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Ready or Not

December 12, 2013

             I had to take a test yesterday, and I did not feel ready. You know the feeling – you have studied for hours, but the material still seems overwhelming. You ask yourself review questions, but you know there are details you don’t remember. You wonder what the essay questions will be like, and what length your answer should be to get the maximum amount of points. Then you wonder whether or not you know enough about the subject to make an answer last that long. I didn’t feel ready, but it was time.

            Maybe that is just me, but I don’t know if I have ever felt “ready” for a test. I always feel like one more look through my notes will help. There is always at least one question on a test (often more than one) that makes me kick myself for not paying more attention to a certain block of material. But I had to take it today. I took the test, not because I was ready, but because it was time.

            It would have been easier to put it off until tomorrow, or maybe even Friday. During that time, I could go over the lecture notes, and maybe even see if Kathryn would ask me review questions out loud. If I wanted to get really creative, I could make a mock test of my own and see how I would do. I could do additional reading on the subject to shed extra light on the areas I need to know. It would certainly be more comfortable to keep studying, and I wouldn’t risk getting a bad grade if I avoided taking the test. But it was time.

            I enjoy reading, and I love ministry. This means I like to read things about ministry – books, blog posts, and everything in between. There is no shortage of material online today about how Christianity is declining, and specifically what the Church of Christ should do in order to grow. That is what blogs are designed to do, share opinions and exchange ideas about topics that matter, and the church certainly matters. I have learned a great deal about life, ministry, and scripture from reading these kinds of blog entries (and even the comments sections).

            But I believe there can be an unintended consequence to some of this discussion, if we are not careful. It becomes easy to focus on the shortcomings of the church and dwell on what we should be doing differently. The church is made up of human beings, and you won’t catch me arguing that we always act perfectly. We need to have a healthy discontent with the status quo and dream of what God could do through us in the future. But dwelling on only those thoughts can turn self-reflection into inaction. Negative thinking can take hold, and before long, our conversation is filled primarily with what the church has done or is doing wrong, with little thought to the ways God is blessing us and giving us opportunities to serve.

          In some cases, the church and its members become the brunt of jokes about tradition, belief, etc. I realize we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, but we can all tell when the line has been crossed and the discussion goes from light-hearted to cynical. About a year ago, I was surprised to hear the way my four year old son was talking to our dog. Our miniature schnauzer tends to bark a lot, and he harshly commanded her to “Be Quiet!” My surprise wore off when I realized he had learned how to do that by listening to me. Our dog’s barking can be annoying, and I have snapped at her more than once. That is where he picked up the command, as well as the tone of voice. Here’s a question – if our children constantly hear us making jokes at the expense of the church and making cynical, sarcastic comments about it, what are they learning to say?

            What is tempting about all of this is that it is much easier to stay in a state of inaction rather than to step out in service. It is more convenient to say, “If only the church were more like (fill in the blank), then we could really grow.” “If only we would (fill in the blank), more people would want to be involved.” “If our understanding could progress to the point that we realize (fill in the blank), then we would have enthusiastic Christians ready to shine God’s light throughout the world.” “If these things would happen, then we would be ready to make a difference.”

            So we wait.

            Here’s the thing – I think we have a choice to make. We can choose to wait until everyone in the church was more like (fill in the blank), begins to (fill in the blank), and realizes (fill in the blank), and then we can begin doing the work of ministry. Or, we could understand that people are imperfect and start serving anyway. If we opt for Door #1, then we will be waiting a looong time. If we opt for Door #2, we might be surprised. I think it is possible that the church can grow and people can be reached when they see loving, sincere Christians reflecting Christ in everyday service. Excited servants of God might even get other Christians excited to serve. Who knows what could happen if we begin serving with our entire beings?

            We could put this off. Choosing to do that would probably be easier, at least at first. We would avoid having to face failure or feeling rejected others. We could keep our conversations about the church hypothetical, and future possibilities could remain only possibilities. We might wish things were different. We might wish Christians were perfect. We might not feel ready to serve.

          But it is time.

          Ready or not…

Heritage Seminar

September 12, 2013

There are some topics that can be tough for us to address in Bible classes. They are challenging because they are subjects that can make us uncomfortable, and dealing with their practical consequences in our world can be difficult. I am glad to see that Heritage Christian University is taking on some of those topics and providing a good forum to have scriptural, constructive lessons on their theme – The Sexual and the Spiritual. The slate of speakers is excellent, and I know they will share some beneficial, practical messages. Here is the link to the brochure: http://www.hcu.edu/share/pdf/ELEVATE_brochure_2013_email.pdf.

