More Lessons from the Sea Shepherd

In my last post, I told you about my newest guilty pleasure: Watching the "Whale Wars" show on Friday nights to make fun of the crew and leadership of the Sea Shepherd. These people are the ones that even Greenpeace doesn't want around - literally.

On last week's episode, the crew tracked down a Japanese whaling vessel and started the harrasment. The captain, Paul Watson, asked for two volunteers to board the moving ship in order to provoke a diplomatic emergency.

Two such idiots were found and the harpoon ship was boarded (I still think this was an act of piracy and these guys deserved to be shot or thrown overboard). Once on board, Watson began making calls to the Australian government declaring that two of his crew members were being held hostage on the Japanese ship in Australian waters. Unbelievable! You can't fake that kind of irrational stupidity!

It always catches my attention when people start shirking their own responsibility and think that it makes everything alright to point the finger at someone else. The Sea Shepherd crew actually wanted the world to believe that these men were being held captive (again, another good reason to throw them overboard).

For the last month, I've been preaching about stewardship, and particularly how our finances play a role in that stewardship. We live in a world full of people that are hurting financially. Debt is at a significant high, foreclosures are on the rise, and the courts are riddled with bankruptcy hearings. What's everybody's response? To blame the other guy.

I'll make no bones about it - lenders deserve some of the credit for the situation that we're all in. BUT: Nobody ever made someone else take out those loans. Nobody forced anyone to buy a two million dollar home when all they could afford was a $300K one. Nobody required you to use the 18 credit cards that Chase and American Express so kindly sent you.

Whose bad decision was it? Think about it...

We have allowed our belongings and our wealth define us and give us security rather than relying on the abundance of God. Remember Adam and Eve? God GAVE them everything in the garden to use as they wished. They decided that it wasn't enough and struck out to gain for themselves.

We will not learn from our mistakes if we don't admit that they're our mistakes. Blaming others simply shifts (optimistically) the responsibility and destines us for repitition.

Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent - they all faced consequences. Whether we're making poor decisions now and blaming them on others or we're boarding other people's boats and blaming it on the Japanese, none of that changes what the facts are.

Confess your sin, repent of wrongdoing, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The pain of self-realization is fleeting, but the agony and consequences of denial are hard to rid yourself of.


My Newest Guilty Pleasure

Before I tell you about my newest guilty pleasure, let me give you the disclaimer. I believe that God created all things and sat back and admired his work. He declared it good, and it, therefore, has great value to me.

I support conservation and I believe its sinful when we harm the environment. That said, let me tell you about the TV show that's caught my attention...

On Friday nights, Animal Planet has started broadcasting a show entitled "Whale Wars." It's highly entertaining and if you're not doing anything tonight, pop some popcorn and sit down for some quality entertainment.
Whale Wars is about an organization known as Sea Shepherd. It's headed by Paul Watson (who is quite possibly the only overweight vegan I know). Watson is one of the 12 founders of Greenpeace and the one that happened to be voted off the organization's island for being too radical.
They've been well funded by some other crazies and thanks to Animal Planet, we learn that there are whole levels of stupid that most of us never knew existed. The crew, most of which have no experience at sea, steam around the Antarctic Circle in their ship, the Steve Irwin (you guessed it, the ship is named after the Crocodile Hunter). While on their cruise, they search for Japanese whaling operations. Once found, they make threats over the radio, hurl stink bombs and other various chemical grenades at these ships, and even pull off a couple of really stupid stunts.
Last week, Watson had the brilliant idea to have two volunteers from the Steve Irwin come alongside and board the Japanese ship. Once on board, Watson would call the Australian government and start a political fight, declaring his own crew members to be held captive. I always thought boarding someone else's boat without permission while at sea was an act of piracy, but I guess I'm just too reasonable as a person to see it Watson's way.
I'm not sure which part was the most enjoyable, that they threw the stink bombs on board and THEN jumped on, or when the Japanese crew members actually tried to throw one of them overboard into the icy ocean.
All of this is an attempt to deter people from killing whales for research and profit. I found myself asking one question over and over again: Is this really the best and most effective way to get your point across and change people's minds? I really doubt it.
As Christians, we could be accused of some of the same tactics. How we relate to non-Christians is often disgraceful. We forget that Jesus mentored and loved his twelve disciples (even Judas). We forget that Philip made a friend out of the Ethiopian eunuch. We forget that Paul was cared for by Ananias. Coercion and nasty behavior is never a substitute for love, mercy, kindness, and genuine care.
I have more to say about the Sea Shepherd crew, but I'll save that for later.


Couldn't Have Said It Better

I found a new blog today. Check out the video...

That one's funny AND painful. We really do expect people to check their common sense and/or the last 40 years of social change when they come to church.

I had a conversation with some members about our facility and the impression we make to newcomers just a few weeks ago. These were members who, mostly, have been a part of Mt. Bethel for most of their lives, and those who haven't, have been part of other churches that are very similar.

We talked about how we could best be attractive and convenient to visitors and that the first part of that impression is knowing who you're targeting. I used Publix as an example:

Which grocery store would most housewives shop at - Publix, Kroger, Wal-Mart, or Piggly Wiggly? Almost all would tell you Publix. Why?

