July 31, 2008

Life without Socks

I learned something about myself the first week that I retired. I do not like to wear socks. Texas is a great place to live if you do not like to wear socks, because a good part of the year, you can get away with it, climate-wise. I don't like to wear ties either, but I knew that long before I retired. Wearing a colorful piece of silk, knotted and pulled tight up around the neck so as to slightly restrict airflow, does not seem like the best of ideas to me. I think ties were invented by women to get even for men inventing high heeled shoes. I am not sure who invented socks.
I know my distaste for sock wearing is an outward manifestation of something else. I really did not want to plumb the depths of that part of my fevered mind too much, but I know I cannot leave it here even though I was happy just not wearing socks. My wife is somewhat amazed at the strange concepts in life that now seem to amuse me. Put me in shorts, tee shirt and sandals and I am happy. Just no socks; I am a cheap, although an embarrassing date.

But this isn't really about socks. What intrigues me is that this new persona is so different from the persona of corporate business executive I had to be so many years; way too many years as far as I am concerned. I am done with wearing that particular uniform, both in attire and demeanor. Now I can relax a bit, kick back and do the things that fit me better: study at seminary; look to what ministering to others means in the context of my life; loving on Jesus, wife, family and others. And not wearing socks. People have commented that I look more relaxed (I am), that I have lost weight (not really, I think stress makes you look even heavier than you are; like TV adding 10 pounds to you) and I seem happier (absolutely). This more casual lifestyle is making me relate to people better, and I will keep working on that, I still have a long way to go. God is still chipping away at that granite block of a mind I have. As I look at who I am becoming, I have this mind picture (did I mention it was a fevered mind?) of Andy, sockless and trying to help others. (Did I mention I was amused by strange concepts?)

What will require balance is my belief that God wants me to us the skills and experiences He let me acquire over a 30 year business career to minister to others. Balance in how to turn the success of the secular career into one of more significance in the spiritual realm. I like where I am today, but who I want to be tomorrow requires I keep a lot of what I was yesterday. There is where faith in Christ will come in. I cannot achieve the balance; God will have to do it; God will have to turn my life into that particular three legged stool.

Ironically, Dallas Theological Seminary, the starting place for my training for whatever ministry effort I embark upon, has a dress code that I am pretty sure requires socks. So, as I study I will have to deal with that restriction, as unreasonable as I may think it is. As I look to develop a more Christ-like life, I do not think they would have much of a sense of humor about me developing a more Christ-like dress. No robes and sandals for me until after I walk the stage and get my degree. I will wear slacks, shirts and shoes, adopting a blend of my pre and post retirement personas.
And yes, I promise that I will wear socks. And I also promise that not all posts will be this inane.

July 28, 2008

Man Church

USA TODAY ran an article about men attending church that featured the church I attend in Grapevine, Texas called 121 Community Church. Click on the picture to review the article, I think you will find it illuminating.

This is our pastor, Ross Sawyers, delivering his message at a Sunday service. He is a pretty cool guy and is very serious about the Lord. He even has a budding Facebook ministry. Look him up and ask to be his friend. I think you would enjoy knowing him.

I thought it was a great article that showed our church is addressing the issue of men's attendance at church, but the underlying message is disturbing: men need to be enticed to do so. Why is that? Clearly we are called to corporate worship; you see it in passages like Acts 2:42-47 and Hebrews 10:24-25, calling us to worship together. Why is it we are not rushing to church to praise and worship our Savior, but must be lured in? Wed seem to rush everywhere else in our lives, why not to church? We are called to love Christ first and foremost, but many are acting as if they love Him least and last.

I love going to my church, I look forward to it every week, even when the Dallas Cowboys are playing (But that could be due to the fact that I am a native New Yorker – Let's Go Mets). Before this article, I had not really thought about my church being guy friendly, I guess I have been blessed with the gift of obliviousness. I am glad I attend a church that I feel comfortable in, but the church is not the building, it is the body of Christ drawn together by Him in corporate prayer and worship. I would pray that I would not feel less comfortable if the d├ęcor was less masculine in tone. I pray we are not being that shallow about the unimportant things. But sadly, we are imperfect beings, marred by our own sin. So we do what it takes to reach each other and to reach ourselves.

