Learning 1 Simple Way to Care for a Young Widow

No wife expects to be widowed before their children make it to Middle School.  Sadly, this reality befell a young mother in our church.

One month her husband is coaching their son’s little league baseball team.  The next month they hear those dreadful words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.”  As a father and husband myself, it pains me to even type the phrase.

In May, her husband breathed his last.  Three months before their son enters Middle School for the first time.  Decades before a wife and son can even think of saying goodbye.

What can we do as a church to care for this young widow?

The first time I asked, she said, “So many people have done so much for me already, I can’t think of anything right now.”  My reply to her was, “Ok, but if there’s anything we can do to help, please let us know.

A few days later, a receive an email from her saying, “I guess there is something you may be able to help.  My husband always changed the oil in my car, and I’m sure it needs it again.  Also, something doesn’t feel right in the front end of my car.  The breaks are making a weird noise and it feels like the car is pulling itself to one side.

This is a moment I need my dad.  He can fix any car.  I can change the oil, but I can’t even begin to pretend I know how to fix a problem one can barely describe.  Problem is, my dad lives in Ohio.

Somebody in our church can and will help, I’m sure.  So, I start making phone calls and asking.  I explain the situation to another pastor at our church, and he started making calls.  He spoke to someone else in our church, then he started making calls.

A few days later I opened an email that began with the phrase, “Awesome news!  We found someone to fix her car.  Free of charge.”

The car is fixed.  The problem was due to a former mechanic failing to replace the bearings  properly.  Wheel bearings allow the wheels to turn freely.  No wonder it felt like the car had something wrong in the front end.

We learn in the Bible that “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in God’s holy habitation.”  Psalm 68:5

Grateful to serve in a church with people who seek ways to protect widows in our community.

What can you do to be a protector of widows?

 

Learning the Best Transformation Happens From the Bottom Up

We normally think in terms of making things happen from “the top down.”

You’ve heard it said before, “It needs to come from the top.”  In other words, if anything is going to change, then the person in charge needs to be the one to lead the way.  Once the top dog gets it right, the rest is history.  It’s called a trickle down effect.

Right?  There may be some truth to it.  But…

I read a quote in an article recently that jolted my reality.  It said,

We believe that the best kind of transformation happens from the bottom up and the inside out.  

 

(quote is by Brian Postlewait taken from an article in Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Magazine, Mission Possible:  Showing Christian Hospitality in Vancouver’s Lower Eastside by Kelly Becker Tirrill)

After reading it the first time, my brain went into to temporary paralysis.  Not because I disagreed, but because my thoughts were reconfiguring.  I’m not used to thinking this way.

Transformation happening from the bottom up and the inside out?

After my recovery from the initial shock, it started to make sense.  More than making sense, it seemed Biblical.  Christlike.

Jesus didn’t start at the top.  He didn’t go to the top of religion, government, and society.  He went to the uneducated fishermen, the sick, the poor, downtrodden, the outcasts, and the marginalized.  Jesus let transformation occur from the bottom up and the inside out.

Here’s the difference between “top down” and “bottom up:”

  • Top down relies on power.  Bottom up relies on people.
  • Top down approaches a situation with answers.  Bottom up approaches a situation with questions.
  • Top down withholds power.  Bottom up empowers.
  • Top down values education, titles, wealth, and status.  Bottom up values experience, potential, relationship, and desire.
  • Top down starts with the few.  Bottom up starts with the many.
  • Top down initiates change from the outside in.  Bottom up initiates change from the inside out.

I’m not expert on this.  I’m learning.  I pray for the grace to let transformation happen from the bottom up and inside out.

Thank you Brian Postlwait, Kelly Becker Tirrill, and NCM Magazine for awakening my mind to a different way of understanding transformation.

Do you think in terms of “top down?”  What are your thoughts about a bottom up and inside out approach? 

 

Learning How Tag-Team Preaching is like Watching TV

I wish I could claim that I knew this before Brooklyn and I started “tag-team” preaching.  But, I can’t.  I’m not that smart.  The realization has come to me long after delivering our first sermon together.

The likeness to watching TV boils down to one thing: scene change.

TV producers know people get bored.  We’re so ADD/ADHD or whatever you’re counselor calls it, now.  It’s no secret.  To keep our attention, the scenes need to change.  It snaps us out of our droning away into something else.  So, producers intentionally order the show with intentional scene changes.

