A Theology of Abundance Friday, Jan 20 2017 

overflowing-cup           One of the most corrosive lines of thinking in the Church has been a “theology of scarcity.”  This idea states that there are never enough resources to do what we are called to do; that we cannot do what is needed because we don’t have enough…money, time, people, room, etc., etc.

A theology of scarcity implies that God has led us to this point, but left us here to fend for ourselves; that God calls us, but does not equip us to do the task or provide for us what is needed for the task; that we believe in God, but not that God has given us what is necessary to do the work God has called us to do.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Still, we have bought into the lie that we don’t have enough to do the work of the church, and that belief has become our excuse for not risking, not taking action, not living out who we say we are, and doing the same thing over and over in hopes that one of these times things will change.  A theology of scarcity has become an excuse for holding onto the status quo with a vice-like grip.  We can hear this theology in statements that are tainted with “my way” thinking; in statements that pine for how things were “when I was growing up”; and remarks that reflect the seven deadly words of the church: “We’ve never done it that way before.”  A theology of scarcity is what I call “me-opic” thinking – thinking that cannot/does not see beyond the end of our own noses, our own preferences.

A scarcity theology slowly erodes the mission of a church when it is not confronted and called out, allowing the church to falter in its mission.  Too often, those who uphold such thinking hold the church hostage if they are ignored.  Scarcity theology kills dreams and plans; it sometimes embitters those who work for the betterment of the church and its ministry; it refuses to put itself in the place of those who are not a part of the Church, looking only to itself as the measuring rod of what is best for all;  it stalls and stagnates both numerical and spiritual growth because no one wants to board a sinking ship or a ship that is going nowhere; and it plants the seed that God works only  in certain ways (read: “my way”).

Not only is this theology corrosive, it is not fitting with scripture.  The God who created the earth and all that is in it, provided all in abundance (Genesis 1 & 2).  The God who led God’s people out of Egypt, led them back to a place of abundance (a land flowing with milk and honey).  And the God who offered the world a way back into a right relationship with God, provided that very way in the most abundant gesture possible:  through the death of God’s own son, Jesus.

What would happen if the church began in earnest to think, speak, act, and serve through a theology of abundance, rather than a theology of scarcity?

Might the church begin to believe that we serve a God who “is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8)?

Might the church begin to speak in such ways that express its faith that God will provide all we need to do the work we’ve been given, even when all the voices around us say it can’t be done?

Might the church begin to act in faith that God’s abundance is always at hand and ready to be tapped into so that the world may be hear the Good News?

Might the church begin taking the risk of thinking about and serving others first, and thereby serve Jesus himself?

If the church is ever going to reach its community and the world, one of the greatest hurdles it must quickly overcome is thinking too small.  We must take the risk of dreaming big.   The God who has called us and to Whom we have responded in faith is not a God of too little.  No, our God is a God of abundance who provides more than enough to do what God has called us to do (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

The Christmas Rush Friday, Dec 16 2016 

 

how-many-hours-until-christmas-eyzapuizWe are impatient people, aren’t we?

Every year around this time, I hear it.  Sometimes, I get bombarded by it.

“Why aren’t we singing more Christmas songs in worship?  I don’t even know the songs we’re singing now.  Let’s have more Christmas hymns.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these statements or questions.  The problem is they all reflect a prevalent attitude many folks – even church-going folks – tightly hold: the attitude of getting through the season of Advent and rushing into Christmas.

Many folks want to forego the preparation Advent calls for.  They would rather not have to wait or prepare themselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Many would prefer skipping right over this sometimes-slowly-moving and uncomfortable season of Advent because it forces us to slow down, to pause all the hectic activities and focus on making ourselves ready for the birth of Christ.  Advent involves taking an honest look at our lives to see where we have gone astray in our journey of faith; to move beyond our superficial mindset of the “sweetness” of Christmas and looking at the difficult task of making ourselves ready: self-examination, confession and repentance.  It can be a long process.

Advent also helps us move beyond the self-centered idea that worship is all about us, as the question above reflects.  We need to be reminded that worship is not about us.  It’s all about God.  The work of Advent serves as that reminder.  We do not worship so we can sing only the songs we know and love.  We don’t worship just so we can “feel good.”  And we don’t worship to be reminded only of those parts of Jesus’ life that we most like.  We worship because it is all about God; it is our response to God’s goodness toward us.  Advent is a big part of that story.

