Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kate Plus 8 Minus Jon

I am sure that the blogging world (especially the Christian blogging world) is a buzz with the seemingly inevitable news last night of Jon and Kate's impending divorce. All day long I have seen Tweets and Facebook updates regarding people's feeling about the decision to dissolve this 10-year marriage. Most of the updates expressed people's sadness over the end result here. There has been genuine sympathy and heartfelt emotion poured out online for this family.

My first initial thoughts as the "rag sheets" were continually following this story in recent weeks was "what did they expect?" I recounted to my wife the track record of couples who had allowed cameras to come into their homes and invade their privacy: Nick and Jessica, Hulk and Linda, and now Jon and Kate. Let's face it, the other two couples' celebrity status prior to their show rendered them poor comparisons. Jon and Kate were ordinary people who happened to have a chance to tell their story. Through the telling of their story, they made lots of money and Kate even launched a speaking and writing career through it.

How could a marriage sustain everything that they had been through in having two sets of multiples and then the allowed infiltration of their home by camera crews? While some may blame TLC for pushing the envelope, did they not know what they were getting into prior to this? It's like watching "Wife Swap" and seeing the look of surprise on the faces of the husbands who are being told that they are going to have to live by their "wife's" rules for a few days. Come on people, did you not read the fine print?

Kate's words on the show last night are still ringing in my ears, "My children are going to be another statistic." Sort of interesting that that was how she verbalized this whole sadness. Her sadness wasn't that a covenant had been broken or that the testimony of the commitment of marriage had been severely marred in her children's eyes, but that they were going to become a statistic.

I will curiously watch how the Christian community reacts to this news in upcoming weeks. Kate's book was published by Zondervan Publishing Company and the couple expressed their faith on various occasions. But where has the faith community been throughout the process leading up to this decision? Did they abandon the family? Did their past involvement with a church warrant concern from people who began to see the writing on the wall......or at least the writing in the National Enquirer?

As I think through what this means for me and the lessons that I can take with me, there are a few:

1) There, But For the Grace of God, Goes I

While I would like to think that my marriage is safe, I am not so foolish to believe that anyone is above this outcome as a possibility. That is why I rely so heavily on my faith in Christ. Marriage is hard, no matter how you look at it. It is full of compromises, give-and-takes, tears, joys, frustrations, and celebrations. In and of myself, I am incapable of being the husband and father that I need to be. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit manifesting the life-giving grace in me am I able to begin the process of transformation within me, making me more and more like Christ. Should anyone express their disappointment and disagreement with what has happened in their relationship and say that they would never be guilty of the same, they had better get out the salt and pepper because they might be eating their words in the future.

2) Our World Is Marred By Sin

Jon and Kate are humans who have been marred by sin, just like the rest of us. While divorce is mentioned in the Bible as a sin, God does not rank sin. They should not be villefied because the sin that has been committed is more public than the sins that the rest of us commit. Our responsibility is not to cause them to repent, that's the Holy Spirit's job. Our responsibility is to love them as Christ loves them. Yes, we may at times be called to confront sin in people, but unless you have a personal relationship with either of them, you have not earned the right to be heard. Plus, we don't really know what happened behind the scenes. There are Biblical grounds for divorce that may have been met, without a relationship with them, we can't know what happened other than what we see on TV or read in the media.

One comment that I had heard from people is "Why did they not cancel the show a year ago?" My first thought would be "Would you stop if you were making lots of money and were now able to provide for the family of multiples that you have?" I recently watched "Revolutionary Road" and the theme of that movie seems to ring true in this real-life situation playing out before our eyes: people will put up with a lot in order to make decent money (watch "The Deadliest Catch" some time). I want to be careful that I don't speculate too much, because that can be dangerous, but I wonder how much the thought of losing the income from the show prompted them to sweep their problems under the rug.

3) Use This As An Opportunity

Some of the saddest Tweets that I saw throughout the day were ones from parents who had watched this show with their children. They now had to explain what had happened between Jon and Kate to their own children. While it isn't ideal, is it the worst thing in the world?

