Monday, September 24, 2012

My Big Mouth Offends the Masses

It happens to the best of us: Our mouths spew out words that our minds had not yet finished processing.  They come across ill-timed, poorly phrased, and seasoned with a hint of scorn. We say things we don't mean, or think we don't mean. Then we remember that Jesus taught the words of our lips reflect the state of our heart (Matthew 15:18). Wicked hearts mutter wicked words. Gentle hearts speak sweetly. And the fool appears wise when he remains silent.

By some combination of old jealousies, older grudges, angry eyebrows, strong metaphors, and restricted time limit, I turned an opportunity to encourage a body of Grace College students into a unplanned offense. (Did I say I have angry eyebrows?) Within an hour I was called by a local church pastor asking about my speech. By the end of the night, the chaplain had me on the phone to schedule a meeting about my message. By Sunday morning, I was exhausted, emotional, embarrassed, and sad.

With vague detail, I confessed the situation to my church family. They are versed in my tone and furrowed brow. One man burst from his chair, rushed the pulpit, and demanded prayer for me. Later he told me, "I've never seen you so grieved before." Others asked for full disclosure, wanting the drama to give pulp to my apologetic statement. One guy shared an original poem with me, showing how we own our failures is as much a testimony to spiritual maturity as our triumphs in godliness.

In the end, my sin allowed grace to abound through others. Would I give the same chapel message again, so that grace might abound? Certainly not. (And they won't ask me back.)

But I'm glad grace abounded on this occasion. It helped erase the bitter aftertaste that my foot left in my mouth.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fight Club Threatens the Future of Doughnuts

The men from Grace Community Church (Goshen, IN) strutted into the ministerial meeting. Their chests puffed, shoulders broadened, wrists decorated with matching "Fight Club" bands, and each man carried a water bottle. They looked good. "Sexy men of God," to quote the pastor from Raising Helen. This was neither a matter of pomp or presumption; they simply showed the fruit of healthy accountability.

Trim bodies and firm handshakes are byproducts of Grace Community's explosive Fight Club, a ministry "By Men. For men. To Reach Men." It grows from the passionate heart of lead pastor Jim Brown, who has often stated, "Reach the man; you reach the family. Reach the family; you change the city."

Jim Brown lives the vision. His team embodies the mission. They have matching bracelets and slimmer waistlines to prove it. And they're aglow with spiritual fervor. Rumor has it that the city of Goshen has caught on. Water bottle sales in the city have skyrocketed; doughnut sales are at an all-time low.

The interesting thing about Community Grace's transformation is its contagious nature. Three steps into the hallway of the Oceola Grace Church, and I discovered an advertisement for "Men of Valor," a ministry likened to 'basic training' for men, providing "accountability and teamwork in your spiritual and physical life." At Leesburg Grace, we shared in a seven-week growth experiment called, "Man UP." Winona Lake GBC has been wrestling with the idea of purchasing the "Fight Club" kit. (You can too for a mere $249!)

The fervor for Fight Club-esque gatherings underscores several truths about men:
  • Passive worship services often fail to grip a man's heart; men want to participate
  • Accountability is typically too compartmentalized; men want holistic spiritual training
  • Lowered bars are easy to skip over; men want a challenge--to break their back bending or leap over a wall.
Our ministerial meeting closed with an on-site luncheon. Pizza Hut catered. The Goshen staff did not stay for pasta and bread sticks. They departed together, and the energy in the room immediately changed. Several men rushed to the snack table and feasted on Long Johns and glazed pastries.

Their presence inspired us to pick at fruit. Their absence enabled us to indulge on doughnuts. Next time I hope they stay for lunch. It will spare us the calories and feed further conversation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

TJ Maxx and a Brilliant Metaphor

T.J. Maxx makes it debut in Warsaw any day now. They have a sign along IN 15, the parking lot is paved, posters adorn the windows, and a banner flies over the doorway. Coming soon!

The signage confuses me. From all appearances, T.J. Maxx is there. I can see a building, lights on and clothing visible through the window. But no bodies. No workers. No shoppers. Just an empty building.

So what is T.J. Maxx? A building? A brand name? An overstock of discount merchandise? Or is it something more?

Perhaps the store is the sum total of workers and shoppers, inventory and advertising, cash registers, operating hours, and credit card consoles. Indeed: We are guilty of oversimplification when we call T.J. Maxx a discount retailer.

We commit the same sin when we limit the definition of church to a building or a service.