Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Positively Beautiful

It's Tuesday and you know that means it's time to be positive.

In the summer of 1996 I lived in Hampton, VA and worked for a Defense contractor building software and systems. I was a bachelor living in a big (rented) house with 2 of my fellow software developers (and Clemson grads). Life went something like this:

Work 9 - 10 hours a day Mon - Fri. Play golf and or basketball once or twice a week. Happy hour until around 11:00pm on Thur. Happy hour until around 3:00am on Fri. Saturday's were for whatever but often included a men's soccer league game. Sat nights often included a party at the big (rented) house. Sunday mornings were for sleeping and Sun afternoons were games for the U-15 boys soccer team I coached.

Week in and week out. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Ah, good times.

In July '96, I went with a few friends to Virgina Beach to watch them play in their women's soccer league game. We all planed to go out afterwards (it was Thursday, you know). Before the game began, I noticed one of the women on my friends' team during warm-ups. It was pretty clear that this girl could play soccer. During the game, she dominated the midfield, embarrassed the other team's defenders, and shell-shocked the poor goal keeper. 90 minutes and 3 goals later, I learned her name was Kim. 6 hours later we were the only ones left sitting at the table we all had dinner at.

12 years later and I'm more in love with her than I've ever been.

You see, we got married a couple of years later and have been sharing our life, love, and faith with each other everyday. She is an incredible woman that I, and so many others who don't even know it, owe so much to. She encourages me, has faith in me, is strong for me when I can't be, is a wonderful mother to our girls, is a great friend (and my best friend), and supports me even when she sometimes doesn't understand me.

I almost can't remember the times before we were together. I'm pretty sure I don't want to.

Kim, I love you. Thank you for all you do for our family. I'm honored to be your husband.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Positively Youthful

Brody started it (and maybe changed the rules some) and I've been slack about keeping up. So today, I want to tell you about someone who means a lot to some special folks.

We have a Youth Director at our church by the name of Kari. Kari is a great person with a passion for reaching young folks and modeling how Christ works in her life. She has been with our church for a few years now (going on 4 maybe?) and has, in my opinion, made a huge impact.

I had the distinct pleasure of going along with Kari on a youth mission trip to DC this past summer. My respect for her abilities, her faith, her passion, and her love for these kids went up a lot. Since then, I've gotten involved in the High School youth Sunday School and become a youth adviser. All as direct result of Kari's passion and work.

Recently, we've had a vacancy on staff at the church and Kari has stepped up to help fill the void while we find a new staff member. Even with the extra work, she has not faltered in her work for and with the youth. Kari's dedication to her calling from the Lord and her mission to live out that faith through serving Christ through serving the youth is truly an inspiration to me. And others I hope.

Thanks Kari.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What does it mean to follow?

Last night, my wife and I had our weekly home group meeting. Our group is made up of 5 couples from our church and has folks that have been married less than a yer all the way up to a couple that has been married 40 years. It's a good group.

We are using the HomeBuilders series from FamilyLife. We just finished up the "Growing Together in Christ" lessons. Session 5 in that series of lessons is called "Following Christ" and has some good Scriptural references and conversation provoking questions about what Jesus means when he says "Follow me."

But when I got down to question #7, I drew a blank. I mean, I literally stared at the question and the white space where my answer to the question would go. I could not think of anything to write down.

What was the question you ask? Well, I'll tell you:
What sacrifices have you made on order to follow Christ?

For 10 minutes, I could not come up with anything. Not a single, solitary thing to write down there. Now, I did have some thoughts pop into my head but they seemed so, um, trivial. For instance, I thought about the "not sinning" things: I don't drink as much as I used to, I don't cuss in front of my kids (much), I go to church more often than I used to. But each time I thought of one of those things, I dismissed it. Those are not sacrifices.

