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The Disproportionate Blessing Of Blessing Others

October 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm

scale balance 2There are times when I look at some of the aspects of my faith and I know that it is God’s work in spite of me.

I mean, of course I’m going to say that I’m not as bad as other people. But I’m a pretty selfish person. Just ask my family.

And yet, I have been contemplating the words attributed to Jesus by Paul in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Though we do not have the exact situation for this saying recorded in Scripture but we also have no reason to doubt Paul. John himself closes his Gospel by telling us that there are other things that happened that were not written down (John 20:30). In fact, so many other things that if they were all written down, the world couldn’t even hold the books (John 21:25).

Paul, though, certainly attributes this saying to Jesus. So it might help to initially ask if this is something in keeping with the known teachings and sayings of Jesus that we do have. It certainly seems to be in line with other sayings from Jesus. For example, Matthew 20:28 reminds us that the Son of Man: “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” But Jesus didn’t just talk the talk, He walked the walk, actually laying down His life for the sake of others. All, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 12:2), Jesus went to the Cross for the joy set before Him.

But Jesus is God! How can I be expected, as Paul commands in Philippians 2, to consider others as more significant than myself? I mean, after all, it’s survival of the fittest, right? If I don’t look out for number one, number two will become number one, then I’ll be number two!

But Jesus replaces our natural inclinations. He replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36). And by laying not only His “rights” but His life down, He frees me from the chains of selfishness and reveals to me a new way of living and loving. Jesus demonstrates for us that love, by definition, seeks the benefit of others. This is a difficult thing to grasp, because it seems so foreign that it really is better to give than to receive.

And yet there’s a bit of everyday wisdom here, isn’t there? My mother-in-law says that when you do something nice, it makes you feel good under your left rib. But, are warm fuzzies really enough to convince me that I should put others before myself? I mean, though having eight kids, is a lot of work, it can be quite tiring, as much as I love the kids. What if there’s something deeper than an emotional response from serving others? What if this is what it means to be truly human after all? Rather than seeking our own benefit, what if we have been created, not only to exist in community, but to serve others. And, as we serve others, our community becomes stronger, and as the community becomes stronger, we also become stronger.

What if our real good is not found in getting ahead, but in helping others get ahead? Could this be part of the reason that God tells Israelite captives in Babylon to seek the welfare of their captors’ city because in the city’s good they will find their own good (Jeremiah 29)? And as we place others before ourselves, we are not displaying that we have become partakers of the divine nature, as the Spirit in us enables us to live as God commands.

What if Jesus meant what He said? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s all go out and serve others. Let’s prefer giving to receiving. And then let’s come back and talk about it.

 

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Is This Really What We’ve Come To: “Now You Look More Pastoral”

October 22, 2013 at 9:29 am

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I try to keep my rants to myself. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s one of the only reasons I blog; because no one listens to me in real life. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration as well. I mean, after all, I get to preach, so people have to at least pretend to listen to me once a week.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about talking about is something I have already talked about, which is often the case. As a pastor, one of the things I desperately want for people is the freedom that Christ brings. So many of us are weighed down by life and Jesus promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). That means, many Christians are still trying to carry burdens Jesus has told us to drop.

This carries over in to all areas of life, but one of them that really troubles me is Christian community (or the lack thereof). As deeply as Christians should feel free to be the unique expressions of themselves, we are shallowly guilty of promoting stereotypes that actually constrain our ability to serve others.

What I mean is this: holiness is a messy business. And it doesn’t look the same for all of us. We don’t all mature at the same pace. We aren’t all going through the same things. We all have different quirks (some good, some bad). We all have different tastes and expressions. Except when we don’t.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to most people that Christians are often just as guilty as cramming each other into stereotypes as everyone else. We just have our own stereotypes. Trust me, I am expected to fit them all. OK, maybe that’s another exaggeration, but being a pastor can be frustrating business. Not only are pastors expected to give their entire lives to others with no agreed-upon expectations or hours, it often seems as if we have to earn the right to sacrifice for others.

Case in point: I had a beard for almost 8 months and I decided to shave it because I love my wife more than myself (or my beard). It wasn’t long before I heard from several people that I looked more “pastoral” after shaving. Really? What does that even mean? I didn’t fit the image of what you think a pastor should look like?!  Jesus had a beard for crying out loud! Was he not pastoral? Or was that OK for his cultural context and not ours? So now, I have to meet false cultural considerations about my facial hair so that I can earn the right to sacrifice my life for the sake of people who are concerned with whether or not I have a beard?! . . . whew . . . Sorry about that. I just had to get that off my chest. I mean, come on, Christians have argued about beards for years. But the issue is not really facial hair, is it?

