Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What it means when I say I'm a "Christian"

I would describe myself as a Christian. To me that label means that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a real man who lived 2000 years ago and who was the son of God. His life, ministry, death, resurrection, and lasting influence are documented in the portion of the Bible we call the New Testament. There are a lot of societal expectations of what it means to be a "Christian" and not all of them are accurate expectations for me or any other follower of Jesus. Here's what it means for me:

First, I'm not perfect. I follow Jesus and try to be like him, but I often fail miserably. I will continue to be a screw-up so long as I live on earth. I'm quick to anger, sometimes snap at my kids, and I have a few "go to" curse words I use. I'm still an INTJ, which means I sometimes think I'm more right more of the time than other people are -- and I'm not always sugary-sweet about it. I have a lot of other flaws: too many to detail here, although many of you probably already know what they are.

Second, being a Christian has nothing to do with my political beliefs. There are some who think that Christians are all Republicans (Hint: We aren't). I am pro-life because I think life begins at conception and that babies who have been conceived deserve a chance at life (which is why I think we need good contraceptive options and lots of training for folks to prevent unplanned pregnancies and why I think adoption is so vital). But I'm not just pro-birth. I'm pro-life for all of life. Jesus came so that we might live abundantly. He doesn't want any of us to live in Hell-on-earth. That means I am mostly opposed to guns, violent video games, militarized police, death penalty, and war because I don't believe God designed us to kill each other. I'm also very opposed to greed that puts money/resources ahead of the rights or needs of other human beings. And I worry that success is measured in the very things that put greed on a pedestal. That means I don't agree with political policies that over-emphasize wealth over the needs of vulnerable people.

Finally, I realize that I don't have it all figured out -- and neither does anyone else. Anyone who thinks they have a 100% handle on God's nature and God's will is wrong. We are human beings and can never grasp the totality of God who is far beyond our limited understanding. That's why it is so important to keep learning though through reading, listening, praying, pondering grappling, and wrestling with the Spirit. And to be humble in our approach to others who are wrestling with their understanding of God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Sexual Harassment Ediction

I've gotten the sense that some men are freaking out right now about all the men being "outed" as sexual predators (Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailles, Al Franken, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Charlie Rose, etc.). The sentiment among some men is a fear that innocent men are being embroiled in allegations that are unfounded or blown out of proportion. Other men are questioning their interactions with women to divine if they might be accused someday because they once asked a female co-worker out on a date or they once laughed at a male colleague's dirty joke. I've decided that this calls for a little game of "Good Idea, Bad Idea: Sexual Harassment Edition".

Good Idea: Complimenting your female colleague on her new outfit by saying "You look nice. Is that new?"
Bad Idea: Complimenting your female colleague on her new outfit by saying "Wowza. That outfit really shows off all your assets."

Good Idea: Upon hearing that your female colleague just received news that her father died, you briefly place a hand on her shoulder and tell her you are very sorry for her loss.
Bad Idea: Upon hearing your female co-worker's sad news, offer to give her a long hug where you rub her back (and buttocks).

Good Idea: Noticing a beautiful woman across the street and quietly admiring her attractiveness.
Bad Idea: Noticing a beautiful woman across the street and yelling "Hey, Baby...I'd like to get a piece of that!"
Bad Idea: Seeing a woman working out at the gym and then making comments about how her workout moves are "making you hot" or suggesting that sex is a great way to burn calories.

Good Idea: Seeing a woman working out at the gym and leaving her alone because she seems like she is focused on her workout.

Good Idea: Meeting with your female employee over lunch to discuss a new opportunity in the company (just as you did for that little jerk Kevin who has only been with the company for six months). Then spending the lunch hour actually discussing the new opportunity with her, just like you did with Kevin.
Bad Idea: Inviting your female employee to your private office where you plan to offer her the new job -- but only if she gives you a "job" first.

