Monday, September 30, 2019

All the Right Answers

I thought that by now I would have a lot more answers. Turns out that I had a lot more answers when I was younger. I was in hot pursuit of the right model of doing church, the right theology (you know, the one that answers all the questions), the right way to disciple others, the right way to lead people, the right way to grow a church, the right way to answer the questions of a godless culture, the right way to vote.

I just thought that I would have more of life figured out by now, after 30 years in ministry. Maybe I know more than I realize. But it seems like I have more questions than ever. In fact some of the things I once knew, I don’t really know anymore. The more I study the Bible, the more depth and nuance I find.

What happens when a person dies? Does a Christian immediately go to heaven? Then what happens at the final Resurrection? Does that usher in the kingdom of heaven? What about all the visions of heaven that speak of heaven on earth? Isn’t there some final authority on end times? Doesn’t anybody have it all figured out? Who is actually going to be in heaven? Isn’t this earth going to be discarded?

At this point in ministry, I expected to be in a suburban church, a pastor of some sort, working in a well-oiled machine of ministry. We would have answers to all the questions. We would have discipleship programs for all ages and interests. We would take care of the needy, in a sanitized way of course. We would knock on doors and find people hungry for the good news, ready to join us. They would come to our VBS, our Christmas programs, our Easter shows. They would pray the right prayers at the right times to get right with God through Jesus. They would get baptized and invite their friends to plug into our ministry. They would all live nice, happy, Christian lives and smile at their neighbors.

My training never prepared me for a life of unanswered questions. I learned how a normal church should run. But there are no normal churches anywhere. Only churches with problems. Some problems and churches are bigger than others. Problems must be addressed right away, and then church will be right and normal again. But “normal” is fiction.

Life is deeper than I knew. There are grey areas. There are good questions without definitive answers. There are people who will challenge my assumptions. Even my role models and gurus don’t have all the answers. Life is mysterious, much more so than I ever knew.

Maybe that’s the big surprise: the more I try to figure out life, the more mysterious it becomes. I thought by now I would have fewer questions. I thought that I understood life years ago. Now I see that I don’t. While my understanding grows, the mystery grows more.

There will always be questions. I will never figure everything out.

But somehow there is joy. It is a profound joy. It is a joy in the swirl of mystery. It is richer and more satisfying than knowing everything. Thank God.

Friday, September 27, 2019

2 Words in Heaven

I recently heard someone on the radio say that he couldn't wait to hear God's first words to him in heaven: "Well done." This is a reference to Jesus' parable in Matthew 25, in which a master entrusts money to his servants to invest while the master is away. Those who invest well receive the master's commendation when he returns: "Well done, you good and faithful servant."

Lots of Christians serve God with enthusiasm and energy, hoping to hear those two words. Of course we want to use our resources well, to be good stewards. We Americans are achievers, and we want to achieve all we can for Jesus. We want him to be proud of us. We want him to wonder what he would do without us. We want to earn his respect.

Some of us may wonder if we are doing enough. What if Jesus doesn't give us the high five of superior production? What if we could have done better?

Sadly, the truth is that we all could have done better. Uh oh. Maybe we idolize those words of congratulations from Jesus. Maybe we really want to worship our resumes, and get God to follow us on Instagram. We achievers want some by-God recognition, especially there in heaven where everybody's watching.

Could we be missing the point?

I'm not sure that Jesus will tell me, "Well done." I have certainly not maximized achievement with the resources given to me. And frankly, I don't especially want to hear that from him.

The two words I long to hear from Jesus are:

"Hi Dave!"

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

7 Types of Friends

As I reflect on the power of relationships, I see that there are different ways that people approach friendship.  I'm just making this stuff up, but it seems to make sense.  Here are some types of friends that I see.

The Hider avoids relationships at every turn.  He enters every conversation looking for a way to end  He may fear being exposed, or may feel inadequate.  The hider wants to be discovered, but doesn’t feel worthy.  He wants to see the other person make the effort, because only then can he tell if that person truly wants to be friends.

The Diver jumps right in.  She has never met a stranger.  She tells you her life story in the grocery line.  Everyone is interested in her life, or so she thinks.  The diver gets in too deep too fast in nearly every relationship, and often gets hurt.  The diver shares so much information, that it overwhelms her friends.  Others may find themselves avoiding divers.

The Runner runs from relationship.  It’s hard to catch a runner.  He will avoid commitment, and cancel plans with flimsy excuses.  Runners are content to be alone, and don’t believe that Jesus wants to bless them through friendships.  Friendship is valuable, but he would rather observe it than experience it.

The Stone Waller is an easy person to get to know—at first.  This person makes friends easily, but only allows people to get so close.  When the relationship reaches a certain point, the stone waller refuses to go deeper.  Such people have experienced hurt with too much vulnerability, and they don’t want to go there again.  They may have lots of shallow friends, and constantly see people go in and out of their lives.

The Tiptoer goes into relationship slowly.  She gradually gains trust and earns respect.  The tiptoer counts the cost of friendship very carefully.  She wants deep friendships, but finds it difficult to open up.  When she feels betrayed or let down by someone, she takes that person off the deep friendship track in her life.  She may have lots of friends, but only a few close friends.  

The Clinger constantly looks for one person to escort him through life.  This is a needy person who will use up anyone who openly befriends him.  The clinger may turn on someone who begins pulling away.

The Normal Person is a fictitious creation that we all imagine is out there somewhere.  Well, maybe not. But I think that even normal people sometimes slide into one of the patterns above. Our challenge is to love people, even when they act weird.  And we can hope that others will love us when we are.  

Even more amazing is that God uses all these weird people in our lives to shape us into more godly people.  Only God could do that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tony Bennett, wow

University of Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett did a mind-blowing thing this week. He turned down money. He has enough.


(See this article.)

Who turns down a raise? What national championship coach says, "No thank you," to more?

When the University of Virginia administration offered the new contract terms, Bennett said they were "very gracious in what they offered me as a potential contract, but I have a very good contract." He went on to say, "I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men's basketball], that's my desire."

Furthermore, Bennett gave a half million dollars to an initiative to help UVA basketball players with career training.

At 50 years of age, Bennett gets it. As rewarding as power and money can be, they are not what life is about. He obviously cares about people, relationships, and a well-rounded athletic program. He puts his principles into practice.

With his rejection of this lucrative contract, Bennett is saying more than mere words could possibly say. He's saying more than he could ever say by taking the money.

He is inspiring his players, his institution, and the world of sports to live for something that an agent could never negotiate for.

Maybe some of us have been chasing after the wrong things.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A New Thing

Nothing is older than God. But as old as he is, God still does new things.

He has been thinking about new things for a long time. In Isaiah 43, God says,

See, I am doing a new thing
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

God is still doing new things today. As we continue our "All Things New" series this Sunday, we will explore the new things God is doing today.

God is always doing new things. Unfortunately we may not perceive it. There's a new sunrise, a new opportunity, a new baby, new wine, new harvest, new moon.

God is doing a new thing today. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Are you ready for something new?

Every fall makes me think about newness. Maybe it's a throwback to my days as a student. Every fall is a new school year, with new notebooks, class schedules, maybe some new clothes; new classes, new teachers, new friends. As students go back to school in the fall, I feel the newness with them.

And God likes new things, too. He's always doing something new.

We're beginning a new sermon series in worship this Sunday, "All Things New." Just think about all the new things in scripture: new creation, new song, new thing, new birth, new wine, new command, new covenant, new mind.

Maybe it's time for something new in your life. When your faith feels old, tired, and dusty, it's time for the new that Jesus brings. God takes newness to a whole other level.