Category Archives: community

petty

mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.

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trick or treat

woman-hand-girl-professional

One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.

I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?

I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.

 

 


extracurricular 

Growing up in a relatively small town meant that life always seemed to have a rhythm. Your school year would flow in it’s given way. And then school would let out and that meant it was time for little league baseball. Of course, the only thing outstanding about my short-lived baseball career was my incredible ability to get from the dugout to the snack-stand before my teammates for my free snow-cone after each game. I remember the first time my family mixed up this rhythm because I decided I wanted to play basketball (I wasn’t too great at this either…most improved player three years in a row). Basketball was a winter sport though, and so it took place in the middle of the school year. And when I first hear the word extracurricular I actually thought it meant something in addition to church and school. You see, the center of my communal life wasn’t school, although that helped to provide the rhythm, but rather church…and I think that was and still is a good thing.

According to Merriam-Webster’s, the secondary definition for extracurricular is, “[something] lying outside one’s regular duties or routine.” And so I suppose my way of understanding recreational basketball in its regard to school and church wasn’t that off base. However, over the years I’ve begun to notice a cultural shift where extracurricular has begun to solely reference things outside of one’s academic career to the point to where church itself has come to be viewed as extracurricular. Before you get defensive, hear this; I don’t believe that church attendance is necessary for one to believe in God…but (there’s always a but). At the most vital moment in the life of the church, that is the beginning, we read this from the book of Acts, “All the believers were together and had everything in common…and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts‬ ‭2:44,47‬ ‭The power found in the life of the early church revolved around their shared life. And yet for many, church life has simply become an occasional appointment that they can check off their calendar so they feel as if they’ve accomplished something.

Within the manual of the church of the Nazarene, we have what we refer to as a church constitution (I know it sounds exciting). And within this constitution we affirm what we aspire the church of the Nazarene to be. It goes a little something like this, “[The church is] those persons who have voluntarily associated themselves together according to the doctrines and polity of said church, and who seek holy Christian fellowship…and the simplicity and spiritual power manifest in the primitive New Testament Church.” – 2013 Manual Church of the Nazarene. Did you see that? The church is those people who want to be together and see the early church’s power manifest in their lives. I hear people often complain about the disorder in their lives, the chaos in their schedules, the brokenness in their familial unity and their in ability to feel at peace and I will often look at their involvement in a local community of faith for a sign. The “simplicity and the power” of the early church was present because of their presence in each other’s lives. When the life of the church becomes extracurricular it often means that you’ve chosen to sacrifice something else. You have chosen to sacrifice people praying for you or senior adults hugging your kids. You’ve given up singing together words that remind you of your identity or eating with people who remind you the story goes on. And you’re missing out on knowing that you are a part of something bigger than your schedules, appointments, practices, performances, etc. that have taken over your life. Maybe we all need to find a healthy rhythm again. And maybe we need to find it with our fellow believers.

 

 


church poison

When we learn about it as kids it seems the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes we are even encouraged to do so as it often seems the best way to settle disputes. I know many times I have found myself telling my own kids to come and tell me if their siblings are doing something wrong or hurting them in any way. Of course sometimes it results in nicknames or declarations of “tattletale” being thrown around, but for the most part it helps to settle disputes among our kids because they often don’t have the skills to settle disputes without some help. However, I think the danger for us is when we don’t understand that this model of behavior modification and mediation is intended for children to help them learn, not for adults. There is actually a very specific church word for this behavior among adults and it’s really quite deadly…gossip.

You see, in essence that is really all gossip is. It is seeing something or some behavior in someone else we don’t approve of and feeling the need to go and “tattle” to someone else; and the listening party is just as guilty of conspiring as the complainer. In fact, Jesus had something very specific to say about how we speak to one another about things that hurt us in the church in Matthew 18. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:15‬ The word in the Greek there actually says that if your brother or sister misses the mark/offends/errs against you, then go talk to them first, not someone else. My contention is that if we skip this step we are gossiping, and we may be poisoning the church.

I’m always fascinated how things work. Historically the most common poison we humans used to use to eliminate each other was Arsenic. According to LiveScience.com, “Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body’s cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive.” The poison actually blocks life from continuing in the body. It blocks the flow of the natural processes of how things are supposed to work. Gossip does the same thing in the church because it blocks natural ways of settling disputes/hurts and creates more mistrust, more confusion and more harm than actually addressing the situation the right way would ever do. Later on in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says this, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:20‬ Often times we attribute this to prayer or worship, when in actuality Jesus is telling us that he is present with us when we handle our disputes, disagreements, offenses and sins against one another in a healthy fashion. The life and movement of the body continues to be healthy and operate in the presence of God when it is void of the poison of gossip. So may we refuse to participate in poisoning the church. May we call each other to grow up a little by encouraging our brothers and sisters to speak to each other directly when they disagree and realize in doing so we are inviting the Spirit of Christ to move more freely through His body, the Church.


family

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture Concept

Last month my family got to experience something pretty special…family. I know that sounds a bit redundant, but that is what happened. For three weeks my kids were able to spend time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. I know that may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but when you live 2,000 miles away from the closest relative, it’s kind of a big deal. We all arrived back in Texas just in time for July and you know what I’ve begun to experience that’s pretty special…family. For for my first Sunday back I was welcomed with a loaf of bread and squash in my office (I’ll let you guess which one of these I appreciate more. Even last night we had visitors drop off watermelon to aid my wife in the passing of a kidney stone (evidently it helps, although the jury is still out). I’m coming to realize that maybe family knows no genetic linkage when it comes to the family of God.

