Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where Is the Light?

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn."
Isaiah 60:1-3

In a time of confusion & mourning, we may feel that evil is winning & the darkness is too much. Let's remember what this prophesy means to us- it's why we celebrate this season- the Light HAS come! Darkness has been defeated. But... It is our job as believers, Christ followers, to listen to the the words of Christ in the sermon on the mount as he tells us WE are the light of the world & we should not hide what we have. We MUST carry the light of love & grace into the darkness. We MUST shine a light on evil & drive it out. We must never allow our insecurities to prevent us from speaking the truth & sharing Christ's love.

I keep seeing sound-bite sized answers to a situation that is incomprehensible. I get wound up when I see posts about God not being allowed in schools & tend to get on a soapbox so I try to hold my tongue. Having said that, I need to say this- God cannot be bound by any man made obstacle. As believers who have given their lives to God and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we carry God with us wherever we go. There can be no compartmentalization that only allows Him to be present in "appropriate" settings. If we are failing to teach this in our churches and households, we are failing to teach the complete Gospel. We ARE the light of the world. Jesus himself told us so. We are to carry that light in all settings and all situations.

I know that there is prayer in schools because every day as I drop off my wife, Lisa, & niece, Sarah, I say a prayer for them and all the other students in teachers in that school. I see countless Godly teachers & administrators who, I know, pray for their students daily. God is most certainly present in that school & in the lives of many of its students & faculty.

Toe-stepping time (mine included): I have come to believe that many of the social ills we face are a direct result of Christians deciding it would be easier to let others do the work we are called to do. We have been complicit in the expansion of government into the care of those in need, our senior citizens, and many other areas that the church should be taking the lead. We have eased our guilt by trying to legislate morality-while not not effectively modeling it or communicating WHY following God yields preferable results and doing things like adding, "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance & thinking we've done our duty. We have become a people who are quick to grab hold of the rewards of grace for ourselves while neglecting to "go and tell" or care for the widows and orphans as we are called to do.

The decision to follow Christ is a personal one. Once we have been "born again" we cannot continue to keep one foot planted firmly in the world. We have become a new creation that WILL reflect God's glory. Each of us is an integral part of the body of Christ and until all of us are fulfilling our roles the Gospel cannot be spread effectively.

During this season as we celebrate the arrival of the "Light" into a world shrouded in darkness, let's remember that no matter how dark things seem, evil can be- no, not can be, has been- overcome. Let's be the light of the world and carry that light into the darkest corners. Let's show the power of love and grace through the lives we live and the compassion we show.

Father God, we pray that Your mercy and grace will be revealed fully to all of those so deeply affected by the tragedy in Connecticut. We pray that each of us will open our hearts and be used by you to carry the light into the world around us. Don't let any of be content to let someone else carry the light or spread Your Word. Use us for Your glory! Amen

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eat More....Crow

This post will upset some of my friends.  Just going ahead and putting that out there.

Today, millions of Americans are packing their local Chic-fil-a restaurants to show their support for free speech. Well maybe not.  Today millions of Americans are packing their local Chic-fil-a restaurants to support the right of a Christian businessman to express his beliefs and, gasp, actually use profits from his business to support causes he believes in.  More accurate, maybe. But from the majority of posts on Facebook I've read today. The heart of the matter is that millions of people are at Chic-fil-a today to prove how amazingly Christian they are.  The number of, "No Chicken for you!" comments aimed at "liberals" and "gays" have vastly outnumbered the posts espousing any Christian ideals or even championing free-speech. I have been pleased to see a few posts wishing we were this fervent about sharing the gospel & meeting the needs of others in our community. But these have definitely been the minority. This breaks my heart.

I've struggled with this from the get-go.  Dan Cathy was asked a loaded question in order to elicit a response that could be used to generate outrage.  This is reality. It is not a surprise that he answered the way he did.  Chic-fil-a has operated as a family-owned business that has been consistently run according to the Christian principles the Cathy family believes in.  They have operated on a standard that most business leaders would say was ridiculous.  A restaurant with a huge food court presence, closed on Sunday? The biggest eating-out day of the week? Never make it.  Yet, here they are.  They have been consistent from day one.  Consistent quality, consistent principles, and consistent customer service. Ever been to a Chic-fil-a where all the workers seemed angry & really wished you weren't there? If you have, it probably didn't happen again.  A positive, sometimes almost Disney-level over-the-top, customer experience is one of the hallmarks of Chic-fil-a.   Chic-fil-a is consistent.  Like them or not, they're consistent.

