#LettersForMyBoys – 6

The Eternal is ready to share His wisdom with us,
    for His words bring true knowledge and insight; – Proverbs 2:6

Boys, I’m gonna slow down a little bit here. We’ve been talking about seeking wisdom…or not. We’ve talked about what happens if you choose not to seek her out. Today, I want to talk about readiness and digging deep.

This proverb says that God is ready to share his wisdom. I believe our (the Christian’s) main lens through which we filter that wisdom is the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. What people like to call “God’s truth” has to be clarified by Jesus if we claim to follow him.

Jesus was crafty. His ability to encapsulate wisdom in stories is quite unmatched anywhere else in the Bible. God is ready to share that wisdom if we are ready to hear the stories. Not just pithy bits but the whole story. That bring me to digging deeper.

The great thing about well told stories is that they hide their best ideas underneath the surface. You have to get past the words themselves and move toward the meanings behind them. If you’re able to find out why certain details are there, then you’ll find wisdom. Jesus was a master with this. He crafted stories that literally required the listener to hear more than was said.

The “words” that God is ready to share, the words that contain “true knowledge and insight,” are beyond what you are able to simply read. You have to infer and discern. You have to learn about the contexts of those stories to make any sense of them. If you stop only at the surface, if you think the words you read state anything clearly, then you have not gone far enough.

The only thing that is clear in the Bible is that nothing is clear.

Boys,

Don’t take anything at face value. Life is too complex to settle for easy answers. The voices of God are out there, the words of the Divine are available for your development. You only have to put in the work to get past the skin to get to the meat. Don’t be tempted by the Gospel according to Memes. There are not shortcuts here.

Dad

Bodybuilding Is a Team Sport

I did a sermon series in August 2018 on Ephesians called Bodybuilding.
It was a series about how we exist as “church.” Over the next couple of weeks, I will detail some of the more important points from that series. My hope is that they can help you navigate what it means to be a community in an increasingly fractured culture.

Ephesians was written by a follower of the apostle Paul.
Paul and those who followed him were extremely concerned with how Christians lived, worked, and grew in the faith with each other. One of Paul’s main ways of describing the church was as the Body of Christ.

If we want to be healthy, whether is it the church or our physicality, then we must build up our bodies. This true on an individual level. This is true on a group level. Here are four things to consider as we think about bodybuilding.

Bodybuilders don’t workout alone.
There are some things they can do alone, but even the best ones seek help from the bodybuilding community. No one makes it alone in bodybuilding. Trainers. Motivators, nutritionists, spotters, doctors, routine makers, coaches. All of these people play a part in making the best bodybuilders. “There is no I in team” the saying goes. Stop acting like you did this without climbing on the shoulders of other people. It’s not until you realize that nothing happens alone that you will realize your full potential. Full potential only happens when you work WITH your team instead of apart from it. The same is true when we talk about building up the Body of Christ.

Know who is on your team.
You can’t function as a team unless you know who is on the team. Seems straightforward but so many church folk have no idea who is on the team. Ephesians points out a few. The “Trainers/Motivators” are people called emissaries (apostles), prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Most churches have those people sitting right in the seats. Which one are you? What is your giftedness? Do you know? If you’re not one of those people, then you are what I will call a “Workout Partner.” Your role is vital to getting anything done for the church. You are often the hand and feet of ministry. Without you, nothing happens. Period.

Know your goal.
Why bother working out at all? Some of the reasons are to get stronger, healthier, better looking. Or, if you’re like me, to stave off the copious amounts of cookies, pie, and chicken wings you ingest.

Why bother building the Body of Christ? If we are going to exhibit God’s love outside of the church, then we need to know ways of putting that love into practice in order to maintain Christ’s unity inside the church. More simply, if we are going to love other people, we need to know how to love each other first.

The Body of Christ is more than a group of worshippers. Worshippers are called to adore. Bodies are made to move. We must exercise our love for one another by working together in acts of service.

If your weight bench is a clothes rack, then you’re not trying to become stronger. If we’re not putting in the work of the faith, then we’re not meeting the goals of the faith: maturity in Christ, unity in faith, and knowing more of the Son.

Some believe that the point of Christianity is to get to heaven. But that’s not the point. We’re not trying to populate heaven, we’re trying to populate the earth with God’s people.