We rush to Christmas at our own peril.  In our own Christmas rushes, we easily forget that the birth of the Messiah long ago involved waiting and watching, preparing for that day.  It still does today.  Rushing to get to Christmas means we won’t have to do the hard work of waiting and watching; of making ourselves ready to welcome the Messiah; of the humbling work of removing ourselves from the center of our own lives so that this newborn King may become the object and reason for our worship.

Living with the season of Advent is often uncomfortable.  It can be tedious.  It is often slow.  But in living with it, we become more receptive to the coming of the Christ child not only into our world, but into our lives.  And when we determine to struggle through Advent, we arrive at Christmas more ready to welcome and celebrate the arrival of the One for whom we have been waiting and preparing.

So, let’s live with the unfamiliarity and discomfort of the Advent season.  Let’s sing at the top of our lungs those unfamiliar hymns of Advent, even if we don’t like them, or appreciate them.  Let’s use this time to remember that when we sing those hymns we don’t know, when we sometimes slog through Advent, it will all be worth it because we have done the difficult work of removing from our lives all that stands in the way of fully receiving, celebrating and worshiping Christ.

We are All “Jedidiah” Wednesday, Oct 19 2016 

beloved03It is difficult – if not impossible – to pick up a newspaper or listen to the news and not hear about another scandal.  Almost every day, we can recite the latest scandal without even thinking about it.

But scandal is nothing new.  Even King David was involved in a not-too-unfamiliar scandal that shook him to his core.

While surveying his kingdom from atop his palace, he spied a beautiful young girl, named Bathsheba, bathing.  It was more than he could take.  He invited her over and she accepted.  And on thing led to another.  Soon, she returned word to David that she was pregnant…with his child!

But that was not the biggest problem.  The biggest problem was that Bathsheba was married.  What would David do about her husband, Uriah?  Well, he tried several things: he invited Uriah home from battle, told him to take some much-deserved time off and spend it with his wife, hoping that such a ruse would dispel any notion that the baby was his own.  But the plan failed.  After trying and failing again, David arranged to have Uriah killed in battle, and no one would be the wiser.

It worked.

Soon, David’s son was born.  But he was a sickly child and died a few days later.  Some time later, David, and Bathsheba had another son.  Nathan, the resident prophet, named the child “Jedidiah” which means “Beloved of the Lord.”  It was Nathan’s way of saying to David that he had been forgiven of his scandal.

Now, how many of us, like David, are carrying around a load of guilt from some indiscretion done years ago?  We can’t seem to let it go.

But there is good news!

I like to imagine the conversation between Nathan and David going like this:

Nathan appears at David’s door.  “I have seen the child,” he said.

“What did you name him?” David asked.  “Did you name him ‘Ichabod’ – ‘the glory of the Lord has departed’?  Is that what you named him?”

“No,” replied Nathan.  “I called him “Jedidiah,” ‘the beloved of the Lord’.”

God takes our sin seriously.  But what is closest to God’s heart is not our sin, but grace.  Whatever guilt you are dragging around with you, let God take it away.  Each of us is “Jedidiah” – beloved of the Lord!

Peace and Progress Friday, Sep 23 2016 

roadHuman beings tend to be people-pleasers. In general, we don’t want to do anything or say anything that would cause distress or “rock the boat.”  So, instead of risking an upset, we say or do nothing. It’s easier, we say, to just maintain the status quo. It is “nicer,” we say to ourselves, to remain where we are than to risk move forward.

But I have been convinced over the years, that peace and progress are incompatible. In other words, if you want to keep the peace, do nothing that would move forward because moving forward will upset someone. On the other hand, if you want to progress, expect the peace to be unsettled.  Again, you will upset someone.

The fact is, we cannot please everyone, even though everyone expects to be “pleased.”  But buying into the idea that we can – and should – make everyone happy is a losing battle.  Such thinking holds us hostage to small-mindedness and fear. And it holds us hostage to those who are displeased. “Peace mongers” (those who seek peace at the expense of progress) often cause stagnation in a church – or any organization – because they do not want to risk upsetting anyone or anything. They are often controlling, attempting to stop any sort of progress so that no one gets upset and people (especially themselves!) remain comfortable. Therefore, they do all they can to sabotage any forward movement.

Look at Jesus’ own ministry. At no time did Jesus allow anyone to keep him from advancing his work for the Kingdom. Many tried to stop him, many tried to “keep the peace,” many tried to convince Jesus to maintain the status quo.

