On leaving, goodbyes, and answered prayer

Just last week, Amy and I re-watched the latter part of The Office Season 7. If you’re not familiar with the show, the boss and main character Michael Scott, bids farewell to his work “family” to start a new life in Colorado with his fiancee. It’s really kind of a sad episode, mainly because in all his quirkiness, immaturity, insensitivity, and insecurity, he really was a good boss who loved his employees and got the most out of them. I felt the same way! Because he wanted to avoid the difficulty of goodbyes, he penned Friday as his last day while Thursday afternoon plane tickets remained hidden in his pockets.

I didn’t lose a Michael Scott per se, but an influential mentor in my life and at Harbor just moved away from us. And, that rascal pulled a Michael Scott-esque type exit. Jeanne was sick and so their supposed penultimate Sunday proved to be their last. Though it wasn’t planned this way, I would be surprised if Larry would have written the script any differently!

Church folks move away, and that has always been quite sad for me. Yet I know, it will bring a great deal of happiness to others (in their case family) as well as their new church family. Strangely enough, or perhaps more appropriately, Larry will continue to run Pro Presenter for a church plant which meets in a YMCA. Sound familiar? That church prayed for such a person. So our loss is their gain, and another church gets a good one. Or rather a good two.

Making some people happy will always make others sad. That’s the deal with love: you will always have to love some people less, and some people more. I get it. The same thing was true for us when we left great friends and a great church in West Virginia.

And of course I’ll miss Jeanne, who proved to be a great mentor to my wife Amy, among the many things she did for our family/church in the course of their time at Harbor. It was really her first mentor since college, so for her I’m incredibly grateful.

One last little anecdote. Larry and Jeanne came to Harbor’s final core group training, the one where we read names of people we had been praying for  (many of whom eventually did come to Harbor and stay). Each person read about five, and Larry actually read his own name (we didn’t use last names). Too funny. Sometimes, in the strange providence of God, we  we can become answers to our own prayers without realizing it.

Fortunately for me, he ALWAYS checks email. I can still send questions his way.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to pray for more visitors, more members, more people plugged in, and more volunteers. Without volunteers, we simply can’t get this  job done. I’m thankful for all of you who give of your time, talent, treasure to labor alongside each other in order to see this work grow, bless, serve, and one day, multiply.

Lord, please send us more workers, for the harvest is plentiful.

 

What the Blacklist can teach us about Predestination

I’m never able to preach everything that I’d like to preach on a Sunday morning. I know that some folks might not believe me, but I actually edit out a ton of stuff on Saturdays. I promise. And not only that, I just can’t mention everything which I’d like to when covering large portions of scripture as we’ve been doing on Sunday mornings through our “Footloosed” series in Acts.

A few weeks ago, I was unable to get to properly cover this verse in Acts 13:48.

 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

The NIV, New King James, and ESV all translate the word “appointed.”

What this teaches us is that many heard the gospel message, but only some believed. Why? I can’t see any other way to interpret this than God had already chosen them to believe.

But what about those who didn’t believe? Did they simply not believe, because God had not chosen them? No.

“When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  Acts 13:45-46

We are told that they rejected the message not because they weren’t appointed for life but because “they did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life.” Left to our own devices we will not choose Jesus. In C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce he imagines an after-life conversation betwixt a Christian in heaven and one who has recently passed on. Just as the Jews did in Acts 13, the liberal priest still chooses to reject Jesus as THE answer.

These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing (there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy) quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is something purely spiritual. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance— and, er, service, Dick, service. We mustn’t forget that, you know.’

C.S. Lewis, who as far as I know does not believe in Predestination, actually draws out the logical conclusion of Reformed thought. Unless the heart is changed, it will never choose life but remain hardened. Even when proven otherwise. Something must happen for him to believe.

Now you might think that would make one arrogant, to believe in such a doctrine. And honestly, for many, it has. So I get why many people do reject the doctrine up front. I don’t blame you.

But would you be open to considering that the opposite doctrine could also have the same result?

In the show The Blacklist, there is a very elusive character who seems to fly under the radar of any place he goes. Finally the FBI (I believe) catches him. The unit director then begins to boast in his own abilities. We found him. The main character on the show quickly retorts, “If you found him, it is because he wanted to be found by you.”

