Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pastor, why don't you take off your suit?

The title of this blog is a question I am asked probably once a week by a congregation member.  I'm often asked the same question at other times by people who think my dress should be more casual to attract an outside audience.  Honestly, I think the discussion of what a pastor should wear in the pulpit has been discussed with far too many words and for far too many years.  People can and do make a case on both sides of this issue, and I am not here to give another such critique of people who do or do not wear a suit, vestments, or robes.  

What I am here to do is answer the question that is so often asked of me.  "Pastor, why don't you take off your suit?"  People ask me this question for all sorts of reasons.  Most Sundays the question is asked because the person is concerned with my comfort.  They truly believe wearing a jacket and tie must be pure torture for me, and they are giving their permission for me to take off those "relics of the past."  Still others, as I have mentioned, come to me with this question for a myriad of others reasons that I will not go into here.

So, why do I wear a suit?  The suit to me is part of my personal liturgy.  The process of preparing my heart and mind for delivering a message from God each Sunday begins as I wake up.  When I begin that day, my mind is focused on what God has given me to say that week.  This is sometimes in detriment to the relationships around me.

An issue my wife and I had to deal with early on in our marriage is my lack of attention to how she looks on a Sunday morning.  I remember one Sunday we spent the entire afternoon in silence, and I had no idea why.  Finally, that evening I asked her what had been bothering her all day.  She replied that she had worn a new dress, makeup, and fixed her hair that day, and I had not mentioned how she looked.  Everyone else had, but I had neglected to tell my beautiful wife of her beauty that morning.  

At first, I was tempted to be angry because I could not believe she would hold me accountable for that.  Then I realized that she is not in my head on Sunday morning.  She didn't understand the focus I needed in the morning to prepare for the monumental task in from of me.  She hadn't worked for hours on a sermon that she was hoping would be preached from her mouth the way it had come into her heart.  So, I explained to her what my Sunday morning is like, and I assured her that if we didn't rush home into comfortable clothes I would have time to process things apart from the sermon.  That talk may have saved my marriage!

I write all of that to explain my state of mind as I prepare for service on Sunday mornings.  It is a contemplative time for me, and as I put on each part of my wardrobe for the morning I feel as if I am putting on my uniform.  For me, the process of getting dressed in the morning is part of my worship.  I have a task ahead of me that scripture tells us is of the utmost importance.  In fact, the Bible says those who teach will be held to a higher accountability.  For this reason, I take Sundays very seriously.

Also for this reason, I choose to dress differently when I am proclaiming God's word within the assembly of believers than when I am simply walking around town.  To me, I wear a suit to set myself apart in that moment.  During that sermon, I don't want the words to be mine.  I want the entire message to come from God.  For me, wearing a suit in that moment conveys a message that what I am saying is serious and not of my own making.  I wear my suit because it conveys a differentness in that moment when I am proclaiming God's message from His pulpit.

There is one final reason I wear my suit.  As was explained to me by an acquaintance of Jewish faith, the Kippah or yarmulke is worn on the head to remind the worshipper that there is someone above him so he does not get too self assured.  In much the same way, the Lord commands in Numbers 15:37-40 the wearing of Tzitzit or tassels:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God."

The purpose of the tzitzit according to scripture was a physical reminder to live the lifestyle God wants of the person (obey the commandments).  By wearing the tassels on their clothing, and later attaching these same tassels to a Tallit or prayer shawl, the worshipper would be reminded of the call of God upon their life at all times.  

This same thinking is my final reason for continuing to wear my suit.  Whenever I wear a suit in the pulpit, I feel different.  I have a physical reminder to me the words I say in those moments are not simply my own.  The clothing I choose to wear in the pulpit continually impresses upon me the fact that I am but a sinner saved by grace, entrusted with the message of God for his people in that place.  If I were to simply show up dressed as I always dress, I would have to endure the temptation of believing the acceptance or rejection of the message presented had something to do with me and my successes or my failures.  When someone laughed at something humorous, I would be tempted to take credit.  When someone was offended at a piece of the gospel and rejected the message, I would be tempted to feel that rejection as my own.  