The issue is that we equate someone’s love for Jesus based on silly stereotypes rather than actually getting to know people. After all, if Not Every Local Church Is For Every Person as I suspect, then what you think of as “pastoral,” may be nothing more than a stereotype of someone you think you’d like to follow. When people complain that their pastors don’t meet their expectations, we’re saying more about ourselves than that particular pastor.

Christians of all people should be able to leave stereotypes behind and love each other for who we really are. Only then, when we’re freed from unnecessary and often unspoken expectations will we be able to love each other sacrificially.

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Losing Is Not An Option

October 21, 2013 at 7:48 am

1382349_10151944624161450_1668478974_nMuch to the delight of many of my friends who know my dislike towards most major sporting-event cultures, football included, my second son has started playing tackle football this season. He’s really good. And I’m not just saying that because I’m his Daddy. He’s a natural and even scored his first touchdown in his very first game. But now I’m just bragging.

Because of weigh-ins, etc., we have to arrive an hour before game-time. I bring a book but I actually get caught up watching people. People are endlessly interesting when you take the time to look. There was a pee-wee game before our game (is that actually what it’s called? The little kids, like 5-6 years old?). I started reading during weigh-ins but I was quickly sidetracked by two women from one side yelled at a woman from the other team.

I won’t repeat what was yelled (my ears still hurt), but here’s the gist: A woman from the other team (and by that, I simply mean the team on the other side of the field from where I was sitting), came to stand on the sidelines of the opposing team. She would follow the coaches around and report back, via cell-phone to her home team what the opposing team’s coaches were saying. Two of the woman on the team nearest me overheard this and began verbally assaulting the cell-phone spy. I mean, verbally assaulting. There’s no nicer way to refer to what they did.

The ref was called over. The game was paused. Threats of calling the police were exchanged. And all this over the pee wee game! Of course this is where I get on my soap-box about raising our children with an unhealthy sense of competition and convince them from an early age that they should be better than others. Competitive sports can be healthy but are more often than not, breeding grounds for the ugliness of the human heart.
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As if all of this wasn’t interesting enough to distract me from my book, there were bigger thoughts than just sports swirling about in the fog of my brain. The team closest to wear I was sitting, the team whose privacy had been violated by the cell-phone spy, and who had responded so caustically, was dressed in black. And pink. Because of course they were dressed in pink. And the adults had on team shirts with “Losing Is Not An Option” emblazoned in pink across their backs, with the “Breast Cancer Awareness” pink bow as part of the team logo.

Now don’t get me wrong, I oppose cancer. Cancer sucks. I have lost an almost lost family and friends to cancer. I support cancer research. But I’m not comfortable aligning opposition to cancer with competitive sports so that “Losing Is Not An Option” can refer to either.

What’s wrong with instilling a  healthy sense of competition into our children you might ask? Nothing. I talk to my son a lot about trying his best, about funneling nervous energy and all that stuff. But, let’s be honest, is it healthy, much less kind to teach our children that “Losing is not an option,” whether in sports or the fight against cancer. People die from cancer every day. Certainly they are not failures. Anything but.

And people lose football games every day. And most of them are not failures. But many of them believe they are failures because they have been told that failure is not an option. This is nothing but unkind to our children. Part of the beauty of children’s sports is teaching our young ones to win with humility and lose with grace.

But it’s nothing to treat people like mere obstacles in your path when failure is not an option. It’s nothing to spy on the coaches or scream obscenities, curses, threats and denigrations at someone when failure is not an option. Is’s nothing to to gauge worth by success or failure. It’s easy to forget that we are people dealing with other people.

I want my son to succeed. But I want him to love people even more. I want him to know that when he loses (and someday he will) that he is not a loser. I want him to learn from defeat rather than suffer from it. When losing is not an option, we forget that the opposing team is just as much made in the image of God as we are. When losing is not an option, we proclaim that we are better than Jesus Himself, who, through death, turned everything upside down.

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. . . Sometimes You Change Your Mind . . . (Sabbatical Edition)

October 6, 2013 at 3:25 pm

boy-resting-1890Has real-life ever kicked you in the idealism?

Are there things you said then that you certainly don’t think now?

This morning, the elders of Church of the Cross (of which I am one), announced that, beginning November 01, I will begin a three-month sabbatical.

I have  been in “paid ministry” for around ten years now. After having served as an Associate Pastor in KY, and serving four years in TX, in 2008 my family and I moved back to Glendale, AZ to plant a church. It was a return home for me and nearly one for my wife. We hit the ground running planting Church of the cross, beginning with 12 adults and 16 kids in the living room of our rented house.

Here we are, a little over five years into it and we can only marvel at God’s faithfulness. He has brought together a group of people who are serious about loving God and others. And, though it has been a lot of work, it has truly been a joy to point to Jesus with these people who truly are my family.

