What if Christians were on the same team?

So, I wrote a few weeks ago about when Christians occasionally rise up and surprise you with their devotion to the mission of Christ rather than the construction of their own private enterprises.

Well, sadly, this week I was reminded about how often many Christians do otherwise.

Just north of Seattle, a small church (400-500 people) owns two properties due to their merger with another church in their city of the same non-denominational brotherhood. The merger, several years ago, was broadcast at the time as a unique story in the quest of “unity” among believers. In fact, I remember being very impressed at the decision of two leadership groups coming together (setting aside small differences) to be one body in their community.

The strange thing is that in the middle of all this a smaller ethnic (Filipino) church of about 110 people was renting the now vacant building of the church that had merged with the other. This Filipino church, though, was of the same non-denominational brotherhood as the other two, but somehow strangely left out of the “unity movement.”

Several years later, this conglomerate church has experienced tremendous upheaval in leadership and membership attendance and is now strongly pursuing a land sale of the building being rented by the Filipino church. Though the property is totally paid for and bringing in money monthly due to a cell tower and renters fees, this conglomerate church is approaching a multi-million dollar payout in a sale. Faced with this prospect of large sums of capital, the church is proceeding with the sale.

Now, the sad part is that this unique Filipino church, of their same brotherhood, has absolutely no place to go if this sale goes through. They have investigated other rental partnerships with churches in their city, but to no avail. They have looked into land purchase, but they don’t have enough capital.

And though the leaders of the conglomerate church are aware of their situation and have made small attempts to convince future buyers to consider a continued rental relationship with the Filipino church, the overall sense is that this little ethnic church is not their problem.

As I thought about this situation this week, I wondered what kind of leader I would be in the same dilemma. Millions of dollars, but small church dies? Or modest monthly income, but church continues?

Sell-out or status-quo?

My question is: Isn’t this more than a financial decision? Isn’t it at a deeper level a very spiritual one as well?
I guess my problem is that the whole situation gives me the same feeling as when I read about a large grocery chain taking over a small mom-and-pop store. It is the same feeling I get when an apartment complex is sold to a developer who changes them into condominiums and gives the un-expectant tenants 60 days to move.

The only difference: it’s the body of Christ evicting another part of the body.

1 Corinthians 12 says that we are all members of one body. Do we really believe that? Do we think it only applies to the individuals in our own pews? Does it only apply to people of our ethnicity or in churches we would label as financially legitimate?

Somehow I think that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that “we would all be one as He and the Father are one” (my paraphrase) meant more than this. Maybe it is time that we embrace one another. All of us. Not just our own local church members, but the members of the local church down the street. Maybe it is time we see beyond our walls, beyond our pews, beyond our race, beyond our definition of success, beyond our own small empires and realize that we are all on the same team.

What is good for Christ’s name in this world is good for us all.
We are all on the same team.

“May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” — Jesus’ prayer.

Maybe us realizing we are on the same team is what the world is waiting on.

Ladybug Phobia

I hope our daughter doesn’t develop a neurotic fear of ladybugs and dragonflies. If so, it will be my fault. Or, more appropriately, her mother’s fault.

I spent most of this past week getting Paytyn’s room ready for her. Not that i don’t enjoy hearing her turn over and grunt all night long right next to our bed while i’m trying to sleep, but i know that eventually (by age 9 or so) she’ll probably want to move out of mom and dad’s bedroom.

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I had actually planned on being ready with the room before she was born. But even though I had very carefully planned (with the help of the cool calendar the doctor has) the exact day of her birth, she decided to come about three weeks early. So, she is here, and i’m still fixing up the room.

We have a crib, dresser, changing table, diaper pail, laundry basket, bookshelf, lamps, toy box, rocking chair and stool, and any number of other baby things that go in a nursery. The problem is, prior to a baby, we had a lot of other stuff in there too. So, i spent the week pulling stuff out, throwing stuff away, moving stuff in my garage and then organizing the stuff that had to go in.