Instead, I wear a suit because it keeps me constantly aware of my place in this world and of the calling that has been placed upon my life.  Wearing the suit keeps my feet on the ground and my heart in the Word.  The suit is not about status, rather it is about me walking faithfully in service to my God.  

So, will I take off my suit?  No, but you feel free to come and worship God however He is leading you.  Approach me, talk to me, encourage me, and love on me because beneath the suit is a person who must rely on God just as much as you everyday.  In the pulpit, I am a mouthpiece for God, but in the everyday I am just Troy. The suit does not make me Superman, but it prepares me for the work God has laid out for me.  It is my uniform, and I will wear it as long as God leads me to.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

11 days.....

11 days.....

It's not such a big number, but in my family it has huge significance.  In 11 days, everything changes.

11 days until we lose a bit of freedom.

11 days until we lose a bit of time.

11 days until everything changes.

In 11 days, my first born child begins preschool.  This day is a day his momma had dreaded for months.  On that day, we will dress our little man in his first day of school clothes, take a few pictures, and drop him off in the care of someone else for the majority of the day.  In a very real sense, we are losing something on that day.

It's 11 days that make me want to pack the car and drive off to somewhere unexpected.  11 days that make me want to fill them with everything we had planned to do that life kept us from doing.  Until this point in our lives, my little family has enjoyed a bit of freedom.  We could go whenever we needed or wanted.  We went everywhere together.  I was hardly ever on the road alone.  Now, that will change.

In 11 days, our schedule will be dictated by the school calendar.  Vacations will not be in the off season.  I will not have the luxury of going into the office late so he and I can lay in bed talking about whatever crazy thing is on his mind.  Gone are the days of watching wrestling together on Tuesday morning on Hulu.  Gone are the days of surprise middle of the week trips to the donut shop or Walmart, or Chuck E. Cheese, or anywhere else we deemed appropriate to go.  In so many ways, it seems we are losing a lot.

This isn't the first time we have struggled with this type of feelings.  19 months ago we experienced the exact same crisis of identity as the date for our second child to arrive approached.  On that day we would go from being the miracle family of 3 to a blossoming family of 4.  As we approached that date, we were both excited and apprehensive about the changes that would come.  We feared the changes that would come and mourned the life we were losing because we loved the family we were, but the blessings that have come with that second birth have wiped away all of those fears and taken away our mourning.

In that change, we watched as our little boy became a little man and a big brother who loves his sister fiercely.  We watched a dynamic grow between these two products of our love that I often sit and watch with amazement.  Yes, we lost something with the birth of that little girl, but we gained so much more.

As I think about these changes, my mind travels to that conversation Jesus had so many times with His disciples - the talk about what was to come.  I am specifically drawn to the conversation in John 16:5-7.  There Jesus says, "But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and not one of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ Yet, because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you."  The disciples were looking at the biggest change they had ever experienced.

They had always known Jesus with them.  He was there, in their midst, teaching, laughing, loving, healing, and living.  They had been a part of his ministry and miracles.  If they didn't understand a teaching, they could just turn to him and ask what that meant.  Now, Jesus is saying he is going away, and things are going to change.  

I can only imagine their fear and dread as they thought about these words.  What would they do with Jesus gone?  How would they function?  How would His kingdom come about?  Most of all, how would they live without their friend, teacher, and master?

The truth is they were losing the physical presence of Jesus in their lives, but Jesus was assuring them they were gaining so much more.  With Jesus physically there, he was in one spot.  When the Spirit came, he was all places at all times.  The power Jesus showed and shared now was poured out upon those same disciples.  Their ministry and their relationship with each other and with Jesus was strengthened through this change.  What the disciples could only imagine as a bad thing was, in the end, the greatest blessing Jesus could ever give.  What they saw as a loss was really the greatest gain in history.

So it goes many times in our lives.  So it will go in 11 days.  Yes, we are losing a part of our life that we can never get back, but what we will gain can outweigh that which we lose.  We may lose time with the boy, but we gain one on one time with the girl.  We may lose the freedom to go whenever we like, but we can gain a better appreciation for the time we spend together.  There may be a thousand other things we think we are losing, but there are thousand more we are gaining.  11 days......

