Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Way of the Manger

If ever there were a holiday that needed deconstructing, it is Christmas. I say this as one who celebrates Christmas as an observant Protestant Christian. And I don't mean that we should seek "the real meaning of Christmas" by eschewing the "consumer mentality" of Christmas. That's a given, and economic events have a way of giving correction to our excesses. (this year consumer spending is down for the first time in years...and it had nothing to do with pastor's making people feel guilty) Christians since the time of the Puritans have decried the various traditions of Christmas as "pagan" and improper. That's not what I'm saying at all.
American Christmas is a gloriously syncretistic affair. I realized this as I tried to explain Kwanzaa to my 10 year old. She had sung the requisite Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas songs at her concert. (For some reason the Kwanzaa song was painfully dreadful, no offense to the holiday. It seems to attract well-meaning white people who sing words in Swahili badly...listen to this for an example. Where is Isaac Hayes when you need him?) In any case, I found myself saying "well honey, Kwanzaa was kind of invented holiday, it is really a synthetic celebration, not properly belonging to one religious tradition. Then I realized that Christmas was exactly the same. Synthetic. like my Christmas tree. Like plastic poinsettias. Put together from so many different cultures, it's hard to find the core truth.
Christmas traditions have gotten so confused that secular folks protest the public display of Christmas trees because it is an imposition of religion. They argue for a name change to "holiday tree." This strikes me as summarily silly, akin to protesting to the eating of French Fries because it is anti-patriotic and Francophile. Sometimes cultures just chew up and digest practices from other countries and cultures and assimilate them into the body politic in a way unrelated to the original practice. Like pizza, or Chinese food (even Ricky Bobby thought Americans invented them) have morphed into their own uniquely American identity.

So I'd like to make my own contribution to the confusion. I'd like to nominate a new image as the iconic, neo-Rockwellian personification of the holiday.
The stone manger.
This may be a slightly more realistic version of little Jesus' first crib. And if "little Lord Jesus No crying He makes" were actually true in a rough hewn bed like this, then I have a Senate seat in Illinois that I'd like to sell you. So why is a baby crying in a stone feeding trough good news, worth celebrating these many years later?
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

The manger was a sign. It was a sign to some poor working stiffs who pulled the night shift, possibly in the spring (not necessarily December 25--probably another cultural accretion from the Roman's winter solistice...). The last thing they were thinking about was spiritual reality...they were just trying to get some dumb sheep to follow them. (in other words, they were in management) Suddenly, the sky lit up with the aurora borealis of eternity. Raw, unfiltered spiritual reality is down right scary. No one has to tell us "Don't be afraid" when we look at the quaint creche scenes that seem to infuriate the ACLU. No one has to reassure us when we look at smiling Santa, or pat glowing Rudolph. But when the shiny dudes called angels burst in raw solar energy, radiating good news like a glowing furnace, the guys on the night shift needed a stiff drink and bolstered courage. So like sheep, they followed the heavenly directions.
And they found...a baby swaddled in birthing clothes, lain in a stone feeding trough. This is the germ from which all other Christmas pageantry springs. So unlikely, so shocking, that it is little wonder we have covered it up with saccharine traditions like mistletoe and stockings. Hey, I've got three kids and I have NEVER lain any of them in a feeding trough. They'd call social services on me, and they should. (whoever they are) Who would put their son there?
Well first of all Mary. So marginalized, so far from the center of society, that she had no other choice. Like an undocumented alien, on the run, in the back of a crowded pickup truck, she does the best she can. But beyond that, if you believe the story, God does it. God who's called a Father, lays His Son in a rock crib far from comfort. And somehow that's good news?
How could that be? Isn't it easier to sing "Away in a Manger" and feel good about ourselves by helping the "less fortunate" and going about our lives? Isn't this the easy way to celebrate Christmas?
Perhaps the "true meaning" of Christmas is that no matter where we are, laboring in a meaningless job, caring for children who seem to exalt their own wishes into imperatives, studying in school to enter an economy with no room for us, wherever this synthetic holiday finds us; we are the poor shepherds. We are the invited guests to God's mysterious entry into human history. We are the recipients of the joyful news that no station, no calling, no destiny in all the world is too mean, too humble, too meaningless, for God to pass it by at Christmas. Christmas is for the aliens, the factory workers, the out of work CEO's, the bankrupt, the parent's who regret not being able to afford the "perfect gift" and for the lonely and depressed at Christmas.
The Way of the Manger.
Christmas lies in a stone crib, barely clothed and squawling with full lungs; His every cry a "sign" from a transcendant God that this life can hold eternity. That raw, frightening spirituality can enter the grubby, mundane and often viscious world we all inhabit, and draw us to His side. Our Christmas is synthetic, processed, tame. The real Christmas is a mess...but it is a sign.
What do you think, stone manger earrings? Stone manger sweaters? Stone manger light displays for your yard? You make the call. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Day I met Dr. Kevin Leman

Hey--who said it isn't fun to name drop? Dr. Kevin Leman came to visit the CBN campus, and I snagged him to come talk to some students about...dare I say it...SEX. Now some folks may think that's not appropriate on a Christian campus. One might imagine that Christian students are so moral, so together that they rarely if ever have trouble with such subjects. There might be people who believe that, AND think that Illinois politics is still dominated by folks with nicknames like "Honest Abe." Not too many, I think.