My big task this weekend was to put up stickers of ladybugs and purple dragonflies all over the room. I didn’t even know they made such a thing until i met them at BabysRUS. But, they fit the theme of the room–which includes a whole hive of ladybugs (do they live in hives?) and purple dragonflies. And so, i carefully pulled them off their backing and placed them in aesthetically strategic places all over the room.

It’s funny when i think that with painting, organizing, and decorating the room (to my wife’s exact specifications), i have probably spent more time on the ambiance of that room than any other in my house. Painting alone took quite a bit of time. But it was really the rest of the detail work that has taken most of the time. What style crib should we get her? What color wood should it be? Should we get the dresser that matches and a matching changing table? Or should we just get a matching dresser/changing table combo? What style rocker-glider chair should we get? Is it wide enough? Does the wood color match? Is the ladybug lamp a little overkill on bug deco? What color curtains will look nice? On and on and on and on . . .

And after hours and hours, i realized this weekend, we still aren’t done. There is still a few little touches to add to make the room perfect.

Now, at first i thought my wife had completely lost her mind. I mean, after all, it’s not like the baby can even see more than shadows of light and dark right now anyway. But, the more i helped prepare the room, the more i began to catch the fever as well. My eye for decoration has never been this “on fire.” Makes me wanna watch the home and garden channel or something.

And as i sat around drinking my coffee this morning (a good late monday start is perfect for any youth pastor’s week) thinking about these final touches i could add after work tonight, I realized why I am so caught up in it all. I don’t really love decorating and preparing a room. I really love my daughter.

I love my daughter. There is something so exciting about knowing she is gonna grow and change and move into this room and look around and (hopefully) love ladybugs. The idea that she is a part of our family is mind-blowing. The idea that her vision of home will be this room that I am preparing is exhilarating. And in the end, i’m not doing it because i enjoy it on its own, but because of my excitement in creating a small part of her place in our home. I’m excited about her.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words one time. He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would i have told you that i go to prepare a place for you? And if i go and prepare a place for you, i will come again and will take you to myself, that where i am you may be also.”

What if heaven isn’t so much about our excitement to be there, but of God’s long-suffering excitement to be with us? What if God is preparing to come and live with us with the same intensity and joy that a new father takes in carefully planning each detail of his daughter’s new room? What if God is using every ounce of his unlimited creativity to prepare our part of his house?

You know, in that case, it might not really be about the room itself? Maybe the streets of gold and diamond goblets and all that God can create aren’t really the payoff. Maybe the beauty of heaven isn’t any of the stuff God actually dreams up as decoration, but in the desiring, preparing, anticipating love of a Father for his child to come home.

How crazy?! I always thought that it was us that would be the most excited to be in heaven. But, what if the person most excited about heaven is God? What if the greatest joy is His?

That i would spend solid xbox time placing ladybug stickers on a wall is to non-fathers out there, a little crazy. But, crazier still, that an Infinite Creator God would spend even half a second thinking about my eternal home is just plain unfathomable. And if that’s the case, then i don’t care what the decorations are, i only know i wanna be loved by someone like that. I most desperately want to be a part of that family.

I hope Paytyn grows up and feels that way too. And i hope she doesn’t develop a severe phobia of all things bugs.

Occasionally Christians Make You Proud…

Christians are embarrassing.

Pretty much everyday i find something that proclaimed Christians do that makes me embarrassed to be one. They vote republican blindly. They proliferate bigotry. They worship their church buildings. They talk in ways that no one else understands. They defend things they don’t need to and abandon people that do. They are more about material emperialism than God’s Kingdom. And, they look and act, well . . . goofy.

Ok, so not all Christians. There certainly are people that are trying to live their lives in the grace and love that Jesus taught and gave freely. But it does seem like there is a lot of disappointment among Christians in our generation, doesn’t there? In fact, most the time i don’t even identify myself by that title anymore. I prefer, “Follower of Jesus” or about anything else that identifies myself with God, but not the stereotypical “Christian.”

However, occasionally, a Christian might just pop up and surprise you. In this case, even a whole church body.

