Monday, December 29, 2014

New Years?

We don’t normally see New years day as a sacred holiday in America. Which begs the question, how should a believer treat new years day. The obvious place to draw inspiration is how the ancient Hebrews treated the New Year. 

The Hebrews did in fact celebrate the New Year with a ten day festival called the Days of Awe. It begins on the first days of Tishri of the Hebrew calendar. Current Jews refer to it as Rosh Hashanah. (head of the year) However Biblical era Jews called it by, Yom Ha-Zikkaron  (day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (day of trumpets). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:23-25. The festival ended with Yom Kippur. (day of atonement) Which is described in Leviticus 16. 

This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and planning the changes to make in the new year. One of the ongoing theme of the Days of Awe is the concept that God has "books" that he writes our names in, writing down who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. These books are written in on Rosh Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter God's decree. The actions that change the decree are repentance, prayer, and good deeds (usually, charity). These "books" are sealed on Yom Kippur. This concept of writing in books is the source of the common greeting during this time of “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.

How will you spend your new years eve? In serious introspection considering the last year and what kind of foundation it will make for the next? Or will you, engage in empty celebration for celebrations sake?

A woman seeing a favorable reflection in a fun house mirror.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The state of Shalom

You have probably heard of the Hebrew word Shalom, and maybe you have heard that it means peace. However, the full definition of the word Shalom designates being at peace with ourselves, health, wealth, fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment, tranquility. In other words, whole in the spirit. The tradition of Shalom goes even further to describe how to achieve a state of Shalom that we all desperately crave.

1. Reconcile with God.
    We reconcile with God by first confessing. (1 Jn 1:8-10) Keep in mind that true Biblical confession involves more than mere admission to our wrongs. It is accepting what God says about sin is true. That it's harmful to self, others, and our relationship with the father. (Rom 6:23) After confessing, we must repent. (2 Cor 7:8-11) Again, true Biblical repentance is more than a change of action, but a change of heart.  Through repentance, we are saying that we believe what God says about holiness and righteousness is true. 

2. Reconcile with your faith Family. 
    Strangely enough there can be considerable conflict within a church. Much of it stemming from the diverse spiritual gifting, personality, maturity, and worship preferences of its members. While scripture reveals that diversity can be a source of great strength. (1 Cor 12:12-31, Rom 12:3-8) We must be committed to God's spirit, and the common good of his children for it to work. (1 Cor 12:7) However, it can become a great weakness if we are only concerned with our own good and try to force people to conform to us, rather than inspire people to emulate Christ. We reconcile, by confessing and repenting of our betrayal of the body of Christ through our selfish behavior, then seeking forgiveness from those we've wronged.

3. Reconcile with your Enemies.
    This can be the hardest point to live up to, for the sinful nature of the flesh compels us to hold onto hatred of those who hurt us. Especially, if these people are clearly in the wrong, yet have no desire to own up to that wrong. So it is no wonder that this point robs more people of the state of Shalom than any other. What we must remember is that forgiveness is about Christ-likeness, for he forgave all us undeserving people of earth. When we do the same, we are living up to the truth we hold sacred. In doing so we let go of the anger that grieves our spirit, which opens the door to forgiveness from God; which is crucial in reconciling with him. (Matt 6:14-15)
    FYI:  Forgiveness in no way rationalizes sin, or has to directly involve the offender. It only means letting go of that spirit of vengeance that was never ours to wield in the first place. (Rom 12:17-21)
    Remember, what Jesus reveled about the way that we treat others is a direct reflection on our respect for God. (Matt 25:31-45) So hopefully, you now realize that these three points are all intertwined enough that if we fail at one, we fail at them all. 

    If we truly commit to reconciliation as outlined here, then, and only then can we hope to reconcile with self and find peace, be at shalom. The sad reality of this is that many of us do it all backwards. We seek peace for and unto ourselves, and never consider how others fit into the picture, let alone God. The world around us even encourages this backwards approach. Yet, they are all wondering why their peace is so easily and continuously disrupted, and feel so lost, broken, and incomplete inside.

God recreated a broken man.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Warrior's Way

The 7 ways of a Godly Warrior

A godly warrior must. . .
   1. Glorify God and God alone. (Ex 34:14, Ps 69:30-33, 119:9-16)
   2. Vanquish evil without resorting to evil. (Rom 12:17-21)
   3. Defend innocence. (Pr 24:11-12)
   4. Help and mentor believers, the lost, and broken. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
   5. Share their strength with fellow warriors, the lost, and the broken; just as God shares His strength with them in their battle with sin. (Gal 6:2, 1 Pete 5:6-7, 2 Pete 1:3-4)
   6. Emulate their master Jesus as a disciple. (John 14:31, 15:9, 
Matt 20:25-28)
   7. hold themselves accountable to the authority they wield, which is the sword of the spirit. (James 1:22-25)

A truly accountable warrior knows the sting of the authority bestowed upon them, and know not to use is hastily with the broken and lost. Warriors can lose their way when they turn on the innocent and broken as if they were evil. Making the lost feel utterly condemned and hopeless, rather than loved. Leading the broken even further astray by their judgmental attitude. (Matt 18:6-9) By engaging in such bad judgement they are defending evil, not destroying it. This ultimately happens when one chooses to glorify self, rather than God.

Remember, not all wars are fought on a battlefield. Not all battles are fought with literal weapons.

Don't hate the way of the warrior, hate the evil that distorts it into something selfish and wicked, which is all to common these days. 

