Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

One of the clearly bad aspects of my culture--or perhaps what my culture is becoming--is the evasion of responsibility that can be seen everywhere, from the schoolroom, to the boardroom. It's all about finding someone to blame so that we don't ever have to take the blame. There are of course many negative aspects to this attitude, perhaps the most ironic is that in denying personal responsibility we strip our self of any power. I am so pitiful that I can't even mess things up myself.
Perhaps it is one version of that strange principle that Jesus stated on several occasions. Here is one example: ""For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it." (Mk 8:35, NASB95) In avoiding blame we think that we are saving ourselves. By evading responsibility we lose our significance.
Today's Something to Think About tells about a man who bucked the trend and said, "I did it." By owning up to his own responsibility Daniel Naulty became far more powerful than any steroid could make him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Westward at Parbar, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.

I had the priviledge today of speaking at the Chapel service at Appalachian Bible College. I chose the text above, from 1 Chronicles 26:18 as my text because it is a text that speaks of faithfulness. Six of the twenty-four guard stations for the gatekeepers of the Temple area were associated with this place called "Parbar." In 2 Kings 23:11, Parbar is translated as "suburb," or "precinct." I found that it refers to an open area, or maybe a place where mules are kept. Most likely it was an open-sided annex to the Temple, with a road approaching it from the West. At any given time six gate-keepers from the tribe of Levi could be found there. According to 1 Chronicles 9:22 & 26 these gatekeepers occupied an "office of trust." (NASB)
They were expected to be faithful.
For years I had heard people poke fun at this verse. I myself joined in the fun. In fact that characterized part of my message's introduction today. What in the world is a Parbar, and what is this strange line of prose about?
It turns out that the verse isn't about the Parbar, or the causeway (better translation, highway), but about the four and the two--and me and you.
We each have a place to serve, an office of trust.
For me it goes like this: Westward at Parbar, four at the causeway, two at Parbar, and one at Covington.
Find your Parbar and faithfully serve.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Praying or prating? And casting my vote:

I meant to say, "Something to pray about." But the "t" is right next to the "y," so my statement came out "something to prat about." Not only does that not say what I want it to, but it almost says exactly what I don't want it to say. To prate is to to "talk excessively and pointlessly; babble." ( One of the definitions given in the same source sounds like it came from the Bible, "empty or foolish talk." (see Ephesians 5:4 & Proverbs 10:10)
OK, a typo is a typo. I need to be more careful about proof-reading--tough when I try to use the internet as a tool to pass on information quickly--tougher as my coordination deteriorates with age. But my mistake reminded me of all the things I do rather than pray. Paul tells me that I ought to pray rather than worry. I can't argue with the wisdom that says that there is much that I can do after I've prayed, but nothing of consequence that I can (should?) do before I pray.
Anyhow, it was a reminder.

On a totally other note:
I went out and voted in the Virginia presidential primary.
I won't tell you whom I voted for (though you will likely be able to figure it out from my comments), but I did find the various influences that sought to influence my choice to be interesting, and somewhat distressing.

It has been the catchword of the campaign. It seems that the candidates, at least several of them, are appealing to the general idea that "Anything has to be better than this." We are familiar with the adage that defines idiocy as the belief that one can repeatedly do the same thing and somehow end up with a different result. Of course that adage is only true if one is doing the same thing, in the same way, with the same people, and in the same situation. Life is seldom that static or uniform. History is replete with stories of folk who kept on, and finally succeeded. Several years ago I had to get an old cast-iron bathtub out of my house. A plumber friend told me to break it up with a hammer. He told me the first couple of blows would break the porcelin, but after that it would look like I wasn't accomplishing anything. "Just keep on," he said. "It will break." Sure enough, I would say from the 6th to the 25th blow I could see no result. Then I saw it. A crack opened up and soon the tub was reduced to pieces of a manageable size.
It made sense to keep doing the same thing, even though it looked like nothing was happening, all the time expecting a good result, because I knew I was right. My friend had broken up many of these. He told me the truth. So I took another swing, and another, and another . . .
Wilberforce spent most of a lifetime whacking away at the institution of slavery in England. I certainly would have given up. Praise God, he didn't.
This idea of change being the measure of wise behavior--at least during this election cycle--seems to be a first-cousin of postmodernism, if not just an alias.
"What we are doing isn't working." At least not based on the narsasistic standards by which our age makes such judgments. "So we need to do something different."
There is little if any question of what is right. The change advocates are only concerned with what works--narrowly viewed as what works for me.
Policies that are wrong should be changed. Practices that are right ought to be continued. If they are ineffective then we should seek to do right more effectively. We should deal with the opposition. We should honestly ask ourselves the question, "If I have to choose would I rather die right, or pass on with the reputation as being the person who always stayed a step ahead of failure?"
I am seeking to have a conversation with one of my representatives right now. In the past I have asked this representative to vote for some solidly prolife legislation. When he responded he didn't indicate whether he was "fer or agin," rather he said, If we pass this it will be declared unconstitutional and we'll just waste a bunch of money. My reply is, "So?" When something is wrong we cannot merely take a pragmatic approach. "I can't do what is right, so I'll just go along with what is wrong."