Good Idea: Being friendly with a female colleague you find attractive and then asking her out on a date if she seems to have mutual feelings. (And then taking "no" for an answer if she turns you down.)
Bad Idea: Asking your female colleague out on a date and then trashing her reputation at the office to get her fired if she turns you down.

Good Idea: Attending an out-of-town conference with a female colleague and respecting her privacy when she is ready to head to her hotel room alone.
Bad Idea: Attending an out-of-town conference for the express purpose of hooking up with your female colleague.

Good Idea: Having one or two drinks with your date during dinner.
Bad Idea: Pressuring your date to get so drunk that her defenses and decision-making skills are impaired. (Even worse idea is to slip drugs into your date's drink to ensure she will be too impaired to say "no".)

Good Idea: Treating women with dignity and respect because they are human beings who have rights.
Bad Idea: Treating women like live sex toys, because that's how it works in all the pornography you have been viewing.

Good Idea: Believing women when they tell you they have been assaulted/harassed/abused/raped.
Bad Idea: Paying women off and then having them sign non-disclosure agreements to ensure their silence.

Good Idea: Telling your male colleagues/friends to knock it off when they are making lewd comments to or about women -- and reporting men who are harassing women, are touching women sexually without consent, are bragging about sexual assault, or anything like that.
Bad Idea: Anything less than standing up for what is right.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Complimentary, my dear Watson

Most everyone loves to receive a meaningful compliment.

"I love your new haircut!" is a solid-gold stamp of approval and provides confirmation that we made the right choice at the salon.

Every budding author longs to hear: "You are a really talented writer. Have you ever thought about writing a book?"

The boast every employee hopes to receive from their boss is: "Fantastic job on the proposal for the new work project. It is a creative solution that could take this company into the next tier of success!"

Meaningful compliments carry us up onto the clouds of self-esteem -- we've been seen and we matter. Our work or choices have met with enough approval that the other person chose to shine a spotlight on us with their uplifting words. Who doesn't love the warm glow of someone else's approval?

In my experience, paying compliments can either be a successful social habit with payoffs well beyond the moment the words are spoken -- or they can a tool of manipulation. There are a few kinds of compliments that have varying degrees of authenticity and success in making the other person feel admired.