11 days until we feel the pride of a son who succeeds apart from us.

11 days until we see the joy in a child's eyes as he begins something he has longed for.

11 days until he begins to find himself more and more each day.

11 days until we begin to see blessings we never imagined.

11 days until I understand the disciples even more.

So, for the next 11 days I will try to look forward to the blessings to come rather than the losses I fear.  In the end, I know that Jesus loves me, and I know Jesus loves my son.  Better than that, he has promised that he will work through all things for the good of those who love Him.  Thank you, Jesus, for the changes that come in our lives that force us to lean into you.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What must I believe? (When believers disagree on the Bible)

Today I took part in a discussion online about a video that claims the President is the Antichrist.  Throughout this discussion, my beliefs about the end times became clear.  Most people who know me know that I am a both and kind of person when it comes to end times.  When asked a question about that topic, my answer is usually yes.  I am not a Left Behind fan.  I do not think the Bible describes the end times in that way.  I also am not one to pull a title from one part of scripture to place it somewhere else.  I am thankful that the other person in my conversation today was respectful and willing to hear what I said rather than dig in.  Thank you for not digging in.

Digging in is the problem I usually find.  People have doctrines they have held for years or even decades that they are not so willing to part with.  Some of these doctrines are not built on historical research, context of scripture, or the actual text of the Bible; rather they are built on what some preacher somewhere told me that part of the Bible says.  It is often these people I hate having conversations with.  There is no listening.  There is argument, there is division, and there is hurtfulness.  The problem comes when believers hold so hard to their inessential doctrines that they become essential to them.

To be clear.  I don't believe God promises we will be raptured out of all of the bad stuff.  I believe Jesus says things are going to be hard because they were hard for Him.  I believe that every time the word speaks of Jesus returning, it is to put His foot on this soil and reclaim everything as made perfect.  I believe the tribulation, millennium, and that sort are past, present, and future.  They have happened, they are happening, and they will continue to happen until Jesus returns.  I believe Revelation (there is no "s" on the end of that book.  It is one revelation not revelations) is apocalyptic literature filled with symbolism that should be understood as such.  I believe the book was written to talk about things happening 2000 years ago that would continue happening until Jesus comes.  I do not believe it makes sense that John would write a book, give it to believers of that day who were facing extreme persecution (think being impaled on a stake, dipped in oil, and burned alive to light an emperor's party) if they could not read and understand it's hope in their present situation.  I don't think he was writing, "Sorry you and all of your family are being tortured and killed, but your great great great great great great  great great great great great great  great great great great great great  great great great great great great  great great great great great great  great great great great great great grandchildren and the people in their world will be able to read this and understand it and they will be okay.  God is a God of order not confusion.  He would not do that, but these beliefs are not essential to my salvation or anyone's salvation.  I believe what I believe, but I understand you may believe differently.

Unfortunately, I have had even family members in the past who would question my salvation if I did not believe in the end times in the way they did.  In the end, the only bearing the end times have on my salvation is I need to know Jesus before He comes, and I should be sharing with others so they will know Him too.  What I wish for us to all accept is the following motto that is often attributed to Augustine: In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In Everything Charity.  Simply put, as believers we need to be united in the things that are essential to our faith, we need to give freedom to believe differently than we do on the things that are non-essential to our faith, and in everything we do we must be loving.  And we need to pray for the wisdom to know what is each.

So what must I believe?  What are the essentials?

