Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amazing God

As I tried to guide the 7x tippet (2 pound test line) through the tiny eye on the trout fly I was amazed at God. A size 24 hook has a 1/16th inch gap. I don't know how small that makes the eye on that hook, but it's really tiny. I need 3x magnifying glasses to get it done. I was about to cast this tiny fly into rushing water, foaming white and transluscent green when the thought hit me, "How in the world can a trout see this thing?" And the answer came, "Because God is awesome." He created the tiny bugs the trout eats, and made the trout to perfectly match his environment (rushing, frigid water), to be able to see his food. And, He made man with the insane ability to manufacture a graphite rod that weighs only a few ounces, a specialized line that carries the tiny fly on the end of a flourocarbon tippet down into the water. He created man with the ability to imagine how to create all of this and to tie the fly that would so match the natural food of the finicky trout that the fish would attack it as food. I am not amazed at the trout, or stream, or the man, but at the God who created them all.

Parenting, One Minute At A Time

In the last few weeks, I have become aware of how much I do not deserve the wife and children God has given me. My inadequacies as a parent are too numerous to list. Given our families of origin, the statistics say we should be divorced and have dysfunctional children. We do not. Pastor's children are expected to live rebelliously, even though statistics show they are less likely to do so than others. And, while we have advanced education in working with families and children, and that training has given us some tools, we have learned that tools aren't all we need. We home school, yet we know that homeschooling is no more a guarantee of godly children than public school is a guarantee of ungodly children.

In my life of inconsistent living, I've tried to figure out what has worked. What is it that God has taught me that I need to keep doing. First, I think that He has taught me what the supreme goal of parenting is. It is not earthly success, but eternal character. We have kept our eyes set firmly on this future for our children; that they would, above all, be a man and woman with the character of Christ. Again and again I have told them that what they do in the future is of much less concern to me and God than who they are in that future. If they have the character to follow God faithfully, they will do what God has planned and it will be the best future for them.

The other things is this. I have learned to live one minute at a time, especially in my relationship with God, my wife, and my children. Too often, our answer to a problem is an event. When church is cold and lifeless, we schedule an event. When we are bored and burned out, we schedule an event. When we sense our children slipping away, we often schedule an event like a vacation or a special outing.

When I sense distance between me and God, or me and my wife, or me and my children, and I schedule an event, the distance usually follows us there. When I sense distance and I simply take a minute to repent, listen, and love, the distance disappears. Any Christian can be a Christian parent one minute at a time. Once we take a minute, we find that the time melts away. Soon, parenting is no longer a chore or a fear, but a joy. Minute by minute we live. Minute by minute we must parent. Minute by minute we help our children build a foundation of faithfulness to God that He will use for their future.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Killdeer Parenting

I recognized the two immature birds as Killdeer Plovers. I moved toward them to get a closer look, their parents saw me as a threat and began performing the "broken wing" maneuver. They flew a short distance, called out loudly, fell on the ground and began to flash their wings sideways in an attempt to entice me, the supposed predator, away from their babies. Even if I had caught one of the baby birds, the Killdeers would not have attacked me. They would simply have continued to attempt to distract.

Some people parent the same way. They never really protect, they only distract. Those parents use the TV, computer, school, community services, and even the church as a distraction. Church leaders often hear it this way, "We need to do something at church to keep our kids off the street."

Children do not need Killdeer parents. They need real parents who protect them by building parenting relationships with them; i.e., loving parents who are more concerned about their child's best than they are with being their child's friend. God has assigned the rearing of the child to its parents; not to the school, the church, or the village. Parenting is the hardest job anyone could ever do, but the good news is that it is temporary. It lasts only to the child's adulthood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Unwitting Accomplices To The Demise Of The Church - Part 3

One afternoon, he drove up to his home to find his wife and children standing in the front yard with eyes and mouths open, staring blankly at what had been his perfect house. As he looked toward the house, he was shocked. The center section had fallen three feet. Rafters were protruding from the roof on the right and the left. The front door was splintered. How could this have happened? He did not know that the house had been built on top of an underground stream. He knew there was a spring that came out of the hillside down below, but he had not been aware that the water had slowly eroded a sink hole under the center of his house. That day, however, in a catastrophic event, the center of the house had fallen into the hole. Years of erosion had done their work.

Lenin said that the west would fall without a battle of arms. He said that the last great western power would fall from internal corruption whose roots was in the selfishness of capitalism. Of course, his empire fell first from the corruption of the selfishness of communism. I wonder if the constant criticism of the local church has been reform or erosion.

How can I correct, how can I hold the church to account without eroding its foundation? I must first hold myself to account. I must awake each morning and look into the mirror for the log in my eye. I must hold myself to accountability. All church change in the New Testament came in the context of the church. Leaders are held to account by elders and by the body. Elders and the body hold members to account. Brothers and sisters go to brothers and sisters personally, via their relationships, when correction is needed. The worst possible discipline of the local church was excommunication, removal of a member from the church. Today, we are much more likely to perform congregational excommunication, removing the church from ourselves.

Above all, I must make sure that my motive is love, not rightness; love, not selfishness; love, not power. I must be more concerned about building up the church on Christ than tearing it down around me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Unwitting Accomplices To The Demise Of The Church - Part 2

Dr. Carle Zimmerman, a distinguished sociologist who taught at Harvard for years, wrote the book Family And Civilization, demonstrating the connections between the rise and fall of various social and family structures and the rise and fall of the Romans, the Greeks, Medieval and Modern Europe, and the United States. He identified eleven symptoms of final decay. Here are a few of them; increased disrespect for parenthood and parents; defamation of past national heroes; widespread attitudes of feminism, narcissism, and hedonism; propogation of antifamily sentiment; rebellious children.

