Sunday, July 2, 2017

VALUING THE GENERATIONS

We talk a lot of about loving our neighbors and about how to treat the lost. Recently I have talked a great deal about objectifying people by placing them in categories by their religion, political party, sexual orientation, etc., and then reducing them to a set of bullet points we can attack. When we are filled with compassion it means we, at the gut level, feel their personal hurts and pains and empathize with the reasons why they think or feel like they do. Instead of judging them we can love them into a relationship with Christ. Without love we can never lead them to Christ from an objective position.
With that in mind, I want to talk to you about intergenerational relationships…
There is a lot of marketing being done by targeting age groups. It began with the Baby Boomers (those born between 1945-1965) and the  GenX/Baby Busters (1966-1986). Finally they identified Generation Y/Millennials (1987-2007), and on it goes. As each group is identified and marketed towards, the characteristics of each generation are used to make sweeping conclusions about each generation that are often unfair.
For instance, critics of Baby Boomers say they are greedy, self-centered, and materialistic. Critics of GenX say they  are deconstructionist, nihilist, and don’t play by the rules. Then critics of the Millennials think they need trophies for everything and melt at the slightest hardship. However, I can say I know lots of generous, selfless Boomers. I know GenX who are “by the book” and find meaning in everything. I know Millennials who live sacrificial lives on the mission field completely free of accolades. Assumptions about people based on age are not entirely unfounded, but when we use that information to dismiss,  belittle, or judge whole groups of people then we have violated the Spirit of Christ.  
These intergenerational struggles have been around since the beginning when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, when Cain killed Abel and their parents gave birth to Seth. It's normal, but normal is messed-up and sinful. Being normal does not make something ok. In 1 Timothy 5 we read: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” The church is called to view each generation as a gift to the body. Every generation has strengths (and, yes, weaknesses), and we need to glean from every generation what they know, what they do best, and value them for it.
Listen, the next generation does not lack information because they have the Internet, but what they need is sage wisdom in what to do with that information. The older generation may not know as much about the Internet, but they know how to do things you are trying to learn from a YOUTUBE video. They have life skills that once were common and now are virtually unknown. More than that, discussion about what is happening in the world right now, seeing it through the eyes of more than one generation, gives us perspective. I love when I get to talk with and listen to people from different perspectives because they help me develop a bigger picture.
In the church, we need the youth to engage and be the church today, not the church of the future. That will be too late. We must reach the young without dismissing everyone else.  
We need the life skills and resources of other generations. We need parents and grandparents; we need to remember every “new thing” is not really that new. In fact, it has often been done before, and we can learn from the past as well as the present. We need the patience of those who know “it” will still be here tomorrow, and we need the exuberance of youth who push us ahead because it seems like we will never get there otherwise.
Intergenerational ministry is as important as intercultural and interracial ministries. We are called to reach every ethnicity, every culture, and every age group with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s never ok to make it all about this group or that group or to value one group over the other. No matter how you justify that position, in the end, it violates the spirit of the gospel and the Kingdom.


Monday, June 19, 2017

THE FATHER HEART OF GOD AND FATHER'S DAY


Mother’s Day is always a big hit. We spend billions of dollars on flowers, candy, and cards to tell Moms how wonderful and important they are. Father’s Day on the other hand gets little notice and tends to belittle men rather than value them. So many men view Father’s Day at church with suspicion, believing that they will be lectured in contrast to Mom’s praises. So that is why I always try to make Father’s day upbeat and positive. Yesterday, we gave out Beef Jerky to all the men, and we told the men of our church that they are awesome. Let me tell you why the church today needs to know the Father Heart of God.