Are you a Godly warrior, or just a squire?

a Godly warrior in the armor of God

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 7 - conclusion

I hope you can now see why Christ wanted his church characterized by love rather than condemnation. (John 13:35, 1 John 4:7-13) Yet, this brings up the obvious question, why isn’t this taught on more than it is in the present day church. Simple observation seems to indicate that people become quite defensive when we talk down to them. A defensive person is not really listening to what you say at all, just how disrespectfully you say it. Much like terrorism, people become so reactive to the horrible means used to communicate the message, that the intended message gets lost. 

What we the church need to remember is that true righteousness comes from the heart. So you can only choose to pursue it for yourself, nobody can choose it for you, and you can't choose it for anybody else. Yet, critical people try to choose for others all the time. That is like trying to whitewash someone else's tomb. (Matt 23:27-28) If Jesus thinks it's foolish to do that to yourself, how much more foolish is it to try to whitewash someone else, who hasn't willfully chosen it for themselves, who's hearts are not really in it. 

Since true righteousness comes from the heart, the all too common act of trying to criticize someone into submission is completely and utterly pointless. I liken it to pointing a gun at someone, and demanding that they say I love you, and actually believing that their solicited words are sincere. Oh sure they will say it, but how can you honestly expect someone to believe such expressions are true when the person demanding said words is treating that person so horribly. How self diluted do you have to be to do that? The thing is, critical legalists dilute themselves like that all the time with their forced submission; all because of a lack of Christ like love.

Since this is all true,  all we can really do is inspire people. Sure you can create the illusion of results with various forms of forced submission. However, if you want it to be real, for it to come from the heart, if you want someone to choose to follow Christ of their own freewill, which I hope you do, all you can do is inspire them to. You do that by living it yourself, not by lectures that don't go much deeper than, because the Bible says so. You must give them a reason to believe that the Bible has authority by showing them what it's done for you, rather than point the proverbial gun of legalism at their head. Which has inspired more rebellion than conversion.

 When Christians do the opposite of love, the opposite of what Christ would do, or follow the critical example of the world, we do the work for those who would choose to defame all things Christian. Those who were probably the victim of critical Christians in the first place. I think it would do the church well to take a long hard look at itself, and it’s practices. Specifically how criticism may be adversely acting against our mission. The reality is, we fail at righteousness the moment we choose to be prideful about it. (Psalm 59:12 & 69:26-28) 

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. - 1 Peter 2:12

a person painting somebody white against their will
Whitewashing somebody else's tomb 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 6 - drawing the line between love and criticism

While love and criticism may seem like completely opposite forces on the surface, the truth is people often inflict such verbal abuse on the people we claim to love without even thinking about it. So it is vastly important to know where to draw the line. So that, we know how to act thoughtfully, rather than react thoughtlessly. So when correcting try asking yourself these things.

Are you trying to do what is right, or just be right? 

Are you trying to find a resolution to the problem, or just win the fight? 

Are you really trying to help the person, or strike back at the offender to hurt them?

If you really are trying to help, also ask this.
Who are you trying to help; the other person involved, or just yourself?

These things can determine the difference between criticism and love. But keep in mind, it takes true righteous humility to answer these questions honestly, or even realize there is a difference. The prideful will assume their opinion is right by default and not even consider where the other person is coming from. Or even consider how their actions will possibly affect others in the negative. Prideful Critics go out of their way to find fault in others. Yet they often avoid owning up to their own faults, and never recognize that their loveless attitude is their biggest fault.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? - James 4:11-12 niv

“What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. -Hosea 6:4 niv

one side wants to utilize love, the other wants to utilize aggression
Two sides of the same person

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 5 - Action VS Feelings

If we are going to correct in love, then we must truly understand it. Love is a concept that everyone from philosophers, psychologists, to theologians has tried to wrap their minds around. However, the average person off the street tends to view it as an emotion, regardless what deep thinkers say about it. This perception is true even within the church at times. Is that perception Biblically sound though? The Bible always portrays love as an action. The passage we just looked at in the last entry from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 does not describe how love feels, but what love does; or in some cases, does not do. Nor does it say we should only do, or not do these actions, when we feel it, but always. Yet, it goes deeper than that still. 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 
-1 John 3:16-18 niv

The above passage not only uplifts the virtues of action over mere words, it uses the rather intense imagery of laying ones life down for others. Love is more than an action, but love is a selfless action. Love is doing something for someone else's sake, rather than your own. This is an important detail that people often overlook. If love is treated just as an emotion, what is it about it that we really love; the people or just the feelings they provoke? For example, Physical love. It’s something that people tend to pursue from the people we claim to love. However, we often see this happen even when the other person is not comfortable with it yet. If we were really putting the other person first out of selfless love for them, then the idea of making them uncomfortable should be intolerable. Yet, still we see people tolerating this quite frequently. Why? Obviously, such people love the feelings they seek more than the person. They are doing what they are doing for their own sake, not the sake of the other. Which is by definition a selfish action rather than a selfless one. Which defies the Biblical definition of love. Like I indicated before, the actions that we chose not to do, are just as important as the ones we do.

It’s no wonder divorce is so common these days. If you live by the worldly definition of love as an emotion alone, what is to stop you from verbally abusing your partner when the feelings they instill in you change for the worse? Why shouldn’t you try to criticize your spouse into coughing up feeling for you when they aren’t doing it as you like? Despite the fact, that you might not have served your partner’s feelings any more than you are demanding them to. Despite the fact you expect them to serve your feelings, when you are walking all over theirs via criticism.  The world tries to take love by dong the exact opposite of what the Bible says love should do. Yet, we wonder why it often gets the opposite result we’re looking for when we do as the critical world does. (Romans 12:9-21)

The Visual PARABLEist

a woman traveling side by side with a one legged man
it doesn’t matter when we get there, as long as we get there together

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 4 - A Biblical Model for correction

Don’t think that I have been saying that there isn’t a place for good Biblical correction. I’m not saying that at all. However, it is always something we should approach with caution. The Bible even acknowledges this with a warning in Galatians 6:1. 