This “being found because he wanted to be found” belief was intended to humble them, not make them feel prouder of what they had accomplished. This concept, the humility it can produce and the glory which can then be given to God, is the main reason why I would commend folks to not simply thrust aside this doctrine.

Everyone does have to make a choice whether to put faith or not put faith in Jesus. But consider that there might be a reason that you “chose” Him and someone else hasn’t. Can you chalk that up to your spirituality, your foresight, long range planning, wisdom? Or perhaps you found him because He wanted you to find him….?

Regardless whether or not you hold to this doctrine, the fruit of what we believe must lead us to love. If Reformed Theology doesn’t make you more humble, than you are definitely living inconsistently with it’s purpose (bring all Glory to God), and drawing illogical conclusions. In the end, we are ultimately not to be known by our doctrine but by our love for one another (John 13:35). And our motivation to love is because he first loved us, even while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:8).

In the end, where ever we land on this controversial doctrine, let us love well, and be very charitable to others with theological differences. If we look to the Son, we are all on the same team (John 6:40).

“I’m glad you came:” Coming to worship FOR someone else

You may or may not be familiar with the British boy band The Wanted (I had no idea who they were, just familiar with the song), but there is a familiar sentiment echoed in the chorus on their hit song, “I’m glad you came.” Whether in a party, club, or worship service, there is familiarity that doesn’t bring contempt. In fact, just the mere presence of someone familiar, or even familial, can bring comfort to the weary soul. Not just when you join “forces” or rather voices in song, but afterwards.

At the request of a member who has been unable to attend worship for some time due to health reasons, we have decided to live stream the services through the Facebook Live feature. After 3 weeks, and an engineer who purchased, placed, and positioned the correct apparatus for my Iphone, I think we have most of the ins and outs nailed down. I love this possibility for those who can’t make it to worship due to sickness or travel.

I’m a pastor, so obviously I highly encourage all Christians to find a place to worship on Sundays (or Sat services). I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t. I’ve written of many reasons why I believe putting yourself in the path of grace on a weekly basis is important, but one such elusive reason seems to have hit me like a foul ball. Your presence in worship could be just as vital for someone else faith as it was for your own.  

Let me explain. After worship concluded a few weeks ago, it was business as usual: people chatting, kids bouncing balls (we meet in a gym), folks stacking chairs. But in one corner of the gym, I noticed a circle of people huddled together praying. It was our missions team praying over our plans for the new fishing ministry, asking for guidance and blessing.

A homeless man came to church that week because we had given him a gas card to look for work. One of our leaders wasn’t at worship, so I simply passed this gentlemen on to another more equipped than I to discern the need. Another leader soon joined in the corner by the pool.

This past week a gal had a really rough week and another dear sister came with hugs and a listening ear.

Sometimes you may not feel like coming to worship, but another may be very glad you came. Have you considered that you’re not coming simply for yourself. Maybe it’s your kids, or maybe the kids or parents of another? A single, a widow or widower? Your availability is all that it takes for you to play a major role in someone’s life that day or that week. Maybe they needed your story more than mine, or more than his, or hers?

On Sundays when the only thing stopping you is “I don’t really feel like it,” would you do your brothers and sisters in the faith a solid, and consider someone may need my singing, hands, ears, tears, or my prayers? Consider that someone may say to you in one way or another, “I’m glad you came.” At the very least, when you are able to come, you’ll mindset will move from consumer of grace to a conduit of grace as the service concludes.

The Shack: Old Review and New Thoughts

A number of years ago, after The Shack first came out, I wrote a review of the positives/negatives as I see them. Since the movie is coming out soon, I thought I would at least share my old book review and put in a few quick thoughts.

1.) I’m not excited about the movie, but am not worried about it either. Remember The Davinci Code? Christians tend to make mountains out of mole hills. If you read my review, you’ll see my concerns and as well as what I found helpful in the book. Movies come and movies go. Good and bad. And God’s Word remains, and so does his Church.