1) Jesus is God incarnate who came and walked this sinful world
2) Though He was tempted in every way as we are, He overcame that temptation to lead a sinless life
3) So that He could give His life as the perfect sacrifice and payment for our sin
4) He died on the cross
5) He was buried for 3 days
6) On the third day he rose from the dead assuring us of a promise of eternal life
7) Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus to make Him Lord of their life shall be saved and spend eternity with Him
8) He is coming back again to set up His eternal kingdom

That's it.  That's what we have to believe to be saved.  Everything else for the most part in non-essential.  So, disagree with me, but allow me the respect that I will give you.  Just because we do not agree on everything does not mean one is more saved than the other.  Own what you believe.  Don't let it own you.  God gave us a brain to use it.  In Hosea 4:6, God speaking on Israel's lack of Torah teaching says, "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge."  God gives us His word and so many resources to understand their context.  Please, choose what you believe from a good study of the Bible in context along with a study of the historical context in which it was set.  In that way, when we disagree, we may both learn something.

For those of you in my town or church, I may offer a study of Revelation soon.  Just be warned, it won't be what you're hearing on TV.  Until then, to all those who read this blog.  May the God who created this world create in your heart a hunger for Him.  Shalom!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thankful for Eternit


The last sermon in the series Thankful: The Essentials Every Believer Should Be Thankful For

Since our services were interrupted by the weather this morning, I decided to give my final "sermon" in our series here. I apologize if it seems stilted or not put together properly, but I do not use manuscripts so I am simply attempting to expand my notes into a form you can read.

I thought long and hard about what this series should wrap up with. What was the final thing we should be thankful for as a believer? Throughout this series we have examined our need to be thankful for Jesus' sacrifice (and we examined what He sacrificed) , Grace (and the amazing nature of this gift), and Provision (the payment provided for us on the cross). We live in a world in which all of these things can be taken for granted. Our society and the busyness it offers allow our minds and hearts to quickly forget the gifts given us by God.

I believe that was the point of this series, reminding us of what God has given to every believer. It is easy to be mindful during this part of the year of the material things we have. It’s easy to be thankful for family and friends. It's even easy to be thankful for food and shelter, but so much of what the believer has to be thankful for isn’t measured in physical terms. Many of these blessings are abstract thoughts and ideas. They are theological ideas people have debated for centuries and still come away unclear at times. 

So to finish the series I kept asking, "How do you finish being thankful?" That word finish kept ringing in my ears because for the believer, finish isn't final. Finish is something we may never truly experience. Believers have the promise of eternity.  
I think eternity is a great ending for this series because it is the one abstract thing that every believer has some understanding of thankfulness for. Even those individuals we would call backsliders, those believers who are walking the wrong path, understand the promise of eternity. For years, the promise of eternity is what the church has focused upon. Most people have this appreciation of the eternal aspect of being a believer, but I think sometimes our view of eternity and the characteristics of eternity are limited. So today I want to examine quickly 3 aspects of eternity the believer should be thankful for.


The first aspect of eternity believers should be thankful for is eternal love. Romans 8:38-39 reads, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
We live in a world that measures love by all of the wrong standards. We call things romantic that are selfish at best and sinful at their worst. Love is that we fall into and fall out of which means in the end we must end up pretty low. We find ourselves jaded and hurt, wondering why love continues to let us down. Love in our world is fickle, something that fades and goes away. There are many relationships in this world, many marriages, that end over the words, "I just don’t love you anymore." This is why it is so important to realize and be thankful for the eternal love of God to humanity.
We have discussed before several times the quality of God’s love. We know that it is unconditional. We understand it is spoken through action rather than words. We could describe God’s love from here until our death, but I think the most important characteristic of that love is it exists into eternity. Here in Romans Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing, did you catch that? Nothing in this world or any other can separate us from the love of Jesus. The love offered to believers by God is one of complete faithfulness and presence in the lives of believers. God’s love is eternal; it does not end. It goes on and on and on. It is this love that provides the other things we have talked about in this series. His love doesn’t stop. You can’t run Him off. You can’t make Him not love you anymore. Try as you might, it will not succeed. In 1997, my dad was in an accident. My world fell apart and I blamed God. I did everything within my power to make God mad at me. I tried to run Him off! In the end, He came to me and offered again the gifts of grace and love. His love never failed me even as I purposefully failed Him. The most amazing thought to me is His love did not begin and it will not end. His love is truly eternal, without beginning or end. He loved you before you were born. He loved you when you weren’t even thought of. He loved you as He was orchestrating the processes inside of your mother to bring you into this world. God’s love has always existed and will always exist. This isn’t a feeling, not a warm emotion. His love is an undying and unwavering devotion no matter how badly we fail! His love is eternal.