No, the truth is that Christians, who of all people should have a settled idea of what sex should be used for, the purposes for which it was intended, are just as confused as everyone else on the subject. Dr. Kevin Leman made a strong biblical and practical case that marriage between a man and a woman should be the only context for sexual intercourse.

Now (or as President-elect Obama would say, "Look") I could get into the whole argument of pre-marital sex, same-sex sex, post-marital sex (is there any?) but I think this is not the venue. Suffice it to say that Kevin Leman spoke squarely and frankly to the issue. He did not dodge any questions or pull any punches. Rather, he set the tone for an honest, biblically-informed discussion of a topic that has bedeviled Christian leaders for centuries. And he did it with humor.
Me Laughing at some "Leman Raw" Comments

So the question is: Where can you talk honestly and freely about sexuality and the many challenges it brings? Do you have friends where that is fair game? Classes? Professors? Small accountability groups? It seems that if you don't, we should provide some safe places to ask and have our questions answered. I would be interested in providing that kind of safe environment, but would be interested in what you think.

1. Is our campus an open place to discuss struggles/issues with sexuality?

2. Are we judgmental about struggles in this area?

3. Do we have sufficient resources available for folks who want to grow in their sexual sobriety?

Let me know!

Monday, December 1, 2008

What do you look forward to at the Thanksgiving table? What’s your favorite food item that’s going to be on the table? Is it the sweet potatoes? With the marshmallows that turn a glorious shade of brown on the top? Or is it the stuffing, with your family's special touch of seasoning and ingredients, that puts the finishing touch on the turkey? Or maybe you’re into the turkey itself, deep fried in peanut oil, brined just right, or roasted in the oven the way Grandma did it. Of course there's the cranberry sauce, whether it’s the fresh, raw cranberry salad that sits on my mom’s table, or cranberry served the way God wanted it to be served…on a plate, whole, jiggling in the sunlight, so you can see the little ridges from the can where it plopped out….

But what if there's nothing on your table this thanksgiving? How do you give thanks then? With our economy in the shape it’s in and with the country in an uproar about bailouts and meltdowns and with our 401k’s becoming 201k’s, many folks are looking at less on the table for which to give thanks. How do you give thanks when there's nothing on the table? The answer is that we have to look at the seat of thanksgiving--that we have to pay more attention to who is sitting in the chair than what is served on the table. What do I mean? Listen to this little snippet of Scripture:

"...the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, " Rev. 4:9

(Artist's rendition of Yahweh's Throne)

The angels give us the example--we can give thanks to the one who sits in the Seat of Thanksgiving, even if there isn't much on the table for which to give thanks.

After a number of years in the pastorate I came back to Virginia to help a good friend run his chain of high end jewelry stores. For two years everything was great. But with terrible fourth quarter sales in 2007, our bank called in their business lines of credit. They came in and confiscated the jewelry as collateral. After a valiant effort to liquidate the inventory, we threw in the towel in early July. I had to personally call the 35 remaining employees of our business and let them know that they were the latest victim of our economic downturn. I found out the next day that I had joined them among the ranks of the unemployed. So on the brink of a recession, on the cusp of the biggest drop in the stock market ever, I was sitting at home thinking about my wife, my 3 children, and wondering why the sky was falling. Maybe some of you have been in a situation like that, and maybe you have family who are in that spot. What do you do when the table is empty and the kids are asking questions and the bills are piling up? How do you give thanks then?

My wife Bridget had it right--during that period of time she said to me, “You’ve got to remember Jesus is still on the throne. He has got something better for you, I just know He does.” She like St. John urged me to lift my eyes, and see that despite all evidence to the contrary Jesus was still in the seat of thanksgiving, He was still sitting on his throne, and “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, “Because the throne is a symbol of power, and Jesus sitting on it means that He is able to do immeasurably more than I could ever ask think or imagine.

I don't know what's on your table this year, but from my own life and from the Scriptures I've been reminded that its more important to know who's sitting in the seat of thanksgiving rather than focus on what's on the table. We can give thanks to Him who sits on the throne...no matter what life serves up.