  • The "Backhanded Insult" Compliment -- Some compliments sound nice on the surface, but are actually kind of insulting. These are the compliments that applaud some change in the hearer while implying some previously-held disapproval they had never shared with you. "You look so great! You've lost so much weight!" is a Backhanded Insult Compliment. While the person dishing out the praise probably means it nicely, it has the unintended outcome of making the hearer feel like they must have been previously viewed by others as unattractive and fat. Another example is one I have loathed at family gatherings before I met my husband: "You're such a pretty girl. I don't understand why no guy has ever married you." I don't think I have to explain how that one feels insulting to the recipient who may not love to have a spotlight shining on their singleness as though it were a tragedy. 
  • The "I'm Tricking You Into Working Harder" Compliment -- I had a boss who employed this habit very heavily. She had a sweet southern drawl and her voice always sounded like it was dripping in honey butter when she spoke. Most people felt very warm toward her and saw her as having a real "way with people". But after only a short while as her employee, I began to notice that she only paid compliments if they were followed by a request to do something. "You're so organized -- probably the most put-together person in our department! I was hoping you would work your magic on the file room." The person receiving this compliment (especially delivered with a Sticky Sweet Southern Drawl) might feel puffed up with pride over a job well-done....until they are neck-deep in the Hell of the file room. There's a reason the boss wanted you to work your magic. No one else would touch that mess with a thousand-foot pole. If you only pay compliments to get others to add to their workload or to volunteer for tasks they might not otherwise have chosen to do, then you might be crossing the line into a manipulative compliment style that will eventually become transparent (and irritating to others).
  • The "Sleazy" Compliment -- I like to be told that my hair looks nice and compliments about my outfit are always appreciated. However, I don't think I am alone in saying that I loathe compliments that sound as sleazy as catcall. Telling a woman "That dress really makes your assets look like a million bucks" isn't a compliment any woman wants to hear from her boss or her weird uncle or a random dude in the parking lot. If a compliment sounds even a little sexual, it probably shouldn't come out of your mouth unless you already have a sexual relationship with the person you are complimenting. Telling my husband that a pair of jeans makes his butt look sexy is a heckuva lot different than giving the same compliment to the cashier at Target. (Side Note: some BFF's have a relationship that involves this style of compliments, which is totally acceptable given the depth of the friendship).
  • The "Ramp-Up to Negative Feedback" Compliment -- A few years ago there was a sitcom that featured a character who routinely did the "compliment sandwich" to deliver bad news to others. For instance, when breaking up with a girl this character would start with a compliment, then deliver the one-two punch of the break-up news before ending with another compliment. Here's how it would go: "Holly, you are such a pretty, sweet girl. You deserve someone better than me. I think we should stop seeing each other so you can find someone who really deserves someone like you. Some guy is going to be so lucky to have you as a girlfriend." I find negative feedback really difficult to deliver because I hate disappointing others for fear of ruining the relationship. The Ramp-Up to Negative Feedback Compliment softens the blow and makes it feel less scary to deliver constructive criticism. Plus, if done well, it can strengthen the relationship when the hearer realizes you care enough about them to deliver hard news in a loving way. While no one especially loves criticism, sometimes it is necessary to help us succeed. After all, wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy (Proverbs 27:6 Tina Paraphrase Version).
  • The "To No One In Particular" Compliment -- In my work history I have had several bosses who routinely utilized this style of adulation. Typically, you only hear this style of compliment in groups. I had one particular boss who rarely handed out individual compliments to anyone. Instead of telling Super-Star Sally that he appreciated her specific, unique contribution in improving something in the workplace, this boss would compliment the whole room of employees during the weekly staff meeting. "Thanks for all you do...every one of you. This company wouldn't be the success that it is without dedicated employees like all of you." Lets be honest, though. Super-Star Sally is probably one of the bright spots on a work team that likely also includes some dead weight like Blathering Bob, Parties-Too-Hard Pat, Twitter-Troll Thomas, and In-Over-Her-Head Irma. Did they deserve to share in the glow of a compliment which really belongs to the one employee in the room who actually works eight hours a day? If you want no one in the room to feel particularly complimented, then you should definitely keep using the To No One In Particular Compliment style.
  • The "Not Actually True" Compliment -- Every parent is guilty of the Not Actually True Compliment and if you think you're not then all the "amazing art" that's currently lining the bottom of your recycle bin begs to differ. Sometimes we have the best intentions in paying a compliment, but shoot ourselves in the foot by paying a compliment that we don't actually mean. Telling someone that their new haircut looks great on them might seem like the nice thing to do, unless the haircut is the worst thing that you have ever seen. Or telling someone that everyone loves their lime-apple-pumpkin salad is cruel if they ever find out that their "delicious" dish goes straight into the dumpster every time it shows up at the potluck. Pretty soon, folks begin to doubt all compliments they hear from folks who use too many Not Actually True Compliments.
  • The "Conversation Starter" Compliment -- As an introvert I often find it difficult to initiate conversations with people I don't already know. Over the years, however, I have learned a trick to start a conversation using a compliment. I quickly take stock of the person I need to converse with to see if anything stands out as (a) worthy of a compliment, and (b) something we could talk about beyond the initial complimentary statement. For example, say the person is wearing a cool t-shirt that looks like it might have been purchased while on vacation. I might go in with a compliment about the shirt and then the person might respond with "Thanks. I got it while on vacation in (fill-in-the-blank)." Then the conversation might progress by talking about a shared experience if I have been to the same place or asking questions to get more information if it is a place I have never been. Or let's say that I notice the person is reading a novel that I have read before. I could pay a compliment like "Great choice! I love that book!" Then I could continue the conversation by asking what part of the book they are at or we could talk about the movie adaptation of the book. I have actually taught the Conversation Starter Compliment to children at a school where I worked. It was such an effective lesson that a severely autistic student was actually "caught" by her special needs teacher using a compliment to talk to a peer -- something she had never done before! Because people generally love compliments, this is usually a very successful way to begin conversations.
  • The "Friendly Quickie" Compliment -- Most compliments are your run-of-the-mill quick sentiments that don't require too much thought or investment. When I worked in school settings, I considered it my main job to encourage others, which means I was a complimenting machine. Teachers (especially "special" teachers like the counselor or art teacher) usually have some sort of duty they have to perform beyond their normal teaching duties. My most favorite duties were the ones that allowed me to greet kids in the morning. I tried my best to say encouraging things to kids as often as possible, which means I was constantly watching out for new haircuts, cute shoes, interesting t-shirts, cool backpacks, nifty show-and-tell items, and other details I could say something about. This is different from the Conversation Starter Compliment in that I wasn't looking to begin a dialogue with these quick compliments. Often these Friendly Quickie Compliments turned my students' tired/bored expressions into smiles that they then carried down the hall. Sometimes, the compliment they received at the door was enough to cause a compliment landslide around the building as kids passed their good feelings onto another kid, which would then spread outward from there. 
  • The "Heart Melting" Compliment -- These are the rarest of compliments and usually the ones that carry the most weight. This is a compliment that is specific and filled with genuine appreciation and admiration.  I have had a few students over the years pay me Heart Melting Compliments. I once had a student tell me that she wished I was her mother because I made her feel loved in a way that her own (sadly) neglectful parents didn't. I had another former student tell me that she felt her life was changed for the better when I once mentored her as she prepared to give "sermon" during the chapel service at the Christian school she attended. It boosted her self-esteem and set her on a course of pursuing other ways to use her faith to empower others. These compliments weren't to impress me or win my approval or get me to do something for them -- they were just genuine expressions of their deeply felt admiration.
If you want to be effective at giving compliments that matter, check your Compliment Motive. Are you looking to get something out of the compliment (like getting someone to do a job no one else wants to do)? Or are you looking to bless the other person in a big or small way. If your motive is one of blessing, then get cracking on those compliments because they are a great way to show kindness and spread a little cheer. And, especially for those who need a reliable conversation starter, compliments are also a great social skill to have in your arsenal. Do keep in mind, however, that compliments have to be genuine to be effective. Nothing ruins a compliment like knowing the other person doesn't actually mean it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hello Blogging, My Old Friend

