Pulling for Tebow, but not Patriots?

I have to admit I was somewhat saddened by the news that Tim Tebow had been signed by the Patriots. I have no love for the Boston sports market. I support a church planter bringing the gospel to this un-churched area, but outside that, along with my prayers, is all the love this area will get from me. Honestly, I’ve just grown a distaste for Boston’s sports teams, but its not like a Jonah-Nineveh type deal. I’ve got no beef with the people, just the sports teams.

Besides Bellicheat, we may have a new reason to dislike the Pats with the murder investigation involving one of its star tight ends Aaron Hernandez, who currently has not been ruled out as a suspect.

But I digress, as usual.

I’m happy Tim Tebow was able to find a team wiling to take a risk on his services (although he does have as many play-off wins as Falcons QB Matt Ryan). I’m not convinced he will make the 53 man roster, but I hope he does.

And therein lies my dilemma. What if he plays and plays well-unlikely as it may be? I couldn’t pull for the Patriots. Perhaps I’ll pull for Tebow to get some touchdowns and for the defense to play like the Buccaneers of 2012 (less than 30 yards away from worst pass defense ever).

I wonder if other folks do that? Pull for a player they admired in college, but pull against his particular NFL team.

Then I thought, I wonder if Tebow might be offended. Not that he reads this blog, or that I’ll run into him or whatever. But could that possibly be offensive to him? I think he might have a right to be offended. He’s a team player. It’s not about stats (his are always terrible), but about the team winning.

Would he be flattered-or rather honored-to have a fan who will pull for him to succeed yet for his team to fail? Or would Tebow say, “You can’t follow me, and hate what I care most about. You can’t like me, but hate and pull against my friends. Those people are like my brothers. You can’t follow me but hate what I came to do with and for these guys. You can’t separate me as a person from my work on this team.

If Tebow would be offended, then how much more so would Jesus be offended by those who say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.”

Can you love Jesus but want nothing to do with those whom he has declared to be his friends (John 15:14), his brothers (Hebrews 2:11)?

Can you love him but hate his bride (Rev 21:2)? That’s almost like saying, “I love you Geoff, and I’d love to hang out sometime, but don’t bring that dirty tramp of a wife you married. I cant stand her. No offense though.”

Hmmm…..Yep that would offend me. And I would say that you can’t love me and hate the one I love more than anyone else in the world. Well you could, but I don’t think that would constitute a very healthy relationship.

Can you love Jesus but hate the team he played for (meaning on their behalf)? Can you love Jesus but hate his wife, as though that is not offensive to Him?

I don’t think Tebow would be down with that, and I know Jesus isn’t down with it. As hard as the local church is to love (and those in local churches can be very hard; I know, I’m one of them), these are still Jesus’ little brothers, bride, servants, friends, and I guess you could say “teammates,” when they are fulfilling his mission.

Making your own "study bible" and some prayer apps

My last post focused on how not to use your cell phone during corporate worship. But recently I have come across some helpful ways to use technology in and outside church.

1.) All kinds of tablets offer various versions of the bible. Provided you can resist the urge to check facebook or update your fantasy football roster, tablets can be quite helpful. A woman in our church actually takes notes within the electronic bible app. So in essence she is creating her own “study bible” whenever she hears the word preached. Since we at Redeemer preach expositionally through books of the bible, she will have “commentaries” on various books or sections of scriptures (like the Sermon on the Mount which I’m preaching).

2. I’m not very technologically advanced compared to most, but I’m still benefiting from the Prayer Notebook app. Tim Challies recently shared a number of prayer apps for iPhones here and I ended trying the free version of the app called Prayer Notebook Lite. After I saw how it worked, I felt it worth the price of $ 1.99.

One of the more convicting things about the app is that I’m now realizing folks I’ve simply not prayed for. But the bright side is that I’m praying for more folks and more situations now. While I’ll never pray for everyone as much as I would like, fewer people are slipping through the cracks. The app allows you to separate requests into categories, days of week, mark as “answered”, and will even send you reminders if you want. Just started using it a few weeks ago, but very helpful, especially for those requests which fit outside my normal categories.

Here’s a screen shot of what it look likes

If you have any other helpful apps, please share them.

Shoud you facebook and tweet during church?

A pastor in Arizona actually encourages social media during the worship service. “What” say you, or at least that’s what I say. I’m a pastor. Is that really a good idea?

Just before The Office took a nose dive in quality, it depicted a beautifully tragic/accurate cell phone addiction scene. Ryan, one of the younger characters on the show had his cell phone taken away during a game of bar trivia. He was cheating with it. After it was taken away, and for just only a matter of minutes, he confessed he couldn’t play the game any longer because, “I can’t live without my cell phone.”

