Reacting To Jesus

I don’t know when I first learned about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests.  It seems like I have always been aware of them.  What I do know is that I just learned they will be in my area.  According to a local ministers’ group, they are planning on picketing a couple local churches.  Here’s is the flyer they are apparently putting out to notify people of this planned picketing:

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The person who made the group aware of Westboro’s presence in our area leads an interfaith group.  Not an interdenominational group (of group of people from different Christian denominations) but an interfaith group (a group of people from different faiths).  He says he is “envisioning a world of interfaith peace”, and he signs his emails with greetings from several faiths (i.e., “Shalom, Peace, Salaam, Om Shanti, Solh, Amani” etc.).

As I read the email about this situation last night, I felt conflicted.  I obviously don’t side with Westboro Baptist.  I don’t want to attack them (I think attacking anyone, no matter how deserving, is wrong), and I probably won’t participate in the counter-protests being organized (I think protesting is lowly, a “weapon of the world” rather than a tool of Christ; 2 Corinthians 10), but I don’t want to be consider of them, on their side.  I don’t want to be considered on the side of the interfaith group either, though.  “Interfaith peace” sounds good on the surface; if by “interfaith peace” or “coexist” you mean not killing or hating people of other faiths, then I’m all for it, but if you mean (as I largely suspect most do) not affirming your own faith or taking it that seriously, then I’m not.  In fact, when I see a list of greetings such as the one this interfaith person signs his emails with, I’m reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

So I find myself between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.  I find myself pulled between two extremes, both of which are certain they are correct and both of which, I assume, think I’m incorrect in some way.  I know Westboro Baptist thinks I’m incorrect; according to a fellow minister, they picketed my denominations annual gathering in Cincinnati, holding signs that said, “Your pastor is a whore.”  So I don’t have to imagine what their opinion of me is.  I do imagine the interfaith person likewise thinks I am seriously wrong in some way; he might not call me a whore, but he probably calls me “narrow”, “bigoted”, “closed-minded”, etc because I believe that Jesus is who and what He said He was: the only way to the only God.

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And I can live with that, I suppose.  I have been living with it all my life in one way or another.  I’ve always been aware that there are people who find my faith or my way of expressing my faith wrong in one way or another, and I’ve always been told I just have to deal with that.

If I could make a wish, though, or, even better, if I could speak some sanity into the insanity I see coming into my community in the next couple of days, it would be for those people on these extremes to see that I am reacting to Jesus.  The things I do (many of them, anyway, possibly even most of them) I do in reaction to Jesus and the things Jesus taught and the way Jesus laid out.  That, I believe, is the basis of discipleship (as I already showed here).  And that is undeniably what you find in me.  I may not be reacting to Jesus perfectly (I don’t know anyone who does).  I may not be reacting to Jesus as either Westboro or the interfaith group thinks (rightly or wrongly) I should be.  But I am reacting to Jesus.  The decisions I make every day…make that every hour of every day…are influenced by Jesus, by what I think Jesus would want me to do.  Jingoistic though it may be, I truly am a WWJD guy.

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I believe that makes me a disciple.  An imperfect disciple to be sure.  A different kind of disciple or at least different-looking disciple than some others.  But a disciple nonetheless.

I’d like to think the same is true of Westboro.  I’d like to think the same is true of the interfaith group.  I’d like to think the same is true of both these extremes and every other extreme I encounter.  It may not be true of them; I understand that; I know that there are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” among us, “deceitful workman” who are not genuine followers.  But I’d like to think it is.  I’d like to think that most of the followers of Jesus who differ from me in one way or another are WWJD people, influenced by Jesus, reacting to Jesus, true disciples by this measurable definition.

And if we all recognized that about each other, wouldn’t there be more respect?  Wouldn’t there be less protests and counter-protests, less accusations, less suspicions, less attacks?  Wouldn’t there be less extremes?  I think there would be.  I think there should be.

Not-Kingdom

Every dog has his day.

As it turns out, every Doug has his day as well.  Such was the case for me last Friday at my congregation’s annual retreat (which for some reason we call an advance).  We invite other congregations to this advance, which we hold at the beautiful Alliance Redwoods campground.   We had men from at least four congregations there, maybe even more (I didn’t know everyone so I’m not sure where they all were from).

