Midweek Lesson

Wednesday was our monthly midweek meeting by house church. These are my notes from my lesson. A little rough around the edges, and not exactly he way I delivered it, but pretty close. I could clean it up and make it more blog-worthy, but I’m not. 🙂
I want to challenge us this evening, all of us me included. This will hit some of you, as it does me, right square in the heart. Others, it may not apply to, you’re already doing exactly this.
In fact it applies to me so well, I thought about not sharing it. Maybe it’s just me, I doubt it, but if the challenge doesn’t apply to you, please take no offense.
Thinking about our study of John, one thing that stands out is that Jesus is always with people. His ministry was outward focused.
I am not.
I’ve come to realize that my life is very inward focused. My schedule, my blog, my hobbies. I like to think of myself as a having a good ‘balance’, in reality, day in and day out, the balance is shifted toward me.
But the things that get me agitated, frustrated, angry,
Remember this passage from John 12:24-26:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Remember Sunday, we talked about finding ‘balance’? Jesus didn’t call us to balance, to make room for his goals in our lives. He called us to die. It’s a radical concept. A very hard teaching. If we embrace it, all bets are off on our lives, we will be dead and obligated to God.
I think of this quote from Soren Kierkegaard [which I’ve used here before].

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament

.
All this – Jesus always with the people and dying to ourselves – got me thinking about what the ‘Christian lifestyle’, and therefore mine, ought to look like. That got me thinking about all tha passages that refer to our relationshiops – the ‘one another’ passages. Let’s look at some.

Romans 12:10
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 12:16
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[1] Never be conceited
Romans 15:7
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Romans 16:16
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Corinthians 12:25
that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Galatians 5:13
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 5:21
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:13
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

As Christians, our focus is outward, on others. But we live in a society that focuses on self.
Look at the action words in these passages. What are our action words? Buy, relax, go, work, spend. There are others, not all bad, but our ways are for us, but God’s ways are for others.
We cannot do many of these things if we do not spend time together. We must break our schedules, our priorities and get involved with other people, especially disciples.
Let’s look for ways to be together, make spending time a priority. Not just ‘D-times’ or study times, but fun times. Kid’s recitals and soccer games, dinner out or in our homes, home projects, watching the game,etc.
As I look at my own life, I have two thoughts:

  1. My first thought is that I long to change my way of thinking, to make time with others a priority and find ways, invent ways, of being with disciples. This is needed, desparately perhaps, in myself and in others. I want to change my mode of operation from one of “I want to get home and be alone” to “I long to spend some time with my brothers!”.
  2. My second thought, however, is to run from this. I frankly don’t want to change. This goes to the core of ME, I’m not sure I want to go there. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “if I do that my whole life will be ruined.” What I want is to feel good about the revelation and keep on living the same way.

I can’t stay the same, but can I really move toward such a change? Prayerfully I can.
How about you?

Hebrews 10

Hebrews 10:11-14 – This is actually the passage I was think of before:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

ESV

He mentions every priest “stands daily” and that Jesus “sat down, waiting”. Even if the story of the symbolism of the priest not sitting isn’t accurate, the contrast is still powerful yet easy to miss in our Western culture, so far removed from the temple system. As the writer said earlier in this chapter, the sacrifices were a constant reminder of sin.
That makes me think a bit more about Hebrews 10:2-3. He indirectly describes the results of one having been cleansed once for all. No “consciousness of sin”. The constant sacrifices at the temple made the Jew constantly aware of their sin. Their unrighteousness before God was always there. While sometimes it feels that we are not aware enough as Christians of our sin (although, at other times it’s all too real), but the implication here is that’s the way it ought to be. He says “… the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin.” There’s something healthy and right for us to be able to brush off our sin, not because we think it trivial, but because it is factually of no consequence any more. We are cleansed. It can not harm us. So, while we deal with it, it is no longer to be a constant reality. As Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and life to the full.”
This sets up the reality in Hebrews 10:19. We are cleansed, it is over, sin no longer matters, we need not dwell on it over and over and over and over again. “Therefore … we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus … ” That is one of my favorite verses. I was, and am, nothing, dirt, dust, worthless, scum, yet because of Jesus I can spiritually enter the place so Holy and special that only a handful of men in thousands of years were able to see. It’s likely that more men have been to outer space than entered the Holy of Holies, yet you and I now have unlimited access to it, on a spiritual level. Such is the intimate access we have to our God. Wow. It still amazes me, and I hope it always does.
Hebrews 10:23 – “Let us hold fast” – why? Because it’s what we are required to do? No, “because he who promised is faithful.” And it is in this context that we get Hebrews 10:24-25, the context of responding to God’s amazing grace and faithfulness. That is why we continue to spur one another on, that is why we so not stop meeting together. Not out of obligation, but a response to grace.
Hebrews 10:26-31 – Reading this passage – often taken out in isolation to show that we can loose our salvation – reading it in the context of the description of Jesus’ amazing work on the cross and God’s amazing grace and the crescendo leading up to Hebrews 10, the words are much more powerful than when read alone. Yes, we can walk away from God, but what a statement of our hearts that would be. After understanding all this love, if you continue as you had been doing, there is no hope left for you, only fear of the judgment to come.

