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504 Java Profile
Two of my favorite things

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On Waiting and Moving

On Waiting and Moving

It seems a paradox that I want patience and movement at the same time. One of my favorite phrases is “let’s proceed with deliberate haste.” The tension between motion and stillness, patience and drive is held in that phrase and also (for me) in my faith.

The word combination “deliberate haste” may have come from Abraham Lincoln, when asked whether he favored the immediate emancipation of slaves, quoted the Latin motto festina lente: "make haste slowly." This expression, attributed to the emperor Augustus, found its English counterpart long before Lincoln: Ben Franklin, that proverb-meister, put "make haste slowly" into Poor Richard's Almanac in 1744. (credit to William Safire for the word play)

In the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered school segregation to be abolished "with all deliberate speed." A decade later, Justice William Brennan commented on the progress following the decision: "There has been entirely too much deliberation and not enough speed. The time for mere 'deliberate speed' has run out."

Both Lincoln and Brennan used the phrase to describe a cultural situation that was unbearable.  The suggestion was that action needed to be taken, but the right action. Wisdom, but wisdom with forward motion.

Last Sunday, we sang a song in church and perhaps it was the passion of the worship team or perhaps the lyrics just penetrated my heart, but I was moved.  The song was “Spirit of the Living God” and some of it goes like this

Spirit of The Living God
Spirit of The Living God
We Only Want To Hear Your Voice
We’re Hanging On Every Word 

Because When You Speak, When You Move.
When You Do What Only You Can Do
It Changes Us, It Changes What We See And What We Seek

It changes us. It changes our priorities. It makes us uncomfortable with the status quo, similar to the desire to correct the injustice of slavery. Lincoln wanted to free those enslaved by humans. We want to see freedom for the spiritual captives.

Several years ago, Susan Ashton had a similar lyric

Oh but you move me
You give me courage I didn't
Know I had
You move me on
I can't go with you
And stay where I am
So you move me on

So here is my confession.  I am driven to study. I don’t want to be unprepared when I preach or teach the word.  However, I am convicted that if I, as an introvert, see being with people as a distraction, pulling me away study and preparation time, I have missed the point of preaching. I cannot neglect the study of the Word, but I cannot neglect people either. One preacher said, “I have to be spending as much time with the living human documents as I am with the printed documents and the commentaries. They feed each other, both are central.”

Jesus seemed to get this. He was aware that he was experiencing His last night on earth, His last moments before intense suffering, and His last season as incarnate Messiah made flesh. Yet, in Gethsemane, He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” In a few verses, the Passion began.

So I need to move with deliberate haste. I want to be with people, hear their hurts, see their pain, pray through their fears. But I also want to seek what God’s Word says about it, and dive into God’s presence to the point that I have to be where HE is working, have to be where HE is moving, have to use the Words HE has spoken to speak in the excitement of the moment with the congregation of Dunwoody Baptist Church, the amazing people to whom God has trusted me to minister.

I can't go with you
And stay where I am
So you move me on

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On Gleaning and Grace

A few weeks ago, our missions pastor, Jeff Reams preached at DBC and he made this statement about our benevolence, our mission outlay and our charity:

We are simply doing for others what has been done for us."

This startled me a little--I try to be "wise" about money I give to causes outside of my regular tithes and offerings to my church. I sometimes give money to people who are begging and sometimes I don't.  Jesus said that the poor would always be with us and Jeff's comments made me feel more responsible than ever to stop long enough to hear a story and then try to discern what I should do.

Jeff also quoted the early church writer, Tertullian who said, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents, who say, ‘See those Christians, how they love one another.’” This love has to begin at home. It has to begin in the domestic church.

I came home and did a little rooting around and found that the early Christians were known for their charity, even leading an anti-Christian Roman emperor named Julian to take notice. The emperor so hated Christians and Christianity that he sought to "re-paganize" the Roman empire following the expansion of Christ's kingdom. Nonetheless, Julian noticed the benevolence of the early church, saying “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our poor lack aid from us.” (see http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-04-038-f#ixzz4RhIJvwZu).