Which brings me to another theme of this election cycle. In a way it is the opposite of what I just said. In another way it is the same. Kind of, if I can't choose someone who is 100% right, then rather than chose someone who is 60% right, I'll choose someone who is 90% wrong.
Some people, whom I usually admire, have said that if the candidate they like most doesn't win, then they won't vote for the one who is nearest to their views. Either they will vote the exact opposite or not vote at all. Forgive me, but it sounds like somebody needs to grow up.
My responsibility is to make the best choice I can, not to take my political football home because the choice I want isn't available.
If you want to respond to any of the steam I have blown off, I could probably use the counsel.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ministering "inter-culturally":

The last entry I left here had to do with reaching across cultural barriers to share the good news. The fact that I, and many like me, are facing is that the greatest cultural barrier is not because of the language we speak, the food we eat, clothes we wear, or the way we organize our social lives; the greatest barrier has to do with the nature of people outside of a relationship with Christ.
It isn't very flattering, but Jesus spoke about some of the people of His day--religious people, likely pillars of the society--as being followers--close followers--of their father the devil. In Ephesians 2 Paul says that those outside of Christ are controlled by the course of this world, their own desires, and Satan ("The prince of the power of the air the spirit tht now works in the children of disobedience.") Those of us who have put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior have been taken from darkness and made a part of the Kingdom of Christ. That means that two people may live side by side, even be a part of the same family, and yet be a part of radically different cultures.
So the need is to reach across the cultural divide without violating the principles of my King.
  • I must first separate what is really the will of my Lord, from those things that are just the way my kind, Christians, act. I heard it put this way one time: "Christian living as compared to the way Christians live." The sad fact is that many (often me) who claim the name of Christ, don't live as Christ directs.
  • Then I must learn enough about the particular brand of the world that lives in my neighborhood to be able to communicate. And the longer one has been a Christian the more there is to learn. The fact that we forget and that the world changes, makes this so.
  • Finally, at least for now finally, I need to gain a hearing and actually speak the truth.

In case you haven't noticed I'm looking for some ideas here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I just finished reading Ministering Cross-Culturally, by Lingenfelter and Mayers.
When I started the book I expected to come to a better understanding of my collegues who work in cultures other than their own, and maybe pick up some tips for my own short-term forays into cultures different than my own. I ended up with a better understanding of reaching out to others, even in my own backyard.
The authors point out that we have a personal culture. Perhaps in our highly individualized society that is more pronounced than in other places, but, in particular, as I took the inventory and charted my personal culture in relation to the 12 factors on the survey, I gained a better understanding of the dynamic of my relationships here in my own culture.
I appreciated the authors linking their observations and lessons to Jesus incarnation. He is the only one who ever became 100% other. He is the 200% person--fully God and completely human. The book encourages a more modest goal for the reader--150%. I am who I am. I need to work to enter more fully into the culture of others, whether I am accomodating myself to a neighbor, or fitting in as a guest in another land.
I encourage others who are interested in better communication and ministry to read the book.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Becoming Who We Are:

I have been reading a book, Ministering Cross-Culturally, by Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers.
The book encourages us, God's people, to adapt, change, and be tolerant concerning cultural differences that make reaching out to people who are different than us difficult.
Of course the ultimate example of this cross-cultural ministry is the Lord Jesus Christ becoming one of us.
Last night I read Philippians 2. God the Son became us, so that He might reach us.
I ask myself, "What stretch is too great for me?"

Now, living out that thought . . .

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Vision, Trends, Ideas, etc. for CBC:

This will primarily be of interest to the CBC family, though I have no aversion to others listening in. I would appreciate your ideas, comments, refutations, donations, etc. . . .

Vision, Trends, Direction:

There is no doubt that we are in a critical time in our church. Aren't churches always at a strategic juncture?

So, what do we do?Since I'm only part--really a pretty small part--of what goes on here, all I can talk about is my part. I hope that all of you who are interested enough to read this will ask the same question--"What do I do? (If you are from another church, I hope you will apply the question to your situation.)
In future columns I'll talk about my preaching plan, our emphasis on personal evangelism and some other matters that are really more important than what I'll talk about today, but since the topic of buildings, etc. frequently comes up in conversations both within the church family and from friends in the community, I'll take a moment and speak to that issue.
Again, let me remind you that this is my thinking. It is perfectly OK to challenge me on this. In fact I need some Proverbs 27:17 conversations.
First as far as my long-term desires and goals for CBC go nothing has changed in my vision for developing our property to its maximum potential. Our recent parking lot and grounds upgrade was an important part of that overall vision. I would still like to preach in a new, larger, and more serviceable Worship Center, But:
The present reality is not that we need a new building to accomodate the people. Rather we need new people to occupy the building we have. It was obvious when we were periodically having a Sunday morning attendance well in excess of 200 that larger facilities were needed for continued growth. From where we are now it would take three years of 10%/year growth to get us to an average attendance over 200. When we are clearly headed that way (Please notice that I said "when," not "if"--not because I am so arrogant as to think that I am in charge, but because I want you to know that that is my intention) I will encourage us to once again focus on larger facilities. Our focus always needs to be reaching out to people. At present the size of our facilities is not preventing us from doing that.
Having said that, I would like to knock another way of thinking in the head. We cannot adopt the mentality that says, "We are going to eventually remodel, enlarge, or replace these facilities, therefore doing anything at the present is foolish and wasteful." If the bulldozers or the gutting-crew were in the parking lot, that would be undeniably true, but it is clear that we are a good ways from that. So, we have to constantly look around at our facilities and ask ourselves what can we do to make what we have most usable for as long as the Lord wants us to use these facilities? Our recent upgrades in the sound and projection area were wise investments of resources. We have to keep in mind that maintaining attractive, comfortable, well-functioning facilities is part of what it takes to reach out to people. One sure way of making sure that we never have to expand our facilities is to allow our present facilities to go down, reasoning that, "We are going to eventualy replace them, anyhow." With that in mind, a committee is currently looking into options to upgrade our Worship Center, our trustees are planning work on our main entrance and some other maintenance/improvement projects, and all of us need to have an attitude of making the most of what we have--realizing that sometimes that will require some carefully planned investment of resources.
Stay tuned. And in the words of an old favorite Word of Life song, "Let's go Covington Bible Church."

This post was updated 2/6