Friday, October 23, 2009

What Are You Living For?

This past Sunday I sat in on my old Sunday school class, for the first time in months. Responsibilities in other parts of the church have effectively removed me from the class roster(although I do get the honor of teaching in there in a couple of weeks). But, I do try to make it in there when I do have the chance. Wonderful group of people, with lots of wonderful memories.

My church has been involved in a church wide study for the last several weeks. I’ll be honest and it’s no secret to most, I avoided the study like the plague. Not because there was anything inherently wrong with the study or with the good intentions I have to believe were ultimately behind it, I just had issues with the timing and the approach. The details really aren’t important and it certainly hasn’t been a divisive issue. I don’t have to agree with everything and everyone certainly doesn’t have to agree with me. And besides, that isn’t what this piece is about.

But to get at what this piece is about, I do have to share the main reason I stayed away. I had previewed the study before the church decided on the curriculum and I recognized it as one of those things where in a class setting, my personality (nice way of saying opinion) would end up dominating. As a Christian, as a person in ministry, and as person who has committed their life to ordained ministry, I’m a firm believer more is expected of us. Nominal Christianity is in fact, not Christianity at all.

So, I attended the class, which was on the final lesson of the study. I knew this going in and I went in prepared to behave myself :) And I did. I asked a couple poignant questions, intended hopefully to compel thought beyond and after the class. This class is used to me poking and prodding, always with a smile and in a good natured manner, so this was definitely muted for me.

However, it was the last five minutes of the class, the summing up of the study, which really stuck with me going away. Now, once again, I feel it important to qualify a couple of things. It was not a problem with the person teaching, the study, or anything else to do with the class. For me, it was a moment of illumination that transcended the class and the local church, to the church universal.

The teacher, passionately asked the class to consider the differences that five more minutes of prayer might make over the next year, or how doing one more good deed might make a difference, or even how attending one extra Sunday might draw you closer to God. John Wesley was invoked, by an old retired pastor, either rightly or wrongly, “Fake it, until it becomes real!” For me, it was a genuine moment of heartbreak and alien silence. The odd thing was, I couldn’t articulate it at the time, had no clue exactly why I felt the way I did, I just knew that my heart ached.

I had another responsibility to take care of at church shortly after this class, after which I immediately left to go to an urgent treatment center. For a broken heart? Nah :) I had been fighting a sinus infection for a week and a half at that point and I felt like my head was going to pop. But on the way there, it hit me with a simple question that rang out in my heart, “What are you living for?”

Five minutes. One extra act of grace. One bonus Sunday in the very house of the Lord. “What are you living for?” Is this what the Christian life has become? Compelling people to devote a minimal and I do mean minimal, amount of extra devotion over a year…and then celebrating it? I can hear it now, “Yes, you big grump! Everyone grows at a different rate, not everyone is at the same place in their walk!” I get that, and I embrace it. I love, admire, and even envy my Christian brothers and sisters beginning in their walk. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, it’s reinvigorating for me. It’s what it is about, new believers, walking with them, shepherding them. They’re pure because they haven’t been beat into submission yet. BUT, THIS IS NOT WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT.

New believers “get it” in a way that is lost on the “church” (do note those quotations). I’m talking about those folks for whom that message, those requests were made of. They’re requests not only being made in my church, but all over. Five minutes. One extra act of grace. One bonus Sunday in the very house of the Lord. Has our faith become such that this is a valid approach for “mature” Christians? Is that even faith?

Please know that I am not picking on my church, I’m picking on the culture of church. I’m picking on these "12 step program" approaches to faith. I’m talking about those approaches where Christ is not even secondary to our busy lives, but somewhere down the long laundry list of things that occupy our minds, lives, hearts, and souls…and then to be told that this is okay, that this is faith. That you are trying, that God doesn’t care. I beg to differ.

What are you living for? What gives meaning to your life? What if those requests above were made, not to be accomplished by the next year, but the end of the next day? By the end of this afternoon? By the end of the hour? “You ask too much you big grump?” Am I?

We have lost the very basis of our faith, our professed believe in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. A man died for YOU! This isn’t some far away story, that has no bearing on your life now. Blood was spilled on your behalf, so that you would have the opportunity to spend eternity in paradise. But it wasn’t just any man, or any blood. It was God incarnated in a man, Jesus Christ. Beaten and battered, mocked, spit upon, and nailed to a cross. Lifted into air, to die the despicable, shameful death of a criminal, alongside criminals. God. For you, for me, for us.

What are you living for? That you have to be asked to give a little more time, to devote a little more of yourself. Have we lost sight of what was given for us? What was endured for us? That cross is not 2000 years ago, it is right before our faces. And all too often we spit upon it, myself included, when we cannot find the motivation or need to live a life in accordance with that gift. We want a faith to be lived in increments, we don’t want to be pressed, we don’t want to be uncomfortable. Was the cross comfortable? Did God not give His all for us? Besides, since when was freedom uncomfortable?