So now I am really intrigued. How are we supposed to help the poor break out of a lifestyle of poverty? Is is an act of faith to give money to a homeless man, even though you suspect he will spend it on something other than food?

I have been pondering the "boring" books of the Bible, the ones that often stymie our attempts to read through the whole Bible. I am talking about Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Genesis it great with all the stories, but then you get to Exodus and the adrenaline level plummets as you begin to read about "Sundry Laws." Leviticus 23:22 says,

"'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.'"

A quick search found more than 20 other verses which mention the idea of gleaning. The principle of gleaning is that a farmer is supposed to leave edible crops behind. When harvesting was complete, some of the stalks, grain, grapes--whatever was to be intentionally un-reaped so that a person in need could go through the field behind the workers who harvest and get food for them and their family.

Don't "amen" with an attitude of "if they don't work, they don't eat." Many are not able to adequately provide for their basic needs. As a church, we are called to help them. The Bible usually calls them widows and orphans and the signature verse is James 1:27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Paul also implied of this responsibility: "Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (Galatians 2:10).

I am provoked to do both. I am praying for a way to create microbusiness opportunities for underserved or marginalized who are willing to work and I am praying for wisdom in distribution of resources for the widows and orphans. Unfortunately, all who give generously have been taken advantage of by persons who played the system. I am praying for my attitude that God forgives me for my attitude towards the con artists and gives me a spirit of forgiveness and trust that He sees everything.


On Christmas Eve

In Psychology 101, we learned the obvious: most people anticipate happy experiences. We look forward to marriage, to a job change, to a vacation, to school being out–to Christmas. We can’t help it. Anticipation part of us. It is actually a brain function, where a chemical called dopamine is released as a chemical neurotransmitter. It’s released from the brain’s frontal lobe and acts as a stimulant that prevents pain, stimulates pleasure and causes excitement. Dopamine stimulation happens when we experience and expect good things. Anticipating positive events sustains the output of dopamine into the brain’s chemical pathways.

Scientific experiments show that most people anticipate future positive events, as opposed to future negative events. It doesn’t matter if you’re an optimist or a pessimist; the brain is wired to anticipate positive experiences. And this is the way God made us. It is why the prophecies of the birth of Jesus are so important–they let us anticipate that God has been working all along, ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

The Bible says that the whole earth–all of creation–is in a state of anticipation as to what God is going to do next. In Romans 8:18-19, Paul writes,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

The creation. We humans and the rest of this planet (and possibly others) presently face suffering, much of it of our own making. When Adam sinned, God sentenced all of creation: "Cursed is the ground because of you" (Gen 3:17 NRSV). Since then, the world has suffered decay and pollution, largely because people have forgotten or ignored their responsibilities as stewards of the earth.

As individuals, our pathway is reversed because of Christmas. Christ came into the world–God sent His only Son into the world that we would not perish, but have everlasting life.  The Savior was born as an infant, and our gift-giving, extravagant as it is, is but a shadow of the worth of God’s gift to us.

Here, Paul uses a Greek verb to describe our anticipation of the time that the earth will be set right again. The word, is used other times in the NT and to describe the anticipation of followers of Christ that He will return again. Here it is used in connection with creation anticipating that day. In the meantime, the created order functions in spite of its flaws. Broken, damaged, sinful people, living in the marvelous grace of our loving Lord. Diseases, and suffering, depleted resources, unequal wealth–all constantly remind us that all is not right with us or with the planet.  Poor choices, even among the followers of Christ remind us to lean on Jesus by realizing our need for forgiveness and grace. In this life, I have to confess, with Paul that, “In my flesh; the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” (Rom 7:18, Allen’s Paraphrase). I need Immanuel to be with me, to be with my family, to be with my church–to dwell among us that we might life forgiven and abundantly in the hope of His return.

Jesus came in a manger. He will come again in glory.  “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Mt. 24:27, NASB)

So, there's just something about Christmas Eve. The anticipation...the wonder...the excitement about what's coming...the feeling that moves over DBC when we let the children light glow sticks and the adults light candles and we sing "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service...the memories of loved ones who are no longer with us...watching the DBC children who are beginning to understand the joy of this time of year. Thank you for letting me be your pastor. This season–this night–Christmas Eve is just special.