I am convinced that children today are facing more serious issues far sooner than I, and my generation, ever did. Maturity is almost being forced on children prior to their being completely ready. But do we fight this or do we embrace this? If we fight it, our culture will not stop addressing these issues with our children. If we embrace it, we can have the opportunity to promote our worldview on certain issues to our children to give them a more balanced viewpoint. Life is hard and sometimes it hurts and wounds people, our children will have to face that fact eventually. Why not be the ones to express to them our viewpoint of why that is?

I personally don't know how I would broach this subject with my kids and how I would make them understand. I don't think that I will have to discuss it with my own kids right now though, as their maturity level isn't even close to grasping these issues. I think the important thing is that all of us who have been saddened by this begin to assess our own marriages and take some time to make sure that we are doing all right. Jon and Kate are two people on TV who could be storybook characters for all your children know. They are not the living, breathing flesh and blood that you and your spouse are, being observed on a regular basis, interacting with each other, and being an example to your children. How are you doing as that example?

The other way that I think that we can use this opportunity is as we talk to the people that we interact with on a regular basis. This whole situation is an example of why I support the idea of Christians being familiar with and engaged in pop culture......but that's for another blog post. Our society has taken to the story of the Gosselins, they are interested in it. Sometimes the best inroads to speaking with people who are seemingly different from us is through opportunities that the culture presents to us. Find out what people who you spend time with daily are thinking about this, especially the ones who don't hold to the same worldview and faith values that you do, if for no other reason than to do some research of your own into the human spirit.

I am a firm believer that no one is beyond the grace of God, redemption is possible in anyone. I would hope and pray that this situation can be reversed. Anything is possible. In the mean time, I can assess my own life, take advantage of the teaching moments that have been presented through this, and lift the Gosselin family up in prayer. While no one is beyond grace or redemption, only the intervention of the Triune God can make it happen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Rest of the Story

I have been reading through some of the minor prophets in my daily devotions. Most of the time, in churches, we hear sermon series on major books of the Bible. There are so many overlooked books in the Bible that I thought I should spend some more time in them.

So, I went through Joel, Amos, and Obadiah, and came to Jonah. If you are anything like me and grew up in church, you most likely heard the story of Jonah in Sunday School. I can't tell you how disappointed I was, years after my childhood Sunday School days when I found out that the Jonah story that I had been fed in Sunday School was only part of the story. Somehow or another, someone thought that it was a good idea to sterilize this story in order to make it more palatable and child-friendly.

Jonah is told by God to go and preach to the great city of Nineveh because they have grown increasingly wicked. Instead of following God's command, Jonah goes the complete opposite direction. He gets on a boat to Tarshish and God sends a storm. While Jonah is sleeping below deck, on the deck, the crew freaks out because they are afraid that they are going to die. They all cry out to their gods, throw their stuff overboard, and the captain finally wakes Jonah to see what the story is.

Through the casting of lots, they determine that Jonah is to blame for this storm and he tells them to cast him over the side of the ship. The storm ceases after he's over and God provides a "big fish" to swallow Jonah up. 72 hours later, after some much needed time to ponder, the fish throws Jonah up and he decides that it's time to obey God. He preaches to the city of Nineveh, they repent, and that's pretty much where the Sunday School story always ended (fortunately, Veggie Tales got it right a few years ago when they made their movie). You think that Jonah learned his lesson, you think that everything is resolved, and you think that everyone lives happily ever after. But that's not the case.

Yes, Jonah reluctantly preaches to Nineveh and they repent, but then Jonah gets mad at God for sparing the city of Nineveh. Even though Jonah has been a recipient of God's grace, compassion, and forgiveness, he isn't happy to see that a city as wicked as Nineveh should be. He goes into his "woe is me" mode and asks that God take his life. While he's moping around, he finds a place to settle down and God makes a plant grow over him that covers and protects him from the sun.