But no matter how much our ministries may (or may not be) be fueled by joy, years of bearing other people’s burdens can become tiresome. Even Jesus withdrew regularly. And, as this weight began to catch up with us, God changed our lives forever.

Kristi and I have been foster parents for a while now. Almost 15 months ago, we got a call asking if we could pick up a two-day-old baby boy from the hospital. We have had “Baby G” (since he is still technically a ward of the state, I cannot reveal his name) ever since. He is a Bozo-haired joy and we love him. Period. And God has allowed us to begin the process of adopting him. In May, we got a call from CPS asking if we could take Baby G’s three older siblings (who were also in a foster home). We said yes immediately (read more here, here, here, and here).

Though we are still convinced that taking all the kids was the right thing to do, and though these kids are true blessings, we are tired. And, a few months ago, I began to realize that I had been wrong about something. Reality was butting heads with my idealism. I remember saying that I didn’t understand pastors who took sabbaticals. I mean, if a pastor felt burnout, that’s just because his relationship with God isn’t sustaining him, right? Sort of the same way some Christians still ignore the biological aspects of things like depression or teach that if you don’t believe in a literal six-day creation then you don’t believe the rest of the Bible. But I digress.

It has taken me ten years to remember that God has built regular rhythms of rest into created order itself. Yes, I’m a slow learner. Even Jesus regularly withdrew from the crowds to find solitude and seek refreshment in prayer.

So, beginning in November, I will begin a three-month sabbatical.

This means that, though I will preach once approximately every 5 weeks during that time, I will hold no other responsibilities for the church as a “paid pastor.” Our other elders (who are awesome, by the way), and others will divide up my current daily responsibilities and the elders will be spiritually shepherding our family through this time.

This does not mean we will disappear. We will not withdraw from community. We will regularly (but maybe not always) worship with our church family. Though we will not be leading, we will still be part of our missional community and both Kristi and I will continue meeting regularly with our DNA groups. We just won’t be the contact people for our church or missional community families for a while. We will be encouraged to rest.

This process has made us incredibly thankful for our church family and the God who holds us together. We are thankful for supportive elders and a loving church family. We are incredibly humbled by this opportunity and we can’t wait to see how God grows us during this time.

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Neko Case Sings With The Heart Of A Foster Parent

September 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

neko-case-the-worse-things-getAlright, let’s get the obvious out of the way: I realize that the audio I’m about to post will offend some of my more sensitively-eared readers. Be warned, there is cussing. Not only is there cussing, there is the F-Bomb, the mother of all. Now, I don’t cuss. Nor do I personally advocate cussing, especially in everyday language. It makes you sound ignorant, crass and thoughtless. There is so much power in carefully chosen words that most cussing just seems like the easy way out to me.

However, in movies, art, and music, there might be a case to be made for the strategically placed obscenity. Sometimes there are no better words to express a deep angst of the heart. This song may be one of those exceptions. It hurts my ears when Case let’s loose with the expletive precisely because of the context; because of the way it happened and it’s supposed to hurt because the words were supposed to hurt their recipient. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those who may not be familiar with Neko Case, she’s come through the musical ranks in a similar fashion to Wilco; starting with both feet firmly planted in “alt. country,” then stepping out into controlled pop experimentation. Case started out playing drums in Vancouver punk bands and is part of the power pop super-group New PornographersPitchfork recently tried to describe her voice, saying: “Case has a moonbeam for a voice: imposing in timbre, opalescent in tone, and always surprising in its sheer force.” That’s about right.

Case just released her new album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You on anti-Records. Though I would love to write about the whole album, I have to admit that the first time I listened through, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the song “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” I have long been accustomed to the power of music, but I was simply unprepared for the salty discharge that seeped from eyes as Case sang a layered a capella tale about transcending an abusive childhood. I cried not only because Case candidly tells the story of an everyday encounter that is the tip of the iceberg of a child’s suffering, but because my wife and I have sacrificed a lot to help with that suffering.

We currently have eight children, four of whom are foster children. By no stretch of the imagination has it been easy. In fact, it’s often been pretty difficult. We can’t go in out in public with all eight children without receiving comments or visibly seeing people count with their fingers “1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7 . . . 8 . . .” usually accompanied by some sort of “Boy, you sure have your hands full” type of comment, or worse, a snarky comment about having too many children. It has cost us money to serve. It has cost us time to open our home. We regularly invite CPS and others into our home so that we can jump through their hoops to have the the privilege of sacrificing for children that aren’t biologically ours.