The theme I wanted us to focus on at this advance was “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”, one of the petitions our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to make in His “Model Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4 (also called “the Lord’s Prayer” and “the Our Father”).  I’ve been praying this prayer for years and have found that this particular petition has had a huge impact on my life.  I thought it and it’s mirror-image petitions found in other parts of the Bible (“He leadeth me beside still waters”, Psalm 23; “Lead us in the way everlasting”, Psalm 139) would be as helpful for the men as it was for me, so that’s what we talked about.  I took the “negative” in the first session, allowing the other pastors to speak on the “positives” on Saturday.  Here are my notes for that Friday night session:

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As you can see, there isn’t a lot there for a 45 minute talk.  I basically “free form it” at the advance, just talking from a rough outline.  It isn’t hard to do as I’m always talking about discipleship, which is just the way I live and thus fairly easy to talk about without advance preparation.  The fact that the men usually interrupt me with questions and other ideas helps keep it moving, too.

During that lecture time, I came up with a phrase that I hadn’t engineered beforehand.  That phrase was “not-Kingdom”.  I came up with that as I was trying to explain that Jesus’ concern about not falling into temptation and/or walking in the way everlasting is not an example of “hand-wringing morality” (as I’ve often heard it called) but rather about “living into the Kingdom”.  I use the phrase “living into the Kingdom” a lot.  But that night, as I tried to express the same beautiful concept, I just somehow said “Jesus wants us to stay away from everything that is ‘not-Kingdom’.”

And the men loved that phrase.  One of the speakers the next day told the entire group that was the best thing I said that night (I thought I said some other worthy things as well, but, hey, I’ll take it!), and one of our guys told me last night he’s been thinking of that all week.  So that was the preacher equivalent of a home run.

But there is more to that phrase than just crowd-pleasing.  There is a truth there, a truth which is fairly foundational to discipleship.  This really is what sin is: something that is “not-Kingdom”, not like Christ, not of God, and thus detrimental, destructive, etc.  This really is why Jesus and God emphasize it so much, why They want us to stay away from or out of it so badly: it is the opposite of Them and Their ways.

And when you understand it that way, not only does the phrase “Lead us not into temptation” make more sense, but discipleship itself makes more sense.  It makes complete sense that God would want us to not walk in the things that are not-Kingdom/not-Him and to walk in the things that are-Kingdom/are-Him.  We’re not talking archaic patriarchal repression here (or any of the other silly things call the way of God).  We’re talking Kingdom here.  We’re talking God and the ways of God and the things of God.  We’re talking about what is right and good and healthy.

And it’s not just that understanding which is helpful.  It is that prayer/petition which is helpful.  I have greatly helped by praying to God “lead me out of what is not Kingdom”, whether that is obvious things like sexual immorality or less obvious things like anger, selfishness, competition, etc.  I have been greatly helped by praying to God “lead me into green pastures and beside still waters/lead me in the way everlasting”, whether that be obvious things like purity or less obvious things like peace-making, humility, acceptance.  It really has changed my life for the better.

I think it can do the same for us all.  “Not-Kingdom” might be a crude phrase, but it is a great one nonetheless, a phrase that reminds me who I am and what my life in Christ is all about.

 

The Definition Of A Disciple

I was listening to the Get Religion Podcast, as I do just about every Monday.  In that podcast, journalist Terry Mattingly talks about the way in which issues of religion and/or faith are covered in the press.  As you can imagine, he often talks (maybe even most often) discusses the way in which issues of religion and/or faith are miscovered by the press (I believe that is the idea behind the name Get Religion; with that name, Mattingly is saying many journalists don’t get religion, a fact which comes through in their reporting).

In this episode of the podcast, Mattingly was talking about the political ambitions of TV personality Oprah Winfrey, an issue which has been in the news following the Golden Globes (I think; I don’t watch or care about award programs) and which touches upon religion/faith.   As he talked about that, he started talking about discipleship.