I have really enjoyed getting to visit Heritage for several events over the last couple of years – I am impressed with what they are doing and the way they care about equipping churches and families.

Intrusion

August 27, 2013

I have been thinking today about a statement I heard recently in a class I am taking. Dr. Phil Slate was speaking about world evangelism, and he said, “The gospel is always an intrusion in everyone’s culture. It calls for a change. To say otherwise would say that a culture does not need the gospel.”

I thought about this as I read all the responses to what Miley Cyrus did at the VMA’s. I haven’t seen it, and don’t intend to, but I have read enough to get an idea of what happened. I read some really helpful blog posts, as several worked through how Christians should respond to something like that. It is interesting to me that while so much attention has been given to her performance, no one has said much about the lyrics to the actual song, Blurred Lines. Those words are every bit as vulgar as the performance – should we really be surprised at what happened when the verses were acted out? It is a reminder to us that the gospel intrudes on our culture, a culture that worships celebrities and glamorizes sex. Our culture needs the gospel.

Of course, 50-60 years ago, this performance would not have been allowed on television. This is a far cry from Elvis or the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan show. Yet that doesn’t mean that era (or any era in our history) was perfect. I have a file of printed sermons from years ago that were preached by Batsell Barrett Baxter, a tremendous preacher. As I leaf through the pages, I can see that he was addressing serious issues facing the Christians. The challenges might have been different, but they were every bit as real and difficult. The gospel still intruded on that culture.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were taken into custody after healing a man and preaching in the temple area. They were arrested by the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, and they were not arrested for what they were doing so much as what they were teaching – Jesus Christ and resurrection from the dead. There were many who believed their message that day, but there were many others who did not. The council of rulers, elders, and scribes who should have been looking for signs of the Messiah urged Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus. Even in a culture of those who had faith in God, the gospel was intruding.

In Acts 19, Paul was in Ephesus, and he caused a riot. Not directly, but the riot started because of the message Paul was preaching. A silversmith named Demetrius called some other workers together, and he told them about what Paul was saying. These workers made a lot of money by producing shrines and other artifacts for the worship of Artemis, but Paul was convincing people that idols were not really gods. This put their business in danger, and it wasn’t long before the whole assembly was dragging Paul’s friends into the theater, chanting about Artemis of the Ephesians. Paul was bringing them the message of the true God, and the gospel was intruding on their culture.

Events like the VMA performance can remind us of that we live in a fallen world. They can remind us that our culture often highlights lifestyles that are far from holy. Yet they can also remind us that our culture needs the intrusion of the gospel. It always has, and it still does. To say otherwise would mean that we don’t need the gospel. And we do.

 

 

Review of The Epic of God

March 22, 2013

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This is long overdue, but I wanted to provide a review of the book Epic of God: A Guide to Genesis by Michael Whitworth. Michael was in school at Freed-Hardeman the same time I was, and we have both served as counselors at Horizons, a summer leadership camp. A couple of months ago, I began reading his book as part of my research for a sermon series I am now preaching on Abraham’s journey of faith. I have found it tremendously helpful. Michael is a talented writer and researcher, and both of those abilities are on display in his book. Here are a few things I appreciate about this resource:

 

1.   It provides thorough, well-documented research.

It is clear that Michael has done extensive research and interacted with a variety of writers and resources on Genesis. When it comes to a disputed area of the text, he will put different points of view in conversation with each other. While he is always clear about his take on the issue in question, he explores each viewpoint and documents well. That has introduced me to some commentaries that I had not read, and it makes Epic of God a good resource to prompt further study.

 

2.   It is presented in an easy-to-read format.

Stating that a work is “thorough” or “well-documented” might lead you to believe it would be dense or difficult to understand, but Michael puts this information in an engaging format. He uses a conversational style, makes a few jokes along the way, and gives a fresh approach to the material. This also makes it readable for anyone who might not be that interested in the footnotes.

 

3.   It contains practical applications.

I like the fact that it doesn’t duck the hard questions (like the meaning of “sons of God” in Genesis 6). Michael clearly states his point of view without being dogmatic on difficult issues like that one. But what I like even more is that he is concerned with how this information applies to us in our context. Each chapter ends with “Talking Points” that would be beneficial for a Bible class study or for sermon preparation. He provides a great balance of research and application.

