instead, we talked about paychecks and office hours and whether or not our kids would be able to live near grandparents.

We were young. And it was a wonderful night. Because I knew.

I knew.

Even if we had no idea how great our life would be together...because we undersold the richness of the lifestyle Paul described in these verses.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 6-7)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 54

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 2:5--3:18.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 17--3: 6, "For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Random Thoughts About What I Read Today:

College football coach Steve Spurrier left the University of Florida's football team a few years earlier to coach in the National Football League. Spurrier had won the Heisman Trophy when he played for the Gators, and during his coaching tenure the football team had risen to heights never experienced before his arrival as head coach. National championships. Heisman trophies. When they didn't win the national championship they were strong contenders for conference championships. They were dominant.

Which led to Spurrier getting a ton of money to coach professionals. He wasn't nearly as good at coaching millionaires as he was coaching students who would become millionaires.

After that, the head-coaching job at Florida became open as his successor didn't do as well as hoped. Naturally, since Spurrier was looking for a job and Florida needed a coach, it seemed like a lock.

Until the person in charge of the search told Spurrier that he could submit a resume like any other candidate.

Supposedly, Spurrier was highly offended and said something along the lines of, "Walk down the hall from your office and take a look at all those trophies. That's my resume." Spurrier then took a job at a rival school and has done pretty well. He's taken that school, South Carolina, to levels they've never been before and gotten better players than they've ever had before (except for maybe one in their history).

While he might've been somewhat arrogant in his approach, I think he made his point that he was being disrespected asking for a piece of paper to prove his worth to that particular school.

I kind of get where he's coming from, though. I mean, I've been in ministry well over 22 years dealing full-time with other people's teenagers. Trust me when I tell you that parents of teenagers all have an opinion of how I should do my work. Or even if I should be doing my work. In other words, I take a lot of heat in my job.

Now, don't get me wrong. I knew that when I signed on for the job. In case I forget, it happens about once a week...but I won't bore you with specifics.

And it used to bother me a great deal.

But my years in youth ministry have helped me so much with how I view things.

See, when I first started, all I had was this idea that youth ministry, as it was being done at that time, was really a mix of entertainment and legalism and got rewarded for keeping kids out of trouble until such a time as they were "ready for leadership" in the church. What that meant was that you should have positive things to do for kids so they'd stay out of trouble until they went off for college for a couple of years of wilding until they had kids and came back to be deacons at their church. Repeat process.

Well, I had this idea that teenagers weren't the church of the future, they were part of our church NOW. I had this idea that we should be about more serious stuff than lock-ins and ski-trips (even if we did them, we'd do them for a DIFFERENT REASON with measurable goals & objectives) and other positive events that kept kids out of trouble. I had this idea that if you taught grace as the motivation for the spiritual life, you'd help kids grow faster than if you managed their behavior by legalism (even if that would result in more kids making more unwise choices here and htere). I noticed that people who followed Jesus weren't really "safe," but more revolutionary (hence, "dangerous").

So, when I first started, I didn't have much of a track record.

But then, the years started piling up. Those guys from my first small group Bible study became full-time pastors, college ministers, youth ministers and curriculum writers for some nationally known Christian ministries. Others went from being drug addicts to going to rehab and walking with Christ. Some were just good kids who started walking with Christ for the first time. Some were athletes who simply started doing the same things but for entirely different reasons. Those early years were so much fun.

Then even more years. That next group of kids has church planters, youth ministers (and a youth minister's wife), a pastor, a full-time missionary, some loving housewives/moms, and some guys in the business world doing the same things but for entirely different reasons. It was a smaller group but I had more time with them so it was incredibly fun.

In my current position I've had even more years. Pastors. Missionaries galore (something I attribute to our church's support & emphasis on missions). Youth pastors. Working with Christian musicians using their gifts and talents. Serving other churches in ministry. Schoolteachers who are dangerous even within the confines of their curriculum. Seminary grads. Doctors who get where their gifts come from. Mechanics who work with integrity. Housewives who run Sunday School programs. Children's ministers. Parents who served on a mission trip, left their job and now are on the field. It's pretty cool.

They're my "living letters," folks.

Transformed lives.

And I don't do it.

Says right there the Holy Spirit does it. And His agents are all over the place in the form of parents, nursery workers, children's Sunday School teachers, interns and assistants, college ministers, pastors & small group leaders, and on and on and so it goes.

I'm simply one part of the process...where I try to build a foundation with the best materials: gold, silver & precious stones. I plant. Others water. God causes the growth. I didn't miss that day in seminary, folks.

Which is why I've learned to do my ministry for an Unseen Audience of One.

Because when people don't understand the method or necessarily see the results they want to see in their kids or think I'm out of bounds (and yes, in some of those cases I need to be taught and learn and find a better way to serve...or tone it down a bit if needed)...