What are you living for? I had a professor say one of the most poignant, powerful things I’ve ever heard a week or so ago. “Jesus Christ does not polish chains; he shatters them.” I’ll take it one step further. He doesn’t help us decorate them under the many guises we place upon them to hidethem, to make them easier to accept, either. He doesn’t embrace those chains along with embracing us. He does not hug us and our chains, He is repulsed by them. He stands at the ready with a big, giant hammer, begging and pleading for your to fully trust Him and to allow Him to complete His gift to you; freedom in Him. Let Him shatter those chains.

What are you living for? Five minutes. One extra act of grace. One bonus Sunday in the very house of the Lord. Is this worthy? Is this honoring the sacrifice? More importantly, is this honoring the LOVE that was given for all? Those requests? Don’t let them be made of you, allow Christ to do that which He is begging you to do. Let those requests be made by you, not of others, but of God. I want five more minutes to pray. I want to be used by You. I not only want to enter your house, but I want to take it with me, in every place that I go, in every thing that I do, and in every word I speak. Let Him have those chains, get out of His way, and release yourself.

What are you living for?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Indignation and Exasperation at the Commercilaization of Christmas or a Blog That Really Isn't About Christmas

Before I begin, I know it has been forever :) Having spent the summer preparing to go back to school and then actually doing it, has dominated most of my time...which has most certainly been a good thing. Life at Asbury Theological Seminary has been and continues to be everything that I had hoped it would be and SOOO much more. It is truly a blessing. So, while it definitely cuts into the blogging time, that is definitely not a bad thing…probably in more ways than one.

What better way to mark my return to the Cantankerous Christian than to write about one of my favorite subjects in the whole, wide world? Christmas. As I look at the counter, it’s already dropped to 70 days and seems to be picking up steam. I’m absolutely giddy with anticipation as you can probably imagine. One of the coolest things about being such a well known Christmas fanatic is that I have become the go-to guy for Christmas questions, stories, and discussions. The kids at church now demand to know how many days it is to the blessed day. Needless to say, I’m having a blast.

This morning, through Facebook, I was having one of these Christmas-centric discussions, when the question turned to the commercialization of Christmas. The discussion was centered on the observation that the stores are currently rushing to get their Christmas merchandise out. It’s a conversation that I hear year after year, after year, after year. And I always listen patiently and smile. Honestly, I usually don’t have much of a response. The points are always valid, there’s no denying that. For most people, Christmas is about everything and anything, but what it should be. I get that. Me? I get Christmas. I try to live my life in, through, and for Christ in such a way as to honor him year around. I don’t need a special day or season to do that.

The decorations, lights, trees, and all that good stuff? For me, it’s more about remembering family, friends, and good times. Nothing about those things (lights, trees, and such) evokes the images of the life of Christ and His words for me. Just the other day while perusing Christmas decorations, I smelled the distinctive smell of garland. Instantly I was transported back to Keokuk, Iowa, in the house on Williams St, decorating the tree with my mom, and watching the Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol on tv…circa 1977. And this big old grump was reduced to a big, old lump. I have so many wonderful memories tied to that time of year, that I just can’t help it. Do I take the time to remember Christ? Yup, but in those regards it is no different than any other day. I don’t need a special day, once a year to do that. Christmas to me is more about spreading joy and cheer, and just flat out having fun. My problem? I tend to try and use that as an excuse to do those things all year long :)

However, this is not what this particular blog is about; me and my Christmas illness. I’m quite happy with my illness, so leave me alone :P. When the question was raised, for maybe the first time, I really took time to ponder it and I quickly came to a conclusion…and hoo-boy is this one probably going to ruffle some feathers.

I think the once a year indignation that Christians feel at the commercialization of “their” holiday is far more tragic than the commercialization of said holiday. As Christians, we get all riled up when stores put their stuff out too early. We cluck out tongues at the “more, more, more” mentality presented in holiday commercials. We get upset when other faith groups protest the displays of our holiday. We shake our heads and our fists at the lines, the rushes, and the traffic. We feel the righteous indignation rise from deep within our innermost places when a store greeter has the audacity to bid us a “Happy Holiday”, rather than a “Merry Christmas”. I’m convinced that most of us spend the holidays angry, brooding, and heartbroken over the way the celebration of the birth of our savior is treated. Tragic stuff that is. We must defend the sanctity of such a holy day.

However, I’m left wondering about the rest of the year, which almost certainly contains the real birthday of our Lord and Savior. We get all bent out of shape over the mistreatment of a holiday, for which most experts agree, does not signify the actual birthday of Jesus. (As I joked with one friend, by counting down the days and celebrating Christmas everyday, I’m certain to nail the right one sooner or later) We grow voices and courage, we’re not afraid to speak our mind, we don’t hesitate to take a stand against such travesties as the local Wally World putting out Christmas decorations in October.