It has been a very long time since I wrote a blog post. I wish I could say I've just been too busy living la vida loca to sit down at the keyboard. Certainly, I wish I had some moderately believable excuse to give you. But I don't.

The honest answer? Well, I didn't write because I didn't have anything positive to say. For a while. I've been in a season of life one could describe as "the doldrums" and it might have even crossed into mild depression for a few weeks. It's time I talked about it and hopefully it will loosen up some bonds that might be holding your head under the water, too.

The past eight years of our marriage have had us living away from our support network. The first of those eight years was spent in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the rest were spent in the Joplin, Missouri area. After seven years in one area we had put down some roots. We knew most of our neighbors and had a great set of neighbor kids for our girls to hang out with. The house we bought was coming together slowly through renovations and updates. We had found favorite restaurants and had a great network of specialists, like our pediatrician and pediatric dentist. The girls had gotten involved in a homeschool sports league and learning co-op, plus they had friends at church they really love.

The only thing really lacking was a strong network of friends and family to support my husband and me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. There were no nearby grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins to rely on as babysitters. We never really found anyone with whom we could form a close friendship outside of the church. Certainly we had great congregation members who we feel great affection for and who care for us, but those relationships weren't truly free for us as their pastor. Congregation members need their pastor to be strong, holy leaders -- they don't want flawed human beings who struggle sometimes or who occasionally watch PG-13 movies or who cuss a little. We had very few friendships in the Joplin area where we felt safe to express our difficulties or genuine emotions without fear that it might turn into ministry-killing gossip or betrayal.