...God has put me here to His work the way I think He wants me to do it and gives honor to Him.

Believe me, I get the last few verses I highlighted here:

I'm not adequate on my own.
It all comes from God.
I'm a servant in His process.
The New Covenant of grace will cause people to grow...
...not rules or programs or personalities or anything else because they'll kill growth.
Only the Spirit gives life as it was meant to be lived.

That's for sure.

And I think that's the question any search committee should ask, or anyone evaluating a ministry's effectiveness and/or a minister's effectiveness, "Where are the transformed lives?" If you answer that question, well, who needs a resume?

And my "trophy case" lives and walks among you. For good or bad, that's the way it is. Believe me, I truly love my "living letters." You really have no idea how much.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 4--5)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 53

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 1:1--2:4.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7, "Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer. And our hope for you is steadfast because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort.

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

It's one of those sayings you pick up when you live in the Deep South. I have no idea where I heard it first or who said it or even where it originated...but it stuck in my brain from my childhood:

"You don't look under the bed unless you've hidden there before."

The idea seems obvious to me, but whenever I use the phrase, some folks from outside the South seem to need an explanation. It paints a picture that whenever you accuse someome one of something that isn't necessarily obvious, it's highly likely that you picked up on that nuance because you've done that very thing.

For example, a friend of mine was walking into a fast-food restaurant and noticed a parked car with cracked windows at the far end of the parking lot. Her immediate observation was that those kids were over there smoking pot...and they'd soon be hungry and rolling into the food place to each be getting as much food as possible for as little money as possible. I likley would never have noticed it, but my friend, who had been a part of that kind of behavior in her life "pre-conversion" spotted it right off. She'd hidden under that bed before so she knew to look there.

In my world, I see kids coming to class a little bit--but not too much--late. They grab a chair in the back. They are usually wearing clothes that mimick or represent their favorite musical artists. They might have a piercing or tattoo. They sit in the back rows and are listening intently, with a healthy set of questions they'd like to ask about Jesus and the Bible and the spiritual life and the teacher's personal life but they'll never do it in a public setting.

So, usually, I'm able to stroll up after class and say something like, "Hey, I could tell you have some questions you'd like to ask. I was wondering if you'd like to grab a cup of coffee sometime and maybe get to know me a little bit to see if you want to ask me those questions. Oh, by the way, I really like "Pavement," too." ("Pavement" is a relatively obscure but highly respected indie rock band)

How would I even know how to phrase the question that way?

Because that kid was me when I was his age. I didn't want to deal with the awkward social situations that new kids bring, so I came late on purpose. Sometimes I'd even sit in the car and listen to R.E.M. until 5 minutes after the start time. I could stroll in unnoticed and slide into a seat in the back...even in my "Clash" t-shirt. I didn't know the social codes of conduct of this group of people, so I didn't feel comfortable asking questions, particularly since everyone else seemed to know the answers. Sometimes, I'd even write my questions down on a napkin or the announcements or my hand. And as much as I might've wanted to get to know the teacher, I never would've initiated contact (especially since I didn't know if that was even allowed in this new tribe I was hanging out with).

And that's a lot of what is being talked about in the verses I highlighted today.

See, we've all been through some crud in our lives, haven't we? Miscarriages. Cancer of all shapes and sizes. Flunking out of school. Getting arrested. Losing a business. Divorce. Crushed dreams. Mean people. Car wrecks. Bad injuries. Broken friendships. Goofy family dynamics. Being misunderstood. Drug use. Compulsions and/or addictions. You name it. We all have baggage. It's just different colors and shapes and sizes...but we all have baggage.

And one of the things that is pretty cool about God is that He's hidden under all our beds. And He seems to give us varying degrees of opportunity to talk about that crud we've been through with someone else that is going through that crud. Who better to spend time with a young woman who miscarried than someone who has miscarried? Who better to talk about fighting cancer than someone who has? Wh better to help a kid struggling with grades than someone who wasn't at the top of their class? Who better to minister to someone in jail? Who better to help the businessman that got fired? Who better to help someone going through a divorce? Who better to pick up someone who just lost their big shot? Who better to talk to a middle school girl getting treated badly? Etc. Etc. and on and on, but you get the idea, right?

It's right here in Scripture.

We experience trouble. We go through the muck and the mire and maybe we get a few scars and maybe we win some and lose some and learn to depend on Him a little bit more in the process than we did when the process started. Somehow, someway, we got through it with His help.

It's peculiar how a few months or weeks or months or years after the crud that gave us this baggage shows up right in front of us in the form of someone else who is going through the same crud. We never knew anyone before that had been through what we'd been through and then some one mentions casually how they're in the middle of the crud.

And there we are. All equipped and ready to serve and show God's mercy and love. Because we've hidden under that bed before.