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. NIV

Not only does it warn us to be gentle with people, but it warns us of the possible temptations we face ourselves in not doing so. Think about that, if we only end up promoting rebellion because we hurt or insulted the person we intended to help. As well as lead ourselves astray in the process by correcting via the fleshly pride of our sinful nature, and not the humility of the spirit, the only change is for the worse on all fronts. So you can clearly see that the Bible teaches us that criticism isn’t only bad for the receiver, but for the one doing the criticizing too. As individuals, it damages our relationships, as a church it hampers our outreach efforts. The saddest part is that when it comes to the church, we are all reaping the bitter fruit of the critical seeds sown in the name of righteousness, even if it’s only practiced by a few. So I think it’s long past due that we all heed God’s stern warning here. 

The obvious question now is where do we draw the line that divides Biblically based correction from fruitless criticism? It’s actually quite simple, and it’s a good line to observe in many cases, not just correction; and the answer would be love. (1 Corinthians 16:14) A very important yet often neglected truth in the creed of Christianity. If we are truly acting in a selfless way in attempting to do right by a person, then our correction needs to be done in love. Anything less and your words can come out as hurtful, disrespectful, and unproductive. 

This truth makes our analysis of the concept quite simple. All we have to do is compare correction with the attributes of Christian love. They are all conveniently listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. By using this as our standard, we will know just how to correct properly. Also, by looking at the exact opposite of love we will see what constitutes criticism, and what makes it harmful to everyone involved. For that is precisely what defines a critic, someone who does the opposite of what love would do. 

Love is patient. Critics are impatient.
Love is kind. Critics are unkind.
Love does not envy. Critics are often motivated by envy.
Love does not boast. Criticism can be a thinly veiled form of boasting.
Love is not proud. Critics are full of pride.
Love is not rude. Critics seek to dishonor others.
Love is not self-seeking. Critics are selfish takers. 
Love is not easily angered. Criticism is often an act of anger.
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Critics keep a record of wrongs, and they use them too. 
Love does not delight in evil. Criticism is a product of the sinful nature of the flesh 
Love rejoices with the truth. Critics make the truth seem undesirable. 
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes.
Critics only protect, trust, and hope when you do as they please.
Love always perseveres. Unfortunately, criticism perseveres as well. 

harsh words landing on both giver and receiver

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 3 - our love/hate relationship with criticism

We often have a love/hate relationship with criticism. We almost always hate the unsolicited criticism we receive from others. So much so that we often put much thought into how unfounded and unnecessary it is, and how wrong the people who inflict it upon us are. Then repay that criticism with criticism. For we can plainly see this evil in others.

However, we do not put nearly as much thought into our own criticism of other people. We seem to think that our own harsh words are perfectly justified. We may even expect them to be thankful for our criticism, if our intention is correction. It always seems so easy to discern the right choices for others, when we are on the outside looking in. If only we could step outside ourselves and see ourselves as others experience us. Since we are often blind to just how hurtful our words can be when we think our intentions are good, even when our tactics are no different from the harsh words we endure from others. Many cannot see just how guilty we are of the crime of criticism that we accuse others of.  If only criticism were as easy to spot in ourselves as it is in others. If only we considered and heeded what the Bible teaches us about proper correction. Then it wouldn’t be such a prominent and socially acceptable force as it is today.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? - Romans 2:1-4

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. -James 3:9-12

someone accusing someone of criticism as they themselves criticize another
Hypocritical tongue

Next time A Biblical model for correction

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 2 - society and criticism

In the post modern world criticism has become a socially acceptable practice. A practice that people often engage in with absolutely no regard to the consequences. Why should we? It’s portrayed as such a normal thing everywhere we look, not that normal is by default good by any means. Many of these so-called reality TV shows revolve around placing people in a position of spectacle. Unfortunately, that’s why many people tune in, to watch people be criticized and humiliated. Many of the sitcoms out there are just people criticizing one another all for a laugh. Journalism is often an act of finding fault with whatever can be found, and projecting that harsh opinion before the entire nation. If you spend any time on the internet, where anybody can post a comment, you will find many hateful words. The phenomenon of blogging is often used as a virtual soapbox from which they can gripe. It’s not even about relevant things all the time, for often people are using the universal access of the internet to make a huge spectacle concerning the most trivial of issues. People even go out of their way to criticize critics ironically enough. There have even been a few isolated incidents where internet bullying has lead to suicide, which is a rather strong testament to just how powerful words can be. Overall the world has become so narcissistic and arrogant it seems like many people act as if the whole world exists to live up to their expectations, and verbally abuse everyone who displeases them. From the average person’s point of view it always seems like it’s the quickest and easiest way to get what we want out of, and change people to our liking. But the reality is, even when it works, the change is only surface. So we are only diluting ourselves by utilizing criticism.  When it doesn’t work at all, it inspires only hatred and resentment.  We even see reckless tongues in the church, including high profile voices of the church. Should we though?  It’s a question few have asked, but I believe that it’s time that we did.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless -James 1:26

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. 
Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddenly, without fear. - Psalm 64:1-4

a person being abused via the computer
altar of viciousness 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reckless Tongues part 1 - criticism in the church

In a recent entry, I called criticism America's new favorite pastime. This statement stuck me as all the more true while reading through Romans 14:1 - 15:13, a passage where Paul instructs us on how do deal with diverse spiritual backgrounds and levels of maturity. An issue that must have been quite a challenge to the newly founded church that brought Jews and Gentiles together for the first time. While the specific issues that they were dealing with may not be all that relevant to the current church. The need for the Christ like correction for the spiritually immature that Paul calls for is still very relevant. For it is plain to see that this passage has not been heeded by everyone in the church of today. For we live in an age where people are not always given the opportunity to grow into the truth naturally. We exist in a time where people are quick to quarrel over details in an impatient, unkind, rude, and unloving way.

