Archive for the ‘Friday Forum’ Category

October, specifically the last 10 days or so, has always been my favorite season of the year. I’m  Houston native, so the realities of growing up in a home with no air conditioning made the cooling off of Fall into the stuff of daydreams and visions in the heat shimmer coming off the concrete. Also, there was the eager expectation of the sanctioned gluttony and wantonness of Halloween …we weren’t church people, or even Christians really, so all was fair as long as Dad didn’t have to pay for anything and nobody went to the hospital…pretty good system from a kid’s-eye view.

Later in life, I became enthralled with the spectacle of the natural cycle…spring inspires many, but for me fall is much more mysterious; watching vibrant life transition into restful slumber,  fills me with a breathtaking faith in, and expectation of, a promised rebirth – I cannot explain it any better than that, I have tried but it escapes definition. I actually flirted with paganism briefly in college, looking for some deeper meaning in the forest, rather than the One who made the trees in the first place. (Wow, if you ever want proof that God has a sense of humor, consider that twenty five years later, that same confused, crisp-air-and-candy-addled young man would be writing a blog post instead of finishing the most important sermon he has ever been asked to present…I couldn’t pitch that on public access, let alone network TV.)

There’s a cold front moving in this evening; the wind is dragging the tree branches against the house, and it makes the dogs anxious. Karen is tired, and her irregular sleep schedule makes her anxious and irritable as well, but God bless her, she is working so hard to not take it out on anyone, and she is succeeding enough to earn the “A”, so all is well there. I have a full slate of projects to get focused on, and while I fervently prayed not to find myself in the position I’m in with some areas, we are past that point, and it is what it is. I am faced with a decision, and I do not have all the information I need to make it, nor a definable deadline. That does not absolve me of the responsibility to answer my calling to the best of my ability, where He put me, until such time as He sees fit to move me elsewhere. The prison ministry I serve makes a point of explaining to our participants the difference between the two Greek words used in the New Testament to describe time: chronos – linear time, as measured by humans,  with the expectation of schedules and timetables that we can manipulate and control; and kairos, “God’s time”, the “fullness of time”, the time that God has ordained for this thing to come to be. We have no control over this kind of time; we can neither hurry things along, nor hold them back. Living in this kind of time requires a rock-solid faith, a willingness to go to a country we have not seen yet, but will be shown the way as we go. Jesus reboots that, and shows us how to get to that country – from Mark 8:

34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Denying myself does not mean that I don’t use the gifts I have been given…it means that this whole last year has been intensive training in how to use them properly, so that I serve God and not my own ego or interests. I have failed in this area before, but I have learned much since then…and I have had success, too. It came when I began to do the work for God and not for me –  this verse is pinned to the wall beside my monitor:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

My heart is wringing out, I see confused, hurting people all around me, and I must minister to them…this is what I am here to do. If there is more to come later, so be it…I’m not all that interested in “later”. If I’m supposed to be following Jesus, how about I believe and do what He said?

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

OK, I’m gonna go outside, look at the blowing leaves, then finish my sermon and go to bed. Today is nearly over, I’m done with its trouble, and tomorrow isn’t here yet. Good night, good weekend, God bless you all.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

PS: The Friday Forum may become an alternating feature; I would love some comments on which types of posts you most enjoy, as I re-examine the focus of the blog, and decide what to keep, dump, or add.

This has been a very strange week…one of those “calm before the storm” moments. There is much change in the near future, on so many levels: a nation faces a hotly contested Presidential election, which promises no real resolution regardless of who wins, and often brings out the worst in well-meaning but misguided people; as an employee, I’m working hard to transition my career track in a new direction, creating a job description which currently does not exist (but I think I can demonstrate it should, and that I should do it); my  church faces a pastoral election, no less hotly contested, which absolutely determines the future of the only body of believers I have ever belonged to; which forces me, as a man responding to a very clear calling into vocational ministry (which I imagine is still further down the line, after some training and mentoring by someone with more experience and I pray, more wisdom), into recognizing my doubts and fears for what they are – prideful lies I tell myself, so I don’t have to trust God when things take unexpected turns. I am a sinful man, who forgets sometimes how good and perfect the grace of God is, and tries so hard to mold myself into what I think God wants me to be, instead of allowing Him to mold me into the shape of His pleasure; and I am a husband and best friend, watching my partner struggle through the days of her disease, knowing that God also works in doctors and drugs, but sometimes wishing He had chosen a different way, because this way hurts just to watch – I cannot imagine what she feels, she humbles me by how she responds to it. Her faith, her continued concern for and ministry to others, her joy in life in spite of cancer and cancer treatment (which is almost worse than the illness)…these things also remind me that grace is in effect in the lives of all believers. I believe that as Christians we all need those reminders now and again, and that is why God allows stuff to happen…to deepen our  faith in Him. Other people teach a different interpretation – that grace is what keeps God’s people happy healthy and wealthy, and if you aren’t, you need to be working on your faith and confessing your sin, and maybe not in that order!

