In a Row of Graves

Check out this picture …

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Eran and I took our daughters last weekend to visit all of the headstones of those in our family who have passed away. This row of markers is the row of my grandfather’s family. The headstone, in the bottom left corner, is my grandfather’s. Trace the row to the top right corner, and you’ll see the headstones of his brothers and sisters, and his parents.

This is their family. Once upon a time, my grandfather was a kid, in a house full of kids. His parents were in the middle of parenting. There was once a lot of noise in their house; memories were being made, and exhaustion was being fought. But the kids grew up. They left their house, fought a war, had a family, and had their own grandchildren. And now, he and his family are together again, next to each other in their graves.

The time we have with our children is precious. And it’s fleeting. Don’t waste a minute with them. Don’t emphasize petty things like sports and movies. Emphasize, instead, God’s love and grace and mercy, and how God wants to use them to heal a broken world.

Read the gospels together.

Pray together.

Speak to them of how God is testing you, and how he is blessing you.

Remind them that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are just illusions of community.

Teach them how God wants his church to be a kingdom — the kingdom — on earth, and not an organization with great things to do, and with fantastic personalities to hear.

All of this has been especially heightened for me, though, in my two experiences in the past month serving the families of children with cancer. To say that I was humbled, and overwhelmed, at the serious tests these families endure is a vast understatement. These parents truly know the value of family, and they embrace it to its fullest experience, every day — in ways I cannot.

So again, I say, the time we have with our children is precious.

Because one day, regardless of our health and wealth right now, each of our families will only be known by the words etched in the stones at our graves.

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This Is Who We Are

Blessings to you today, and thank you for joining me. This is my forty-third straight day reading through the New Testament, and you are reading my forty-third straight blog post over those readings. It has blessed me tremendously.

Today’s reading is Romans 4 through Romans 6. These three chapters are powerful, but I must confess that while reading them, I could only think of a preacher that preaches way too long.

And I mean no disrespect there. It’s really what my mind is willing to handle. Paul has a powerful theological argument, but it’s hard to digest these three chapters. Maybe you’ve found the same thing to be true.

Nevertheless, after switching translations (I linked to The Message above) and reading it fresh, the three chapters made a bit more sense to me. There are powerful words here that speak to us. This letter, in these three chapters, makes it clear that we — me and you and anyone you know — are mere followers in life.

We are powerless. We constantly rely on opinions, consultations, friendships, and counsel. We are born into a world, into a reality, designed for us to live together, in community, and we suffer greatly apart from it.

Culture, though, has seriously polluted community for us. We find illusions to it, now, in social media, where our online connections make us feel whole, even though it is illusory. Genuine community has become the victim to a personalized world. We’ve been taught to follow no one, isolating ourselves in our own hand-built world.

In this letter to the Romans, though, we find who we really are. We find our deepest created tendencies as followers. I find this comforting today. I hope you will, too.

We want to believe.

Belief is powerful. It is the blood of our anticipation. It is how we cope with our own smallness. We want to believe someone can do something that seems impossible to accomplish.

This letter to a disheveled Roman church tunes our ears to this very human instinct, and places our desire to believe squarely in the arena of faith. We want to believe that God will make us right, even against our own failures. We are made to believe that. It is our ultimate belief. Our own guilt is not the byproduct of cultural stipulations. It is the God-given signal that there is, genuinely, a right way to live. And we want to believe that.

Yet our own failures make this an impossibility. Temper, lust, anger, deceit. All of those, every day, prove to us our own inability to just be right — to just live right.

God, though, made Abraham someone he couldn’t become on his own, because he believed God could. God made him a father. He energized Abraham’s physical body to produce a child with his wife, Sarah, whose womb was dry with age. All Abraham had to do was believe it was possible, and then he became the father of us all. His life is a testament to the very power, and very necessity, of belief.

And Abraham believed even before there was some overbearing law that dictated right and wrong. Abraham knew what was right, without any written or taught standard. And his belief was rewarded. Ours is, too, through the awesome miracle of reconciliation.

Not only does God accept our belief, but validates it, every time we sin, by completely restoring our relationship with him. He restores this relationship to the pristine, pre-sin condition. Every time. Even when …

We still want to sin.

But even in the shadow of our own dreams, we are reminded, again, of our complete brokenness. We want to sin. Even writing that phrase, here, makes me shutter. Even my best attempt at holiness is met with my own failure.