Verse 14:1 - Accept the one who faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.

I say this because clearly in the war of Biblical interpretation and worldview, criticism, condemnation, and judgment have become the weapons of choice. The spoils of this war is a loss of joy, peace, and love within the church. A practice that has left more people discouraged than built up. Since people cannot be forced into the next level of spiritual maturity by criticism any more than we can force a rose bud to open without ruining it.

What I am driving at is this. Criticism has the power to reshape lives, but the question is it in a good and constructive way? Or is it actually for the worse for those involved? A question that all believers would do well to ask ourselves before choosing to criticize others. A question I have thought long and hard on myself, and wish to share what I have discovered in further detail via this blog over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I encourage you to read and meditate on the entire Romans passage for yourselves. Then ask yourself, do I treat the weak as Paul instructs us to, or do I just try to criticize people into submission as the sinful nature of the flesh gravitates us towards.

Verses 15:1-3 - We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

a person condemning someone whom Christ has forgiven.
Grace and forgiveness is for for all who live by it

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Show it as well as say it

 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. - 1 John 3:18

Such a simple verse, yet it holds such a powerful, but neglected truth. I say that because it seems as if I hear people belting out phrases like, God is love, or Jesus loves you as if they are a cure all in and of themselves. Granted they could be if everyone could experience them as the one saying it does, but many have had much darker experiences to filter such phrases through. How can the brokenhearted ever believe in the healing power of divine love when a majority that they have experienced in the name of human love has been tainted by impatience, unkindness, rudeness, criticism, selfishness, abuse, and usury? This is precisely why John urges us to not rely on mere words, but to show people what love really means through action.

This all became rather poignant to me with my last live performance drawing that I have below. It deals with the subject of brokenness. It’s a drawing that seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people rather deeply within my church. For even they were in need of something deeper than mere platitude. Which begs the question, how much more true is that outside the church? Yet, if we are failing to bear one another’s burdens within the church (gal 6:2) what are the odds of us reaching anyone beyond the church as true disciples should? Can we truly call ourselves loving and Christ like if we are blind to this reality? 

jesus healing a heart of stone

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Criticism, America's new favorite past time

It seems that with every new technology of communication we create, there comes with it a surge of griping, complaining, and criticism. From the printing press, to the CB radio, to the internet, if it allows our voice to be heard, somebody uses it to tear down others rather than for creation. It seems as if people love and enjoy the acts of complaining and criticism. A tendency that even some in the church follow. The question is should the church follow the world's lead on this one when dealing with contrary ideas? Well what if I told you that complaining and criticism is a product of the sinful nature of the flesh? In Galatians 5, Paul lists 15 different products of the fleshly sin nature, and just over half can be tied to criticism and complaining. (They are all listed and asterisked below) Even the sexual sin, that the church is so quick to condemn does not have that many asterisks. Not that I'm trying to marginalize sexual sin in any way, just put things in perspective. If sexual sin is serious, then complaining and criticism should be thought of as just as serious, if not more.  

1. Sexual immorality
2. Impurity 
3. Debauchery
4. Idolatry
5. Witchcraft 
6. Hatred*
7. Discord*
8. Jealousy*
9. Fits of rage*
10. Selfish ambition*
11. Dissensions*
12. Factions*
13. Envy*
14. Drunkenness
15. Orgies 

Hatred, criticism and complaining often manifests itself as hate. 
Discord, or disagreements often comes with criticism and complaining. 
Jealousy, those who are jealous often use complains and criticism to get even with those for whom their jealousy is directed.
Fits of rage, often contain rants of criticism and complaints.    
Selfish ambition, can lead one to use destructive force to eliminate the competition, including criticism and complaints. 
Dissensions, typically involve complaints and criticism.
Factions, frequently revolve around peoples complaints and criticisms of one another.
Envy, Do you know what the difference between jealousy and envy is? Jealousy wants what the other has for themselves. Envy want to destroy what the other has so that nobody can have it. Even if it's only done with words. 

Well it's no wonder people love to complain and criticize so much, it's potentially more seductive than sex. Yet even some in the church have heinously rationalized this particular sin. It's no wonder Jesus wanted us to correct in love rather than judgment, to do otherwise is just plain evil. Yet there are ministry's (Which I will not name) that seem to revolve around criticizing opposing view points in an unloving way, including other ministries. It's very had to reveal the good news of the gospel, when we are constantly casting it in such a negative light.   