Though we personally do this from Christian motives, Case’s song taps into something deeply entrenched in our daily lives: we are giving love to children who might otherwise not know it existed. We are providing security to kids who desperately long for stability. I don’t say this to pat ourselves on the back, just to give you a glimpse behind the curtain. We are asked all the time why we would do this. Case makes a powerful case for why we do this in just 2 minutes and 38 seconds. This is probably a good place for you to hear the track for yourself:

 




 

The fact that Case took the time to write a song about this incident shows that it affected her and I can’t help but shout “YES!” as she insists that, as that child grows up, there is still love, despite their experience. There is a place for that child, they have value, despite what their Mom has done and said. Case not only documents the brutality of life but the hope of love. She not only lets us look into the shadows but points us to the light. No, it’s not comfortable, but then again, neither is much of life. Case sings with the heart of a foster parent and I’m grateful that she has put into song some things we wrestle with everyday.

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The Weekly Town Crier Moves

August 30, 2013 at 10:46 am

packing-cases-298459-mFor many years, I have had a regular blog post called “The Weekly Town Crier” in which i have collected links of varying degrees of interest and passed them along to people of varying degrees of interest.

The intent was always to promote and provoke thought and discussion.

In fact, it quickly became my most popular post. No matter how good everything else I have written has been. Now, don’t worry, the Town Crier will continue, but after lots of thought, discussion and planning, it will move. It will no longer be here at my personal blog. I will continue to write here but as you may have noticed, I don’t get to it much lately.

You may or may not know that I am part of something called Habañero Collective. This is something that began as a podcast that explored and challenged the idea of “Christian music.” After 14 or 15 episodes of the podcast, including a special feature on The Trees Community, we felt like we had said what we wanted to say.

Then we started hosting concerts. In homes. You see, we live in the West Valley of Phoenix where there is no music scene to speak of. Under normal circumstances, my first reaction is to blog about such injustices. But in this case, we decided to start hosting concerts. This lasted several years and we have met some fantastic people and I can honestly say that some of my favorite musical experiences ever have been hosted by us (Seryn, Aaron Spiro, Chris Bathgate, Ramsay Midwood, and others). That’s pretty cool.

While the house shows have continued to grow, so has Habañero Collective’s vision. As the vision has grown, so has the website. Our new website will regularly feature and promote local, national and international arts and culture. We will eventually feature regular, original content and lots of links to interesting things. It makes sense to move the Town Crier to that site, which happened today.

  • Visit the Town Crier at his new home now. Hope to see you there.

 

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The Weekly Town Crier

August 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

IMG_0599Yabba Dabba Doo, Scooby Doo, How You Do? Ahh’ighty, Tighty Whitey. Okie Dokie Artichokie. Until then, you big Baboon.

Welcome to the Twerkly Town Crier.

Be my Facebook friend. It’s not real until it’s on Facebook.

Follow my Twitterings.

Browse the music I’ve been listening to.

Stay tuned to the Habañero Collective events page for house show upcomings or check out out new concert-only website, Habañero Shows.

Take a Tumbl with me.

Browse Buzzfeed‘s list of “27 Breathtaking Record Stores You Have To Shop At Before You Die.”

Read Huffington Post’s piece: “Lutherans Elect First Female Bishop.”

Read Salon‘s piece interviewing Alan Moore about crowd-sourcing: “the revolution will be crowd-funded.”

Read about the recent study that found that “One out of five non-Christians in North America doesn’t know any Christians.”

Read Consequence Of Sound’s urging celebrities: “Please stop trampling on the graves of dead musicians.”

Read the Art of Manliness‘ suggestions for “How to Decorate a Man Room.”

See Maslow’s (updated) Hierarchy of Needs.

Kombucha beer?

See Prince’s new single artwork referencing Dave Chapelle’s reference to Prince. How Meta.

Read about ‘NSync reuniting.

Hear Tears For Fears cover Arcade Fire.

Help pick “The Best Craft Beer Bar In America” with Craftbeer.com.

R.I.P. Elmore Leonard.

Stream Neko Case’s New LP The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.”

Read about the “Architecture Student Converts Old Bus into Comfy Mobile Home Complete with Repurposed Gym Floor.”

Read Paste’s report: “Netflix to Acquire Exclusive Streaming Rights for Weinstein Films.”

Read the pressing news: “Breaking: Double Stuf Oreos May Not Actually Be Doubly Stuf’ed; Only 1.86 Times Stuf.”

R.I.P. Marian McPartland.

Read Paste’s report:  ”Apple’s iTunes Radio Expected to Launch in September.”

Watch the 1979 Austrian Film ‘Tom Waits: A Day in Vienna’

Read about the “Typeface Flashcard Game Released as Free Download.”

Read Consequence of Sound’s report: “Dan Auerbach lost Bob Dylan’s hair in divorce settlement. Jack White is laughing.”

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