As a quick aside...all too often parents went through this stuff and then HIGHLY overreact to protect their children from going through the same things. Sure, you can save some heartache here and there, but you can't protect them from everything. So, stop trying. Sometimes our kids need to learn to experience God's grace and mercy and love from someone so they can grow in Him. Two quick things: Your hyper helicopter parenting is ultimately WAY more harmful than if they come rolling in drunk one night, giving you the chance to talk about behavior and such while they're under your roof, don't you think? They'll never grow up with you protecting them from anything and everything. God loves them more than you do, anyway, right? So you might want to trust Him more than your own ability to protect & defend, right?

So, today, look at your hurts and crud and baggage...

...and be on the alert for how you can serve others because of the beds you've hidden under.

And don't think for a second that I don't know that this is going to cause you to be open & honest with others as well as yourselves. Because if we take off those masks and be ourselves, well, others will grow.

We will grow.

And that's the point. Trust me, the point isn't to become better at hide-and-seek.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:5--3:18)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 52

What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 15-16.

What Stood Out About What I Read: 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20, "Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Also, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins. Furthermore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

Like most of you, I really enjoyed the movie Dead Poets Society. You know, the one with Robin Williams playing Mr. Keating who gets a lot of private boarding school teenagers to appreciate poetry?

Well, kinda. He actually is trying to teach them about life more than poetry. Remember the initial scene where these boys who were used to a strict & ordered teaching style in their college prep school? Mr. Keating whistles as he takes them outside the classroom and holds his class outside the school trophy case. In it there were pictures of the long history of excellence at the school, including members of the various successful teams from long ago.

Mr. Keating tells the boys about how the students in the pictures were once just like them, with the world in front of them and all the excitement and possibilities that were in front of them.

But now those guys in the pictures are dead.

"Food for worms" is how I think Mr. Keating put it.
"Pushing up daffodils" was another.

And the lesson that day for the boys was Carpe Deim. Right? Seize the day. Make the most of this life because one day you will be food for worms like them. You'll be pushing up daffodils, too. In fact, Mr. Keating told them that if the boys in those photos could speak, they'd whisper to them to do that very thing:

Seize the day.

It all sounds wonderful and inspiring and I do like the sentiment behind it. Live life to the fullest.

But, see, here's where anyone who is really thinking will catch the reality that it's still a sad message.

Let me explain.

Let's say that these boys do, indeed, seize the day. Let's say they string together a whole bunch of seized days. Let's say they string together a long, healthy life of seized days.

Let's say they take full advantage of the education they're given and truly discover beauty and meaning in every single one of their courses and topics and majors. Let's say they drink the finest wines and eat the best foods. Let's say they walk on the most beautiful beaches in the world and explore the best mountaintops. Let's say they love their jobs and find meaning in that. Let's say that they explore the wonders of the most beautiful women in the world and indulge that, and even in that process they find their soul mate, marry them and have the most intimate marriage emotionally & physically & intellectually. Let's say they appreciate the wonder of their children. Let's say they have money to do whatever they want. Let's say it's a life full of the truest possible seizing the days.

At the end of it, well, they're still food for worms.
At the end of it, well, they're still pushing up daisies.
At the end of it, well, all you've got is 24,000 or so seized days.

But what if...


...Jesus Christ...

...the person that undeniably walked the earth in the Middle East in the first century...

...the one that was crucified in the first half of that century for the crime of claiming to be a king, or King, depending on if you were Roman or Jewish...

...the one who died, really died, in real-time human history...

...really did rise from the dead?

Oh, man.

It would be the most significant occurrence in all of human history that has an awful lot of significant occurrences, right? Because if it did happen, well, that means that Jesus Christ is who He says He is/was and that He is alive now and can live an abundant life through us (talk about seizing days!) and is coming back to do what He said He was going to do (as well as what the Jewish Scriptures say He is going to do).

If he didn't rise from the dead...

...well... says right there: We (Christians) should be the most pitied people on the planet.

It's an all-or-nothing deal, man. And that's a big chasm in-between. We're either supposed to be seizing days to a degree the world has never seen because our King is coming back to seize The Day and we want everyone to fall in love with Him like we have...


...we're the most pitiful folks to ever walk the earth.

No in-between.

And I'm sure the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place on a certain date in history in the first half of that first century.

So, yes, I think because our King is alive and lives through us, we should be all about living the abundant life He gives before a watching world. It should be full of abundance and whatever that might look like. My suspicion is that might involve a great wine or two along the way, and certainly Blue Bell ice cream...but past that we'll have to individually assert what that looks like. By all means, SEIZE THE FREAKING DAYS so a watching world will want to be a part of what we are, who we are, and Who we follow.