Make your team as strong as it can be.
Since building the Body is a team sport, I want us to be intentional with each other when we interact.

  • Be Humble: Let someone else’s need go before your own.
  • Be Gentle: Even though we would never admit it in our aggressive culture, gentleness brings peace. Verbal and physical violence may cause another to submit to your will, but gentleness causes you and others to submit to the will of Christ. So, talk softly. Touch softly. A scream and a slap might cause a person to do what you want, but it will also drive them away. A whisper and a caress will also get you what you want and it will cause others to lean in closer.
  • Be Patient: Patience is waiting quietly. A patient person gives others plenty of time, even when it seems long.
  • Bear Each Other in Love: This is my favorite one because it implies disagreement. You don’t have to “bear with” someone that you agree with. You just agree with them. You have to bear with someone with whom you disagree. Another way to put this might be to say to “tolerate and deal with each other.” But the kicker here is that we are called to “bear with each other in love.” That means when we disagree, even extremely, we all need to just chill out a little bit. Calm down, don’t be in a fuss or in a hurry to get your own way. Be kind to each other.

You might think a person who loves like that is weak, but you’d be wrong. Jesus exhibited every single one of these to perfection and I don’t think any of us think he was weak. And if we are going to grow in maturity as his disciples and know more of him, then we need to start behaving toward others the way he did.

Being humble, gentle, patient, and kind in face of disagreement is what makes of unified in our faith in Jesus. We are called to unity not uniformity. Unity in Christ is all of us following Jesus and doing everything we do in accordance with his way. Uniformity would be all of us looking and acting the same way while we do it. We are all called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, but no one ever said it had to be a single file line.

The bottom line is this: when you love the Body of Christ, you will work to build the Body of Christ.

Pastors Can Dance??

Some can. Thanks to my experience growing up in inner city Cleveland I can say I’ve got more moves than many of my colleagues.

I attended Cleveland School of the Arts and was in the ethnic minority. Being a shy and awkward grain of salt in a pepper shaker usually meant that I chose to be a bouncer at the school dances rather than an active participant. Until my senior year that is.

At our September Senior Slam that year, I was approached by some of my friends who simply stated that it would be a tragedy for me to go my whole school career surrounded by black kids and not learn to dance. The exact sentiment was much more colorful than that but you get the picture. (NOTE: I recognize that this story relies on a racial stereotype, but the interaction is true. It happened. It was their sentiment. Not mine. I’m glad they did it!)

So, they dragged me away from my spot at the door and taught me some basic moves. At every dance for the rest of the year, a group of friends would get me out on that dance floor and teach me how to use what God gave me. We had a blast!

That brings me to a recent clergy gathering I attended with my wife.

After dinner, a very small group of us got out on the dance floor. With the exception of yours truly, we were a perfect picture of stiffness and awkward gyrations. I mean, it was a sight. But we were having fun and that’s all that mattered.

Except that we noticed the staff at the venue gathered in a corner pointing a giggling at our struggle to make our bodies move with grace. In that moment, I was faced with two options: embarrassment or empowerment. I chose the latter.

I stepped across the dance floor toward the group of snickering service workers and told them that we would love for them to join us out on the floor. They were stunned. I think they expected me to rip them a new one or ask to speak with a supervisor. Nope.

I asked the whole group to join us…and two of them did. It was great! We all got in a circle and did different moves. As each person would introduce a new move, the rest of the group followed suit. Soon the whole group was doing the same weird move. It was quite a sight.

Another interesting thing happened. Those who hung back dispersed. Apparently, it’s a lot harder to make fun of your friends than it is a group of strangers. In that moment, that group realized that they weren’t making fun of awkward dance moves. They were picking on people having fun. They realized that they were bothered by the carefree spirit of others because it attacked their own insecurities. I guess it wasn’t fun for them anymore.

There are lots of lessons to take from this situation. Two I think are particularly useful for our time are these:

When you find yourself tearing someone else down, ask yourself if you are really upset/bothered by what they are doing. If yes, then why? Is it really them or is it something inside of you that feels inadequate?

If you find yourself being made fun of or picked on, don’t stop what your doing to please the mob. Instead, invite them to be a part of the weirdness. You might be surprised at the response.

