Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bird Seed, Flowers, and a Fish Tank.

I spent the morning with some teens a couple of Sundays ago.  Our youth pastor was away and I was filling in.  We usually make a plan to transfer some curriculum materials and then the plan never comes together and I just wing it. I enjoy the spur of the moment conversations--the teens always provide a lively discussion!

A day or two before this particular Sunday morning, Mrs O was reading an article that cited the number of kids who grow up in the church and stay in the church as adults.

It's a small number.

The moment she told me about that statistic I knew we HAD to talk about it on Sunday.  So, when I sat down on our hand-me-down couches to chat with the teens, I shot up a quick prayer,

"God, if there's something we need to hear please, bring it out."

Then I told them about the statistic Mrs O had read and asked why they thought kids who grew up in the church would choose to leave.  The discussion that followed was AMAZING!

First, one person talked about the difficulty in finding a new church if you relocate to a new town.  Many students go to college in a new town and may never find another church community or may not even look for fear of walking in by themselves.

We discussed many things that may turn people away: the looks of the facility, differences between themselves and the general demographic of the church, and the list goes on.

Then one person suggested young people may be turned of by the number of people who claim to be christians but don't act like it. . .

Now, the conversation gets lively!

What does that mean?  What is a christian supposed to act like?

We talked about sincerity.

We talked about service.

We talked about practical love and what that all looks like.

I was so excited as they were coming to some of the same conclusions I have.  We are supposed to be serving. . . not just one week per year. . . not just in foreign countries. . . not just the inner cities.  This is what we are supposed to be doing ALL the time, wherever we are in the moment!

I shared my story about the bird seed and the flowers on the patio of the nursing home.  I told them how I enjoy that stuff even though it's not at my home.  I encouraged them to begin thinking about their own passions and ways they could enjoy them even more by using them in some way to serve and bless other people.

One young man began to tell us all about his interest in fish.  He suggested he might be able to put together a fish tank for this same nursing home which turns out to be just a few blocks from his home!

One young lady reminisced about random acts of kindness she was involved with at one point.

One young man suggested we get involved with a community center near his home.

Now, it's only been a couple of weeks so none of this has come to fruition yet.  But, I'm already excited to see what God will do, and how He will lead.  There was definitely a spark in our conversation.

I want to see the spark catch fire!

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Oreo Slave

I love Oreos.

The Double Stuf Oreos.

I love the original ones, but I also love the mint-filled ones.  This summer I found some with berry flavored filling which was also good. . . I mean, you can't go wrong.

Every time I buy Oreos, they own me.

I bring them home.  I open the package. . . they've made it even easier to open.  I have one or two. . . hands full.  I feel slightly satisfied, and I proceed to put them away and think about the next time I'll be able to have another one . . . or two!

I know they will own me when I buy them.  There's a little thing in the back of my brain running the whole time I own a package of Oreos.  That little thing has one function: to focus all it's energy on Oreos.  The net result is that I eat the entire package in a very short time.

Since I know this about myself, and I tend to be somewhat systematic, I have devised a rule to protect me from my Oreo slavery.  I buy Double Stuf Oreos in little sleeves.  They come in sleeves of about a half dozen Oreos.  Maybe more like eight to a package.  This way, I can eat all of the Oreos in the sleeve in one sitting without hurting myself!  This is better than having to eat a whole family pack of Oreos, eight at a time, over the course of one day!

Mrs O and I were talking the other day about church and Oreos.  Churches are full of little rules like my rule about buying Oreos in sleeves instead of family packs.  The trouble is, these rules are only methods of keeping on track with bigger purposes.  I mean, my bigger purpose is avoiding a stomach ache, an extra five pounds. . . nothing wrong with eating Oreos.  Nothing Holy about eight Oreos to a sitting as opposed to twelve. . . or six.

If I see someone in the grocery store buying a family pack of Oreos, I cannot assume they will have the same struggle I do.  It is not necessarily the same for them.  The other person may have no trouble rationing his Oreos.  Perhaps, he has avoided buying bacon, or cheese for similar reasons.  Perhaps food is not a problem at all.

I have to remember the main goal.  Avoiding stomach aches and an extra five pounds. . . there is more than one method to achieve this goal.  Even more important than five pounds would be a generally healthy lifestyle.  If I put my Oreo sleeve rule ahead of the greater goal of a healthy lifestyle, the unfortunate possibility is an unhealthy lifestyle due to some other vice, and a lack of enjoyment of life for the lack of Oreos!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hijacking The Good News

Mrs O and I were talking about the church the other day.  I mean, The Church as a whole, not any particular congregation.  We were talking about how we really have a bad PR problem.  People don't think of christians as rescuers, they think of us as oppressors.  They don't see our love for each other, they see our rules for each other.

What happened?

Are we the victims of the rumor mill?

Have lots of people been badly misinformed?

Well, I don't think so.  I think, in a lot of cases, our reputation is well deserved.  I think history is repeating itself.