If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 
-Galatians 5:15

2 people criticizing one another
a common tactic used by the aggressive and the passive aggressive 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Parable of the lone pastor

   "I move that we adjourn." Steven said after a long arduous church board meeting.
   "Actually, I had one more thing to request." Said pastor.
   "Will it take long?" Diane said as she looked at her watch.
   "Not at all, I was just wondering if it would be all right if I put in a garden at the parsonage."
   "Where do you propose putting this garden?" Tom said thinking there was no room for such a thing.
   "Just north of the parsonage."
   "That has always been used as a playground area for the church." Tom said as if the idea were out the question.
   "There are no children to speak of in this aging congregation, just the occasional visiting grandchild."
   "I would assume not close that door." Said Steven. "I would be more comfortable if you used the plot of land just east of the parsonage."
   "I agree with Steven, I would approve such an action if you used that unused land to the east." Diane said fearing that The congregation would object if the land to the north was disturbed.
   "But that plot is so small and rocky, it will take twice as much effort to make a garden half as big."
   "Perhaps, but I see it as the only way of ensuring that we don't upset anybody." Tom said looking over his glasses.
   "Very well, I will agree to use the ground to the east instead."
   "Good, I move that we allow the pastor to plant a garden to the east of the parsonage, as well as adjourn this meeting. All in favor say ai." Tom said anticipating an end to this drawn out meeting at last.
   Everyone does just that.
   "So does anybody want to help me till some soil this Saturday?" Pastor said as he looked each one in the eye, one by one.
   "I have a ball game to go to." Said Steven.
   "That's my day to play bridge." Said Diane.
   "I have other plans myself." Said Tom.
   "Very well, I guess I will have to ask somebody else."

   And pastor did ask somebody else. In fact, he asked many other people within the church. However, he had absolutely no takers. So he'd ended up preparing the ground all by himself. As it turns out the soil to the east of the parsonage was far worse than he had anticipated, for the rocks were plentiful, and the good soil sparse. But with much effort and tenacity he was able to prepare a usable plot in which to plant a garden. It turned out much smaller than he was hoping, but it would have to do for this year, for he had no more time to spare before planting season. 

   As pastor returned from lunch Tuesday afternoon to finish out his office hours, he found Diane was there waiting for him.
   "Well hello Diane, what brings you here?"
   "I had an idea; I wanted to discuss with you."
   "What would that be?" Pastor said as he unlocked his office.
   "My sister was telling me about this curriculum that her church centered a small group around." Diane said as she handed pastor a book. "I think it would be a good idea if we do the same."
   Pastor eyed the book as he took a seat at his desk, and Diane continued to sell the idea. 
   "Everyone has been going on about improving attendance; I think this could help immensely." 
   "It's been my experience that it's what we do every day, not the special programs that we do that makes a church attractive. But, If you want to start a group on this, go ahead."
   "That is what I am doing." Diane said with wide eyes.
   "You have my blessing, what more do you need?"
   "Someone to facilitate."
   "You mean you weren't planning on doing that yourself."
   "Well no." Diane said as if the idea were absurd. "I want to be able to be part of said group, not lead it."
   "Might I suggest Bill or Susan then."
   "I'm asking YOU." Diane said putting emphasis on the word you.
   "I'm already heading up two groups right now, and barely keeping up as it is."
   "I really do think people would be more likely to come if YOU headed it up." Diane said emphasizing the word you again. 
   "Perhaps, after I am done with one of the current studies I am doing."
   "How long will that be?"
   "Six weeks for the Thursday evening group. Four weeks for the Sunday morning one."
   "I really don't want to wait six weeks, and I don't like getting up that early on Sundays. Couldn't we start something on Monday evenings, that's a good day for me."
   "Not for me that is my day off." 
   "Tuesday then."
   "Very well." Pastor said, already regretting it.
   "Great, how soon can we start?"
   "We will need a few weeks to get the word out."
   "Three weeks from tonight then."
   "I will get it into the bulletin next Sunday." Pastor said as he jotted down a note.
   "Thank you so much, I owe you one."
   "Well I'm going to be planting my garden this afternoon, could I count on you for help?"
   "Uh. . . I don't think I can make it."
   "Very well, I guess I will see you next Sunday then."

   So pastor planted his seeds all by himself. He was very tired after a hard days work, of planting as well as other church business. He would have loved to just go home and relax. However, he had a new small group to familiarize himself with. So he made additional time for his church.

   About one month later, pastor shows up Tuesday morning to put in his office hours like normal to find that Tom was already waiting for him. 
   "What can I do for you Tom?" Pastor said as he looked for his office key.
   "I have an idea I would like for you to put into motion."
   "What is that?"
   "A second early morning service on Sunday." Tom said as he had a seat in front of pastor’s desk.
   "Why do that?"
   "I myself would prefer an early morning service.  As do many others my age. Having one might bring back some of our inactive members. Obviously, we need to do something about attendance."
   "Perhaps that might work."
   "If we could get our numbers back to what they were during the days we had two services that would certainly be a good thing."
   "I wasn't aware that we ever had two services."
  "It was before you came here, when pastor Harrison was here."
   "Wasn't Harrison two pastors ago?"
   "Well yes."
   "Well, why was it eliminated before?"
   "I don't know, pastor Harrison just stopped doing it."
   "Come on now Tom. If I eliminated something that you liked, you would be the first to ask why."
   "Well I guess it was because he thought there wasn't enough interest in it anymore to justify a second service." 
   "Well obviously the good numbers from the past wasn't just because of the early service. So what makes you think now will be any different?"
   "I've been talking to people about it, I'm sure we would have at least twelve who would like to have that once again."
   "Like who?" Pastor said out of curiosity.
   "Bill, Susan, Steve, Diane...."
   "Diane will definitely not come." Pastor said cutting off Tom.
   "She told me should would."
   "Well she told me she didn't like to get up that early on Sunday to go to Sunday school. So it's unlikely she would get up earlier than that to go to early service."
   "What are you saying?"
   "That some of these people are just telling you what you want to hear."
   "So you won't even consider it then?" Tom said with an accusatory tone. 
   "No, I'm not saying that. If I did this it's because early service typically caters to the older crowd, as you already indicated. If we can get the average age of second service down, then that might open us up to try new things that might actually get the younger people to stick."
   "So you will do it then."
   "Perhaps, if you will do your part."
   "What do I have to do besides show up."
   "I'll need somebody to set up and clean up after that service, to make way for second service."
   "No I couldn't do that, I'd miss the early morning news, and part of Sunday school."
   "They repeat news all day, and Sunday school never starts on time."
   "That's just how I like to orchestrate my day, including the fellowship before Sunday school."
   "True commitment and worship requires sacrifice." 
   "Anybody can do that."
   "You are anybody."
   "Don't tell me you aren't going to do this over this one little detail."
   "Board meeting is tomorrow; we will take it up with them, if you can convince them. We will try it for a while."
   "I'm fine with that. I appreciate this pastor. If there is anything, I can do to help."
   "I told you what you could do to help."
   "Anything else."
   "I could use some help weeding my garden."
   "Oh I couldn't do that with my arthritis." 