And that is where he really caught my attention.  Discipleship is a word and a concept which is very important to me; it is my way of life, in fact.  As Mattingly started talking about discipleship (and about how fidelity to Oprah can be seen as discipleship), hegave a definition of it which I had never heard before.  He said discipleship was “how you spend your time, how you spend your money, and how you make decisions” (around the 24 minute mark of the podcast).  He said, actually, that how you spend your money, how you spend your time, and how you make decisions reveals who or what you are a disciple of.

Now that is a different definition of discipleship than many I’ve seen.  It is a different definition of discipleship than what I would have personally given (I would have said something like, “Discipleship is following and becoming more like Jesus”).  But it is nonetheless an accurate definition of discipleship in general (maybe not Christian discipleship; that definition would get more specific; but definitely general discipleship).  As such, it highlights one very important element of discipleship: activity.

Discipleship requires activity.  Actually discipleship does, anyway.  Discipleship is not an intellectual or passive thing.  It is not having a belief or putting your name on a role or joining an organization.  It is much more than that.

Let me give you an example: I am a member of the Clan Mackay USA society, a society of people descended from the ancient Scottish clan MacKay (which I, a McCoy, am).

 I became a lifetime member of that society the first time I went to the Scottish games and found out what clan I belonged to.  That privilege cost me $300-some dollars.  And I’m very happy with that.  I’m happy to belong to this clan for life.  But I’m also aware that I don’t participate in this clan in any meaningful way.  I don’t go to their meetings.  I don’t vote on their spending.  I don’t even read their newsletter most of the time.  I am not changed in any way by being a lifetime member of this clan.   It does not affect my life.  It cannot be demonstrated in my actions.

Discipleship, on the other hand, is demonstrated by actions.  Discipleship is all about action.  The challenge for me, then, as well as for all people, is to answer Mattingly’s three questions.  The challenge is for me (and you) to determine how I’m spending my money, how I’m spending my time, how I make my decisions, and thus what I’m really a disciple of.

How To Be Humble

A couple days ago, I posted some thoughts I had about humility.  I said there that while I understood the need for and goodness of humility, I did not know how to achieve it.  In other words, I said that it is hard to be humble.  Somehow, I restrained myself from adding this song to the post:

As it turns out, I did come across one way to be humble.  I think I did, anyway.  I was practicing guitar after I wrote that post.  I’ve been struggling with the guitar since at least 2002.  I taught myself to do the open chords back then, but I stopped messing with it once I moved to California because I wasn’t needed; all the players in the church were better than I.  It came back into my orbit a few years ago, though.  Last year I got an electric guitar for Christmas (a present from my wife; I gave her the money to buy it for me!).  I got a few lessons as well and have been learning to do lead.  I’ve gotten much better at it over the past year.  I’m very pleased with how I’ve learned to “see” the scales on the fretboard and to understand enough music theory to get by, both of which were things I never thought I’d ever do.

But while I’m pleased with my progress, I’m not overly-pleased by it.  I know that there are guys and gals out there who are lightyears beyond me and always will be.  My guitar instructor said as much, in fact.  He said there are seven-year-olds on YouTube who can smoke him, and if those kids can smoke him they can annihilate me.  (I can’t show you the video in which he says this because it’s behind a paywall, but here he is doing a song with his daughter.)

What he further said, though, is that it doesn’t matter how better other people are than you, and that it also doesn’t matter how better you are than other people.  All that matters is that you are growing.  And I totally dug that.

Here’s the thing, though: I think I dug it so much because I know I’m not good at guitar (which you can see in the final video; I was forced to play an unfamiliar shape that night, which is why I made as many mistakes as I did, but truth be told, I probably would have made mistakes even if I had been playing a familiar shape).  Knowing that I’m not that good, knowing that there is no way I can win any type of comparison or contest, frees me from ever thinking about being good/winning.  It frees me to be happy in the moment.

I think what I need to do, then, is apply that same idea to the things I’m good at (or think I’m good at).  If I realize I’m not nearly as good at those things as I think I am, if I realize I’m not really “good” at them at all and will never win any meaningful comparison or contest with them, then I might be freed from all pride and all vanity.  Then I might be able to be humble, hard as it is.  Then I might be able to do what I was made by God to do: perform the best I can and be happy with that.