Thoughts on Discipling, Attendance and Dating

Our church leadership is tackling some tough issues. A couple of weeks ago, our minister asked us to put some thought together on what discipling, attendance and dating will look like in our church and have them ready for today’s leaders meeting. The following is what I put together before the meeting and represents both mine and Maria’s thoughts.
Thoughts on the meeting in the first comment.

As we talk as a church about issues that have historically been important to us – discipling, attendance and dating among others – I wanted to put my thoughts on paper as I flesh them out.
In general, I feel we must be careful in these and other areas. We must not set up rules or standards for membership in our church that God does not set up for membership in his. It may be tempting to set up rules that are define who we are in the CCOC, rules and practices that define who we are. But who are we to say what is required to be part of God’s family, even a segment of God’s family. We should not risk pushing away one of God’s children for the sake of our comfort in being surrounded by like minded folks.
Peter cautioned the early church on the same thing in Acts 15 concerning circumcision & following the law when he said “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” So as we consider discipling, attendance and dating , we must be careful not to add our “rules of men” to God’s standard.
I think that discipling is the most important of the three. How we implement and practice discipling has an effect on the other two. As I look at the scriptures, I don’t see a requirement for discipling as we’ve practiced it, organized, assigned. Instead, I see an emphasis on loving each other and watching out for each other.
Discipling should be ‘top down’ not ‘bottom up’. In the past we emphasized the need for individuals to seek advice and discipling for themselves, even correcting them when they did not. I call this the ‘bottom up’ style. You are responsible for yourself and shame on you if you don’t get the help you need. Instead, we should emphasize & model leaders & others proactively getting involved in the lives of others, asking questions, seeking understanding and teaching and caring. I see this ‘top down’ style being more biblical.
Ezekiel 34 is a great example of this. God is not angry with the sheep who went astray, he’s angry at the shepherds who did not go after them. Our old model would have been the leaders chastising the lost sheep.
John 10 tells us how Jesus is the good shepherd, because he lays his life down for the sheep. In fact, Jesus came because he saw our need, a need we did not recognize. We, in our sin and pride, didn’t think we needed saving. But Jesus saw us wandering off and came to our rescue, dying on the cross. He is our example and that should be our standard for discipling, selfless, sacrificing, humble and loving yet firm with high expectations.
All the ‘one another’ verses are examples of this as well. They are proactive, born of love and concern for the other. I would say the whole of the New Testament cries for us to “consider others better than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3) and to focus ourselves on others. This should be the heart of our discipling and the focus of our teaching and practicing of it. When we see something of concern in our brother or sister, our first response should be trust (Love always trusts – 1 Corinthians 13). Trust that they love God and long to please him, possible evidence to the contrary aside. With trust in our hearts, we can, and should, then go and ask questions, seek to understand what’s going on. Often times, things are not quite what they seem. Only then, with a full understanding of the situation and trust in our hearts, can we lovingly challenge, if there is a need.
We should also stop making what seems like the opposite mistake, but is really as much a lack of love as the sometimes harsh, critical judgments of the past were. That is seeing areas of concern in our brother and doing nothing. It’s not my place, someone else will talk to him, maybe I don’t understand, he probably doesn’t want me involved. We cannot expect to build on our successes as a church this year if we have such a cavalier attitude toward each other.
This must stop, but mandatory discipling trees or groups are not the answer. As I said, I do not see any requirement for organized discipling in the scriptures, only the requirement that we love deeply, to the point of putting ourselves at risk. So as we seek to retain the good things that the old ways brought, let’s not be tempted to go back to the one size fits all system. In fact, I’d say we ought not to require any sort of system at all. Instead, as leaders, we ought to require sincere, deep, vulnerable and sacrificial love, and we must model that within ourselves and our groups.
On the other two issues, I think if we love deeply and practice discipling as described above, they will fix themselves. A pattern of absence may be a look at a heart grown cold, of hidden sin or a drifting from God. Or it may be that Wednesday night is the only time to take that class required to graduate, or a temporary transfer to the weekend shift while a co-worker is on maternity leave. Only by loving enough to trust and to dig in and ask question will we know for sure, and be able to help restore a wandering soul if need be.
On dating I do have a bit more to say. The question I would ask is, is dating, even marrying, someone who is not a Christian something that we would disfellowship someone for? Asked another way, would someone be forfeiting their salvation by marrying a non-believer? We certainly don’t turn away married folk if only one of them comes to church. I absolutely believe that we should teach the folly of pursuing a relationship of any kind with the opposite sex who is not a Christian, but as I said before, we must be careful not to add rules to God’s. If someone who loves God, foolishly does this and even ends up married to that person, they need us more than ever at that point. They ought to know, that we still stand by them as they strive to follow Christ, assuming that’s what they still want.
On dating, I think it’s time we took a more mature approach to this. We are a small church, it is foolish for us to teach our singles that they must only date within our own fellowship, or our sister churches in other cities. We should instead teach discernment in dating. How can I tell if this person is spiritual and is going to lead me toward God instead of away? We should also, cautiously, begin to find ways to work with other, historically similar, churches in or area to help these men and women find mates that will strengthen them. There are attractive men and women around them in their neighborhoods, the campus and their workplaces, longing for their attention. They need to know how to discern, how to chose whom they should and should not date.
I hope that as a church we can act in faith. It takes more faith to resist establishing rules and requirements and to allow people to work out their salvation. Rules only serve to make us feel comfortable, but for the sake of our comfort we can exclude those that God has accepted. Let us not do that.