   Pastor ended up weeding his garden alone. 
   When they took up early service with the board, it was approved with the stipulation that it would only continue if they average at least eight people that first month. Most insisted that they would support it, even Diane.
   As it turned out, the early morning service only averaged four. Apart from Tom himself, he was the only board member there. So after the morning service was eliminated, Tom started to talk about finding another church. He just wasn't going to be part of a church that did not cater to his needs by offering an early morning service.

   The next Monday after the last early morning service, Pastor sat at home alone. As reluctant as he was to start that early morning service, he still had high hopes for it. He hoped that it would lead to a more diverse church, but he just couldn't make it happen all by himself.
     Over all this wasn't what he thought the life of a pastor would be like. It seemed like every Monday he contemplated leaving the ministry. But so far, vision always trumped results. Calling always superseded ego. So he always pressed on another week. However, he feared that there would come a day that would change. That he would just lose heart.

   Around eleven someone came knocking on his door.  It was Steven. 
   "Well here you are." Said Steve. "Why aren't you in your office?"
   "Monday is my day off."
   "Since when?"
   "Since the three pastors before me."
   "Surly not." Steve said in disbelief. 
   "I assure you it's a ministerial staple to take Monday off these days, but surely you did not come to discuss my office hours." Pastor said to get off this futile subject, since he had actually had the exact same conversation with Steve once already.
   "Actually, I came to discuss Sunday worship."
   "What about it?"
   "Lately your sermons have been going a little long."
   "I think it best that you make sure that we end by noon, every Sunday."
   "It's rarely ever over five or ten minutes." Pastor said in defense. 
   "True, but many of us go out to eat on Sundays. The restaurants fill up quickly at that time. Sometimes it's hard to get a good table when you go over."
   "You know, in ancient days the Sabbath did not end precisely at noon, or last a mere hour and forty-five minutes. It was an all day thing."
   "You're point being?"
   "I thought it quite obvious." Pastor said trying to hide his irritation. 
   "Let me add a point of my own then." Steve said.  "Attendance seems to be an issue that keeps coming up, obviously we need to do more to make the congregation happy.  I believe this detail will be a step in the right direction of doing that."
   Pastor wanted to say that catering to minimally devoted always seemed to boost attendance, but he refrained from stooping to such a sarcastic jab. 
   "I will take your request into consideration. Is there anything else?" Pastor said hoping there was nothing else.
   "Not that I can think of."
   "I was about to do some work in my garden, would you care to stick around and help. Perhaps we can discuss the purpose of the Sabbath while we work on my day off."
   "I am far too busy for that today."
   "Have a good day then." 

   Once Steve was gone, pastor felt horrible. Not only was his frustration off the chart, he felt guilty for his impatience with Steve. While it certainly could have gone much worse than it did, he could have handled it much better as well.
   Rather than cater to his garden, pastor got down on his knees to pray to Jesus. To ask him for forgiveness. To ask him for guidance on what to do. To ask for his faltering strength to be renewed. 
   All of a sudden a question appeared in his head. How do you show yourselves as my disciples? The question was so out of nowhere that he felt the need to answer it out loud. 
   "By bearing fruit." Pastor said, even though that was not what he was thinking. He had something much more systematic and theological in mind. Of all the ways he could have responded, this is what God put into his heart. Which begged the question, why did this figurative scripture reference from John 15:8 come to his lips.
   This got pastor thinking.  Did this church live up to this definition of discipleship? All of a sudden he understood what he was being told. He quickly thanked God for this insight, and asked for an opportunity to share this insight.

   The board had gathered once again for the month. Even Tom who had threatened to leave. Apparently, finding a church who still had early morning services was getting quite rare these days. 
   "How is that garden turning out?" Diane asked of pastor before the meeting officially started. 
   "Not too bad."
   "I certainly hope you plan on sharing some of the fruits of your harvest." Steve said.
   "I second that." Tom said.
   "I wouldn't mind that myself." Diane said.
   "I do not have much to share, but in the spirit of God's grace I will share what I can."
   "Why is that?" Tom said. "It seemed as if you worked so hard on it."
   "I did work hard on it, but I worked on it all by myself, with no help from any of you. Much like the harvest that is this church. You all want an abundant harvest of attendees so that it will always be here for you, to feed off of, and serve your needs. Yet, you don't do your part to make that harvest prosper. Just imagine how much more this church would have to share if you all took on the responsibility of this church harvest as a true disciple should, not just demand feeding privileges. How much more would we be blessed by God if you were committed to bearing fruit for The sum total of God's harvest that affects everyone, not just concern yourselves with your share as consumers."
   The room become very quiet. Everyone got the point, and nobody had a thing to say for themselves. 
   "Of course, when we are talking about the harvest of church, a new planting season can begin anytime." Diane finally said.
   "Quite true, and there is no time like now." Tom said. 
   "I would like to start by volunteering to open our meeting with prayer." Steve said.
   "Please do." Said pastor realizing he had his prayer answered. 