Men, be the hunters instead of the hunted. Be the leaders we are called to be in the body of Christ. I know we are all sheep, but I do not want to hear a lot of no bleating, please. Be a man and do it, but be quiet, strong and quiet, about it. No whining about the building or the music. Go to love on God, go to love on family and friends. Go to love on others. And go to be loved on.

You do not want to be the type of fish that is only attracted by some shiny lure; you should be jumping into this particular boat of your own volition. You should be in church because you want to be there. If you do not, you should be asking yourself why. Some day He will.

July 25, 2008

God Whispers

I was on Facebook with a friend the other day, and something came to me that I had not really thought about before. It dealt with how loudly God speaks to us, the nature of His speaking voice.

After all, God can trumpet from the heavens, and I think that would certainly catch my attention. A celestial voice from the clouds saying something like "Hey Andy, what WERE you thinking?" would get me to pause and reflect. But only after I stopped shaking, that is. And only after I got over the embarrassment that all the other people who heard Him were wondering what on earth I did to earn such a celestial remonstrance (Assuming they were not inwardly shivering, waiting to hear their own name boom out).

And I guess that's the point. God does not want us embarrassed, worrying about the next time we hear that heavenly trump blaring. He wants community, He wants closeness, and He wants His presence to warm us. Sitting and quietly listening is not something that today's world seems to encourage in us. Why would it, if we are not of the world, but of Him? The real challenge is marshalling all the resources that are at our disposal and directing their activity through us to Him. The real challenge is coming before Him, quietly and humbly to seek out His wisdom and His will. God wants us before Him ready to listen to what He has to say to us.

So God whispers to us because He wants us to lean in close to Him to hear what He is saying. And I have to do a much better job of listening closely, quietly and for as long as He wants me to.

July 22, 2008

The Steps of the Church

I was listening to a recent podcast from The Fermi Project and the speaker, Jim Wallis was talking about a crime that happened on the steps a church he knew the pastor of. It talked about whether the church is responsible for what happens on their steps. In this case, they said yes and began some street ministry that reduced violent crime amongst adolescents. They took what was happening right outside their doors and turned it into community outreach. It got me to thinking about the phrase "the steps of the church". Where are they, really?

You can think of the physical location, the actual steps leading out of the building the church is located in. But the building isn't the church; the body of Christ worshipping within the building is the church. So what or where are the steps of the church?

I think of the world outside of the body of Christ as residing on the steps of the church. If we are not walking out of the church, out of meeting just within the body, are we going out and being responsible for what is happening on our steps? We need to get into our neighborhood, our community, our nation, our world. Those are the steps of the church. Thinking of it that way makes it very personal for me: it is not just the steps of the church I attend; it becomes the steps of my church, the church that is within me.

I am going to be thinking a lot of what that means and what I need to do to get off my own personal church steps. I hope it makes you think as well.

July 19, 2008

Honoring God (I guess it really is not about me)

Evangelism is the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ with the intent of inviting the person you are speaking with to trust Christ. Evangelism isn't about the results obtained or the methods used, it is about getting out there and honoring God by doing what he has told us to do. In spiritual matters you cannot keep score, measure results and even the timing of your activity as you would with temporal matters. That is not how it works, that is not how God works. Here is how it works: 1) God tells you what to do and 2) you do it. Maybe you scratch and whine, stomp your feet a bit. Maybe you try to run and hide. Or hold your breath. It will not work. God can hold His breath longer than you. God can hold your breath longer than you can too. He calls that death.

On a given day, you may do no more that scatter seeds: planting a thought in someone's mind, a thought that someone else may encourage down the line. Someone else may water a seed you planted until God chooses to germinate it. You may prick a conscience to get someone taking a slightly different approach to their life; a little change that, like turning an oil tanker, leads to a huge change in direction.