God: The BIGgest Difference

This is something I’ve been meaning to post for months. This first appeared in our church newsletter this past spring, and most recently at Disciples Today (subscription required).
The day that Ryan was baptized was an amazing one at church. It was the first baptism at a church service in a long time, and it was amazing to hear a lanky 17 year old African American kid, publicly share, with tears, how much his grandma meant to him and thank her for sending him to church.
The following was written by JB, the big brother in this powerful story. JB’s putting his faith into action is an inspiration to me.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

One goal of the BigBrother/Big Sisters program is for every “Lil” that is matched to learn to walk a better path of life into adulthood as a result of the impact impressed upon them by their “Big.” And, as I witnessed Ryan’s appreciation, devotion, and love for our great God grow, I changed my visions for him. My goals were no longer for him to stay out of trouble and be the first in his family to graduate from high school and matriculate into college same year. But, I felt that if he were to see me living the Christian life and love him as my neighbor; then perhaps he’d desire such a life too, and by choosing to do this, any of the goals outlined by BBBS would be surpassed.
Over the past 2 years, it’s been extremely gratifying to see my vision for Ryan’s life, become his own vision for his life because of our Incredible Father. And, I know that February 19, 2006 is a day that neither of us will forget.
Ryan’s Story
God reminds us to look after widows and orphans. Ryan’s grandmother, Cassie, did just that by choosing to care for him almost from birth, since neither his mother nor father were able to. And, instead of having Ryan or his brother and sister go into state custody, Cassie fought for them and won. Yet, she knew that she could use some help.
JB’s story
After becoming a Christian (1995), I ceased my involvement in my fraternity, as a way of “cutting off” a lifestyle that fostered my own arrogance and pride – yet, the tenets of strengthening the African-American race were still well-rooted within me. One particular newsletter featured an article on the work my fraternity was doing with BBBS. I then took this as a sign that I should re-activate my membership and be apart of this cool mentoring program.
The Match & Activities
The social worker weighed my interests with Ryan’s, our talkative personalities, and looked at our addresses and realized that we were only a 5 minute drive from each other; and recommended that we become a “match.” I believe it was God’s hand working ultimately, though. I believe that God wanted Jesus to become Ryan’s Big Brother and that for that to happen, he’d wanted to use me, Courtney (my wife), the Teens, Cellinos, Rhodes, and the entire Columbus Church of Christ family.
Over the first few years, Ryan noticed how important worshiping God was to me. He also saw how Courtney and I never yelled, or cursed at each other. Conversely, I noticed that Ryan was not catching his local church bus anymore, so I asked his grandmother if he could come to our church for an outdoor service. She consented and he can probably still tell you this day what it was like over 5 years ago to have been hugged by strangers. But, now what’s cool is that he’s giving hugs and initiating conversations.
Ryan begins pursuing God
After I became a graduate student (again) and a father, and Ryan moved down the street our hang times seemed to become more. We’d talk, play basketball, I used to cut his hair, run errands for his grandmother, and some times Ryan would just randomly stop by. Over time, I felt more compelled to serve not just Ryan, but his family as well. This was reciprocated, because he now felt extremely comfortable around my family and friends.
Ryan began showing an interest in coming to church with us. He started making friends like Owen, Greg, and James. He felt that his friends at school were not genuine, but that the people at church loved him unconditionally. Ryan began to soak up God’s Word so much that he would often be able to describe key points in each sermon to us as Courtney and I would give him rides back to home. Ryan also began to attend the Teen activities that were planned.