Perhaps St. Paul said it best,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Phil. 4:12

Friday, November 21, 2008

Junior gives it to us Straight

H. Wayne Huizenga Jr. aka "Junior" in his own parlance, spoke twice in the Hampton Roads area yesterday; once in the Leadership Prayer Breakfast and again in a special chapel at Regent University.

I've heard famous folks speak before, and to quote Forest Gump, " (famous speakers) are like a box of chocolates, you never know when they're going to get goey and ooze onto the floor or when you'll bite into one that looked good but turned out to be licorice flavor, ukkk!" Maybe that wasn't Forest Gump, but I'm sure someone said that.

From the outside, the box of chocolates looked good; famous wealthy guy from a famous wealthy family who was living the American dream. His bio says he's the President of the holding company that owns a controlling interest in the Dolphins and their stadium, which seems a bit convoluted, but hey; who's kidding whom--this is the guy who gets to sit in the luxury sky box and watch his favorite team every week in the fall--pretty much every little boy's dream! As he said, he had the cars and the houses and the travel and the lifestyle that we all want. But it wasn't enough.

Now I've been around church to know what was coming next. Like the little boy in Sunday School when the teacher asked him "What has a furry tail, climbs trees and eats nuts?" responded "Teacher it sounds like a squirrel, but this is Sunday School so I know the answer has got to be God or Jesus." I knew the answer was going to be "Jesus" (which of course I don't disagree with) but somehow my life has always seemed more complicated than that.

That's when this box of chocolate surprised me. Junior described his encounter with Christ, without hesitation and in powerful detail. But the most powerful part to me was his transparency in describing the steps and the stages by which he discovered that Jesus was the answer to his problems.

First, he was blessed to have a friend he enjoyed, who entered his world with whom he had fun. They did guy stuff like go fishing and ride submarines. Cool. Then he noticed there was a difference in the way they lived their lives. Junior asked great questions, "Why are we so different?" Then he responded by going to church. I loved the fact that he couldn't find any of his immediate friends who went to church. Really it makes me sad, because most church-type Christians have few "unchurched" friends. Then about 18 months later (if I have my facts straight) he had an old-fashioned "get saved" experience at a church. And even then he professed a discomfort with that label.

Wayne Jr. was extremely open, vulnerable and transparent with the struggle to "keep your eyes on Christ" while having alot of money. He talked about steps he takes regularly to grow in his faith, and to model his life on that of others he admires. He talked about ways he attempts to avoid mistakes his dad may have made in giving too much time to business. I came away thinking, "I relate to this guy, and his process of becoming more Christlike, less focused on self, and being honest along the way."

So for once, I reached into the box of chocolates and the one that came out was even better than it looked. Way to go Junior, our prayers are with you.

PS (Any way I can get tickets for this year's Super Bowl?)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Camping is In Tents

Ok, so we went camping this weekend for the first time ever as a family. Call me crazy, I waited until November to do so. Maybe as an Eagle Scout I felt I had something to prove!

Now for those of you who know the Scout laws, "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, etc." you'll notice one important camping skill is left out...


Probably that's because when I was a Scout, all I had to worry about was myself. Now, I have three kids a wife to look after, and that's where patience comes in. I'm not saying I'm perfect when it comes to camping. I left so many things at home it wasn't funny (D Batteries for the air mattress pump, extra batteries for the lantern...that went out 10 minutes after we got there, skewers to roast the hot dogs and marshmellows, you get the picture) But that didn't keep me from being annoyed at others... no sirree. I could be impatient when somebody else forgot things (paper plates and cups) annoyed when my son kept running off into the woods without telling anybody, or of course, entered the worst GRUMP ZONE of all when we got home and it was time to unload all the smoky things left in the family van.

It's a little humorous to me that God chose a family camping trip to teach patient faith to the forefather of three great religions...Abraham. Such a mundane venue, in a way, and yet such a profound journey.

Gen 12:4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan

I have long since discovered that I am by nature impatient...more concerned with the end result than the process; more worried about final perfection than concerned with the small steps in between. Family camping reveals to me how short-sighted my approach is. It reminds me that the process of discovering what one forgot is in itself preparation for the next trip, and the next.

Abraham learned lots of lessons while camping with his family, the best ones when he wasn't in such a hurry he couldn't share a little hospitality with friends (Gen. 18) or drop what you're doing to help a family member who got lost (Gen. 14) It was when he got IMPATIENT that Abraham got in trouble (Gen. 16) like when he got tired of waiting for God's promise to come true and made up his own plan. (Although in fairness to Abe, the story reveals that it was actually his wife Sarah's idea...which she conveniently blames him for later. Another camping pitfall...)

Family teaches us that life is not about SELF...it is about community. Family takes patience and proves that going TOGETHER is worth the wait. I was reminded that regardless of what I know or the experiences I have, if I can't use that knowledge to enrich the lives of those around me, it's pretty pointless. Our camping trip wasn't perfect, but it was the pefect opportunity for me to develop patience. And I needed it...