And if that resurrection did indeed take place, my suspicion is that those boys in those photographs Mr. Keating highlighted to his class are involved in something a great deal more horrifying than being...

food for worms...

or far more gruesome than pushing up daffodils.

In fact, if my theology is correct, it involves a great deal of agony and asking for a drop of water on their very tongue.

Because, if I'm wrong, well, pity me for all the days I'm not seizing by your definition of seizing.


...if I'm right...


...that changes everything.




(Tomorrow's Reading: 2 Corinthians 1-2:4)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 51

What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 14.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 14: 20-25, "Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Instead, be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. It is written in the law: “By people with strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, yet not even in this way will they listen to me,” says the Lord. So then, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and unbelievers or uninformed people enter, will they not say that you have lost your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring, “God is really among you.”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

In my early ministry, I was working for an organization that partnered with several churches in the area to have an outreach on local high school campuses. This required that I build relationships with the pastors and youth pastors at all these local churches, which was really one of the best parts of the job.

I started my ministry with some dogmatic stances regarding doctrine, and these relationships sharpened me to the point where I could at least understand my friends in ministry and where they were coming from.

This was highlighted when I'd had an event where several teens walked an aisle and "received Christ." I usually just viewed these as a chance to find out where each of these kids were spiritually and was hesitant to tell people they became Christians until I'd spent a few hours with them at McDonald's talking about it. Granted, I worked for a ministry that felt it important to count them as at least a "recommitment" on all our forms.

I was mentioning my struggle with this to the gathering of youth ministers we held once a month. I'd read some statistic that said if you added up all the ministries' in America's reports of salvations, every man, woman and child in the U.S. had been saved 3 times over. Or something like that.

One of my friends said, "It's really not that hard to see if they're really saved. All you have to do is see whether or not they've had the gift of tongues. It's called the Second Blessing. Then you can no for sure. That's why we don't have the problem you have at our Full Gospel church. We know who is saved and who isn't, eventually."

This blew my tiny mind.

Because I wasn't sure he was correct...I mean, how was he ignoring the passage I quoted here? Says right there that the gift of tongues is a sign for unbelievers, right?

We had an excellent discussion around lunch. I mean that. It was curiosity by all of us with more conservative backgrounds and he was well-versed in the doctrine of his church. We asked questions about the nature of revelation, about exactly what tongues was (he had two different "types") and about interpretation and the nature of spiritual growth/life and all that stuff. It was fun to hear from someone who knew their stuff on the matter and see where he was coming from.

At the end, I wasn't swayed. Nor was he. Nor was anyone else at the table. But it was pretty cool to leave in respectful disagreement, knowing that we all loved teens, we all cared about each other, and that we could understand the place everyone was coming from.

But I thought maybe I should pray for the gift of tongues--at least the prayer language he talked about. I mean, if God has something intended for the spiritual life, I want it, right? I don't want to experience less that what God has intended for us.

I'm still waiting on the gift, I suppose.

However, I'm of the opinion that my mind can answer the question as to why I haven't gotten it. I'll spare you the long & drawn out reasoning of where I stand on the issue, is that I believe that the gift of tongues (speaking a known language in which you've never been trained, and interpreted by someone who has never been trained in that language) has ceased AS A NORMATIVE GIFT.

Like many of you, I've heard instances of "tongues" taking place on the mission field by people I deeply respect that are hard to deny given the circumstances that lead me to believe that "tongues" can be used in an instance by people who don't claim to have the gift itself. So, while I think the gift is dormant, I don't deny that God can reveal Himself in this manner on occasion in ways that lead to people coming to Christ.

It's a gift intended for UNBELIEVERS.

The gift of prophecy, on the other hand, is for believers. The revelation of the Word of God is something intended to edify believers and help them mature in their relationship with Him.

No matter where you fall on the "issue" of tongues, it's clear that Paul is downplaying it (my guess is that it was being abused to no end in the Corinthian church, possibly by vocal women, given the context). He asks that if an unbeliever comes in and the ENTIRE CHURCH were speaking in tongues (out of control) the visitor would think everyone had gone nuts. By contrast, if the ENTIRE CHURCH were speaking the Word of God, they'd be likely convicted.

Again the issue is more one of order here. The idea that God is a God of order in the worship service and not to let the gifts, no matter what they are, run amok and unchecked. Paul highlights the use of his mind. Paul highlights the reality that he'd rather speak 5 intelligible words with his mind than 10,000 in a tongue--and this is from a guy who had spoken in tongues and was having the Holy Spirit write Scripture through him!

But on my mind today is the idea of how those outside the faith see us in our corporate gathering. Even when we bicker among ourselves about the nature of our walk with God and what all is a part of that or what is not...

...or whether or not the gifts exist today...

...or whether or not a prayer language exists...

...or whether or not revelation happens in certain ways...

