Fighting My Spiritual Muscle Memory

The Rituals.  The Motions.  Knowing the right things to say at the right times.  Avoiding the obvious sins.  Oh, the lure of pharseeism in our times.  All too often I fall prey, living a life without the vitality and joy that I was created to live.  I lose my life one moment at a time, one empty action followed by another, slowly dying while appearing fine through my spiritual muscle memory.

Muscle memory is how our body learns to do complex things.  For instance, we don't have to worry about balancing; our body just remembers how.  It's how a pitcher can go through all the complex motions of pitching without much mental effort.  His body has learned exactly how to do the motions without even thinking about them.  Muscle memory is good, but our spiritual muscle memory can put us on spiritual cruise control while we talk on a cell phone and miss everything God has in store for us.
As I sit and prepare for another Sunday morning gathering, I pray that I will experience all that God wants me to, that I will seek him with every ounce of my being, that others will come along side me and be changed with me, and that we will live together in such a way that the light of His kingdom will break through.  The last few weeks, I have had a burning desire eating me up and driving me closer to the Lord.  It's telling me that we have yet to really be the people God wants us to be, that He has so much more in store for us if we would just stop relying on rituals and programs and start relying totally on Him.  We need to become uncomfortable in order to become who God wants us to be. 

Birthdays are a reminder that we are getting older, that time is running out on our flicker of life here on earth.  When I was diagnosed with melanoma over two years ago now, there was one burden laid on my heart.  I would not be completely honest if I said that I didn't worry about being there for my family, but God convicted me, through many tough nights, that He would take care of them if the worse came to pass.  When death knocks on your door, you don't want to play another video game, watch another movie, or worry about another entertainment fix that we seem so obsessed about when we are doing well.  The important things become more than lip service.  They are what we live for in tough times.  The burden on my heart heart that I wanted to see more than anything in the world before I died was a church in Antwerp that would totally impact my hometown for Jesus.  One that would have real, authentic relationships with one another, that would share a common passion to love Jesus, and who would live their lives seeking for ways to love the people around them so that they might see God.  I’m not putting down any of the churches in Antwerp, I just think we can all be so much more than we currently are.  I want a church that is more than just empty motions; one that is about the transforming power of God working on us and through us.   

At that time, I was working on my master's in history.  It was not in my plans to go back into the full-time paid ministry, but the path I went down led me to a full-time ministry at a church (Riverside Christian Church) in Antwerp.  I’m grateful for the joys in the last year, my first here as the minister.  I am saddened by the stumbles.  I look forward to the future, the friendships strengthened and new ones built, becoming more aware of the continual presence of God in my life, and having my life and the lives around me changed for God’s purpose.  Our biggest enemy is not the devil because Jesus brought victory over him.  Our biggest enemy is ourselves and our spiritual muscle memory.

Wake up, sleeper.
The son has risen.
Wake up, sleeper.
The light is here.   

Thank you for reading my blog and being part of my life in that way.  It has been over six years and over 1000 posts now.  Your visits (I see them through my counter) encourage me to keep writing.  May we be open to God and allow Him to change us into who He wants us to be in the coming years.  I know He has more in store for us if we allow Him to work. 

If you live in the Antwerp area and are looking for a church family, I invite you to come and change with us at Riverside Christian Church.

Kill Me First

Bruxy Cavey, from the Meeting House in Ontario, was out doing street evangelism.

A young black woman ran by, who appeared to be running for her life.  He looked at it sort of strangely but went back to what he was doing.

Then some white, skinheaded males in a gang ran by.  Cavey began to chase after them.

When he came around the corner into an alley, multiple guys surrounded the lady, kicking her.  Not casual kicks but kicks of death, trying to take the life from her.  Without thinking, Cavey pushed his way to the front of the group.

He got into a position where he leaned over her body and looked up at the crowd of young, angry white men.

He said, “I follow Jesus and that means that there are two things I cannot do.  One, is fight you.  Two, is sit by and do nothing.  All I can say is, ‘Kill me first.’”

They started talking to him, saying that he is white like them.  Cavey knew that this was not the time to try and reform their faulty racist thinking.  He kept repeating, “Kill me first.”

They talked among themselves about whether to kill him, but then they just left.

Cavey then called the hospital, and the woman received the help she needed.