You see, I desire to wonder. I don’t really want to figure it all out, I want to embrace the crazy idea that a baby born in a manger is the very essence of God in our midst. I want to lay my pride and my troubles and my inability to always “make it all better as a pastor, a husband, or a dad. I want to rest in my heavenly Father and his plan. I want anticipate what He will do next, in this little community of faith called Dunwoody Baptist Church.

Takeaways

1. Almost all of us agree that we desire a plan that gives us hope. God’s plan is revealed through the predictions of the birth of Jesus which should assure us that God’s plans for us and for all of creation are not being made up on the fly.  God is God and I am not, and He has got this.

2. When we gather for Christmas and enjoy the company of family and friends, exchanging gifts and stories, we get a picture of the harmony that God has in mind. Even those of us who are sad because of the absence of persons we love have a sense that the images of Christmas that we observe hint at God’s ultimate healing of our pain and our planet.

3. Christmas should remind us that God has a plan for us and that to walk in relationship with Him through following Jesus is the best path we can be on. Jesus says that He came that we might have an abundant life, yet so many of us continue to try to solve everything on our own. Can Christmas and the coming of a new year be an inspiration to reordering priorities in 2017 in such a way that your relationship with Jesus is the thing that changes everything?

I pray for you to take time today to stop in the midst of whatever is going on around you and soak it all in. Breathe in the smells, etch the faces on your heart, put the cell phones down, hug your loved ones an extra second longer, and remember the reason for all of this is not under a tree or down a chimney, but rather that God so loved the world that He gave us the perfect gift of love and hope: Jesus. I pray you have a wonderful Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!

Anticipate Christmas. Anticipate Jesus. Anticipate Discipleship in 2017.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On the Magic of Rome

I was privileged to go to Rome with Judi for a tour of churches, art museums, and generally to walk and take public transportation around this magical city.

It is an ancient city, with many layers. I got to reconnect with friends from New Orleans, and eat gelato and see things I had only heard about.

I came away with two impressions. First, we are chronological narcissists. We think we are the first generation to experience the things we are seeing in the world. Political unrest, economic hardship, social injustice, disrespect for God, and especially for the gift of grace in Jesus. But we are not. I saw three millenia of the same cycles, memorials in art, sculpture, buildings, and stories.

Second, we humans have tried forever to try to bring understanding of the vastness of God's grace through our social infrastructures--art, sculpture, governments, media, and stories.

I wrote a poem on the way home.

Mother Rome
The vanity of pursuit
Finding beauty but seldom meaning
Art, love, lust, power, oppression
Seeking to elevate man
Seeking to enlighten
Seeking renaissance
But God demonstrates his love
No longer on a cross
But in hearts of friends who are brothers
And in His Kingdom which has no end.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On Politics, Presidents, and Being a Disciple

I am processing the results of the election, and I am truly at a loss for words. The outcome was so unexpected for me. Like many persons who follow Christ, my dilemma in the voting booth was to choose between two candidates who each have many troubling issues or writing in a candidate whom I knew couldn’t win. I will not share what I did.

I know that the statements made by our president elect are unacceptable. Period. End of discussion. No part of my walk with Jesus allows statements that are bigoted and hateful towards any person or group of people who are created in His image. We live in a fallen world, and I do not agree with choices that some persons have made any more than others would embrace some of my choices. And yes, I have had to repent for many of my choices.  I believe that the Bible is my guide for determining the rightness or wrong-ness of choices and that it is my job–all of our jobs to rightly interpret it.

So I have struggled for words. In my processing, I have discovered two voices that have helped me. I listened to Ernie Johnson calling Atlanta Braves baseball games in the early 90's and he has since moved on to a national microphone for several networks. His commentary helped me to frame my thoughts and maybe a way forward. Find it here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayU5kw7Kf5U

I also found help in Ed Stetzer’s take on the response that might be appropriate for those of us who are trying to passionately become more like Jesus. His blog post, “What do White Evangelicals Owe People of Color” helped me to balance my emotions following the election.  Find his post here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/november/what-do-white-evangelicals-owe-people-of-color-in-trumps-am.html

Like many of you, the emotional carnage of this election is not just theoretical for me. I have friends, family, and church members who fit into the categories of marginalized persons who have been verbally maligned by our new president. I have friends, family, and church members who have felt marginalized by the policies of the existing president. It is time to find some common ground.  I hope to be a voice for the transformation that can come when we listen to each other–really listen–and make the personal  adjustments of repentance, forgiveness, humility, acceptance that will create dialog and not dissension.

