Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Father love

In Stephen's grand sermon in Acts 7, he quotes from the prophet Isaiah: "Heaven is my throne room; I rest my feet on earth. So what kind of house will you build me? says God. Where can I get away and relax? It's already built and I built it. And you continue so bull headed! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you're just like your ancestors."

Uh, yeah. I'm so like that, the bullheaded part, the calluses on my heart part, the flaps on my ears.

I am so like Paul in Romans 7: "The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge."

Uh, yeah.

So, what do we do to combat this need to, er, covertly rebel.

Paul in Romans 8 wrote, "With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?"

God is for us.
God loves us.
God makes it so that we can get better. If sin is an illness, Jesus is the cure. He loves us in ways we still don't completely get.

I stole this for our understanding and to lift us up on a Friday:

My Child -
You may not know me, but I know everything about you - Psalm 139:1
I know when you sit down and when you rise up - Psalm 139:2
I am familiar with all your ways - Psalm 139:3
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered - Matthew 10:29-31
For you were made in my image - Genesis 1:27
In me you live and move and have your being - Acts 17:28
For you are my offspring - Acts 17:28
I knew you even before you were conceived - Jeremiah 1:4-5
I chose you when I planned creation - Ephesians 1:11-12
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book - Psalm 139:15-16
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live - Acts 17:26
You are fearfully and wonderfully made - Psalm 139:14
I knit you together in your mother's womb - Psalm 139:13
And brought you forth on the day you were born - Psalm 71:6
I have been misrepresented by those who don't know me - John 8:41-44
I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love - 1 John 4:16
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you - 1 John 3:1
Simply because you are my child and I am your father - 1 John 3:1
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could - Matthew 7:11
For I am the perfect father - Matthew 5:48
Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand - James 1:17
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs - Matthew 6:31-33
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope - Jeremiah 29:11

Because I love you with an everlasting love - Jeremiah 31:3

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Give it your best

I have a coach, now. I'm still not absolutely sure what she is coaching, whether it's professional or personal or a it of both, as Peter Quill would say if you know what I mean. But she's working hard on me, and I feel a sense of empowerment.

So, here we go.

Part of what we're exploring is based on Romans 12. I read from the beginning (in the Message), "So here's what I want you to do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking around life -- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for your is the best thing your can do for him."

What she is driving at in Romans 12 comes below, talking about the various parts of a human body, and how each part has meaning and function.

But before we arrive there, we get to the above scripture.

Look at it this way: whatever your job is, treat it as if God gave it to you, because he did. Whatever your perceive your talents to be, do them to the best of your ability because they are God-given.

Think of what this world could be like if only the ones who were card-carrying Christians (I know, I know, there is no such thing) signed up in their churches for the areas they are talented in, gifted in, and did those things with joy and purpose. What would the world be like if everyone used whatever time is left in their lives to make other lives better? What could we accomplish as the church if everyone stood up and stepped up and coached up and student-ed up and you get the mental picture by now i think.

Churches that are growing understand this principle. It's about doing. It's about being. It's about living into what God has given us.

Paul says this: "If you preach, just preach God's message, nothing else. If you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face."

If picking up Cheereos from the floor where your toddler has deposited them is your job, do it well. If being head of a major company, do it the best you can.

Do it all as a gift from the one who loves us most.

That's the idea.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Answers? Nah. Questions? Yeah

A young Tulane (I'm assuming that, of course) called me a couple days ago, and we wound up in a 45-minute discussion on the fully divine/fully human aspect of Jesus. Really.

She peppered me with question after question, often using the Hebrew, sometime the Greek, quoting what a local rabbi had said about a practicing Jew would never have said he was God, Elohim. I came back with the Gospel of John's quoting of Jesus using the I am statements, which seem to me (and plenty of others) to be his declaration of who he was.

I finally said, after failing miserably about deciding which civilization came first Babylonian or Egyptian (if she had asked about Seattle and New England I could have stumped her!!!), I told her that in the end, to me, it comes not to councils that decided Jesus was divine as well as human, Godhead three in one and on and on among the many things I know but can't define completely. It comes down to a leap of faith, not a use of the brain, I said, for some things our own humanity can't quite get our brain around.

We finished by me asking her to come to our church for services.

I say all that to say this: I'm just a used to be writer/editor. Too often, that's my identity, as someone near to me pointed out yesterday. I'm barely clergy, being that strange humanoid called a local pastor that I've sort of come to despise at times for it leaves me in a bit of two worlds and in some ways of neither.

I don't know all the answers. I can't quote Greek or Hebrew without use of a book or two. I haven't had the class the young lady is taking nor could I stand up under the scrutiny of a rabbi or two.

I'm just a lonely blogger with a few readers from day to day, and sometimes I manage to make some furious on both sides of an issue, which I guess in the long run makes the piece a perfect one.

I'm just a guy who loves Jesus and fails about every other day on a good week. I'm just as broken as the next person, just as damaged as the one beyond that, and the only answers I truly know are my shoe size and my age, and as time has progressed, I have to work to remember both (and I'm pretty sure my foot is shrinking as I get older).

I have an aversion to scales, to taxes, to labels on people and to the Atlanta Falcons and on occasion to Ole Miss fans (long story there).

But I've never tried to hurt anyone, and I do still believe that any one in combat who defends our country is a special person but that anyone in combat has at one time or another if they are a deep thinker has had to at least think about Jesus saying love your enemy. Doesn't mean in combat one wouldn't have to kill. It means it is a serious, serious thing to take a life.

Nothing more was meant yesterday. I'm not anti-troops, at all. I am anti-war, but I understand why we do some of the things we do.

I'm just a lonely blogger with a few readers from day to day. I don't have all the answers. Never said I did. But I do pose questions. That's my completely unappointed job.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

American Sniper indeed

I have only a few rules to live by:

1) Never, never wear black socks with shorts.
2) Always puts on a sock and a sock and a shoe and a shoe, starting with the right foot.
3) Never believe it when the weather folks tell you the worst thing ever is going to hit, but always be suspect when they say it won't.

On all other things, I'm negotiable.

