Real community is like a good yard

Lawn, Grass, Mowing, Green, Nature, Garden, Yard

I love having a yard that actually has grass. My first yard looked like a adolescent’s facial hair: splotchy grass pieces here and there and ant hills like acne.  It looked pretty bad on a good day. Then when we moved to West Virginia, our lawn was nice. People said so. A number of people. I was proud, of what I had not done.

But over time, it was revealed to me, and I kind of came to the conclusion as well, the previous owners must have had a lawn service. There had to be some sort of “hidden” work to keep it looking nice. So, while it stayed green, it didn’t look as good in our third year as it did in our first. Something was missing.

Today I think my yard looks pretty darn good, though I admit my neighbor does edge it. After a few months where I couldn’t control the chinch bugs, I finally caved and got a yard service. Eventually those dead spots didn’t stay dead for all that long.

While I love having a good looking yard, I really do hate actually keeping it up. I hate mowing. And weed-eating afterwards? Brutal. And I hate having to fix the sprinkler head that gets knocked over at least once a month it. I hate yard work because 9 times out of 12 it is too stinking hot to enjoy.

It takes work to keep up a good yard. The final product is nice, but is it really worth the work? I can’t pay someone to cut the grass because that is one of the few things I CAN actually do.

I think most of us, including me, think of community like a good yard. You enjoy seeing it, without realizing that there is a lot of time/resources/effort which have to continue to go into it. I like the idea of it, until I have to actually work at it. Sometimes talking, listening, bearing, sharing, can be like mowing on a hot day. Or maybe it’s a hard conversation, or maybe it’s bearing with someone’s bad stories, unrecognized insensitivity, different background or baggage. Fellowship can be quite an inconvenience when I have an agenda from which you are keeping me.

Real community is created by Jesus but it must be kept up by fallible people who committed to Him and to each other. In other words, real community doesn’t just happen. It takes work. Sometimes that feels like mowing on a hot day in August. Other times, it’s not so hard. The good news is that Jesus does care about His community more than we do, so He is at work convicting people to keep moving toward Him and them.

When you are enjoying the community you have at your church or community group or perhaps a group of friends scattered but connected by participation in the gospel, remember that it took work to get there. It didn’t just happen. And it doesn’t just continue to happen. When you aren’t enjoying the community, remember it will take work to get it back there.

If it doesn’t feel as close as you’d like it, remember it takes time. Some “yards” are bigger than others. But unlike the yard, you can’t pay anyone to do it for you. Fortunately Someone already paid for the lawn treatment service, we’re just called to keep mowing. Even in, and especially in, when it’s hot.

 

Hear the voice of Jesus BEFORE you hear Roy D. Mercer

Angry Man, Point, Finger, India, Angry, Male, Hand

Before we had kids, my wife and I used to drive up to the Richmond area once or twice a year to visit her family. To pass the time, we would pop in one of Roy D. Mercer’s comedy CD’s. These feature a number of prank phone calls Roy has already arranged through the recipients friend or co-worker. In almost every case, Roy, “has a bone to pick” because he claims the offending party has done something that he hasn’t. He then follows up the false claim by demanding an exorbitant pay-off amount or receive the back-side whooping he has planned. After a few minutes, Roy reveals his true identity, the call comes to a close, and the collective blood pressure seems to drop.

When it comes to dialog about sensitive subjects such as guns and race, we rarely ever hear a sensible, reasonable, compassionate voice. We don’t hear the sound of someone else’s actual experience or legitimate fears when it comes to gun violence or race. Instead more often than not, we hear the voice of Roy D, making outrageous claims, and demanding an immediate response. We can hear the voice of Roy D saying “pay up,” when in reality such words might have been delivered as gently, humbly, and honestly as a Benjamin Watson interview.

We always respond to what we “hear.” And when we hear Roy D’s voice, we do what everyone does when he hear Roy D’s voice. We get angry, defensive, talk louder, and threaten back.

Don’t believe me? Have you ever been on facebook? Black lives matter. No all lives matter. Guns lead to more violence, no guns lead to less violence. Both sides hear Roy. All they hear is Roy.

Rarely do we actually listen. We respond. Maybe with a facebook or blog comment or email or words that simply must be said at that moment, when we are most emotionally invested.

But what if we really heard what the other was saying? Sometimes we hear Roy D, when in reality he or she is saying is, “I’m afraid!” Or perhaps it is an experience that needs validation, a concern that needs hearing, a question for clarification, or even a challenge to a deep conviction that is not grounded in God’s Word to us.