Pondering Principles – Animal Life

Care about the animals of the world? So do United Methodists! Check out the Animal Life portion of our Social Principles here.

There are a couple of things I could talk about in this section, but here is the one that stuck out the most as I read and re-read the short paragraph on Animal Life:

We encourage commitment to effective implementation of national and international governmental and business regulations and guidelines for the conservation of all animal species with particular support to safeguard those threatened with extinction.

Social Principles – Animal Life

It was the “those threatened with extinction” bit that got me. As I pondered this statement, it got me thinking about all of the countless species of animals that have gone extinct throughout the course of history. Animals go extinct. It is simply a part of the natural order of existence. So, why should I care about them?

The reason why we should care about the staggering rate of animal extinction these days is that those animals are not being wiped from the earth by natural means. They are being taken off the map by us. Our misuse of this planet and its resources have cause unfathomable devastation to the ecosystems and the animals living in them.

The apathy about this is so strong that, in the days since it was announced, I haven’t heard one friend or acquaintance of mine mention the silent extinction of giraffes taking place. Not even on Facebook, the platform for armchair activists. Folks, we all should care much, much more than we do about the extinction of animals, not because we can stop them from disappearing, but because we can stop being the reason for it.


#LettersForMyBoys – 5

Seek stupidity, find stupidity. That’s what we learned from the last portion of Proverbs. But what happens if you seek out wisdom? What happens if you realize early on that you might not be able to figure this out alone?

My son, if you accept what I am telling you
    and store my counsel and directives deep within you,
If you listen for Lady Wisdom, attune your ears to her,
    and engage your mind to understand what she is telling you,
If you cry out to her for insight
    and beg for understanding,
If you sift through the clamor of everything around you
    to seek her like some precious prize,
    to search for her like buried treasure;
5Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal,
    and you will have discovered the knowledge of the one TrueGod.

Proverbs 2:1-5 (The VOICE)

Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal and you will have discovered the knowledge of the one True God.

Boys,

Hear this loud and clear. It is not through rule following or purity or pious worship that we show our respect (some might say reverent fear?) for God. It is by seeking wisdom, by realizing that we do not know everything. And guess what? You’re never going to know everything. The moment you stop seeking wisdom, the moment you start thinking you’ve got this all figured out, that is the moment you put yourself above God.

Does that mean you have no convictions? Of course not. But, it does mean holding loosely to those convictions in the face of new information. It means being open to change. It means acknowledging to yourself and the world that you are willing to be molded by the hands of your creator. 


Wisdom isn’t about being right. Wisdom is about seeking what is true.

Dad

Well Which Is It? Adoption or Abortion?

If you’re going to cry out for people to adopt rather than abort, then maybe the adoption process should be so restrictive.

Some recent legislative bills being introduced in Tennessee slam home a reality that makes my head spin. Some of the same people who yell loudest against abortion are the same ones limiting the ability for born children to be adopted.

It is quite infuriating. It smacks not of morality but of power, the power to say who can and cannot raise children.

This isn’t just theory for me. I’ve have very close friends who have been in the adoption process for years. I have seen the struggle they have had to endure. They are pro-life. They are trying to do their part to reduce the proliferation of abortion in this country. Yet, they still wait by no fault of their own.

They still wait because people who have a history of poor choices get to choose for them.

And now we see legislation being introduced to make it even harder to children to be adopted. Why? Under the guise of religious freedom. It’s interesting to me how often religion freedom looks like restriction and exclusion for the good of the club and not for the good of those in need.

So…Now What Do We Do?

How we respond to the miraculous is just as important as trusting that they can happen.

Often, what can happen when we actually DO trust Jesus and the power of miracles is that we sit back and say, “Alright Jesus! You’re up. Do your thing. I’m going to just sit here and wait.” If we get complacent and expect miracles to bail us out, then we get lazy. We stop planning and working.

The better response from the disciples would have been and indeed the way we ought to respond is by saying, “Jesus, I’m going to try to do this thing. Will you give me a hand? I know this is going to be so much better with you.”

In one sense, then, it was good that the disciples never stopped trying to figure things out. This bled over after Jesus was gone and they were sent out to make other disciples. Empowered by the Spirit, they still had the work ethic that said they needed to work with the Spirit and not in place of the Spirit. They knew that miracles could happen. They just didn’t wait for them to happen.