Taken from Bruxy Cavey's sermon, But What About...

A Sermon on Nonviolence - But What About....

The following is a sermon from Bruxy Cavey, the minister of The Meeting House in Ontario.

But What About...

Radical by David Platt

It might be an advertisement, but it is good.

One Person Can Make a Difference and It Starts With Relationships

John F. Kennedy spoke to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963, and said, "The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not."

We often get confused on what will change the world into a better place.  We get comfortable complaining and expect others to take the initiative and make a difference.  We expect someone in Washington, the neighbor down the street, or our spouse to make things better.  When all too often, the person that has the most potential to make a difference in the world you live in is the person you see in the mirror.  You are in the best position to make your world a better place.  God made and designed you to make a positive difference.

Relationships are like one fragile entanglement with nearly unlimited potential to transform one's home, workplace, community, and world for the better if you choose to live out a life of loving God and loving your neighbor (with Jesus' definition of what a neighbor is).  Relationships are frail in that they can easily, with the wrong slip of the tongue or inappropriate action, be destroyed.  Relationships have the potential to be more beautiful than the most masterful painting or work of art.  Every day, we can choose whether we are going to be a blessing to others or whether we are going to be a sponge absorbing joy from others.  We can either be Michelangelo or a kid scribbling in a mud puddle.  Are we going to be salt and light or poison and darkness?  The choice is ours to live.

Bill Johnson said, "Most of the Church is waiting for the next big command from God, but God is waiting for the dreams of His Church."  God wants us to dream dreams.  Big dreams.  Wonderful dreams.  On the way to fulfilling those dreams, we will encounter wonderful surprises.  But unless we dream and go after those dreams, things will crumble around us.  
The world is in a state of perpetual deterioration while new life constantly springs anew to bring hope.  

Unity, Public Discourse, Hostile Letters, and Being One in Christ

In our local paper, the West Bend News, people have been getting pretty vocal and hostile toward one another over religious issues.  The local ministerial association decided to write a letter on unity to publish, and they nominated me to write the draft.  Unfortunately, the process never made it past that process.  We have been busy getting a youth center up and going, so it is understandable.  This letter only expresses my views and was not approved by the ministerial association.


We are saddened by the recent, well-intentioned “religious” letter wars that we see unraveling every week in this paper.  It is unfortunate that followers of Jesus portray our friend and savior in such a bickering and condescending light.  If you are a seeker, looking for God in the midst of this wonderful and heartrending journey of life, we hope that you do not give up on Jesus because of the argumentative behavior of those who, like ourselves, try to follow Jesus to the best of our fallen ability.  Despite our faults, each one of us can tell you how Jesus has changed our lives for the better, how he has used us to bring hope to others, and how he can do the same for you.

Jesus prayed that those who believe in him might be one (John 17).  The churches of Antwerp are on the verge of something special as we strive to do God’s will.  Through His grace we are learning to worship, serve, and love together.  We are excited to be working side by side, and we hope that this spirit of unity will continue during the years ahead.  We understand that we aren’t going to agree on everything, but we can agree on Jesus and his call to love our neighbor.  It is our hope to work together where we share common ground while understanding there are reasons that we are different.  Those areas of differences are best discussed in the context of a friendship over shared meals where we can learn from one another rather than the stark letters of black on white in the newspaper.

Jesus taught, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34-35 (ESV).  “Love for one another” is what Jesus taught would let people know we are his disciples.  Notice that he did not say that it would be our words or our intellectual propositions.  Too often, those divide, but love draws us together.  Jesus wants us to love our neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends.  Our community can be a much better place than it is today if we all take seriously Jesus’ teachings to love one another even when it is difficult.  And that is something we can get excited about doing together.

As we learn to love together, we will face hiccups and struggles, but we need to be careful to not divide over issues that are not clearly taught in Scripture.  Many traditions teach, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”  It is our hope that in Jesus and his teachings to love, we can find common ground to serve while understanding and accepting that we are different in other areas.  Let us not fail our special calling by surrendering to our natural tendency to divide and demonize one another.  Rather, let us learn to love and live in unity with one another, drawn together by the grace, love, and guidance of our Lord Jesus.

Anger, Honesty, and a Foothold for Destruction

We've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks talking about anger and honesty. 