Prov. 19:11 A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

Where do you need patience ? What helps you develop it?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

22 Reasons to Rejoice for 44

22 Reasons to Rejoice for 44

1. No one was killed as a result of exercising their constitutional right to vote in the United States of America.

2. An African-American was elected President for the first time in US History.

3. Women in America had the freedom to vote or not vote for a woman on a major party ticket.

4. Women in America had the freedom to vote or not vote for a woman as president.

5. John McCain, Obama's opponent, overcame imprisonment and torture as a prisoner of war to run for the highest office in the land.

6. Unprecedented voter registrations repudiate charges of apathy among the electorate in America.

7. Experts claim this election boasted the highest voter turnout rate in years, perhaps a century.

8. A Single mom raised a boy who became president, giving hope and inspiration to many.

9. Barack Obama was able to see his grandmother one last time before she passed away, thanking her for the enormous role she played in his life. What grandmother hasn't thought that her grandson or granddaughter might not grow up to be president?

10. Unprecedented numbers of young people got involved in the election process.

11. Hispanic Americans are playing an increasingly crucial role in national elections.

12. "Conventional wisdom" that is, know-it-all pundits telling us normal people what will happen, got set on it's ear in a number of ways...from Hillary Clinton's defeat to Sarah Palin's VP selection.

13. We have not suffered a terrorist attack in the 7 years following 9/11/01.

14. An enormous number of people feel buoyed with hope after the election, and believe good things about the future of our country. It sure beats cynicism!

15. John McCain gave an excellent example of how to lose gracefully.

16. We'll have little kids in the White House again.

17. Obama's victory means we don't have to watch silly
political ads for another four years.

18. Military servicemen who place their lives in harm's way will have their ballots counted, even if it takes time.

19. We can move from talking about the bad economy to
doing something about it.

20. Thousands got free Starbucks coffee, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Chic-fil-A, Ben and Jerry's and others just for voting. I love this country.

21. Tina Fey will have to find a new skit for the next 4 years.

22. God is still on His throne, and shapes the lives of nations and individuals as He choses. No human can limit His power and no government exists without His permission. We can pray and support this government and this President because God can bless it, and bring peace to our lives.

God Bless America, and God Bless our new President Elect, Barack Obama.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sola Fidei--Faith Alone

"I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I." Martin Luther

I have spent some time recently thinking about Martin Luther and his well known mantra "Sola Fidei" (Faith Alone) Reading his life story has made me think of how much I have been tempted to trust in my own religious performance to please God. Truth is, I could never outdo Martin the Monk for devotion to religious duties--he plumb wore out his confessor! And his quote above was his own recognition that even the strictest monastic vows and duties could not guarantee God's grace...that only comes through faith alone.

Yet another obstacle for me has been trials and difficulties in my life. As difficult circumstances arise (and I have had more than my fair share the last 7 years) I end up wondering, "How can I keep faith in times like these?" I find myself questioning why God would allow bad things to happen to me...after all, haven't I been a good religious boy? (see Martin Luther above!) The reality of those dark times has brought to light new dimensions of faith I'd never seen. One person that has helped me has been St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes Alvarez. Or as he is more widely known, San Juan de la Cruz—St. John of the Cross. Juan grew up in a poor family in a Spanish town called Medina Del Campo—and his father died when he was young. His mother carted him and his special needs brother around begging from various relatives. By the time he was 21, he entered a monastery of the Carmelite order—the same group as St. Theresa of Avila. Like Theresa, Juan became a mystic of the first order. He would pray and meditate and fast for days on end. Like our friend Martin Luther—whom we will consider in a moment—he was a great reformer in his own right. His poetry in Spanish is fluid, simple and elegant. Perhaps he is most famous for the work, Dark Night of the Soul.

Perhaps because of his own difficult background, Juan pictured our life in Christ as a journey—a spiritual road where the initiate or beginner climbs ever higher through difficulties ultimately to union with God. But that journey is one that takes us through the darkness. We sang earlier with Kim and the team, sometimes the road is marked with suffering, is it not? San Juan de la Cruz says that there are times when the road is a dark one. His famous phrase is the “dark night of the soul.” Perhaps you knew that the great Polish Cardinal who became Pope John Paul II wrote his doctoral dissertation on the concept of faith in St. John of the Cross. He points out that for Juan “Faith is night.” Night is the emptiness that reveals our desire for the world and its pleasures. Night is that which weans us from our desire and attachment to wordly things. Faith in the dark Night reminds us that our attachment to lesser things often prohibits our union with the greatest thing—God himself.

In my own life it has been the loss of things dear to me—it has been the tragic loss of innocence, the loss of status,—the loss of income and of certainty and of a sense of control—these losses that were black as the night sky—wherein God has shone more brightly than ever.