Not Running Away

I am really surprised at the positive reaction I got to my New Year’s Day post.   A lot of people read that post and many of my friends wrote great comments about it on Facebook.  Thanks to everyone who did either or both!

I did want to clarify, though, that I am merely struggling with some negative feelings, not capitulating to them.  I am a little afraid and uncertain as we move into the new year but not yet ready to give up.  As I said in the original post, I can’t give up because…

That really is true.  I have nowhere else to go but God, nowhere else to go but The Church, nowhere else to go but life, nowhere else to go but the future.  And so, uncertain and afraid or not, that’s where I’ll go.

Beyond that truth, though, there is another truth, one I think I again referenced in the original post.  I’ve been transformed too much to give into these negative feelings.  Remember that transformation is God’s ultimate purpose for us.  We see this in Romans 8:29, where Paul says For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.  I know we might be attracted to that word predestined, but conformed  is actually the more important term here.  God wants us to be conformed or transformed to be like Jesus.  We also see this in Romans 12 and 2 Corinthians 5 and Ephesians 4 and several other places in the Scriptures.  We even see it in a song I heard as a fourteen-year-old, a song which greatly changed how I see my walk with God.

Now I have not been fully transformed.  Not even close.  I’m nowhere near what Jesus was.  That is “the desire of my soul”, but I haven’t gotten it yet.  It does seem, though, that I have been moved a little closer to that goal.  I’ve moved close enough that I no longer act on my feelings as quickly as I used to.  So even though I want to give up, I’ve been transformed enough by the promises of God and the truths of God’s character that I really can’t give up.  I’ve been transformed too much to give up, much as I might want to.

And beyond that truth is another, perhaps the most important one.  I don’t know what to call this truth.  I’m tempted to call it a “theological truth”, but I don’t think that’s exactly right.  The truth comes from a podcast I heard at least a year or more ago.  It was an episode of the Church Leaders podcast.   I know that for a fact.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly which episode of the podcast it was.   All I remember is that the minister being interviewed on this podcast said there came a time in his ministry when he wanted to quit his church.  Things weren’t going well at that church, he thought they might go better at another church, so he wanted to quit (my mentors would say he wanted to abandon his original vision and find a new one; they call this the D2 dance).  He told his wife he wanted to quit, and she said that was fine.  But she also said, “Before you quit, I just want to know one thing: are you following God or are you running away?”  (Or something to that effect; I’m sure I don’t have the words exactly right.)

To his great credit (and his wife’s even greater credit), that minister did not want to run away.  He realized he was about to run away rather than actually follow God, and he didn’t; he chose to stay.  I likewise want to follow God.  I don’t want to run away.  I don’t want to do the D2 dance.

And I probably won’t.  I do appreciate all the concern shown for me after that January 1 post, but I don’t think I’m in danger of the D2 dance or even of depression.  I just feel like I could use some more energy.  I think I could use a little of this:

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(Well, I meant to have the clip where Zeus picks up the statue of the exhausted Perseus, but I couldn’t find it. Guess we’ll just have to make do with this picture.)

And pessimistic though I might sound (or to use the terms of the original post, honest though I might be), I do believe I will get it.  I do believe there is a happy future for me and my family and my church.  God promised there was, so there must be.  I just pray He picks me up a few times on the way there.

Poured In, Pour Out

I don’t do champagne.  I don’t really have a moral or spiritual objection to it.  I have more of a caloric objection to it.  If I’m going to drink calories, I’d rather them be Pepsi calories.

In fact, I’ve never even been around champagne that much.  I’ve seen it a few times at weddings, but that’s about it.  I’ve never seen a champagne tower, either.  I’ve never seen one in real life, anyway.  But I have seen pictures of them, and I find them endlessly interesting.

As a kid learning about life through the television (or maybe that should be mislearning about life through the television), I was interested in champagne towers because they were intrinsic and luxurious.  They were life a high-life puzzle toy, and that was incredibly appealing to me at the time.  As an adult follower of Jesus Christ, I am interested in them for an altogether different reason.  I am interested in them because they are a fairly good analogy for the following of Jesus Christ.  They are are fairly good metaphor or illustration of what the following of Jesus Christ is and how it works.