Just a Lie - The Forgotten But Beautiful Trait of Honesty
Falsehood, Lies, and A Culture of Deception
The Emperor's Seed - A Chinese Parable
Be Angry, But Do Not Sin
How To Handle Our Anger

So what's the point?

"Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil" (Eph 4:25-27 ESV).

If we express our anger inappropriately, let it build up destructively, disguise who we really are, or refuse to be honest and real with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, then we give opportunity for the devil to work in our life.   And if we are in a church, the opportunity to destroy the work he is trying to do.

God desires us to be His kingdom - people in healthy, authentic relationships with one another who love Him and each other and who seek to bring His will about here on earth.  Handling our anger inappropriately and behaving falsely are two direct attacks to us being the church he intends for us to be.  I want to live the plan God has for my life and the community I am involved in.  For us to become that healthy community God wants us to be, it takes each one of us to commit to following God in all areas of our lives and to strive for our relationships with one another to be what God wants them to be. 

The devil can really only do one thing to hurt us, and that is to negatively influence the relationships we are in, whether that is our relationship with God or with one another.  If we have healthy relationships, we can make it through any sort of tough times.  If we don't have healthy relationships, every problem seems insurmountable. 

That's why small groups are so important.  Small groups are just a way that we can have deliberate relationships with one another in a society that keeps us running around and occupied with superficial relationships.  Our small groups are not about being another bible study or prayer meeting, although that happens and can help build community.  Small group time is about building relationships and hanging out; they are about us living and dreaming together.  These are things we need to value if we are going to impact this community the way God would have us impact it.  So I challenge you to get involved in a Christian small group if you are not already.  I'm not going to say that it has to be a formal small group of a church although those are always there, and I'm sure you would be welcomed.  What we each need is to be involved in a group of Jesus-minded people that meet regularly who are going to be open and honest with one another, desire to have friendships with one another, work through difficulties they encounter together, carry those relationship throughout the week, and stick together through thick and thin.  It can be a group of ladies getting together for coffee or guys going golfing, but the key is to have a group of people that you meet with on a consistent basis that aren't going to abandon one another at the first sign of trouble.

A study released last week by the UK's Chartered Institute of IT showed that internet and cell phone use make people happier.  Most advances in technology in the last one hundred years have led to us being more self-sufficient, which fit in with the American ideal of individualism.  This attempt to strive for self-sufficiency has led to a deterioration of healthy relationships, and this lack of healthy relationships has led to isolation and loneliness.  With the technological advances of the last hundred years, our happiness did not increase.  But now we are seeing technology that helps us connect with one another, and the study showed that these advances are making us happier.  Is it because the internet and cell phones are just unbelievably cool?  Not likely.  It's because they help us have the relationships with one another that we were designed to have.  They help us connect with one another in a world that has learned to live disconnected.

For us to make relationships a priority in our life, we have to believe at the core of our being that happiness does not come from independence, money, being popular, or any other temporal pedestal.  It comes from being connected to God and people in real, authentic relationships.  Losing our independence, money, or popularity might be necessary to us being connected.  How much money is a relationship worth to you?  How much independence would you be willing to give up to have a healthy one?  Would you be concerned about what people might think if you hanged out with so-and-so?  When we have goals that supercedes healthy relationships, we will open ourselves up to being fake and not dealing with anger properly and unhappiness will follow.

We live in a disposable culture.  We get Happy Meal toys that are good for a few weeks and then are thrown in the trash.  We buy printers that last a year and are discarded.  We have so much food that our pets are given trash that is better than what many humans have to live on.  In the midst of this disposable culture, we have also learned to have disposable relationships.  If we have a problem with a person, we just move on.  But to be the diverse people that God would have us to be, to be a reflection of His kingdom to those around us, to be people in real, authentic relationships, we need to work through our problems when there are differences.  We need to never let falsehood creep in or anger overtake us.  We need to love one another through those differences, and we need to keep focused on the goal - to be people in real, authentic relationships under Jesus with one another.  That's where true happiness rests.  That's where the kingdom of God resides.

How To Handle Our Anger

When we get angry, the problem we have is that we either get angry at the wrong things, we fail to proceed to make the right change that our anger is inspiring, or we deal harshly with the people we are angry with.  Anger should be our natural impulse when we see the world not line up with what God intended it to be.  It should be our response to sin, but then we need to deal with that anger in the right way.