I'm wondering how your faith journey has been...has it been an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Or the active night of faith? Let me know!
Soli Deo Gloria
Some interesting books on the subject:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mourning the Loss of a Friend

According to Dr. Michael Palmer, Dean of the Regent School of Divinity, Dr. J. Rodman Williams went home to be with the Lord this past Sat. Oct. 18, 2008. He was 90 years old.
Dr. Williams was emeritus professor of systematic theology in the School of Divinity. Rod’s dear wife Jo is reported to be doing well.

Rod’s obituary will appear in the Virginian Pilot on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will provide details about the time and location of the burial on Thursday morning, October 23. At 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening a memorial service will be held at Kempsville Presbyterian Church. Dr. Danny Gilbert, one of Rod's first graduate assistants and protégé, will preside. Danny is also an M.Div. alumnus of the School of Divinity.
I have grown up respecting Dr. Williams for his unique blend of scholarship, churchmanship, and warm personal faith. His written works (The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, and his 3 volume Renewal Theology) have nurtured my hopes for a "both/and" in the worlds of vibrant spirituality and rigorous scholarship. I grinned from ear to ear when he commented warmly on one of my first sermons preached as a young intern at Kempsville Presbyterian Church.
But most of all I grew because he opened up time in his schedule. Here was a man who kept an active teaching load well into advanced age, played tennis, spoke and gave papers in numerous localities. Yet, when I was looking for one to give advice and wisdom about where to study Divinity, how to navigate the pitfalls of academic study of the Bible, he was there.
His wise words and gentle encouragement were used by God to send me on a path that has borne good fruit. I am grateful to Dr. Williams for being available to me and so many others through the years, and for taking his considerable talents and using them diligently and patiently for the good of the kingdom these many years.
You will be missed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bill Maher makes a living making judgments... and his judgment on religion is particularly harsh. On the link above, you can find him mocking with eqanimity televangelists, Mormons, a belief in heaven (although he describes a Neo-platonist version of heaven, complete with "dancing ghosts with a cosmic daddy) Overall, Maher adopts a snide, mocking tone of faith and people of faith that matches his publicly stated beliefs that intelligent religious people have a "neurological disorder." Nothing like demonizing your opponents...
But of all the things that can be said about Bill Maher, I would like to hone in on one comment he made while on the View...
MAHER: And this movie- one reason why it got such good reviews- and even religious people who watched it liked this movie is, we don’t judge. We don’t point fingers. We’re not making anybody feel bad. I’m just asking questions that nobody asks because this is the last taboo subject.
Maher invokes the Golden Rule of modern society "We don't judge. " Restated, "We don't point fingers..." Implication--religious people DO judge, religious people DO point fingers, therefore they are bad and we (the scientific rationalists) are good. But of course, isnt' that a judgment?
So do we agree with Mr. Maher, that the height of good is not to judge? Not to point the finger?
First, we have to say that Bill doesn't follow his own advice. "Religilous" the movie is nothing but a judgment against religious individuals that concludes that they are ridiculous and worthy of mockery. And admitedly, some of the individuals on the show are ridiculous (there I go making judgments) but if we're supposed to admire the work as "not finger pointing" I think we could agree it misses that mark...rather specifically pointing a "special finger" at all religious folks that were highlighted in the flick.
Second, I think we'd have to say that some form of judgment is required in life to thrive. Should I spend more than I earn? Should I buy a house that my income will not support? Should I package these risky securities into a nifty new investment, and parcel out to different banks so as to sever accountability from their original source? Well, in a world with no judgments, the answer is "YES" regardless of the consequences. But does one hear the chorus of "judge not..." from the media (or bill Maher for that matter) for the Wall Street types whose greed colored their JUDGMENT or consumers who took "low-doc" (Liars loans) mortgages without considering the consequences? NO. We expect are financiers to make better judgments than that, because poor judgments have dire consequences.
Incidentally, I agree with Maher that religion requires CAREFUL JUDGMENT. Jesus said this in no uncertain terms.
Some of the religious leaders Maher interviews are more fruitcakes than true spiritual fruit. They do not pass the test Jesus lays out for us...which is our FIRST JUDGMENT: (We'll call it the Maher test, in honor of our friend)
TEST #1 JUDGE So-called Spiritual Leaders to see if they are producing spiritual fruit.
Folks like Bill Maher have so much to jack their jaws about because we folks of faith do such a poor job of exercising our ability to make a reasonable decision on the credibility of so-called religious leaders based on the hard evidence of results. Maher's right and he's wrong...some religious leaders are ridiculous, but we DO need to make a judgment.
So tell me--what do you think?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To Judge or Not to judge

Most people I meet know very little about the Bible, which is all cool. It doesn't so much bother me, because most people I meet who THINK they know alot about the Bible unfortunately don't. But without question the one piece of the Bible even folks like Bill Maher know is the dictum "Judge NOT...!" 