Galations 4:29 begins: "But you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law. . ."

You know, when I read a story from the Bible, I always put myself in the position of one of the characters in the story.  I assume to be one of those personalities and to have the task of acting like they did, or perhaps, as they should have acted.

Funny thing: I never put myself in the position of the Pharisees.  I never assume I am acting like one of them.  When I look at myself honestly, though, sometimes I do act like one of them.  Sometimes, I look at today's church and wonder if we are really growing christians, or if we are actually growing Pharisees.

My analysis of the Pharisees concludes they were well-meaning, diligent, self-disciplined folk.  Trouble is, they forgot who gave them their laws.  God is the one who provided the law, but God came before the law.  God had a plan and purposes before the law ever came to be.

God's purposes are higher than the law.

What are God's purposes?  Well, the Bible says his purpose is to love.  Feed the hungry.  Clothe the naked.  Defend the orphan and widow.  The list goes on.

The law just gives me a picture of what holiness would look like, if holiness were humanly possible.  But, strict adherence to the law without consideration of God's higher purposes, however, will result in failure.  Every.  Time.

Worse yet, is strict adherence to what I call guardrails.  These are rules contrived by me or others in my family or church culture.  Rules designed to keep me from violating the law.  Going to church every Sunday, for example, is one of these guardrails.  It's a good policy.  It is supposed to encourage me to stay on the right road--toward God's purpose.

Sometimes, church feels like it gets in the way, though.  It feels like I become beholden to the good rule of going to church more so than simply following God's law of keeping one day per week set apart for Him.  Going to church starts to feel like the law, and I forget all about the direction church is supposed to be taking me.  I feel as though I need to be in church every time the doors open.  Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night. . . no time left over for serving.

"Can't love you today, got to get to church and learn about how I am supposed to love you."


The Good News is better than that.  Now, if I took Sunday and spent all day serving the poor. . . would this be a fine way to keep one day per week set apart for God?  Would this not be the most perfect form of a worship service?

The punch line is simply this: the church is failing if it is not encouraging people to find Jesus and serve Him by loving people in practical ways.  If church gets to the point of preempting, precluding or preventing people from fulfilling God's purposes and demonstrating love, it has become worse than ineffective.  It has become evil.

Isaiah 1:10-15

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bible Doing: Take Two

Well, we've learned a couple of things over the past few months.  We got a group together--six to ten people usually, including our family.  We visited a nursing home and handed out some treats, we got to know each other, and talked quite a bit about great ideas for potential service opportunities.

We didn't get our hands very dirty, though.  Organizing events is harder than it sounds.  We are still going on Sundays to visit our friend at the nursing home, and our family loves it more and more each week.

Last Sunday, I and my boys filled Mrs. K's bird feeder.  I love birds, so I figured I'd use this interest of mine to serve her.  I really enjoy it, as silly as it may sound!  On the way back around the building, Little S noticed another feeder was empty.  We filled that one, too.  Then two windows down, another empty feeder.  We filled that one, too.  Then, i heard a tap, tap, tapping.  Through the glare on the window, I could just barely see a lady watching us.  She pointed to her bird feeder.  It looked full, so I was puzzled.  I took it down from the tall iron hook and found the birdseed inside was moldy and all stuck together in an octagonal brick.  As I pulled out the birdseed brick and broke it up, the lady inside clasped her hands with delight and smiled!  We filled that one, too.

As we walked away, I heard another tapping.  It was the same lady.  She beckoned us back to her window so she could holler a thank you through the glass.

Total cost to us: $10 and 30 minutes

Total payoff: many smiles

This is addicting.  On the way home, we discussed a membership we could cancel to free up a few dollars so we could buy more birdseed and fill ALL the feeders.  If there is enough money left over, we might buy some plants to put in the empty planters on the patio. . . I love flowers, too.

It's not as hard as it originally seemed.

It's nothing really. . . Well, no.  It's not nothing.  It's a pleasure!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bible Doing

Mrs O and I are excited about February 3.  What a kickoff this is going to be. . . and I'm not talking about professional sports!  On Super Bowl Sunday we're kicking off a new community group for our church, and it's going to have a bit of a different focus.

Well, it's not so much the focus that will be different, but the format.  Every group we've ever attended, including one that we hosted for three years in Maine, was focused on group discussion.  We would meet and study. . . some would call it a Bible Study.  We also had a focus on building community between members, so it had a major social component as well.

Some time ago, I began to think a little bit differently about church.  You can read some background here in a post called "Getting out of church!"  Basically, I began to feel like I was just talking and not doing anything about all the stuff I was talking about.  I was feeling like my week was so full of church events that I didn't have time for anyone outside of my church.  I didn't know how to justify or reconcile my schedule with what I was reading in the Bible.

Then I read some stuff: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, Soul Cravings by Erwin McManus, and Love Does by Bob Goff.  All of these books increased my sense that something about my priorities had gone awry.