Once Jonah is used to the protection, God provides a worm to eat the plant, it dies, and Jonah goes back to being miserable again. The book ends with God having the last word. He tells him that although Jonah had nothing to do with the plant, he cared for it, how much more should God care of a great city with so many people in it? For people who are big on resolution, the book of Jonah doesn't give much. Other than God having the last word, we never know whether or not Jonah "got it" and understood what God was trying to tell him. We never know whether his heart is changed towards the Ninevites.

Recently, my wife and I had a rare opportunity to go to dinner and a movie together. Both being Disney fans, we went to see the latest Disney-Pixar release "Up" in 3D. I am constantly fascinated with film as art, how it speaks a message that the writer or director clearly wants conveyed. I am even more fascinated by this when the message is spoken with limited dialogue and instead uses visuals. The first few minutes of "Up" seems to be dialogue free, like Disney-Pixar's last release "Wall-E," but a story is clearly conveyed. Not wanting to spoil the story for anyone wishing to see the movie, let me just say that there were some fairly grown-up themes conveyed in the story, themes that I would struggle trying to explain to my 2 1/2 year old, but which should probably be shared with an older elementary aged child.

What's the relationship between Jonah and Disney? We have two extremes here: one that whitewashes a serious message so as to reveal it at a later stage of life and one that fully depicts that serious message in order for it to be engaged. Which one is right? Can Sunday School children not handle the whole story of Jonah? Should young children have to handle the themes presented in a movie like "Up"?

Every child will respond differently to different messages. Every child will be ready to hear certain messages at different steps along their developmental progression. To me, there should be a balance between the two extremes that seem to be illustrated here. Obviously, if I don't think that my children should see a movie like "Up" because they can't handle some of the themes, I won't let them see it. But I am sure that there are plenty of parents who, because of the track record that Disney-Pixar has had, would trustingly bring their children to see the movie and perhaps be surprised that the ride home held questions that they did not anticipate. At the same time, while I feel that whitewashing Bible stories can be inapproriate, if parents don't feel that their children are getting the whole story in Sunday School, why not have them fill them in on the "rest of the story" once they get home?

Parenting is a huge commitment, more of a commitment than I think some people are really ready to make, even though they have children. My wife and I have looked at each other on several occasions with tears or frustration and said, "It's just a stage of life" as we have parented our boys. We are certainly not experts. But, while we don't know everything, we know that we are in for a wild ride as we parent children in the 21st century. We know that our children will be constantly bombarded with values that are contrary to what we believe. We know that, whether we like it or not, parenting isn't for cowards and we have a resonsibility to ourselves, our children, and our God to make the commitment of parenting them. It won't be easy, it won't always be fun, but I think that it will be rewarding in the end.

Just like I finally found out the "rest of the story" about Jonah, I hope that more people who bring kids into this world will see the "rest of the story" when it comes to parenting. Yes, I can think that I can have someone else do all my "dirty work" for me when it comes to parenting, but the only way that I can know what they're thinking, feeling, learning, and believing is to make the investment in their lives, no matter what has to be put on hold.

Wow! That's a huge commitment that I know I will falter on more than once, but I can only hope that I extend enough grace to my children for them to want to extend some back to me as well!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

8 Years and Many Miles...

It's hard to believe that 8 years ago today, my wife, Carrie, and I officially began our lives together. It seems like such a long time ago, in the best sense of the term. We have enjoyed so many different things together and have come a long way from where we started.
When we were first married we lived in a little Cape in Stratford, CT. Both of us were working and we didn't really feel the need to budget anything since there was no shortage of funds. Now, Carrie has turned into a coupon-clipping genius who is always grinning ear to ear when she gets home from the grocery store, eager to tell me of how much money she saved on groceries and which items she got for free.

Our last trip prior to children was to Disney World, where I spent a good deal of time as a child about my oldest son's age. We had such a blast and are eager to repeat the experience, both without kids and with kids. We certainly don't want to be among those parents who we have seen dragging their tired toddlers around, forcing them into "fun" as they continually meltdown before the eyes of everyone in the park. So, I think that we will wait a few years. Plus, the financial chances of us doing it right now are pretty slim. But we will return.