I've learned over time, however, that I am among the few left on the planet who are in the middle. I go to the left on some things. I go to the right on some things. I stand up, sit down, never fight, fight, fight.

So how and when did we get to a point where all things are not negotiable, but rather of such non-negotiable status that we can't get along at all?

I suspect it was somewhere in the Reagan administration, but I could be wrong.

The latest bugaboo is over a movie I can't see though I desperately want to. This whole notion of American Sniper and the left going nuts and the right turning out in groves is amazing. I can't see it, by the way, because we long ago stopped seeing R rated movies though I've never made it a big deal from the pulpit and completely understand if you don't understand that, you bunch of heathens (LOL).

I have read and read and read about the film, though, and understand it to be a fairly neutral look at a very complicated subject, this thing we call war. I've understood that you leave the theater almost in tears. I've understood that Chris Kyle was a special fellow. I get all that. I also get that Clint Eastwood has spent some time as a film maker looking at this very complicated mess we call war in the past.

I've always fairly been against war, except for that time I was for it, by the way. Again, standing up for something or falling for anything is a bit of my lifestyle I freely admit. This being a middle of the road kind of guy can be difficult at times.

How do we deal with war? How do we, as Christians, balance killing our enemy with loving our enemy? Those questions have haunted us for two hundred plus years. I suspect they will continue to

In our public debates, however, as one nation, under God (as it says, I didn't make that up), it seems to me that we need to be learning once again to talk to each other instead of yell at each other or that one nation thing is going to go the way of the white sock.

Till then, I guess we'll just keep sniping at each other.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A tweet that caused pain

Perhaps you saw the notice on Facebook on Friday.

The “Director of Civil and Human Rights” for the United Methodist Church, Bill Mefford, posted a picture to Twitter mocking the pro-life marchers on the 40th anniversary of Woe v Wade. Mefford, who works for the Church’s lobby arm, the General Board of Church and Society, ridiculed the marchers by posting a picture of himself standing before them with a sign saying “I march for sandwiches.”

Many took umbrage with the picture. Mefford apologized and we go on.

But I wanted to take a minute here. I've met Mefford and found him to be a real down-to-earth concerned loving person. He has worked with the homeless. He has worked with immigrants. He has worked in areas that some of us haven't worked.

And there is no doubt he stands for the rights of women.

He was just wrong.

As someone wrote the other day, a great proportion of the pro-life marchers are young people. They are volunteers, unpaid and untrained. Mefford, on the other hand, is a grown man, one whose actual job is to represent Christians in the public square. How is it, then, that if we compare Mefford and the young marchers, the adolescents are the ones who come out looking like adults?

Abortion in this country is, or should be, a serious subject, still. How is it that in the culture wars this has become such a joke to some, especially the Director of Civil and Human Rights, of which it would seem to me to be such a basic human right, that of life itself?

I've come a long way toward the left on many subjects by looking and listening and learning, but on this one subject, I can't move.

I encourage serious discussion on all subjects that we find separate us. Mefford apparently does not. Of that an apology will not dissuade.

Friday, January 23, 2015

One coffee shop at a time

I had the opportunity to spend more than an hour at a local PJs) a coffee shop for those not in the know) yesterday. I was working on putting some thoughts for a sermon down on, er, paperish -- on my tablet.

But what I did mostly, along with drinking a surprisingly good cup of coffee (normally I'm a Starbucks' vanilla latte guy), was watch humanity come walking through.

There was the server with the orangeish (did you get the idea that one could add ish to anything and it seem much more descriptive?) curly hair. The guy with the hair shaved on the sides of his noggin and thick black curls on top like a cap. The woman with the way too tight tee-shirt that proclaimed the goodness of PJs. The older woman with the long, long black coat that dripped from the evening rain that pelted the Crescent City. She looked like someone out of a Batman movie with that coat. The woman with the voice that carried across the large interior. She is having problems with one particular professor at Tulane.

As I put word to paperish, words about integrity, honesty, righteousness and goodness, I studied the faces around me, looking into what their eyes for what they could tell me. I listened to their stories, played out over coffee and the occasional muffin. As the rain washed the streets of Uptown New Orleans, I allowed myself an hour to be a part -- granted a very small part -- of others' lives.

I thought of the Brandon Heath tune Give Me Your Eyes:

Give me your heart for the broken-hearted
Give me your eyes, so I can see.

Now, I get that I must (we must) do more than listen from afar. I get that we must develop relationships with these folks. But for a while, with rain a baptismal font as such, and PJs well-lit coffee house on a murky evening, I felt a connection to my city and to its residents.

Give me your heart, Father.
Give me your love, Father.
Give me your hope, Father.
Give me your power, Father.
Give me your Son, Father.
Give me your peace, your will, your ways.
Give me you, Father, so I may give you to the curly haired coffee server, and the rain-coated coffee-buying woman.
Give me you so that the strangers in PJs will become disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the (community) world.

Let peace on earth begin with me, Father. One coffee shop at a time.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cat scratch fever