For at least the past 30 years, the church in America has been criticized by a constant, gnawing form that some have called reformation. Yet, there has been nothing as noble and majestic as Luther's 95 Theses nailed to the door. The Charismatic renewal divided and weakened. The Revival decade wrecked as many lives and churches as it healed. The Conservative Resurgence, while doctrinally imperative, brought no new Spiritual Awakening. Somewhere in the battle for the Bible, we seemed to have lost the high ground. Emerging, emergent, reformed, and neoreformed seem just as likely to criticize the local church as to serve it, to look down upon as to lift up.

I do not speak from the position of observation, but from the position of participation. I have spent time examining each movement, talking with its leaders, and listening. And, I have heard one constant through the last 30 years. Criticism of the local church.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Unwitting Accomplices To The Demise Of The Church - Part 1

This big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she gets where she's going. Always has, always will, until the end of time. with or without you. - J. F. Powers, Wheat That Springeth Green

I have been an adult for the last thirty years, and a pastor for half that long. Those three decades have been a time of tremendous change in the church. The first, the late seventies and early 80's was the decade of the Charismatics. While the movment had been around for some time, its fervor was at its peak. People of all Christian denominations were dissatisfied with what they perceived as a lack of spirituality.

The second decade, the late 80's into the mid 90's were characterized by revivalism. Many who had sought exprience were now dissatisfied, and they sought more. The mantra of this age could very well be the song, More Love, More Power, More, More More. Our own church and community experienced a movement of God in which hundreds were born again and hundreds changed. However, the fires have now cooled.

The last decade is hard for me to define. It has been filled with the reformed reaction against the revivalists, the emergent reaction against the traditional church, and the missional reaction against perceived complacency. Barna gave up on reformation and espoused revolution. Eldridge decried the local church as the great emasculator. MacLaren tore down the Bible and enshrined the culture, and here we all sit in the middle of a declining and diminishing Christian community.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Apprenticed To Christ - Part 2

A few months ago I began tying flies for fishing. I purchased a book, read, and tried to tie a few. They were pitiful. So, I found some men who have tied flies for years and watched them. Then I tried again. The result was a little better, but not much. So, I continued to read, and then I found videos on the internet about how to tie flies. I apprenticed myself to professional fly tyers through these videos. On our last fishing trip, I supplied the flies for the men who fished and we actually caught fish. It was awesome.
When Christ called His disciples, He did not only call them to a new philosophy. He called them to a new life, a new way of life, and the only way they could learn that life was to follow Him. Too often we think Christianity is a belief system. While we must know about Him, we must, more importantly, know Him. The disciples were able to physically follow Him, and in that they were blessed. Yet, God says that we are more blessed, who follow Him without seeing. To those of us who have apprenticed ourselves to Him through faith, we follow in the Spirit. Yet, we must follow, and not merely believe. Faith without the expression of that same faith is dead.
Eugene Peterson knew something vital about following Christ when he wrote, "A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith." (p.18, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, 2th Anniversary Edition).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Apprenticed To Christ - Part 1

I built cabinets for several years to help put myself through college. I knew nothing about cabinet building when I started, but learned by apprenticing under a master craftsman. He ran a mill shop that made virtually all the furniture for the university I attended. When someone needed something, he would design the furniture to meet the need and then I would build it. As I grew in skill, and awareness of our ability to build furniture grew, we hired others who apprenticed under me. I was never a master craftsman, but I learned enough in his company to basically run the mill shop in his absence. And, in every case, the furniture we built was built to meet the needs of the university. While our expertise helped design and create it, it was only created to meet an existing need; not because we wanted to be creative. And, while I did build furniture for myself, the greatest joy I had was in building a piece of furniture or cabinetry that perfectly met the need of the university. When I went back for my college homecoming last year, I took my family to see some of the things we had built twenty-five years ago. Even though none of those students have a clue who built those cabinets, I do, and I have the joy of seeing them accomplishing their purposes over two decades later.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In The Company Of Men

It is not possible for a man to learn how to be a man in the company of women. He can learn much from the women in his life. Timothy learned of the faith through his mother and grandmother. Yet, God put Paul in his life as a spiritual father. This weekend I spent time in the company of men. We left home, journied to the river, and spent time with God, in prayer and in the Word. We experienced the powerful call of God to live as men of valor, men of God. It was a sovereignly ordained event, drawing us to this place away from our homes into this company of men. There we learned more of what it means to be a Christian man, and it was good. It was very good. From the Gadites there went over to David at the stronghold in the whildernesss mighty and experienced warriors, expert with shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions and who were swift as gazelles upon the mountains. (1 Chron. 12:8 - ESV)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Breakfast With Christ

I wonder what it was like to get up early in the morning and begin the day by the campfire with Jesus. Groggy, stiff from sleeping on the ground. No coffee. Wake to Jesus tossing a few pieces of wood on the fire, wood He created. Parch some grain on a stone by the fire. Pass around a crust of bread and the water skin. Maybe some dry fish. Perhaps a date or fig. Then, as we wondered if we would break a tooth on the grain, wondering what He would do or say today.