I put my mom through a lot growing up.  One of the scariest experiences for me, and I am sure for her, was when she was trying to teach me how to drive.  We had an old Ford Taurus, and the great feature about it was that it had a manual transmission. I had enough trouble accelerating, turning, and braking.  Combine that with shifting, and I was one scary driver.  Driving did not come naturally for me.  I remember roaring around corners too fast, but, most of all, I remember accidentally driving through my neighbors yard when we arrived home after our first time out.  Mom could have used those passenger side brakes when she taught me how to drive.  I'm just glad we lived through it. 

Shifting gears is tough, at least for me.  And when we are angry, we need to learn to shift gears.  We might be angry, but we cannot allow that anger to control us.  We should never deal harshly with another when we are angry.  That is allowing our anger to cause us to sin.  We need to allow our anger to highlight the problem, but then shift from being angry to fixing the situation.

Moses had trouble shifting gears.  When he saw the Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he was rightfully upset.  But then he went and killed the Egyptian.  For that, he spent forty years in the wilderness.  His response was not the response God would have him do, although his anger was proper.  (Exodus 2:11-15)

Cain also had trouble shifting gears.  When he and his brother Abel gave an offering to God, God looked favorably on Abel's offering but not on Cain.  So Cain became angry.  God told him, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."  Cain's response was to kill Abel.  He placed his anger on the wrong person; it should have been himself.  His response was completely inappropriate; he should have committed in his heart to give better offerings to God.

Justin John Boudin (you know it's bad when you hear all three names) was waiting at a bus stop when he began to have a disagreement with a 59-year old woman.  He yelled, "Why don't you show me some respect?"  The lady, disturbed by Justin, proceeded to call the police.  Justin then punched her in the face.

At this point, a 63-year man stepped in to protect the lady.  Boudin smacked him with a folder then ran away.  The folder that he left on the ground after using it as a weapon was his homework for an anger management class that he was going to at that time.  At least we know that he was working on his problems.

Paul wrote, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."

Anger is like our spidey-sense.  When we get angry, it's time for a change.  It might mean we need to step in to stop someone from punching a lady or stop some other form of abusive or oppressive action.  But it might mean, as in the case of Cain, we need to change ourselves.  What is angering us might actually be ourselves, our own preconceived notions, or the breaking of the box we have confined God in.  I've seen people get angry about changes in the church that were implemented to help us reach out, be more welcoming to visitors, or to just function more smoothly.  Some have even left the church over these things.  What they did was miss an opportunity to respond to their anger properly and grow spiritually.  Anger means something needs to change; More often than not, anger should cause a period of self-reflection because that something is often ourselves.

Paul teaches that our anger needs to be dealt with quickly.  The longer we let an issue go unresolved, the more it festers, and we are less likely to ever implement any change.  Have you ever seen a pressure cooker with too much pressure built up inside it.  It can explode, and when it does nothing good happens.  Just a little historical tidbit.  Pressure cookers gained a bad reputation in America after WWII.  After the war, there was great demand for pressure cookers and the manufacturers could not keep up.  New companies began making them that really did not know how to.  With these inferior pressure cookers, explosions were bound to happen.  Now, they claim to make explosion proof pressure cookers.  Although in 2009, there was an exploding pressure cooker death in India.

When we let our anger go unresolved,  let the frustration build up like a pressure cooker, we keep building pressure in our lives.  And we might not ever deal with it.  We might just stop hanging out with certain friends, we might just up and leave a church, or we might just ignore a relative altogether.  If we allow pressure to build up, it will eventually destroy things.  The life God wants us to lead is one where the frustrations in our life are dealt with. 

We like to disguise our anger with nice words like frustration, but semantics will not fix the problem.  What makes a healthy relationship is not a lack of frustration with one another but learning how to deal with one another in constructive ways.  Every relationship will have moments of frustration.  It's how we deal with those moments that shows whether what we are being a new self in Jesus or falling prey to our old self.  It's the difference between life and death.

Remember the words of Paul when dealing with someone that frustrates you.  "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness"(Gal 6:1 ESV).  "And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" (2 Tim 2:24-26 ESV).  It is never appropriate to stop loving others in our anger.

Remember that "anger" is very close to "danger."

Be Angry, But Do Not Sin

Aristotle said, "Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy."