Or you may be the final push in a series a person needs to get them to trust Christ. The first push is as important as the last, because you cannot get to the end if you do not start.

You may never know the eternal impact you have on another person's life; just by scattering some seeds in their path. God is OK with that result; it is how He designed it to work at times. (How's that for intelligent design?)

I went out the other day and began intentionally scattering seed in downtown Dallas in the middle of the morning. No visible results, just scattering seeds. I never would have seen this coming a few years ago. But it was joyous to be able to honor God by being obedient. It was much easier than I expected when I acknowledged to God and myself it was about Him, and not me. I was calm, confident, unconcerned with keeping score. I pray that continues, each and every opportunity I have.

July 16, 2008

Thoughts from seminary-I

This isn't going to be a consecutive series of posts, but periodic thoughts I have dwelled on during my seminary studies. Things I might have read, heard in class, or reflected on about life in general as I went about my studies. This is the first in what I pray will be a long list of entries:

  • Whatever you do for the Lord, do it out of joy, not a sense of duty, obligation or guilt.
  • Our passion for the Lord will not be matched by those who we witness to. Their fire may not be as hot as ours, nor even the same fire.
  • The true sin of the unsaved is rejecting Christ, since Christ died to forgive all sins. Is it the only unforgiveable sin?
  • Apologetics should be used as a bridge to share the Gospel and not an end to itself.
  • God is the same; it is we who are sometimes different. If God seems far away, it is us who has wondered off.
  • The Bible, from cover to cover, is about the glory of God. It has the redemption of the human race wedged in there as well.
  • Sinning is returning to obey your old master.
  • Many people are functional legalists, thinking their actions are pleasing to God and adding to their salvation.
  • Do you think of God as your personal genie?
  • The main appeal of Satan to man is that his doctrine is based on the self reliance and the self effort of man. He knows how to hit us where we are weakest.

July 13, 2008

Marking Time

I am amazed at how my attitude to time has changed in the past six months since my retirement. Prior to that date, I marked time in very small increments: I had an Outlook calendar on my office PC which synched up with my Blackberry, which was with me the rest of the time. Appointments and meetings were measured in minutes, often abutting in a manner that would have made the stonemasons constructing the Jerusalem temple proud with the seemingly seamless fit. As back-up, there was my trusty watch and in emergencies, there was always the cell phone clock (which resets itself after multi time zone flight in an almost spooky manner).

Upon retirement, I was severed from the Blackberry and decided not to use Outlook calendar anymore. Radical time management change just when I had a radical change in the life to be timed. I had a period of Excel based checklists and Word based to do lists, but I got over that pretty quickly. I view it now as my halfway house approach. What do I do now? I have a manual, week at a glance type calendar. My time management has become low tech, but high touch. What few appointments I have I write in pen and cross out if cancelled or after they occur. Who is this guy?

Most amazing, there are days I don't even look at it. I usually remember where I need to be when. Most days, I don't wear a watch. I told a friend that some weeks the only way I know it is Saturday is that the store I am in seems busier than usual; the only way I know it is Sunday is that my wife takes me to church. Who is this guy? I have gone from being the NIST-F-1 Cesium Fountain Atomic Clock to mighty Mississippi. Yet, although the pace has slowed, my view of time is becoming longer term. I think about what I am going to be doing several years out, planning and studying for it to be Kingdom work of some sort. I know the words of Matthew 6:34 tell us about tomorrow worrying about itself and today having enough troubles of its own. I am not worrying, I am planning activity.

All in all, I like this new approach to time. I think it fits my Christian walk better than the slicing and dicing of each micro second I was indulging in. It is less about manmade rules and regulations and more about time flowing as God intended. I do not think in eternity terms as often as I should, but I am working on it. This pace seems more about God than it does about me. More like the concept of a day being a thousand years, but a thousand years a day. I like the way it fits me. Never would have imagined this a year ago.

