Saturday, December 30, 2017

Obituary of a Friend

I was sad today to see the obituary for Fidel Martin in the newspaper. He was the pastor of The Church of the Living God on Happy Hill Rd. in Stokesdale. He was only 58 years old.

He holds a special place in my heart, because of his church's hospitality to Crossroads. When we launched as a church in 2000, we needed a place to meet. Meeting space is scarce in Stokesdale, due to limited occupancy for most storefronts. We needed assembly space. Another pastor, Gwathney Leak, found out about our situation and introduced me to Fidel. He thought we could work together.

The Church of the Living God meets on the Sabbath (Saturday), and their building was not used on Sundays. With a little logistical work, we arranged to meet in their church building on Sundays for about 18 months, 2000-2001. This old, small building on Happy Hill Road served as an incubator for our fledgling congregation. Without the hospitality of the Church of the Living God, I'm not sure what Crossroads would have done.

Although Fidel and I have not been in touch much in recent years, I look back fondly at the time we worked together. While Crossroads was meeting in the old building, CoLG was constructing a new meeting place. We offered a bit of construction manpower, and rejoiced with them when the building was completed. Crossroads even worshipped in the new building on Easter Sunday, 2001.

Pastor Martin celebrated with us in November 2002 when we dedicated the Longhouse on Christopher Road in Stokesdale. Our church had completed the construction of this lodge building, and Pastor Martin was one of our guest speakers at our dedication ceremony. I respected him for his leadership, vision, and kingdom perspective.

Certainly he was called home too soon. I look forward to seeing him again in glory.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Lessons of 2017

Attitude is everything.
I can choose joy.
The kingdom is bigger than my church.
God touches my soul deeply when I gather with his people and worship.
God is stirring people up to take bold new risks for the gospel.
The gospel is about how we live, not what we know.
I can't manufacture spiritual power.
Jesus connects at the heart level with lots of people I don't understand.
Easter is mind-blowing; if I don't see that, I'm missing the point.
A loving church gives space for healing, understanding, growing.
Jesus will see me through hard times; I need to trust him and hang on.
My first priority every day is to delight in God.
Delighting in God transforms my perspective.
God is doing something bigger than my lifetime.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Nuggets

Every year I hope to dig deeper into the truth of Christmas. I confess that I have often thought of the holiday as season to be endured rather than a holy day to be enjoyed. Like Charlie Brown, I wonder if I am missing something. So, I'm digging for new insights, understandings, appreciations for Christmas. I want to thank my friends for helping me see what God is revealing.

With only four days to go, here are a couple of nuggets.

Christmas really is about connecting. Apart from Jesus, God in the flesh, humanity has no meaningful, relational connection to the Father. He loved us enough to take the drastic measure of sending his own Son. We desperately need to connect with the Father.

God uses substitutes. Joseph was a stepfather to Jesus, a substitute father. But he raised Jesus in a godly home, and clearly gave Jesus the foundation he needed for his earthly ministry. And while we don't know anything about Mary's mother, her older cousin Elizabeth served in a motherly role for Mary. Surely they had a close relationship, even before either miraculously became pregnant. Today we can provide family-like support for people who may feel all alone at Christmas.

Certainly there is much more. I want God to show me more. May he reveal himself powerfully, in new and fresh ways this season.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Religion and Politics

'Tis the season for...
Yes, those awkward conversations with relatives you rarely see--these conversations are just around the corner. Everyone says that you have to avoid talking about religion and politics. That's probably good advice. Interestingly, these two realms meet in places beyond the dining room table.

For millennia cultures have found that politics and religion just gravitate toward each other. Too often this combination creates tangled webs, especially when power is held as the highest value. Both religion and politics wield power in this world, and the merger of these two sources of power looks like a good way to get things done.

It reminds me of the Ring of Power in Tolkien's famous trilogy. In the story, the wizard Gandalf knows the seducing effects of this ring. He knows that he could be tempted to use the ring for good, but that the ring would work corruption in his soul, eventually leaving him incapable of sound judgment. As the old saying goes, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

And so we find good intentioned people being seduced by the siren song of power. If you just get people in office who vote the right way, the world will be a better place. It doesn't matter if these people lack personal character. All that matters is the policies they pursue.

Politicians gain power, and then we are SHOCKED when they abuse it. Wow, that's never happened before.

We can't bear to let the other team get in power, so let's elect our own vile, corrupt leaders. Then we get to defend and explain away all the crimes and abuses.

I'm amazed at the mental and moral gymnastics I see as people try to defend the defenseless.

But there is a kingdom with a perfect Leader. His kingdom is not of this world, but eyes of faith can see glimpses of his powerful reign. He says to put others first, love enemies, and trust the Father. His ideas got him crucified. Then he defeated death itself.

We are soon to celebrate his birthday.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Thoughts on Sexual Harassment

I think we made it through today without another high profile sexual harassment revelation. In recent weeks the dam has burst and the news is flooded with stories of politicians and celebrities who misbehaved.

I'm glad that these stories are coming to light. Clearly this is a bigger problem than naïve people like me had realized.

Throughout history, men have let their hormones think for them way too much. With men working alongside women more now than ever, situations arise in which men have the opportunity to use their power--whether physical, political, or economic--to force themselves sexually on women.

What we need is respect. We need to care about others more than our own desires. We need to treat others as those created in the image of God, not as objects for our own pleasure. We need God's transforming power to change our hearts.

The problem of sexual harassment is compounded when a culture keeps this dirty little secret. It could be Hollywood, a corporate boardroom, or the halls of Congress. When "everyone" knows about a problem and no one speaks out, we have a conspiracy allowing abuse.

So many people, institutions, organizations, and corporations share the blame. Why have we not said something until now? We don't want to lose our jobs. We need the funding or favor or connections of that dirty old man. We know that other people turn a blind eye, so we follow suit. We don't consider it our business, so we remain silent.

In other words, we let them get away with it.

But not anymore. Many powerful men are now sitting up straight, minding their manners, hoping that their own stories never come out. They could be next.

There are also some potential problems with the drive to get men to behave.
  • An accusation is all it takes. An innocent person's reputation can be forever tainted with a public accusation.
  • A hyper-sensitive atmosphere can lead to the misinterpretation of actions. A gesture of kindness can more easily be interpreted as unwanted contact.
  • People looking for offense communicate with much greater difficulty and less trust. Working together will be much harder and less fun.
  • A persistent man asking for a date can look like a stalker.
Even with the possible problems that come with this new sensitivity to harassment, I believe this is a good trend. Society is agreeing that sexual predators should be called to account.