Is that in the Bible? Yup. Is it incorrect? Nope. Just incomplete. Matthew 7:1 says, 
 1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged

In another New Testament book, Luke, we see a similar verse, 
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
In context, it certainly seems to state a truth I think we have all experienced: If you are a judgmental twit, guess what? What goes around comes around. (The revised Richard version)  Luke adds the positive statement, "Forgive..." and you'll pay good stuff forward. Like forgiveness. Mercy. Some slack... the kind of stuff we cut ourselves, and hope others will too. It's in that whole "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (The Golden Rule) vein, which incidentally,  comes from this same part of Matthew. 

In understanding a piece of the Bible, a couple of "rules of thumb" are helpful. One is that context is necessary to understand the purpose of a passage. Here, in context, Jesus is contrasting a life of hypocritical judgmentalism by a group of religious folks. (Wow, times sure have changed, huh?) He's warning his followers that a sincere passion to seek righteousness (right living the way God desires it) can often make us legalistic, high and mighty, and yes, judgmental. As we say in my house, "That's a big no-no." 

Not only does it invite the judgment of others, it invites the judgment of God. That's the ultimate result of a self-righteous life of looking down one's moral nose at everyone around...you get to the end of the show and you run into the real judge.  And He says, Ok, you spent your life throwing the book at folks--it's your turn pal. What about when you said this to your teacher? (but I was so young!) What about when you did this when your wife wasn't looking? (But she deserved it!) What about when you downloaded old episodes of Knight Rider to watch alone with Chunky Monkey Ice cream? (Ok Lord, I just have no excuse for that one) 

Judging others harshly often comes back to bite us here, and certainly in the long run it will before God. But does that mean we should or could never judge anyone for anything? 

Well that's an interesting question for a later post. For now--take my little quiz and post away. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Procrastination--when a blog is more like a log

OK--so I didn't become a superhuman blog machine. I have a blog now, it's a good thing (I think) and like many other good things in my life, it has just sat there. More like a log than a blog.

It made me think of all the other things that have fungus growing on them in my life. (Don't be too literal here...go with me) There's my tennis game...haven't been out to swing the old racquet in some weeks now. But in typical form, when I go out next, I'll expect to be at the top of my game, and be mad at myself when I'm not. Then there's attention to my finances, seeding my yard, cleaning up the garage (uggh) and deciding whom to vote for.

It all comes down to that lovely word PROCRASTINATION.

  • While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting, where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students' time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination

When I was in school, I used to leave a book on Procastination on my coffee table, just so when someone asked me if I had read it, I could say "NO, I HAVEN"T GOTTEN AROUND TO IT."

I'm wondering how procrastination works for you--is it fear that grips you? Is it a nagging perfectionism that inists everything must be perfect for others to be impressed with your performance? Is it just anxiety--that won't let you start on the multiple projects you have because you just don't see how you'll finish?

Ok--a little Bible for you. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”- Proverbs 29:25

For me, procrastination is about the snare of fear--wanting to have my stuff together so that others will be impressed. The bigger the project, the more I want it to be perfect--and the more I want others to like me and my accomplishments. I remember putting off my senior paper in College (it was supposed to be over 100 pages) piling research upon research, and never quite getting around to putting it all together. In that instance, it took someone else to come alongside and help in order to get the wheels moving again.

So here's the questions:

1. What are you procrastinating?

2. Any clue why?

3. Who in your world is in a place to help you have a better perspective on your fear?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Turtle on a Fencepost

So I am standing on a stage this morning behind the Rev. Dr. M.G. "Pat" Robertson, asked to say a prayer for this great man on the occasion of Regent University's 30th Anniversary. There was a special edition of the 700 Club shot on location at Regent today. All I could think was "I've watched this man on TV since I was a kid--what do I have to say? But then I realized that as inconsequential as I felt, I was a realization of Pat Robertson's dream. Dr. David Gyertson was one of the original seven faculty and staff members of Regent. (then CBNU) But more importantly to me, he has been my pastor. As I learned God's truth from him, I sensed a call in my own life to spread the word of God.

Over the administration building of Regent is emblazoned a verse:

"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."

These words of St. Paul to Timothy represent the call to recruit world class faculty who in turn entrust their knowledge and wisdom to students, who in turn become "Christian Leaders to Change the World."

Truth is, all of us wonder some time or another if God could ever use us. Lord knows I ask myself that question most every day. But clueless, mistake-prone clods such as myself are exactly the kind of folk God has chosen to spread his word and His work around the world.