Next time you watch you favorite show, pay attention to it.  If it’s not a scene change, it’s a camera angle change.  Or a character change.  Whatever the change is, it breaks the monotony of sticking with the same.

Looking back on our experience of tag-team preaching, I think our audience enjoys the scene change.  It changes things up every 3-5 minutes.  Different voice.  Different perspective.  Plus, every time Brooklyn steps forward and I fade to the background, the audience view changes from my ugly mug to her radiant beauty.  (Maybe I won’t sleep on the couch after she reads this one.  Haha.)

Tag-team preacing is fresh on my mind because it was the approach to the sermon we took this past weekend.  Again, several people commented:  “We love it when you two preach together.”  Granted, it could just be their way of saying:  “Coy, you stink by yourself.  Brooklyn, thank you for saving the poor boy.”  But, I’ll error on the side of believing they truly to enjoy hearing us together.

Still, I ask why.  Why do they like hearing us tag-team preach?  I think it’s because it resembles their practice of TV watching.  Scene changes are key.

Do you get bored if the scene doesn’t change? 

 

 

 

 

Learning About Courageous Faith

I’m not sure we know what it means to have courageous faith, here, in the United States.

It seems too easy.  Especially, after reading a message sent to my email inbox yesterday.  The subject line was:  Serious stuff; Please Pray.

It is a message from a pastor who visited our church last year from a country on the east coast of Africa.  It brings sad news concerning a pastor of house-church near his city.

An Al Qaeda inspired Islamist group committed a gross act of violence against this beloved pastor.  At midnight, members of the group forcibly entered the pastor’s house without warning.  They ripped the pastor from his bed and drug him a short distance from the house.  Once outside and in plain sight of family and neighbors, they used a sword to sever the pastor’s head.

It’s the extremists’ attempt to stop the spread of Christianity in their country.  For years, they’ve been trying to stop the influence of this pastor of an under-ground church in his small community.  Several times they failed.

Once, they set his house ablaze with fire, completely burning it to the ground.  Another time, they threw a hand grenade into his compound.  Luckily, it didn’t detonate.  For three years, the pastor and his family escaped their violence.

Now, he leaves behind a wife and 10 children.  They’ve been forced to flee their home village and go into hiding for fear of their own lives.

The email I received asks for prayer for two different things:  (1)  Prayer for the pastor’s family, and (2) prayer for the under-ground churches and their leaders.

To me, this is a story of courageous faith.  A certified nurse and a full-time school teacher, this pastor of a small house-church risked his life and the security of his family for spread of God’s kingdom.  In the wake of this dark moment, several other under-ground pastors will do the same.

I’m not sure we can imagine taking the same risk for our faith as Christians in the Western World.  If we did, I wonder how our lives would be different?

I’m saddened by this story of great loss for a large family and one small underground church.  At the same time, I’m challenged and inspired to live out my faith with more courage.

I pray for the family.  I pray for the other pastors of the underground churches.  I also pray for new visions of what it means to have courageous faith in the land we call home.

Will you pray with us?

 

 

 

 

 

Learning One View of the Bible that isn’t Fundamentalist

BibleAfter glancing at this title, you may be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me.”  I didn’t even know there was more than one view of the Bible.

If you’ve made it this far, don’t stop reading now.  This post does apply to you for two reasons:  (1)  What you will learn can change how you understand the Bible.  (2)  What you will learn can influence how you talk about the Bible with others, particularly those who don’t believe it’s true.

A Fundamentalist view of the Bible might say this:  “the Bible is inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.”   (This statement is taken from a proposed change to the Articles of Faith in the Church of the Nazarene at our most recent General Convention 2013.  It was not accepted.)

The assumption in this view is that God is perfect, the Bible came from God, so the Bible must be perfect too.  It claims the detailed factual inerrancy of everything written in the book.  Dates, names, order of events, numbers, and explanations for the created world are included.  Everything is absolutely true the way it is written.

A view that is not Fundamentalist might say this:  “the Bible is inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.” 

The focus isn’t factual accuracy in every detail.  The concern isn’t defending the literal truth of every word on every page.  It’s not a defense of the empirical or scientific truths written down.  From this view, the Bible itself isn’t our salvation.  It is an instrument directing us to our salvation, which is Jesus.  It inerrantly in reveals to us everything we need to know for our salvation.