Maybe you saw the little televised tiff the other day.
Jon Stewart ripped into Mike Huckabee on the "Daily Show" Monday, saying the former Arkansas governor was being hypocritical in his recent criticism of Beyoncé. In his book that was released Tuesday, "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy," Huckabee rails against what he describes as the artist's "explicit" style and questions whether her husband, Jay-Z, is "exploiting his wife as a sex object." 
The potential presidential contender, who recently ended his Fox News show, also argued that the Obamas shouldn't let their daughters listen to the multiplatinum singer because "what you put in your brain is also important, as well as what you put into your body."
On the show Monday, Huckabee argued that Beyoncé is a "megatalent" and doesn't need to resort to being "vulgar in order to set a trend," especially given her role model status for young girls. 
"Do you know any parent who has a daughter and says 'Honey, if you make really good grades, someday when you're 12 or 13, we'll get you your own stripper pole'. I mean c'mon Jon, we don't do that in our culture," he said. 
That's when Stewart jumped in, interrupting Huckabee to say he's "diminishing Beyoncé in a way that's truly outrageous." 
He then played a clip of Huckabee jamming with controversial rocker Ted Nugent to the song "Cat Scratch Fever" on Huckabee's former Fox show. I could quote lyrics from the song, but that would bother me, too.
Stewart questioned Huckabee on why Nugent gets a pass. 
"You excuse that type of crudeness because you agree with his stance on firearms," Stewart said. "You don't approve of Beyoncé because she seems alien to you."
Huckabee responded arguing the Nugent song "is an adult song, geared for adults," but modern culture has lower standards when it comes to "things that are considered perfectly OK for kids."
My take on this is a bit different than some, I would expect. My take is that both are right, and both are wrong. Doing and saying the right thing is not limited or owned by either the left politically or the right. And in a country that defends free speech, if one really believes in free speech, one must live with these types of things. But simply because it is protected by free speech in terms of our country's laws does not make it right.
Does Beyonce's dress and language sometimes go over the edge? Certainly, by some standards. Is Nugent a nutcase sometimes because of what he does and says in terms of gun laws? Absolutely. Do both of them, by our standards of law, have the right to say what they want? Absolutely. Would I prefer that Beyonce put on some clothes and Nugent get rid of some guns? Absolutely. But I am neither king nor God. Therefore, I must put aside my crown and follow the laws of the land or follow the laws of God, delivered by the grace He also clearly provides.
In the end, freedom of speech guarantees us disagreement and sometimes even butchers like the ones in Paris who disagreed so much they killed because an image of Muhammad was placed on a page of a newspaper. That's what freedom brings.
I get that.  I wonder if others do sometimes. But that would be judging, and I've already mentioned the problem with that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jesus freak, part II

Ah, let's go walking in the archives for a few minutes this morning. A blog popped up as part of my morning reading, and the question it posed is one for you, dear reader.

The question? What is a Jesus Freak?

I'm supposing the answer (and the nostalgia it brings with it) is dependent on your age. For me, I was right in the wheelhouse of the time it came about. Originally it was used to demean or insult Christians who were involved with the jesus Movement in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. I was young and in one of my Jesus phases that didn't take because of the emotional component (in other words I was freaking out on Jesus and on "Jesus music" for a while there.

I learned to play bass guitar badly, got a position in a little bad band (we played badly, and I guess in the real definition of bad we were bad), and we played churches around my home town.

The blog defined Jesus Freaks as those who were "Bible thumpers" and were "especially aggressive in their evangelistic efforts. The funny thing was, as I recalled, being called a Jesus Freak was actually accepted as a good thing though it was not meant that way.

Then along came the Christian band DC Talk in 1995, the year I came "back" to Christ after 40 year sin the wilderness (metaphorically speaking), and their song "Jesus Freak" was a big hit.

What it really means is something as simple as an obsession with Jesus.

There's another term you might have heard of that means the same thing and was widely used in a similar derogatory manner. 

The term was used originally to point out how wacky these folks who followed Jesus were. All the early talk about how blood was drank, how bodies were eaten, even babies were gorged on (rumors and gossip really are harmful, huh?), led folks to come up with one term that would symbolize how nuts these folks were.

No, it wasn't Jesus Freak, though that certainly would suffice it seems.

No, the terms was, ugh it was right there on the tip of my tongue on the outskirts of my brain. What was it, what was it?

Oh, yeah. I remember.

The term, the name, the idea was, (da, da) ... CHRISTIAN.

Yep. That's what they called those whipper snappers. They called them Christian.

In Acts 11:26 we see the first recorded use of the term. A man named Barnabas brings Paul the Apostle to Antioch where they were to teach disciples for about a year. "...the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch," the text says. Only two more times in scripture is the term used. In Acts 26:28, Herod Agrippa II refers to Paul the Apostle. "Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuaded me to be a Christian." In 1 Peter 4:16, we read, "If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God." Christianoi, the terms used in 1 Peter, which means little Christ, becomes the standard term in the early church, after those who followed Jesus were originally called followers of "the Way."

I much more enjoy, by the way, being called Christian rather than Freak, although both seem to be somewhat appropriate.

I write all that to simply say, you can call me anything as long as you do it because I have an obsession with this man called Jesus. An obsession with his teaching. An obsession with his life. An obsession with his death and resurrection.

It is only when I feel the obsession is overcome that my life runs into the ditch.

DC Talk sang, "What will people think when they hear that I'm a Jesus freak
What will people do when they find that it's true
I don't really care if they label me a Jesus frek
There ain't no disguising the truth

I can just see Paul jamming to that right now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's the process, not the outcome

She's turning 15 in a few months. She scratches too much, like a electric mixer gone crazy. Her face has turned white, as if she was, oh, say 75 or so -- which is what the seven human years for one canine year turns out to be. She's at least partially deaf, and she misses the thrown treat now most of the time and then has great gobs of trouble finding it on the ground.

But she's been there through it all for us and with us and it is going to be a great, great loss when she's gone.

But the doc says that won't be for quite some time because her heart is strong and she's healthy other than what ails her. I could have told him about the heart thing, for her heart has always been strong.

She's named Logan because in the year she was born, 2000, the X-Men movie came out, and our daughter Carrie (who was 12 at the time) liked the character Wolverine most in the movie. Wolverine's real name is Logan. Hence ...

Or maybe it's just the way her lips fold back when she growls, which she only does when she's protecting food, which is anytime she gets fed. In fact, food is her main if not only obsession. Getting a treat, which we do when the dogs go outside, will have her going outside every 15 minutes if she can get away with it.

I've written this story before, but it's the quintessential Logan story, so I must tell it again. When we evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, 10 years ago, we did so to my mother's house in the country. Other dogs and cats who left New Orleans with us didn't care for the culture shock of Lizelia versus New Orlean's west bank. But Logan loved it. Trees and grass and open fields were her cup of wet dog food. She ran and she ran and then ran some more.