But it raises some questions for me. Where are the voices the rest of the year? Where are the stands being taken? Where is the courage? Especially when it comes to our churches, our families, and the world around us? We’ll take stands against the commercialization of Christmas, but we won’t take a stand against theologically unsound doctrines being preached from our pulpits? We’ll raise our voices against someone who gives us the incorrect greeting at a store, but we refuse to raise our voices against the injustices going on around us, even within our churches? We worry about whether or not people take the time to truly remember the birth of Christ, but we cannot concern ourselves with the souls and wars being lost within our own walls? We’ll stand tall and we’ll stand proud in defense of our holiday, yet we will not stand tall and proud for a savior that hung from a cross for us?

Does anyone else see the disconnect here? I hear more Christians during the holidays boldly defending and standing for their faith in a day and celebration, than I do the rest of the year about things for which we really should be concerning ourselves with. Me? I’m going to continue to enjoy and celebrate Christmas year around….The sleigh is big, the cookies are awesome, and the Savior worthy. I would absolutely love to have some company.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What I Want (or a really quick way to end a series that was going in circles)

I’ve been working off and on, on this proposed series for what seems an eternity. It’s kind of been an exercise in futility, in the sense that what I was coming up with for the blog was in essence what I had been writing for my proposed book and I was struggling with how to keep things separate…it wasn’t working so well.

I had a piece on indifference and not making Jesus throw up (Rev 3:16), one on the seemingly counterintuitive, unbiblical, un-Christlike fascination the church has with “leadership” (Isaiah’s prophecies on the “servant”, as well as Christ’s own words on the subject ((Mark 9:35)), one very cool piece about sports (this one may yet make an appearance in some form), one about convincing minds with endless classes, programs, or campaigns to garner a desired outcome, rather than transforming hearts and allowing God to do His work, and then the final piece.

They’re all written to one degree of completion or another, but in blog form, it just wasn’t working for me. In some ways it came off as pretentious and self righteous. And let’s face it, those are two things the world and the church needs a whole lot less of. Beyond that, I wasn’t going to tell any of you, anything you didn’t already know. Another problem with the church today? We’re real good at identifying problems, but not so great at addressing them and finding solutions. We’re all too often content with simply having determined/deciphered/discerned that there is a problem. Kind of like I’m doing right now, huh?

So, as I type this, I find myself faced with two questions…What do you want? What is the solution?

What do I want? I want passion and excitement. I want to be able to look upon Christians and immediately know that they are different without them having to open their mouths. I want their light and joy to blind me, I want to feel it, I want to be moved by it. I want to feel that something in me leap with excitement at that something in them.

I am so tired of this timid, politically correct, watered down “religion” that permeates the church today. I don’t want to hear about or read anymore books that essentially boil down to the easy way out…and if I do see/hear anymore, would someone please, I beg of you, point out to me in scripture where we were promised an easy go of it in this life? I want to see Christians that are moved and excited by the Bible and Christ, not the likes of The Shack and Rob Bell. I want to see Christians that truly know what it is they purport to believe and then are capable of executing those beliefs in a Biblical, Christ-like manner.

I want to see Christians that aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves, that aren’t afraid to get a little dirty. I want to see Christians embrace the sick, the poor, the dirty, the undesirable, and the unlovable. I want to see Christians that aren’t afraid to sacrifice time, money, pride, dignity, sleep (among many others) and most of all comfort, in the name of serving their Lord and Savior and their fellow man, whether they be Christian or not. I want to see Christians loving those in and those of the world. If you want someone in the church, love them there. Don’t scare or damn them there. Did Christ operate this way?

I want to see Christians that understand the concept of joyful obedience. I want to see Christians that understand it is not our job to hold the world accountable, but rather each other. It never ceases to amaze me how badly we mess this up, by doing the exact opposite. I want to see Christians that aren’t only so in name or one day a week. I want to see Christians that are such 24/7, that are constantly, instinctively looking for a way to make a positive difference. I believe we are afforded only so many opportunities to truly make a difference in the lives of others…how many did you miss today? Do you even know?

I don’t want to hear Christians whine anymore of needing to be “fed” or simply not being “fed” at their church. If you’re mature enough to understand and recognize that you are not being spiritually “fed”…FEED YOURSELF! Better yet, FEED OTHERS! Do you need to be spoon fed your entire spiritual life? When do you transition from starving to provider? I can guarantee you there is plenty of spiritual nourishment in “feeding” others. (With that said, that is another one of those overused words/concepts that has been used and abused for far too long “spiritually fed”…please make it go away)

I want to see Christians that understand that the church is not a building; it is each and every one of you. You are the church and you take it with you wherever you go. Would you treat people the same at church as you do at work, the store, in traffic? You do. Speaking of…

I want to see churches that aren’t afraid to speak what God wants spoken, instead of speaking what they think people want to hear. I want to see churches that aren’t so obsessed with being all things to all people, but rather simply being a place of God, fellowship, and service. I want to see churches that are clique free. I want to see churches united in the basic tenets of our faith. I want to see churches that aren’t afraid to chase from their presence unsound, unbiblical teachings…this is becoming such a huge problem folks and it all goes back to knowing what and why you believe. Don’t proclaim it if you don’t know it, someone just might ask you for an explanation.