The aisles are wide, the items are in the right places, well labeled, and pulled to the front of the shelves. The floors are clean. The employees are almost always friendly and there is the expectation that there will be someone there to carry out your groceries TIP FREE! I remember when Publix first opened in Valdosta and they were the only store that didn't have cart returns in the parking lot.

Publix is the place that a woman can go for stress-free grocery shopping (no, they're not paying me anything to say this). Whether you've dropped the kids off and have a couple of free hours or they're tagging along, this is the environment that you don't feel cramped, lost, or unsure about what you're buying.

Anybody ever had a cart with a bad wheel at Publix? I haven't. Nobody else I've talked to ever has either. Ever had one at Wal-Mart? Almost every time you say? Me too. Hmmmm.

What about our churches? It starts with the parking lot. If I'm a mom with two kids (easy for me to imagine, because this is Erin's experience most weeks), can I find a spot? Is it easy to find and get to the door that I should enter by? When I get in, am I greeted and guided by someone who knows their way around. If I'm looking for the bathroom and the nursery, can I find it (are there signs or is it hidden a floor below the gym where you have no hope of finding it?

Do I feel comfortable leaving my kids in the nursery?

If I'm running late and come up from the bathroom/nursery and see a door labeled "sanctuary" will it be that door that every church has that will open up right next to the pulpit, allowing every person with a pulse to train their attention on the visitor that has the audacity to not make it to worship on time? Or will it be the door that allows me to slip in unnoticed?

What about worship? Am I sitting by myself for a reason? Am I stealing someone's pew and will I be accosted by a 90 year old woman with a pointy umbrella? Or am I welcomed by a friendly face that will ask to come and sit with me and answer any questions I might have?

Does the worship leader make clear how I should participate in worship? There's nothing like being familiar with the characteristics of pentecostal worship and visiting an episcopal church - oh, the looks you get the first time your hands go in the air. Personally, I enjoy going to a Catholic mass occasionally and trying to anticipate when to sit, stand, and kneel.

Church leaders and servants: Try to see your church with fresh eyes the next time you walk into the building. Pay attention when you go to places like Starbucks, Publix, and other businesses you frequent. When you leave are you satisfied or did you go because you didn't have much option and no real choice? What little things do they do that make the difference? How can you make that impression on people at church?

Now hear this: DON'T WAIT FOR A COMMITTEE TO DECIDE WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE! Somebody will show up to your church on Sunday and you'll never get a second chance to make that first impression. That person could end up being a difference maker for your church or your own life. EACH church member is responsible for hospitality. See someone, greet them. Sit with a stranger.


Hug a Vet

Have you thanked a veteran lately?

Yesterday was a major holiday and unfortunately, one that often times gets overlooked (unless you work at a bank or hold a government job). There's alot of significance to Veterans Day and alot of Veterans that go unnoticed.

The picture that I've posted is from yesterday's dedication of the Veterans Wall of Honor here in McDonough. As you can see, I was standing in the midst of my motorcycle gang when I took this picture. (For those of you who can't tell, I'm being facetious about the gang) In the picture, what you can't tell, is that there are several distinguished leaders on the platform to offer words of gratitude. Speaking is the Lt. Governor of Georgia, Casey Cagle.

The monument far surpasses what most local governments have for their vets. In fact, it's large enough and beautiful enough to probably be deserving of a place on the Mall in D.C. At the bottom of the hill is a POW/MIA monument. From there, you walk up some steps and follow a walkway lined with the flags of the five branches of the armed forces and made up of bricks with the names of veterans inscribed. The walkway leads to a plaza with some larger monuments and a very large wall, covered in images and quotes from the Revolutionary War to the wars we are fighting now. In the center of the plaza stands a flagpole for the nation's flag (which, by the way, is one that was flown over the Capitol Building in D.C.) and behind the wall are the 50 flags of the states. It's an incredible experience just to be in the presence of such greatness.

I'm not a veteran. I come from several and I'm related to several (3 grandparents, an uncle, a father-in-law, and two brothers-in-law), but I'm not one. I grew up in a town with an Air Force Base and I've been around military personnel all my life. I've had friends who, when I went off to college, enlisted to jump out of planes and carry rifles. I even considered, very seriously, serving as a Chaplain in the USMC. I have a great appreciation for all they do and the sacrifices that they make.

When I was in seminary, I got to meet several veterans and got to know them on levels that many of us never do. I was assigned to chaplaincy work at the Atlanta VA Hospital for a year and worked most of that time with the support groups for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I've heard stories that I would like to forget the details of. I've seen hulking men break down over the memories of nightmarish days many decades before. It made my understand why my grandfather never talked about Europe in World War II and why my father-in-law never talks about Vietnam.

Our men and women, then and now, have signed up to serve without any guarantees what they will face and what they will have to live with. They've done it because they believe in the principles that make up America. Many carry scars that we can't see.

Pray for the vets. Thank them when you see them. The ones I thank always tell me how rare it is that someone thanks them or even acknowledges them as vets. It's easy to see the Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C. and never read any of the names. It's another thing entirely to realize that there is a human being etched in stone forever because of their sacrifice. It's another thing entirely to think of the families that each of those names represent. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters...

"Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)