The hole in our lives left by a lack of support network left us feeling increasingly strained. We knew that things were changing with our church placement and it looked increasingly like we would be moving away from Joplinland. We began praying that God would open a door that would allow us to be closer to our family and the friends we had from before we moved from the Springfield area. This, we hoped, would give us access to a strong support network and help with some of the emotional strain that comes with being in vocational ministry.

We found out in March that we were going to be changing churches over the summer and we found out in April exactly where we would be moving. The answer wasn't what we had been praying for. (Yeah, I know...God's answer isn't always "yes").

Instead of moving closer to family and close friends, we were placed in a small church located in a small town that felt like it was a million miles away from everyone who loves us. When we found out with certainty that we were moving, we had only three months to sell our house and move our entire life three and a half hours north. There was an intense, exhausting push to finish all the renovation projects we had put on the back-burner -- at a cost we hadn't intended to invest all at once. Plus, I spent most of my spare time searching the internet for all the things we would need once we made the move (new pediatrician, new homeschool sports league, etc.). The renovations finally came together with a lot of sweat and a few spousal arguments, but we got our house on the market and got the offer we were hoping to receive.

The other transition plans, unfortunately, seemed frustratingly stalled. It seemed that no information existed regarding many of the things we needed to know for continuing to teach the girls at home. Where we easily found information about homeschool sports, co-ops, field trip groups, and other support networks in the Joplin-area, none seemed to show themselves in my internet search for our new town. The closest options all involved a 40-minute or more drive.

In a whirlwind, we made the final moving arrangements, said our goodbyes, packed up our belongings, and the mover drove away with almost all of our earthly possessions. I cried for most of the three-plus hours we drove to our new home.

The day we moved in to our new home (a church-owned parsonage) brought us into a house that wasn't ours and didn't feel like home. Plus, it was raining non-stop and our moving van couldn't make it up the long, narrow driveway to the house. Every box and every piece of furniture had to come off the moving truck, where each item was tossed in an unloving manner into church member's covered trailer before being transferred up the driveway and into our house. Boxes were varying degrees of smashed as things were hurriedly moved in this helter-skelter way. Several of my belongings were broken in the process and several boxes brought tears as I grieved the loss of some treasure or another (like the coffee mug my late friend had bought me on her trip to Disney the year she was taking chemo and radiation).

The kick in the gut came in the following weeks as I realized the girls weren't going to have any nearby homeschool support options or other ways to make friends. We decided that this pastoral move was going to be a very lonely one for them if we continued to homeschool, so we made the decision to place them back into public school. All the dreams we had of travel and field trips and things we were going to learn and the wonderful opportunities homeschooling would bring...well, they were dashed, just like those broken possessions I found in my moving boxes.

All the change, all the disappointments took their toll on me and I began sinking. Everything felt like loss in this move. I stopped sleeping well and was getting only five or six hours of sleep each night. My humor disappeared, replaced with silence as I could think of nothing at all worth saying out loud. Difficult feelings inside my heart and mind made it feel impossible to find anything positive to say to my husband or the girls. Parenting and wife-ing were becoming new sources of disappointment. All I could see was my constant failure at being a human being that anyone would want to be around. I was tired and sad and quick to become angry and even quicker to begin crying over every little thing.

Heaped upon my sadness was everyone else's happiness, which felt like a mockery of my inability to muster joy. Old acquaintances excitedly made comments like "God is going to do such great things in this new setting!" And people we met in our new town perkily asked questions like "How are you liking our little town?" I couldn't see how anything good was possible under the black cloud that seemed to be sitting on my head and I certainly didn't have anything nice to say in answer to their cheery queries. Everything I said was forced and I felt like I was constantly lying by pasting a smile on my face whenever I was out in public.