(even though I still have hard and fast opinions on the matter whether or not I'll talk much about them to others)

...I think Paul's point is well taken:

We need to experience God moving among us all through His living and active Word in our ordered worship services. The rest are just details.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 1 Corinthians 15-16)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 50

What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 12-13.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, "Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all."

And, 1 Corinthians 13: 1-6, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

The guy that was discipling me asked me what my spiritual gift was. I hemmed and hawed about what it might be, but the bottom line was that I really didn't know. He, rightfully, felt like it'd be good for me to get a better handle on it...and he knew of a tool they used at his office to determine their staff's gifts. He said he'd get me one and to set aside an hour on Saturday to take it.

So, I did.

I broke the seal on the booklet and filled in the bubbles on the questions it asked me. Sure, there are inherent flaws on any self-reporting test like these and this particular test allowed someone else who knew you well to take it making judgments about YOU. Apparently, the deal was that you'd compare notes with how you viewed yourself against how others saw you.

Afterward, you took your bubbles sheet and put this transparent key-sheet over it and it told you how many points to put in each column based on responses and all that. At the end you took your highest point total from each column which corresponded with another sheet that had the gifts and their definitions and their strengths and weaknesses.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my spiritual gift was...

...wait for it...


Oh, yeah. My secondary gift: Celibacy.

So the odds seemed good that I'd die for my faith before I ever had sex. The odds seemed VERY good given that Charles' evaluation of me revealed the same thing.

Evidently, we were both wrong given that I'm still alive a quarter-century later and married (of course, those same things were a reality only 4 years later, too).

But even though I still laugh about the results--especially since I'm not sure that my results are even spiritual gifts--I appreciated the reality that we're supposed to have a gift.

(As an aside, I personally believe that we have one spiritual gift. I know other pastors who think we have something akin to a "gift mix" in which we have two or three that we're using, but that's here nor there, really)

But Scripture is clear: We have at least one gift. That gift is given by the Holy Spirit.

We all have different ministries in which we use that gift, which God places us in. So, for example, I know some touring musicians that have the gift of teaching, several pastors with that gift, and some school teachers with that gift, and yes, some housewives and business folks with that gift. You can imagine the differences in how the gift is employed, but the gift is the same.

And there are different results. So, my musician friends entertain their fans who all laugh and have a good time during the interaction, but you'd be amazed at how all the banter with the crowd results in people learning about the spiritual life. I know a pulpit pastor, a small group pastor and a youth pastor will all have their gift look different and help their various charges grow in their faith. The school teachers teach the spiritual life in an entirely different way, but nonetheless communicate in such a way that their students glean things. Same for moms with their kids or businessmen during the presentation.

But another thing is clear, too: The manifestation of each gift is for everyone's benefit.

See, we all have a role to play in God's economy. And you can usually see them on display on any Sunday morning at any church. Folks with the gift of hospitality can't help but walk around and greet folks and do whatever they can to make people feel comfortable. Teachers and teaching in various classrooms. The encouragers are usually involved in personal conversations, checking up on people, weeping with the weepers and celebrating with the celebrators. Those with service are setting up chairs and making coffee (usually done before everyone else is there) and so it goes.

What's scary is when you decide your gift isn't as valuable as someone else's. When the coffee maker gets irritable because the chair set up got a pat on the back from the pastor and he didn't get so much as a "good morning." Because, yes, some gifts get noticed a lot more than others...particularly those that put you in front of groups.

Which is why Paul puts the importance of love in the matter what your gift truly is.

And notice that there are positives and negatives in the "love" passage, too. Things love "is" and things love "is not." Also notice that the adjectives are primarily CHOICES, not feelings.

For example, one time a mom was in my office talking to me about their child and I mentioned that the teen told me the mom had a "short fuse" and was "angry" all the time and "yelled" at her. The mom told me that I had no idea what that kid put her through and that those actions were all necessary to "get her point across."

I looked her dead in the eye and asked her if she loved her child. She looked offended and insinuated that it was a stupid question because she never loved another person so much.

I told her I disagreed...that she didn't love her child. Want to send a mom over the edge? Use that counseling technique. She went over the edge, and I proved my point.

You're not patient with her.
You're not kind with her.
You envy her station of life.
You're rude.
You're self-serving.

You get the point, right? Love is a choice. Not a feeling. Install that on all your hard-drives, pronto. Yes. Yes. The feelings will follow the choices. But the sooner you agree to idea that love is a choice the better off we'll all be.

So, no matter what your gift, your to exercise it by choosing to be loving...and that looks 100 different ways.

And there's no test with bubbles that can tell you what your gift is definitively. I'm of the belief that your ministry is a series of observations based on what you think your gift is, your natural abilities, things you're passionate about, things that you love to do, and the experiences you've had that would make you empathize with certain situations.

But there is a test of love...just ask yourself if you're choosing to be all those things.

