Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Hard Part of Lent

What's the hardest part of Lent? Some would say getting started, especially if they are of a persuasion that gives up something they really enjoy, like chocolate, golf, or March madness basketball. But that is also why the meaning of Lent sometimes is lost on us since we get to pick what we give up in order to concentrate on a higher calling and remember the sacrifice Christ made. We usually pick an "add-on" to our lives rather than essential parts to "give up" for Lent. If we are not careful, God Himself can become an "add-on" rather than the Center and Life itself. Others may claim that the end of Lent is the hardest. It has been six weeks since the beginning and if you are planning on going back to eating, using, and enjoying some part of your life that you put on hold for six weeks the last few days can be agonizing. For those, the thought of ______ can overwhelm the senses and the imagination and thoughts of Jesus and His agony fall victim to our own, which is in itself a pretty good teaching point itself. But for many, if not most, the middle days of Lent are the hardest. You are half-way but not quite. The routine sameness has taken hold and meaning can easily be lost in the mundane. This is seen in the worship routine, the marriage routine, and the work routine. Humans long for stimulation of mind, body, and soul. The dreaded middle is a part of any relationship or system or calendar when the beginning can hardly be remembered and the end can't been seen. This is why some worshippers fall away after reaching the middle and the excitement of conversion has been replaced with a call to steadily walk in quiet submission with Jesus. That's why many marriages break up in the middle. The partners call it an end and find a more exciting beginning with someone else only to find in a few years they are right back in the middle again. In the case of Lent everyone arrives at the half way point at the same so there are no pilgrims coming back to say the end is up ahead and it's worth the journey. There are no stragglers to whom those farther along might call back words of encouragement. All are on the same journey and at the same place: the middle of Lent. But some of the greatest lessons occur during the middle. What is true in Lent is true in life. There are experiences and lessons that one can actually recall that got you to this point. The maturity of the middle and the journey to this point helps us to imagine joys at the end and remember that there is an end. Though not unique to Christianity, Christianity has more nearly perfected the art of remembering what hasn't yet happened. This "memory" encourages the middle pilgrim. The Bible calls these promises, and Jesus to Paul to Peter to John recommended their usage. So look around you. People all over are in the middle of something. They are in the middle of an argument; the middle of treatment; the middle of a project; the middle of a book; the middle of the week. It's just as far back as it is forward, so you might as well go forward, that's where the fulfillment of the promise is found. So weak by weak (there's no misspelling there) we muddle along through the middle. There's no false bravado about the middle being the best. The best in Christ is truly yet to come. But there is also no despair needed in our being about half way through anything for when you look really well you find Jesus right in the middle with us. Hopefully He finds us right in the middle of His will. And that is always a good place......... Cos

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Lent Ness Monster

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster dates back at least to the seventh century. The tales of a prehistoric creature inhabiting Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands was popularized in 1933 with sightings that purportedly came from honest, upstanding individuals. The story was subsequently published in London. Whether true or hoax, publicity stunt, or a practical joke that got away from someone, the legend persists. The old gal even has a nickname, Nessie. Some say Nessie is alive, some give "proof" that Nessie existed but has died within the last 20 years, others say it was all just a good story. What do you say? We seem to treat Lent a lot like the Loch Ness Monster. Some say it does exist and look intently for truth and meaning in a period of reflection during its six weeks. Others say Lent served its purpose but really died years ago except as a quaint remembrance of simpler days gone by. A few may say Lent was a good story but finds little or no basis in Scripture. What do you say? There are indeed some monsters that can chew up people and even their faith associated with the church. These were not only in her past but persist in modern forms that need to become extinct or at least be relegated to ancient folklore and not allowed to feast on the unsuspecting lambs within the church or the society around the church that expected something different but got the same wolves in religious clothing. Jesus fought these spiritual monsters who used the Pharisee's legalism to do their bidding. The early church fought these monsters of racial and class divisions, rituals, traditions, and often forms of heresy about who Jesus is and how He relates to humanity. Our modern monsters are no less real but appear sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant in their disregard for grace, mercy and the love of God. I'd nominate a few to be aware of that might me hiding in the lochs of our own lives. One is the dual-headed monster of Mean-ness and Control-ness. These shouldn't be named in the church but they are there. They always have been, maybe they always will be, but do they have to be named in me or you? So many things in this fallen world we have little or no control over but in our lives we can slay these fiery dragons of needing to control everyone and every situation. And when we don't get our way, we don't have to be mean about it. No, this monster probably doesn't rate with the debate concerning the hypostatic union of Christ but it shows up in living rooms, bedrooms, and meeting rooms in homes and churches. I hope it becomes extinct. Let's fight it with humble submission to the sovereign Lordship of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. Another "Nessie" is modern at least in form. There is a "Princess-ness" run amok in the daughters of the American church. We need solid doses of Corrie ten Boom, Joni Erikson-Tada, Tillie Bergin, Susanna Wesley and Lottie Moon applied to the Pink Culture. Who are little girl's heroines? Sarah, Abe's wife? How about Naomi or Ruth? Mary or Martha? Priscilla perhaps? Rahab was cool but kinda hard to explain but surely Jesus' mother Mary could offer a few lessons on trust and obedience. Disney gave us Cinderella and Snow White. Even the greater society knows something is amiss. (see Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, HaperCollins) What does the church have to say to this movement away from sacrifice and servanthood? What do you and I say? (I know, the letters are coming.............) Equal time please? Ok, who is addressing the "Disingaged -Ness" of the American male in spiritual matters. I realize our churches are filled with men trying to worship, serve and do the right thing. But over and over I read and often see men, good men, who are disengaged spiritually, especially with their mates, families, and each other. When is the last time you had a good spiritual discussion with another guy? Don't get me wrong, servanthood is spiritual. Doing things, fixing things, building things is spiritual. No false dichotomies please between material and spiritual. But come on guys: prayed with another guy lately? Your wives? Your kids? Have you even for a few minutes confessed a sin, wondered about God's working in your life, shared a verse of encouragement to a family member or another Christian male? Did you feel as uncomfortable reading this paragraph as I did writing it? What do you say? Start easy if you need to. Ask a trusted friend to pray about something for you. In a month or two, ask him to pray with you about it. Join a bible study. In a month, ask a question. Get engaged. One more and I'll quit. Has the monster of "Same-ness with the World-ness" been seen in your neighborhood? This one is sneaky. He manages very slippery slopes yet when I spot him and try to attack him, I fall down those very slopes on which he lopes. If you tell me I eat too many twinkies, I may want to tell you you drink too much beer. We may both be right but we let things slide lest we start falling down the slippery slope of judgementalism. If I tell you Christians shouldn't watch dirty movies and then you hear me quote from "Saving Private Ryan" in a Memorial Day sermon and call me on my R rated patriotism, I start having to make exceptions and down the slippery slope I go. So "Same-ness with the World-ness" goes on unchecked and we wonder why more of our culture doesn't want to follow our Savior. Tell me, who do you respect enough to let them tell you "no," that's not good for you or society or your walk with Jesus? Have you had it with my monsters ball? Did I make all these up or have you seen them yourselves? Maybe these are all just minor myths or visions produced by an overactive, twinkie induced imagination. Or possibly we need more Lent-ness monsters: contemplative-ness on the truths of scripture, open-ness to the possibility of a greater life of faith, repentence from the sinful-ness in our own hearts, a deeper devoted-ness to Christ that the Lenten season is intended to encourage in our lives to help us face the other "Nesses" we may encounter. What do you say? Cos-ness