One of my other mentors, Dick Woodward, would often say, "If you see a turtle on the fencepost, you know one thing for certain--he didn't get there himself." Amen. Thank you to Pat Robertson and all the faculty and staff of Regent University for a great 30 years. I am proud to serve here, as a turtle on a fence post--waiting to see what God will do next.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Spiritual gift of Sarcasm

Ok, I suppose this blog had to get spiritual sometime. I want to reveal my (top?) spiritual gift...the gift of SARCASM! You know how it works, you wait for someone to say something semi-serious, or hopelessly naive, and they've just set themselves up for the hammer! I have mastered the wicked little cut down, the eyebrow raised dismissive comment, such that I have been asked onto the 2012 Olympic Synchronized Sarcasm team.

Sarcasm you know what I'm talking about.

Sarcasm is stating the opposite of an intended meaning especially in order to sneeringly, slyly, jest or mock a person, situation or thing. It is strongly associated with irony, with some definitions classifying it as a type of verbal irony intended to insult or wound. Sarcasm can also be used in a humorous or jesting way depending on the intent of the person speaking

So what's the big deal? Everyone uses it...we live in an upside down language world where everything we say is ironic, sardonic, sarcastic or biting somehow. well--I know for me I have become a little "en guarde" lest I be thought too serious, or too earnest, or well, just a big dope because I am just a bit old fashionedly (is that a word?) sincere.

and here's my point (someone out there is seeking one, I'm sure) Last night I was interacting with an old friend on Facebook about their view of VP Nominee Sarah Palin's speech. My old buddy is quite a bit more hip than I (not hard) and also a bit more liberal. So I tried not to let on that maybe, just maybe I enjoyed it, and threw a couple of one liners out into cyber space. I realized that I was scared just to say what I thought, so I hid behind my sarcasm.

Since I've been on campus at Regent, I have had startlingly sincere feelings of happiness, excitement, and hope. I find myself smiling for no reason. for those of you who don't know my story, I've been through quite a bit to get here, and not all of it pleasant. So to be in a place where I can use my gifts and maybe help people at the same time, and meet the most fantastic people in the world, well golly Beave, it's just swell. :-) (caution--sappy dope alert) And when I feel that, I find myself wanting to protect myself by using sarcasm, pretending not to be so twinkly-eyed about the situation, in the hopes that no one will burst my bubble.

I shared this info with Dr. Carlos Campo, our new Academic VP. He said to me, "When you quit smiling, and go back to being sarcastic and cynical, let me know, because that's not good."

How do you use sarcasm? When is it good? When is it somethign to hide behind? Let me know.

I promise not to mock your answers...too bad. ;-)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cornhole--a whole new way of life?

Today I attended the COGS Back to School BBQ Bash. I have to say it was an awesome event. I met some amazing students, had some great food (go Chef Dan!) and best of all, played the greatest of all games CORNHOLE. It's the kind of sport that makes one want to repeat its very name over and over... CORNHOLE,CORNHOLE, CORNHOLE. 

I think this was due to the incredible organizational talents and encouragement of COGS President (El Presidente) Lee Taylor. (Is this a Louisiana thing?) Now for the non-initiated amongst us, Cornhole is a legitimate athletic endeavor, used by many Olympic athletes to stay in shape during the off season. Here in VB, we have an entire league set aside for its enjoyment.  http://www.vabeachcornhole.com/

What, you might ask, does CORNHOLE have to do with our spiritual journey? Great question. Well, truth be told I think that some of his fellow COGS students thought El Presidente had gone off his rocker when he suggested this local popular past time for the Hoedown, and why is that? Background. Environment. Experience. (Good sense?) Certain thing seem natural to us because we grew up with them, certain things seem totally foreign because we didn't. 

That's what higher education is all about--sampling the traditions and thought systems of others who come from different backgrounds than ourselves. Take for instance something ALMOST as controversial as CORNHOLE...SPEAKING IN TONGUES. Where you come from, only the crazies did that. But you get to Regent, and somebody on your hall thinks that is the most natural thing in the world. You--you think that they have a demon and should be kicked out of your apartment. What is a student supposed to do?

Do what I did today--take a toss at a completely new game. Listen to the new rules. Examine unfamiliar equipment. Learn to keep score a completely different way. (what was the score in that game anyway, brother Lee?) In short--keep an open mind. Religious people are famous for being close minded...so don't add to the stereotype. Before you judge, listen.  Who knows, you may have found a completely new way of life. 

For instance in Mark 7-- the Pharisees were used to following strict rules of ceremonial cleansing. It was a game they played to make themselves feel holy. It was ok, in itself, but along came Jesus and his followers, and they were playing a completely new game. 
the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

 What was JEsus' response? Did he apologize and wash his hands, so as not to offend? no.
9And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 

It is possible in our geographic and religious backgrounds to invent traditions of men that supersede the laws of God. We look down at others because they don't know the rules to our local religious games... "Don't cuss, don't chew, don't go with girls who do... and other such things."  Maybe we're looking down our nose at others who don't play our particular brand of local game (religious cornhole?) and so they are just not Christians...right? Wrong. 
Maybe we're just stuck in our own local version of Pharisaism. 