Listening is more than an option. The book of James reminds us to be, “Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

I know we feel like we are making a difference when we take a certain stance on facebook. But we aren’t. Sometimes we’re just perpetuating the shouting.

Jesus has an open door policy with His followers. We can pray. We can be heard. His feelings don’t get hurt when we express disappointment to Him, so we don’t have to express disappointment with others all the time. When others say “Pay up,” Jesus says “It’s already paid!”

If we hear its “paid up,” we can listen before we speak. We can then recognize how often we sound like Roy D to others. We can change our tone without changing our convictions. We can validate others experiences even when disagreeing with their conclusions. We have the tools to listen if we hear Jesus’ voice before we hear Roy’s. Oh that we would believe that. Oh that I would believe this more today than yesterday.

This article first appeared in “Faith Matters section” of Bradenton Herald

Lessons learned from Slash and Guns N Roses

Piano, Rose, Yellow

A month or so ago I finished Slash’s Memoir, Slash. I can’t say that I can truly commend it to anyone. The writing (although who knows who actually writes these things anymore) is pretty bad. The language is awful. The lack of morality regrettable. Even the top hat, which is part of his brand, he actually stole. And is quite proud of it. But Slash isn’t a Christian, so I don’t expect him to write, talk, or act as he is one. With all that said, I really did enjoy the story, and the truth (as Slash records it) behind a band I followed and still enjoy. In addition, I have to commend his work ethic, his ability to quit heroin cold turkey twice, his loyalty, and flexibility to work with an egomaniac lead singer.

If you have no clue who Slash is, he was the lead guitarist for the hard rock band Guns N Roses.  Perhaps this post will be of little benefit to you because of your lack of familiarity with this scene. But perhaps it will give you something to think about. I’m hoping for the former, as I finally break my blogging silence of a few months. Here are my takeaways from the book.

Whether people realize it or not, God has demonstrated great mercy toward them in withholding the full affects of their own personal sins. Slash stole a lot. He describes numerous instances of successful shoplifting throughout his childhood and into adulthood. In fact, when he does get in trouble with the law, it is always something quite minor. Slash slept around a ton, yet never contracted more than a curable STD. Slash came very close to being arrested for purchasing heroin, and despite his addiction, failed rehab, overdoses, alcohol abuse, he never (obviously) died. He does allude to the fact that perhaps, someone is looking out for him. I hope that he recognizes the mercy which has been shown Him. Of course I can say that for us all, can’t I?

Punctuality displays respect for others. In the opening lines of the “rockumentary” Spinal Tap, the narrator claims he was blown away by the raw “punctuality”of the band. The same could not be said of Guns.  Apparently the lead singer Axl Rose arrived late to almost every show they ever played. Late to every rehearsal and would sometimes just not show up. This actually led to Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitarist) quitting the band. For some reason, Axl never realized how much this disrespect he displayed in his tardiness and absence. Always a good reminder to those who lead more toward Guns than they do Spinal Tap.

Everyone has at least some standards. Guns N Roses mutually agreed to kick their drummer out of the band, due to, get this: extreme drug use. It had to have been pretty bad to get kicked out for drugs from Guns N Roses. Everyone has a moral standard. If you don’t get it from scripture, you will get it somewhere else. Their standard was, “As long as _____ doesn’t affect your performance.”

Team dynamics are so important. Slash records history from his perspective, and he does admit that several times. So there always two sides to every story. However, that doesn’t mean that both sides are equally as far from the truth or reality. One side might be quite a bit closer! But what undeniably happened with Guns was a decreased amount of creative band collaboration in the song writing process. In their debut album Appetite for Destruction, each song is attributed to all of the band members. But that soon changed with Use Your Illusion I and II. On these albums, the songs are attributed to a few individuals, while a number of them are just Axl Rose. Axl then wanted complete control of band vision, threw extravagant after-parties which left them broke after a tour, and even decreased percentage of royalties to other band members. The desire for self recognition, credit, glory, and autonomous vision began to eat away at team cohesion like a pack of piranhas. If vision, recognition, glory isn’t shared among a team, family, church, Jesus is not going to be honored. Contrast this with Tom Petty, who when inducted into the songwriters hall of fame, shared how he and his keyboardist collaborated on their most famous hit “Free Falling.”