The beginning 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bad Judgement

‎"It is easy to know that 'there is a way somewhere,' and even perhaps to know that others aren't on it... But this knowledge is useless unless it helps one find the way. If it merely becomes a standard of judgment, a means of showing up others and judging them for having lost their way, it is no use to anyone." 

-Thomas Merton

There is a lot of truth in this quote. For judgement, truly is of no use to anyone. It's not even any use to the Christian that chooses to judge. When a believer does that they are violating the very truth they claim to be up lifting. Not just because scripture condemns the act of judgement. (Matt 7:1-6) Judgment is also an act of pride, rather than humility, which is not very Christ like. (Pr. 11:2, 13:10) It is also a very unloving action. Which violates Jesus' commands. (Jn 15:12)  As you can see, judgment is one of the most self-condemning actions a believer can engage in. 

Well what about the one being judged? Let me put it this way. Do you like to be treated unkindly, rudely, impatiently, critically, and disrespectfully, as judgment does? Somehow I doubt it. Perhaps the better question is are you happy to conform to people who treat you that way. More likely all it ever inspires is rebellion. Guess what, nobody you judge is ever going to respond any better. So when you get down to it, judgment leads more people astray than put them on the straight and narrow. Which is also another self-condemning action of the judgmental. (Luke 17:2)

What do we observe in the world today? Non believers who are quick to fight fire with fire, by condemning critical Christians. They are saying that they claim to be about love, but look at how they love, with impatience, unkindness, rudeness, arrogant pride, criticism, and with judgment. 

No wonder Christ condemned the act of judgment, it's an evil act that is not only ineffective but self defeating. Who can ever begin to calculate the damage bad judgment has done to the church? 

two people belittling little girl
Made to feel small

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Great Divide

Here is a quote that sums up what I aspire to in my work.

The parables, as sometimes understood, were not earthly illustrations that shed light on otherwise inscrutable spiritual realities, in fact, they hid as much as they illuminated, and they were tools that separated those genuinely seeking God from the religiously complacent, or merely curious. The parables revealed the divide between these groups. Those who were just entertainment seekers went away puzzled, but for those who were earnestly seeking God, the parables became means for further exploration and pursuit of Jesus. -Adam S. McHugh

someone assembling their Christianity
The pieces won't put themselves together

Friday, April 11, 2014

The polarized church part 14: conclusion

I hope you get what I have been driving at during these last few months. That both extroverts and introverts within the body of Christ need to meet in the middle and help one another, not try to change others into a version of yourself; which only creates conflict. Within worship there is a time to be quiet and reflective, as well as a time to be exuberant and praising. Without the extrovert side of the contemporary heart focused church, worship can become dispassionate, legalistic, and ultimately insincere. Without the introvert side of the mind focused traditional church, our worship can become worldly, shallow, and ultimately selfish. 

In the end, we need to rejoice in our differences, not eliminate them for the sake of comfort. While this is but one aspect of where we need to bring unity in our diversity. Our failure to recognize it has allowed a division to faction off the church. It's a simple human failing of church leaders to try to recreate the church in their image and temperament. They always use the same argument when people resist too. "If you were faithful, you would do what I'm suggesting." Never recognizing that it takes little or any faith to just be true to their own temperament, as they are. The inherent diversity in mankind can be the biggest strength we have, if we embrace and honor it as instructed in scripture. However, it can be our greatest liability if we try to defy and fight against it, which humanity naturally tends do. 

Speaking as an introvert, the understanding I have found by educating myself about the spectrum has really granted me a lot of peace that I was lacking. It's helped me to understand myself, as well as others who naturally think, feel, and act differently than I do. Specifically why they react to me the way they do. It's really freed me from a lot of false guilt, and allowed me to accept myself as God truly made me, and not as the world would recreate me in it's so called ideal extroverted image. If you are not an introvert yourself, you are probably in relationship with one. Perhaps they are even part of your church family. They may even drive you insane on how they approach life. This information will certainly help you to understand them much better. In your case, study it because you care about them, not just yourself.

two diverse people connecting
The diversity  alga-rhythm 

Suggested reading

Friday, April 4, 2014

The polarized church part 13: Discipleship and the spectrum

Our final teaching method is apprenticeship, or if you want to use the Biblical vernacular discipleship. Technically speaking they may be slightly different, but I'd say there is more similarities than differences; especially as applied by Jesus. Sometimes I think we use the term discipleship today as a catch all term for teaching Christian values. Yet forget the specific hands on, interactive, and experience based methods Jesus actually used much of the time.

Both discipleship and apprenticeship are example based forms of teaching. Like when Jesus washed the apostle’s feet, he wasn't just telling them what to do, he was showing them how to serve one another in a real world application. Just as your mentor might in an apprenticeship. Jesus also assigned tasks to his disciples, he didn't just show them what to do, but he gave them opportunity to experience it for themselves; just as a technical school might, once they show you how, they give you the opportunity to put that knowledge to work in a real world application; not merely a theoretical one. I use that example, for in a lot of ways tech schools are a larger scale form of apprenticeship.