Several months ago a large storm hit the Oregon coast where my family lives. We are talking 85 mph winds, sustained, and gusts up to 120 mph for about 16 hours. And when the storm hit, it basically devastated the entire region. It was declared a federal disaster area, people were being helicoptered out of their homes, and every highway in or out was completely blocked by hundreds and hundreds of downed trees.

My dad is a preacher in a small rural church there on the Oregon coast. And after the storm, they found that their church roof was old, leaking, missing shingles and needing repair. However the cost of replacing an entire roof of the building was a huge cost for a church of 50-60 people.

So, one member went home and called her sister on the east coast to tell her to pray that the church would be able to finance it. This sister then went to her weekly small prayer group of women from her church. She shared the prayer request, they prayed, and at the end one woman said she felt called to help in the situation. So they took an offering among just a few women and collected $500.00

But the story didn’t end there. This sister then went to her church leaders. She told the story of this small church that was reaching the disenfranchised on the Oregon coast and the obstacle they faced with their roof. And these remarkable leaders looked at their church budget and saw that they had brought in more monetary gifts that year than they created a budget for. And so they had already sent 2/3 of this overrun to other ministries and had kept 1/3 for their own ministry. But, after hearing this story, these CHRISTIANS decided to send their third of the overrun to a little church in Astoria, Oregon that they had never been to so they could fix their roof.

Crazy thing. They didn’t just ask to pay for the re-roofing bill. Instead, last week, this small church in Oregon received a check from brothers and sisters on the east coast that they will probably never meet this side of heaven for $15,600.00.

Will the roof even cost that much? I doubt it. Maybe only 2/3 of it. But the church told them to keep whatever was leftover and use it to bless the community of Astoria by extending their ministry in it to the disenfranchised.

Wow. I don’t even know what to say. Most churches i know are so concerned about building their own little empires they don’t even consider the needs of other churches. How can we build a bigger building? What would a new HD projector cost? Would more kids be attracted to our youth ministry if we paid for a climbing wall? I mean, this church wasn’t even in their own denomination! And who would have cared whether a tiny church in rural Oregon that no one has ever heard of would have gotten a new roof?

Christians.

I gotta say, when i see people acting in sacrifice and love, in the way of Jesus . . . it makes me proud to be a Christian. You can say a lot about the people just giving themselves the label of Christian but when you encounter people branded with the life of Christ and caring more about His cause than their own agendas, it feels different and their lives leave behind a trail of impact.

So, for today, I’m a Christian. I just hope I’m one that other people are proud of too.

Near-sighted Committee

Roger Clemens is guilty.

Why am i even writing about this? I guess it is because since i was home helping with the baby for the past few weeks that i was available to watch the entire 5-hour debacle that was Clemens before Congress. And as a huge sports fan and a proud american, i’m not sure which i am most disappointed with: Clemens or Congress.

Now, i know all the evidence isn’t out and there hasn’t exactly been a “real” trial, but i find it very difficult at this point to believe the 7-time Cy-Young winner. His trainer admits to giving him shots of steroids and HGH. His best friend and work out partner admits that Clemens’ trainer gave him HGH. That same friend, under extreme guilt and confession, admits that Clemens told him that he had been using HGH. Chuck Knoblauch, Clemens’ teammate admits that Clemens’ trainer gave him steriods and HGH. Mike Stanton, another teammate, says he saw Clemens bleeding through his pants and confronted him on steriod use. MRI’s from an abscess on Clemens’ butt cheek has been identified by specialists as consistent with injections of Winstroll, a strong horse steroid. And to top it all off, Clemens’ own wife admits that the trainer injected her with HGH in the Clemens’ own master bedroom.

With all of the people Clemens was closest to admitting they used steroids and HGH from McNamee, and many confessing that Roger did too, how do you believe the only voice opposed? Particularly when that voice is the voice of the accused, and the only one with so much to lose.

I doubt this will ever be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court somewhere, but the evidence is increasingly strong. And as a sports fan during this era, i am completely robbed. The best hitter (Barry Bonds) and the best pitcher (Roger Clemens) of my era are total frauds. Almost makes your time and money spent watching supposed history be made feel like an identity-theft scheme.