Appearance of success doesn’t mean a group, family, church, individual is actually succeeding. It amazed me to read the amount of friction within the band almost from the beginning. Even after releasing a number one album, the band could barely tour together, primarily due to the ego of Axl Rose. I think this is extremely important for those of us who compare ourselves with other families, individuals, and churches. Just because there are smiling family pictures on Facebook, vacations/houses that would make you jealous, or larger attended churches with well presented websites, that does not mean a family, person, or church is indeed successful. They might bear resemblance to like Guns N Roses on tour: wildly popular, but miserable and broke after a tour. I’m not saying this as though I want any of these things to be true. I hope folks are truly smiling, marriages fulfilling, families enjoying restful vacations, and churches thriving. I’m just saying that from the outside Guns N Roses looked like they had it all, but were quite miserable. So let us not make the same mistake, and so forfeit the contentedness which can be ours in all kinds of situations when we go back to the simple beauty of the gospel. Repent, believe, and rejoice!

Hoping for a Dude’s Guide Trilogy: Restoration

Meteorite, Impact, Comet, Destruction, Mass Destruction

Just last week, I saw yet another “well known” pastor, have to step down. When I say “well known,” I don’t just mean that he’s “well known” (Joel Osteen and Steven Furtick are well known), but yet another Reformed guy that I read. I used to read Mark Driscoll, but stopped when he turned a bit too “trumpy.” But there are others like Tullian Tchvidjian, whom I’ve quoted in sermons, who have actually “fallen” due to sexual sins. Another pastor I really enjoyed learning from, Reformed but not Presbyterian, is Darrin Patrick of the Journey Church. He wrote Church Planter, which I didn’t find all that special, but he also wrote Dude’s Guide To Manhood. We used that book for our men’s bible study and I enjoyed the heck out of it. He has since written Dude’s Guide to Marriage.

Darrin didn’t fall like Tullian. Apparently it was a prolonged period of issues in several areas of life including “manipulating, domineering, and lack of biblical community”

When our “heroes” or at least people we look up to, fall into some sin and either have to take a leave of absence as John Piper (whom I also respect), step away from ministry forever or a season, we’re left with a bunch of questions. My first one is always, “What exactly did that joker do?” But particularly if he has written books, spoken at conferences, filled up our podcasts with sermons, we have one major question:  “Should I throw away his books?” Or put it this way, what if someone you really respected fell into sin, and actually walked away not just from the pulpit, but from the faith in general? Should you throw out all that he/she taught you, seeing as now they don’t believe it or at least believe it as much as you thought they did? Here are a few thoughts to help guide us in such situations.

1.) Pastors, mentors, leaders will always at some level (or multiple levels) let you down. I don’t promise much as a pastor, but one thing I do promise-and I did with our core group-I will let you down. And Harbor will too. And you’ll let me me down. None of us are Jesus, and we will prove it sooner or later. You are always learning from folks who may be more (or less) spiritually mature in some areas, but are always in need of spiritual growth at the same time. Sometimes it shows more clearly than others! Grace has to be shown and received on a regular basis. Sadness, and even righteous anger are appropriate, but whenever there is repentance, we must not forget to extend grace.

2.) While the character of the evangelist/leader/pastor does make a difference in both evangelism and discipleship (I Thess 2:8), it does not have the final say. The gospel message is true regardless if the person who preached it fails to believe or apply that message in his/her own life. Paul reminds the Galatians

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

The gospel is still the gospel, even if your former mentor/discipler/pastor doesn’t believe it anymore. That’s hard to take, but we must heed Paul’s warning.

3.) Remember that God inspired Solomon to write Proverbs, and there is no indication that Solomon continued in the faith of which he started. So if a pastor falls, or departs from the faith, you don’t need to throw away his books. We can still learn from those who will later fall down or walk away. You can still read Proverbs, even though Solomon’s life didn’t often espouse the wisdom he penned.

4.) More fame, more temptation. I used to want to be famous. I really did. Then I could write books. But the more I see famous pastors get fired because of their junk, the more I’m happy serving and reaching the people God has in front of me.

5.) If a fly on the wall could talk, we’d all be in a lot of trouble. We who are prone to point fingers probably don’t realize the depth of our own depravity. Whenever you see someone else sin, whether it be small or big, make sure to take that as your cue to repent from your struggle areas as well.

I’m pulling for Darrin Patrick.  I still follow him on twitter, and have recommended Dude’s Guide to numbers of folks. I’ll continue to do so. The gospel is an announcement that doesn’t depend upon those who herald it, but upon Him who died and rose again for their shortcomings.

Because of that, I have hope for DP. Here’s what appears to be the heart (of which only Jesus knows for sure) of a man who respects the process of church discipline and its restorative, as opposed to punitive, purpose.

