Standing in Two Boats

One of our church's leaders has been out and will be out over the next several weeks due to the quintuple bypass surgery that followed the mild heart attack he had three weeks ago. Richard is also one of the teachers of our largest Sunday school class, so in his absence I offered to share teaching duties with the other two teachers.

This may surprise some of you, but yesterday was the first time I have EVER taught Sunday school. It was fun and an excellent opportunity to talk about some tuff topics (for those who don't know, "tuff" is actually more difficult than "tough" with a little bit of fun mixed in).

I didn't pick the Sunday and thus, I didn't pick the topic, but it was very fortuitous. We studied James 4:1-12, which is James' scolding of Jewish Christians for their fighting and quarrelling. Now, for those of you who know me, you know that I'm rarely one who backs down from a good skirmish - I've been in my fair share of conflicts and I've worked hard to resolve many of them.

Have you ever seen a good church fight? If you've ever played church league softball, you probably have, either between the Methodists and the Baptists or you may have seen your own team implode. When we think about church fights, we immediately think about the time that old man Jones started a screaming match with Council Chair Sally. We don't so much think about the other conflicts that take place behind the scenes. What about when we don't get along, start gossip, and create alliances. Survivor doesn't just take place on TV, Christians have mastered this technique of getting our way and voting others off the island. Then there's my favorite, the passive-agressive technique: the way we can praise someone publicly and to their face and then find secretive ways of unraveling that person's hard work or misquoting their gracious words. It's a great credibility killer and the hardest of conflicts to flush out into the light. As a pastor, this is by far my favorite kind of conflict - as a United Methodist, I know that these are the attacks that cause the most negative pastoral moves in the church.

All in all, we're just plain good at fighting. James scolds his readers for this attitude and asks, "Do you really think this is the attitude that God intended for you? Some conflict is healthy, but these approaches to "dealing" with conflict are not of God, they're of the world.

This is dangerous for those of us who profess to be Christian. Have you ever seen what happens when a person tries to stand in two boats? If you're lucky, you can make it last for a few seconds, but eventually we all know what will happen. The boats will drift and the daredevil will eventually get really wet.

Imagine faith as a boat. Christ has invited all of us to get into his boat, but sometimes we forget (or refuse) to take our other foot out of the world's boat. When it comes to conflict, we love God, but we don't love others. We stand with a foot in God's boat and a foot in the world's. James even wrote about how this affects our prayer life. God doesn't answer our prayers because we don't have the heart of God and we pray selfishly. See also 1 John 3:21-22. Pay close attention to the phrase, "if our hearts do not condemn us..."

So what's the answer? It's not just knowing the heart of God, but HAVING the heart of God. We have to repent, or turn away from our selfishness and the way we don't love each other. We have to decide to change our attitudes and our actions. And we have to humble ourselves to God. If we humble ourselves, God will take care of our needs, our wants, our reputation, our influence, and our future.

Here's a prime example for you: We all, in our churches, jobs, and homes, carry a certain level of authority and a certain level of influence. Think about the people in your church that possess a certain level of authority. Some will always cling to their authority like a life raft and that position and power has to be pried out of their cold dead hands (often literally). Others recognize that they won't always be there and they were never intended to be the permanent solution to the problem and they disciple others, they share their authority with others, and they plan for the future.

Now what happens to the influence of the person who unflinchingly clings to their power? It takes a big hit. People lose respect for these leaders and don't want to follow them. These leaders wind up in endless conflict with others.

What about those who share their authority with others and are responsible in their leadership, what happens to their influence? It grows. These men and women gain the respect of others and even when their term in leadership comes to an end, they still serve as admired leaders in their community.

Here's the point: we've got to stop trying to stand in both boats. If we are going to follow Christ, we have to make the decision to get in his boat completely - in attitude and action. When we learn to love first, we will still disagree with each other over some things and not everything will always be rosy, but at least we will come more often to resolution, especially resolution that doesn't hurt or take from somebody.



A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was down from Lawrenceville on business and I had the chance to spend an hour with him over a cup of coffee. Joel is one of those people that I think every pastor needs around. In the middle of a busy, stressful week, he's a guy that genuinely encourages me whether he knows it or not. In the same encouraging conversation, he can push me to be a little bit better.

Since we met that day, one question of his has echoed in my mind over and over and over. He asked me, "Is your preaching as bold as your blogging?" My reply, "I try to preach boldly most of the time."