2.) If you see the movie, or read the book and it really seemed to minister to you, make sure that you recognize WHY it did so. Creativity is good; I love it! But so is orthodoxy. The faith that has been handed down to us has stood the test of time. So if new images or metaphors or story help you understand suffering, grace, justice, evil, great. Just remember that heresy always includes some truth, yet tries to flatten theological/emotional tension. Do you like something about the God who is, or simply the picture of the God you want Him to be? We all have this tendency; I know I do! But if the book/movie helps encourage you to love, rest, and praise God as He is presented in the scriptures, then I’d say it really did help you.

3.) Most writers today that I benefit from are not doing “new material.” The more I read dead guys, the more I see folks like Tim Keller and John Piper just making what dead dudes wrote more understandable and applicable for today.

If you read the book, or have read the book, and/or plan on seeing the movie, please check out my review. At the very least, you will have another perspective than a simple endorsement or warning. In the end, even when we disagree on The Shack’s helpfulness or hurtfulness, or anything in between, let us allow God’s Word be our guide and standard for discernment. And let us show grace to one another in disagreement, particularly when we arrive at different conclusions after examining the scriptures.

Feel free to let me know what you found helpful/hurtful. I’d love to hear from you.

Parents, please don’t simply say “yes”

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I got a text the other day about our first “unofficial” baseball practice occurring on a Sunday morning at 10 am. My family and I are always one place on Sundays at 10 am: at the YMCA gathering with our Harbor Community Church family to worship Jesus. So I sadly texted back that Sunday mornings would never work for us.

While feeling pretty bummed and wondering what the future held for us, I got another text from a parent on the same team who attends Harbor. He asked him to change it too. I no longer felt alone in this, and can’t even begin to describe how much fellowship I experienced when getting that text.

Not long afterwards, the practice was moved to 12 pm, allowing Connar to make it on time. Apparently the time didn’t work for more than just a few. It just took parents responding, instead of caving.

Sadly, I have come across many other kids and parents who have baseball practice on Sunday mornings. One parent emailed her coach asking if this would be a regular occurrence, because if so, it wouldn’t be fair to him or the other kids: he wasn’t going to miss worship for baseball practice.

I’m grateful that these two families (one from Harbor) stood up and said, “Sunday morning does not work for us.” That’s all that it took. But how many more will be willing to prioritize worship over sports? I don’t begrudge non Christian coaches seeking to have practice on Sunday morning. Why wouldn’t I expect that to happen? Sunday morning isn’t any different than any other day (or Sat night for some)?

But isn’t it different than any other day? Even sacred and something we should protect? I’m not arguing for not playing or practicing on that day, just that we wouldn’t allow the worship (valuing) of something less important not take the place of gathering to worshiping someone actually worthy.

Cecil Shorts III, an injured Buccaneers receiver claims, “We love this game, but the game don’t love us back.” Consider valuing the One who actually did love you back and protecting that time with His family.

I have given up much hope in the power of persuasion through blog posts (and facebook posts). That best takes place in relationships. If you agree with me, just remember that you are not alone. You don’t have to say yes. Not everyone is doing it.

But if you disagree, or if you get tired of saying no to activities or events which keep you from worship on a regular basis, consider that eventually your kids will actually grow up (funny how that happens). When they are out of your house, what do you want them to value? Obviously this goes way beyond attending a worship service-that was just a starting point.

What/Whom do you want them to value? Whatever it is, that involves placing boundaries at some level, and saying, “no” to things to which others may say, “yes” or “yes” to things others may say “no.” So at the very least, it might be wise to have this some end in mind and work backwards from there.

When kids grow up, they will be influenced not so much by what you told them was important, but what you showed them was important: through your time, checkbook, energy, enthusiasm, and actions.

And if you disagree, and don’t think a few practices on Sundays will change all that much in your child’s relationship with Jesus, we can still be friends. And we still welcome you to worship with us, or continue to worship with us, when you can, at the Bradenton Branch YMCA at 10 am.

 

 

An Awkward Introduction

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During worship at Harbor, we are plowing our way through the book of Acts in the series called “Footloosed: Gathering, Giving, Growing, Going.” The idea is that we are being set free SO THAT we may gather, give, grow, and go.

I never get to include all I want in sermons, primarily because of time, but also because I don’t look very closely at my I-Pad. In other cases, ideas are captured in Evernote, but not plugged in. One such thought came to me while attending Care Net Gala on Friday night that never made it to the “script.”

