Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Breaking Lamps at the Library

Last night in our bi-weekly Men's Group, we talked about avoidance - a problem that greatly impacted King David's family during the latter part of his reign. Despite the fact that his son Amnon raped his daughter Tamar, David never confronts Amnon about this but merely allows the anger and resentment to build. On top of this, when Absalom, Tamar's full brother gets wind of what's happened, he too fails to confront Amnon. Instead, Absalom takes matters into his own hands and has Amnon killed. Afraid for his own life and the rebuke of his father David, Absalom takes off for Geshur and hides out there for three years, again avoiding the need to deal honestly with what's occured.

Not surprisingly, we still avoid things. Personally, I avoid conflict. In most cases, I would rather run in the opposite direction than face conflict head on. Only a few days ago, I was at the local library where I did something that I'm still embarrassed about. I knocked over a lamp, conveniently located on one of the tables, and it shattered into hundreds of pieces. A glass lamp in a library of all things! What were they thinking! After I did this, the little boy in me wanted to run as fast as I could for the front doors in order to get out of there before I was caught. Then, the pastor in me realized that instead of avoiding the fact that I'd broken something, I needed to fess up and go tell someone. I quickly found a wonderful lady named Faith who was willing to help me pick up the pieces while I apologized profusely for my blunder.

All this to say, that although it's tough at times to face up to the situations that life offers us (including those embarrassing situations that happen every so often when we'd rather run instead), one of the core values that I'm convinced that God has given everyone is honesty. If we're avoiding conflict, then we're not dealing honestly with it. So, despite how difficult it might be, face up to whatever circumstances you find yourself in. I can promise you that you'll feel better for doing so.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

At the Mall

Last week, on Valentine's Day, my wife and I went on a date (Yes, we still go on dates at age 36). After a nice lunch at one of the chain restaurant's, we took a few minutes to stroll through the mall and do some window shopping. Then we noticed it: Four different jewelry stores on four different corners all facing each other. My immediate thought was how in the world would you choose? As a customer looking for a piece of jewelry for your loved one, how would you ever decide which of the stores to shop at? From an outsider's perspective, they all looked the same. Yes, their signs were different and their carpet may have been a different color, but even these differences were only minute from my view. From a distance, they looked virtually the same. As we walked along, I asked Cara "How do they differentiate themselves from each other?" Without a whole lot of time to think about it, I think we were both puzzled.

In this way, I wonder how many of our churches to an outsider seem no different from a distance. Like the jewelry store, there's one on just about any corner that you come to as you're driving along. In fact, on some corners in West Michigan, there are four of them and they are all facing each other! So, what makes a church different from the church right across the street? A couple of things stand out to me when I think about this.

First, let's start with the people. I could walk into one jewelry store and receive wonderful customer service and a friendly smile. Yet, I could walk into the store directly across from them and get just the opposite. Maybe they are even so busy that I stand there waiting for several minutes before I actually speak to someone. Likewise, the people in the church are undoubtedly a HUGE factor in winning a return visit or not from the first time shopper.

Secondly, let's look at the product being sold. While it may seem like one jewelry store is selling the identical thing as the store across the way, when you really get up close, you begin to see that there are some differences, albeit sometimes very subtle. Likewise, when you begin to examine a church and the "product" they are selling, you begin to see that each church offers a unique product. Some churches offer a great kids program while other churches focus on putting together a dynamic time of worship. Others focus largely on missions and outreach while other spend their time largely and sadly on maintenance alone.

So, despite how similar churches may look from an outsiders perspective, they are all unique in their approach to ministry. Some I would never shop at and others I would definitely return to over and over again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rethinking My Theology of Baptism

I must admit that the idea of baptism has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. What I mean is that I've always had a certain level of difficulty getting my head around the meaning, purpose, and intent of Christian baptism. I guess this shouldn't be too big a surprise since many churches are at odds to explain the mode and timing of such an event. Early on in my Christian walk, I was told that in order to become a member of the church, I needed to be baptized. At first I was appalled! I knew that I was a Christian so why should I need to stand up in front of the church, say a few words, get all wet, just to proclaim publicly what I already knew in my heart. In my eyes, it wasn't necessary for salvation so why should I do it?