I was petrified she was going to run off and get lost, because that's what humans do in unfamiliar territory. The fact she was a dog with a wonderful sense of smell didn't register. Anyway, one day she came up missing. I scoured the back pasture from a hill behind the house, and no Logan. I looked toward the tree line to the North of the house I grew up in, and no Logan. I looked beyond the barbed-wire South of the house, and no Logan. I walked around to the front of the house, and no Logan. Wait, wait. There she was, racing across the front pasture like her behind was on fire. I wondered for just a second what was going on, then I saw it. Three steps or so in front of Logan was a rabbit making like The Flash. I followed them with my eyes all the way across the front pasture, a quarter-mile or so, and the separation stayed the same. Logan never caught the rabbit, but never fell farther behind. I shook my head, walked back toward the house, and waited. A few minutes later, she came trotting up, breathing heavily and happily.

That was Logan, running everywhere she went, always three steps behind but never falling farther. And loving the process of the run as much as the success of the run. The journey, not the end of the journey, is what is important.

Last week she had surgery. She had a swollen ear caused by who knows what. She had had a couple lumps on her belly for a while that she loved to scratch at. I had read that probably meant cancer and I just didn't want to know so she hadn't visited the Vet about them. Not knowing is bliss, I figured. Turns out, they were cancer but the Vet could get all of them, or so he said.

We had a 150,000-mile repair job, removing the cancerous tumors and slicing into the ear so the fluid could bye removed, and she went on a series of antibiotics. For the second time I believe she had to wear a cone. It's been quite hilarious to watch Logan bang into everything in the world with that cone. So, she's deaf, partially blind and wearing a cone. But she's got wet food, in which we put the crushed meds, and because of that she's in dog heaven.

The point of all this?

Love came down to us all those years ago in a yellow mix of Terrier and Lab with a sawed off tail that is always wagging. She's been a joy for all these years, mixing the ability to persevere with the ability to find happiness in the smallest of things.

She's been running all her life. What she's running to, I do not know. I only know that she's running with joy, with purpose, without a care. It's the process, not the outcome, that keeps her young.

That'll preach, won't it?

Monday, January 19, 2015

The people whisperer

Jesus used agricultural stories for the meat in his parables because that's what he knew and that's what the people around him knew. Me? From time to time, I use what I know, and what I know is sports.

Yesterday in a game that would produce the National Football Conference's representative, a game between a team from Seattle, Wash., and a team from Green Bay, Wisconsin, the young quarterback for the Seattle team threw four passes that were caught by players from the Green Bay squad. This is not a good thing, especially for a quarterback known for not throwing the ball to the theory team.

Then in the game's final three minutes, he shook off all that bad stuff and began throwing the football to his teammates. In overtime, an extended period of time after the game was tied 22-22 at the end of regulation, the young quarterback was near perfect, finally finishing the game with a 35-yard touchdown pass.

Let's recap: Four interceptions; one touchdown -- on the game's final play.

Friends, I know there is someone out there this morning who has thought heavily and for long periods of time about giving up and giving in. I know there is someone who has tried everything they know, and everything they know is not nearly enough. I know there is someone who has lost someone they love. I know there is someone who thought they had found the answer (Andre Crouch, Jesus is the Answer), and the answer seemingly wasn't enough ... AT ALL.

When the young quarterback was run down by a sideline reporter for a brief TV interview, as tears streamed down his face, he began the interview by saying, "God is good all the time." He took a breath the way great jewel thieves snatch diamonds and added the familiar refrain (or at least it's familiar to me because of a great friend, Freddie Henderson), "And all the time, God is good."

A band named SidestudioB has a song called Be Still.

I offer the lyrics as a balm not just in Gilead but in Louisiana, Mississippi and wherever this piece is read.

"I remember all the times
The good times and the bad
I'm still holding on to You
Some days I wanna run
Sometimes I come undone
But I still belong to You
And that's how I know that
when I feel like caving in
My heart, my should is wearing thin
I just wanna give up
And nothing seems at all to add up
Can You hear me, Lord?
My face is down upon the floor
It's then You whisper in my ear
Be still and know I'm here"

Here's what I think on a beautiful Monday morn:
Run into a desperate wind.
Scream and shout like your hair was ablaze.
Remember not just the good but the frighteningly bad.

No matter the outcome or the circumstance, God is good all the time. If we can get the world to understand that no matter the outcome or the circumstance, God is good. He doesn't give us good times to ply us and recruit us. He is good, all the time. And all the time, he is good, swell, wonderful, awesome, amazing, beautiful, worthy of praise and adulation at all times.

If the last pass the quarterback threw was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, ending the game in a Green Bay victory, the true believer, true worshipper, true lover of the Creator and the Savior and the Holy Spirit will say the same thing: God is good, all the time.

So that when the inevitable bad stuff happens, we have not just a security blanket, not just a reasonable assurance that things are going to turn out all right in the end. No, what we have is a Savior who looks into the old cracked faces of the tired and weary and says, "I will be with you."

Oh, oh, oh, what a great promise. He could easily say that the bad wind will cease because he told it to. Oh, he can do that every bit as easily as he water into wine. He could do that, but he doesn't because he gets it, understands it on a human gut level that the beautiful, sweet life is not about him fixing the bad. It's about us living through the bad to get to the beauty and sweetness that is life with him.

And if we're with him, none of the other stuff matters, anyway.

The song concludes:

"I see a side of you, my friend
Same struggles that I have
And my heart goes out to you
I know it's hard to feel alone
And this world's so unforgiving
I've been feeling that way too
But I can tell you
When I feel like caving in
My heart, my soul is wearing thin
I just wanna give up
And nothing seems at all to add up
Can You hear me, Lord?
My face is down upon the floor
It's then You whisper in my ear
Be still and know I'm here"

Be still, be quiet, be rested, be filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding. He is there. He is waiting. Till the end of the age, he is there.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Freedom of making a fool of oneself

Well, well.

In an article I read this morning, it struck me as strange that Pope Francis put limits on a "fundamental right."

Yes, the Pope who has spread joy and peace among all peoples, said, "You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

He was responding to last week's Charlie Hebdo attacks, the violence of which he condemned, while at the same time condoning physical violence as a response to offense.

"If he says a swear word against my mother, he's going to get a punch in the nose," Francis said. "But that's normal. That's normal."