But, despite my major disappointment in sports, i think i am most disturbed by the people we have somehow elected into Congress! What i saw on tv was the single most embarrassing thing i have seen our government take part in. I mean there were congressman there that didn’t even know how to pronounce the names of the main defendant in the hearing! Rather than seeking the truth of the matter, one congressman even asked what jersey Clemens would be wearing into the hall of fame!

Maybe most sad was the partisanship. To a person, the republicans in the room came in backing Clemens and firing at McNamee. On the other side, each Democrat came in backing McNamee and attacking Clemens. As you watched the hearing, it was blatantly obvious that many had come into the hearing with their minds already made up and some sort of agenda to push. In fact, since each congressman had only 15 minutes to ask questions, most of them either didn’t ask questions and used their time to orate a sermon loaded with their agenda, or they asked questions and never listened to the answer!

There is so much more to be disgusted in that i could be writing this blog forever. However, bottom line, i was embarrassed. If this is how Congress acts investigating baseball (which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t really matter–why are they involved anyway?), how scary is it that they are investigating things that really do matter? If republicans and democrats can’t come together to find truth in a simple game, how can we expect them to ever come together to run a country?

Oversight committee? More like Near-sighted committee.

So, here we are in election season. Makes you wonder whether anyone you vote for can ever effect positive change in a system that is so obviously broken.

Wow. i’m cynical today.

Rock-a-bye-baby

I don’t think that i have ever been this tired in my whole life.

Seriously.

Tania told me last night, “it’s like we are doing a youth all-nighter event, every single night.” And, i guess she is right. I mean, i had the expectation that things would be a little crazy in the beginning. I suppose i just didn’t totally realize how much effort and normal sleeping hours go into caring for a small human life. It really wears you out. Two nights in a row i got maybe one-hour of sleep each night. And since then it has been pretty sparse too.

But, as tired as i am, there are those moments at 3:00am just after Tania has fed Paytyn while i am rocking her to sleep that i look down and see her yawn and my heart melts. There are those moments when she starts fussing and crying and i pick her up and softly call her name and she settles right down, as if she just knows the sound of her dad’s voice. There was that time that she wouldn’t sleep and i held her and started swaying and singing a quiet david crowder song to her and she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Moments that make sleep unnecessary, almost unwanted.

And it was in that last moment that i was reminded of a minor prophet in the Old Testament. Ok, possibly a little weird, but it seems i have been learning a lot about God and his relationship with me as i think about Paytyn and my relationship with her.

So anyway, in Zephaniah, God has this pecular thing that he tells His people. And what is most stark to me this morning is the context in which he says it. He says this strange thing right into the middle of what will be the darkest most painful moment of their history. A time of unsettling, crying, anguish.

What He says are the words of a dad to a child… “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

It’s as if God were Paytyn’s dad, He would take her in His arms as she cries, look over her, tell her He is there and that everything will be ok. And then He would look at her, even as she cries and strangely feel this love and delight and joy in who she is. And as she cries He, her Creator, would stoop over her and softly sing her to sleep.

I wonder how often i see God this way. I wonder how often God sees me all messed up. Crying for no reason. Not understanding why the diaper needs to be changed. Not understanding that the shirt sometimes needs to be changed even if i was comfortably asleep at the time. Not appreciating all the sleepless night and worn out hours spent taking care of every need.

And what if, in that moment that i am most oblivious and most upset, that God picks me up and rather than me singing david crowder songs to Him, he takes more delight in singing one of His songs over me.

“Quiet…Daddy is here….everything is going to be ok…rock a bye baby…”

How is it that i can love such a small thing that only sleeps, poops, eats and cries? Though she will, there is not even yet the capacity for Paytyn to yet reciprocate my love. And yet, as i sing over her during these sleepless nights, i find that i am falling in love and that it matters not whether she loves me back because i will always love her.

I think i’m starting to get how God feels about us. Either that or i’m just sleep deprived and delirious.