Monday, November 30, 2009

Loser's Mentality

Two people left during the service yesterday. It may have had something to do with their pastor calling the church losers. That, of course, is not exactly what was stated; words stated and words heard are often different animals.

A more precise rendering of the quote was: "Our church [like many small churches] has a loser's mentality." The assessment has weighed on me for over a year. So we built a new entryway. We erected a new welcome center. We installed new carpet. We upgraded our sound system. Because of these things we will not grow.

Our church is located on the outskirts of a miniature town known for grain elevators and fresh cut meats. Had the apostle Paul been part of the planting team, they likewise would've located elsewhere: at a port or railroad crossing; off the highway or in the city. We are between a silo, gravel pit, and softball field. Traffic is infrequent.

The location of Leesburg Grace Brethren Church is oppositional to growth...

...that is if you define growth in its most patriotic sense: strip malls, franchised restaurants, housing additions, and capital campaigns. Biblical growth, however, measures maturity not material costs.

The author of Hebrews chides his readers for their failure to grow. Their life reflects apostasy more than diligence (5:11-6:12). So the writer exhorts them with hard words (13:22). He calls out their loser's mentality and corrects it with a vision. And the vision begins with Jesus. Everything begins with Jesus. He mediates. He forgives. He speaks and listens. He gives rest and defines success.

The Christ is supreme. Fixing our eyes on Him is the first step to envisioning a victorious church.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Enya Hijacked My Playlist

The battery was near dead this morning. The thin red line warned me that I had but seconds to chose a song from my iPod. Playlists was highlighted; I clicked. 25 Most Played songs was highlighted; I clicked. Music began, and at best I expected hear a few selections.

Our Most Played songs are defining songs. As far as favorites go, I tend to binge. Any new album becomes an exclusive. Old things pass away. This, of course, is a terrible ministry philosophy. New college students at the church receive more attention than older college students. New families get the warmest greetings; older families get sweaty, post-sermon palms. Then new families leave for bigger churches. Then new college students graduate. And the faithful disciples stick around, felling a touch less attractive and desirable.

But I'm talking about MP3s, which certainly don't get their feeling hurt when their play time suffers. More specifically, I'm talking about the 25 Most Played songs in my digital database, which reflect a thing or two about my musical preferences and emotional disposition.

So there I was jogging in the dark with no guarantee of musical accompaniment for the duration of my workout. Sigur Ros started me out. They have a song about Hopping in Puddles (Hoppipolla) and another about the Glowing Sun (Glosoli).They sing in Icelandic, so I don't know what they're saying, but they make me want to march in a parade with Dr. Suess characters and the Main Street cohort.

I was afforded these two songs. Then a third started: It was Enya, singing about trees and dreams and a Wild Child. She made my muscles cramp. I came close to stopping. Worse yet, I feared any manipulation of buttons on my iPod would simultaneously cue the backlight and kill the battery.

So I endured. The Enya song must have mistakenly crept onto my 25 Most Played list. Surely she would be succeeded by Chris Tomlin, Weezer, Bob Dylan, or another Sigur Ros song.

But she was not. She was succeeded by herself. Three times over. For the last twenty minutes of my run I was subject to the hypnotic melodies of Enya. She hijacked my playlist, but I could not bring myself to turn her off.

Enya is like all addictions: she creeps up, embeds herself, and drains our battery life as we run.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sex Talk

Tomorrow I travel to Malone University to talk about sexuality. The title for the event is PMS...even guys deal with it. I'm not discussing cramps and mood swings, but Pornography, Masturbation, and Sex.

My buddy, a Resident Director at the university, selected me to converse with his students. One of them asked, "What makes him qualified to teach us about the subject?"

The answer is simple: I have sex. Good sex. Indeed, my wife and I rather delight in the process. Moreover, in a world rampant with sexual dysfunction, addiction, and perversion, shame on godly voices deferring to the godless culture on the topic. I will not defer.

Many parents don't talk about sex with their children; health teachers and peers do.

Many pastors don't talk about sex with their congregation; television and advertisements do.

Many small groups and married couples don't talk about sex with their Christian peers; fraternities and sororities do.

Sex is an uncomfortable topic because of Christian deference. We have allowed our culture to take a sacred pleasure and distort it into carnal play. It is sacred because its context is intended for marriage, in which intimacy reaches its logical extreme: Two become one (Gen. 2:18-24; 1 Cor. 6:12-20). It is pleasure because it is good.

Carnal play reverses the intended progression of relationships. Relationships should move from infatuation to frustration to maturation. Intimacy should deepen in each phase. Unfortunately, we're duped into believing sex is the assurance of intimacy. And we trust the campaign that promises sex will birth intimacy.


Deep relationships are never the result of a single transmission. Intimacy is a cumulative good; sex is a wonderful benefit.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blueberry Muffins

A girl brought blueberry muffins to college group last night. Two dozen were arranged neatly on three Dixie plates. During most of the discussion, they sat untouched.

The theme of the evening was technology and its unintended consequences in human relationships. My wife and I led, citing experts, reading Scripture, and eliciting the occasional laughter. The previous year we had shared with this group insights on married life and sexual purity. We said some awkward things. This year we chose technology because it is an easier and more convenient topic.
  • It is easier to send a text message when you're late than to call the person and hear the disappointment in her voice.
  • It is more convenient to broadcast your weekend update and assume someone reads it than to meet him in person read his disinterested body language.
  • It is easier to turn the television on at night than to sit on the front porch and converse.
  • It is more convenient to bring grocery store donuts to college group than bake blueberry muffins and arrange them neatly on Dixie plates.
Easy and convenient are the recipe of fast food relationships. But the Bible models a different form of hospitality: where grain is collected, leaven rises, and the oven stays hot all day; where dishes pile up and trash collects; where hands and shirts get dirty; where tax collectors honor the BYOB mandate; where whores break in and hijack the conversation.

Blessed is the girl who brings homemade blueberry muffins to college group--we her be remembered when the gospel is preached. She toiled for us for over an hour, cooking and cleaning. Homemade goods are the proof that she values community. I said this last night, and students found their appetite. They wanted to taste the love.

My thinking on meals has been influenced by Eugene Peterson, who writes:
Meals take time, meals are inefficient, meals are not 'productive.' And so meals are streamlined, made efficient, individualized--the personal and relational and communal are abbreviated as much as possible...The centrality of the meal in our lives is greatly diminished. We still eat, of course, but the intricate cultural world of the meal has disintegrated. The exponential rise of fast-food meals means that there is little leisure for conversation; the vast explosion of restaurants is evidence that far less food preparation and clean-up takes place in homes... (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places pg. 216).
His thoughts apply to food in any portion--coffee breaks, midnight snacks, Saturday brunch, bread and cup. The church needs better table etiquette if it wants to bless an obese and dying world.

Unfortunately, too many Christian family's reflect the hurried life of a student who spoke up. "Our family hasn't eaten a meal together in weeks. We usually grab Subway because its the cheapest."

And easy. And convenient. And empty.