So, as suggested by Bob Goff in Love Does, we're starting a Bible Doing.  We're getting folk together with the intention of serving our community on a regular basis.  These opportunities to serve will take the place of some of our discussions.  Our discussions will then be focused on new opportunities and the experiences we have serving.

We're going to start by looking for some 'plug and play' service opportunities where we don't have to re-invent the wheel, but rather plug into organizations that are already going.  We're going to focus on the passions and talents of the group members.  We're going to turn everyday life into a mission trip!

We're not pros yet, but practice makes perfect!

"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the Lord."  Jeremiah 22:10 NIV

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don't Cry 'Uncle.'

Lately, I've been thinking about some of the more significant stories of my growing up.  There are always people speaking different things over us and our lives.  This is another story like the 'Barn Floor' where I got some encouragement.  My uncle was the source on this particular occasion.

My uncle has a farm just next door to my Grandfather's farm.  My dad and I went one day to help chop some wood in the back corner of one of the fields.  After cutting and chopping, we loaded the wood into the trailer and pulled it back to the barn with the tractor.

When we got ready to load the trailer, my uncle told me to climb up in the driver's seat.  I was not very good at backing up a trailer.  This may have even been the first time I had ever tried.  I climbed up and backed up slowly. I turned the wheel the wrong way and the trailer jack-knifed off to the side.  The tongue of the trailer was bound against the hitch and one of the bolts in the tongue snapped.

My uncle walked back to the barn to get another bolt while my dad and I kept cutting, splitting, and stacking.  Uncle returned a short while later with a new bolt and some tools to make the repair.  We replaced the bolt in short order and he told me to climb back up in the driver's seat and try again.  I protested, lest I break another bolt.  He persisted, and I climbed back up for another try.

I first pulled ahead to straighten the trailer and then began backing up slowly remembering that I needed to turn the wheel away from the intended direction of the trailer. I corrected this way, and that way as I went slowly backward craning my neck to keep track of my progress.  It went well for a short time, but almost inevitably, I overcorrected and the trailer shot sideways and jack-knifed.  Snap!

Back to the workshop for another bolt.  We repeated this procedure a total of about 5 times.  The thing that struck me that day was the single bolt that Uncle brought back from the barn each time.  He only ever brought one.  Each time, he believed that I might get it right this time.  Each time he told me to climb back up in the driver's seat.

Each time he showed me that my past failures were not predictors of my potential for success.

May your failures of 2012 be transformed into the successes of 2013.

Note to self: Don't cry 'uncle.'

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Scrooge and the Grinch

Every year, it seems that I hear someone saying they can't wait until the holidays are over.  It starts at Thanksgiving with someone slaving for days to prepare the perfect feast for dozens of relatives.  It ends with a paucity of thank yous and un-met expectations of gratitude for the food, the decorations, the hospitality. . . and the list goes on.

Then, we dive into Back Friday sales keeping our kids out 'til midnight so we can buy them twice as many presents if we get them all for 1/2 price.  We hide the gifts, bribe the kids into good behavior with the promise of dreams coming true on Christmas morning.  Then, we rush through the towers of gifts hardly having time to acknowledge one before moving on to the next. . . places to go, people to see and more gifts to unwrap.

Six weeks of greed can be exhausting.  Agreed?  It's enough to turn the most ambitious among us into Scrooges and Grinches.

By New Year's we're laden with guilt after our binge and ready to make restitution with diets and budget cuts and promises that next year will be different.

I can't help but think, "Maybe we're doing it wrong."

The other night we were scheduled to go to a nursing home and sing Christmas carols.  On the way there, Mrs O and I had a disagreement. . . actually, it was just a 'heated agreement!'  We both agreed that I was being a jerk.  There wasn't any disagreement about it!  Things were feeling pretty ugly going into that nursing home and I had all I could do to begin singing.

Then I started singing.

I saw the elderly folk smiling as we performed our amateurish caroling.  I spoke with a World War II veteran who was delighted to have someone who would listen to his stories.  I also met one lady with a strange looking eye.  I don't know if it was glass or if she had cataracts, but it induced a sense of hesitation to say the least.  At the end of the caroling, my two boys ran up to her and wrapped their arms around her.  They wished her a Merry Christmas.

She said, "That was the best Christmas gift ever!"

I left the nursing home that night feeling quite differently than I had upon arriving.  It's not really that surprising when I think about it.  Changing the focus of my actions changed the focus of my thinking.

We can do the same thing with our Christmas traditions.  If you are having trouble with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, try changing the focus of your actions.  If your family is less than grateful for your efforts, put that effort toward an outwardly focused cause.

Invite your ungrateful family members to join you in serving the homeless on Christmas Eve.

Invite some friends to visit an orphanage Christmas morning with a basket of trinkets from the dollar store.

Instead of taking up a seat at your church's Christmas Eve service, volunteer to greet people at the door, decorate, or serve up the snacks.

Changing your focus changes your life.  In fact, it's life inducing, because these are the things life is made of.

Merry Christmas!