Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I am an inexpert mushroom hunter, at best. I always seem to miss whenever the peak time and place is, managing to find a few, but not the sacks full that I hear other people talk about. (In this, my mushroom hunting is like my fishing - I always "should have been here yesterday" or "last week," or whenever the hot time was). And of course, the location of such places as they grow in those quantities are more closely guarded than the nuclear football.

Still, yesterday Nate and I took the opportunity to tromp through the woods at a dear friend's house. We came home wet and muddy, with a bag full of 1 dozen farm eggs from her hen house, three rusty shotgun shell hulls for his "collection," one old tree stand strap (which I wouldn't trust my body to, but which will be perfect for riveting on some hooks to hang stuff within easy reach in the tree stand), and a good pair of sunglasses. We did not come home with any morels, but making a memory with my son seems like a good trade.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

He tasted death: A Holy Saturday Meditation

As a pastor, I have seen a lot of death. I've seen cancer, old age, Alzheimers, birth defects, miscarriages, ALS, strokes, heart attacks, and accidents. For most, death begins a slow approach sometime around 30 and creeps up on cat's feet until about 70, when it approaches like the hoofbeats of a thoroughbred, pounding down the final stretch. Sometimes, death is welcome relief, especially when a long illness has wracked the body with pain. But mostly, we do not go gentle into that good night. Mostly, we try not to think about it, or if we do, we try to imagine ourselves falling asleep and then waking up in glory. I myself will vote for that one, if God ever asks my opinion (though I'm not holding my breath that He will).

But one thing I do know for sure, and that is, when the final moments come, there is a difference between the true Christian and the rest. The committed followers of Christ, when they know they are dying, have incredible peace, even as they suffer. And this is because of what happened today, in a rock hewn tomb, 2,000 years ago. On this day, Jesus of Nazareth lay dead in a borrowed grave. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:
he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. ~ Hebrews 2:9b
God was pleased to allow His Son, Jesus, to suffer and to die, though I don't begin to understand how it is that God can die. But nevertheless, Jesus died so that I might not. He tasted death so that I might not drink death's cup to the dregs. In His death, I have forgiveness of sin. His blood covered my penalty; his payment my debt. And by that death, by that unspeakable horror, I go in confidence to my grave, not fearing the tomb, but looking to it as a door through I must pass to enter in to the Wedding Feast. So, come pain, come suffering, come persecution. Indeed, Come O Death, for your sting is embedded in the One who took your poison into His body, so that you might be forever killed and I might have eternal life!
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. ~ Hebrews 2:14-15
Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice! Thank you for tasting death for me, that I might not die eternally! Thank you for setting me free!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Facebooking the Church

"Now let's all stand and greet your neighbor!"

If you've ever visited a church, you'll find that at least 8 out of 10 times, there will be some moment in the service when you are asked to do this. It's a noble effort to help people connect, and it works pretty well in small churches like mine, especially if you are strategic about using the time to connect with visitors (something I try hard to be good at). But back in my Dallas days, I found it discouraging every time we tried it. It was a huge church, so the people i met this week I would very likely never see again, even if we sat in the exact same seats every week. And so, when we did this, it didn't make fill me with joy, but with loneliness. There was no connection in the connection.

One of the trends I've noticed over the past few years, and which concerns my pastor's heart a great deal is what I've decided to call the "Facebooking of the Church." No, I don't mean that a church shouldn't have a Facebook page. Our church has a (much-neglected) page. And no, I don't mean that individual Christians ought not spend time on Facebook. I have a page also and I try to keep up with friends old and new through it. Instead, what I mean is this: it seems to me that in the midst of the communication revolution, with more tools for connecting with people we know than ever before, we increasingly find ourselves more lonely and disconnected than ever. We have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Facebook "friends," but haven't been out on a really good date with our spouses or played cards with our buddies in so long we can't remember when. We send texts, tweets, posts, and even videos out into the ether, but honestly don't know who we would call if life ever really fell apart.

I see the same trends happening within the wider American church. Pastors have long lamented the consumerist mentality of many church people (aka "The Church should meet MY needs!"), but what I mean is a bit different. People still look to church to meet needs, but one of the biggest, the need for deep friendships, often goes unmet because they aren't willing to invest that much of their life in any one place. It's hard to build friendships when you have several churches with which you're "friends" but no place which is home. It's even harder when the dominant model of church consists of me trying to worship God with 1500+ other people, none of whom I really know at any deep level and then going home, having done my nod to God for the week.

