Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Here I Ramble About Old Days at Disney and Spiritual Lessons I Learned

Disney World has been billed as the happiest place on earth. I've been there enough to know this is absolutely not true. During my several family vacations to the Mecca of Mice, I've endured extreme heat, hurricane force wind and rain, surly park employees, cranky guests, long lines, bad food, over-priced beverages, broken rides, crowded shuttles, hotel room mix-ups, and crying children. My wife almost had to throw down with an angry woman who wouldn't stop harassing her. I nearly got locked out of a breakfast with the princesses. Our kids used to break down at the end of nearly every day.

We plan to go back in a couple years.

As bad as Disney World can be, it can also be that good.

Watching my children at Disney World is one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. I love the way my son's eyes light up whenever we get close enough to see the "huge golf ball" that signals our arrival at Epcot. It is a riot to watch the two of them hop with anticipation as we wait to enter the park. I'll never forget my daughter's repeated pleas to ride the "mommy-rail" (monorail) one more time. I have a picture on my desk of the four of us getting ready to ride the raft to Tom Sawyer's Island in the Magic Kingdom. Emma is fiddling with her Minnie Mouse ears and Liam is grinning from behind his pacifier which matches his black and red Mickey ears.

One year we went to Disney World in the fall. The convergence of our trip and Halloween made for a very "princessy" autumn. Since Emma was going to be Cinderella for halloween, we decided to go all out and make it the "Year of Cinderella". My mom spent several months sewing an elaborate dress for Emma to wear. When Emma wore it, there was no question about which little girl had the best princess outfit. I couldn't begin to tell you all the details, my fashion sense is not nearly developed enough. I do know that it was blue and shiny. My wife spent the time leading up to our trip working with Emma's hair, preparing it to be fixed precisely like Cinderella's. We found a perfect crown and great slipper-shoes. Finally, the day came for Emma to have breakfast with Cinderella. The rest of us were just extras.

Liam and I almost missed it. Because security had recently been beefed up (due to 9/11), someone had to wait in line to have all our bags searched. Marianne and Emma went on ahead to check in at the castle, Liam and I waited in line.

and waited.

and waited.

Finally, we got through the line and raced through the park at full speed; Liam riding, me pushing. I never knew his stroller could corner like that. We arrived at the palace out of breath, sweaty, and stressed (at least I was, Liam was just sucking on his pacifier playing with his hair). Marianne was stressed too. They were about to close the doors and if we hadn't made it, they weren't going to let us in, even though we had already paid a ridiculous sum of money to reserve our spot. Once we were all there, though, we headed up the winding stairway to the big breakfast.

It wasn't a surprise that Emma was the belle of the ball. Her beautiful dress, fair skin, big eyes, and quiet demeanor made her a big favorite of all the princesses. She didn't really care about any of them though, she was only interested in Cinderella. Liam was only interested in Captain Hook, who was occasionally running past the windows outside.

Little girls are fascinated with Cinderella. I'm trying to figure out why. Disney does a great job of selling Cinderella. Everywhere you go in the Magic Kingdom, you see her. She's at photo-shoots, her picture is all around, and she even has her own song-and-dance show at the castle a couple times each day. As popular as Mickey and Minnie Mouse are, I think Cinderella is likely the most popular Disney character of all time.

Of course, Cinderella pre-dates Walt Disney by hundreds of years. He just animated her. The Cinderella story has been passed on from generation to generation far longer than most fairy tales. Around the world, people know and love the Cinderella story in its many varieties and evolutions.

In America, Hollywood loves the Cinderella story. Rarely does a year go by which doesn't include a movie borrowing the Cinderella story for its plot-line. Why has Cinderella resonated with people throughout the centuries? Partly, it is because little girls like to think that they could be princesses. But I think we love Cinderella because the Cinderella story is our story; and it is God's story.

Most tellings of the Cinderella story open with a great loss. Cinderella's father dies. Although great detail is rarely given to Cinderella's relationship with her father, we know that the loss makes her an orphan. We know that she loved her father deeply. We know that she must now deal with a vast relational vacuum. We know that her life has changed forever, and that the change is not for the better.

We share in this story through Adam and Eve. Through their choice, which we affirm every time we choose to do wrong, we lost our Father. The central relationship we were created to enjoy and participate in was lost to us. To be human is to experience a relational vacuum because we have lost our relationship with our Father. Like Cinderella, this loss was accompanied by a cataclysmic shift in lifestyle for all humanity.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if things shouldn't be different.
  • I watch the news and feel like I live on the worst planet on earth (hmm. that's an interesting expression).
  • I see stories of neighbors fighting, people being murdered, politicians lying, wars being fought, children starving, and worse.
  • I get depressed.
  • I want things to be different.
Things were different before we lost our Father. Things were better before we came under the foot of the evil step-mother.

