Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What made Samuel a good listener?

I believe that good speaking must come from good listening. I believe it and yet I do not practice it nearly enough. I suspect that were I to take the years of research to view and analyze all the times I chose the wrong door I would find, at the beginning, a clear instruction I did not hear, or, accept.
A few months ago I was thinking about Samuel – I think I was supposed to be listening to a presentation at the time which makes what I am about to say a bit of an irony – and realized I could learn about listening from the young acolyte.
When he heard a voice he responded, not with a reply, but, with another question. What I hear is not always what has been said, even, when the words have been clear. “Are you tired?” seems a simple question that calls for many possible responses depending on the context. If asked by your teacher during class, for instance, it would call for an entirely different response than if asked by a mate after the evening meal.
The advice given Samuel to wait for the voice to be clear, as I read the text, reminds me to wait for the person who is talking to me to become clear. Like many I have a tendency to interject my words for the one talking and thus attempt to finish their sentences. A fatal flaw in a marriage and truly irritating in casual conversation. Like the young man I hope to learn to wait to hear if the voice is really for me or if the voice is meant for someone else.
When he wasn't sure what he was hearing he asked a wise counselor. Admittedly this involves an “over time” conversation. Although, I have noticed, with age comes some built in wise counselors. Past voices that speak to me from conversations long ago or books read in other settings. So whether the wise counselor is a voice in my head that sounds eerily like my deceased father or mother, or, a text from scripture, I am wise to listen and place it in the context of the present discussion.
Finally, once the wise counselor spoke Samuel followed the advice. When Samuel final responded to God’s voice it was with the words of his wise counselor. I have wondered that he never mentions that advice or the wisdom of the man under whom he trained. No doubt the parenting skills of Eli had something to do with this, but, I think the main reason is that the wise counselor is not the center of our hearing – but – our willingness to hear from other sources before decisions, or, even, responses.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Clarity for Conversion

The more I travel the clearer it is to me that humans do not communicate with as much as we communicate at each other. I don't mean to imply that we don't care if our message is clear. By all accounts we care very much. The most read How To...books are are about the lack of communication in marriage, parenting, friendships, politics, and, whatever your hot button issue happens to be. Not surprisingly mine is the Gospel. Wait for it! I can hear you sputtering now, "Which gospel?" and I appreciate your desire for clarity - hence this blogert (effort to explain by blog).
I just concluded a three week trip to Zimbabwe and, as a result spent hours going through security in airports, government compounds and road blocks. As I left on my trip I began by stripping myself of all metal objects for the screening. Not good enough. Seems the gum wrapper in my back pocket was one of the items to be removed before screening. Setting aside the debate over the potential for mayhem found in sugar free (paper, I might add) gum wrapper, I confess what I heard was, "remove all metal objects" when what was said (yes I hung around for the next announcement) was, "remove all objects..."
Naturally, I did the same thing while being screened in Ethiopia only to find that some objects, whether metal of otherwise, were Ok (eye glasses for instance) and was treated as a "slow" child in the class as I took off my shoes. My defense mechanism was to choose anger. These people must be "bad" screeners because they don't do it "right." They, on the other hand, considered me to be the "bad" screenee." Of course there was truth in both given your ethnicity or nationality. Every effort by both officials to announce clearly the procedures was lost on those for whom the local language and/or dialect was foreign.
Is it any wonder that so many people who enter our churches find themselves uncomfortable because there are so many "assumption possibilities" from where to park to when to stand the closing prayer/reading/greeting. So...don't expect guests (or some infrequent members) to understand what you thought you said in response to the question they didn't actually ask.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Hunt