As I looked at Saul’s conversion in Acts 10, I was actually more astounded with his “conversion” or reconciliation to God’s family, than I was simply at his conversion to Jesus. I mean, can you imagine a community welcoming someone who had separated families and approved of behind-the-woodshed executions? How hard would hit have for Ananias to call him “Brother Saul?” I might have said, “Jesus loves you but everyone else thinks you’re an a##%$^&,” as I’ve seen on a bumper sticker.

Isn’t that nuts? I can’t imagine how much grace it would take to do that! Of course, we have had some picture of that even in America with the A.M.E. church in Charleston extending the offer of forgiveness to Dylan Roof.

But one thought I didn’t explore during the sermon was to consider the question: “How hard it would reconciliation be for Paul?” How awkward would it have been for the guy who caused so much grief to the church, to all the sudden find himself in it, laboring alongside it, intricately involved in it? Teaching about love and forgiveness? How apologetic must he be? At what point in life could he stop and just say, “I’m Paul?” without thinking, “Don’t believe all that you’ve heard about me…I’ve changed….?”

Sometimes a community can be gracious and welcoming, but if the individual/s don’t believe the gospel at a very deep level (my stains are washed away, but so is my stink/shame) then it will be very difficult. Should you ever find yourself on the outside looking in, remember how hard it must have been for Paul. But then remember how much the gospel can change both you AND them.

Shame has kept many a wary traveler on the outside when warm fellowship is offered inside. Remember, your shame is covered up as well as your sins (Romans 8:1). Knowing it is one thing, but believing it deeper each day is necessary for it to make any difference in your life.

I don’t do passive/aggressive blogs or preaching, meaning I have no person in mind writing this. These are just some reflections that I had intended to include in the sermon, but didn’t make the final cut! If nothing else, hopefully it will spur us on to compassion and grace.

Top 6 “In the Key of H” books of 2016

It does seem like a number of folks have shared their top books of 2016. So, here is my list of top 6, in case you are looking for a recommendation for 2017.

Fiction:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. As always, I’m late to the party. Most pastors I know had already read this gem. This book beautifully and amazingly accurately comprises one long fictional memoir of an elderly pastor hoping to pass on his story to very young son. I cried and cried during the book, because, well, I have a son (two of them if you’re keeping score at home), and am a pastor. Robinson weaves a story of grace, love, loss, having little, yet having much, redemption and reconciliation. You don’t have to be a pastor to enjoy this one. You just might cry more. This was hands down the most spiritually beneficial fictional reading I’ve ever come across. I can’t overstate how devotional this book became to me.

The Awakening of Miss Prim: I already did a review of this book here. I really enjoyed it.

Devotional:

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson. If you want a book which challenges you (and encourages!) you to look more deeply into the gospel message and see it for the treasure it surely is, this is it.

Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine. This is one I had to read slowly. Really slowly. But well worth it. Eswine cautions leaders to slow down, examine who/what has been actually mentoring them. I hadn’t thought that we all have mentoring experiences and people in our lives who have truly mentored us (taught us how to think, respond, feel) in some way. Often that mentoring can be quite harmful and we need to slowly relearn knew habits and ways of dealing with people. I also benefited from hearing hard pastoring stories, as it prepares me for what might lay ahead. Unfortunately this one is no longer in print and a bit pricey. However, I’m happy to lend it to a local.

Nonfiction:

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larsen. I read two Larsen books this year, the other being The Devil in the White City, but this was by far more fascinating. Of course, if you know what happens with the Lusitania, it does end on a bit of a downer. However, Larsen does a great job weaving the individual story of the ships final voyage (strangely enough some Titanic survivors were among those traveling on this ship!) and what was happening with Woodrow Wilson and the events of WWI.

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. This is the 2nd Druett book I’ve read as I’m a sucker for shipwreck/survival stories. Love them. There are actually two stories in one book. A remote, cold, and desolate, and uninhabitable island hosted two separate parties of shipwreck survivors literally on different sides of the island at roughly the same time. One party of 5 or 6 completely survived. The other, a larger party in the 20’s, only boasted a few survivors. Why? Leadership. One side had good leadership, vision, team chemistry. The other party did not, and most perished. A fascinating read in its own right, but a good one on leadership too.