And I do. I firmly believe that sermons aren't meant to be feel good moments and have to have realistic opportunities to respond. If you're listening to a preacher, it means that either you don't know Christ and need to take those first steps or you have a relationship with Christ and should be striving toward perfection, working out your faith with "fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

Am I bold or perfect every time I stand up on a Sunday morning? Unfortunately no. Am I bold every day I get up and live publicly? I wish.

Two weeks ago I preached on Peter walking on water. Last Sunday I preached on the Canaanite woman who pleaded with Jesus for her daughter's healing along with Jacob's wrestling with God at Jabbok. Both sermons dealt with our boldness as Christians, whether it was making the decision to follow through with what God has called you to or simply struggling with God and your faith. Boldness is one of those essential ingredients to living an effective (or fruitful) faith.

I hope that when people hear me preach, they feel urged to grow in faith and become barbarians in their own sense. I hope that my sermons are bold enough to make the grade. Most importantly, I hope that I am at my boldest when I am out of the pulpit.


Help Wanted

I'm looking for some help. I want to do a sermon series on healthy living and getting in good shape physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the fall. This is a new development, but I'm going to need some help to pull it off. Here's what I need:

  • A dietician - to help give cooking/dining recommendations to the congregation
  • A trainer - to give exercise advice
  • A butt-kicker - to help me pull this off and lose some of my own weight by the end of five or six weeks (it would probably look bad if I preached on healthy living and gained weight in the process)

All of this is behind-the-scenes stuff that needs to be done. I'm not looking for someone to speak to the crowds or teach a class. I just want to pull together some information, for people age 2 through 94, that will get everybody involved in this sermon series.

This is a series that has been on my mind, but I've managed to push it to the back-burner before now. The mandate to be healthy is a scriptural one and one that we, as Christians, fail at constantly and choose not to talk about.

The Devil Made Me Do It

I'm a little late in posting about this, but when I heard it on TV, it was big enough for me to write it down.

We are, of course, in the midst of a big stir in the sports world that could have global ramifications stretching several generations from now. Still don't know what I'm talking about? Brett Favre, the greatest quarterback to ever come out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, retired from professional football in March and now wants to come back. He can, he still has time left on his contract, so the Green Bay Packers have to reactivate him at his own request until that contract runs out.

I don't really care about Brett or the Packers, but this situation has gotten to be a joke. Yesterday, the Favres landed in Green Bay and were welcomed by a few hundred fans. Today, Brett reports for Packers Camp, which is the last thing team management wanted to happen. Frankly, when I heard about Favre coming out of retirement, I said to myself, "Here we go again. It's Michael Jordan all over again. Next thing we know he'll be trying professional baseball, or curling, or acting or something."

The guy's not coming out of retirement because he's in a financial pinch - he's coming out because he can't make up his mind and hasn't been able to for several years. He's as bad as my wife shopping for dresses. (I love you Erin.)

Last week, I heard part of a press conference with the General Manager of the Packers. The GM addressed the media and said "It's not Brett's fault that he chose to retire." I thought he was being sarcastic, but HE WASN'T! He was being dead serious - the kind of serious you get when you're called to the stand in a big trial.

Now, I'm confident that each reader has enough congnitive ability to realize that this statement is absolutely ludicrous, but I'm curious about why he would say such a thing. Does he really believe that? Could he really believe that? At what point do we tell Brett Favre to "man up" and be accountable to his own public decision to retire? At what point do we tell anybody to own their own decisions?

We live in a world where the blame game is a professional sport. From childhood, we almost instinctively muster the words, "Wasn't me" or "It was an accident." From the beginning of time, men and women have been shirking responsibility. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent (read it here).

Part of my sermon yesterday had to do with our responsibility as children of God that comes in the form of a calling and purpose. That purpose is to care and provide for others so they are fed, clothed, sheltered, befriended, and welcomed and so that they come to know Christ for themselves (Matthew 25:31-46).

In the Kingdom of God, there are no ifs, ands, or buts - only truth. We may be masters of making excuses in this lifetime, but in our relationship with God, they will go over like a lead balloon.

Instead, we should be setting the example for living up to our responsibilities and being accountable to our decisions. I've learned that life is much easier when nothing is hidden and we're humble enough to know when we've screwed up.

You're entitled to your opinion, but I believe Brett Favre should have stayed retired. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer who had accumulated alot of respect and an immense reputation as a stand up guy. Now that he's reneged on his decision to retire and done it in such a deceptive way, I've lost respect for him and hope that he's not still setting the example for young aspiring athletes. I hope others can see through him. I hope others can see through the rest of us also.