We are also eager to get back to Bermuda, where we spent our honeymoon at the suggestion of my cousin. Unbeknownst to my cousin, he set off a chain reaction after he went as not only Carrie and I went and stayed at the same resort, but my sister-in-law and her husband did as well for their honeymoon. It's going to take us a little longer to get back there, but it will be well worth the wait when we finally do.

After five years of marriage, God blessed us with a son, Dylan. He is such a combination of the two of us, but probably favors me in his sense of humor and desire to be the center of attention. 23 months and many miles later, God blessed us with a second son, Tucker, who is equally a combination of us, though I think that he favors Carrie in his introspective ways. Although Carrie liked the name Dylan, he was named after one of my all time favorites and his middle name was taken from Carrie's grandfather, who was a very special man. Tucker was named after my great uncle, a spiritual mentor for my father. His middle name was taken from Carrie's great grandfather and her maiden name as well.

Over many miles and minutes, God has taken us on an incredible journey. As we have been going through the book of James on Sunday mornings in church, one of our pastors shared this past week about "divine detours," things that may divert us from our own way but that God had planned all along. We certainly have had our share of those. If you had asked both of us on our wedding day where we would be in 8 years, I have a hard time believing that we would have been able to predict. But we wouldn't change it for the world. Although we have hard our share of heartaches and pain, God has bonded us closer together through His grace.

The journey here was hardly one that was done in solitude. We have had a host of supporters in the form of great family and friends. People have lifted us up in prayer, cried with us, laughed with us, and sat in stillness with us when there were no words to be spoken. We have seen family "graduate" to their "new home" and also have seen our family grow as God has blessed sisters, brothers, and cousins with children. I can only hope and pray that Carrie and I will successfully pass on the heritage of faith to our children that has been passed on to us from generations before.

Thank you to all who have supported us with words, finances, prayers, and much more. We never would have gotten here without you. Thank you, God, for Your faithfulness and grace, Your willingness to fix broken vessels, and patience to continually give second chances. Thank you to my wife, Carrie, my best friend, my confidant, my partner, my gift from God. I look forward to spending many more years together with you. You are the love of my life!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Whose Disciple Are You?

Although I was raised by parents who are denominationally Baptist, I had the opportunity to intermingle with a number of different denominations growing up. While my parents might offer some “caveats” from their perspective of other denominations, there was always a sense of cooperation that was very evident in how they lived. My dad had served in Presbyterian churches and worked with many other denominations prior to coming to the Baptist church. We had also held combined services with other denominations, so I never got a sense that denomination was as important as some people made it out to be.

Fast forward some years to when I began coming into my own in ministry, I became more denominationally broad, as my father had been before me. I served in Presbyterian, Congregational, non-denominational, and Baptist churches. I never really let the denomination become an issue because spiritual convictions run deeper than denomination, or at least, they should.

Having spent my years in full-time ministry completely in the South, I have had two distinctly different perspectives on denominations. In Asheville, North Carolina, there’s a church on every street corner and at least 70% of them are Southern Baptist. In fact, the church that I served at was Southern Baptist, and in a place like Asheville, where the culture is incredibly diverse, that’s a strike against you before you even engage in conversation with someone. Despite the fact that the vast majority of churches were members of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), there was not much cooperation between churches of the same denomination. There was a constant flow of people from one church to the other. If they were unhappy with this Baptist church, they would go to the one across the street where the programs were bigger and better.

Now I serve in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. Although my first inclination was to think that this would be more culturally Southern, I was wrong. This area is such a transient area with some big companies having headquarters here, many people are passing through more than they are planting their roots. But now, in a Presbyterian church, there is a cooperation not only among other Presbyterian churches, but among some Southern Baptist churches. Wow! How could this be? I mean, is this legal? How could two places be so dramatically different?

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the majority of his letter is setting the record straight and chastising them for behavior which is unbecoming to followers of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes:

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you,are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I can’t help but read these words and think about our current denominational state in America. There are some among Christians who have gotten so caught up with their denominations that they have lost sight of who they are following, much in the same way the church in Corinth did. Instead of following Jesus Christ, they are following a denomination. Instead of being committed to the One who is infallible, they instead pledge their allegiance to fallible denominations. Let’s face it, there is no perfect denomination because there are no perfect people. There are no perfect churches for the same reason.