In the discussion last night, it seems that most folks had the same issue I did. No one had much, if anything, written in answer to the question. We had a long discussion on what sacrifice meant and we found several things that seemed like sacrifices that we made in other parts of our lives: someone took a lower paying job in order to have a shorter commute and more time with family, someone else gave up a two income family in order to have a stay at home mom for the kids. But were those sacrifices to follow Christ?

I read what the Apostle Paul wrote:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1 -2 NIV)

I'm now wondering if I even know what this means. To borrow from Andy Stanley, I have all the information but what I need is the application.

Am I taking Jesus for granted? In light of last night, probably so. Should I be? Of course not. Do I know what to do about it? Maybe.

I'd love to hear from any of you that have similar thoughts or that understand this better than me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Starting a new year

Yesterday was the "Kick off" for the new Sunday School year at our church. I've volunteered to help teach the high school youth class and work with the youth group. I'm excited and nervous at the same time.

Sunday's time was spent getting to know new folks (and teachers) and I saw immediately that there were some interesting dynamics. We have folks from 3 different public high schools, one private school, and home school, too. Many of them have been going to this church their whole lives, others are new to the area, and some are new to church in general.

I've been given pretty free reign to handle lessons and have been told that discussions tend to veer off target. So I'm looking at lessons and materials that will be engaging and "not cheesy". So far, I have been incredibly impressed with the resources that LifeChurch.tv makes available through their Open program.

We also have a subscription to The Thoughtful Christian so I can download material from there, too, like "Dealing with Daily Pressures"

The key is going to be connecting with folks. I'm expecting to leave that part in God's hands because that's the only way I can really expect to make things relevant to that many teens... :-)

I honestly pray that God will use me to reach these youth and to bring God's word to them in a way that they can make it a part of their lives.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What about giving?

I'm thoroughly enjoying reading Francis Chan's book Crazy Love. With my current schedule the way it is, I only get in a few minutes at a time. But there are some great things in his book that either make a note about or just dog ear the page.

One such dog-eared page in my copy of Crazy Love is page 118. I marked this page because this is what is known as Stewardhip season in many churches throughout the land. Stewardship season is basically the time when we start asking people to catch up on their monetary giving for the current year and go ahead and make their pledges for the upcoming year.

For a lot of folks, this is "the part of church I hate." Money and religion together is a funny thing in our American culture, it seems. Churches, who can be trusted with the principles of eternal life, can't be trusted with money. Go figure.

I understand that a lot of this sentiment comes from the highly publicized cases of unscrupulous characters using ministry as a business. It also comes from movies, books, etc portraying people using Christianity as a front.

Most of all, I think it comes from a radical misunderstanding of what giving is and why we are called to do it.

Francis, on dog-eared page 118, has a good view, I think. He points out that giving is rooted in and motivated by love above all. Take a look at John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Why did God give? Out of His love.

Francis Chan on giving:
"Giving that is not motivated by love is worth nothing. Paul says that from this kind of giving we 'gain nothing'; however, when we give out of love, we gain much. Giving results not only in heavenly compensation, but also gives us great joy in out lives here and now. As we love more genuinely and deeply, giving becomes the obvious and natural response. Taking and keeping for ourselves becomes unattractive and imprudent.

Remember the story where Jesus fed thousands of people with one boy's small lunch? In that story, according to Matthew, Jesus gave the loaves to His disciples and then the disciples passed them out to the crowd. Imagine if the disciples had simply held onto the food Jesus gave them, continually thanking Him for providing lunch for them. That would've been stupid when there was enough food to feed the thousands who where gathered and hungry.

But that is exactly what we do when we fail to give freely and joyfully. We are loaded down with too many good things, more than we could ever need, while others are desperate for asmall loaf. The god things we cling to are more than money; we hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends. As we begin to practice regular giving, we see how ludicrous it is to hold on to the abundance God has given us a merely repeat the words thank you."

I think that if churches teach more along the lines of "giving motivated by love" the Stewardship season and pledge drives would almost not be needed as an institution any more.

What kind of difference would that make in your church and your life?