Now, before you think I'm being paid to wax eloquent about fast food chicken, I want to get more to the point.  This entire episode is a result of people's desire to feel outraged and victimized. This is where I get in trouble with ALL my friends. The activists who chose to equate one man's statements of his religious convictions as "hate speech" were looking to be victims.  We have come to a place in our society where it is no longer acceptable to "respectfully disagree." We have to be outraged that someone would dare disagree with us.

To my friends in the gay community:
 If it bothers you to eat at a restaurant that is owned by someone who believes differently than you do & uses its profits to support causes of like-minded individuals, don't eat there. Don't freak out. Dan Cathy did not say, ( insert best southern drawl here)  "We won't serve "that kind" in here." In fact, as far as I've seen that's never even been an accusation here. Don't financially support him. However, the idea that we would ban a business from our community because of the beliefs of the leader is an
amazing idea in the land of protected speech and "free exercise" of religion. If his beliefs are outrageous and enough people disagree with their pocketbooks, banning won't be necessary. The business won't survive. I fully support your right to make your own decisions and I hope you respect me enough to let me make mine. I love you and want nothing more than the very best for you.

To my friends in the Christian community:
I'm glad you feel the need to support a brother. However, we are buying into this victim mindset as well.  "Everyone's out to get us!" "We can't let them get away with this." etc.  There is no doubt that the days of daily Bible readings over the loudspeaker at school and public institutional Christianity are in the past.  The "freedom from religion" movement has been steadily gaining ground. Why?  because most Christians operate from a group mentality and expect a few people to protect them and speak for them. Unfortunately, we've had some pretty flawed mouthpieces. Remember that word I used to describe the Cathy's and their restaurants? We haven't had it. We aren't consistent. We jump on, we jump off.  We compromise when it's expedient and dig in when compromise could yield fruit. We are flawed. There, I said it. We are flawed. We are in desperate need of help. Perhaps it's time we truly humbled ourselves and prayed for God's wisdom and vision for our lives.

 I am flawed. I cannot do this on my own because I'm stupid, short-sighted and selfish. I need to admit this because, if I won't, how will the world understand my need for a Savior?  If I can't confess my shortcomings, how can someone else experiencing the same pain from their mistakes know that they can turn to me for understanding and comfort?  When you're in the midst of a really messy life, do you turn to the June Cleaver's (reality check- no one's perfect and the pearls are probably fake) of the world for advice or to someone you know has faced the same struggles and made it?

I am a Christian.  I believe in God.  Some of you will struggle with that.  Others will applaud it.  I don't say it because I want you to identify with me or because I want to alienate you.  I say it, because it is who I am.  I am a disaster of a human being who has made more mistakes than I could ever make up for.  I am completely undeserving of love because of my selfishness.  Yet, God loved me enough to provide a way into His very presence.  He provided me grace, undeserved love and pardon from deserved punishment, through His son.  My non-Christian friends may not understand this - I find myself using Christian-ese even when I'm trying not to.  I would be happy to explain it all to you and answer any questions you may have.  You need to know my story before you can fully know me. However, I hope that you can at least see the result of this in my life: Because I have been raised up from a place of pain & brokenness, I see the world through different eyes.  I can't walk blindly by someone in pain and never feel a thing.  I can't see injustice and not speak out.  I can't see people seeking fulfillment with things that will only destroy them without, at least, showing them the same love I've been given and trying to pull them free. I still fail sometimes and selfishness creeps in, but conviction brings me back to my senses and I turn back to my source of peace for guidance.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He said we were to love the Lord our God with all our hearts souls, minds and strength.  Then he added, the second most important is like this one, love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.  The people listening asked, "Who is my neighbor?"  Jesus proceeded to tell the the story of the Samaritan man who came to the aid of the man who had been attacked by highwaymen. The religious leaders of the day walked right by and pretended to not see what had happened.  The "unclean," reviled man met his needs and saw to it that he was cared for.  My "neighbor" is everyone I pass on any given day.  I'm not allowed to choose which nationality, religion, sexual persuasion, or socioeconomic group my neighbors come from. I don't get to pick and choose who I love based on convenience. I am called to love them and be there when they have needs.  I will do that or I won't be doing the will of God.  Non-Christian friends- In all likelihood, in helping you, I will point you to the source of peace I have found in my life.  As I said, it's who I am.  What you do with that information is for you, and you alone, to decide.  I will pray for you.  If you allow it, I will pray with you.  My praying for you doesn't mean I think I'm better than you, it means I love you and need power beyond my own to help you find peace. Did I say it's who I am?