I want to see churches that could care less about keeping up with the place down the street, on the other side of town, or on the TV. Is God not a big enough draw? Are all the programs and amenities in the world bigger than God? I want to see churches do away with all these slogans, mottos, and visions. You want a slogan, motto, and vision? Here’s one for all of us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."…or slogan, motto, or vision. How many of the world’s problems could be solved if this was the “soul” focus of the church?

I want to see churches quit focusing so much on what goes on inside their physical walls and focus on that big, giant, place outside. I would love to see the church function as a place of learning, fellowship, prayer, and healing. By extension of those things, I would really love to see the church function as a once a week rallying point/staging area for Christians to be equipped, prepared, and motivated to boldly take the love of Christ out into the world. I am so sick of hearing it and hearing people talk about it. Do it already!

I want to see pastors full of fire, love, and passion for Christ and the Word. This is not something that can be acted out, or put into a sermon, or spoken behind closed doors. One look into your eyes, one look at the fruits you produce is all that is needed to know if you are in fact genuine.

I want to see more pastors, like I do with lay people, that aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty. I don’t want to hear of them shying away from someone or their problems because they are “messy”. I want to see pastors that aren’t afraid to step into the midst of a storm, that knows what it means to rescue the single lost sheep while the other 99 are accounted for.

I want to see pastors that walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. There’s far too many out there that talk a great game that say all the right things, but never step out from their offices. If you talk it, be prepared to walk it. Give me a great pastor over a preacher any day. Lead by example!

More than anything, laity and clergy alike, I want fire and I want excitement. I want risk takers, people who aren’t afraid to sell out for their faith and their savior. I want to see Christians that look at an impossible situation with a smile and the first question that comes to their minds is, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

I know I’m rambling, but I don’t care. I look at the life of Christ, the disciples, and Paul and I don’t see anything resembling what we have today. I don’t see the pursuits of comforts or riches and I certainly don’t see a fear of speaking the truth, of challenging when there ought to be a challenge, or of loving when they ought to be loving. I see a real fear of not doing those things, of falling short, of not doing justice to God above. They understood. Now is not the time for comfort, for riches, for all of the things we pursue. Our rewards come later; every Christian claims to know this.

The other question I posed was, “What is the solution?” And I just don’t know, but in that, as confusing as it may sound is the solution. All I have to offer? Come find me and we’ll cause all sorts of trouble for the Kingdom.

Start your own spiritual fires. Stop accepting the status quo. Stop accepting the excuses, “That’s every church.” Raise your voice and be heard, “Not here, not now, not my church!” Stop playing and start doing. Take a chance for Christ. Be that fire, you are the light of the world. Quit hiding it and start showing it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

UPDATE-Exciting Stuff!!!

Okay, I know I’ve been on a mini-hiatus again…but I have been extremely busy and I wanted to share one, big aspect of my busy-ness :) (Don’t worry, I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled cantankerousness very soon)

Some of you will remember that I wrote about going to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference back in January in the piece titled “Please Do Not Call Me to Children’s Ministry”. One of the courses I took down there concerned neighborhood outreach, something very near and dear to my heart.

It was the first course that I zeroed in on as a “must attend”. It was a great presentation and I came away moved and motivated. It was on the first day of the conference, and later that day, as I was comparing notes with the Director of Children’s Ministry at my church, we were both shocked to learn that the other was in the same class and equally passionate about the need for us to take Christ into the neighborhoods around our church.

Four months later (lightening quick in the world of church), we have launched God’s Backyard Faith Club. One of the very coolest things about this ministry is that it is not a “church building” ministry; it is a Kingdom building ministry. We are committed to meeting weekly with neighborhood children at a local park and sharing the Good News.

Yesterday was to be our first meeting and we did not get off to a good start. The neighborhood we are trying to reach is an “at risk” neighborhood, and we were greeted with freshly painted gang graffiti on the tables we were to use…and as luck would have it, the weather was not cooperating either. It was cold, overcast, and threatening rain. We were to have begun at 3:00 and by 3:15, I was beginning to prepare myself mentally and emotionally to really kick off the program the following week with the hopes of better weather and I was debating on whether or not to dismiss the volunteers…Then something remarkable happened…God moved.















Friday, February 27, 2009

WWYD...What Will YOU Do?

