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Monday, March 31, 2014

On Civility

I am not happy with having to write this blog.  God is beating me up pretty good about a character flaw of mine.  I hate injustice.  I don't like it when the playing field isn't fair or when "who you know is more important than what you know" or when the Golden Rule is really "the one with the gold makes the rules."

Then my pastor preaches a brilliant sermon on dealing with injustice. You can find it here www.fbno.org/sermon. Pastor talked about the injustice in the world and the emotions of being the victim of injustice. He left us with some insightful questions: Will I still love God when I am the victim of injustice? Will I love my neighbor when they are wronged? Will I still follow Jesus or will my discipleship waver?

This hit me like a brick in the head because my inner four-year old screams "that's not fair" on a pretty regular basis. The gut check for me comes when I have to test whether it is injustice or whether I didn't get my way. The ones who scream the loudest about inequality are those who are "less equal" than others. I pray that in cases where I am "more equal" than others that I am still concerned about those who have less power, less status, less influence, or less resources.

Then I was watching an ESPN interview with a panel of basketball officials regarding the way coaches and players treat the referees these days. Commentary was also provided about the way the fans treat the players and coaches and referees as if the purchase of a ticket allows immature and even offensive behavior. They remarked that there appears to be a "loss of civility" within college basketball. It was an excellent piece, though slanted towards a favorable view of the officials. I couldn't find a link to it, but in my search I came across an article that ESPN senior writer Tim Keown wrote in 2004. Find it here: http://espn.go.com/page2/s/keown/040127.html . The sad part is that over the last 10 years, it has gotten worse. My search


God has allowed me to have a pretty raw month of delayed flights, purchases that were "not exactly as advertised," un-kept promises by people I trusted, and even some youth minister/church brokering that didn't turn out as planned.  I found myself becoming cynical and wanting to write letters and tweet complaints, because in today's culture a letter of complaint gets thrown away but a tweet gets a response.  My wise and wonderful bride suggested that I go ahead and write them, and then to delete or destroy. Good advice.

Because when I see my words in print, I realize I failed the civility test. 

So I apologize. I have asked and been forgiven for my pride and presumptuous attitude. I need to breathe--to write the letters and compose the tweets and then to stare at them and realize the lack of civility that my wording represents.I need to realize that something in print has no nuance--it is often a raw representation of a sinful human emotion.

I can still voice concerns. I can still cry "not fair" to my God and Comforter. I just need to realize that the referee is a husband or father or grandfather. The salesman is human with the dignity that God built into him.  The call center operator may have an accent, but she is trying to make a living just like I am. The customer care department at the airline is not trying to make my travel unreasonable and I have to consider that the voice on the other end could have drama going on at home or at best is towards the end of a really long day.

The real golden rule comes from various renderings of Matthew 7:12. Jesus is speaking when He says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. May I add, "treat another persons' husband, wife, daughter, mother, son the way you would want your own loved ones to be treated? 

Pray for me. I am a work in progress. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On the Strength of Fellowship

I am sitting in a room with about 70 or so youth ministers from all over the state of Mississippi.  I am struck by the "safeness" of this place.  The Old Testament describes "cities of refuge" where a criminal could be protected against vengeance. While I hope that most of these guys do not need a city of refuge in the OT sense, it still seems like a place where persons can vent, weep, pray, eat and fellowship.

I won't go into the illustrations about the roots of redwood trees or that a "cord of three is not easily broken" but the results of true community across youth ministry and youth ministers is evident. We gather for Bible study, worship, a little teaching--and then the real fellowship begins.

I am struck by the tyranny of "the next thing."  I don't want to be in a conversation with a youth minister and be looking over his shoulder for the next conversation. I repent from being in a dialog with youth ministers face to face and thinking about lunch plans or golf plans or other plans. 

God, help us all to be in the moment when we have the treasure of face to face conversation. Help me to trust that You will take care of the "next thing" so that I can give and receive the blessing of fellowship in the now.

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Cape Fear and Comparison

I was at home grabbing a peanut butter sandwich today and I got caught up in a culture moment. On one channel was the movie Cape Fear from 1962 starring Gregory Peck as Sam Bowden and Robert Mitchum as Max Cady.  Cady is an ex-convict who is seeking revenge on the lawyer who sent him to jail.  Cady is psychotic–illiterate when he goes to prison but learns to read and becomes familiar with the law.  The 1991 version, was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis. Ironically, it also features cameos from Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum (Peck is a policeman and Mitchum is Cady’s lawyer).