1. What religious traditions today do you think are just "rules of men" that might contradict the laws of God?
2. What religious/spiritual practices have you encountered that are unfamiliar to you? How did you respond?


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ok--I suppose in a blog it would be somewhat important to know a few things about the person speaking. Or typing. Or blogging. You get the point. 

My name is Richard Kidd. That makes me "rich Kidd." I know, kinda crazy, I've asked my mother if she were still on the drugs from childbirth. I'm not rich, by the way, but Rich Kidd is not such a bad name. (My dad is named Jerry, making me one of Jerry's kidds. you do the math) I was born in Washington D.C. while my dad was at the Pentagon. We moved to North Carolina, where we spent about 13 years. (Greensboro, Shelby) and then moved to good ole' Virginia Beach when I started High School. I'm a graduate of Kempsville High School (Go Chiefs!) From there I went west on I-64 to the College of William and Mary. (Go tribe! wait--please excuse that. The NCAA has ruled that Tribe! is 'hostile and abusive' to Native Americans. maybe I should say ' Go geeks in green!')

After graduating with a degree in history, I considered my career options:
1. Teach
2. Go to grad school
3. Drive a cab. 

I opted for # 2. That is, after a year and a half of youth ministry at a place called Williamsburg Community Chapel (which is a completely awesome church and one of the first places I saw demonstrated an incarnational ministry style where spirituality did not cancel out humanity, but rather completed it)  Stated simply, I loved ministry with Dick Woodward and Bill Warrick. They are still my spiritual heroes. www.wcchapel.org

After that I went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (now Trinity International University) www.tiu.edu where I graduated with an M.Div. (Magna thank the Laude) Immediately afterward I married Bridget Mathias Kidd, a 93 School of Psych. and Counseling grad. (ok--now my serious lack of skills is showing because Bridget's pic that I tried to post landed all the way at the top...which I suppose is fitting, so we'll leave it. )

Then, to fast forward a bit,(as my kids say 'One, two, skip a few, 100)  I went to Houston, then back to Virginia Beach, off to Atlanta for a few years, then back to Virginia Beach--where I dipped into the business world for awhile. finally, I came aboard at my wife's alma mater--Regent University. 

So a word now on the title--"Are we there yet?" It's about journey. It's about how each of us is a work in progress. It's about how we as humans learn to walk through life with an awareness of the spiritual dimension of our existence--something the Hebrew Bible calls a "ruach" a spirit (or wind!) Such that right living in the New Testament is called "walking in the Spirit" And let me be the first to tell you that my journey has been anything but straight...I've had twists and turns, ups and downs...and more downs. But always, it is when I recognize the Jesus the Messiah is walking with me that I can look back and gain more understanding of the curves and the washed out bridges and the desert stretches where I've been. 

One of my favorite stories in the Bible tells of two men on a journey. They were discouraged, downcast, desperate because of the things that had happened to the man they believed in. Little did they know, that man was right in front of them.
Lk. 24:15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.

The trick for me is to ask God to give me eyes to see Jesus on my journey, and to receive his perspective, and the result is amazing.
31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and 
opened the Scriptures to us?"

I know that I want my heart to burn with passion, not be downcast in depression. But life is tough, and that's often our response. I'd like this blog to be a place where I share my journey--maybe you share some of yours, and we'll help each other, like these two men on the road, to see Jesus, and to hear his perspective, so that our hearts would burn within us with passion for the risen Christ. 

That's all for now...but here's a question. 

"Where are you going?" (aka- what's your story? )

Let me hear from you. 

post here , or send responses directly to ministry@regent.edu

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blogs Away

Have you ever heard so much about something but just never got around to doing it yourself? Like trying that new cereal you've heard about, or buying one of those pulsing toothbrushes that line the shelves at Kroger? (I recommend those by the way) Well, blogging is like that for me. I've heard about it, thought about it, figured I'd do it sometime, and now--here we are.

The occasion for finally getting around to it (like cleaning the garage, or some other chore that you know needs doing) was in this case my accepting a new position. I am the new Director of Campus Ministries at Regent University.

Hooray! It sure beats unemployment. My journey has been quite an interesting one, which I suppose some blog time I will get into.

As for right now, I am interested in connecting with students at Regent University. (sorry to all my non-student friends) Shoot me an email rkidd@regent.edu. HEre are the questions I am interested in!

1. What is your opinion of the spiritual climate on campus?

2. What one or two things do you think would make the biggest impact spiritually on campus?

Give it a shot, and we'll do this blog thing together.