In his epistle to the church in Galatia, Paul writes these words. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  -‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:2‬ The word for burdens in this passage is baros and it is best translated as weight or load. When we help each other with the weights, loads, burdens, even life itself, we fulfill the law of Christ. Jesus himself had this to say in the gospels, “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’.” – Matthew 12:49-50 The family of the church is made up of those who do the will of God, who fulfill the law of Christ, who carry each other’s burdens.

Sometimes in today’s world I wonder what the church has to offer. I mean, between social media and the internet and limitless entertainment, what does the church really have to offer? But I think the answer is quite simple…family. You see, when we carry each others burdens, encourage each other, deliver bread, squash or even watermelon, and love each other we embody God’s kingdom on earth and shine God’s light to the world that so desperately needs something genuine. Salvation still comes from God through the church for the world. The community that we live out through the local church is trans-formative if we truly live out the law of Christ. I’m reminded of of the lyrics of one of my favorite Avett Brother’s songs in regards to this.

“We came for salvation, We came for family, We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away.                                                                                                                                          We came to break the bad, We came to cheer the sad, We came to leave behind the world a better way”

May we embody the family of God in the world around us today.And may we leave behind this world a better way.


shared

One of the things you sometimes forget about as parents of older children is one of the first lessons you have to actually teach your kids. One of the things you are reminded of quickly when you become parents of small children again is one of the first lessons you actually have to teach your kids. And that is the art of sharing.  For some reason, right out of the gate we seem to be naturally inclined to claim possession of things. This is mine, not yours. And if it belongs to me and you take it from me then I am entitled to any level of escalating violence to retrieve said object and restore order in the world. This becomes true of toys, snacks, blankets, stuffed animals, etc. ad nauseam. Luckily at some point, someone somewhere decided that sharing was a good idea and it started to become more of the norm…or did it? Today we continue to fight over toys (whose car/house is better), snacks (food resources), blankets (let’s just say land and natural resources), stuffed animals (each other as possessions) and whatever else you can think of. We forget that we share the same globe and more than not we even have shared stories…if we are willing to listen.

This past week I have had the opportunity to sit in and listen to shared stories on a couple of different occasions. In the first instance I found myself surrounded by ministry peers at a Young Clergy Conference in Oklahoma City. And although we all ministered in radically different contexts (what could be more different from West Texas than Northern California), we still found that many of our stories were similar and many of the issues facing us had common ground. Then just last evening I found myself in a room with people who are bit more seasoned in life. I had everyone share their stories of how they came to be in the Church of the Nazarene and why they continued to be a part of the church. And all of a sudden I realized how similar so many of the stories were regardless of years or experience that separated them. However, it sometimes seems that in today’s society we have been influenced by a mentality that reflects a perpetual toddler mindset. This is my story, not yours. You’re different. Give me that. We’ve allowed ourselves to be defined by a dominant narrative that defines me against you versus me alongside you.

When Paul was traveling on his missionary journeys throughout the book of Acts he came into contact with many different cultures/stories. Yet instead of looking for that which was different, or would set him apart, he would instead look for the shared story. In Athens we find him saying this, “ ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” – Acts 17:28 Paul took the Athenian philosophers and helped the Athenians to recognize that they shared, not only a story, but their Divine heritage in God. Maybe we could take a page out of Paul’s book. Maybe we could come to realize that we share a lot more with those around us than we think. And maybe we can listen and tell stories and begin to see God open up doors that we previously had tried our hardest to keep shut. And maybe we will begin to realize that we all are God’s children and we are called to help each other live into that identity.


trunity 

There seems to me to be a lot of concern these days for unity. Whether it is unity in our families, in our communities, in our churches or even in our nation, there is apparently a lot of room for improvement. However, it also seems that when most of us are speaking about unity we ultimately are referring to the other person coming around to seeing things the way we see them. It reminds me of the old Beatles song, We Can Work it Out, “Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?” But therein lies the issue. We always want others to see it our way before we put forth the effort to see it their way. In Harper Lee’s classic ‘everyone must read this book in high school’ masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is talking to young Scout when he says this, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I guess the best way to define this action is empathy. And empathy is the only way we can ever find our way forward into true unity (or trunity). 

The example of course for empathy is an incarnational example. The apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Philippi when he has this to say, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:4-7 The example for us in empathy is set by a God who set aside all the power of the universe and unlimited ability to become like you and I. And so Paul asks us to behave in our relationships with the same mindset. Unity is only accomplished when we learn to look at life, conflict, relationships, stances, principles, etc. from the other’s point of view before feeling the need to defend our own. And in order to do this…well, we kind of have to get to know the other person. 

This is where it gets kind of tricky. Online exchanges do not count as getting to know another person…even the makers of eHarmony know this. Text messages do not enable you to see the world through another person’s eyes…no matter how many emojis you use. The only way we truly can begin to empathize with another person and their way of seeing the world is through life lived together. Perhaps it begins with coffee. Then maybe it’s a meal.Then perhaps you actually begin to be friends and you start to see that maybe their way of looking at things isn’t so backward after all. The ancient church fathers used to say ,”To know all is to forgive all”. And maybe that is what this life is about after all. We are learning to live together here so that eternity is just a continuation of the unity that we have begun while together on earth. May God grant us the ability to see one another as He sees us and move us forward in becoming one. 


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