Let’s jump back to why this applies to you.

  • It can change how you understand the Bible by setting you free from making sense of every detail.  You might find historical inaccuracies.  You might discover scientific inconsistencies.  You might come across chronological contradictions.  But, that’s okay.  There’s no need to defend their rightness.  You are set free to pursue God’s story of redemption for your life and the entire creation as a whole.  In finding God’s will for all things, it is here that salvation will make sense and become a reality in your life.  How you understand the Bible can change from a textbook to be studied to a message to embodied.
  • It can influence how you talk about the Bible with others, particularly those who don’t believe it’s true, by de-emphasizing the value of logical explanations.  Most of the hangups that people have about the Bible are related to details of scientific accuracy.  People want to argue the literal seven days of creation in Genesis.   People want to dispute the possibility of the whole earth being flooded.  That’s okay.  Let others attack those details.  It’s not up to you to defend every stroke of the pen.  In our conversations with others, time is better spent uncovering the saving acts of God throughout history as it is found in the Scriptures.  Speaking with others about the Bible is an opportunity to reveal the purpose of God to redeem our world.  Evidence for God’s truth in the Bible isn’t centered in winning an intellectual debate.  It is evident in the effects of salvation on your life and mine.

Most of us probably aren’t having many conversations about “a Fundamentalist view of the Bible,” using those exact words.  But, my guess is that most of us are wrestling with the issue.  The conversation is happening, it’s just not in those terms.  It usually rears it’s head around discussions on “hot topics.”

I don’t say all of this to throw all Fundamentalist under the bus, and condemn them as sinners.  Learning a different view has changed my experience of faith.  My hope is to offer the same to you.

What is your view of the Bible?

Learning 3 Reasons Why We Struggle to Discover Our Own Talent

We experience talent all around us.

Listen to the radio.  Talent.  Watch TV or movies.  Talent.  Attend a college or professional sporting event.  Talent.  Read a good book.  Talent.  Find a good blogger.  Talent.  Learn from an expert.  Talent.  Talent.  Talent. It’s everywhere.

We know when we see it.  Yet, many of us (I will go out on a limb and say “most” of us) don’t expect to find it in ourselves.

Too often we’re led to ask the wrong question, “Am I talented?”  For me, the answer is, “Yes.”  The question we should be asking is, “What talent is within me?”

Sadly, we often struggle to get around the first question.  Here are three reasons why:

  • We think talent is measured by fortune and fame.  If you’re talented at something, then it’s only logical to expect the masses to recognize it and you’ll make alot of money doing it.  Right?  Our culture wants us to believe this lie, but it’s not true.  The biggest problem with this way of thinking is the limitations is places on our imagination for what qualifies as a talent.  We struggle to think of talent beyond singers, athletes, actors, and millionaires.  If I can’t find one of these talents in myself, then I believe the myth that I must not be talented.  Truth is, talent isn’t measured by the money it earns or the recognition it brings you.  True talent is measured by the good it brings to the world.
  • Passion hasn’t met with purpose.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met a person with true talent who lacked passion.  I’ve seen potential in many people, but there’s a difference.  The difference between potential and talent is the difference between good and great.  Potential is talent lying dormant waiting to be awakened by passion.  Most of the time, passion can’t ignite without purpose.  It’s the why and for what reason that burns inside the core of who you are to the point of unleashing an ability that can’t be denied as anything other than talent.
  • Our view of God is too small. The less value we recognize in ourselves, the smaller our God becomes.  In the beginning, God created you and me (and every human being to walk this earth) in God’s image (read Genesis 1, particularly 1:27).  That’s talent.  Creating the earth and the heavens and the creatures, then making us in God’s own image.  I would say God is pretty talented.  If God is talented, and we’re created in God’s image, why don’t we expect also to be talented?  I’m sure someone could object and say, “Well, that was before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Since then, sin has depraved us of our likeness to God.”  Well played.  But, it doesn’t change anything.  God’s purpose for creaiton is to restore that image within us.  Sin may have buried our God given talent beneath our own ability to recover it.  God is big enough, talented enough to uncover it.