The second aspect of eternity every believer should be thankful for is everlasting life. Notice I say everlasting rather than eternal. I do this to be exact. Something that is eternal has no beginning or end, but something everlasting just has no end. Our life from God is everlasting, but it isn't truly eternal. John 5:24 - Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."  I love this verse and the truth it contains. Simply put, our everlasting life as given by God is a present reality. Every time eternal life is mentioned in scripture it is a present possession. The scriptures always say, "have everlasting life," or, "has eternal life." This gift is never presented as, "Will have," or, "Going to have." Everlasting life is scripture is always a present belonging. Why is this important? If everlasting life is a present reality, it isn’t something we work for. We can’t lose our eternal life; it’s not possible! Once you have eternal life, you have it. It doesn’t go anywhere. You can’t be so good you get more everlasting life, you can’t be so bad you’ll get less. You can’t be kind of saved! It's like being pregnant, you either are or you aren’t. Think of it this way. You get sick with an illness, and your body produces antibodies based on elements of that disease. Technically you’re never rid of a disease completely. You’re symptom free, but there are always traces of that disease in your body in the antibodies that were created. That’s salvation! You may accept Jesus, your life changes, and then something happens and you fall away. You may be symptom free of salvation, but if your salvation was genuine, it isn’t gone!  We should be thankful for everlasting life because it is something we have now and not in the distant future. That should change how we live now!


The final aspect of eternity for us to be thankful for is our eternal home.  John 14 says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  This is one of my favorite funeral passages, but we sometimes read it wrong. Sometimes we get so caught up in the old language of mansions that we miss what the passage is really saying. The words are house and rooms. One house with many rooms. The promise of our eternal home is a promise of fellowship and dwelling together. Heaven won’t be lonely because we will be living together under our Father's roof as a family of believers. No more loneliness in a crowded room. No more feeling left out. In our eternal home, we will have perfect fellowship with one another. The passage here in John 14 also shows an individual's worth in the sight of God. He isn't just preparing a room; He is preparing my room, your room, or our room. Each individual is important enough to God to be prepared for. That is amazing! I believe the biggest aspect of our eternal home is also the one we miss the most. What makes this our home is not the beauty, our own rooms, or anything else material we may hear of. What makes this our home is the presence of God. For all the years of my life until she passed, mom was home. Wherever she lived, I considered to be my home place. This is also how it should be with God. What makes a place our own is not our name on the deed or the door, but who also lives there. Our eternal home is our home because God is there so why do we wish God wasn’t around sometimes? Why do we try to do things in secret? God is not someone to be run from or kept in the dark. God is the one who is what makes something home for us. Without His presence, we are visitors and foreigners wherever we stand. Seek the presence of God in all you do, and home will be wherever the faithful believer is.


In the end, believers should be thankful for eternity. Why? First, we serve a God who has eternal love for us. Second, through that love He has given us everlasting life. Finally, that everlasting life allows us to spend eternity in our eternal home that is secure and prepared for us in the presence of God. Blessings be upon you!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lesson from a crying baby

The other night as we tried endlessly to get our son to sleep, I found myself thinking how dealing with this crying baby reminded me of certain things in church.  Basically, my thought was this, "Dealing with a sleepy crying baby is just like dealing with unhappy people in the church."  I told Carrie that thought when it occurred to me and she laughed at first.  Then she got this look on her face like "oh my gosh, you're right!"