This brings me to the topic for this week: What does grace mean to you, in your day-to-day life? I am being vague on purpose, because I don’t want to limit the discussion, so feel free to share an example from your life, or a favorite teaching, or whatever. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Following hard (so hard it hurts sometimes) after Him,

Nick

This week’s Friday Forum is quite personal, and some what longer than usual, but it’s really on my heart to share this. Thanks for your indulgence.

I have written some about the struggles my home church is going through, but I would like to expand on a personal  aspect of that fight, share some thoughts, and get some feedback from people outside the bubble.

We are a small (<100 members) Southern Baptist church, in a neighborhood that has changed dramatically in the 50+ years the church has existed – so much so that (in my opinion) we no longer relate very well to the community. Specifically, we have operated in a cash-intensive manner, with high overhead  and facility costs, that our current membership frankly cannot sustain. So a new approach is obviously required. Concurrent to this, our pastor resigned at the beginning of the year, and moved to another church in another city. Baptist ministers move around a lot; this is natural and expected in our tradition. He had been there over ten years, a relatively long stretch, and in all honesty he knew he was moving on long before he left, he was only unsure of the direction. Unfortunately, his ambiguity left a leadership void, and we as a church ended up with an internal division – about half (generally the seniors) were wanting someone to keep things going the way they always had; about half grouped around the new worship leader, whom they felt had a clear calling from God to restructure. (Full disclosure: I fall into the latter group. Tradition is not evil, and legacies do deserve respect, but “because we’ve always done it that way” is not sufficient justification for anything.)

Lately the issue has come to a head: we are voting in two weeks whether or not to call the worship leader as Pastor; he passed an earlier vote for Interim Pastor a few months ago, but that only stoked the flames of contention. This is a defining moment – if he is not called, he will leave and start a home church, and nearly the entire core leadership of the church will leave with him; most of the teachers, most of the deacons, most of the elders…and most of the money, as well. Let’s not put too fine a point on it – the church is broke. We have made all the cuts and revised the budget as far as we can with the current mission plan, down to about half of previous years, and tithes and offerings cover roughly 2/3 of that new requirement. Without that core group, the bank account will run dry in a matter of months, and that will be the end. (Even with them, something has to give, or we merely extend the inevitable a year or so at best.) A dramatic upheaval will give us a fighting chance, but of course there are no guarantees. I personally believe the new idea is a good idea, and I am voting in that direction, but the issue is going to be close. So what happens if the church votes no? In particular, what happens to those who are left behind, who are anxious to maintain “the church” at any cost? It absolutely breaks my heart to see people who have lost the vision of Christ, and would rather trust in the status quo than in the Spirit of God. OK, so they don’t want to be led in the right direction…does that make it right to leave them to themselves, with no spiritual direction at all? And if not, what am I going to do about it?

This is the hardest part for me. I am absolutely torn, and at a true loss for which way to go. Over the last year, God has opened up inside of me the need to serve Him harder: I began teaching adult Sunday school, and leading seminars; I was called as a deacon by this congregation; I preached the opening message for our students’ summer evangelism retreat, and the Sunday morning main service once, with another scheduled for next month. I was allowed to lead a team for the prison ministry I serve with, and that led to a decision to enter vocational ministry. The seminary application is completed, it only requires a few hundred dollars to enroll the first two prerequisite classes to register my degree plan, and I will be off. (This part is on hold…our finances have cancer, too.) I have stepped out into leadership areas I never imagined I could do, and God has been glorified. So I want to believe that I could step up and serve this need. But is my belief enough? Do I actually have the servant’s heart it will take to help lead a flock away from a cliff they are resolutely determined to jump over? Would they accept me, unqualified as I am, because they will not be able to afford to pay anyone a salary but I have a good job and don’t need to ask for one? Can they or I, afford to risk the effort to find out?