From a denominational perspective, to have gone from a Southern Baptist church, where I was ordained, to a Presbyterian church seemed like a jump from “right” to “left.” But looking beyond denomination to core values, mission, and vision, it is evident that our goal in spreading the Gospel is the same. Somehow, people have elevated denomination methodology above Biblical principles, shaky ground no matter how you look at it.

To think that the Baptist, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or Presbyterian method is the best method is to miss the point. While the heritage of our denominations is rich and they all offer varying methods and approaches to worship, methods are just means to an end: entering into a relationship with the Triune God. The best method is the method which invites people to enter into a relationship with Christ. While there are essential Biblical truths that need to be communicated in that process, assuming that one method is predominant over another is equivalent to thinking that all people process information the same. It just doesn’t happen. Each person is going to spiritually connect through different methodology, and that is all right. The problem becomes when the methodology moves from being a means to the end in and of itself, when it is no longer used as the means to connecting to God, but just a nostalgic methodology which makes us feel “good” inside.

I don’t know what the future of denominations is in North America. There are people who take surveys to attain that kind of information. I do know that if we continue to abandon Biblical principles in favor of denominational preferences, the church in North America will die. It will die not so much because of the quarrels that plague her from within, but from the lack of the movement of the Holy Spirit within her. The moment that we think that we can independently accomplish our goal as the Church is the moment that we cease to allow God to be God and direct us in His way.

I am by no means saying that denominations are wrong, but the moment that they take precedence over the Bible is the moment that they need to be abandoned. As with anything else that can become an idol and stand in the way of our worship of God, when it becomes a stumbling block, either get rid of it or reform it. If we cannot be effective followers of Christ while serving within the constructs of denomination, we either need to escape those constructs or reform them. My vote is for reformation, because if we don’t quarrel about or stumble over denomination, I am sure that we’ll find something else to quarrel about or stumble over.

May our hearts beat in sync with our God who formed us to be in relationship with Him, and may our denominations simply be the means to bring us there.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Passing of Time

It's been an interesting year for me. My wife had our second son in September, I started seminary last June, I went back to visit the place were I spent my first 3 1/2 years of full-time ministry, and my parents have begun the process of searching for their first house EVER!

Time has passed, much faster than I would like it to have. I am constantly reminding myself to not wish away these years when both of my boys are young. It will be gone sooner than I think and I will be wishing to have it back again. As I watched some video of my oldest son's first birthday this week, it was hard to believe what had happened to the time. I was trying to picture holding him the way that I hold our youngest son, it was only two years ago that he was that same size.

Having two boys is a draining experience. Of course, my wife can attest to this more than I can. She is a woman whose patience has probably grown tremendously in our nearly 8 years of marriage, not only in dealing with our boys, but also in dealing with me. I had bonded with my oldest son, Dylan, for nearly two years and really wondered how I was going to take to our new little boy, Tucker. It was difficult at first because I almost felt that I was betraying Dylan and abandoning him. But over time, I put those thoughts away and allowed myself to love Tucker just as much as Dylan. They are both incredible boys, even as young as they are, and I look at them with pride and joy every time that I lay eyes on them.

Seminary has been good. It actually spurs a lot of the thoughts and ideas that will most likely end up on this blog. It has been a challenge to try to balance everything and not have someone mad at me. I think I have done a fairly good job with it, but my opinion can hardly be described as "objective." I have done all right and while it has been stressful, putting it off will mean missing some even more significant years in the life of my sons.

My first 3 1/2 years in full-time ministry were difficult. The situation to which I was called was tough, at best. The people that we met were great, the pastor that I worked for was full of grace and patience, and the city that we lived in was full of interesting people and exciting opportunities. Things did not go the way that anyway had thought that they would. The ending of the time there happened much faster than we would have liked, but that was probably for the best.