I shared that on Facebook, and a friend replied with the question, "Is there a right time for anger?"

Paul commanded us to "be angry" in Ephesians 4:28, so I would say yes.   The NIV does not do this passage justice.  It states, "In your anger do not sin."  But the word anger here, in the Greek, is a present imperative.  John Stevenson writes, "When the present imperative is used in a command, it signifies a command to repeated or continuous action."  Paul is trying to express here that we are to live in a repeated state of anger.  The word literally means trembling from anger.  Both the NASB and ESV (both more literal translations than the NIV) translate Ephesians 4:28 as "Be angry." 

Mark 3:5 states that Jesus was angry.  "He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart" (Mark 3:5 ESV).  This occurred when Jesus saw a man with a withered hand.  The Pharisees were watching him to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath.  When Jesus had compassion for the man and healed him, the Pharisees held a meeting to figure out how to destroy Jesus.  How ludicrous; they wanted to destroy Jesus because he healed a man on the wrong day?  Their emphasis on the rules rather than on loving the hurting man angered Jesus, and he exhibited a righteous anger.

I just read through the headlines and looked to see what made my spirit grieve.  This is just a glimpse of our world at noon on May 18, 2010.  There are bad things happening right around us.  In our neighbor's houses, in places of employment, down at the hospital, and all around town.  It's much worse than just these headlines.


Republican Congressman Resign After Affair w/ Staffer [Female]...

Senate Frontrunner Never Served In Vietnam, Despite Claims

Child Prostitution, Right Here At Home

Tar Balls Found Off Key West

WATCH: NBC Correspondent Swallows Huge Fly On Air

Mountain Climber Dies From Horrifying 1,000-Foot Fall

Anti-Semitic Incidents At School Rile Jewish Groups

Suicide Bomber Hits Convoy In Afghanistan, 5 U.S. Troops Killed

Waitress FIRED Over Status Update On Facebook

Gov't failed to assure drilling safety...

Man accused of trying to swap baby for beers...

Women tried to zap WENDY'S worker with stun gun; Botched drive-thru order...

Anger is the opposite of apathy.  Matthew Henry shares the quote, “If we would be angry and not sin, we must be angry at nothing but sin; and we should be more jealous for the glory of God than for any interest or reputation of our own."  Another commentator on the passage in Ephesians wrote, "Anger, as the mere expression of wounded personality is sinful for it means that self is in command. Anger, as the pure expression of repugnance to wrong in loyalty to God is sinless, where there is true occasion for it."

We are deluged every day with events that are contrary to what God has designed for this world to be, and this deluge of the world's sinful state has led to a desensitization of our souls.  Those terrible situations should stir in us a righteous anger that will spur us toward bringing God's kingdom into this reality as much as we possibly can.  God designed us with the emotion of anger; it is this anger that will lead us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to fix the broken world into the kingdom he designed it to be.

Tomorrow, I'll deal with how to handle our anger properly because Paul links the teaching to "be angry" with the command "do not sin."

The Emperor's Seed - A Chinese Parable

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, "It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you." The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!"

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey, nice try."

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!"

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. "The emperor knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!"

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Ling," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!" Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grown, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!"

Book Review - John Nugent's Radical Ecumenicity

Radical ecumenicity is the idea of being unified through an approach that might seem radical to us.  In the Restoration movement, we have tried to be unified, but our approach does not seem to be working.  This book, through the study of a scholar from another background, hopes to provide as a radical approach to our ancient desire of unity.

Members of the Stone-Campbell movement (non-instrumental Churches of Christ, Independent Churches of Christ/Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ) would benefit greatly from this exploration of the writings of John Howard Yoder. It is an interesting collection of essays: Four from Mennonites, four from Campbellites, one Reformed, and one Baptist on the teachings of John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite most noted for his book The Politics of Jesus.

Believers seeking unity from outside of the Stone-Campbell movement would find the essays in this book to be insightful, inspiring, and invigorating. It is helpful if you have a basic understanding of the teachings of John Howard Yoder, but the writers generally do a good job of explaining Yoder's writings that they are addressing. The book also includes two essays by Yoder himself: "The Ecumenical Movement and the Faithful Church" and "Is There Historical Development of Theological Thought?".