Who was that guy?

July 10, 2008

The Edge of a Storm

I can remember once driving in the car with my parents as a kid during a rainstorm. As we drove we came to the edge of the storm because suddenly it was raining on one corner but not on the other. I remember looking out the back window and seeing it still raining on the corner we just passed. That was the only time I can recall driving through the edge of a rainstorm, but I guess all storms have borders.

I am in a class at seminary on evangelism and the concept of evangelism reminds me of a storm. I have come in from the rain, accepting Jesus as the Lord of my life and my Savior. I feel I am standing on the edge of the stormy world, and I need to go back out into the rain to help bring others into the sunshine. Being a stormy environment, the world is not the friendliest place for this type of activity. But I need to plunge in, for I have probably stayed on the dry, safe ground for far too long already. It is so easy to fall into our own comfort zone and to try to forget the trials of the world and the challenges placed before us. Sharing Jesus should be the primary passion in our life. If you are born again of the Spirit, you already have a heart for evangelism, but maybe it is crusted over or needs a little jolt to start beating hard again.

I know the effort is not mine alone, Jesus commanded to all the Lord's children in Matthew 28:19-20. I know I am not alone because the Spirit within me is what will make the effort bear fruit. But I need to take the step to start; a friend once told me the Lord cannot drive a parked car. So I guess I need to put the key in the ignition. And I need to get ready to get wet.

July 7, 2008

The Mudslide

As you read the Gospel accounts, you often see where the most casual encounters Jesus has with people lead to huge changes in their lives. As I think about my own interaction with people, I want meaningful connection, I want to share my faith and my life, hear about theirs, and hopefully encourage and exhort each other. As I think about what is available to us in the way of social interactivity, I wonder how is it we are to go about managing it all.
The Internet is about more than information these days, it is about interactivity, communities of participation, social networking. What blogs you read or write, what videos you watch or send to others, how many friends you keep up with on a social networking site. But there is so much available to interact with I wonder if we are we doomed to a life of casual interaction as we glance off each other in these snippets and sound bites. Is life becoming a series of drive by postings?
How easy is it to get buried under the weight of “stuff” as you review or send out links, requests, applications, videos and on and on. Everyone has a favorite something or other that they want to share with everyone else they connect to. Before I worried about information overload, today I worry about an interactivity mudslide, an overwhelming volume and diversity of interactive choice too broad in scope to manage other than superficially. I wonder if life is becoming harder to manage with the tools we have instead of easier. I wonder if we can manage deeper personal relationships in an era of ever expanding options.
I am looking for suggestions, I am searching for answers, I’ll settle for reassurance. I am willing to be told I have unfounded concerns.
Any takers?

July 4, 2008

Power: Wield or Wear?

I have a friend, Ryan, who recently finished a series on influence on his blog, Tilling the Soil. It made me think a lot about influence, it made me think a lot about my previous business career and some of the discussions I had with friends and colleagues. It made me think of something that is related to influence, yet somewhat different.