Let me explain.  For the first week we were at home, nighttime went something like this:


  • Get ready for bed
  • Swaddle the baby
  • put him in the bassinet
  • Turn off the lights
  • Hold your breath as you listen to make sure he's asleep
  • Go to slee....Oops he's crying again
  • Get up and hold the baby
  • Check his diaper
  • Swaddle him tighter
  • Give pacifier
  • Put in Bassinet
  • Watch for movement or stirring
  • There is none so get in bed
  • Hold your breath as you listen to make sure he's asleep
  • Go to slee....He's crying again!
  • Get up
  • Change his diaper
  • Feed Him
  • Burp Him
  • Swaddle Him
  • Put in Bassinet
  • Turn off lights
  • Get in  bed hoping to sleep this time
  • Hold your breath as you listen to make sure he's asleep
  • Go to slee....sigh...there he goes again!
  • Wonder why you had this child in the first place
  • (Now you do this pattern 7-8 more times)
  • Give up
  • Take baby to the living room where he can lay on your chest and sleep while you watch Netflix
  • Spend your day the next day tired, defeated, and fearful of the coming night


The similarities of dealing with unhappy people and difficult situations in the church are obvious when you look.  For our purpose, difficult people, situations, and offenses will just be called "X".

Dealing with something difficult at church:
  • Prepare for church
  • Go into worship
  • X happens
  • Examine the situation to make sure you haven't done something to offend
  • Take the necessary steps to resolve the situation
  • Get things back to normal
  • Prepare for church
  • Go to wor.....X happens again
  • Examine the situation to make sure you haven't offended
  • Take the necessary steps to resolve the situation
  • Get things back to normal
  • Prepare for church
  • Hold your breath while watching to make sure the situation has resolved itself
  • Got to wor.....What?  X is happening again?  Can't I win?  Where are you God?
  • Examine the situation to make sure you aren't the cause
  • Take the necessary steps to resolve conflict
  • Get things back as close to normal as possible
  • Prepare for church hoping nothing will go wrong
  • Hold your breath during the welcome while watching to make sure things are done
  • Relax and begin to worshi.....What?  Not again!  X? is this for real?
  • (repeat that same pattern for many months)
  • Give in to demands and feel like you have given up a piece of your soul
  • Spend the entire week dreading Sunday because X may happen

I know I have generalized this a lot.  The truth is X can be a person, a situation, or even an idea at times.  X is those things that cause this type of strife within the body.  Over the past week, I have learned something about dealing with these situations from having to deal with the crying baby.  There are steps we can take to ensure the situation is resolved and we do not grow to resent anyone or anything.  What are these steps?  Do they apply to me?  I think these steps apply to everyone clergy and layperson alike.  We all have situations or people we must deal with that make us feel this way.  The truths I have learned about getting a baby to bed work just as well for resolving church conflict. 

THE STEPS
  1. Love - do everything we do out of love.  If I get up at night to deal with a crying baby that is depriving me of sleep because I am angry or frustrated, I will accomplish nothing.  The child will feel my emotion and continue to be upset.  If I however go to comfort a child with love knowing that he is created in the image of God and of me, the child feels safe and much can be accomplished.  The same goes for church conflict.  If we deal with situations out of frustration, defensiveness, or anger, we are working out of selfish motives and the other parties see that.  If instead we communicate our view from the love that flows from Christ to his creation, a multitude of sins may be covered.
  2. Selflessness - put their needs in front of our own.  If the only reason I am dealing with baby is because he is messing up my needs, I act harshly, quickly, and incompletely thereby causing the cycle to continue.  If instead I care for baby because he needs me to, I take my time and make sure his needs of safety, comfort, and stability are met.  This makes for a sleepy, content baby.  In church conflict, I can either go in selfishly arguing for what it is I want or I can go in listening for what the needs of others around me are.  Caring for and meeting the needs of others goes farther in building bridges and destroying conflict that being right and having to fight for it.  As scripture tells us, "Esteem others as higher than yourself."
  3. Patience - Sometimes it takes a baby longer to go to sleep than we would like, but hurrying him to that point just makes the process start all over.  Same with church conflict.  Sometimes conflict must simmer in order to resolve.  Sometimes forcing an issue to be resolved just allows room for it to start the process all over again later.
  4. Flexibility - Sometimes we have to do something different.  For 6 nights Carrie and I tried the same thing over and over to get Shiloh to sleep.  Each night, it didn't work.  Last night we changed things, and those changes seem to have made all the difference.  Sometimes what someone needs is something different than what we are offering.  In church, flexibility is the key.  I am not saying we have flexibility in the message, but I am saying we have flexibility in how it is presented.  Last night I was eating a bowl of Golden Crisp cereal when all of a sudden it dawned on me they used to be called Super Golden Crisp.  The cereal hadn't changed, but the needs of their marketing had.  We must too be flexible in meeting the needs of others in church conflict.