It is before 7 AM in Chiredzi – too early to be able to see the clock – and I am watching my Grand Niece & Nephew (Isabelle & Noah) as they go on an adventure in their back yard. I see a four year old and 2.5 year old walking through a dirt yard spotted with leafless bushes, thorn trees, and sparse, dry patches of grass. There is the occasional pawpaw tree and bamboo growth to add color.
What they see is so much better. They see giant trees to be used as cover from the vicious occupants (beetles, scorpions, spiders and geckos) with deadly poisons. They each hold the handle of the bag holding their survival gear with one hand and their weapons (he a sword [what else?] and she a bow and arrow). The fact that they are actually holding a couple chopsticks does not lessen their courage only found in being well armed.
I cannot hear what they are hunting for, but, since it is the first birthday of their twin brothers, Jonah & Samuel, I assume it is for an appropriate gift to bear to their mother for wrapping and presentation at the appropriate time. Mother will, no doubt, be thrilled.
Dear Heavenly Father, may I be re-visioned with the eyes to see this great creation of yours as a place of new adventure and opportunity. Help me see these chopsticks in my hands as your sword and shield. Give me the courage to use the chopsticks with which you have armed me as courageously and with the same expectation of success as these two precious children. Please help me know that you will accept my meager gift with joy to be admired and used at the appropriate time, Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Sign of Jonah

Like a lot of young men, my wedding day was a day to be endured. I – quite clearly – remember thinking that it would not be the first day I would endure to maintain a strong bond with the woman with whom I truly wanted to share the rest of my life. It is all a bit of a haze of early morning, nervous eating, awkward clothing, stiff ceremony, and, all to lengthy reception.
But God is good and gave me a second chance to have a great first day of marriage. Since the Shona culture requires a wedding in first the home of the bride and then in the home of the groom, Judi and I were required to fly to Zimbabwe to go through the whole process again. Judi was thrilled to be able to wear her wedding dress and I, on the night before that second service, had a chance to thank God for this most important of days that would never be repeated but would always be remembered with growing joy and deeper commitment.
Of these kinds of days, Jill Carattini managing editor of A Slice of Infinity RZIM, says, “There are moments in our lives when we realize that we are beholding the carving of a day into the great tree of history.” 9/11/2001 was certainly one of those days. Just as we recall more than the wedding day each anniversary so we recall more than the tragedy this tenth year after the World Trade Center was attacked and so many died.
We remember the unity of what was a divided nation. We remember the common front of a divided national leadership. We remember the bravery of the first responders and countless volunteers who streamed across the country to do “whatever is needed.” We remember how generous our fellow Americans showed themselves to be – again. We remember how everyone looked to God for strength, courage, and, of course, answers. Each year we continue to look for answers.
God’s answer continues to be for us what it was for the people of His day. The sign of Jonah.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Follower of Jesus

I have always agreed and identified with the Apostle Paul’s finding that he/I is/am the chief of sinners. That has not posed a problem for me nor caused me to reflect on the paradox that I am pure before the Lord as a result of my acceptance of His Grace through the blood of Jesus. I have, however, wondered about calling myself a Christian when so many of my actions are not Christ-like.
Some weeks ago during a sermon I received an epiphany of sorts. It struck me that I am more of a follower of Jesus than a Christian. Since the first followers of Jesus were first called Christian after they began to preach the good news to people other than their own ethnic background I realize my own deficiencies.
I can – with all good conscience – call myself a follower of Jesus. I aspire to be a Christian and that aspiration takes legs when I follow Jesus.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Random thoughts on male female leadership

I wonder why the issue of who leads – male or female – has such a bite to it. I don’t believe reasonable people would put the discussion in the category of “taboo.” By that I mean if you hold the “no woman in leadership over men” position that you would also believe that allowing women to be Pastors, for instance, would not bring God’s anger and retribution. Some might, but, there are a few who believe woman should be ordained pastors who would place their restriction of that rite in the category of taboo. There are extremes on both sides.
However, for the most part, it seems to me to be a comfort thing that is stated in theological terms. Certainly there are stories and statements in the Bible to support and not support either position. What it seems to come down to in most churches I have witnessed, and, these are anecdotal data, is whether there are women capable of such leadership and men capable of allowing that leadership.
Women who serve as pastors without title are legion. Anyone who has been in church leadership – regardless their position on the debate – has “ordained” a woman to pastor a group of people and if that leader has his, or her, wits about him or her, they have left that un-ordained female to do the work of an elder. The same could be said about men who do not want the title but serve in the responsibility.
From a gathering of the followers point of view we might do well to follow the lead of the Friends Churches who sit quietly at times waiting for one anointed, whether male of female, to speak wisdom from God into each heart.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thoughts on Romans 7:19