The other things we can do is that we can also overanalyze the meaning of the miracle and make it out to be a fulfilling of our wants and desires instead of letting the miracle point to the Miracle Worker. Jesus isn’t an ATM to supply your wants. He is the source of all life that overflows your needs. Miracles do not happen to fulfill wants. They fulfill needs.

But look what happens in this passage. The people get fed. Jesus does this amazing thing. Certainly, many of those people had seen or at least heard about the other miracles Jesus had done previously. They decide that he’s probably the eagerly waited for Messiah.

We don’t have time today to get deep into the assumptions that held for the crowd other than to say they way they thought the Messiah should behave was not the way Jesus knew it needed to happen.

But they see this miracle and respond by launchingout into thinking about how they could take this amazing miracle worker and usehim to fulfill a deeply held desire. It wasn’t a need, though they might have arguedotherwise. The conquering Messiah that would come and physically overthrow theRoman occupation was something wanted but not ultimately something needed atthat time. And Jesus knew it.

In the book Anatomy of a Miracle, there is a story of a woman who sees a paralyzed veteran get up out of his wheelchair and walk. She believes he has God’s favor and Jesus’ ear. She tells the young man, “I need Jesus to hear you say my name tonight.” She responded to witnessing a miracle to try to get something out of Jesus. She responded to the miracle by expecting more right then. Instead of thinking that she should pray more earnestly and trust in Jesus to work through her prayers, she saw the miracle and placed her trust in something other than Jesus himself.

How do WE respond to the miraculous? Do we rely onmiracles to pick up our slack? Do we hope and pray for miracles to give us whatwe want…or what we need? Do we even know the difference? Do we trust in Jesusto journey along with us as we do work in his name or do we expect him to doall of the heavy lifting?

Trust that miracles can happen and that more oftenthan not they will happen through our actions and resources…but they will bedriven by God’s power.

Pray for our needs and not for our wants.

Realize that miracles always point to the glory andgoodness of Jesus and not us.

Ifyou remember nothing else, remember this: We don’t havethe power to fix the world. We have the power to trust Jesus (and respond appropriatelyto his miracles).

Pondering Principles – Energy Resources Utilization

The UMC accepts global climate change as a matter of fact. You can read the UMC Social Principles here. We are in the third section.

The section on energy resource utilization is written with the assumption that global warming is real. I agree with this assessment. I state this because we live in a time when expertise has been mocked, ridicules and set in a place of disdain by much of the general public. If the information presented by people who actually do this crap as their life’s work doesn’t jive with what we believe or want to hear, then we just cast it aside and think we know better. We call it #FakeNews.

The portion of this section that struck me is this:


Everybody should adapt his or her lifestyle to the average consumption of energy that respects the limits of the planet earth. We encourage persons to limit CO2 emissions toward the goal of one tonne per person annually.

UMC Social Principles – Energy Resource Utilization

Why did this stick out? It made me take pause because I had absolutely no idea what my personal CO2 emissions were – commonly referred to as my carbon footprint. How much do I use? What is the average usage? What might I have to use in order to help stop climate change? I had no clue. I’ll bet you don’t either.

Fortunately, I did a little digging and, not surprisingly, there’s a website that can at least give you a general idea of your carbon footprint. If you follow this link, you can take a very short quiz to see where you stand. I was floored by my own results.

My average yearly carbon footprint is 8.6t, which is just a tad over the average for a person in the EU (8.4t). I’m not sure what the average person in the USA uses, but I’ll bet it’s pretty similar.

What is the amount myclimate.org says each person has to limit to in order to halt climate change? .600t. Yes, you read that right…just over 1/2t for a whole year. And I’m sitting at 8.6t just on my own…as is the average person. We are talking about billions of people. We have a giant problem, a problem that ain’t #FakeNews.

This is a big problem that requires real change in all of us. We may not have to deal with the fallout directly (though we are starting to), but future generations will.

#LettersForMyBoys – 4

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

I love this poem!

While Proverbs might have a popular following for some of the pithier, more digestible verses, the book also has a great personification of Wisdom in the early chapters. We get a great glimpse of how storytelling and poetry combine to give a great admonition: Don’t be stupid or you’re going to regret it!