“In short, I am a completely devastated man, utterly broken by my sin and in need of deep healing,” said Patrick in an apology to his 3,000-person congregation. “The way that the Journey elders have demonstrated their desire to see me restored to Jesus, as well as their love for me, Amie, and our family is nothing short of miraculous and beyond gracious.”

I’m hoping for a new work to come out of this: Dude’s Guide to Restoration. That’s a book I’d read for sure.

When the Apostle Paul, Thomas Chalmers, and Slash can all agree

I have to confess that one of my favorite radio stations on Pandora is Guns N Roses. While I skip most of the other bands that come on that station like Aerosmith, it is still worth it just to hear Slash’s guitar solos. Not too many lead guitarists really make the band what it is (normally it’s the lead singer), but I think Slash adds almost enough to the band as does the enigmatic and unique lead singer Axl Rose.

So not too long ago, I picked up Slash’s self titled autobiography. It is not one I’d necessarily recommend to others, and it is sad to read about how nonchalantly he includes his drug use and incessant shoplifting as though it’s humorous. I wouldn’t call him a good writer either. Yet it is enjoyable as a story, and surely inspirational to see how much work, dedication, and risk it took for him to make it big.

What I have found most redemptive thus far in the book was Slash’s immediate love for the guitar. In fact, he used to spend all of his waking moments on his B.M.X. bike. But as soon as his eyes and ears were opened to the sounds a real guitarist could make, he immediately fell in love. He had to play. He wanted it for himself. So he started with an old guitar in the garage with 5 missing strings.

He was hooked immediately, and could find no room for another passion. His old love for B.M.X. bike riding didn’t fade away; it disappeared like a bowl of Chex Mix in my presence. He told his old bike riding buddies, “I’m a guitar player now.” That was that. He never saw them again. One passion had simply been replaced by a greater passion.

Strangely enough Slash, and Puritan Thomas Chalmers, would have had some common ground. The latter argued that the best way to deal with sin, is not simply to try to stop sinning, but by the “expulsive power of a new affection.” You deal with the affection behind the sin, by replacing it with a greater affection for Jesus.

So in other words, if you want to deal with jealousy or anger, (two of my personal sin struggles), you don’t get to where you want to go by memorizing verses that tell you “Don’t be jealous” or “don’t get too angry.” Memorizing verses is good, helping move us to repentance, and giving us direction for living and loving. What they don’t do is deal with the how. That’s what Chalmers and Slash can teach us.

Once I identify why I’m jealous (because I want the fame that belongs to another who is bigger/better), or why I’m overly angry (something I feel I deserve has been blocked/taken from me), then I can move on to Jesus. Is there not more fame in the recognition that I’ve been chosen from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4)? Do I not receive that which I don’t deserve (status) and have that which I do deserve (punishment) put on Someone else?

Let’s face it. The problem isn’t worship or passion. We all have have passion and we all worship, even if that passion expresses itself in laziness or worship expresses itself in sports, recreation, or sleeping in. Paul’s prayer to the Ephesian church was not for their growth in factual trivia type knowledge but for the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” That “fills” you up and consumes you.

Ephesians 317 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

After three chapters of being amazed by God’s grace, THEN Paul issues commands in the fourth. How do we begin to see victory over selfishness? Paul, Chalmers, and Slash would all agree. Come into contact with Someone more amazing, more lovely, more worth your time.

How? Discipline yourself to be regular in Sunday worship, regular in prayer, regular in fellowship, regularly in His Word, regularly involved in His mission,  ANTICIPATING and LOOKING for Jesus. May we have the same response to Jesus that Slash had to the guitar.

 

Devotion on Psalm 133 with 5 X 5 X 5 Method

School Of Fish, Fish, Nature, Water, Under Water

If you’re reading the Psalms of Ascent (121-134) along with Harbor Community church, here is yet another example (click here if you missed the previous one) of how one can do a personal devotion. This is the 5X5X5 method and you can download it here. Take 5 minutes to read and re-read the passage. Do this 5 times a week. And here are 5 guidelines to help study and apply the passage.

Psalm 133

1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

1.) Underline or highlight key words or phrases.

2.) Put it into your own words

It is a beautiful things to see Christians unity of vision and purpose. Even if they may have a variety of differing personal convictions or varying theological backgrounds, if they are centered on the gospel, they can be united in their journey and sense of mission. It is like a beautiful sunset, a school of hungry redfish, a game winning touchdown. We should seek such unity. Of course, ultimately the Lord gives such unity; and when he does, let us be thankful for it.

3.) Ask some more questions: Who, what, where, when, why?

Where: These Psalms were often used as pilgrimage songs as people made their annual pilgrimage to make a sacrifice in the Temple. These Psalms would help them keep focus as they journeyed.