A champagne tower has at least two elements which make it such a good analogy of the following of Jesus Christ.  First, a champagne tower is, to paraphrase Paul, “a unit made up of many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12, NIV 1984).  The tower is not only a grouping of individuals  but an actual interlocking of those individuals.  The individuals (in this case, individual glasses) are not just together but interwoven, interconnected, in actual, legitimate relationship with one another.  Second, a champagne tower operates in a top-down manner.  The contents, the valuable thing the glasses contain (in this case, champagne), is passed from the first glass down to the glasses below it.  The first glass overflows what it has into the the glasses underneath it, and those glasses in turn overflow what they have received from the first glass into the glasses underneath them.

And this is indeed what following Jesus is like and how following Jesus operates.  Jesus had something good.  He had the Kingdom of God.  He had the ways, the means, the values, the heart, the mind, the essence and substance of the Kingdom of God.  He overflowed that to others.  He particularly overflowed that to twelve others but also overflowed it to a few additional people.  He also, I believe, continues to overflow it to us today.  So Jesus overflows into us; He fills us with the Kingdom He has.  Others overflow into us as well.  As we interact with other believers, they likewise pour into us; we take or receive Kingdom from them.  And then we overflow or pour that Kingdom into others ourselves.  And so the Kingdom flows from the top down through all the interlocking individuals.

Maybe a champagne tower will be a part of your New Year celebration.  Maybe it won’t (I can guarantee it won’t be a part of mine; my congregation holds a “Clean and Sober” New Year’s Eve party which is led by our recovery individuals, and they don’t allow any alcohol; we will instead have Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice).  Whether you do or don’t, I hope you will see that this is how following Jesus works, how the Kingdom spreads in you as well as from you.  And I hope you will participate in that in the new year.  I hope you will allow yourself to be poured into not only by Jesus but by other believers, and I hope that you will likewise pour out into other believers yourself.

Losers Like Us

I’ve been down with a cold the past two days.  Unable to work, I decided to catch up on some books I have purchased but not read.  One of those was Losers Like Us by Daniel Hochhalter.

 

This book was on my Amazon wish list for quite awhile (like so many books, it spent a lot of time on my wish list because I was too cheap to buy it outright).  When I was given a $7 Barnes & Noble credit from some class action suit I was wholly unaware of being in, I finally bought it from them, then converted it through Calibre and put it on my Kindle.

I was attracted to this book for one simple reason: I regard myself as a loser.  I know I’m a loser but I want to do ministry, so a book about losers doing ministry was a no-brainer for me.

I was not disappointed when I finally got around to reading it yesterday.  The book is basically a run-down of Jesus twelve disciples (The Twelve, not counting Matthias or Paul), all of who were losers or at least lacking in one way or another.  Hockhalter not only reveals what these men were lacking, but he also shows how he is lacking that thing as well.  As he puts it, he holds these men in the mirror and sees how he is similar to them.  Along the way, he talks about some of the other ways he has lost in life, including a failure to acquire a PhD.

I liked the book so well I read it in one day (almost one sitting, to be exact).  I thought the author was very brave to share his loser-ness the way he did, and I thought his principle that we are all losers/God uses losers was sound.  I was both convicted and encouraged, and that’s about the best you can ask for.

One particular insight I had as I was reading concerned Jesus’ praying for the twelve on the night before He chose them (Luke 6:12).  I had always figured that Jesus was praying for the ability to chose “the right guys” and that by God’s power He did so.  I see now that there is nothing “right” about these guys, that they weren’t chosen because they were right but right because they were chosen.  I wondered, in fact, if what Jesus was praying for was not the ability to chose correctly but the ability to put up with those who were chosen.  That’s speculation, of course, but the key insight is correct.  There is nothing “right” about these men (except maybe a willingness to follow or a teachable spirit).  And there is nothing “right” about me, either.  I’m not right.  I am a loser.  But I’ve been chosen and can do the work.

I highly recommend this book.  You can get it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  There is also a hard copy for you luddites who don’t use ereaders.