I'm definitely biased, (I'm a small town, small church pastor, after all!) but I think that we need to re-think whether or not this type of church experience is all it's cracked up to be. I think it contributes greatly to the creation of Christians who have an army of acquaintances but no brothers and sisters. I also think it doesn't help make disciples, because I don't believe that even the best content in the world, in the absence of highly personal, visible models, is ever transformative.

That said, I'd be curious to know what y'all think. Am I right on, all wet, or some of both?

On sin and denial

The only time I've doubted the existence of God is when I was in sin.
So said Tommy Nelson, the man who was my pastor for 2 of the years I spent in Dallas. Like many good lines, I wish I had said it first, because when I heard it, I almost tangibly felt it burrowing into my brain like that bug in The Wrath of Khan. It resonates with me still, because I have found it to be true to my experience and true to the Scriptures.

Sin separates me (and us) from God in more ways than one, for it not only differentiates my character from His, it also brings about a distance in my relationship with Him that is so real that I can almost feel it physically. This is what makes repentance hard-it feels like so much distance to travel to get back home that it seems (at times) easier to stay and eat pods with the pigs than walk home to the Father. And when you are living "in a far country" it seems easier with each passing day that you spend there to forget that you have a Father at all. Or at least, to pretend to. Because I think Romans 1 is right: our denial comes not from lack of evidence or lack of awareness, but lack of obedience due to suppressing what we know to be true, deep down.

When I am in sin and enjoying it, I actually want there to be no God. Because no God means no judgment. And no judgment means I don't have to repent. Not now, not ever. But the funny thing is, God keeps making Himself known. The Spirit weighs on my heart, convicting me of my need to repent. The Son keeps on interceding for me. The Father keeps running to meet me when I come home. In contrast, sin never satisfies or brings the freedom that my flesh always promises it will; it always enslaves and makes me lonely and lost. And when the B-side of sin begins to play, then I am glad not only that there is a God, but that He is gracious and compassionate, willing to take me in, clean me up, and kill the fattened calf for me once more.

But oh, for a heart less prone to leaving home. How I long for the day when the Lord indeed "restores all things."

Worries and prayers

It may seem foolish to a non-Christian, but as a Christian father, I pray over my children a lot, and even worry about them some. Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that I worry a lot, and pray some (and when I realize I'm worrying, I pray). It's not that my children are bad kids; in fact, they are probably better than average in their behavior for the most part. Instead, my worry is that they won't embrace the Christian faith with their whole hearts and lives. I take them to church, I pray with each of them every night I'm home, I read the Bible to them and we talk about the Lord "when we rise up and when we lie down, and while we walk along the road." But I still worry, and pray, over them.

My worry over them is a diverse thing. It has theological, cultural, experiential, and personal aspects. Theologically, I worry because I know that God has no grandchildren, only children. Thus there are no guarantees that just because Dad is a committed Christ follower that all my sons and daughters will be called into God's family as well; the Bible presents God's sovereign, holy love for people in much more complicated fashion than that. There are no guarantees that my children will find the narrow way. Moreover, I know that, whatever one thinks of particular aspects of our culture or how Christians ought to function within it, it can hardly be said that our culture supports and encourages passionate Christian faith in its members. Instead, where it is not openly hostile to Christianity, it is seductive and appealing. And the fact that it is so appealing means that I have lots of experiences of people I know and knew who grew up in Christian homes who nevertheless today have nothing to do with Jesus. Finally, since I do believe in the narrow road and skinny gate that Jesus taught, to me it would be an unspeakable tragedy if they wound up separated from God (and me) for eternity.

And so I pray, and worry, and pray some more. In the process, I am learning to trust God and to understand the grace the Bible talks about and that I believe in. There are still no guarantees, and if my children one day walk away from Jesus, I will mourn deeply. But I still have to follow and trust Him, even with my children, even in the absence of certainty. I hope someday I pass the test and trust Him regardless of the outcome.

And...we're back!

No doubt you were all holding your breath. Sorry for the lack of posts, but I sometimes feel that I have nothing much worth saying, so why spend time advertising that fact for all and sundry? Thus the gap between this post and the last one.

But now that life is a bit more settled, my brain has quit spinning like a top and I've had some time to relax, re-charge, and reflect. So now I think I have some things worth saying, though you'll have to decide for yourself if my opinion is correct.