What kept them/what keeps us from dwelling in unity? We forget that Christians are ultimately on the same journey. The original audience was on a journey toward the Temple (the special presence of God). That  thought should level the playing field, as they had a common destination and common need of grace. Today, we have the hope that God dwells in us, and our journey is not one of distance but one of becoming more and more like Him. We journey until that day we we reach “bright heaven’s sun.” (Be Thou My Vision). Common destination, common need should lead to unity.

4.) Capture the Big Idea

There are few things more beautiful when diverse groups of people, whether it be from different races, socio-economic, age, or interest come together around the gospel in a local church. When there is a unity in heart and a common sense of mission, this is truly a picture of God’s blessing. I just finished reading The Hobbit last night to my 7 year old. By the end of the story, the Hobbit, a small 3-4 foot human-like creature, found that he had more in common with those he once considered weird or even enemies, than he did with other hobbits. The dwarves, elves, and a wizard, though they came from completely different backgrounds, worldviews, and stories, found themselves united by a common adventure and journey. Shouldn’t Christian brothers and sisters from different backgrounds, even different denominations feel the same way about each other?

5.) Personalize the meaning/response: how would MY life be different if I believed this?

Again, this is FOR ME (notice the Personalize part) not necessarily you. Geoff, stay in close contact with pastor friends from a variety of theological backgrounds. Learn from them in their devotional practices as well as how they do ministry. Pray for unity of vision at Harbor. Look for gospel-centered people, and go from there. Remember that we are all on a journey, and when we lose sight of that, we fight and squabble about silly stuff. Keep the outward face. Keep everyone’s need for grace in front of  them as well.

So here is just another way to have a personal devotional time. Hope it helps!

Psalm 127: Reflections on Jon Gruden, Sovereignty, Kids, and Grace

Excavators, Site, Vehicle, Construction Work

There just be a bajillion ways to have a personal devotional time-I can’t call it “quiet time” because that’s what my kids have to do when they get too old for naps-with the Lord by reading and reflecting upon His Word. Sometimes having a set of pre-ready form questions can be helpful. Our church is going through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) and then the book of John during this Lenten season. So here is just one way in which you may or may not find helpful should you join us, or want some variety in your devotional life.

Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children[a] of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate

What does this passage say about God?

He has the final say on whether something, someone, or some project is successful. No matter the energy, effort, or planning on our attempts, He is ultimately Sovereign over all. A point that Nebuccadnezar had to learn the hard way (Daniel 4), as have I. But he is also good. He gives rest. He gives sleep. He gives kids. He does not want to see His people put to shame.

What does this passage say about man/woman? Why do we need this passage?

If you ever followed the Buccaneers, one of its head coaches-our only Super Bowl winning head coach-exemplified verse 2. He rose up early (4 am) and went to bed late, drawing up plays that would confuse the offense more than the opposing defenses. But I think we can all see ourselves in Jon. I don’t get up as early, but I bet I’m more anxious. Behind my anxiety is bad theology: God isn’t good and isn’t in control. So I believe the lie, if I could just do more, if I had done a better job parenting, coaching, pastoring, planning, that I wouldn’t have problems. The good news is that ultimately, my kids, my house, our church, are completely 100% gifts from God and they are in His good hands.

How does this passage point me to Jesus?

It is clear that at the time of Jesus, many people, especially his disciples didn’t view children very highly. But he rebuked his disciples for disbelieving the truth that children are a blessing. In fact, he took this passage a step further:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

So if I am to be used in God’s Kingdom, as it is slowly growing here on Earth, I need to make sure that I have the same simple trust a child has of His father. My faithfulness probably looks like stick figures to Him, but he loves even my broken attempts to follow Him by faith. Jesus has proved that He will build His church and the gates of Hell won’t stand against it. Therefore I can trust Him.

How will my life look different if I repent and believe?

Today, if I truly believe this, I will rest my head on the pillow at night, recognizing that God calls me neither to laziness nor unquenchable driven-ness. These Psalms were originally sung and prayed as Jews journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem. I can imagine traveling with little ones was quite hard even then! What a reminder to me today when I feel burdened in parenting. If I believe children are a blessing, I will be far more patient today than I was yesterday evening. If I believe the Lord is good and has the final “say,” I can never look down upon another person or parent for how things turn out. And if that favor is not returned to me, I don’t have to be bitter because I know what God says is trustworthy and true. Lord help me believe, that I will obey. Lord help me see you as Good, Good Father, because I fail so often. Amen.