I confess now that I have a smart phone, I use it all the time. I take it places where I probably shouldn’t. But is “having to have it” all times a good thing? My wife says no, and I think I agree with her. And I’m pretty sure Jesus is on her side on this one.

If you watch the short clip, which of course you should, you’ll see a pastor leading his congregation to share the gospel on facebook and other social media. During the service. He argues that the church should be ahead of the times and take advantage of these opportunities.

As one who tends to embrace the pragmatic, I can sympathize with this direction. The Reformers certainly embraced technology in the form of the printing press. They took great advantage of it, and one wonders what kind of influence they would have had without that wonderful piece of technology. I don’t remember Luther or Calvin saying, “I want to go ‘old school.’ Let’s just get some people to hand-write our materials. Helmut or Pierre, you guys have good penmanship, right?” Nope they took advantage of what was out there and used it for the spread of the gospel.

While I love the outward facing direction of this pastor, and the truth that people need to hear the gospel preached each week, my concern is more in regards to the timing of when this should happen. Here are my three main concerns:

 1.) Cell phone idolatry. We’re on our cell phones 24-7. Can we not take a break from them, taking our gaze off our idols (even if we’re using them for good things like inviting folks to church)? Aren’t we more like Ryan from The Office than we want to admit? Who greater to deal with our idolatry than the beautiful risen Savior King Jesus?

2.) Church and worship. Should the church worship service be a time no different than any other during the week? Or is it a once-a-week special time when God’s covenant people gather together to offer up their hearts, minds, time, wallets, voices to serve the God who has graciously saved them and lavished them with grace? Invite people to worship. Ask early and ask often. But when God issues His call to worship Him, just direct your attention on Him as much as is possible. You’ve got tons of time to invite folks over facebook, twitter, text messages, etc….

3.) Are invitations during worship more effective than invitations extended before or after church? Do you really think its more effective to take a picture of yourself singing and then tweet it to others than to send the same message after or before worship starts? Perhaps the most effective communicative tool is asking someone in person. You don’t even need a cell phone plan to do that.

Other pastors have thought through the issues of technology during worship. Some don’t even want power point or media shout. Some think printing words in the bulletin is from the devil (God only wants you to sing out of man-made hymnbooks I guess…). That’s not me. Use technology for God’s glory, our edification, for outreach and mercy.

Use technology but don’t let technology use you. I think someone smarter than myself probably already said that once. Or twice maybe….

If you’re interested why well known Reformed pastor Tim Challies thinks you absolutely should not tweet sermons in real time, check this out. I don’t always agree with him-why do pastors feel the need to always make that disclaimer when its pretty obvious we can’t agree with everyone all the time-but he is very biblical, thoughtful, and “down with the times.”

Next post will be on some spiritual benefits of technology folks have passed on to me.

It’s not time to go solo: "spiritual but not religious?"

Spiritual can have lots of meanings today. I’ve heard it used in ways that I’m pretty sure the framers of the word never intended. I went to a “spiritual” church, one that told me the future. My personal favorite is one I heard during a foreign study trip in college: “The most spiritual people I know are atheists.” Hmmm…..

But then there are more common and more widely accepted uses of the term “spiritual.” I guess it means I believe in God, but not “organized religion.” How organized are you willing to go? Are Quakers too organized?

Anyhow….

Everyone has heard the age old euphemism “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Not long ago the CNNbeliefblog ran this article “My take: I’m spiritual but not religious.”  A non-pastor gives some helpful insight. That thinking needs retiring.

1.) It’s helpful to realize that beliefs like this have a root. They don’t just come out of nowhere. People don’t just say, “I’m spiritual, not religious” without having already adopted some deeper picture of reality.

It is within the context of today’s anti-big, anti-discipline, anti-challenging climate – in combination with a therapeutic turn in which everything can be resolved through addressing my inner existential being – that the spiritual but not religious outlook has flourished.

2.) While mega churches are not bad per se (probably many are much healthier than smaller shrinking ingrown churches), have profited from the most from this therapeutic driven, shallow, doctrine-less philosophy and way of life? This guy thinks so.

The boom in megachurches merely reflect this sidelining of serious religious study for networking, drop-in centers and positive feelings.

3.) Why does the “spiritual, but not religious” philosophy matter? The organized religion of Christianity has made possible a number of things we all hold precious in Western history and culture. Why should we embrace a worldview that won’t allow for such creations?