The great villain of Cinderella is the step-mother. She is the cause of Cinderella's misery, and is also the impetus behind the harsh new life that has become Cinderella's reality. By forcing Cinderella into a life of constant menial labor, she has taken away her joy, her purpose, and perhaps on some days her will to live.

I have an evil step-mother.

I need to be careful here. I do not really even have a step-mother. I do have a step-mother-in-law. Her name is Jane. She doesn't seem to be evil.

I do have an evil step-mother. Some people might call it sin.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let It Be...

You may not have caught the subtle irony this Sunday, but on a day when I brought my Liverpool hat on stage with me, I was also preaching from a passage which spawned one of the top hits ever by a band from Liverpool, England. Perhaps you've heard of them?

Below is a post I wrote many years ago which compared the Beatles' song to an old, familiar hymn illustrating the meaning of Mary's words "Let it be..."

You tell me... was Paul McCartney a closet fundamentalist?

...or was he at least influenced by Horatio Spafford?

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. let it be.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Let it be, let it be, .....

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Let it be, let it be, .....

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Am I Pretty?

This weekend I mentioned the YouTube phenomenon of girls asking "Am I pretty?" Below are some clippings from an ABC News story about this. You can read the whole article here.
Naomi Gibson, who lives just outside Denver, always makes a point to tell her 13-year-old daughter, Faye, that she's beautiful. So when she started getting calls from media asking to interview Faye about a video she had posted, she couldn't believe her ears.

"I was floored," Gibson said.

The video was called "Am I Pretty or Ugly?" and asked anyone who watched the YouTube video to comment on her attractiveness.

Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, says that teens have always had a fervent desire to be accepted.

"This is just an extreme version of something that's very normal," Klapow said, adding, "Another piece that's normal is impulsivity. Give them a medium that is so easily accessible and so potent, you get the problem we're seeing."

Gibson had already instituted rules to try and protect her daughter, requiring Faye to tell her when she posted a video so she could screen it. Initially, Faye had been using YouTube to showcase her singing and dancing talents as a way to detract from the bullying that she has been a victim of since she was 11. Now, Gibson says that the privilege may soon be revoked.

"I took away her Facebook and Twitter account because of bullying. She needs to stop putting herself out there. Now people are walking around asking her if she's pretty to her face. It's hurting her more in the long run, I think," Gibson said.

For Faye, the pain of not being accepted is inescapable.

"I feel like I could just go away and never come back…I feel like I've been standing all these years and keep getting torn down," Faye said.

Gibson is hoping that Faye's and her experience can help alert parents before their children's insecurities spiral into something dangerous.

"Hopefully it will open up the eyes of the parents," she said. "The kids aren't letting their parents know what's wrong, just like Faye didn't let me know. Hopefully, parents can get more proactive. [Faye's] internet usage is limited even more, I have the computer locked after a certain time. I've taken all the steps that I needed to take, here's another step I need to adjust and move on from."

I think the saddest part of this story is that the mom still doesn't "get it" at the end. Her daughter didn't need to have her computer time limited (although that was probably appropriate). What her daughter needed was to feel "accepted". The reason she is turning to on-line strangers is because she doesn't feel accepted.

Dear Parents:
Please understand the importance of accepting your children for who they are. They will not be you, and they will not be the person you always wished you had become. They are who God made them to be. They have their own gifts and talents and skills. Allow them discover and develop those talents. Assure them that they don't need to be beautiful or popular or athletic to be successful, but instead they only need to be using the gifts God has given them. Affirm them in that pursuit...all the time...over and over...

Don't let them turn to strangers for the one thing they desire to receive from you!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Three Temptations of an American Pastor

I'm going to write a lot more about this some day, but I kind of envision it as a parable kind of story I might want to create... (like a Patrick Lencioni book)

I would call it The Three Temptations of an American Pastor (I know, Lencioni wrote one very similar to this...)

Here they are:
  • Buildings
  • Bodies
  • Bucks
I sometimes wonder how much our kingdom mindset is skewed by our devotion to these three measurements. In my experience, most people (especially pastors!) judge a church's success based on one or more of these three criteria:
  • How big is your building
  • How many people come on Sunday
  • How are your offerings
Of course, this doesn't exactly match Jesus model...
  • Not only did He not have a building, He sort of didn't have a home
  • More people left his ministry than stuck with him (a bunch of them even killed him)
  • The biggest offering his followers ever took up was the bribe Judas received for betraying him
Maybe instead of these temptations we should be teaching our people to be hospitable, missional, and generous?

Last week and this, I've been exposed to some cool ideas along this line. I have a lot more to say about this, and hopefully I'll have some opportunities down the road.