I believe that the Teens and their activities helped Ryan feel and see the power of God’s love and helped him realize that he could one day stand up for God as a High School student. Seeing others change and get baptized made the ideal very tangible. He was having fun with kids his own age, as his grandmother wanted, but the type of fun he was having was fun as God intended it to be.
So, in January of last year, Ryan committed to learning and applying some of the principles associated with righteous living. Then this January, he began learning about Discipleship, told us that he wanted to become a true follower of Jesus’, and challenged Greg and I to be more vigilant in teaching him. Finally, there came February 19th. The day that “Lil’ Ryan” proclaimed before his grandmother, mother, and spiritual brothers and sisters that Jesus is Lord!!
To infinity and Beyond!
The bond that Ryan and I share had always been special, but now it’s eternal. Instead of just doing homework together and going on bike ride, now we’ll share our faith together and teach his friends and family that the only way to truly be on a better path in life is to be grateful for God’s love and make Jesus Lord of their lives, too.

This is a Test of Future Posting

The time now is 12:00 PM, 9/15/2006. I’m going to set this to publish at 12:30. If it makes it to the site, that means I set my cron job up right.
Trying again:
The time now is 2:08 PM, 9/15/2006. I’m going to set this to publish at 2:30. If it makes it to the site, that means I set my cron job up right.

Trying again, again:
The time now is 3:41 PM, 9/15/2006. I’m going to set this to publish at 4:00. If it makes it to the site, that means I set my cron job up right.
If this works, I can write a bunch of stuff and set it to publish while I’m gone. Auto-blogging! (Not to be confused wiht Autoblog)

Remembering

Check out 2,996:

2,996 is a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
On September 11, 2006, 2,996 volunteer bloggers
will join together for a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
Each person will pay tribute to a single victim.
We will honor them by remembering their lives,
and not by remembering their murderers.

They’ve actually got over 3,000 bloggers signed up. Each s writing a post about one of the victims of that day 5 years ago. The list is here. What a great idea and I only wish I had heard of it in time to participate. That’s a powerful use for the thousands of blogs out there, most (like this one) of little consequence. Thanks to Bill (De) at The Thinklings for the link.


I can remember growing up my parents and those in their generation telling us how they all knew right where they were when they heard that President Kennedy was shot. They all would recount with detail where they were at that time.
9/11 is like that for me and my generation, it’s as if we were right there.
I remember, at my job we had a meeting each morning to review the day’s activities. In that meeting on 9/11, it must have been at 9:00 AM, one of the guys in the shop had heard fro his wife that some idiot in a Cessna had flown his plane into the World trade Center. We laughed at how stupid that was. It wasn’t long, as the details became known, that we stopped laughing. It wasn’t stupid at all. It was coldly smart, cunning, calculated and evil.
We tried to get some work done. Instead, with no TV in the office, we kept hitting refresh on CNN.com and listened to NPR news, trying to see and hear the latest. I remember CNN.com and other sites having streamlined front pages to load faster to handle more traffic.
I remember the plane hitting the Pentagon and wondering, dear God, what was happening. I thought of a possible World War III, my family at home, what would be next. I was genuinely scared by the prospects.
I remember being in line at Big Bear grocery store, buying M&M’s when the first tower fell. We had a project for a bulk food bin manufacturer to design a dispenser for M&M’s and we had eaten all our test samples and needed more. As I stood there buying several pounds of M&M’s I watched the TV set up in the isle as Tower 1 fell. The M&M’s didn’t seem to matter much.
After work, I remember being glued to a Aaron Brown on CNN who’s calm, personal, conversational delivery was both odd and somehow reassuring. I think he had just started on CNN the day before or something. I stayed up half the night, like a train wreck, I couldn’t look away. I think I did the same for several nights in a row.