“For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
I think of myself as a good person.
I do things that make people refer to me as a bad person.
If both statements are true how can I rely on either statement to give me a basis for action in my next encounter with life?
This kind of cognitive dissonance (holding opposing statements as equally true) darkens even the brightest of days and sometimes dims the view of God’s grace in my life. I struggle with the knowledge that I am both people: the good and the not good. How do I continue to be good regardless the truth that I am sometimes not good?
Here are three propositions you can use to unravel truth when what you think about yourself seems to be challenged by what is happening in your life.
When one incident becomes your whole world, you have lost perspective. My life is not made up of one or two incidents in a day. What I did in 1966 cannot be allowed to drive what I choose to do today or think today. Certainly it informs it, but, does not dictate to it. My impact on the world around me must be kept in divine perspective. What would Jesus want me to do – is much more helpful.
When one experience is your whole world, you have lost context. A traffic ticket for speeding, while financially hurtful, cannot be allowed to drive how I respond to my wife when I get home. She may agree it is harmful to the family finances and my future use of the car, but, not my future relationship with her.
When one person can change your whole view of life for the worse, you have lost yourself. I need wise counselors in my life to help guide me through decisions great and small. Their opinion of my choices are helpful but not obligatory. They do not define who I am in God’s kingdom. They do not define who I am in my family. By using all of those voices combined with my understanding of God’s work in my life, I can see more clearly the person God wants me to see in the mirror of life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Being Watched

"Stay out of life!"
"You don't have the right to snoop around my life."
"Get off my back - its my life."
Because we live in a society whose highest value is individualism we are always going to come to the flash point of Child's rights/Parent's responsibility. I remember as a young teen on a foreign mission station being concerned that certain of my things were hidden from the "prying" eyes of my mother. I did not re-think this closely held truth (my stuff, my life, stay out) until hearing the testimony of an 18 year old drug addict who stood up in church (I was attending because my good friend was the Pastor and I was passing through)affirm during testimony time, "I praise God that He wont stop bugging me."
I had not yet experienced the joy and fear of parenthood. I was still pretty sure my life was my own to live as I chose and any benefit to others was purely tertiary. I was struck by the reality of God's invasive nature - and - how badly I needed Him to be that way. I wondered how my life would have turned out had my father not "caught" me sneaking out for a first beer. I remembered how fortunate I was that my dad's elder sister demanded I call every hour from a party my hooligan friend was having "at his house" - er - older friend's drinking hole in Chicago - which effectively grounded me saving me from the police raid that night.
While the transformation was not complete that day it was begun. I prayed that I would desire invasion into my life by Him and those He appointed as watchmen and watchwomen over my life and ministry. Like that young man almost 50 years ago I too praise God for His meddling in my private life. While not always pleasant it has always been beneficial. If I had not opened my life to God's invasion I would never have opened all my drawers, files, cupboards, wallets, cases, file cabinets, internet history, voice mail, texts and email to my wife - which secrecy - even if benign - would have built a wall love could not scale.
Now when I hear young people complain that their parents invade their privacy and want them to stop I wonder if they realize they are asking for less and not more individual power.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time to Connect