But Jesus knew better. He knew that peace and progress cannot live together. And he let nothing and no one stand in his way…even if it meant losing a follower. He kept his eye on the larger picture (which is impossible for “peace-mongers”), and let that picture guide his every step, until the goal had been attained.

I thank God Jesus did not let those who wanted to keep the peace stand in the way of his mission…else our salvation would have been forfeited. I am thankful that Jesus kept pressing onward, even in the face of stiff opposition.

Ask yourself, “Where do I stand? Do I stand for peace at all cost? Or do I work for progress toward the goal God has set before us?”

You cannot have it both ways.

 

Stuff Happens Tuesday, Sep 20 2016 

stuff-happens

There have been countless times my wife, Tammy, and I have had a conversation that revolves around a statement we have often heard.  We hear the statement – or a variation of it – most often after some tragedy that has befallen a community or a family.  Quite often, it is spoken by well-meaning people – often Christian people – who feel as though they must say something in the face of another person’s pain or grief rather than remain silent.

“Everything happens for a reason.”  Or the variation: “This must have been God’s will.”  The implication is that God causes – or wills – everything that happens.

At first blush, this statement seems encouraging.  Think about it: you or your family have just endured the news of the loss of a loved one.  Word quickly spreads to your friends, community, church, and neighbors.  Like any good person would do, many flock to your side to shower you and your family with love and support.

During the rush of people coming and going, offering to help in whatever way they can – perhaps by providing meals, watching your children, taking care of household things – someone sits next to you on your couch, puts an arm around your shoulders and, as you weep at trying to take in all you have just heard, says, “Everything happens for a reason.  It’s all a part of God’s plan.  You may not know what that plan is, but God never does anything without a purpose.”

The person means well.  He or she is trying to offer comfort in what is the most painful time of your life.  That person may actually believe what was said is true, that everything does happen for some reason we may not be able to see or understand in the moment, but will become clearer as time passes.  Maybe.

Such a sentiment is often offered as comfort.  But, the truth is, it often comforts the one saying it more than the one receiving it.  In other words, it is spoken so that the one saying it is comforted in the fact that he or she “said something.”

It would be better to say nothing at all.

To begin, such an idea portrays God as uncaring, distant, aloof.  It implies that God willfully brings about tragedy.  It is as if God’s hand is literally guiding a person toward misfortune.

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Tulsa, where my father would serve as the senior pastor of an up-and-coming church.  Three days after we moved in – boxes still unpacked – dad walked in the front door, called for my mother who was in the kitchen making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch for my brother and me, and announced that their oldest son – our brother – had been killed in an accident while serving in the Army.  At that moment, the world stopped.  At nine years old, I was unable to take in what dad had just told us.  My mother collapsed on the floor; dad sat next to her.  My older brother and I just stood there, not knowing what to do or say.

Somehow, word had gotten out in the church.  Within minutes, leaders of the church were at our door.  They had come to express their sorrow and offer any help they could.  One of them was a physician.  He had come to offer his condolences and, thankfully, administer a mild sedative to my mother.  As my brother and I stood there, trying to take it all it, not knowing a single person who came into our house, I saw one of those people sit on the couch next to my mother and heard her say, “You may never know what God’s will is in all this….”

It was the first time I remember thinking to myself “Did God really cause my brother’s death?  Was the accident really not an accident, but something planned…by God?”

The accidents we experience in life – the accident that took my brother’s life – is just that: a random event that.

It was not part of God’s plan.

It was not a case of “everything happens for a reason.”

It was not God’s will.

It just happened.

Simply because a random tragic event occurs – as devastating as it may be – does not mean that good cannot come from it.  The death of my brother serves as an example.  Because of his death, my family was better able to minister to families who have found themselves in similar situations.  We know what it is like to lose a loved on to random events with tragic endings.

God does not will everything that happens.  But in everything that happens, God wills good to come from it.

When tragedy strikes, perhaps knowing this will move us closer to the love, beauty, and wholeness toward which God is constantly calling us.

 

 

 

Show Your Hands Friday, Sep 16 2016 

14355562_1387264054635953_5237183740254737919_n  A worn out, dying saint of the church said to her pastor at her bedside, “In a little while, I shall see my Lord. I wonder how he will recognize me.” To which the pastor replied, “Just show him your hands.”

Maybe it will be as important to “show our hands” as to “give our names” when we stand before God.

Being Good vs Doing Good Thursday, Feb 4 2016 

Do Good.jpg

During the Great Depression, a certain Methodist “steward” had to sell his favorite milk cow.