In recent days, I've been studying the topic with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed sense to get at the heart of what the bible teaches on this subject. I've also been reading other comments and commentary on the subject to lend a helping hand. One such work is Ben Witherington's recent book titled Troubled Waters: Rethinking The Theology of Baptism. In a few sentences, I'd like to offer some remarks about the book and how it is helping to shape and refine my own view on the subject.

First and foremost, the Bible is largely not the place to turn for a prescriptive plan and procedure for baptism. While we can try, and many churches have, to conjure up a systematic theology of baptism, we would be wrong in doing so. The bible is simply less than thorough in this regards. For instance, it never tells us explicitly when the children of believing parents should be baptized. To argue on one side of this issue as a proponent of infant baptism and to argue on the other side as a defender of adult baptism is to argue from inference and not clear evidence (Witherington, 128).

A second item that I'd like to briefly reflect upon is the point or purpose of baptism. What happens and what does not happen? Here Witherington makes the distinction between water baptism and spirit baptism. In short, he states that water baptism is not an act of God and thereby not an act of grace but simply the gift of God to the Christian community. Moreover, it's the first step in the process of the Christian life, enrollment in the school of Christ if you will. I must say that this is a departure from my traditional understanding of the sacrament of baptism that attributed a more mysterious nature to the sacrament itself.

Enough thoughts for today. I'd be curious what you think.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Pastor's Snow Day

What's a pastor do when he/she gets a snow day? You might think that he spends the entire day in study and doing other pastorly sort of things. Or you might think that he or she would spend some good quality time with family. Well, what did this pastor do? Sleep mostly.

I've finally succumbed to what my entire family has been dealing with all week. The common cold/flu is taking its toll on me. I was raring to go this morning, but I know that had we had services, I would have probably dropped dead soon afterwords. So, when this pastor gets a snow day, he sleeps most of the day away in hopes that all will be well tomorrow morning. Pray for me. It's time for yet another dose of Tylenol.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Never Satisfied

For those of you that are kind enough to visit my blog on a regular basis, you've probably witnessed a different look on several occasions. Truth is, I'm rarely satisfied with the way my blog looks. And even when I do find some level of satisfaction, it's not long before I'm ready for a change and find myself on an all out pursuit to find the perfect template to fit true character of what I'm trying to say. What I've learned is that you can spend a ton of time looking in vain pursuit for such a look, but until I actually learn how to write the code for myself, I'll never be truly happy. And because I'll never probably spend the time to learn how to create my own template from scratch, I'll more than likely always be using some form of generic template. So, once again, I return to an old friend of mine that I find rather useful and the most aesthetically pleasing to my eye (for today anyway). We'll have to wait and see how I feel tomorrow.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pizza and the Bible

I'm a big fan of pizza-I could eat it just about every day. In fact, if I had my way, I'd probably eat it every night. The beauty of pizza for me is that depending on where you buy it from, it can span the taste spectrum. What I mean is that Pizza Hut pizza tastes different than Papa Jon's pizza. Dominoes Pizza tastes different than Little Caesar's pizza and this is a good thing (and that doesn't even take into account all the other pizza chain places as well as the Mom and Pop kind of pizza joints that are out there that make incredibly delicious pizza). Depending on what you're feeling like, you can find a pizza that can meet you precisely where you want it to in regards to taste.

In this way, God's Word is a lot like pizza. It spans the spectrum of all of our needs. Sometimes we crave wisdom and when we do, where better to turn to satisfy our spiritual taste buds than a fresh look at the Proverbs. Other times, when life doesn't seem so chipper, perhaps what we crave is an honest reading of the Psalms and the vast spectrum of emotions that we find therein. If we're feeling like a historian, where better to turn than to the historical books of the bible for a fresh taste of Israelite history. I think you get the point (and I haven't even talked about the all you can eat buffet that we find in our New Testament). The fact is, wherever we are on the rollercoaster known as life, God's Word is always there waiting for us to dig in. So start digging today. I can assure you that you won't be disappointed.