I am mostly out from under the dark cloud and I have found my sense of humor again. I'm writing some curriculum and using my time on creative pursuits while I try to figure out what the new "normal" looks like in our lives.

I've also done some personal exploration of what might have improved this transition. One pastor's wife I talked to about our move told me "You've got to be made of tough stuff to be a pastor's wife". I'm sure she meant well...or maybe that was just her version of "It is what it is". But, her comment felt like defeat to me. What I really needed someone to validate my feelings of grief and to give me space to have hard emotions about all the loss that was being heaped upon my shoulders. It would have been helpful to see and hear empathy, rather than perky platitudes or comments about the need to "suck it up, Buttercup". I needed to hear someone say "This is a hard thing you're doing. How can I bear some of it with you? How can I support you in this thing?"

If you are in a church where a new pastor is coming in -- especially if your new pastor is moving from somewhere else on the map -- be careful about your enthusiasm and excitement creating unintended pressure on your new pastor's family. Be sure to check in with your pastor and his family to make sure they are emotionally and socially okay, that they are receiving support as they grieve the loss of their previous setting, friends, school, and other parts of their previous support network. Even changing pediatricians can be challenging, especially if your pastor's child has a special medical need. There are several of the Big Life Change events that your pastor and his family are going through all at once -- new job, new home, new school -- that have to be navigated along with their need to make a good first impression on your congregation and community. Give them space to grieve. More importantly, give them permission to grieve. If God has moved them into your church, then joy will follow them....eventually. Until then, pray for your pastor and his family with their grief in mind and look for ways offer your encouragement and support to ease their stress.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Theology for "dummies" (like me)

Confession Time: The past few months have been a struggle for me. I scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter and can feel my blood pressure rising. Instead of seeing people's happy life events and funny comments, it seems that too many people are posting articles and comments of a political nature. I, too, have made political posts and comments (since we are being honest here). I don't start out wanting to be political, but I have a hard time not speaking up in response to the strange marriage of American politics with Christian theology that I keep seeing on social media. Those kind of posts send a particular message to the lost -- a message that Jesus only loves certain people. Here is one such post that really got my blood boiling yesterday.

The theology of this political meme is that the immigrants being "banned" by President Trump's recent executive order are no different than the people Jesus himself has "banned" from entering Heaven. It imagines that Heaven has a wall to keep certain people out and that there's some extreme process required to get in.

And I can see where some people might think it's okay to make such a claim, since Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6) It is true to say that you can't get into Heaven without a saving relationship with Jesus. However, it isn't so hard to have a relationship with Jesus as some people seem to believe. In fact, Jesus and the disciples made it clear that Jesus was for all people, not just the Jews who had previously been billed as "God's chosen people". Jesus was for the Gentiles, too (a term which covered all the non-Jewish people). In fact, most of the New Testament was written by a missionary named Paul whose entire ministry was aimed at Gentiles.

The really great thing about the Bible is that there is a lot to wrestle with. We aren't given cut-and-dry answers to all the big issues. I think that's on purpose so that we will never be content with our existing knowledge of the Bible. God wants us to keep reading it and applying it and wrestling with the nuances and re-applying it...until we die.

Because it has so many unexplained nuances, there are different ways to interpret Scripture and what it means for Christ-followers.

One such interpretation of Scripture is called "Calvinism" (named after theologian John Calvin) and rests on five points known as the "TULIP". It says essentially that each of us on earth are totally depraved, meaning that all parts of our humanity are affected by sin and that we cannot, on our own, achieve salvation and oneness with a perfect God. It says that God elected or chose certain people who would have their sinful hearts "softened" to accept the saving message of Jesus. Essentially, Calvinism says that the message of Jesus' grace will be irresistible for those who have been chosen by God to receive salvation. Irresistible, meaning they cannot resist salvation. Even if they tried. And, once a chosen person has accepted salvation, it cannot be lost. Ever. No matter what they do.