Well, uh, not to Jesus, of course.

That whole loving thy enemy thing seems to fly in the face of this.

The question becomes, what would you do if it were you? And the answer is not always easily explained.

Francis finished by saying, "in freedom of expression there are limits."

That's always been the question for me. I believe in freedom of expression. I don't believe in limits to it, or otherwise it makes no sense. Still, someone making fun of Jesus rankles me. I once lost my temper because of it, years ago. Did that make my response correct? No, I don't think it did.

If you believe in freedom of speech as a right, then you must be all in, as much as that pains me to write. You must be able to provoke, insult, and especially make fun of.

In the end, I think Jesus is probably up to the challenge in ways I could never be. I suspect we all are free to make a fool of ourselves, but we are not free to blow things up. Seems reasonable.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yet, still, even though ... Just go ahead and celebrate

I've always loved the close Of the prophet Habakkuk's writing. In it he says (CEB), "Though the fig tree doesn't bloom, and there's no produce on the vine; though the olive crop withers, and the fields don't provide food; though the sheep are cut off from the pen, and there is no cattle in the stalls, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance. The Lord God is my strength. He will set my feet like the deer. He will let me walk upon the heights."

It is easy, I believe, to focus on the very end, to see God setting our feet like the deer and letting us walk upon the heights.

But the sheer beauty of this passage is that earlier the prophet makes clear that no matter what, though nothing be working, though the bills have stacked like cord wood before a fireplace that is not lit, though the animals are, uh, animals and they have run away, still, yet, even though, God is our strength and we should, must, will rejoice.

I'm writing this, looking out a picture window at a street being pelted by a cold, cold rain. It is the middle of the bleakest of months, this January. I'm working toward, well, whatever.

And yet, still, even though I must rejoice.

He walks the garden with me in the noon-day sun.
He holds me when the tears come like a cold, cold rain.
He drifts away with me at night when the work has worn me to a frazzle.
His mighty arm is there to gently drape my shoulders.

We are not alone, friends.
We can argue about it, debate His existence, and generally make a pontificating idiot of ourselves.
But we are not alone.

He is there in the dark, spreading light.
There in the rain, painting rainbows.
There is the mist with a lighthouse.
There in the snow with potato soup (that's mine).

I don't know what the next six months will hold. I never have. Never will, I'm guessing. But what I do know is He who decides on the figs blooming, the produce growing, the sheep, er, shipping and the cattle hopping onto my plate or the milk into my glass.

He. It's all about Him. Never been about us.

Yet, still, even though I rejoice.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Listen, Listen, Love, Love

Luke writes these words in the Acts of the Apostles: Go to this people and tell them this: You're going to listen with your ears, but you won't hear a word; You're going to stare with your eyes, but you won't see a thing."

I learned to listen about four years ago, and I'm still learning. I learned to listen by taking part in prison ministry, where the theme is "Listen, Listen, Love, Love."

Listening, truly hearing, is an art form that most of us need to attempt to master for it comes with a risk-reward assumption. The risk is you don't get heard because one can't talk if one is truly listening. The reward is you take part in a new relationship forming. It's a wonderful reward, too, by the way.

I read a story about a man who was going to a party where he would be meeting his wife's co-workers from her new job for the first time. He felt anxious as the time for the party grew near, and wondered whether they would like him or not. He rehearsed various scenarios in his mind which he tried different ways to impress them. But on the way to the party, he came up with a radically difference approach, one which caused all his anxiety to melt away.

He decided that, instead of trying to impress everyone, he would spend the evening listening to them, and on occasion he would summarize what they had just said. He spent the evening listening carefully to them, responding with phrases like, "I understand what you're saying, and obviously you feel strongly that ..." Or on occasion he would say, "Let me see if I understand what you mean ..."

He also avoided voicing his own opinions, even though at times it meant biting his tongue to keep from doing so.

Later, much to his amazement (and mine, really) he discovered that no one noticed or talked about the fact that he was just listening. Each person he listened to talked to was content to be listened to. On the way home, his wife told him that a number of people had made a point of telling her what a remarkable person he was. One person said he was very charismatic. Another said he was one of the most articulate people she had ever met.

And he listened. Just listened. Didn't talk. He listened.

See, I have an idea that what most of us want, really, is for someone to care for us, to care about us. One of the ways someone does that is to listen to us. Really listen to us. Hear what we have to say on just about anything. It touches our hearts in ways we can't articulate. It warms our cold, cold hearts (as Hank senior would say).

The reason it is so vital in prison to listen is that the incarcerated don't want to hear our stories. They simply want to relate what has happened to them. Thus, if we are good listeners (or at worst we appear to be), they want to tell us their stories. Friends, so does everyone else.

What the Bible is, is a collection of these stories. From beginning to end, it is the story of a people and their God. Much of the scriptures is about someone listening to these stories.

Or not.

Luke writes: "These people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won't have to listen."

In other words, there are plenty of times we simply refuse to listen, other times we listen without hearing, and still other times when we don't care to try.

In Deuteronomy, God says, "Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth." Give ear isn't posting a bunch of ears on a string (yuck), but simply listening. Listen and He will speak, the scriptures tell us.

This day, this wonderful day that God has made, try a new thing for God, with God. Listen to Him, like your life depended on it.

Actually, it does.

Listen, Listen, Love, Love. That's life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Getting schooled

My, isn't this interesting?

A Virginia school board has passed a policy allowing the government education system to demand prospective home schoolers to appear before the board to explain their religious beliefs.

A policy of Goochland County "requires children ages 14 and up who want to be home schooled to provide a statement about their religious beliefs to the school system."

As a part of the rule, the board "reserves the right" to hold a hearing that includes the parent and/or the student.

This all stems from Kevin and Katrina Hoeft deciding not to send their children to the public school system for religious reasons.

Kevin Hoeft was quoted as saying, "We believe the public schools have really departed from teaching kids about the role of God in life. For a 14-year-old to be threatened to have to come before the school board to explain or justify his or her religious beliefs..."