***Disclaimer…I don’t think I’ve agonized over a blog entry quite as much as I have this one. There is one aspect of it that I am really struggling with. Theologically, I think it is sound, or obviously I wouldn’t even think of posting it. And because I was and am struggling with it, I checked with two theological minds I trust implicitly…also doesn’t hurt that I think the world of them both as people. I tend to think the three of us, while sharing differences, are pretty closely aligned in our beliefs and approach. One raised an issue because of how it could potentially be construed. The other had no reservations. Gee, thanks guys for making the decision easier :) So, I in turn opened it to other friends whose opinions I trust and value. The response was unanimous, “Post it!” So, majority wins. I haven’t quite decided if I like this post or not, and it could disappear should I decide that I don’t.***

I know I said in the update that this was essentially going to be the beginning of a “pet-peeve” series…well, I’ve had a change of heart. This is going to be a “plea” series and a call to “arms”…feet, and heart series. And as such, I’ve been trying to figure out a semi-coherent order for these posts, simply so I can spread the thoughts out over a handful of posts rather than trying to cram it into one gigantic post that no one is ever going to read anyhow…so here we go, I think this one is a good jumping off point.

Excuses. I absolutely, positively detest them. We all make them to varying degrees, for varying reasons…especially including me. It seems they are an integral part of life, as are lengths we will go to justify them to ourselves and to God. Most of the time, we tolerate our own, and grudgingly tolerate those of others. However there is one that I find myself increasingly intolerant of. Matter of fact, quite frankly, this is one of those that truly angers me, and breaks my heart at once. What excuse is that?

“I know, but that’s every church.”

There is no fire here. “I know, but that’s every church.”

We’re losing people. “I know, but that’s every church.”

We’re not teaching the Word here. “I know, but that’s every church.”

This place is stagnant. “I know, but that’s every church.”

Apostasy is running rampant here. “I know, but that’s every church.”

Have you heard some of the theology floating around this place? “I know, but that’s every church.”

This just doesn’t feel like church anymore. “I know, but that’s every church.”

I don’t feel God here. “I know, but that’s every church.”

Hey, did you hear about program x, y, or z at the church down the road? “I know, but that’s….What!?!? Really!?!? Form a committee!!!” (sorry, I couldn’t resist that little jab)

“I know, but that’s every church.” I hear that and my heart just screams out, “I don’t care about every other church! I care about this one! Let’s fix this one and then worry about the next!” (It is amazing how that seems to cut right to the heart when people offer up that excuse and leaves them slack jawed)

It has become the excuse to every shortcoming, failure, and problem in the church today. And the thing is, it isn’t a point that is an opening to dialogue, it is the chosen weapon for ending a conversation. It is usually offered with the shrug of the shoulders, a half-hearted smile, and an immediate about-face as they fade back into the distance.

Think about that. When faced with a problem, the response all too often heard is, “I know, but that’s every church.” And people think that is a valid excuse. Oh well, everybody else has this problem as well. This is such a microcosm of what is wrong with today’s church and Christians alike. Marriage to the status quo, this defeatist attitude. Talk about surrendering to everything, but God…talk about apostasy, apathy, and indifference all rolled into one big stinky package. Is this what God and Christ expect of us?

Imagine if you will, coming to church one bright Sunday morning and the parking lot is empty. You find this odd, you wonder if you missed some memo, some announcement in the blizzard of such things in church. You park your car, as you consider these things, nothing is making sense. You look around the parking lot again just to insure you hadn’t missed someone or something, when you notice from the corner of your eye, a figure standing inside the front door. You immediately exit your vehicle, intent on finding out what is going on.

You approach the church, your eyes on the person standing in the doorway. You suddenly feel uncomfortable, as you realize this person is not dressed like you, and you do not recognize him. Your instinct is to turn and run, but you can’t. Something in you tells you that you were expected, that you must talk to this person.

You feel his eyes upon you and you find yourself wondering if you can take it and why you can’t run away. You enter the doorway and stand before this figure. His face is kind, yet stern. There is immense love in his eyes, yet there is immense pain as well. You feel his eyes digging into you, seeing beyond. You think you recognize him, but you cannot quite bring yourself to believe it, until He speaks.

“What have you done to my bride?” His voice is authority personified, yet there is hurt in it, maybe even desperation…and you bear every ounce. You have no choice. “I no longer recognize her, nor does she recognize me. Her ways are no longer mine, she has grown to love the sound of her own voice. She has grown deaf towards me, incapable of hearing me.

“What have you done to my bride? She no longer cherishes the words of my Father and myself. You have taught her rituals, ways, and doctrines for which I have no value. She has grown gluttonous and lazy, focusing inward, rather than outward.

“What have you done to my bride? Her natural beauty, perfect and true, is no longer visible. You have heaped layers upon layers of makeup and adornments upon her, I no longer recognize her face. I did not ask for these things! She was already beautiful in my sight! When our hearts used to beat as one; when my ways, were her ways.

“What have you done to my bride? You have turned her eyes and heart from me. You have focused her attention upon dead things, upon idols…upon the desires of this world. She has become boastful with her mouth, but cowardly of heart.