I can’t lie, this struggle is a part of my own.  Growing up, I knew what I was good at and others confirmed it.  When that chapter of my life closed, I was left wandering and wondering, “What now?”  What do I have to offer now?

I’m learning, God created me with talent.  And, God created you the same.  God didn’t mess up on either one of us.  Sin would like us to think otherwise.  Don’t believe the lie.  God is big enough and good enough to awaken a talent in each of us.

What’s holding you back? 

 

 

 

Learning Why I’m Averse to Starting Over

IT HURTS!!!

Starting over hurts.  It’s painful.  I have a limp this week to prove it.

The only other time I remember this much soreness in my muscles is my Senior year in High School.  A couple short weeks after my final basketball game, my soon-to-be college coach sent me a leg workout.  Not running. Not calisthenics.  It was a weight training workout.  A first for me.

Excited about my future college basketball career and all the potential, I worked my legs as hard as I could that very first day.  Twenty-four hours later, I was barely able to walk.  Getting into the car was interesting.  I kind of just fell in.  Walking up stairs at school took me a few extra minutes.  I was close to asking my parents to install a handicap bathroom.

I’m 16 years removed from that experience, and here I am again.  MY LEGS HURT!

Brooklyn (my wife) has been asking and asking me to join her group workout class.  “Please, just try it once,” she would say.  Finally, I did.  And again, I’m paying for it.

I remember now, why it took me 16 years to repeat the experience.  At 18 years old, I vowed to never do it again.  The pain was too much then.  Why would I ever do it to myself again?

I think the same can true for other areas of my life as well.  Particularly, my faith.

I may have felt encouraged or inspired  by God to take a new step in my life, and I did.  The initial effects were painful.  My life was not ready to be challenged or stretched in that way.  Eventually, the pain would fade and the growth in me became evident.

Then, something in my life throws me off course.  I end up back in the place I was before I took that fist step.  It happens so quickly, I’m not sure how I got here.  But, I know that I’m here.  And I know what I need to do.

The problem is, I remember the pain.  I’m not sure if I want to face the hurt of healing again.

This is why I’m averse to starting over:  it know it will hurt.

I wish I could say that I will never need to start over again with anything in my faith.  I wish I was that good.  But, I’m probably not.  And neither are you.

At this point in my life, I’m questioning whether getting my legs in proper shape is worth it.  Maybe?

The same cant’ be said for my faith.  Enduring the pain of starting over is always worth it.  I pray for the courage to do it.

Are you averse to starting over?

Learning One Way to Change Our Attitude Toward the Poor

Most of our culture takes one of two attitudes toward the poor:  (1)  The poor self-inflict their own plight.  (2)  The poor are recipients of divine punishment.

If I had to guess, I would say the dominant attitude tips the scale in favor of #1.  The cause of poverty is laziness.  The poor have brought it upon themselves.  It’s their fault.  Plus, they are just milking the system.

You’ve heard this attitude, right?

I don’t want to argue that there aren’t poor people who are lazy.  I’m sure there are.  I’m sure there are also rich people who are lazy.

I believe the Bible doesn’t leads us to ask this question or assume this perspective.  God’s Word invites God’s people to notice the needs of others around us with a concern to relieve their situation.  The scriptures give us a vision of a church concerned with sharing possessions more than a preoccupation with accumulating personal wealth (Acts 2:43-47).

Here’s why our attitude may need to change:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   Matthew 25:31-46

If that’s not compelling, then here’s a second reason why our attitude may need to change.  Believing that poverty is self-inflicted doesn’t change anything.  It keeps the poor poor and the not-so poor complaining.

This brings us to the point of the post, which is one way to change our attitude:

We need to have face to face, personal contact with those in need of help.

Donating to a cause is good, but it doesn’t replace seeing with your own eyes what a family truly needs.  Being the one to deliver help has a significantly greater impact on your attitude than merely sending it.

With every face comes a story.  When we allow ourselves to look into the eyes of another, the possibility of learning one’s story becomes possible.  By having personal contact with the poor, you have the opportunity to know them as real people with real needs.

The best opportunity to do this at our church, that I know of, is serving with Carver Village of Hope.  It’s a ministry that will bring you face to face with a small government housing community with great needs.  You will come into personal contact with children in the after school program, Bible studies, crisis care, home improvement projects, and new friendships.