The story says the board "thought they were doing the right thing" by following other school boards in the state. School board chairman Michael Payne says that the system's legal advisor tells them the policy is "legally sound." The board will take up the issue next Tuesday. The Home School Legal Defense Association will be represented there.

My take on all this is the board seems perfectly within its rights to ask these types of questions. I pray the 14-year-old in question has been through confirmation and has an idea about his or her religious beliefs. I pray, also, that the family wanting to do the home schooling is doing so for legitimate reasons.

And I pray we understand in the future that the public school system is not there to "teach the kids about the role of God in life."

Really, it's not.

In a world where Sunday Schools are disappearing, where youth programs at churches are doing anything but flourishing, it's certainly time to remember that teaching our kids and grandkids about God's role is the job of the church, not the school. Would I wish it were different? Not really, because one must understand that if the school's job were to be teaching about God, then the schools would have to teach about everyone's God, and I suspect that the Hoeft's wouldn't want that either.

It's time we get this. It's only been a couple hundred years that we've been waging this battle.

Monday, January 12, 2015


God says, "I the Lord have called you for a good reason. I will grasp your hand and guard you, and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon."

Uh, heck yeah!!!!!

I am exploring a subject that so intrigued me I wrote a book about it a few years ago. I am exploring the idea of the call.

God calls. We listen. We react. That's the way it goes, at least part of the time.

Without giving away too much of Sunday's sermon coming up, I'm taken by the call story of Samuel. Samuel is a kid, and he's lying down for the night. God calls him (even though Samuel doesn't know the Lord yet, the Bible says), and Samuel gets up and races into the other room where his mentor, Eli, is trying to get some shuteye as well. Samuel says, "Hey, here I am. Whatchawant?" Eli, trying to sleep as I said, says, "It wasn't me. Go back to sleep." This happens three times, till Eli catches on and says, "That's God speaking. Go listen."

That's the Billy translation, but you get the drift of the story. God speaks. Even if you don't recognize the voice, eventually even the still, small voice borrows into or under the skin and we listen.

Yesterday, in worship, I again felt the presence of God. Seriously. Felt Him moving. Felt the place shaking. Felt the love of God making a difference, felt a strangely warmed heart (and toes and hair and, well, you get the idea).

God has put the light in our little (but growing) experiment at this church. Don't know how or why, but I know that from Christmas Eve onward, things have changed. The light at the end of the tunnel is not a train coming, but the light of the world setting fire to the old and refining the new.

Uh, heck yeah!!!!

The question becomes, in all our lives, how do we listen to the call of God, and what do we do next? I believe the call comes to everyone. That every one of us is gifted, and we are called by a loving God to use those gifts to the advantage of the home team. This, by the way, isn't our home.

So, I'm asking every reader this morning to think about what they've been called to be, to do, by a loving and all-powerful God who strangely needs us to make a difference. It's time we shake off the rust, put on the anointing oil (see what I did there?), and head out into the world to make a difference in that world.

"Here I am," Samuel says.

Oh, so powerful a statement. Oh, so wonderful a realization.

God speaks, Samuel finally recognizes that voice (with the help of a mentor) and the world changes. Isn't it about time we hear that voice, as well?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fifty years of gray

I was outside the church for basically 22 years. I was in the world, in corporate America, in the Godless society that is journalism. When I came back to the church, I came back with a new DNA, basically.

I came back with hues of the world and the culture I had lived in and I came back with strains of the church I grew up in. That blend is what I've lived for 16 years. I believe we all live into what we know and think to be true, no matter how many seminars we attend or lessons we learn. We are a very subtle mixture of what the Bible says, what we say, what culture says. All of us, from the most learned progressive to the most stubborn traditionalist, lean on what we know, what we've known and what beliefs we've been taught or we've absorbed.

Can we change? Of course. Redemption is all about change brought about by the agent of change, the Holy Spirit.

And some of that DNA, that old-time religion, is strangling the church, the mainline church that is suffering numbers-wise.

Tom Ehrich writes this for Christianity Today, "This will be year 50 in the decline of American mainline Protestantism. The decline is a source of pain and anxiety among church leaders. Church doors are closing faster than they are opening. The decline has many factors, but in general, was caused by churches' doomed efforts to stay the same even as the surrounding world changed. That means year 50 brings good news: The ranks of this who remember 1957 -- the high-water mark of mainline Protestantism, which ran out of gas around 1965 -- are dwindling. Gone -- or going -- are those who remember when Sunday worship was enough, when being in church was comfortable and fun (mainly because we were children), when we had the world's respect and when belonging didn't require much. Now fresh ideas and younger leaders can operate more freely, taking us beyond comforts of childhood."

Fifty years of gray. Nights of longing. Days of slumping. Mainline Protestantism, which is where I landed after spending formative childhood in an off-shoot of Wesley called Holiness Church of God.

The irony is we've been talking about how to fix this so long we're starting to feel like the boy who cried wolf, when in fact the wolf has been attacking the sheep for decades.

Maybe down-sizing and simply starting a new model is the answer. Maybe circling the wagons never was going to work. Maybe trying harder really, really isn't the answer. Maybe training and going to seminar after seminar and conference after conference isn't the key. Maybe working longer hours and praying harder and longer and, and, and ...

The pure answer is we don't know exactly what to do or we would do it, for we all long to turn this ship around, and the iceberg still sits out there in the dark of night waiting for us.

Fifty years of gray, and we're still doing Sunday School when no one really wants to be there. Fifty years of gray, and young folks don't necessarily seem to want to come to small groups during the week. Fifty years of gray, and lectures don't work.

What does?

(Here's my feelings and opinion, which no one in their right mind would pay too much attention to, though I believe we need to get out of our right minds on occasion).

Missions and meals. The mission is the people. The meal is what Jesus told us to remember him by. Mixing the two, feeding the people physically and spiritually, is the ideal.

I believe younger folks want to help others. I believe younger parents are very interested in how to raise children more wisely. I believe feeding the homeless and helpless and hungry is the way to make a difference. I believe youth programs that are both fun and meaningful make a difference. I believe relevant music can bring with it a moment of clarity. I believe heart-felt sermons still matter. And I believe we need to be out of our buildings as often as we are out of our minds.