The first essay alone is worth the price of admission. Lee Camp, the Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lipscomb University, writes a piece exploring unity. He states, "The Mennonites are of significance to those in the Stone-Campbell Movement for our shared historical agenda: attempting to take seriously the witness of the New Testament as the ground and basis for Christian faith and practice" (21). The people from the Stone-Campbell movement are in an ironic position as being people who supposedly are part of and stand for unity, yet they have three distinct and many smaller fragmentations. Camp proposes that it might be time to take a different approach to unity, learning from Campbell, Stone, and Yoder on how to better do this. Camp proposes that "Christian unity does not result...from theological flabbiness, by not taking differences seriously, but by practicing discipleship" (27). In the end, "We may find ourselves able to hold restoration and unity after all" (32).

The other essays continue this theme of rediscovering our pursuit of unity. As expected, some are better than others.

The Stone-Campbell movement and the writers of these essays share with Yoder his high view of the authority of Scripture. With all of the different takes on Yoder these days, the Stone-Campbell scholars attempt, as Nugent put it in his forward, to offer us the opportunity "to learn along with us from Yoder's radically-ecumenical perspective" (16). The opportunity has been provided, we just have to join in the discussion and learn.

Falsehood, Lies, and A Culture of Deception

Falsehood is the dismantler of community.  We can’t have relationships with one another, nor can we be helped by others if we are fake.  Rather than changing who we really are, it is much easier to put on a mask.  Putting on a mask and acting like someone we are not can seem so normal at times, and the more we do it the more normal it begins to feel.  It can be the way we try to present ourselves to be more appealing to others.  In church, it can be us trying to be holier than we are.  At work, it can be acting busier and more successful than we really are.  Wherever we pretend to be someone we are not, it prohibits us from having real relationships with one another because falsehood hides the real self.  Withou real relationships, we will not enjoy the life God intended for us to have and cannot be the body together that Jesus is trying to shape us into being.

Putting away falsehood is much more than just not telling a lie.  We can be legalistic and self-righteous about always telling the truth.  Putting away falsehood is about living transparently, about not trying to deceive, about not cutting corners, about dealing fairly with everyone you deal with, and sharing our lives with one another.  In our culture, we begin to justify things like downloading free music, software, or games.  We cut corners on paying taxes or getting permits.  We can try to profit off the ignorance of others or find a way to cheat and get ahead.  We can abstain from telling lies and still be dishonest people.

At the core of a dishonest life is discontentment about our situation, about who we are, and not truly believing that God loves us for who we are.  You don’t need to try and be someone else and be fake; you just need to allow God to wrap his arms around you, clothe you in the new self he has designed for you, and live trying to be who he wants you to be.  If you feel you need to be someone else, don’t take the cheap path and fake it.  Put on the new self that God wants you to be but always remember that God loves you for who you are.  Before you get all prettied up, make yourself beautiful, God loves you.  Before you bring home money to feed the family, God still loves you.  You no longer need to fake anything.  There is no need to put on falsehood.  You just need to recognize the ultimate truth:  God loves you.  He made who you are.  He made you with a purpose in mind.  God infinitely loves you.

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another" Eph 4:25 (ESV).

Just a Lie - The Forgotten But Beautiful Trait of Honesty

During the speculation on whether Barry Bonds used steroids, He stated rather vehemently during a press conference, "All you guys lie, all of y'all, in a story or whatever, have lied. Should you have an asterisk behind your name? All of you have lied. All of you have said something wrong, all of you have dirt. All of you. When your closet's clean, then come clean somebody else's. But clean yours first, okay."

In the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster the general consensus of many of the steroid users in the film was that everyone uses them, and they just do it to stay even.  They say to themselves that cheating isn't really cheating if everyone is doing it.  It  great documentary that gave a behind the scene glimpse at the weightlifting and steroid culture.  In one scene, balancing out all of the lies that the steroid users tell themselves and those around them, the mother of the guys who used steroids told them that each fiber of their beings was made by God, and he made them the way he wanted them.

Barry justified his use of steroids and his being deceptive about it by saying that everyone is a cheater like him, and that would make him not a cheater.  He must have not known Brian Davis.  Brian Davis called a penalty on himself after nicking a reed during his backswing at a PGA tour event in Hilton Head.  None of the officials noticed it.  To the naked eye, it was nearly imperceptible, but he felt the vibration in his club.  He did not want to win if it meant he had to be deceptive.