Calvinism is the theology that drives some denominations, like Baptists and Presbyterians. Taken to an extreme, it would be easy to say that certain people have been chosen to receive a special measure of God's grace and that other people are not chosen and it doesn't matter so much what happens to them on planet earth because they're going to Hell someday, regardless. We can easily see this theology play out in politics right now as the Republican party is set on keeping Muslim refugees out of America. In their view, the only thing that can come of such a move would be to spread the blessings (financial comfort, democracy, capitalism) of the elect (American Christians) out toward those who are not chosen (Muslims).

But Calvinism isn't the only theology out there. Wesleyan Armenian (named after John Wesley and Jacob Armenus) is the theology that says we humans are sinful from birth, but still have a hint of the divine within us -- we are still image-bearers of God. They would say Jesus' grace is for all people, but that God gave mankind free will to choose to accept salvation. In other words, God wants all of his creation to be in a perfect relationship with him, but they have to choose that relationship for themselves, it isn't forced upon them. To put it in dummies-friendly terms, it is like a guy who asks a girl to marry him. He put the offer out there but cannot force her to say "yes" or to actually become his wife. Even if we believe in Jesus' existence, we still have to be in a relationship with him. Wesleyan Armenian theology would say that having a relationship with Jesus can transform us from depraved individuals into people with the potential to become more and more like him as we spend time with him.

Wesleyan Armenian is the theology that drives the Methodist denomination, among others. This theology would say that all people are potential Christ-followers who deeply need the opportunity to accept Jesus' offer of salvation. In order to accept Jesus' offer, people must first know Jesus and his love so that they will desire to choose -- with their free will -- to be in a relationship with Jesus so their lives can be transformed. A Wesleyan would argue that it's only too late to lead someone to Jesus if they are dead. They would also argue that no people group is off limits with the Gospel (aka: Good News of Jesus) message. Their audience includes people from all walks of life and with all sin backgrounds (including homosexuals).

Both kinds of theology have Bible verses they use to back up their beliefs. And the people who follow the various theologies are very certain theirs is the correct way to interpret God's word. When they read God's word, their theology is the one that drives their understanding of what the Bible says. It becomes the lens through which they read Scripture.

In my personal opinion, the heart of Jesus fits better with the Wesleyan theology. I have a hard time imagining that God would create all of humanity, but only choose to have a relationship with some of them. That would be like a parent who has five children but chooses to only love one of them. It is much easier for me to believe that God wants us all to know and follow him -- so much so that he sacrificed his own son (John 3:16) -- but that we sinful humans don't all choose to love him back.

Because of my own theological choice to follow John Wesley's teaching, I want to do what I can to make sure all people have the opportunity to choose Jesus if they want to. I know that not everybody will, of course, but I want them to know the door is open for them to choose to enter. That means I am not afraid to socialize with Muslim refugees, drug addicts, homosexuals, rednecks, or any other people group who doesn't yet know Jesus as their savior. Someday my love for them and my kind actions might be just the thing that helps those broken, lost friends to walk through the door into a full-fledged relationship with Jesus.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mis-matched plasticware

A few weeks ago I was cleaning out the church kitchen and found what looked like a garage sale had vomited into the cabinets. There were used disposable plastic trays from a catered event that someone had washed and placed in the cabinet along with a myriad of plastic bowls with no lids and plastic lids with no bowls. There was a broken skillet, a rusty stockpot, and about two dozen spatulas in various stages of having been accidentally melted. It was clear that someone -- or several someones, more likely -- had cleaned out their kitchens to donate all the unwanted items to the church kitchen. This isn't the first time I had seen this kind of has-been kitchen collection in a church. In fact, I would wager that most church kitchens have cabinets full of used items that were donated by well-meaning members who had cleaned out their home kitchens.