“What have you done to my bride?” The question is no longer rhetorical, He expects an answer.

The first thought, the first retort that comes to mind is, “I know, but that’s every church.” But you immediately think better of it, your mind races, your heart feels as if it is going to pound right out of your chest, when an answer is presented to you, one that will surely get you off the hook, and it spills from your mouth.

“But, I didn’t do any of those things!” You cry.

His eyes narrow ever so slightly, “You recognized these things. You heard Me speaking to your heart, you felt the Spirit moving you. You sensed My words forming in your throat. You felt your heart breaking with mine. You did not hesitate to complain to friends, family, loved ones, and even Me. Yet, what did you do? How did you respond? You watched. You did nothing and therefore, you did everything.”

You are crushed, figuratively, literally, you‘ve never felt such a weight. Just t when you think you can take no more, His countenance softens. His eyes are no longer narrow, they are soft, hopeful. You feel in that instance a love that is indescribable and you want to weep. You know you are not worthy, He knows you are not worthy. Yet, He loves you as much as He did the day He died for you and He calls you by name, as He asks:

“Will you help me? Will you quit standing idly by? Will you quit talking and actually start doing? What are you afraid of? I am with you, always. You once vowed to be my hands and feet. Will you now? Will you follow me?”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Update :)

No long time, no see, huh? Sorry about that...I'll let you all decide whether or not I should be sorry I've been gone for so long, or sorry for coming back to torture you all :)


I've spent the last several weeks doing copious amounts of research. I'm kind of a research nut as it is, but this was a little ridiculous. I came across two lines of scripture I had probably read a hundred times before, but this time was different. It spoke loudly to something that had been heavily upon my heart for a long time, something that had been really convicting me.

Funny what can happen when you really begin to dig at scripture...it has a tendency to lead you to places you had never expected to journey. As I have become fond of saying to friends...I've visited with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. I've been to the Hasmonean Dynasty, to Herod's Temple, to the first century church, to the Emergent church of today, and back to the beginning. I've studied the Didache and read the writings of Justin Martyr. All because of Matthew 9:13-14 and the question, "What does Christ really expect and want of us?". I found what I was looking for...and so much more.

So much in fact, I have decided to attempt a non-fiction book. I often speak to friends about my giant storage tub of manuscripts. I've written three novels that reside in the tub, where they rest collecting dust with their many different versions, but I've never attempted a non-fiction book. As a matter of fact, I always kind of avoided the possibility. Perhaps it'll end up in the tub with the rest, or maybe I might actually try to do something with it...we'll just have to wait and see :)

So, this is where I have been biding my time, but I'm ready to get back after the blog. This is something I really enjoy, the best part being able to communicate with the wonderful, very patient, very understanding folks who endure my ramblings. I've spent most of the day working on a handful of entries (very cantankerous BTW) and I hope to have the first up by the end of the week. You might say it is the first of what I am only half-jokingly calling my pet-peeve series...or for Molly, "The Absurdity Series".

Thanks so much for reading and I hope you'll keep checking back :)


In His Love,
Corey
 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Please Do Not Call Me to Children's Ministry


This will probably be the longest, most rambling, most raw entry I’ve ever written on here. I am exhausted, I’ve got a million things running through my mind, I’m all at once bursting at the seams and at complete peace…So please bear with me, read if you want, or don’t…I just have to get this out :) I often compare writing my fictional stuff to throwing up, in the sense that I’ve just got to get the stuff in mind out as quickly as possible, and I’ll worry about cleaning it up later…Well, for once, I feel like I’ve got to get what’s on my heart out and frankly I don’t care if I clean it up or not…

Ever since answering the call to the ministry and being accepted by Asbury Theological Seminary, I’ve been pretty consistent, “God, use me any way You want, I am Yours…However, if it’s all the same to You, PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.” (This after telling God on my deathbed, “If I live, my life is yours, no strings attached.“ Funny how those strings tend to find their way back, but I digress) With that said, I have some confessions to make and I just might really step in it with some people that I respect greatly, so please forgive me :)

Before my confessional, let me establish some things first. I absolutely, positively love kids. There’s no two ways about it. I coached youth football for seventeen years, I taught creative writing to fourth graders, I took great pride when my sisters had kids, on being not only the absolute coolest uncle ever, but also being the best, and of course there is my own son, who for the simple fact that he still draws breath, only goes to prove just how much I do in fact love kids.