“Ol’ Bessie is a fine milk cow,” the Methodist steward said.

“How much you want for her?” asked a prospective buyer.

“Twenty dollars”, came the answer.

“How much milk does she give?”

“Four gallons a day,” answered the owner.

“How do I know she’ll give that much?”

“Oh,” said the owner, “I’m a good man. Why I’m a steward in the Methodist church.”

“I’ll take the cow home,” said the buyer, “and later this week, when I’m back this way, I’ll bring the money. I’m a good man, too. I’m a deacon in my church.”

At the dinner table that evening the Methodist lay person explained the deal to his wife. “Oh, by the way,” he said, “what is a deacon?”

“A deacon,” she answered, “is about the same thing as a steward.”

Wide-eyed panic spread over the steward’s face. “Oh no,” he moaned. “I’ve just lost Ol’ Bessie!”

~~~~~~~~~

Moral: Being good and doing good are not the same thing. Being Good must result in doing good.

Wine or Vinegar? Thursday, Jan 14 2016 

cranky-lady

When I was growing up, I can remember seeing road-side peddlers selling their goods on the old country roads near where my grandparents lived. I recall my father telling a story about one of those peddlers who would sell or trade his “merchandise” for just about anything. If his clients had no money and nothing to trade, he would offer to take junk of their hands; he would then resell that junk to make a little cash.

At one house not far from where he would sell his junk, there lived a woman who was known to be less than pleasant and who had a stern religion and sour disposition. One day, seeing the woman in her yard, raking leaves, the peddler stopped and offered to “put a little joy into her life” with some of his merchandise. All at bargain prices, of course.

“Not interested!” she snapped.

Refusing to give up quickly, the peddler then said, “Well, do you have any junk I could take off your hands, like old wine bottles?” Outraged by his implication that she was the type of woman who drank, she glared at the old peddler and said, “Do I look like the kid of woman who would drink wine?” Quickly, the peddler replied, “I suppose not. But you are bound to have several empty vinegar bottles around!”

~~~~~~~~

Moral: Disposition often betrays true character.

 

Words Matter Tuesday, Oct 20 2015 

words_matterSeveral years ago, I shared the following story with our friend Leonard Sweet.  I was reminded of it this morning while looking through my Facebook news feed and thought I’d share it here…

Words matter.  My family has had a long friendship with Bishop Monk Bryan and his family.  Many years ago, while attending a gathering at which Bishop Bryan was speaking, he told us the story of when he was growing up in a tiny community called Goat Hill.  Over the years, he overheard people of the community talking about the future of their fair city.  No one was moving in, all the young folks were moving out, those who left to attend college never returned, no new businesses saw any reason to move into Goat Hill, and some businesses were closing up or moving away to larger, more promising towns.  The outlook was grim.

One day, the elders of the community met to discuss the fate of their hometown.  One member of the community stood and made a rather radical sounding suggestion: why not change the name of the town to something more appealing than Goat Hill?  Why not change the name to something with a little flare and character?  Something that would catch the attention of anyone who might be looking for a new home or place to start their business.  After much discussion and debate, those who were there asked the old man if he had any specific ideas.  “How about Angora Heights”? he asked.

Everyone’s attitude and outlook changed almost immediately.  And, after a few short years, the town turned around both economically and demographically.

~~~~

Our words matter…choose them carefully.

Advancing by Adversity Wednesday, Sep 30 2015 

overcoming-adversitySomething to Ponder:

E. Stanley Jones was a friend of the family and a personal hero of mine.  During a preaching mission at the church my father was serving many years ago, E. Stanley told the story of the experience he had as he watched an eagle face a storm high in the Himalayan Mountains. The storm brewed at the edge of the valley toward which the eagle was flying. The question rose in Jones’ mind whether the eagle would fly around the fury of the storm, or fly carelessly into it and be dashed against the rocks. His question was answered before his very eyes. The eagle set its wings in such a way the air currents send him ascending high above the storm. The eagle had used the force of air currents, which threatened its life to rise to greater heights.

If eagles have the ability to use a negative force to rise above threat, imagine what you and I have the ability to do with a similar force. Jesus is the supreme example of what can be done in unpromising situations. He faced a “kangaroo court” and came away the only one with a pure heart and noble motives. He took the raging brutality of a rugged cross and lifted it as a symbol of forgiveness for all. It was history’s most noble act.

From the example Jesus set, it looks like the difference between the desire for good and its becoming real is our own decision – the decision to allow every adversity to do something for you rather than to you.

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