God calls us to serve the “least of these.”  For many of us, it begins with a change of attitude. 

What’s your attitude toward the poor? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning that Ministry is Best Done with Dirt Under One’s Fingernails

I’ve put a slight spin on a quote from one of my favorite theologians, Justo L. Gonzalez, who wrote:  “it may well be that theology is best done with dirt under one’s fingernails. (pg 129)” 

In the book Manana, Gonzalez devotes a section to exploring what it means to be human from a Biblical perspective. He discusses the relationship between body and soul.  He brings to light how much of recent history has obliged a hierarchical view of these concepts of human nature.  In other words, one is subordinate to the other.  History has “insisted on the subordination of the body to the soul. (pg 128)”

This is a problem.

It’s a problem because it influences how we assign value in our society.  It doesn’t take long to recognize the imbalance when you consider the hierarchy that exists between the intellectual and the hard laborer.  One’s lauded for achieving great intellectual pursuits, such as a professor of theology.  Yet, a garbage collector is looked down upon as less developed and short of reaching their potential.

Gonzalez makes a poignant remark to his colleagues in the academic profession:

Those of us who form part of the intellectual elite need to be reminded that our society could go on living for quite a while without us, but it would have a hard time surviving without those who pick lettuce, cook food, and collect garbage.  (pg 129)

Subordination of body to soul isn’t Biblical.  Neither is the subordination of work with one’s hands to work of the intellect.  There need’s to be a balance.  Every theologian needs dirt under her or his nails.

I would add.  Every pastor and ministry leader needs to be found with some dirt under their nails.

I’m all for taking the time to write a good sermon.  I support the hours of practice it takes to learn new worship songs and lead a band.  I can’t say enough about the value of spending time strategically planning a course of action for one’s ministry.  All of this is worth it.

It’s just not worth more than the work of the hands of those we serve in our ministries.

As pastors, when we step out of our spiritual work spaces and into places where we will feel the strain of the work of our hands, we remember what it means to be human.  According to Genesis 2:7, God formed us “of dust from the ground, and breathed life into man’s nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  To be human is to be both body (dust from the earth) and soul (God’s breath of life).

As pastors, we need to remember what it means to be human so we can reclaim the dignity of every person.  Especially those who serve in jobs and careers who rely on their body to do it.

It’s not enough for me to sit in my office with my nose in my books and eyes on my computer.  I’m learning, ministry is best done with some dirt under my fingernails.

Are you willing to get some dirt under your nails?

 

 

 

Learning Metaphors for Ministry(and Life) are NOT One Size Fits All

Methaphors help us make sense of things.  They give meaning to subjects and ideas with the hope of bringing greater understanding.  They expand your imagination to see what was once beyond your limits.

I think most of us would agree.  As a general rule, metaphors are good.

The problem is, our temptation is to make metaphors normative.

Metaphors are not one-size-fits-all.

Here’s why.  A metaphor is the lens through which you see ministry (and/or life) and make sense of it.  It’s based on your experience.  A metaphor is built on words, concepts, and ideas borrowed from your journey.  If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have the capacity to create it.

This isn’t bad.  The problem isn’t located in the experiences you have to build on. The problem is assuming everyone else has shared the same experiences as you.

Not every person will experience working in business, or playing a sport, or performing music, or staying at home with children, or creating art, or coaching a team, or working in a coal mine, or …

If not everyone shares the words, concepts, and ideas as me, then I can’t expect everyone to make sense of their ministry (or life) based a metaphor based on this perspective.

I’m learning this is important because: metaphors that are outside of the experience of the hearer lack the gusto to inspire, motivate, and produce momentum.

Jesus understood this concept.  It’s why he spoke in parables.  He didn’t use metaphors based on his experience as a carpenter.  His parables related to the experiences of his listeners.

As pastors, our ministry contexts shouldn’t be limited to one metaphor.  A business metaphor doesn’t suffice.  A team metaphor doesn’t suffice.  A kingdom metaphor doesn’t suffice.  They are good, but not enough.

As pastors, we should encourage new metaphors for life and ministry.  We don’t need to throw out the old.  We simply need to open space for the new.  As we do, I believe imaginations will be unchained and boundaries will be expanded.

Metaphors are not one-size-fits-all.

What metaphor for ministry (or life) would you offer?