Which is another way all these concepts are similar. They can work on a wide variety of scales. Even Jesus had his inner circle among the twelve who were being set aside for special positions in the future church, and received special instruction that the others did not. As well as hundreds of other disciples who followed Jesus around, trying to take in everything he said and did. But over all, whatever form or scale apprenticeship or discipleship takes, it is all less mental, and more hands on. Which makes it ideal for the more extroverted student, for they much rather do than think any day. It is one of the defining characteristics that makes an extrovert what they are after all. It better captures their attention, and caters to their needs and temperament. Plus it's a proven fact that we remember what we DO to a much higher degree over what we hear or read, as much as three or four times more.

Introverts can manage fine with apprenticeship and discipleship as well. For the simple fact that even in a group setting, much of the negative aspects of competition is marginalized. Since extroverts are less likely to become bored and disruptive in said environment, and nobody gets left out of demonstration or experience like in a discussion based class. It's no wonder why more hands on type technical schools are on the upswing right now. It really is a far better option for an extrovert skewed society over a traditional lecture based education. Yet doesn't totally exclude the introvert either. 

Maybe that's why Jesus used a more active example based approach himself, it's more universal. Makes you wonder why churches aren't more Christ like in there approach in teaching that way, rather than rely so much on the biased sacred cows of lecture and group study that we've used for centuries. 

someone talking up their cross in a passionate way

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The polarized church part 12: group study and the spectrum

The dynamic of group study is one that is widely used and endorsed by not only the church, but schools and business as well. We may call them by a myriad of flashy names to sell them, but in the end they are all functionally the same. It's a widely held belief that there is power in the group dynamic, and it's the most efficient way of producing and relaying information. However, the research done on the subject has not supported this idea at all. In fact, all the data seems to indicate that this is the most inefficient methods available. One study in particular that was initially done to try to prove the virtues of the group dynamic, ended up discovering the three main culprits that make groups ineffective.

Social loafing - Any group dynamic is only a big as the number of participants. There always seem to be a few who are content to listen and not contribute. Often, these are introverts who feel overwhelmed by the high level of stimulus that groups provide. Yet, it can be an extrovert who doesn't feel that they can compete at the subject at hand. Which is what all these efficiency killers come down to, the competitive nature of groups. Extroverts  tend to naturally have that nature, and gravitate towards competitive environments because of it.  Where introverts tend to be non-confrontational. Which is why extroverts have the edge over introverts when it comes to group study. Which is the other half of the extrovert disadvantage in study I have mentioned. The method best suited to them is least efficient. 

Production blocking - There always seems to be at least one person in the group who wants to dominate the conversation. Again, a group's dynamic is only as big as the number of active participants. A production blocker keeps that number low. This is often an extrovert being their natural selves. They also have a tendency to get off the subject at hand to direct the subject towards something they can better compete in. Introverts can be guilty of production blocking on occasion too. If the subject at hand is something they are well versed in, and there are no dominants to get in their way. They may seize the opportunity to show that they are not as stupid as extroverts accuse them of being.

Evaluation apprehension - This is simply the fear of being judged harshly for what you say. Then spoiling the group dynamic by giving into that fear. Which can be anybody, who feels they cannot compete in one way or another.

As someone who has participated in and facilitated many small groups, it was easy to see the truth of these efficiency killers. I've observed them all for myself. But for the church, it shouldn't be true. For those who follow the Bible and the Holy Spirit we really should know better. We should realize that groups should be a collaborative one, not a competitive one. That they are there for well informed to share what they know with the less informed; not offer a venue to show off. The fact that it is true is a symptom of a really huge problem that the church needs to address. However, it’s a problem that even the first generation church had to deal with as well. (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) 

Finally, try to remember that as far as the church is concerned, groups are just as much about fellowship as they are learning. So it’s okay if they are not all that efficient in education. But, if they turn competitive, they are not functioning well in that sense either. 

The Visual PARABLEist

somebody experiencing evaluation apprehension
Ostracized 2

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The polarized church part 11: Private individual study and the spectrum

The next method of teaching we will be looking at is private study. It's a method endorsed by churches and schools alike. As it turns out, for a very good reason. I say this because most every research study ever done on teaching methods, have come to the same conclusion. Those who learn the most, are the ones who engage in the most private study. Despite all the millions of dollars being spent on building churches and schools. It's what we do at home that matters most. Which means the biggest part of the responsibility of education lies in the hand of the student. This idea applies to sports and music as well. Those who go far in said fields, are the ones who spend the most time in private practice; not just group practice. Group study and practice may have it’s place, but private study and practice should have a more predominate place. 

This is where part of the extrovert disadvantage in learning comes in. With private study being the lowest stimulus level method there is, extroverts naturally have a much harder time making the most efficient learning method work for them. However, there is one way that I know of to get the level of stimulus up so extroverts can concentrate. That would be to turn on the radio. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but it's absolutely true. I'm sure there are parents all across this nation yelling at their kids to turn off all the noise while they are studying, thinking they are doing a sensible thing. But I'm telling you that if your kids are extroverts, you are actually crippling their concentration. They may not do as well as a focused introvert in silence. However, they will do far better with the radio than forcing them to study like the introverts they are not. 

Introverts on the other hand often thrive here. Private study is the ideal place for them to go to work. They may even enjoy the peace of mind that such singular focus gives them. You probably remember back in school there was this one kid who knew all the answers. It's not necessarily because they were that much smarter than everyone else. In many cases that kid was probably an introvert who enjoyed study, and was simply able to get the most out of their intelligence via private study.

person being lit up by God's word
illuminate me