I found a blog by Juan Ramos at http://amateurfilmstudies.blogspot.com/2010/09/cape-fear-1962-1991.html that talks about both films. His thoughts on the original were astute (emphasis mine):

There are almost thirty years between the release of the original Cape Fear and its remake: the first film was released in 1962 and the second in 1991. Although, some details are different, the plot is essentially the same: an ex-convict seeks revenge from the man who sent him to jail. In the original Gregory Peck plays lawyer Sam Bowden, a man who would go to almost any length to defend his family. I say ‘almost’ because, in the end, he does not kill the man who has been harassing him and his family, Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), but, instead, sends him back to jail. Cady’s veiled threats to rape Bowden’s teenage daughter Nancy (Lori Martin) make the film at times, and even today, very uncomfortable to watch.

Though I had seen both of the versions before, I had never had the ability to switch back and forth.  It was a bit like a time warp.  The older film was shot in black and white to make it feel like an Alfred Hitchcock production. The newer film was shot in color and was much more violent.  In the 1962 version, the word ‘rape’ was removed from the script but the film was still rated as suitable only for adults.

Ramos commented on the remake:

In the remake, the members of the Bowden family are more coloured. Sam is played by Nick Nolte as rather edgy, and his chain-smoking wife, Leigh, is played by Jessica Lange. The couple are shown arguing and Sam, over all, comes across as temperamental, if not violent, a far cry from Peck’s portrayal. Their daughter, who is called Danielle in this version, and played by Juliette Lewis, is also very different from the Nancy of the original film. In the 1991 version, she actually meets Cady (Robert De Niro) and shares with him an overlong and ambiguous seduction scene at her high school, culminating in a kiss. While that scene is very uncomfortable to watch, I find its counterpart in the original far scarier: when Nancy sees Cady outside her school, as she is waiting for her mother, she panics and, after trying to hide in the school, gets startled by a janitor and runs back outside and is hit by a car.

I am intrigued by the repositioning of the moral compass.  An article entitled, "Cape Fear: Two Versions and Two Visions Separated by Thirty Years,” was written Gerald J.Thain and published in the Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 28, No. 1, Law and Film (Mar., 2001), pp. 40-4. His chief observation was the decreased perception of virtue of attorneys.  Ramos commented on the “progress” of the plot from a clear contrast between good and evil to a less definitive separation.

In the remake, apart from the gratuitous violence, the postmodern conflict set up by the plot twist makes the viewer choose between bad and baddest. The members of the remade Bowden family are all sketchy enough to summon some sympathy for Cady. The suggestion that evidence was withheld makes the viewer “understand” the motives behind his rage but his over-the-top anger issues prevent complete emotional bonding (hopefully at least with most folks).

We are all tempted to judge the rightness or wrongness of our thoughts, attitudes or actions on the basis of comparison to another human.  Paul made sure that we compared ourselves not to each other but to the standard of holiness described in Scripture:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;… (Romans 3:9-11).

In the most famous of all self-examination, Paul goes on to say in Romans 7 that:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (v.14-15).

Thankfully, Paul concludes this section by reminding me that though the standard of holiness and purity is unwavering–sin results in spiritual death–the death of Jesus on the cross made a way for me to be declared righteous even though I have been judged as sinful:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v.21-25)

Our culture, and perhaps especially the media wants us to believe that everyone has evil in them (Paul would agree) and that the way to sleep at night is to see yourself as less evil than someone else (Paul would not agree).  I find the greatest comfort in a passage sandwiched between the two chapters mentioned previously. In Romans 5, Paul gives the declaration that allows me to sleep at night:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (v.6-8).

While I was a sinner. Not a sinner compared to someone else, but a sinner compared to God’s standard of holiness, yet a loving, merciful God loved me enough to come to earth as a man and die for the sins of humanity. I needed to stop for just a moment and marvel at the very thought of grace.

Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Even Cape Fear.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Jesus, Justice, and the Garden of Gethsemane


I have studied the Gospel of John for most of the summer. For the most part, my summer preaching came from one or more passages. I am winding the study down and one of the books I have enjoyed is Earl Palmer's "The Intimate Gospel." I read today of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrayed, Peter had anger issues, Mark left naked and pretty much everything else was chaos--except for Jesus.


Ironically, as I write today, I have jury duty in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Today, I will see persons who have been arrested and who will hear their future from a jury, perhaps one of which I am a member. Palmer describes the scene better than I ever could:

The temple guards have come to arrest Jesus with the approval of the Pharisees. Jesus accepts the arrest. Each Gospel makes that fact clear, and John adds the comment concerning Jesus' inner feelings. Jesus rejects the sword of Peter as a defense of his honor. He will take care of his own honor.