All these thoughts swirl through my mind, making me search for God’s face, for the motives of my heart, for the best way to go. I find myself almost dreading a “Yes” vote, because I won’t find a resolution to my own little crisis…how selfish is that? Lord, forgive me.

So I put it out there for you, Dear Readers. I’m not looking for solutions, I just want to hear some other voices, with a little distance and perspective…I think one of the blessings of fellowship and community is how God can comfort us by His agency in others, speaking into their hearts on our behalf, and I am asking: What is He telling you about my situation? Reply in the comments, I have moderation off so speak freely (don’t be uncivil, I will delete rude and hateful speech right quickly.) I look forward to the discussion.

Following hard after Him,

Nick

Beginning this week, the Friday Forum will be add a new feature: on the first Friday of each month, instead of posting a question to discuss I will solicit suggestions for future articles or themes from YOU, my readers. It’s a way for me to get a feel for what others are talking about, or WANT to talk about, and explore the “interface” between our faith and the rest of the world around us.

Post your ideas and suggestions in the comments, and I will select one or more to be featured the following week. Let’s really talk together, how about it?

Welcome to the Friday Forum: a place to have some friendly discussion about issues that arise when Christianity and secular life “rub against” each other. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways to deal with things that come up. Each week I will post a topic, and my thoughts on it, and we will see where the comments take us!

I came to faith in God late in life, and only recently moved into a leadership role in my local church. In secular life I have been in construction one way or another since high school, both as employee and as owner, and so I have some knowledge of running a business. The non-profit model is very different, however, and so I find myself caught between conflicting worldviews, with different desired outcomes.

We are a small Southern Baptist church, on the fringe of the city limits – as inner-city as it gets in Houston. Founded in the late 50’s, it served a vastly different community than now exists – one with much less diversity and much more money – and like many small churches, we are shrinking…older members are passing on to glory, and drawing new people is a challenge for everyone today. Many of those who do come are barely getting by themselves. Shrinking membership and shrinking donations mean hard choices need to be made, and we have made them, and will continue to do so…but at some point, doesn’t it reach an end? When you can’t pay the bills, what do you do? How do we serve the people who are coming, who need a spiritual home?

Finances are not the only issue, of course; it’s part of a larger malaise…a clash of generations and of ideologies. I am not going into particulars, because it doesn’t matter… in the end we are divided, and without unity of spirit, no amount of money will ever solve the problems. The breach hinders our fellowship, blunts our prayers, grieves the Holy Spirit of God Himself. We cannot continue like this, but I see no reconciliation, only attrition.

This pains me deeply, because I care for and about these people…my church…my family. I am working hard to learn how to answer the calling God has placed upon me (to shepherd His flock as a pastor) and I am starting right here, as a deacon and teacher, at this church. I don’t want to see it fizzle, and I don’t think it has to; but I am beginning to feel I am in the minority. And if that is true, then maybe it should fizzle, and we should all go serve in a new and different way – maybe we needed a little “dispersion” to shake us out of our complacency. I don’t know, I’m just grasping at straws.

So here is the forum topic for this week:  If  a local church is suffering and struggling due to internal divisions, to such extent that  it can no longer sustain itself financially, is it better to hang on as long as two people are willing to meet in a dark building; or to end the dissent, move on, and find more fruitful opportunities to serve somewhere else?

Post your comments below, I will reply throughout the week, and next Friday we will discuss a different topic.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

Welcome to the Friday Forum: a place to have some friendly discussion about issues that arise when Christianity and secular life “rub against” each other. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways to deal with things that come up. Each week I will post a topic, and my thoughts on it, and we will see where the comments take us!