Now, are these steps a be all end all for conflict?  No.  These are just general guidelines I picked up from dealing with a fussy baby.  The truth is these would be good for any conflict, inside or outside the church.  This just proves sometimes you can learn a lot from a baby.  After all, God did say a child would lead them.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Theological Consistency.....Letting our actions echo our beliefs

Let me start by saying this post will probably offend some of you.  This is not my intent, but I do realize offense is an unavoidable bi product of this post.  Why you may ask?  In the past month many of you have innocently said things to Carrie or I that can bring great offense if we let it.  These comments are simple and come from a loving place, but they get to the heart of a problem in many of our churches today.  Simply put, our comments and actions are not consistent with the theology we proclaim.

The easiest way to explain is simply to reveal the comment that has been made by so many people in the past month.  That comment: "How do like parenthood?" or "Is being parent what you thought it would be?"  or any other variation on that question.  It seems like for everyone in our lives, we have just now become parents because we have held Shiloh in our arms.  There seems to be this belief that the process of labor is what makes someone a parent.  This seeming belief goes right against a theology most of these same individuals claim to believe.

Most of our friends in the Evangelical circle hold to the belief that life begins at conception.  Carrie and I both hold to this belief.  We understand this concept more profoundly than most people.  Because we believe this, we know we have been parents for 10 years now.  The problem most of us have is that Carrie and I never had the chance to hold our first 2 children.  They were named. Beautiful names, Abigail Grace and Bethany Teresa.  They are loved just as much as Shiloh is loved.  Yes, we have parents for 10 years.  The difference is while other parents got to experience the joys and triumphs of birth, growth, and development, Carrie and I only got to experience the pain, heartache, and loneliness of loss.

In my eyes, that makes us parents even more than  many people who have lots of children.  It's easy getting all the good stuff.  It is devastating only having the bad, only experiencing loss.  Yes, we will experience different parts of parenthood now, but that does not mean we have just become parents.  Let me let you in on a little secret.  When you say things like those that have been said to us in the past month, it hurts.  It feels as if our first 2 children weren't important enough for us to be considered parents.  In some ways it feels as if their memory is being defiled.

I do not say these things to offend you or hurt you.  I want you to be informed.  I want to learn to begin to choose your words carefully when dealing with people.  Next time Mother's Day or Father's Day rolls around, remember those in your life who have children who didn't make it here.  Think before you speak to someone about parenthood, and ask yourself if your actions and words are consistent with the belief that you hold.  In times like these, our words can either heal or kill the spirit of a man or woman who is hurting.  If our theology is consistent with our actions, great healing can occur in those who have experienced great loss.

Please understand you have not offended us because we have grown from that place and realize your words come from a place of love, but do learn from what I have said because many couples have not reached that place.  Your words may be the difference between them finding solace in Jesus or loneliness in the world.

Since I have never said it out loud.  Abigail Grace and Bethany Teresa, Daddy loves and misses you. Tell Nanny and Poppy I love them and miss them too.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sexy Purity?

This is the follow up to my blog post Modesty Revisited.  I know you may reading the title and thinking that sexy purity is an out and out oxymoron.  For that reason, I followed up the title with a question mark.  Is sexy purity even something that is possible?  Should we push for the idea of sexy purity?  I believe the answer is yes to both questions, but it will take some work to get there.

To begin, we must redefine terms to mean something other than what our culture declares.  What is the meaning of the word sexy?  Meriam-Webster gives two definitions of sexy, and I began to ask why.  When did sexy become a word that means more than one thing?  Is the word sexy an objective word?  Why was my first instinct to look in the dictionary to define the word sexy?  Don't I know what the word means?  I am 36 years old, happily married, and have a child.  Surely I know the meaning of the word sexy.  So, I threw out the meanings found in the dictionary and our culture for my own definition.