In addition to that, I was imminently blessed over the past several months when the Director of Childhood Ministries at my church allowed me to become involved in God’s Backyard (http://www.godsbackyard.com/).
I started out as a small group leader and eventually I was given the opportunity to lead on occasion (a HUGE honor). For some of you, you might remember that I wrote about an experience in GBY some time ago (http://www.cantankerouschristian.com/2008/08/from-mouth-of-babes.html)

I’ve continued to be involved periodically since then and I can honestly say, every time I have been in there has been an absolute blessing for the same reasons that I detailed in that piece. Frankly speaking, and I may very well get myself in trouble for this, I have never left GBY feeling as if I hadn’t been in church. I can’t always say that about “big people’s” church and very, very rarely to the magnitude of GBY. These kids in the midst of having fun and enjoying themselves are getting the Gospel, they are getting the Word, and they are thriving on it…

I love it and I look forward to each opportunity to serve in there. However, as I summed it up this morning to a friend, “I looked at it more from the “uncle” perspective. I love being around them and hanging out with them, but at the end of the day, I could simply send them back.” I think that’s a pretty accurate analogy. It’s great fun to go in and teach them, to have fun with them, and to get them all riled up, because at the end of the day, I got to give them back.
And what a great thing it is. Once a month, maybe every six weeks, I get to go in, have a blast, have my heart touched, and spirit renewed. I always come out of there, so refreshed, so motivated, so ready to get back after the “less pleasant” things of church. But it never ends there…I get hugs! It’s pretty doggone cool to walk into church and hear an excited voice exclaim, “Mr. Corey!”, just before you find little arms wrapped around your waist. Or to be asked if I’ve eaten any more reindeer poop (long story). Or to be able to make funny faces in “big” church and have them returned. Or to be asked, “Honey, why are there sparkly kitten stickers all over the inside of the washing machine?” “Because they were stuck to my sweater of course.”

Yeah, being an uncle was and is pretty cool. But here is my confession…I always thought it was somehow below me, not really worthy of my life or career. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you either know me or you’ve read my other writings. You know I can at times be antagonistic when it comes to the foolishness of Christianity today, you know my passions, you know some of my heart. You know I tend to thrive on the battles. I like spiritual fist-fights. I enjoy riling people up if it gets them thinking about their relationship with Christ and examining their faith. I’ve told anyone and everyone since I answered the call, “If there is one thing I know for certain, God hasn’t called me to an easy ministry, or to some pristine sanctuary…After what was forged in disease, suffering, and near death, God knows what He has in me.”

I’m surprised at my reaction as I type that…God knows what He has in me. I hadn’t considered that part until just now and I’ve got to say, it hit pretty hard, but more on that later.

I guess that the Marine, boxer, and football player has been kind of manifesting…I just tended to see children’s/youth ministry as safe, as something that really wasn’t a battleground. I know how foolish that sounds now, believe me I do…

I go back to what I shared earlier, those repeated words to God, “God, use me any way You want, I am Yours…However, if it’s all the same to You, PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.” I can remember the very first time I thought that. Why? Because I remember the thought that immediately followed, “You know that’s exactly where you’re going to end up.” And it scared the hell out of me…It’s often been my experience with God, that when a fear like that rises up, it is God’s way of telling me, “Tough. We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way, but I will eventually get My way.” I was entirely cognizant of the fact that when these “God fears” strike me, it usually ends up being something I absolutely love and something that absorbs me.

It happened with the call to the ministry and any number of other things in my life. That is one truth I learned long ago, God really does know best and in the end, even the things that seem most absurd to me, end up being the greatestest blessings. But I still insist on wrestling with it, trying to wish it away, and most certainly trying to pray it away. “C’mon God, I’ve misinterpreted right? This really isn’t what you want, right? You’re testing me right? My obedience? Ask me to run through that wall over there. I’ll show you obedience, but just not that. Besides look at me. Long hair. Tattoos (albeit hidden, unless I wear a t-shirt). Who‘s gonna send their kids to me?”…“God, use me any way You want, I am Yours…However, if it’s all the same to You, PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.”

**********

I went to Nashville this week for the Children’s Pastors’ Conference, physically and emotionally exhausted. There’s a lot going on in my other responsibilities at church that have left me spent, spiritually battered, and heartbroken in some ways. I don’t say this for pity, but to frame the mindset I went to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference with. However, I do want to stress, I was excited to be going and thankful for the opportunity to do so. Besides, it would prove to be a welcome respite from everything else and I was going with people that I genuinely like and respect.

The problem was, once I got there, I found myself asking, “Why am I here?” I asked that question of myself after it was essentially asked of me…

“So, you’re a children’s pastor?”

“Uh, no.”

“Involved with children’s ministry?”

“Sort of.”

“Thinking about it?”

“Well, I guess.” PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.

I couldn’t help but to wonder, “What on earth am I doing here?” And it really bugged me. I can remember our Director asking me if I wanted to go, but I couldn’t remember actually ever being given a reason why. There was no, “We want you to go because we’d really like you to consider doing this” or “Hey, you look like you need a break…Come to Opryland.” Nothing, aside from, “Check this out. If you want to go, the church will send you.”