I believe the church needs to be more loving than judging. I believe we need to reach out more often than we reach in.

And in honor of one Andre Crouch, who died yesterday at the age of 72, through it all, through it all, we need to be able to explain to one other person (who then explains it to one or two or three) why Jesus matters to us and what difference having a relationship with him has made in our lives. Matrix doesn't count. Numbers don't matter. Lives do.

If we can't do those things, maybe even putting a little color into the next 50 years of the church, it won't matter. We will have some awfully nifty office buildings where some awfully meaningful church buildings used to stand.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Refined? Not yet

Yesterday, out of the blue, a friend called to tell me he was praying for me and in his prayer time, his reflection turned to the word, "Refine."

In other words, God gave him the word "refine" about little ol' me. As in, I'm being refined by my current circumstances and life right now.

Let's explore this idea.

In Zechariah, we read: "“Sword, get moving against my shepherd, against my close associate!” Decree of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. “Kill the shepherd! Scatter the sheep! The back of my hand against even the lambs! All across the country”—God’s Decree— “two-thirds will be devastated and one-third survive. I’ll deliver the surviving third to the refinery fires. I’ll refine them as silver is refined, test them for purity as gold is tested. Then they’ll pray to me by name and I’ll answer them personally. I’ll say, ‘That’s my people.’ They’ll say, ‘God—my God!’”
In Job, we read: "We all know how silver seams the rocks, we’ve seen the stuff from which gold is refined, We’re aware of how iron is dug out of the ground and copper is smelted from rock. Miners penetrate the earth’s darkness, searching the roots of the mountains for ore, digging away in the suffocating darkness. Far from civilization, far from the traffic, they cut a shaft, and are lowered into it by ropes. Earth’s surface is a field for grain, but its depths are a forge Firing sapphires from stones and chiseling gold from rocks. Vultures are blind to its riches, hawks never lay eyes on it. Wild animals are oblivious to it, lions don’t know it’s there. Miners hammer away at the rock, they uproot the mountains. They tunnel through the rock and find all kinds of beautiful gems. They discover the origins of rivers, and bring earth’s secrets to light."

And finally, for balance I include a New Testament (1 Peter) reading: "These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

The idea is a consistent one. What the person (or kingdom) is going through, God allows in the same way gold or silver is refined. I believe I speak for most of us when I say that I would like that process to be an easy one, one in which a bit of the flame is okay, but let's get this over with quickly, God.
The problem is his ideas and his ways are not our ways and sometimes the refining is a long one. Sometimes the purification process just doesn't work and we have to go through it again (and again, and again, and again and oh, you get it I suspect). 

God penetrates our darkness, searches for the root of the problem, sin, mistake and digs away. Far from the known, farm from the evidence, far from it all, God cuts the shaft and lowers the help. The fire is lit, the bad is melted away and through the tunnel (of love?), we emerge.

That's life's process. That's the way to the beauty. Some call it beauty for or from ashes. I get it. I am it.

Refining. Seems like my advanced age would mean the process was nearing the end. Perhaps it is. 
But ultimately, it might not end till I do, if you get my drift. I wish it weren't so. My intellect, my mirrors say it is.

Refined. Not yet.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Peace, be still

I awoke this morning at 3 and couldn't go back to sleep for a million reasons. I thought of this story: They took Jesus in the boat as they went to the other side of the lake. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat and it looked like it might sink. Jesus was napping in the back. The disciples, those poor folk who remind me so much of, uh, me, shook him awake and said, "Hey. We're sinking here. We are going down, Jesus." Jesus rubbed his eyes, looked around, yawned pleasantly, looked around again and as cool as the other side of the pillow said rather softly, "Quiet. Settle down! I'm trying to sleep here." The wind stopped, er, blowing and the sea calmed down. He turned to those guys again and said, "Hey. Why are you such cowards. Don't you have any faith at all?"

And they woke at 3 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep for a million reasons.

At least that's the way I recall it.

Here's the deal: We've all got qualms about what we're doing -- and qualms is not an offshoot of calm. We all have stuff, baggage, problems, worries, woes.

It seems to me that there is nothing wrong in saying all that. The problems, again it seems to me, begin when we stop trusting and start listing -- if you know what I mean.

We are all, each of us, each single one of us, in this together. When we begin to think that maybe we're not, then the stuff, baggage, problems, worries and woes begin to escalate and the next thing you know, the boat is swamping (to completely obliterate the mixing of metaphors and such).

But it doesn't have to be. I think of the many messages Jesus gave the disciples and thus us, one of them is we're not in this alone. Our burdens don't have to be our burdens. He is with us to the end of the age, whatever that means. I believe it to mean he still is with us. He still takes those burdens, still makes things happen, still stills storms. Still.

I not only believe it, I'm counting on it.

Now, if I could simply sleep it would be even better.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reading the scriptures

I'm beginning a new small group Thursday evening that takes a critical look at the, uh, humanity behind the Bible.

I offer up this as a way of looking at the ones who wrote it.

From the Psalms: "how long do we have to put up with this, God? Do you have it in for us for good? Will your smoldering rage never cool down? If you're going to be angry be angry with the pagans who care nothing about you, or your rival kingdoms who ignore you. They're the one who ruined Jacob, who wrecked and looted the place where we lived. Don't blame us for the sins of our parents. Hurry up and help us, we're at the end of our rope. You're famous for helping, God, give us a break. Your reputation is on the line. Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins -- do what you're famous for doing!"

First, I never pray in exclamation points. That's just me. I never command God in my prayers. I never, thus far, have asked about his smoldering rage. And I've never asked God to be angry or smite another group of beings.

Although there are a few Panthers and Panthers fans that I might -- just saying.

The point of the study, the point of this piece is that the circumstances in which we now live are dramatically different from the circumstances of the Old Testament, and yes, the New as well. We are not a tribal society on the move and at battle with our neighbors and our neighbors gods. Well, not really.

So, the words, the descriptions, and even the prayers are different. That's the difficulty in reading scripture as a book of instructions.