 

Okay, I realize that I just made three points. That was not planned. My next blog post will have to be more “inductive” to balance out my “deductive” post today! I do recommend this as an excellent resource for study on Genesis. It is available on Amazon, and you can also access it on E-reader versions. You can find out more at http://michaelwhitworth.com/start2finishblog.

Graymere Preaching Workshop

January 4, 2013

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The new year has begun, and with it have come a lot of New Year’s Resolutions. One of mine has been to utilize my blog more often (although that seems to be a resolution every year). I want to begin by sharing about an event I am really looking forward to next month. On February 25th, we will be hosting a Preaching Workshop at Graymere. It will be focused on preaching Matthew’s gospel, and we have a great line-up of teachers to make presentations, answer questions, and provide resources. You could think of it as a one-day short course on the gospel of Matthew. While there will be a particular focus on preaching, it will be helpful for all those who teach the Bible to teens and adults.

Graymere has always provided resources for ministry, and this is just another way we can help people who are preaching and teaching. There are several preachers in Maury County who are in vocational ministry, working another job during the week and preaching on Sundays. It can be hard for them to take off enough time for a conference, lectureship, or seminar. But attending a one day event might be easier. Of course, those who are in full-time ministry have packed schedules as well, so a one day event can work for them. We have tried to pack in as much content as possible into one day, and it only costs $10. Here is our schedule:

7:45 – 8:45 – Breakfast

9:00 –  “Matthew’s Gospel in its Cultural Context”   by Dr. Tom Alexander, Harding University

10:15 – “The Presentation of Jesus as Messiah in Matthew’s Gospel”    by Dr. Ed Gallagher, Heritage Christian University

11:30 – Panel Discussion

12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch

1:00 – “Challenging Texts in Matthew’s Gospel”   by Dr. Doug Burleson, Freed-Hardeman University

2:15 – Ministry Panel Presentations by Dr. Kirk Brothers (Freed-Hardeman University), Dan Chambers (Concord Road Church of Christ), Dr. Sellers Crain (Rivergate Church of Christ), and Barry Throneberry (Highland Church of Christ)

3:30 – Ministry Panel Q & A

4:30 – Conclusion/Dismissal

Breakfast and lunch will be great. One of our members is cooking a big country breakfast, and another one of our members is catering our lunch. $10 will get you both of those meals, as well as a workshop notebook. We have approximately 30 signed up for it already. If you would like to sign up, just go here.

We also have limited housing available for those who would need to come on Sunday night in order to get there on Monday morning. Let us know when you register if you need housing. Please pass this along to anyone you think would enjoy it. It is going to be a great day!

What I Want People to Know About Autism

December 18, 2012

I know all of us have been inundated with facts and stories about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The most accurate way to describe it is “heart-breaking.” It simply causes my heart to ache when I think about it. Obviously, the best thing we can do is make sure we are praying for the families and friends of these victims.

Any time something like this happens, we start to wonder why. It is natural that in the search to answer the “why” question, we would try to understand how anyone could do such a horrific thing. That is why so many have tried and will try to psychoanalyze Adam Lanza. There have been FBI profilers, psychiatrists, etc. who have been on the news and tried to explain why he acted this way. Of course, most of those interviewed don’t have any personal knowledge of him or his family. What has really troubled me is that when the news came out Lanza had Asperger’s (a disorder that is part of the autism spectrum – it will be known simply as  one of the autism spectrum disorders beginning in 2013), people began trying to use that diagnosis to explain his violent behavior. As the parent of a child with Asperger’s, I guess my frustration at this mistake is understandable. But I like to think that even if I didn’t have personal experience with it, I would still see the danger in letting this misunderstanding exist. Over the last year, I have learned so much about autism from friends, teachers, and other resources, and the more I learn, the more I want to share that information with others. So, here are a few things I think we need to remember.