“It was one of those things,” he said. “I thought I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I thought we’d check on TV, and indeed there was movement...I want to win a PGA Tour event more than just about anything but I play by the rules and no victory would be worthwhile if it had a cloud hanging over it. I saw the grass move, called Slugger (White, the referee) over and that’s it, end of story.”

Oh, the beauty of honesty.

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another" Eph 4:25 (ESV).

Would You Like to Hear More? - A Relational Approach to Evangelism

When it comes to evangelism, Christians struggle with two major issues, both stemming from pride.  We have  a tendency to think we are always right, especially in spiritual matters, and we are not willing to humbly discuss what we believe.   Instead, we jam our beliefs down people's throats.  We're too in the face of others about our faith all of the time.  I understand that we deeply care about people getting right with the Lord, but the way we behave in going about convincing people that the Lord loves them and has a plan for their lives is completely the wrong approach.  Our actions often do more harm for God's cause than good.

Last week, I was at the park with a friend and our kids.  A woman was there, and we struck up a conversation.  I don't introduce myself as a pastor.  As a matter of fact, I try to keep that a secret.  When people find out that I am a pastor, they usually begin to act differently around me.  My friend shared that I was a pastor.  She replied, "You aren't going to be preachy now, are you?"  I jokingly retorted, "I save that for Sunday."

It saddens me that the reputation of Jesus' people, especially pastors in His Church, is that we are preachy.  We have done something wrong in living out the message of love, non-judgment, and grace that Jesus taught when someone's response when they heard that I am a pastor is that they want to make sure I am not going to preach at them.

It is a struggle to balance our witness for Jesus while respecting people's personal space, their convictions, and their lives.

I recently heard the story of a man who was an aspiring musician in the early 90s Seattle grunge scene.  You know the scene that gave us Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and others.  Well, this guy would always go to parties, drinking, doing drugs, and the like.  But there was always this other guy there, and he would just be drinking a Coke.  Eventually, the aspiring musician decided to ask the guy why he came to all of the parties if all he did was drink Coke.

He walked over to the guy and asked, "Darrell, why are you here?  You don't drink like the rest of us.  You don't sleep around.  You are not partying like the rest of us.  What are you doing here?"

Then he replied, "Do you really want to know?" 

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know," was the response of the aspiring musician.

"Well, you see, I am a Christ follower.  I follow Jesus.  And I believe that if Jesus was around today, he would want to be here, with you guys, hanging out.  Would you like to hear more?"

The aspiring artist said that he would like to hear more about this Jesus who Darrell was talking about.  From that time on, the aspiring artist wrestled with following Jesus, and eventually surrendered his life to Him.  A little non-intrusive evangelism can go a long way.

Peter wrote:

"In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:5).

Would you like to hear more?

Nehemiah's Prayer and Success in the Lord's Work

All growth is change. And most growth starts with the recognition of our need to improve. Every week as we remember the Lord's Supper, I am reminded of Christ's sacrifice for all of us and the subsequent failure on my part to always respond to Jesus' loving action properly.

Nehemiah, a Hebrew serving the king of Persia, heard of the state that Jerusalem had fallen to despite the recent ritual revival that had occurred there. Nehemiah responded to the sad situation with weeping, mourning, prayer and fasting. Nehemiah 1 records one of his prayers.

I have rewritten that prayer for our situation. If you want to read the original prayer, go to Nehemiah 1.
O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear this prayer for your followers, the church. I confess the sins we Christians, including myself and this local body, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you at times. We have not obeyed the command to love our neighbors as you taught.

Please remember the instruction you gave your follower Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'

We are your followers and your people, whom you redeemed by the great sacrifice of Jesus. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to this prayer of your followers who delight in giving praise to your name. May our lives give you glory. Give us success today by granting us favor in the presence of others.
Then Nehemiah went to do the will of God, risking his life, facing scorn and danger, and leaving the comfort of the king's presence - all to bring glory to God. In the end, Nehemiah's struggle was not in vain. None of his success would have happened if Nehemiah was not able to see that the reality of the world was different than the reality God intended. So often we also realize this but justify it away. Nehemiah did not do what we have the tendency to do. He followed his realization by mourning, fasting, and praying over the Israelites' fallen state, and then he worked to bring God's reality into our reality. When we strive for that which is better and are willing to change ourselves, God can be glorified.
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
Their enemies and surrounding neighbors realized that God was at work. Let us mourn, pray, and fast that the world will realize that God is at work within us and in our midst, and may we be the people willing to be used for that work. But be assured, we will have to change for that to happen. All growth is change.  Let us remember the sacrifice that has allowed us to be God's people.