The dictionary defines power as possession of control, authority or influence over others. So there it is, influence and power are related, but somehow power sounds more like a dirty little word than influence does. Power seems to go beyond influence with that talk of control or authority. Influence seems to be more of a two way street; power, like electricity, seems to flow in one direction.
Power isn't always bad; Acts 1:8 talks about receiving power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, so if you get it from God when the best thing in your life happens to you, it cannot be bad, at least not all the time. I did a concordance search and the word power came up 1134 times in the NET version of the bible, so it is being talked about a lot in my favorite book(s).
Then I thought, power like money is not evil, but the love of it is. I mean, you could switch power for money in 1 Timothy 6:10 and most people would not miss a beat. Try it.
So that got me thinking about what I had often witnessed in a 30 year business career, some of it at a high enough level to see the exercise of power, at least in corporate form. What I had learned was this, you can wield or wear power. In the business world I had seen both happen. In the business world I had done both myself.
When you think of wielding power, think of a club, the act of bludgeoning something. You use your position to exert the power that resides in it to make people do what you want, whether it is right or wrong. In biblical terms think of guys like Saul or Herod. Think of how they wielded their power. Think of the messes they made with it by not listening to God but their own heart, their inner demons.
When you think of wearing power, think of a cloak or mantle draped over the shoulders. It fits, the power flows naturally from and around the body, people respond to the inherent authority they instinctively feel. They are either glad to follow or at least acknowledge the power as a force to be reckoned with. In biblical terms, the ultimate power wearer was Jesus. Power flowed from Him, it was part of His essence, His being (Think of the woman touching His cloak in Mark 5). Not everyone followed Him as a result of His power, but everyone did have to deal with His power one way or another.
Wielding power is easy if you have the position-a king like Saul and Herod could make things happen because of their position. Wearing power is easy if you have the character-that's why a king like Jesus made it seem like second nature. Of the two, wearing power is harder because it requires more inner calm and strength, so you usually see people wielding it, which can occur even in times of huge inner turmoil or weakness. Jesus wore it, and if anyone had the right to wield power it was Jesus. Who can argue with God if He decides to start smiting, whatever His reason?
As I walk my narrow road, I need to look for opportunities to wear whatever form of power has come upon me for that particular season. I need to leave the desire to wield power in my past. I only honor God in the wearing. I have the model to follow in Jesus, I will pray for the wisdom and courage necessary to accompany whatever power level I am charged with.

In your corner of the world, do you wield or wear?

July 1, 2008

Standing in the Gap

" I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one."
Ezekiel 22:30 (NET)

Standing in the gap, standing firm. Standing for the Lord. Is there anything else for one to do?

I dabble on Facebook a bit, and often post on a daily scripture verse board. There is a guy who posts frequently, and quite frankly, our gospel views do not agree. Sometimes there is give and take, sometimes we ignore each other and post over the other.
Once or twice we just bogged down and stop talking about the glory of God and the love of Christ and were more focused on winning an argument for the sake of winning, like the rules of the game were the one who posts last wins. It seems like I am wasting time, arguing with a stone wall that has turned a deaf ear to me. He is just repeating the same thing over and over, which I believe to be in error. I repeat the same thing over and over, but I believe I am right, so that's OK. When that happened I just like felt dropping off the board for good and moving on to something else. Anything else.
But one thing holds me in place. Although we disagree, I have to admire his focus and faithfulness to his belief structure; his drive and determination. I believe he would mislead the uninformed, and he is there everyday posting the same stuff no matter what the bible verse is that you should be commenting on. He isn't going away any time soon, so neither do I.
So I stand in the gap. Even those couple of times when I wanted to move off and away. I do not want to be like the hired hand of John 10:13, running from trouble. I want to act like a member of the family, God's family. So I stay put. If nothing else, I owe a debt of gratitude to my nemesis for making me focus on the need to stand in the gap.
Believe me, this is no cosmic battle amongst hosts of spiritual forces. Posting on a board that is not well visited in a very small corner of a social networking site seems kind of futile. But there are a few people there discussing the bible, and who knows who comes by and reads without ever posting? But it made me realize that battles fought for the Lord in quiet or dark corners of the world bring no less glory to Him than those on open and public fields of battle. (Don't get me wrong, that Facebook board is neither dark nor lonely, I have some good friends on it with me, and we get encouragement and insight from each other). The most difficult struggles are those waged in places where you are the weakest, that is often when you are or feel alone. But God knows and measures the heart, He knows the effort and there is no less glory for God if few, or no one else is watching but Him. Because He has won your heart and you are ready to stand in the gap for Him.
So build the wall and stand in the gap. Do not be discouraged, but know in your heart that others are standing in their own gaps, beside their own piece of the wall, waging battle as well. You do not know them, but He does as well as he knows you.

So build and stand, because when you step back and look at your daily actions through the lens of eternity, is there anything else for one to do?