From the Crock Pot of My Mind: Great Commission Discipleship

Before I took the kids to school this morning, I used a recipe my wife gave me to prepare tonight's dinner. A couple pounds of burger, some ketchup, and other stuff all got thrown into the crock pot and set to low. When we get home later, we're going to enjoy some tasty sloppy joes.

Crock pots are awesome. Often, the longer something simmers, the better it tastes when you eat it. (Sunday we had ribs and they were "fall off the bone" amazing!)

I use my mind as a crock pot sometimes (not a crack pot). I let ideas simmer there for a long time, and then when they're ready, I pull them out. Here's an example:

The crock-pot of my mind has recently been stewing on this idea of "Great Commission Discipleship". (go ahead, add it to the growing list of discipleship concepts I write about here...or here... or here) I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. I'm thinking if I were to write a book or design a class or do a sermon series on it, I would break it down as follows...
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Therefore -- Of course you have to start here. "Therefore" is the bridge from content to application. The content here is Jesus passing His power to His disciples so that they can accomplish His mission...

go -- This is a command that requires activity and intentionality. It is not something that can be accomplished by maintaining the status quo. Change is required to fulfill Jesus' mission.

make disciples -- This is the goal. It is more than evangelism, it is different than transferring knowledge. Making a disciple is a formative process that cannot be truly measured by counting conversions.

of all nations -- Herein lies our greatest argument for global missions. I have a couple of thoughts here:
1)In all nations, we are to make disciples of Christ, not copies of the Western church.
2)I wonder if true adherance to this command means we are more interested in sending out "disciple makers" instead of "church planters"?
baptizing them -- This would be a fun chapter. Baptism is a sign. It is deeply meaningful. A short paragraph here doesn't do it justice...but... It's about "new life", the start of the discipleship process is a recognition of the Spirit's work in making us new and the commitment on our part to be a part of that process.

in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit -- Trinitarian doctrine is cool. When we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we recognize that they each play a significant role in our new identity and in the disciple making process. More on that below. We also understand that we are made in the image of God, so as we better understand his trinitarian nature, we better understand our selves as relational beings.
  • the Father -- The Father decrees, he elects, he initiates.
  • the Son -- The Son enacts the decree of the Father. He is the key figure in history.
  • the Holy Spirit -- The Holy Spirit enables the work of the Son.
teaching them to obey -- Discipleship is obedience. Our obedience, enabled by the Holy Spirit, allows us to abide in Christ. When we abide in Christ, we find ourselves in fellowship with the Father. Obedience, however, is not legalism. Checking off boxes is not true obedience, it is in fact rebellion. (this requires a little unpacking, but it is rooted in the autonomous choice to reject grace in favor of works)

everything I have commanded you. -- Love God, Love your neighbor, Love each other.

I am with you -- Pretty strong words; Pretty cool concept. Fulfilled in Acts 2. Best unpacked in John 14-16. Jesus is with us through the Holy Spirit.

always, to the very end of the age. -- Confidence prompts endurance. We don't stop making disciples ever, because Jesus doesn't stop being with us, ever.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Don't misunderstand. I'm a big fan of the Beatles. I'm a "paul" fan though, not a "John" fan.

One night a while back, I was driving home and the radio began playing John singing, "Imagine there's no heaven..."

Give peace a chance!Now, it's a catchy tune if you're into that genre (which I am), but the words are just so silly...

Have you ever thought about the point of this song? Here it is:
  • if there was no God, there could be no religions
  • if there were no religions, there would be no war
  • if there was no war, there could be no possessions
  • if there were no possessions, we could all live in harmony
  • we're closer than you think!
(unfortunately the next statement is a bit rude)

It didn't quite work out that way...

Here's the problem with John's worldview. (and I'm certain I'm not the first to say this, but it's one of the things I'm thinking about right now)

For John's world to work, everyone has to be 100% committed to it. As long as everyone is completely committed to communal living, it will work brilliantly. However, if one person decides to act in their own interest, they will quickly be able to exploit all the others and accumulate vast wealth and possessions. The only way to stop such a person will be through force (they have already chosen not to be convinced by reason or argument).

And then, you're right back where you started. People are acting forcefully to either defend themselves or further themselves.

And then you have war.

You'll get no argument that religion has caused lots of war.

But i wonder how many it's prevented?

By the way... I'm still a kinda-pacifist.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Have It Your Way?

My Burger King cup says:
Maybe you want a lot of ice. Maybe you want no ice. Maybe you want your top securely fastened, or maybe you want to go topless. Hmmmm? Maybe you want to mix COKE and SPRITE. Maybe you want to let your cup runneth over (we wish you wouldn't). Whatever you do, make sure to have things your way.
That pretty much sums up the American ethic.

It also reminds me of a conversation i had several years ago that significantly impacted the way i think about and do ministry.