And one without the other is just noise.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 1 Corinthians 14)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 49

What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 11.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I got all into that television show on HBO called "Band of Brothers." For the uninitiated, it's the story of Easy Company. The men of the 506th parachute infantry regiment. The reason they were famous is they were in the invasion of Normandy, faught through Europe, and managed to secure Hitler's Eagle's Nest.

In other words, they were in on all the significant parts of the war.

We follow the story from the company's training days, in which there was a trainer of this elite group named Herbert Sobel (played by Friends actor David Schwimmer). He'd been with the company since basic training and then trained them as they were getting ready for the assignment of their life: D-Day.

The men detested both Sobel and his methods...and Sobel was transferred shortly after the Normandy invasion.

So, the men fight through an awful lot of warfare together and become this "band of brothers" in the 8 months between D-day and drinking Hitler's wine in the Eagle's Nest. They lost a lot of men. They lost a lot of leaders.

And you can imagine the distrust of the Band of Brothers once they discovered that Sobel would be brought back in to the company as the war got closer to the end. There was a significant role the paratroopers were supposed to play in a battle and paratroopers would be needed.

A poignant moment came about when one of the men in the 506th, Dick Winters, had risen in rank to Major, and Sobel rejoined the men at the lesser rank of Captain. He wouldn't look at Winters due to their dislike of one another that went all the way back to basic training. Winters saluted when they made eye-contact.

Sobel looked away and kept walking. Major Winters said, "Captain Sobel."

Sobel stopped and looked at Winters. Major Winters continued, "You salute the rank, not the man." What he meant was that you might not have to like your superior officer, but for this thing to maintain order (and order kept everyone alive, frankly), you salute because it reminds everyone of the order of things.

That's the mindset I think people need to have in reading Chapter 11. So much has been made about the role of women in the church service, and the over-arching idea is that order within the church is to be maintained. So, this, in many ways, is to help with those chain-of-command kinds of issues.

This chapter is fraught with things we don't know about the culture of Corinth as well as the 1st century meanings. What we do know is that the chain of command is laid out very quickly.

Christ is the head of every man.
Man is head of the woman.
God is the head of Christ.

It doesn't say anything about the WORTH of anyone--men or women.

The next is that women are supposed to somehow cover her head while praying/prophesying. Likely some sort of shawl, or possibly the way in which she wore her hair was the "covering." For example, in that culture it is believed that a woman with long hair that wore her hair "loose" was either a sign of mourning or bearing shame of being an adulteress. Likley, what Paul was saying is that it might be confusing to folks in society who'd become Christians or maybe visiting the church assembly to misunderstand what was going on. But make no mistake, the women were assumed to be active participants in worship.

Conversely, the men were to do the OPPOSITE of the Jewish men, and uncover their heads during prayer. Again, this was helping the ORDER of the worship service.

In fact, in verse 11 & 12, Paul makes sure he's not misunderstood in the role of women and men by pointing out that self-centeredness destroys unity within the Body and everyone is subordinate to God.

He then argues that men are distinguishably different from women by their very nature. (And before anyone decides to ask me about long hair on men, I'd encourage you to think that through, because to define "long" you have to use a cultural standard--and a 1st century Corinthian man's hair would've likely been longer than even what we might consider "long" on men in other times/cultures...and you better hope your wife doesn't have a short hairdo)

While it's a shame that this section of Scripture has been twisted to mean all sorts of things it doesn't, here's what it does mean:

Christians should live in unity.
Established order helps us live in unity.
Men and women are equal in essence and both should participate in worship.
Christian men and women should be ordered and respectful so they can have unity.

It's difficult to grasp all the reasoning Paul uses here, but I think it's relatively easy to get the main points.

What's not so difficult is to grasp another area of corporate worship, the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Apparently, what had been going on was that divisiveness had become a problem with the love feast that happened before the supper.

Turns out the rich folks could get off early to take part in the Supper and eaten and had their fill of drink before the poor people had their dinner. The rich people were taking the good seats and places of prominence.

They weren't taking it seriously...they seemed to forget that the purpose was to remember the work of Christ. There supposed to examine prepare their hearts. The entire point is to treat their brothers & sisters in love, and be orderly and unified. If they couldn't do it right, it'd be better for them to eat at home before they came to the supper.

Too often we miss the main points in both of these areas: Love each other and choose to serve one another. It really isn't about me here...

...and, like Band of Brothers...

...we may all come from different walks of like with differences in sex, social status, economic status...

...but we have a war to win against our culture...

...and we can't fight unless we salute the rank, not the man. Submit to our God and one another in such a way that we can more truly love one another, even in our public gatherings.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 1 Corinthians 12-13)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 48

What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 8-10.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 9: 19-22, "For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

The movie The Matrix had just come out on DVD...and right after Sunday School the person that purchased it invited everyone over to their house for a screening. They were told to grab some food and come on over and the movie would start in about half an hour. The room was pretty excited about it and, even though I wasn't planning on going, I figured they'd all have fun.