When I ask our members, "What would make the church more productive?" the No. 1 answer is communication (after that, it's focus, collaboration, teamwork, time and understanding). The natural follow up question is, “What kind?” That is were it gets more diverse.
Some want information easily accessible them about the activities and responsibilities of the church. This group typically is happy with updating in hand outs and postings on the web.
Others are asking for personal touch – a more face to face delivery which is over and above the Sunday announcements. As long as they are involved with a Growth Group or a ministry team that touch happens on a monthly basis, at least.
The final group want more than information. They want to take part in a discussion about the information. Twitter, FaceBook and email are not considered “communication.” For them the Growth Group is a good option.
However, as you look at all three (and I realize they break down into more categories) you will no doubt see the proverbial fly in the ointment for all of them. Time – actual minutes free to take in the information – is an issue for all of them. The reality today is that people working today have less time than people in past generations – regardless the “time saving” devices. I have read that the eight-hour or nine-hour workday has been replaced by the 10 or even, 12, and, that is before travel time is considered.
Executives and managers have less than 90 minutes of free time in the course of a day and most have less than an hour each day - total. Given that we are so tied up each day – how do we communicate with each other in such a way that we feel we have been communicated with?
Hmmm, well, I dunno. Really – I don’t. Unless we begin to give the most important connections in our lives the top 25% of our time allotment – we will just work till we expire. I assume everyone has to work extra hard some of the time. With God, Family, and, Church priorities that hard work only gets a moment in time rather than a habitual process in life.
Oh, why only 25%? Well, if we alot our time in connection to our energy and we give the first 25% of our energy to God, Family & Church we wont find ourselves giving our “cast off” time to the ones who mean the most to us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can Spiderman Do This?

I read somewhere (before hard drive storage) that bioengineers have determined the chemical makeup of an ordinary strand of spider's web is five to 10 times stronger than steel. While I knew from personal experience they are sticky, clingy and tenacious, not to mention, almost impossible to get that well-woven spider web out of your hair, your eyelashes or your clothing, this was news to me. I understand why bioengineers would spend time to break the spider's genetic code so that they can create a biochemically engineered polymer of which a pencil-thick strand could stop a Boeing 747 in flight (well, that might not be a good idea, but, you get the point). Rather than stopping a jet in flight I just hope it can stop a 2 year old from falling on his head after scaling Mount Pantry in search of forbidden fruit.
Strange as it seems this bit of trivia reminded me of the relatively small but logarithmic power of the Body of Christ. A community of normal people separated from the world population by nothing more than a belief in Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” A small population that not only stops powerful forces from destroying souls but reaches beyond its own culture boundaries to bring peace, joy and healing to a lost and lonely world, which, for the most part, doesn’t even believe it needs.
This wonderful web, woven by the Holy Spirit, is made up of the church’s witness and commitment by believers to the mission of God.
The person who led you to Christ. The person who forgave you before you wanted forgiveness. The person who sat with you silently when others wanted to speak into your life words you were not yet ready to hear. These and many like them are the strands of this powerful web community.
Now we too, are those strands. What we do as a part of this body will determine who will be standing where we are standing in our church 40+ years from now. When you combine our spiritual gifts with the body in which we serve, not to glorify our individual selves, but to build up this body, we, the church, become a most powerful web for the world.
First I thank God for believing in me. Second I thank God for giving me La Habra Christian Church. Finally, I thank God for the chance to be part of a web strong enough to stop the runaway train of sin and injustice in our community.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

God set all authorites - Questions

In an effort to address the questions sent to in response to the sermon May 1, 2011, "What Authority Must I Obey?" as soon as possible I am bunching them together.
The following two questions fall into the same general category.
If an authority bans Christian practices or demands unholy practices, should we still obey? If not, then how can we draw the line between what to obey and what not to?
Civil rights mvmt, MLKJr? What about Gandhi?