I have other memories of the World trade center on this anniversary day. Over 10 years before 9/11, I lived in NYC on an internship during my college senior year. These pictures, digipics of 35mm prints, are from that time.
The first is a scrawny, single me (with some strange fuzzy stuff growing on top of my head) and a sister named Amy, on a date. I don’t remember Amy’s last name, and the picture just says Amy. I guess I thought I’d remember her forever. It was taken on Ellis Island, looking back at Manhattan. I had forgotten how the WTC dominated the skyline.
The second, I believe, is from later on that same date, up on the top of the WTC, looking down on the city. That’s the East river and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background and those are 30, 40 , 50 story buildings in the foreground. Being up there was amazing. I could have spent hours looking down and examining the buildings and streets.
The last is the view of the second tower from the first, in the glow of a mid-winter sunset. We stayed up there through sunset that evening and it was phenomenal. We watched the lights come on and the city grow dark.
I went up again, later that winter of 1991, when Mom and Dad came to pick me up after my job was done. Nearly 11 years, later, just weeks after 9/11, Mom and Dad flew to NYC for the Macy’s thanksgiving day parade. Mom was dancing in it. They visited ground zero, still smoking. There were armed guards preventing picture taking, out of respect I guess. Dad had to break the nail file off of his nail trimmers before getting on the plane. The nail file, on a little pivot, would be near useless as a weapon, but then again, who ever thought a box cutter was a formidable weapon before 9/11.
After coming home, Dad remarked how strange it was to look up in the empty sky and think, I stood up there once. Way up there, in the now empty air and clear blue sky, high above all the other structures, he, Mom and I once stood. Now there was nothing to stand on.


What do you remember?

Hebrews 9

Hebrews 9:11-14 – I have to wonder what this meant to the Jews it was written to. Jesus went, not to the Most Holy Place, the most sacred space known to them, where only the high priest went once a year. But that most sacred of spaces was not good enough for the work Jesus had to do. He, when he left this Earth, went to the place that these things were meant to represent, the Most Holy Place of Heaven itself. (Hebrews 9:24)
But that’s not the most amazing thing. In doing so, Jesus did not simply cleanse our flesh, he cleansed out consciences themselves. Not just for now, but for good. This is a profound thing for me here and now. How much more for the Jew of that day, where the temple was still functioning and sacrifices still being offered?
Hebrews 9:22 – Sin is serious, it requires a death to be forgiven. At one time, it was sheep, goats and bulls, but now it’s Jesus.

Meet Cookie Cooky Cookey

I’m not sure if I should be concerned about my mental health or encouraged because of my obvious manliness. After all, I’ve managed to attract 8 females to my lair.
On the other hand, 4 of them are feline and 3 are my offspring.
Meet Cookie Cooky Cookey (Silly Daddy, thought he knew how to spell Cookie, uh, Cooky, I mean Cookey.), the newest addition to our cat family. This makes four cats in my house, all girls. Cookey will be Emily’s cat. Midnight is Jessie’s, and Audrey has adopted Cally, the cat who rode back from Missouri on the engine of our van (That was her idea, not ours). Pleiades is Mom’s, and has been Mom’s longer than I’ve been Mom’s.
Emily is ecstatic about Cookey. She loves the idea of having her own cat. Cookey will stay in her room for a while before getting introduced to the others.
Four cats. I’ve decided, I must be insane.

This is Buckeye Country

I’m not a big football fan, but when you live in Columbus, you can’t avoid the Buckeyes. And if they’re #1 and playing #2? Fugetaboutit.
So, my kids are at a birthday party and I pick them up just after kickoff. As I walk up the driveway, some big play unfolds. I hear the roar of the crowd – wait, I’m in the suburbs and the game’s in Texas. That’s Columbus on game day, deal with it.
As I type it’s 14-7 Buckeys at halftime after a decisive OSU drive at the end of the half. Go Bucks!

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