Peter's act is an act of panic--a sudden flash of impulsive desperation. Throughout the history of Christendom, when Christians have reached for the sword to defend the honor of Christ, the result has dishonored the gospel.

But there is a deeper theological reality present here. Jesus and he alone is to be the world's Savior. The disciples are not able nor are they permitted by Jesus to intervene. . . Jesus has shown to history a new authority and power. He neither evades his captors nor destroys their meager authority of swords and lanterns and accusers. Jesus Christ will prove his kinship in the very midst of the Thursday-Friday intriques that have snared him.

I am a bit wired for justice. I think things should be fair with equal opportunity for everyone who is willing to work. I struggle greatly when powerful people abuse that power whether in government, academia, church or even circles of teenaged friendships.


When I wrap my mind around the identity of Jesus the Justice Giver, I get as excited as the first-century Jews who were sure that Jesus would eradicate Roman control and return the power to them. I want Jesus to make things fair, right, just and equal. But as he demonstrated in the garden, justice will come in his time, his way, and with his finality.


Lord, grant me Your perspective on justice. Let me see the bigger picture of Your Lordship. Let me see the pecking order through Your eyes.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

On Flight and Fight

This morning in the Spurgeon Daily Devotional, the idea of flight is explored.

"He left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out." (Gen 39:12)



Spurgeon writes,

In contending with certain sins there remains no mode of victory but by flight. The ancient naturalists wrote much of basilisks, whose eyes fascinated their victims and rendered them easy victims; so the mere gaze of wickedness puts us in solemn danger. He who would be safe from acts of evil must haste away from occasions of it. A covenant must be made with our eyes not even to look upon the cause of temptation, for such sins only need a spark to begin with and a blaze follows in an instant. Who would wantonly enter the leper's prison and sleep amid its horrible corruption? He only who desires to be leprous himself would thus court contagion. If the mariner knew how to avoid a storm, he would do anything rather than run the risk of weathering it. Cautious pilots have no desire to try how near the quicksand they can sail, or how often they may touch a rock without springing a leak; their aim is to keep as nearly as possible in the midst of a safe channel.

This day I may be exposed to great peril, let me have the serpent's wisdom to keep out of it and avoid it. The wings of a dove may be of more use to me to-day than the jaws of a lion. It is true I may be an apparent loser by declining evil company, but I had better leave my cloak than lose my character; it is not needful that I should be rich, but it is imperative upon me to be pure. No ties of friendship, no chains of beauty, no flashings of talent, no shafts of ridicule must turn me from the wise resolve to flee from sin. The devil I am to resist and he will flee from me, but the lusts of the flesh, I must flee, or they will surely overcome me. O God of holiness preserve thy Josephs, that Madam Bubble bewitch them not with her vile suggestions. May the horrible trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil, never overcome us!


I am also studying my way through the Gospel of John this summer.  In John 12, the season of miracles and signs in Jesus' earthly ministry comes to a close as He enters Jerusalem.  Jesus models what it is to face the world with the extravagant grace of sacrifice.  He speaks clearly about the hour that has come. In this chapter, it is "decision time" for followers, pretenders, foreigners, and haters.  Mary declares her devotion as she anoints Him, the Greeks "wish to see Him" and the Pharisees want to kill Him.

As I reconcile two ideas in tension: that we are to flee from sin with abandon while confronting our culture with the Gospel, I think I see the very heart of discipleship--God leaves us here to make a difference in our world, not to have a difference made on us by the world.  

Father, help me to discern when it is time to flee and when it is time to face.

Friday, May 10, 2013

On Cultural Faith Shifts

The excerpt below is from a thoughtful blog by an Episcopal priest regarding the mindset behind the trend of youth leaving the church. Rev. Haverkamp writes that our youth find meaning in participating in worship with their families and communities of faith even if they do not plan on being "religious" when they are adults.  Comments on the blog included a thought that if we "train up a child in they way they should go, when they are old they will not depart from it" which we now translate to "they will come back to it when they have children of their own." Her insight into one of the cultural factors behind students choosing to "leave church" is valuable since it has nothing to do with efforts by church or youth ministry to "keep them in church."


"I think our culture is what’s changing. Institutions—whether churches, schools, municipalities, or nations—locate authority and knowledge in very specific places: a book, a leader, a set of bylaws, a governing structure. But our world is becoming a place where sources of authority and knowledge are disparate and diverse: internet searches, social media, self-produced and self-promoted novels, music, and films. We are becoming a Me and My Smart Phone World. Many of us navigate the world through a narrow portal held in our hands or laps, a portal for personal experience, perspective, and tastes. Self-reflection and expression, at least in the culturally dominant White middle and upper class, are valued more highly than ethnic identity, group membership, or institutional participation. More and more, technology is encouraging us to explore meaning, knowledge, and transcendence as individuals rather than as members of communities or groups.