The Psalm, the 79th, continues, "Don't let the heathen get by with their sneers. Where's your God? Is he out to lunch? Go public and show the godless world that they can't kill your servants and get by with it."

That's not the culture we find ourselves in, although I know some would say something about Islam at this point, but that's not us. That's not Christian. That's not what we believe the scriptures say to us today.

It doesn't mean the holy scriptures don't talk to us. It doesn't mean we can't learn great wisdom. It doesn't mean we should ignore them.

It means we must read them with a critical eye that understands they were written, in some cases, more than 3,000 years ago. Hence, what they understood and what we understand must be two different things.

We don't call down fire and brimstone. We do love our neighbor as ourselves. Different times, same Savior.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The mighty warriors -- fallen, fallen

Jonathan, son of the first king of Israel (Saul), was killed in battle. He was, as you will see, a great friend of David, who would become the second king.

David says this of the death of his great friend: O my dear brother Jonathan, I'm crushed by your death. Your friendship was a miracle-wonder, love far exceeding anything I've known -- or ever hope to know. the mighty warriors -- fallen, fallen. And the arms of war broken to bits."

Love far exceeding anything I've known.

Let me say that I did not know Stuart Scott, and I confess that I barely knew his work. I will admit to even not really thinking TV guys and gals are real writers. That's on me, I admit.

But if a man is known by not just the number of friendships he gathers at his death, and the depth of those friendships, I will say I missed Scott's life even as I viewed his death.

I did not know he, a long-time ESPN front of the camera talent, had died till I came home from church.

Then in succession, on Facebook, I watched as first Hannah Storm announced his death, nearly breaking down on the air. I watched a 15-minute tribute to Scott that featured a red-eyed Scott Van Pelt talking about him. I watched finally Rich Eisen's live tribute to Scott on the NFL network.

And I wept. I wept.

Now, usually I only cry at the SPCA commercials or sports movies (don't even mention Field of Dreams to me), but I wept for a man I did not know.

I spent some time in reflection as to why that was. It finally came to me, and it is selfish as all get out (another of those expressions from my youth that I have no idea about the meaning). I wept because I'm at least one day (minute?) closer to death than I was yesterday. I wept because I don't think I've done enough for my Lord, and if I were to die it would be such an incomplete life. I wept because I don't think I've left an imprint on lives the way I wanted because I'm so inadequate for the mission. I wept because people were weeping.

I wept because he had two girls he has left behind, and I will weep when I leave mine.

I wept.

And finally, I wept because of what Scott said in one of his last public appearances, last summer at the ESPY's.

He said this: "When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."

About that writer thing, I couldn't be more wrong. Have you ever read more wonderful words, more, well, right words?

My mother died of cancer. My closest aunt died of cancer. My dad died of cancer. I guess there is a better than average chance that I will die of cancer. Ultimately, it is what it is.

But, see, none of that matters this cold morning. What matters is how I live, today, tomorrow, till that time comes when a few lonely souls cry for me.

When they do I hope they remember what I hoped to accomplish as much as what I accomplished. And I hope they're listening to Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, Elijah by Rich Mullins, My Chains are Gone by Chris Tomlin and I hope that dang SPCA commercial never has to run again.

I won't use any of Scott's catch-phrases to close this with, because truthfully I never noticed them. I just want to know who won and who lost most of the time.

I will close with what Eisen closed his piece: "I know there are many people out there battling cancer right now and Stuart would want you to know to keep fighting, to keep fighting and that he didn't lose his battle to cancer. He fought it as bravely as he possibly could."

"O my dear brother Jonathan, I'm crushed by your death. Your friendship was a miracle-wonder, love far exceeding anything I've known -- or ever hope to know. the mighty warriors -- fallen, fallen. And the arms of war broken to bits."

Scott was 49.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The church exists to ...

Ah, the fresh breath of a new year. This morning I steal unabashedly from a writer named John Meunier, a part-time local pastor in Indiana who writes a blog named "An arrow through the air."

His question is, "How does the church make the world better?"

He quotes Patrick Lencioni in his book, the Advantage, as writing that an organization has to have a purpose that is ultimately about making the world a better place.

My question, then, is would the world be different if your church didn't exist? How does it, then, make the world different, change the world, help the world.

Meaner suggests that the church exists to "destroy the works of the devil." I'm not exactly sure what that means, so I will leave that one alone.

And ... "welcome every person into a living and growing relationship with Jesus Christ." On this one, I agree, but I would need specifics for those who have no idea how to have a living and growing relationship with someone they can't see.

And ... "help you become the person God created you to be." Oh, my yes. But how does the church do this?

And ... "create a colony of heaven on earth." I haven't found that colony just yet, though I spend an enormous amount of time seeking.

I spent time recently talking with a wise younger man about church, and he pointed out to me that the model we've been living in since, well, forever doesn't work any more. Younger folks don't know the church language, and when we pile it on them, they run like mice from a house fire (or some such analogy).

I finished reading last night Adam Hamilton's look at scriptures through the looking glass of modern scholarship, "Making sense of the Bible," and I must say it opened my eyes a bit in some instances. I read half of "The Bible Tells Me So," by Peter Enns in an extended stay over coffee in Barnes and Noble yesterday, and he too picks and pops the material we hold sacred. Both are engaging looks at who wrote the scriptures and how we can wrestle with them and it's okay.

My point is this: Before we must answer the question about what the church exists to do, we must define what the church is, and I fear we're still lost in structure and in pageantry and in buildings and even in tradition.

The church exists, it seems to me, to have its people build relationship with each other and with this man Jesus, who came to die for us. If we can't say that, help people understand that, point ourselves toward that, we're treading water in a very deep sea.

The church, its people, exists as an avenue to Jesus, and then an avenue to do what Jesus said to do: feed, clothe, help, heal.

Nothing more, or less. Styles of worship are worth discussion. Opinions on meaning of scripture, worthy of debate. Moral discussions worth, uh, loads of coffee.

But ultimately, the church is God's hands and feet. It exists to change the world, by loving the world into submission.