Until the next day.

I heard that they DVD was put in the player that the Motion Picture Association rating came up. You know. That green background with the familiar white box that lets you know who the movie's intended audience is. In this case, the letter was "R." For those of you that aren't sure, that's for 17 and over.

One of my students told the host that they wanted to watch the movie but they knew their parents wouldn't approve because their rule was only PG-13 movies until they turned 17. The host, a senior in high school, said to call the parents and check to see if they'd make an exception. The other student said that they weren't going to because the parents were pretty much firm on that rule.

"You can do whatever you want but we're all watching it." This is what I was told happened.

So, the younger student called their parents, who promptly came and picked their child up...and this is how I knew what went on. They called me in the next day. Somehow, I got in trouble.

Another time, we were in a van full of students on the way to a service project. This project is one of our ministry's favorites and they look forward to going...and we'd developed a tradition of listening to a CD that was a compilation of many classic "funk" songs that are pretty much a staple of 70's music that most of the parents of my students had been playing around the house for years. Let's just say that I didn't have to teach any of my students any words to "Roller Coaster" or "Brick House." They were already very familiar with them. And they were belting them out and having a great time!

Until... of my students sitting very close to the front whispered in my ear to ask if she could change the CD.

I asked her if we could wait til this particular one was over and we'd be happy to put hers in next. She told me that I didn't understand. She explained that she had a conviction...


...that she shouldn't listen to music that wasn't performed by Christians. Even more specifically, she felt that she should only listen to music on Christian record labels. She only wanted her money going to businesses that endorsed Christians.

I knew it wasn't going to go over well.
I knew that there was going to have to be a "teachable moment" for the other 13 passengers in the van.

So, mid-song, I ejected the CD. Put on another one that was a mix of some songs by Christian artists who worked only for Christian record labels.

It didn't go over well. Apparently, I needed a lecture on fun and the group's tradition.
I was rehearsing my "teachable moment" lecture, too.

So, yeah.

In both instances, the unpopular move was the right move.
In both instances, I had to teach the issue of personal freedom vs. the most loving choice.

I still have plenty of instances where that has to be invoked. Such is the life when you teach the importance of grace and freedom in the always has to be run through the filter of the Law of Love. Sometimes, the most loving thing that can be done is to joyfully choose to limit your freedom for the benefit of the other person.

I'll freely admit that often there are times when it gets blown up. Mistakes are made. But I'll take the mistakes of grace over the poison of legalism if those are my choices. We can always have/give those teachable moments.

So, when I had a chance to pull my 18-year-old seniors aside to talk about this very thing...that, yes, they were free in the spirit to watch The Matrix. But instead of watching what they wanted to watch, couldn't they have chosen one of the other 79 movies on their shelf and made sure that everybody had a chance to hang out? Sure, there were 24 other people who wanted to, but the most loving thing was to include everyone, right? I did.

So, when I got to the camp, I pulled the other 13 passengers in the van aside at various times and said...yes, it is "tradition" and they are certainly free in the spirit to enjoy the funk party, but instead couldn't they be supportive of their friend's very CONVICTION even if they thought it was silly and inconsistent and all the other things and made her feel like she was the most important person in the world and that she mattered to them?

That's the very crux of this portion of Scripture.

In the case of the Corinthian church, they were buying cheap cuts of meat from the markets that were selling meat that had been sacrificed to various gods in the greater Corinth area. You could get good deals, right? You could have more folks over and enjoy fellowship, right? Besides, we all know these idols are just cut-out sticks of wood so since they're sacrificing to nothing, what's the harm in getting a sweet deal on groceries? I get it. I'd have been all over it. Meat offered to a stick of wood that has no power outside of being a stick? Good. Saving money? Good. Done.

But, wait!

What if someone had come to Christ who had previously taken that very stick of wood to be their very God? What if they knew it was from the market and that it had been offered as a sacrifice to the very God that had caused them so much pain and Christ had freed them from? All of a sudden, wouldn't saving a few pennies here and there pale in comparison to having your guest be able to enjoy the meal with you? This way they get all of the enjoyment and none of the guilt or bad feelings don't get stirred up.

Yes. I know. A buck's a buck. Yes I know. They should come to realize that their old God is really not even a god. Just a stick carved by some guy. But they don't realize that yet. There's still stuff attached to their past. Maybe they will at some point in the future. But right now, they're still trying to figure out. And, Paul's point is that a few pennies aren't even worth the risk.