One of the most important images in the Bible is the Father image. You cannot read the Bible and not see the importance of the Father Heart of God to understanding the story of the Bible. When I became a Christian I became acutely aware of the imagery of God in the Bible as Father, and of his unconditional love. I read clearly in the Bible that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us. I also read that God so loved the World that he sent his Son. Together those two passages told me that God loved me, and there was nothing he would not do for me, so while there was a lot about the Bible and Christianity I did not understand I was at least certain of that. One of the things that made this easiest to grasp was my own earthly dad. While my Dad was not a perfect man, I knew for certain he loved me, and he would do anything for me, this helped me to grasp the idea that regardless of my behavior God that loved me. So I easily attached myself to the Father Heart of God. I know that many people did not have a loving dad when they were growing up, but I know that as human beings, deep-down inside, we know it is supposed to be that way, that they should have had unconditional love from their dad’s.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying my dad was a pushover. I not saying my dad never expressed disappointment in me, or frustration over my behavior. My dad and I had some pretty serious fights, especially in my teen years. What my dad did so well was to convey unconditional love for me. He constantly told me he loved me, he never avoided showing me manly affection of hugs, kissing my head, and swatting me on the butt as I ran onto the football field or into the ring. My dad called me pet names, like Tiger and Champ. He also told me what I was good at, and praised me for the things I did well. My Dad showed me his heart for me. He also busted my chops, and my butt, depending on which he thought I needed. I learned about leadership from him. I learned about not running away from my problems (or he would give my ball back to the kids I ran away from). My dad also taught me to face my fears, and he taught me to shake off my failures and get back in the game. He put me behind the wheel within minutes of my first accident and made me drive home so I would not let my fears overcome me. By his love for me my dad taught me more about God than anyone else in the whole world.

Listen, the stats are overwhelmingly in favor of growing up with a dad, even a not so great dad. Children raised with a father in the house are far less likely to be abused or live in poverty. Moreover, dad is the number one determiner of faith. The likelihood of a child being an authentic disciple of Christ is directly proportionate to dad’s faithfulness. Dad matters!

If you did not have that in your life I am so sorry. I know our Father in Heaven can make it right, and heal the broken place in your heart to reveal God’s great love for you. But if you did grow-up in a home with a loving Dad, make sure and tell him how much his love means to you!

Friday, April 28, 2017

BEAUTIFUL THINGS

Since my youth I have always heard that you should give your best to God. In my early church years it was an argument for dressing up in a suite & tie but then I always wondered why those same persons had formal attire they only wore to weddings and balls.  I guess giving their best to God had limits . . . ?

Nonetheless, there is some actual truth behind giving God our best that exceeds church cultural hang-up. It is that we should not give God our leftovers, or our half-hearted efforts, or sloppy craftsmanship, but to give and do our best to the glory of God. In the medieval period 90% of art, music, and theater in Western society was considered to have a Christian worldview. Now less than 10% of the arts are Christian in worldview and often times those are substandard in quality. Many Christian recording artist settled on a Christian music label because of a lack of quality rather than a conviction to make Christian music. Today most Christian art falls into the "Jesus Junk" category of bumper sticker religion.

When you study the Old Testament the commitment to craftsmanship in the building of the temple was impeccable. Likewise if you look at some of the grand old cathedrals of times long past, the artwork is incredible. While I am not an advocate of ornate church buildings, preferring the more minimalist architecture of modern church buildings, I still believe in giving our best to God. The words I am looking for are quality and excellence but often times we do not associate that also with beauty. Somehow beauty is all too often thought of as frivolous or as shallow. In contrast we have the creative God who made the mountains, the sea, the valley, and everything in them, along with everything in the heavens all the way to the stars; these things are beautiful.

I imagine that in the midst of all of our failures that God's view of these things that bring us such joy when we gaze upon them must also touch the heart of God who made them, and bring continual pleasure to him. In reflection of this we added to our values statement something I once read 17 years ago: God is beautiful and his creation reflects his beauty: God created man and woman in his image and likeness who also create works of beauty. For this reason we value the arts, expression, and creativity. Often times we neglect the value of beauty or make light of it as an extra expense or as unnecessary but as we seek to imitate God we remember that he is the author of all things beautiful, so part of imitating him comes in this expression also.

In very practical terms it means that I do all that I do with this value when I paint a wall, or I create a business report, or make a presentation for school, or suture a wound, or cut the grass, or make a website, or any other job I do, that I bring glory to God by doing beautiful work or creating a sculpture, or writing beautiful songs. These all glorify God and go against the tide of "good enough" or worse yet, cutting corners because it's cheap or more convenient.

The Bible says, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

When I read that passage I feel compelled to give God my very best, and when I say that, I don't mean that it must be expensive, or ornate, or that I should compare my work with others. I simply mean that I would not slop my way through it or only give God my leftovers. And furthermore, that when others go the extra mile to make something truly beautiful we would not disregard it as frivolous or shallow, but see their  craftsmanship and give glory to God because of it.

God makes beautiful things and you are one of them. So when you give God your best you make beautiful things because you are created in his image.