Going back to visit nearly a year and a half after we had left, I had no idea what to expect as far as my emotions were concerned. There were other circumstances that impacted my emotions during the trip as well, although I was unsure of how they might impact them. We intentionally spent time with people and, although we did not see everyone that we would have liked, we saw a good deal of the people that we came to love, and who came to love us during our time there. It was a short visit, but time was well spent, and although we would again miss the people when we left, we felt affirmed in the fact that God had called us elsewhere and His work continues in that place through some amazing people.

The hardest of the 4 things that I had experienced in the past 12 months has got to be my parents' transition. Forget the fact that I am coaching them on house hunting and buying as I am in my third house in 8 years. My parents have lived in the same house and my father has served at the same church since 1974. That's 35 years! He has become a fixture in town. This transition really means that time is marching on. It's one thing to see your grandparents get older but an entirely different thing to see your parents grow older. While they don't necessarily act older, age will slow down anyone.

Time is marching on and I can't slow it down, but I can look at it differently. If I measure my days by what tasks that I have accomplished, time will move quicker. But if I measure my days in the lives that I have interacted with, the people who I have touched in those days, my time and how it is spent will look different. In Galatians 6, Paul writes, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people..." I have to ask myself, "Am I making the most of every opportunity that crosses my path?" It's easy to see people as barriers to accomplishing my goals, do I look at them as such or do I see them as opportunities? Opportunities not necessarily for me to better them, but them to better me.

I heard someone once say, "If you look at the things in your life that you do, you need to evaluate them by asking yourself this question: when you throw them up against the wall of eternity, do they make a mark?" Those words have stuck with me. They are words to live by. I hope that as I end every day that God has allowed me to take part of, I can say that I have seized opportunities and that what was accomplished will be more significant than just having an impact on the temporal. I want to be used by God to make an eternal impact. Do you?

How creative are you?

Have you ever gone to a concert, art exhibit, play, or museum and left with a huge sense of inspiration? It's almost as if the inspiration that the artist had when writing or creating their work is transferred to you. There have been countless times that I have left a concert with such inspiration that I had to go home and try to write something myself. Creativity generates creativity. And of course, the opposite is probably true as well: blandness generates blandness.

I say all this because I have finally been delving into the Mac world after a long resistance. There were a number of reasons for the resistance and the biggest reason for the exposure was work. I seized an opportunity to get a Mac at an incredible price and use it at work. For years I had been hearing about all of the ways that Macs were superior to PCs, but I had never experienced it firsthand. Most people that I spoke with who were involved with any kind of graphics business or music business would rave about their Mac experiences.

I am still a PC user, but I am using a Mac as well now. Yesterday, I decided to use iMovie for the first time. I have had a DV camera since my first son was born and have always wanted to experiment with it but the software that is available for PCs, mostly by Adobe, is pricey. As we are looking at some exciting opportunities in the future at our church, we thought it best to visually promote them. So, we came up with an idea and I ran with it. It was a fairly simple premise, so I shot the video and began work.

By the end of the day, I had a close to finished product (save for some additional editing) that I was able to show people. The most amazing part about it was that the software that I had used was not complicated. I didn't have to spend hours reading through a manual of instructions. I watched a few tutorial videos here and there, and then I just ran with it. The greatest part about it was the creativity that came from this has caused more creativity. I talk to the other pastors and they are excited and are coming up with ideas.

I believe that when God formed us, He made us creative beings. Just a simple look at the makeup of the human body is enough to know that God's creation is complex and wonderful. I have always been so frustrated with the Christian sub-culture that takes something in pop culture and "Christianizes" it. To me, that's not taking the creativity that we have been given. It is not taking our responsibility to worship God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength as seriously as we should.

So, go out and be creative! When you are, you'll inspire someone else to do the same!

I'm new here!

So, it's been a long time coming, and I am finally here in the blogging world. I have been writing notes on Facebook forever and people have been encouraging me to start a blog. So, here I am!

I am preparing to jump into another quarter of school in just a few days, so I'm not sure how often I will get to post, but I will do my best.

Looking forward to engaging in some discussions as we move along the road of life!