  • Just because someone is allowed to say something on TV or write it in a blog does not necessarily mean it is accurate. Trained counselors and psychologists need a lot of time with someone before they can fully understand that person’s challenges. To have a few facts about someone’s life (especially someone you have never met) and then draw broad, sweeping conclusions is not just mistaken, it is dangerously misleading.
  • Autism is not a mental illness. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The latest statistics are that 1 in 88 deal with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in some form. That means if you are reading this, you probably have personal experience with it or you know someone who does.
  • If you have met one child with autism, then you have met one child with autism. That is a statement I have heard several times from those who study autism, and it is absolutely true. You cannot generalize based on one experience how everyone will act. The Autism Spectrum is called a “spectrum” for a reason – there are a wide variety of conditions. For instance, if someone is struggling with anxiety,  that may mean severe panic attacks or it may be a milder sense of discomfort. But both are described as “anxiety.” So the next time you are tempted to say, “I knew someone with autism, and this is how autistic people think…” please pause and remember that.
  • A lot has been said about the challenges with “empathy” for those with ASD, including an interview on Piers Morgan. Please read this post – http://www.emilywillinghamphd.com/2012/12/autism-empathy-and-violence-one-of.html for a discussion of emotional empathy in the autism spectrum. I don’t know the author, but I agree with her.
  • I read the article entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” It was powerfully written, and I have not had to experience anything near what the author experienced. But I was very disappointed that she conflated autism spectrum disorders with her son’s violent behavior. It seemed to leave the impression (that I think was unintentional on her part) that this is how most who struggle with ASD react. That is simply not true.
  • Please consider these responses from groups that deal with autism on a daily basis:
    • Autism Society: “To imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than 1.5 million law abiding, non-violent  and wonderful individuals who live with autism each day.”
    • Autism Global Initiative director Valerie Paradiz: “The eyes of the world are on this wrenching tragedy—with 1 in 88 now diagnosed, misinformation could easily trigger increased prejudice and misunderstanding.”
  • Lastly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, researchers have found no link between Asperger’s and pre-meditated violence. In fact, those with autism are more likely to have violence done against them. Please remember that when you hear this discussed. See this story for more – http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/experts-link-aspergers-violence-17987339#.UNB66Hn4JXN

I don’t know what led Adam Lanza to make the terrible decision that he did. I do believe it is too simplistic to say there was only one factor, and I also believe that each of us will be accountable for our own decisions before God. He will have to answer for his actions. It is a reminder that we live in a fallen, sinful world where evil exists that is beyond our ability to explain. It is also a reminder that we need to trust in God, especially in the face of difficult circumstances. I think the discussion of mental health is one we should have if we want to do what we can to prevent future tragedies like this one. I just think we need to be careful in the way we choose our words, and we need to have an accurate understanding of what we are saying. As a parent of a child with Asperger’s, a condition that is so often misunderstood, I would truly appreciate you passing this message along to others.

Sending the Wrong Message

May 16, 2012

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You may have seen this in the news a few weeks ago:

Fred Bennet was expanding his horizons. He decided that his restaurant needed to tap into a new market, so he began advertising that he would offer Thai food. He hired a Thai chef and asked him to come up with a new restaurant name to communicate its new identity and cuisine. The chef came up with a Thai phrase that meant “Welcome and See You Again.” Business was fine, although he only had a handful of Thai customers. Once his chef left, he hired a new chef that questioned the restaurant’s name. It turned out that the phrase did not mean “Welcome and See You Again.” It meant “Go Away and Don’t Come Back!” No wonder he didn’t have many Thai customers – would you want to visit a place that told you to go away?

I shared that story in a Wednesday Night devotional a few weeks ago, but the image still sticks with me. We talked about how, as a congregation, we could send the right message to guests. We have made an effort to improve the way our signs guide guests through our building and the way we reach out new people. It has been really encouraging the last few weeks to watch how so many people have been greeting guests and introducing them to other people. Of course, many have been doing that for years, but it always helps to have reminders.

I have thought about how this principle applies on a personal level as well. How many times have we wanted to send one message, but we ended up sending another? Here are a few examples that convict me and highlight ways I need to change:

  • We do something for someone else, and we want to communicate kindness, yet a deep sigh or frustrated facial expression communicates inconvenience instead.
  • We want people to worship with us, but our tendency to seek out and talk to the same people we see each week communicates that we aren’t really looking for guests.
  • We want to show people we love them, but an overwhelming concern to make sure a ministry program runs smoothly communicates that we are too busy to invest needed time in conversations and relationships.

When asked about the confusion over his sign, Fred Bennet said, “That’s why it pays to do research.” It was important to check and make sure he was sending the right message. We need to check ourselves to see what message we are sending, and do it often. It pays to do research.

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