When Martin Luther King & Gandhi called attention to the ungodly practice of separating people on the basis of their skin color (in the case of MLK) and claiming dominion over a nation on the basis of Manifest Destiny (as in the case of Gandhi) they were attempting to correct a law and/or practice of the existing authority. Without going into the history of both situations – which have been sensationalized in print and film making it hard for the popular reader to follow the main issues – my observation is that both men looked for the least illegal approach to resolving the issue/s they were wanting to address. While both practiced peaceful marches, for which both had precedent, but during which they faced authorities who, themselves, operated outside their own rules.
I do not mean to lessen the choices of them – and others like them in other countries – to disregard the authorities “rule changes” only to point out that when appealing to a higher authority, as in the constitution by MLK, there will be times when the area becomes more unclear. I would emphasize the need to check ones motives before deciding to take on the authorities in such a manner.
Let me address the individual who chooses to disobey a law he or she believes to be ungodly. In those situations the person is to obey God without rebelling against the existing authority. A doctor who refuses to perform abortions while working in a medical facility that requires that of its doctors must leave that employ or refuse to perform and be prepared to accept the discipline of the employer. That same doctor could, under the law, seek other remedies within the law. Christian martyrs throughout history have chosen to disobey laws they believed to be ungodly without rebelling and accepted the punishment.

The other two questions like wise fit into the context of Just War:
The colonies rebelled against England's authority when founding America. Are you saying that this was wrong and our founding fathers brought judgment on our country?
What about the American Revolution? The founding fathers disobeyed the English authorities in breaking away from their government. Was that disobeying God?

The American Colonies sought remedy from the King and when that met a continued deaf ear chose, as a matter of conscience, to separate with an appeal to God, taking the appeal to the level of a Just War. The principles of a Just War were originally put together by Roman Catholic scholars with Thomas Aquinas being one of many. I have included the basics below and more links can be found at for further research.

Principles of the Just War
* A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
* A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
* A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
* A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
* The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
* The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
* The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some Absolutes in Being A Follower Of Jesus

I am not entirely sure where I am going with these thoughts – I assume that is the reason for “blogging” – it is another way to burp out stuff best not revealed in polite company. I know my Grandma Pemberton disapproved of gas release of any kind in public and would likely feel the same about these blogs.

I am in the middle of a series on sin and faced again with the apathy of many followers of Jesus and the majority of those not followers of Jesus toward delineating truth from falsehood. The most common phrase heard in this regard would be, “Well, what I believe works for me and what you believe works for you,” or, words to that effect.

I confess to being a reductionist when it comes to my faith in God. I like keeping the absolutes to a minimum so that the semi-absolutes can be more contextual. Because I accept the absolute of believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God the semi-absolute of reading His life and teachings is made more palatable and even enriching.

Because I believe I am absolutely required to trust God only for your salvation it makes the semi-absolute of presenting Him to others less stressful.

Because I believe I am absolutely required to accept all people as God’s children whether they have acknowledged him or not I am free to accept the semi-absolute to extend grace to even the most dissident agnostic I meet. There are more – but – that is a good place to stop.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Consider His Head

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

Since the head is the source of all that is in the body – we – who are the body of Christ – need never fear being over run by an opposing ideology, quenched by a political force, or, neutralized by rejection of society. His presence is our purpose writ large. Power is only powerful when its purpose is Christ’s and authority only governs when its roots are in Christ.

Colossians 1:18-20
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Because Christ is the head, the source, the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of the church – the church draws her vision, information, warning of falsehood and right to speak only from Him.

Ephesians 4:15
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

From his head flowed his blood on Calvary – it was not the blood of His opponents – it was the blood for His opponents. When we, the church, forgive and serve out enemies, we then declare our covenant with the headship of Jesus.

Colossians 2:18-19
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his un-spiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Because our very beginnings come from His head we can never be other than the church. We are not a political party. We are not the moral police. We are not pure and unsullied few. We are the redeemed who do not need government power to serve up grace to a hurting world. We are the reconciled who are like Him in as many ways as we can muster, yet with sin. We are the adopted who were the ugliest of all the orphans in the line – yet picked by Him for His purpose. When we, the church, relinquish our connection to His headship – we are just another group of people with a good idea and no way to carry to fruition.