As I went to bed Monday night, I was feeling really guilty about being there. “Uncles” don’t get sent to take “parenting” classes. I felt in a sense that I was kind of ripping off my church and the Children’s ministry. I really did a lot of praying that night. Mostly about that, but also because I was exorcized and re-saved that night (another long, but funny story)

I went to the sessions the next day and really enjoyed them. Honestly speaking, I got a lot out of them, but I still felt like a fish out of water, especially as I secretly prayed under my breath whenever anyone struck up a conversation with me, “Please don’t ask me what I do at my church.”

I made it to dinner that night, still not sure how to feel about things. Then something happened. They did this thing where people were chosen at random to be interviewed about their CPC experience or what they hoped it get out of it. A woman was asked the latter, and her response was simply, “I hope to learn more effective ways of raising tomorrow’s leaders.” At that moment, a fire lit in me that was quite unexpected.

“Why tomorrow!? What good is that!? Why not today!? Why can’t children lead today!? I don’t care about tomorrow! We need help today!”

My mind raced back to my time in GBY, the faith, the excitement of these children. The power in that, the affect it always has on me. Scripture started racing through my mind…and a little child will lead them… The kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these…Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter in the kingdom of heaven.
 
Still my mind clung, “PLEASE do not call me to children’s ministry.”

My devotional the following morning focused on James 1:5 and asking for God’s wisdom. It talked about the difference between guidance, discernment, and asking for that wisdom. I prayed hard for God’s wisdom that morning. At lunch, the keynote speaker began with that same scripture. My first session after lunch, unbeknownst to me was with that same speaker, guess what scripture he continued to pound?

Possibilities began to run through my mind and that fire that had alit the night before was blazing. Children strongly rooted in the faith become adults strongly rooted in the faith. Children strongly rooted in the faith convict adults who aren’t. To me, both as an onlooker and as a parent, I can attest, there is no more powerful testament, than the faith of a child.

I began to really see children’s ministry in a different light. I began to really see the battleground that it truly is. I truly began to see the warriors that those in children’s ministry are…For the first time I realized just how incredible they are. We know the importance Christ placed upon children, we know His heart for them. Are we so foolish as to believe that Satan does not understand that as well? Talk about a battleground. Yet, these people are so often smiling, joyous, and even bubbly? They go to war for our children week in, week out, day by day, with their prayers, their hearts, and their energy. They know what they are up against…and still they smile. In the Marines, we used to say, “When death smiles at you, smile back.” These people certainly exemplify that in ways that I sure as heck don’t. I felt so tiny, unworthy, and ashamed.

God’s wisdom…funny thing. Always perfect, sometimes painful, but always welcomed. Which also reminds me, do indeed, be careful what you pray for, God is faithful. God did a lot of speaking and wisdom imparting throughout the rest of the conference, none louder than an unexpected conversation I had with the Director last night. She had no clue the sheer number of prayers answered and the peace gained in her words. She has no clue the way my spirit soared, nor how quickly I rushed off to my room, and to my knees, in excitement and thanksgiving.

“If there is one thing I know for certain, God hasn’t called me to an easy ministry, or to some pristine sanctuary."

Those words have played heavily in my mind and heart over the last twenty-four hours or so. I don’t think, if this is truly where God is leading me, have those words ever been so true or convicting of me.

“God knows what He has in me.” Typing these words earlier, as I said, hammered me unexpectedly…My mind immediately filled with thoughts and images…

I go nuts over Christmas every year because it makes me feel like a kid again. If left to my own devices, I’ll flip cartoons on the tv and not touch the remote the rest of the day. I like playing videogames. I like goofing off. I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and thought it was the greatest Christmas present ever….and I’m holding out for an adult sized big-wheel next year. I walk by the toy aisle and see cool new toys and wish that my son was little again, not so much for him, but so I would have an excuse to play with them myself. I like dressing up like an elf and telling the kids that I mistook reindeer poop for raisins. I like putting my hair in pigtails as a means of getting every child to bring their Bible to GBY.

I love talking about Jesus to those who believe like I do, who need no convincing. I love the thought of trying to reach those kids who don’t have real hope, who don’t know Christ. I love being around those who challenge me to take my passion and excitement for God to the next level. I love being around those who challenge me to be a better Christian. I love being around those who need no convincing beyond, “God said so, that’s why.” I love hugs. I love my wife finding sparkly stickers stuck in the washing machine. I love being excited about worship. I love the idea of being in the presence of those who will truly be able to make a difference for the Kingdom. I loved the tears of joy in my wife’s eyes when I told her how God moved in me this week. I love the peace and contentment my heart and soul rest in this evening.

Does God truly know what He has in me?

Have I found the answers to the many questions, fears, and hesitations I’ve been dealing with over the past few months? Have I been granted that wisdom?

I know what I think, what I feel, what I believe. I also know that I’m going to take a little time to allow the past few hours, the past few days, and the past few months to really sink in. I’m going to enjoy this peace and contentment that have been a little too hard to come by as of late.

Most of all, I know that those words, that I repeat so often, that prayer I often utter has forever changed. The words have become fewer and my submission has become more complete…

“God, use me any way You want, I am Yours.”