He even uses his own freedom as an example. He says he's an apostle with all the rights contained therein. This would include getting paid. However, given the reality that in Corinth lots of teachers made big bucks coming to town and garnering followings, he chose to work for his pay and preach the Gospel on his own time. This way no one could accuse him of doing it for the money like the other itinerant philosophers. Nope. He willingly denied something that he could legitimately be entitled to do so that he would in no way hinder the message he was trying to teach. He loved people so much...

...people he didn't even know...

...that he'd deny himself a paycheck and work outside the church to make that happen.

That's love.

He chose to be weak even though he didn't have to. He wanted to fight to win. No second place was good enough. All to tell people about Jesus, which is a fight where second place has eternal consequences. What's a paycheck compared to that?

For good measure, he reminded the folks of Israel's long history with idols and the dangers they fell into. Paul really didn't want those that had come to Christ to fall under the same spell...and it's always good to remember that your people have struggled with that very thing, too.

So, the application is pretty straightforward as I see it: Are there any areas of my life in which I'm exercising my own freedom at the expense of others? Where is that balance because sometimes those very boundaries can be taken to extremes? But the greater question is, am I following the Law of Love?

(Tomorrow's Reading: 1 Corinthians 11)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 47

What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 7.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 1 Corinthians 7: 3, "A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights, and likewise a wife to her husband.”

And 1 Corinthians 7: 17-24, "Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God’s commandments is what counts. Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

My friend had been married about 3 months. His good friend got married about a week before he did. He called and wanted to talk...he was worried about the state of his marriage.

I asked him why he thought his marriage was off to a rough start. I mean, we'd already covered the bases of them not fighting much (if at all), they were having long talks on walks most nights, they'd been out on several dates, and, frankly, they seemed to me like they were ahead of the curve that most newlyweds go through when they start life together.

He leaned forward and told me in a low voice, "I don't think we're having enough sex." Since this is always awkward, I asked generic questions to which he responded that she was happy and he was happy and that their times together were very enjoyable.

"What's the problem, then?"

"It's not as much as Jim & Jane. They're having almost twice as much sex as we are and they've been married as long as we have. This can't be good." I spent some time talking about how comparison is never good, how it leads to pride or envy, and my guess was that he was envious and Jim was now prideful since they'd compared notes. My advice went along the lines of the reality that since he was happy and she was happy with both frequency and experience to stop talking to anyone about both of those things.

That conversation was kind of cute, but in my role as pastor, I hear about a lot of those things from guys who have generally been married much longer. And, often, those conversations aren't cute at all. I realize there are a lot of dynamics at play in any relationship, so before you write any hate-mail about how I don't understand your particular situation, just remember that this is a general rule:

Meet each other's needs in this area, spouses. Just re-read verse 3. I don't see any loopholes or exceptions here, folks. No excuses. And that's all I have to say about that.

But the bigger picture of this passage kind of ties in with that very idea of comparison. We all have a tendency to think that other people have it better than we have it.

Maybe we're married and maybe we see that group of college fraternity guys driving around in the convertible and think they've got life so good. Maybe we're looking at our friends' marriage and thinking they've got the perfect relationship. Maybe we're single and thinking that those folks that are married have got the life and kids that we always wanted and never got. Maybe it's that somebody else has the good job and we wish we got the promotion. Maybe it's looking at somebody else's kids and thinking how little trouble they must be compared to our own. Maybe it's somebody else's really cool job. It could be anything, really.

And, like I said earlier, we tend to compare. Again, whenever you compare, you ultimately lose.

The peculiar thing is that even if we can do the reverse, too. We can think our marriage is great, so everybody should be married. For example, I have a former female student who is living a great life. She travels a good deal. She has a job in a great city. She loves to go dancing all night with her friends. She's taken jobs in foreign countries simply because it sounded fun. She's enjoying her life and doesn't seems to be enjoying the opportunities that her lifestyle affords.

I know some single guys in a similar boat.

And I know some young married couples who enjoy the life they have without kids in the picture yet.

And I can't tell you how often I hear people talking about how they can't wait to try and fix her up with the perfect guy they know.

Or they have just the girl who will help the guy mature and be all he can be.

Or they ask the married couple when they're going to settle down and start that family (which will give their friends those grandkids they'd been wanting).

Which, in my way of thinking, runs somewhat contrary to what you read in this chapter...the words of verse 17, we should all be concentrating on serving Him no matter what your current condition happens to be.

If you're married, be married well. Enjoy the relationship to the full.

If you're unmarried, there are advantages to that.

If you're a slave...

If you're a free man...

If you're a virgin...

And so it goes.

Each situation has advantages. Each situation has disadvantages. And no matter what your situation, honor God in that situation and in that time. No one situation is intrinsically "better" than another.

Sometimes it's helpful to remember that...

...because when we compare, we lose. No matter what.

(Tomorrow's Reading: 1 Corinthians 8-10)