In the end, I believe sexy is a completely subjective idea that exists only in the mind of each individual.  In essence, each individual defines what sexy is.  What one person considers sexy, someone else may not.  Yes, there are some people who everyone will say is sexy, but there are those individuals who go against the flow and don't find those people sexy.  I read an article yesterday about a survey done of men and who their perfect woman is.  As expected, most men picked the bombshell type as their desire physically, but when the overall results were in, the girl next door with her personality and charm won out the best girlfriend ideal.  What does this tell us about sexy in our culture?

Obviously sexy must deal with certain aspects of who a person is.  Sexy must have something to do with attractiveness.  It must also have something to do with desire.  But must sexy always have something to do with sex?  That may be a stupid question.  You may be thinking, "Duh!  3/4 of the word is sex!"  But does sexy have to be about sex in the way our world has made it about sex?

In our world, sexy has come to be defined as that quality that makes you want to get naked with someone.  Sorry about the visual, but that is it.  In order to be seen that way, many members of the female persuasion have taken to showing as much nakedness as they can in order to arouse the curiosity of their intended suitor.  These same ladies partake in behavior that they believe will make them more appealing.  To put it in the words of one youth, "Sexy equals doable."  Why must it mean that?

In the end, I believe sexy has come to mean what it does due to a failure in our society.  When sex becomes something you do for fun with whoever you want without a commitment, sexy has no choice but to break down.  At this point, people cease to be people and become menu choices.  People begin to act like the world is one big buffet of people to try and cast aside if you don't like them.  This lack of commitment leads to a breakdown of relationships.  In that context sexy is going to be equated with that quality that gets me into bed with the person I desire to sleep with.

But what if sex were viewed at a higher level? What if sex was the expression of love it was meant to be in a life-long, committed, godly relationship?  What does sexy mean in those parameters?  I believe in that case sexy becomes the quality of an individual that would make them someone you could share your life with.  This isn't a definition of sex as purely carnal pleasure.  This is a definition of sex as that ultimate conduit of intimate communication.  That moment when two souls become one and the needs of each emotionally and physically are met.  That does not happen in a one night stand.  It doesn't happen in a teenage love affair.  It happens in those couples who work hard to be the completion of their partner in every aspect of life.  So what if we defined redefined sexy as the quality or qualities of an individual that make them a person you can share your life with?

All at once, sexy is not about sex because there are couples who cannot have intercourse for various reasons who share their lives and have true intimacy for decades.  I guarantee these couples would believe their spouse is sexy, but they would not be defining sexy as the world defines sexy.  Their definition may be one that says sexy is the quality that makes them complete me.

So why don't we now begin redefining sexy?  Why don't we take back the glorious gift of sexuality from our creator from those who have sought to mar it?  Why can't we start teaching those around us that sexy has nothing to do with lust, nakedness, or lewd behavior and everything to do with pure and godly qualities that make someone a good choice to spend our life with?  If we redefine sexy to mean the quality of an individual that would make them someone you could share your life with, how much more uplifting and inspiring is that to someone you call sexy.  All at once sexy goes from being a derogatory statement of non-personhood to the greatest statement of worth about a person.  I am not suggesting we start calling people sexy.  I am simply working to redefine this aspect of our personhood.

If sexy is defined in this way, you can have sexy purity.  The funny thing most guys don't tell girls is they want to have sex with you, but they want to marry a virgin.  I was youth minister for too long asking the questions during straight talk sessions, and I never once had a guy say I want to marry the girl who slept around.  Without fail, they all wanted a girl who had remained pure.  And if that is their true desire, there is nothing that can make a girl sexy (my new definition) more than purity.

So, while I may have rambled, I do believe sexy purity is possible.  In the next few posts, I hope to explore how those terms can be re-imagined in our churches and our society.  Basically, if we redefine sexy in this way, how does a person act and dress to be the individual of desire?