Leonard Sweet wrote, "Jesus came to the world as hands and feet; Jesus comes now to us as bread and wine so that we come to others as Jesus' hands and feet."

God and a Few Good Knights

King Arthur had his Knights of the Round Table, knights who served him well.

But why would those knights serve Arthur?. They could serve their king because of the pay, the position it would put his children in, the fun parties, the celebrity status, the power over people associated with the position, family traditions, or a variety of other selfish reasons. There are many ways that a king could use to get knights to serve him. But none of those options would really stick except for the one of family tradition. If you are only serving the king because of some selfish reason, another king could come along and offer more pay, offer higher societal positions for the knight's children, bigger parties, a higher seat at the table, or more power.

So what is a king to do if he wants a knight that is truly loyal?

He would have to offer a vision of the way he wants to shape the world that would cause the knight to put aside his dreams for himself. The knight, the kind a king would want, would put aside all his selfish ambitions to help the king bring about his plan for the world.  He would become invested in that dream just as much as the king.

This brings me to the spiritual point.  Does God want any less of us than a king wants of a good knight?

He offers us the opportunity to join with him in making our houses and our neighborhoods align with his better vision. All he asks is that we buy into his vision of the world. We need to put on the breastplate of faith and love and wear the helmet of the hope of salvation (1 Thes 5:8). To bring about that vision, we need to put aside all of our selfish ambitions, surrender our hearts and desires to God, and begin to work on shaping the world into the world he planned for it to be. Anything else is just serving for the wrong reasons.

God is different than an earthly king who can be tricked by false actions of fealty.  An earthly king can be deceived by outward appearances, posturing, and traditions. God cannot. He can see straight into our hearts and see if it is really His.

Let's surrender our hearts to him for his vision is great and grand, far better than what we can dream without Him.

Frustration with the Non-Violent Movement

"Where is the audible nonviolent social witness to Christ on the dangerous intersections of gang activity and narcotics, widespread access to guns, police brutality, domestic violence, and the physical harm inflicted upon homosexual youth in some public schools? "

That quote is from Andrew Wilkes' post Beyond Anti-War: Nonviolence in Our Neighborhoods.

If Wilkes' calling is to the inner city, then he is doing his job by giving a voice to the plight there and should look to find opportunities to change that world.  All too often we confuse our calling with everyone else's calling, and we get frustrated when other people are not passionate about the things God has laid on our hearts to be passionate about. 

Aa a pastor in a small, rural, white farming community in the midwest, I wonder how much I should focus on the plight of the inner city because I am called to minister out here in the farmland.  I share Wilkes' frustration with those issues, but, in all honesty, I struggle enough figuring out how to impact this world I live in for Jesus.  John Howard Yoder, who Wilkes referenced in the article, came from a similar background if I'm not mistaken.  For everyone who follows the path of peace, the teachings of non-violence are filtered through our perspectives.  Through living a life of peace in our spheres of relationships, we can change your world!

American Christianity seems fascinated with the suburban faith at this time.  That leaves both Wilkes and me to find our own way through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of Scripture as we attempt to minister in areas, the inner-city and rural America, that do not have a lot of books written about them.  All too often, those called to a specific calling like we are bring light to that subject while demonizing those who do not share that specific calling and are not passionate about the same exact things.  We need to understand that those not focused on the plight in our faces can still be focused on nonviolence and care for the plights that they are not directly dealing with.  My calling is not in the inner city, but I am trying to adapt Jesus' teachings to the community that I live in.  Others are doing likewise, adapting Jesus' teachings to the world they live in.  We need people in all facets of society trying to live out the radical life of Jesus.

Might sound like a cop out.  Maybe it is.  But it seems that I struggle with helping a dying, isolated, lonely farming community.  We are planning an inner city mission trip.  But that probably is not enough.  We'll make do with what we can and look for ways to show Jesus' love today.