Why is this a problem, anyway? Isn't it nice to donate things to the church? Don't they need plastic bowls and spatulas and other kitchen items? Isn't a used item better than none at all?

The problem is with the heart of the matter. Why should your church get the useless stuff you don't want? That isn't a sacrifice. Your church deserves the best you have to offer. Jesus offered the best of himself, after all. Why not treat the church building with the same generous spending you would offer to your own home kitchen. Do you have nice utensils to cook with in your own kitchen? Or plasticware with lids? Or cooking pots that are safe to cook with? If it isn't good enough to use in your own home, it doesn't belong in your church. Your church kitchen isn't a reject bin, it's a place where people serve others in the name of Jesus.

The same can be said with treating the church generously in the area of sharing your finances. The church deserves your first share (or tithe) of financial support, not the $5 bill you happened to remember was in your wallet only after you accidentally made eye contact with the usher. Do you believe in what your church is doing? Do you love your church and does it meet needs in your life and the life of your community?  Do you believe that your community is experiencing Jesus through your church? Do you want your pastor doing the work of the church as his full-time job, rather than just speaking on Sundays while he earns a paycheck elsewhere (remember that he and his family have bills, too)? Do you want the church to have working heat, toilet paper, and other amenities when you visit? Running a church requires money. Your money. And it cannot function effectively on your leftovers.

The church can't fulfill its mission with a bunch of broken-down tools and cannot keep the doors open without an adequate operating budget. Are you giving your best to your church? Or are they getting the secondhand junk you can easily spare?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Meat Loaf and Rick Astley

I'm a child of the 1970's and 1980's. There was a lot to the 70's and 80's culture that should be forgotten and never repeated. However, some of the best songs came out of those decades, like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper, "Beat It" by Michael Jackson, and "Like a Virgin" by Madonna.

Two great songs from my childhood have been rumbling around in my brain this week and have inspired some deep thoughts in regards to Christian habits and church commitment.

 The first song that has struck me is Meat Loaf's famous "I'd do Anything for Love (But I won't do that)".

I recently came across a story in Matthew 19 where a rich man asks Jesus what he has to do in order to gain eternal life. Jesus asked the man a few questions and we learn that the man has led a very well-behaved life. Then Jesus drops the bombshell on the man who thought he had been good enough to earn the "Jesus Stamp of Approval" -- Jesus tells him to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, and only then can he follow Jesus. The man didn't really want to follow Jesus, he wanted eternal life. He wanted the prize! Essentially the man answered: "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."

The rich man left disappointed because he valued the comfort, security, and enjoyment of his possessions more than he valued the possibility of following Jesus.

I don't know many rich people and I know even fewer who value their possessions over their savior, so I have never seen this kind of dilemma play out in real life. However, I have seen plenty of people tell God (mostly through their actions) "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."

What won't they do?

I would do anything for love but I won't:

  • Feed myself: in other words, I won't read the Bible or do devotional time on my own.
  • Talk about my faith, even on social media.
  • Invite people to my church.
  • Talk to new people at my church.
  • Take time out of my week to attend a small group.
  • Disciple others.
  • Serve at the church I attend or in the community where I live.
  • Give financially to my church.
  • Invite visitors to try my small group or attend special events at my church.
  • Genuinely love others, including people whose sin looks different than mine.
  • Forgive others.
  • Show grace in my words, even on social media (even during an election year).

Rick Astley had a better idea of how to serve Christ in life and at church when he said:
     "Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
      Never gonna run around and desert you
      Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
      Never gonna tell a lie, and hurt you."

Imagine if we loved Jesus, our neighbors, our family, and our church the way that Rick Astley sings in this song. Imagine if we never gave up on Jesus or our church, even when we don't love the sermon we just heard or even when we disagree with a leader's decision. Or if we fought to protect our church or pastor's reputation in the community? Or if we refused to give up on the church financially or with our service, presence, or other resources?

Even though it's challenging, I'd rather live like Rick Astley's song than Meat Loaf.