Christianity has been interwoven and seminal in Western history and culture. As Harold Bloom pointed out in his book on the King James Bible, everything from the visual arts, to Bach and our canon of literature generally would not be possible without this enormously important work.


4.) What happens when we jettison sin? If we don’t call “sin,” sin, then we don’t change. It is bad for us. It is bad for our families. It is bad for our neighbors, co-workers, etc….We accept an extremely selfish picture of ourselves with less concern on how our “sin” keeps us from loving others.

The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world.

Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience “nice things” and “feel better.” There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us.

This is what I think when I hear “spiritual but not religious”
 
1.) I rightly hate the hypocrisy of professing Christians (or you fill in the blank _____), but those people are beyond redemption. I’m so much better than them that it’s waste of time to associate and gather which such people. I hate pride but I live just as pridefully.

2.) I rightly hate the negative experiences I’ve had with organized religion. I know people will hurt me in the same way with a new church because all churches operate in the same fashion. I won’t give them the pleasure.

3.) I rightly hate people making up rules and telling me what to do. But I clearly know better than everyone else how to live and don’t need any input in my life. I’d rather discover the truth for myself, even though the truth I discover will be completely shaped by what I want it to be.

4.) I would much rather serve myself than to serve other people and be concerned about their good. What matters most is what makes me happy. If there’s some happiness left over, I’ll try to do something nice for someone else.

5.) I don’t want or need a community that can love me and speak truth to me. I don’t need to be loved or to love. I’m a rock. And an island too, by the way.

6.) I worship God how I want to worship Him. If He exists, he’s just happy to have someone as good as me pay Him a bit of attention. He likes it when I go hiking or fishing.

7.) My time is my time. I’m obviously busier than you are.

“Organized” churches have really done lots of damage to a number of people. As a result many have, like Vanilla Ice, felt “it’s time to go solo.” But in the end, “spiritual not religious” is the height of arrogance, selfishness, and foolishness.

Greenberg and Acting like Marlins

Every now and then you just come across a cool story in sports. In 2005, Adam Greenberg stepped up to the plate for the first time, and took the first pitch. Right to the back of the head. The first pitch was his last pitch, as he never earned his way back to the big leagues. Until last night. Check out the story here. Seriously, do yourself a favor and check this one out.

It would have been magical for him to have hit a home run off 20 game winner R.A. Dickey. But instead he struck out on three straight 80 mph knuckleballs. Like most of the Tampa Bay Rays he faced this summer.

But the ovation from the fans left him feeling as part of the ball club. So did the Marlins, from manager to the stars, from top to bottom. Several Marlins players invited him to come watch football during the week. He was part of the club. At least for a day.

The Jim Rome interview today shed a little more light on the story. Some big-wig and his wife were watching Field of Dreams (first time for the wife). “Moonlight Graham has nothing on Adam Greenberg,” said the husband. And thus the dream to get Adam Greenberg back up for one more plate appearance was born. Last night was the fruition of lots of hard work. 

But it was hard work on someone else’s part. Greenberg admitted that he didn’t do anything to promote or get back onto the field. All he did was say, “Yes, I’d love to get at least one more at bat.” He received it. 

The warm reception surprises me a bit. In a good way. A bunch of people who worked hard to get there, received this newbie like he was one of their own. They showed him grace and welcomed him as part of their community. 

When it comes to the church community, we don’t have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes so much. We don’t have to pretend. The church comprises a bunch of “Greenbergs,” who have benefited from someone else working hard behind the scenes on its behalf. As long as we remember we’re really a bunch of Greenberg’s, we’ll act like Marlins.

While I would have loved a home-run for Greenberg, he is thankful for the gracious opportunity to strike out. An obviously Jewish name (he also played for Israel’s national team), maybe this won’t be his last taste of grace? Maybe the veil will be lifted some day (II Cor 3:14-16)?

Only fumblers can speak to fumblers

Last year the NY Giants won the Super Bowl courtesy of a timely play or two, and a timely mishap from the Patriots that could have ended the game. Some folks may not remember why they were able to play upon such a stage. But certainly not Kyle Williams will never forget: his two fumbles provided the Giants the needed opportunities to overtake the San Francisco 49ers.

People don’t necessarily recover from such mishaps. Think of Ray Finkle from Ace Ventura. Mishaps on such a big stage can almost define a person’s career. Think of Bill Buckner who let a routine grounder go through his legs. Think of Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the Super Bowl (also against the Giants). Sometimes it’s not just careers defined by one or two mishaps, but entire identities. 