I am very blessed to be the father of four young adults; a blended and blurred conglomeration of kids I acquired over the course of  two marriages, with women who had history before my story – only one of the four has my DNA, but they all have me! God has used them to teach me an awful lot about Him, and about myself. I was not the father they should have had, in the beginning, but they lived; and we laughed, cried, loved, and did the best we knew how. They have grown with us in the Lord as well, starting from zero eight years ago, but like many others their ages (23-26) they are restless and straying away from the straight path. Their stories vary, but the common threads span across an entire generation it seems: a profound refusal to accept responsibility for anything, coupled with a bizarre inability to think more than five minutes into the future. This wasn’t learned by example – both I and their mothers  taught, demonstrated, and rewarded hard work and thoughtful planning, including being honest when we didn’t do it, and so becoming the perfect negative illustration. And it worked, sort of… They know the right answers, they just don’t care to take the test. I resist the temptation to feel guilty (mostly), and I pray and plead and talk to them constantly. I set limits and boundaries, because there are limits and boundaries in life, and we all have to learn to abide; they don’t push the boundaries,exactly…they won’t even acknowledge the boundaries exist, or would ever apply to them if they did.

We have run out of options, and frankly out of patience…the two living with us are about to become homeless; the one living away on her own isn’t getting any more money or sympathy; the married one is going to have to learn how to depend on her husband rather than her daddy, even if her husband isn’t all that dependable. I am amazed at the reactions – not the kids, of course they hate it – but friends, family, even church members are shocked:  “How could you turn you back on your children! What kind of a parent are you! God blessed you with them to love and care for, and you aren’t doing it! That doesn’t seem very Christian to me! You’re only thinking about yourself!”

So here is the forum topic for this week:  Is “tough love”, holding your kids accountable for their bad choices, even if it hurts them to do so, a proper Christian attitude? Post your comments below, I will reply throughout the week, and next Friday we will discuss a different topic.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

Welcome to the Friday Forum: a place to have some friendly discussion about issues that arise when Christianity and secular life “rub against” each other. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways to deal with things that come up. Each week I will post a topic, and my thoughts on it, and we will see where the comments take us!

Elections in this country seem to be the only time that people want to discuss some of the basic assumptions that we operate on a a nation, and this election cycle is no different. The United States is involved in wars, police actions, military interventions…whatever name you want to call them…all over the world, and the politicians are making as much hay from this fact as they can, with both sides claiming to “support the troops” but also trumpeting the need to “protect America’s interests” at home and abroad.

I am no peacenik radical who feels that all things martial are by definition evil; at the same time, I have a real problem with the idea that the best way to serve and protect a nation necessarily involves asking my government to give me a gun and send me to a foreign land with permission to kill people we choose to call “the enemy”. That just doesn’t sound like what Jesus had in mind when He addresses His audience in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43-44 –

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

So here is the forum topic for this week:  Should Christians volunteer for military service? Post your comments below, I will reply throughout the week, and next Friday we will discuss a different topic.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

Friday Forum

Posted: September 7, 2012 in Friday Forum
Tags: , , , , ,

Welcome to the Friday Forum: a place to have some friendly discussion about issues that arise when Christianity and secular life “rub against” each other. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways to deal with things that come up. Each week I will post a topic, and my thoughts on it, and we will see where the comments take us!

 

So we have seen both the Democratic and Republican national conventions; the nominees are in and have accepted; and we are on the last leg of the race to the White House. And you know what? I find myself simply unable to care very much about any of it. I used to be rabidly political…a Reagan Republican in high school and college, becoming disillusioned during Bush 41’s term and switching to the other side (and I still think Clinton was a great President, regardless of his personal foibles). But as I grow spiritually, and learn more about the Kingdom of heaven and what it means to be a citizen there,  it is becoming more and more easy to leave “the world” to its own devices, and ignore the rancor, the name-calling, and all the rest of it on the TV. I have no plans to vote in any election again, I do not campaign for any candidate, and in all honesty, I just don’t care. I do not think that as a Christ-follower, I should even want to participate.  Am I alone in this, or do others out there feel the same? Here is the forum topic for this week:  Should Christians be concerned about participating in government, or focus on helping real people instead? Post your comments below, I will reply throughout the week, and next Friday we will discuss a different topic.

 

Following hard after Him,

Nicky