Full article found at



If she is right and I believe she is to a point, then allow me to make several observations concerning youth ministry practices:
  1. We should double down on creating meaningful interactions and significant responsibility in family and faith community.  I am excited about stories of family mission trips and projects, of parents teaching the Bible in small groups, of students participating in adult choirs and of work and worship that is intergenerational.
  2. We should also help students and families see how they can continue to have meaningful conversations and experiences about their faith.  I like a big deal made of Christmas Eve services and Mother's Day services and Easter services when young adults are likely to be home. We can craft ways during these times where families are brought together around Word and Worship without beating young adults up about their church attendance when they are away.
  3. We should keep the Scripture central and relevant.  If students are taught to memorize, comprehend, and embrace the Bible--and to how to study it on their own--they will at least have tools in the toolbox when they do not live with us anymore. The Gideons have helped us to see that the presence of the Scripture in a hotel room is enough to help people come to faith in Christ. Think about a young adult who is emotionally beat up or facing a huge decision and yet remembers where in the Scripture to look for counsel!
  4. We should help parents see how important their continued faith journey is for their adult children.  When the "home base" of parents and church continues to be real. There is a big difference in "now that my kids are grown I can sleep in on Sundays" and "God I celebrate another season of my journey with You" as these young adults search for solid ground in their fast moving techno-centric world.  They want us to be the dependable model of faith and substance.  It gives them a picture of what it is to grow old in the faith instead of outgrowing the faith.
I am thankful for youth ministers who continue to invest in lives.  Don't grow weary of doing good!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Youth Ministry and Influence

I am attending an annual conference of youth ministers called METRO youth ministers, pretty much guys from the largest churches in our world. I was humbled and honored to be asked to address them in a devotional.  Each of the ministries that they shepherd has a minimum of five hundred students involved and some have thousands.  The theme of the meeting is "Influence" and to look around the room at these people--my friends--I am blown away in terms of the impact that these men and women are having on lives of students across the country and in a couple of cases around the world.

I often think of influence in terms of legacy, replication, generational discipleship and so forth.  It seems intuitive that we should leave a mark of influence.  But should influence be the primary goal of our relationships with students?  Not according to a relatively recent book by Andrew Root.  He challenged the notion of relational ministry as we have practiced it in our culture.  The book is entitled, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation.

Root recasts relational ministry as an opportunity not to influence the influence-rs but to stand with and for those in need. He implies that a motivation by a youth minister to influence a student through relationship is a faulty one.  True relational youth ministry shaped by the incarnation is a commitment to enter into the life and maybe suffering of students with no other agenda.

In Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, Root explores the prevailing youth ministry model for evangelicals, showing how American culture has influenced our understanding of the incarnation. He draws from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose work with German youth in troubled times shaped his own understanding of how Jesus intersects our relationships.

His point is well taken, but I believe he is off base on at least a couple of things.  I look around this room and see very busy people.  It is a worthy admonition to "live in the moment" and not see students as numbers or pieces to move around the game board. Each student has a story and a soul and a future.  Relationally speaking, some of the stories are messy and require careful attention.  I admit that as we get busier in ministry on such a large scale that it is easy to hear someone without really listening because the mind has moved on to the next task.

But to say that relational ministry that desires to have influence is invalid or somehow less than a "relationship that connotes presence devoid of agenda or further goal" is going too far.  Students should be challenged, exhorted, encouraged, to be more like leaders, more like missionaries, more like critical thinkers--more like Jesus and that sounds like influence to me.  I often say in class that "your influence always trumps your liberty" as Jesus had harsh words for anyone who would cause a little one to stumble. As a teacher, parent or youth minister, we relate to students in a way that helps them move towards spiritual maturity.  

I am fine with the idea that we celebrate the influence of youth ministers as they help students become.  I agree that we should not base our "like" or "don't like" on whether a student is progressing towards goals, but Jesus seemed very intentional in His conversations with disciples.  He seemed to have an agenda that they become more kingdom minded and less earthly minded. He seemed to be urging first and twenty-first century disciples to live lives counter to the culture in which they lived or live.

I'm okay with influence as a goal. Dr. Root gives an important takeaway that we shouldn't barter our affection in relationship.  However, I think I will examine my motives and try to influence as many as I can to think, act and be like Jesus.