Whether concerned about career or identity, two other famous fumblers (Earnest Byner and Roger Craig) took it upon themselves to go directly to Kyle Williams. Apparently the 49ers have been supportive, but supportive isn’t the only thing someone like this needs. I mean, the 49ers didn’t fumble the game away, Williams did. The 49ers didn’t deal with the personal feelings of worthlessness, experience personal threats, anger, and all of the other stuff that goes along with such a blunder. Only those who’ve had famous, or perhaps in-famous fumbles, can speak sympathetically to such famous fumblers. 

Fumblers can also speak more authoritatively to fumblers than non-fumblers. They have the existential knowledge that other non-fumblers just don’t have. 

Let me posit several lessons for the church:

1.) Only sinners can speak to sinners. If you speak of sin in the past tense, you have nothing to say to the struggling Christian (because you aren’t struggling yourself-and how could you not be  anyway?) nor do you have anything to say to the non-Christian. 

2.) Fumblers listen to other fumblers. Sinners will listen to other sinners, particularly those who are self proclaimed, self-titled sinners. 

3.) The church is full of people who have “blown it in a big game.” Maybe you’ve been a bad dad, bad parent, bad husband, bad kid, bad sport, bad _______. A pastor, parent, or friend can still speak authoritatively and point you to Christ and his forgiveness because God’s word is authoritative. But never underestimate the authority and influence of the existential/experiential perspective. Don’t let your mishaps (unfaithfulness, depression, anger, pornography, criminal record, background) drive you away from the church but toward Christ and other people. Fumblers listen best to other fumblers. I’ve fumbled games away and it hurts. I battle depression/anxiety and have dealt/still deal with different doubts. But I can speak more sympathetically and authoritatively now with people who struggle in those specific ways. In the end, I feel more than ever that fumbles can be incredibly redemptive, not only for myself but for my church community. I hope that will be the case with you too. We band of fumblers. 

How many leaders you got? Now that’s a better question

The other day I received a similar question to the ones mentioned in my previous post. The question, probably posed out of mere curiosity, provoked a little more thought than the standard: “how many you got” type questions. Instead of how many kids do you have, it was more like, “How many leaders do you have?”

That is a different type of question and one that deserves a little more positive dissecting.

One common thread I’ve noticed the past several years in books/articles I’ve read, seminars attended, ministry leaders I’ve talked with, and years of extensive personal experience/reflection is that the kids who walk with Jesus have several things in common. 

And having one dynamic youth leader really isn’t tops on the list. But what seems to always be present is that the youth have had a number of adult relationships. Perhaps it looks like adults investing in their lives through a youth group, Sunday School, mentoring, or simply an “unstructured” but invested relationship involving hospitality, normal activities, or a retreat. 

One youth leader, and/or two parents are not enough. It’s a great start, but kids need multiple adult relationships. By the way, I’m not de-emphasizing parent-child discipling relationship for that is primary; I’m merely emphasizing the responsibility of those in the covenant community. The principle “the more the merrier” could not be more apropos.

So here is the kicker: kids aren’t going to naturally seek out adults. Adults have to seek them out. That may look like volunteering to teach Sunday School or youth group. That may look like filling in as a sub from time time. That may look like simply doing something very novel and creative: trying to talk with them on a Sunday morning. It may look like serving alongside of them as they rake leaves or participating in fantasy football with them. It may look like inviting them over to share a recipe or grab a latte. Regardless, if you are an adult male/female without a record who loves Jesus and currently has a pulse, you can play a part. Take that first step.
They actually do like adults. And they need adults. But they probably won’t take that first step, and we probably shouldn’t expect them to. 

When I prayed for the graduates last Sunday, I thanked God for the number of adults who were involved in their lives. I’m hopeful for these kids leaving school. For the most part, they are connected to other youth and adults.

I’m hopeful in a God who is faithful even when we as parents, youth leaders, or the rest of the church are faithless. But I’ll take that as encouragement instead of a license to laziness. We often think of our kids in this way: “We ONLY have 18 years with them and so need to take advantage of this time.” But for some reason I don’t think we often view our covenant children with the same sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.

Thanks for all of you who have invested in not only your children, but the children of others. I hope you realize how important that time and relationship really are in the eyes of your Heavenly Father. Whatever the impact you notice or fail to notice (remember sometimes the impact isn’t seen for years down the road, and sometimes there may not be the impact we desire), remember it isn’t that type of “numbers game.” And remember Henry Lyte’s hymn Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, “Think what Spirit dwells within thee, think what Father’s smiles are thine….” Those are the only smiles you need to motivate and remind you that you cannot fail.