A family was visiting our church. They were (as many do) "looking for a new church". Since they had teenagers, they were directed to me. Their first question was:

So, what kind of programs do you have?

That's not an uncommon question. In fact, it's the most asked question i received in the 10+ years i did youth ministry. Sadly, the question i never received was:

How will you help me disciple my child?

I would have even settled for:

How will you disciple my child?

It would have even been acceptable for someone to first ask:

What are you studying right now?

But i never received any of those questions. It seemed people (I should clarify that these would be people from other churches. New Christians almost never ask questions like these) came to church looking for programs that would fit their preferences, their desires, their style, their needs.

I hate that. (is hate too strong a word these days?)

I dislike that whenever we talk about what we should be doing as a church, we have to answer the question, "well what if someone comes here looking for _________?"

I dislike that whenever we think about church we think programs first.

I dislike that church is not that different than Burger King:

Whatever you do, make sure to have things your way.

I'm done ranting...

I really do love the church. There's a reason i'm still a pastor in a traditional one. I still have hope that we can truly be Christ's body on earth.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Much Better Sermon Conclusion Than The One I Had...

Sometimes I wish I had "do-overs" on my sermons. Primarily because I often hear really great things from others AFTER I preach... and then it's too late to put their thoughts into the sermon.

This week I got an email from a friend who was thinking about part of Sunday's sermon. He wrote:
It did make me think of rewards in Heaven in a different light. You pointed out that God was keeping our inheritance for us in Heaven and compared that to what we hold on to too tightly here on earth.

I am of the age that some of my co-workers are going off into retirement and where I work they are allowed to take the retirement money as a lump sum instead of a monthly allotment from the pension fund. I have seen that this raises a whole set of concerns about who they can trust to hire as a financial adviser on investing the large sum of money, and what will the funds or markets do that your adviser invests your money in? Will they go up or will they go down? And then what about the fund managers that control the funds that your adviser invests in? Is he good at guessing about the markets? Is he ethical? Is he getting rich off their money? Could he be another Bernie Madoff?

Then when I compare that to a an all loving, all knowing, benevolent God who is managing my inheritance in Heaven- it is a comforting thought. No negative surprises await me in the next life such as "Sorry we had a mansion for you but the Heavenly market for mansions dropped so low your equity was under water and it want back to the Celestial City Bank". I can rest assured knowing that God is the Financial Adviser, The Fund Manager, and CFO of all Heavenly Investments. I think I should get a pretty good rate of return on my investments from that kind of oversight! Now I need to live in ways that invest in eternity- a challenge for us all.

Great stuff! Better than anything I came up with!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Flattery Really Won't Get You Anywhere Worth Going

Some words carry a certain heaviness with them:
  • "murder"
  • "hate"
  • "attack"
  • "destroy"
Of course there are other words which are even more harsh and leave a more bitter taste in our mouth, but I don't like those words so they aren't here.

photo from"Flattery" isn't one of those words. In fact, "flattery" is one of those words that doesn't taste so bad at all. Calling someone a "flatterer" isn't exactly nice, but it is certainly much better than calling someone a "liar", right?..... right?

According to Daniel 11, flattery is the tool Satan's servants use to deceive God's people and cause them to fall away.

With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.

Flattery has been Satan's tool since Genesis 3, when he painted a picture for Eve in which she was god-like and only a bite of fruit away from being God's equal... It's still one of his favorite tools today.

The Bible doesn't have much good to say about flattery. Check out some of the things the New Testament says about flattery:
  • Romans 16:18 -- For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
  • Jude 16 -- These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:5 -- You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.
Notice what each of these verses is saying about flatter:
  • People use smooth talk and flattery to cause division in the church
  • People who are grumblers and faultfinder use flattery for their own advantage
  • Paul rejected the use of flattery as an appropriate ministry tool, he equated it with greed
My intent here is not to create an unhealthy level of cynicism toward those who may be sincerely complimenting or congratulating you. Rather, I am urging you to think critically about something we don't often contemplate. This thing, flattery, is dangerous. It's deadly. It's a tool from the pit of hell. We must handle it with care.

Do not speak well of others and to others simply to win them to your side and advance your own agenda. Do not allow the choice words of others to go down into your soul and distract you from the agenda God has for your life.

Be sober, be vigilant, be on your guard. For thousands of years, the serpent has devoured his prey through the use of charming and soothing language. Don't let him claim you; don't let him use you to claim others...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Flattery: The Tool of the Devil

How does Satan use flattery to divide us from God?

He paints a desirable picture of us (leads us to believe things about ourselves that aren't true)

He contrasts that with a distorted concept of God (suggest things about Him that aren't true)

He suggests a disastrous path for our future (read Genesis 3 to see this played out)