There’s another voice in town.
    It belongs to Lady Wisdom, who calls out in the street.
    She cries out in the town square,
At the city gates, in the noisy city streets,
    you can hear her speaking over the racket.


Lady Wisdom: You simple, naive people, how long will you love your feeble ways?
    You simpletons, how long will you enjoy making fun of what you don’t understand?
        You fools, how long will you hate learning what truly matters?
    Turn to me and receive my gentle correction;
    Watch and I will pour out my spirit on you;
        I will share with you my wise words in order to redirect your lives.
   You hear, but you have refused to answer my call.
        My hands reached out, but no one noticed.
    All my advice, all my correction, all have been neglected—
        you wanted nothing of them.
    So I will be the laughter you hear when misfortune comes, and it will come.
        I will be the mocking sound when panic grips you—
    When panic comes like a stormy blast,
        when misfortune sweeps in like a whirlwind,
        when sorrow and anguish weigh you down.


 This is when they will call on me, but I will not respond;
    they will be frantic to find me, but they won’t be able.
Because they despised knowledge of my ways,
    and they also refused to respect and honor the Eternal,
 Because they rejected my advice
    and turned down my correction,
 They will surely get what’s coming to them:
    they’ll be forced to eat the fruit of their wicked ways;
    they’ll gorge themselves on the consequences of their choices.
 You see, it’s turning away from me that brings death to the simple,
    and it’s self-satisfaction that destroys the fools.
 But those who listen to me now will live under divine protection;
    they can rest knowing they are out of harm’s way.

Proverbs 1:20-33 (The VOICE translation)

The fact that Wisdom isn’t hiding but is instead shouting from the street corner is excellent! Too often, I think we view wisdom as some secret society thing. Only a select few have access to it and they have to seek it out. But here, we get a view of wisdom that says that she is seeking us out….kind of like God. And, like with God so often, we reject wisdom when it is staring us in the face.

One of the other fun aspects of this personification of wisdom is her attitude. Her words are dripping with snark. Wisdom is my kind of woman. This view of wisdom adds some great context for the “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” passage in Matthew (10:16). Wisdom is having none of your bullshit.

Boys,

Don’t be stupid. I’m not sure I can say it more plainly. Wisdom is out there just waiting for you to listen. You’ll hear her voice coming from all kinds of places. Her true voice will not lead you astray. Her words will not cause you to hurt yourself or others. She will redirect your footsteps when they are going off course. If you don’t listen, you’ll be sorry.

When you finally do listen to her, you’ll suffer deep regret. That regret might be about the actions themselves. More likely, you’ll simply regret knowing you were smart enough to know better but you didn’t act upon that knowledge.

You’re going to mess up. We all do. God knows I certainly mess up more than my fair share. The great thing about wisdom is that, even though it may come in mocking tones, it will always give you a second chance. Yeah. I know that she seems a little irritated in the poem. I don’t know any woman that likes being ignored. Give her a chance to cool off and then listen. Don’t just listen – do what she says. Wisdom and knowledge are nothing if they just sit as actionless thoughts in your head.

Dad

The Bible Says It … That Settles It

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

No. It doesn’t. Here’s an excerpt from Adam Hamilton’s blog where he addresses this fallacy.

“It is for these reasons that the biblical authors at times wrote things that today we rightly reject. We no longer believe it is permissible for one nation to kill every man, woman, and child of another nation; we call this genocide and consider it a war crime, though Israel was commanded to do this more than thirty times. We no longer beat our children with rods and if we observed this we would report the parent for child abuse, even though Proverbs repeatedly commends the practice. We no longer practice polygamy nor have concubines, though many of the Bible’s authors and heroes practiced polygamy and had concubines. We don’t believe that rebellious children should be put to death, nor that work on the Sabbath be a capital crime. We don’t believe women should keep silent in the church, nor do we require them to pray with their heads covered. And though the Bible introduced important regulations regarding slavery, it permitted slavery, including the beating of slaves, seeing the slave as the property of the master. And while the New Testament authors could have forbidden slave-holding among Christians, saving slaves centuries of human misery, they seem not to have imagined a world without slavery.”

Source: The Bible Says It … That Settles It