Friday, January 15, 2016

On Transitions

I have neglected my blog for quite awhile now.  I have been keeping up with two places--my 22 year career as full time faculty at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is coming to an end and my new career as a full time pastor at Dunwoody Baptist Church is beginning.  It has been all I do in the past year to keep up with both places.

I have finished the good-byes and the see you laters at the seminary--though I will stay connected through a part-time status--and it was more emotional than I predicted.  I have a great team there. The best of leadership is that your team is strong where you are weak, and that has so been the case. Much of me has been invested in the work of the Youth Ministry Institute (YMI) which is the youth ministry training and equipping arm of the seminary.  In my transition from leadership there, I feel a little like a person who has sold a house to a new owner, yet wants to tell him how to maintain the yard.  I know that whatever legacy I leave is just that--what I leave.  I trust that God will take my "baby" in the direction He wants it to go.

Humans don't like change, but I want to be an Abraham who is obedient to travel to a place yet to be known, yet to be predicted, not even close to being scripted.

I want to be Job--calling upon God (though grudgingly at first) in whatever circumstances come.

I want to be Daniel, Esther, Peter--trusting God for the absurd.

I want to be Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, knowing that Jesus is present in the fire.

I want to be a father in Mark 9 who cries out to Jesus to "help me in my unbelief."

I don't have it figured out as to what it means to be a pastor. I have discovered in my character flaw of acting first and thinking later ("ready, fire, aim") that my humility and wisdom need developing. I have discovered that the first chair is very different from the second chair, where I have sat for the entire 35 years of my ministry. I have felt a renewed love and admiration for my bride of 32 years who trusts me and trusts God to stay by my side in this transition.

I am thankful to serve a church that believes that my clay feet are ok for walking through this season with them. I am grateful for men and women who have faithfully served this great church both on stage and behind the scenes for the fifty years of its existence. I am strengthened by the members of the search team, leadership team, deacons and staff who continue to declare, "whatever it takes."

I am amazed that even through the painful journey of their beloved pastor's final years, they still have an expectation that Jesus desires people to be saved and discipled, that worship can be vibrant and deep, that missions start where they are and extend around the world.  I would ask you to pray for me for wisdom, humility, inspiration, and sermon material...Sundays are relentless for pastors.

Stay tuned.


Monday, September 1, 2014

On Mack Hannah and Providence

I was privileged to preach at Dunwoody Baptist Church, pinch hitting for Mack Hannah who is courageously battling liver cancer.  Mack's instructions to the church, via his son David--"Each time you pray for me, pray that a person you know who is not a follower of Christ will become one."  I preached from Psalm 121 and while sitting in a McDonald's drinking coffee and finishing up the sermon, I wrote this poem to close.

Where Do You Go?
8/30/2014

Where do you look when things go awry?
When the bad diagnosis brings a tear to your eye?
When your kids won't behave and your marriage is rocky?
When your standard response is "I guess I'm not lucky"?

When your focus is blurred and your vision is cloudy
When your confidence is shaken and filled with self doubt
When the goal of the day is to take one more step
When the waters you're swimming have way too much depth.

When your faith is in crisis and God seems far away
When the words from your friends seem forced and cliche
When the Bible is cryptic and the praise songs are hollow
When you lay down your head to sleep through the sorrow.

It is a mistake to believe God is one among many
     of solutions giving comfort and presence to any
     of the problems you carry which trouble and drain
He is all strong and all comfort and all hearing to pain

It is a mistake to believe that God has forgotten
     the big things and small things which weigh down your thoughts
     the stories and crises which keep you from sleep
He too is awake as His love is that deep.

It is a mistake to think that He can't understand
     the pain, grief and loss that are common to man
His standard of care is the gift of His son
To demonstrate the absolute victory won.