So, how does this all tie in to Chic-fil-a day?  I am asking all of my friends: Christians, non-Christans, straight, gay, black, white, brown and any combination thereof to take a moment and... relax.  To quote the Hitchhiker's Guide, "Don't panic!"  Everyone is not out to get you.  Take a deep breath and think about this.  If we put half as much energy into meeting the needs of those in our communities as we have into being outraged by "the other side," we would live in a much better place.  I'm not saying roll over and allow injustice to happen. I just think if we humbled ourselves, just a little, we'd be able to see where the roots of our "outrage" lie.  Some Christians have, indeed, treated those of any other belief system in ways that can only be described as hateful.  However, we all can't be painted with the same brush.  Some gay rights activists have gone to extremes to find "hate" where it doesn't really exist.  However, every day we work side by side with individuals who understand that while our beliefs are different, we are still human beings who deserve respect and love and don't seek to divide.  In other words- don't let anyone else speak for you, exist for you, or think for you.  You, and only you, are responsible for your actions and thoughts.  If every person who went to buy chicken today to proudly wear the label, "Christian" went through the other 364 days of the year humbly living the life of an individual bent on loving God with all they were and those around them as much as they loved themselves, I don't think there would ever be a chance of us being labeled, "haters." If everyone acknowledged that we are a diverse nation made up of many different groups who ALL have a right to exist and exercise their beliefs under the constitution, we wouldn't spend so much time feeling victimized.

Because of who I am, I have to close this post by simply sharing the reality in my life that keeps me going in all circumstances.  I am loved.  In spite of my shortcomings, I am loved. In all of life's circumstances, I am loved.  Even when the questions seem to outnumber the answers, I am loved.  And, because I am loved, I, too, must love. In spite of shortcomings, in all circumstances, even when it doesn't make sense to me, I must love my neighbor and point him to the source of my hope: the God who loves even me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A First for Me/Dancing with God

I am doing something that I never thought I'd do today.  I am actually writing a blog post! I never pictured myself as a blogger.  However, I am someone whose mind seems to always be overflowing with thoughts.  I've found that the best way to keep them from overtaking me is to share them in some forum.  Some get shared at Children's Corner in church. Some come out at SevenpointFive (our "Contemporary" service).  Others, my Sunday School class and Bible study friends have to sit through.  This blog will hopefully give me an outlet and a place to kick some thoughts around and maybe get a little feedback.  I kind of think of it as cyber-ritalin for a middle-aged ADHD sufferer.

Today, I'm writing about an image that I haven't been able to get out of my head this week.  Last Sunday night at SevenpointFive, several dancer from the Newport Dance Academy came and performed for us.  They did an amazing job and I was reminded again of the many ways in which we can express our worship.  During the time they were practicing before the service, I witnessed the teacher, a former youth of mine, speaking with one of the girls who was going to be doing a solo. The young girl was nervous and was very intent on getting everything just right. So much so, that it was apparent how much she was concentrating on her count as she was dancing.  The teacher pulled her aside and had a conversation very similar to this: "I know you're a little nervous but I want you to remember something. Who are you dancing for when you do this song?" "Well I'm dancing for my family and for God."  "That's right. You are dancing to glorify God. Now, I want you to try something a little different.  Instead of just dancing FOR God, I want you to imagine that you're dancing WITH God.  When you're reaching up, picture Him reaching down for you. Think about Him right there dancing with you.  It will change the way you move and people will be able to see Him in your face."  

When it was time for her solo, the young lady stepped out and danced in a way that was completely different than she had in practice.  The moves were the same.  The dance hadn't changed from a technical standpoint. But, the emotion in the dance and the song was very different and I know God was glorified.

The service that evening was talking about "Surrender" and  the necessity of giving up not only our own desires but also our guilt for things past to truly be able to experience the joy that comes from a life in Christ.  After I got home, I realized that I had already heard the key to making that surrender possible in a conversation between a dance teacher and her student. We can't go through life just dancing/living FOR God without the risk of being a wooden people going through the motions. True freedom and joy come from the realization that, through Christ, we are dancing/living WITH God. And when we are dancing with Him, just like that little dancer, the world will be able to see Him in our faces.

I look around me and see way too many people who seem to be bogged down in trying to live a picture-perfect life and who feel inadequate and unworthy when they fail to meet some arbitrary standard. I find myself in that position all too often.  I pray that I can begin to live a life that daily rejoices in that fact that for every move I make toward God, He is moving toward me as well.  To some, the thought of dancing with a holy, sovereign God would be unthinkable.  To me, it is one of the most amazing images of grace I can imagine.

The words to a song from my past keep coming back to me and I've been singing them all week, "Dance with me, Oh lover of my soul, to the song of all songs."  Thank you God that, through Christ, I can have the privilege of dancing with the King. Help me never forget that each day is a journey with you by my side. Pull me close and help me to surrender my desires and fears to you. Let me bask in the joy of knowing you. Amen