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random Thoughts on What Church Newsletter Should Contain

--Pastor and former trustee president George the 1st were caught spreading mulch last week. Unfortunately it was spread from Rob Tennison's drive way into the back of Pastor Cosby's pick-up while it was still in the bag. Pastor Cosby acted as the getaway driver. George the 1st said it didn't look like Tennison was using it. The pastor's wife made him return it. Rob, a Shakespeare scholar, said it was "mulch a-do about nothing." --Executive Assistant (title used to be secretary but since we didn't give her a raise we changed her title) Glenna has plans to travel some over the upcoming spring break. She and Danny are going to see Uncle Al in Albuquerque, Aunt Ginger in Denver, cousin Maud in Claude, and the Tines in Turpin, OK. Well, sure, everyone knows the Turpin Tines. --As our church begins the process of finding a new minister of music we accidentally found ourselves having something in common with Italian opera lore. They have the three tenors, we have the three interims, Tom, Dwayne, and John. One of their first moves, in light of the recent attack on member's hearts, knees, prostates, lungs, hips, backs, and other body parts that has folks from chapel receiving treatment from Houston to Dallas to Cleburne to Arlington to Ft. Worth to Waco to Whitney is to adopt a new church theme song. The new church song the three interims desire all to learn by memory (in case of cataracts) is "Is There a Balm in Gilead?" You want to read a couple of books that might wind your clock? Then try Radical by David Platt or Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Radical might have been called normal Christian thinking two generations ago. It's not all that radical in concept but points out the western church's radical departure in many areas from belief to practice. Francis Chan's book was harder for me. It was tough toned but maybe I needed to hear what he had to say. Maybe you do to. I was glad to know that these young pastor's have to courage to talk tough principles to their principally young audiences. Mindsets, habits, entertainment, selfishness, spending, and devotion are called into question in these books with a view toward moving the church deeper in love and response to Jesus and away from materialism and lack of Biblical convictions. I'm not saying I enjoyed these books but I'm glad I read them. Try them yourself. Along those lines here is a quote from G. K. Chesterton... well first let me tell you a bit about Chesterton. he was an English writer, poet and professor. He was born about 1874 and lived until just before WWII. He was a big man with a bigger wit. He loved to laugh and was unorganized but brilliant. In America you may know him from the Father Brown detective series of books which were later made into a tv movies. He had some influence on someone you know better C S Lewis. Now for the quote: "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without conviction." Chesterton might not be tolerated in our post-modern, post Christian world where all truth is relative, where the supreme good is my enjoyment, and the spiritual gives way to the flesh. If we're not careful the church in America may start tolerating sexual sins, gay marriage, gambling, and spending more on fertilizer for our yards than we do on missions and evangelism. Nah, that will never happen. Would it? Anyway, read more Chesterton and Jesus who said, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Cos