Because we share the same desire to sin that was given to Adam. We share the same desire to become our own god. That is why God’s grace is necessary.

Grace is the only thing that can defeat our own tendency to leave God.

This is the verse, this morning, that energized me:

But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. (Romans 5:20, 21; The Message)

Even our own sin is matchless against the force of God’s grace.

We want to follow.

This letter, in chapter 6, tells the story of humanity, though, even after it shows us our own created tendencies to believe and sin. Ultimately, we are sheep. We want, earnestly, to follow something. Even great leaders in our own human systems rely on opinions and consultations of a larger group. No person makes great decisions on their own.

A baptism into the life of Jesus gives us a way to follow, though. This way changes our desires. It changes our actions. But do we completely understand that?

Our preferences change. Or at least they should, A baptism into the name of Jesus is a baptism into a completely different life. We no longer want to do the same destructive things.

Instead, we sacrifice those desires to live a completely whole life, free of guilt. That is radical.

To a city filled with slaves, Paul wrote about intentional slavery in this letter. Most slaves were held against their will, but the historical record indicates that, in Rome, some families intentionally became slaves for the guarantee of security and food.

Our life is an intentional life of slavery. We will intentionally be enslaved to a lifestyle that will destroy us, or we will intentionally be enslaved to a lifestyle that will always resurrect us.

And this is who we are.

__________

All through today’s reading, I kept playing this song in the back of my mind. It’s got a great guitar hook, but the lyrics are spot on. By a band called Hyperstatic Union, the song is called Slave. You can find it here.

Social

I redesigned our student ministry and children’s ministry website, at kidswiththemost.com. Here’s why.

Social media and networking are beginning to make me dizzy.

I received an invite, this summer, to join Google+. I joined. And then I just stared at my profile.

I still open it, occasionally, and have no idea what to do with it. I have enough difficulty keeping my Facebook page, my Twitter page, and my LinkedIn account in sync with each other.

In the previous few years, I have used Facebook extensively as a means of communication, and have used it often to send messages and updates on events. And though both Facebook and Twitter have their functions in sharing personal lives with a vast network, I shy from exposing my personal life on either site, simply because my life is public enough. I doubt very seriously people really want to know when I am out of milk.

Communicating with students, and members, has been made much easier because of social media. But those means of communication have evolved. Facebook was incredibly useful — for a while, at least for student ministry, but the preference of social media has evolved, and some students have gravitated away from Facebook to Twitter, making Twitter very useful — but that, too, will only last for a while. Google+ has yet to prove its usability.

With the average age of a new Facebook user being around 40, and with the most common usage of Facebook from women older than 55, Facebook’s communication ability for broad age groups has seen it’s time. While it is still useful for sharing your life with your network … to communicate, it is fading. The new group feature on Facebook is a notable exception, and communication, through that feature, has briefly resurrected Facebook’s communication features.

Twitter has its advantages, too. With tagging features for those who follow ministry accounts, I can guarantee a direct message to anyone. And the brevity Twitter requires short messages, and those can be read quickly. But how long will that guarantee last?

Communication through social media, then, I think, has almost reached its end. Within one year, and certainly within 18 months, to communicate through social media will be laughable, because, like most everything else in our culture, we will gravitate toward the site that best fits our personality, and our needs, and there is no guarantee that we will all be on the same site.

The only way to continue to communicate online is through a central location, not really attached to any social media site, and I am finding, now, that bringing people to that central location is absolutely critical. So I updated our student website to mirror all of this information.

It is a simple site, no longer heavy with graphics and words and info. Using social media places to fulfill the greatest amount of information, I’ve designed a four page site, with a welcome screen, one page for information on our student ministry, one page for our children’s ministry, and one page for the newest feature of our site — a blog.

By keeping a blog, on the site, I’m beginning to see really great changes in communication. I can update it as often as I like, and, by making it as brief as possible, I’ve allowed everyone, on every available social media site, to find their way to our central site location, and then read the information quickly, and even have time to visit the archives. By transferring the responsibility of communication to the site, I’ve then allowed other social networks to complement what can be found at the site. In essence, all of these outlets, together, form a fairly comprehensive composite picture.

Traffic has increased to the site, and I now have the ability to communicate within, and without, social media.

Now, using only social media sites to inform followers of the site update, it no longer matters which site anyone prefers.

Which, really, is the essence of church. Lots of people, outside of a specific location, being a part of several different groups, but being connected by the one thing that binds each person together, regardless of preferences and pursuits.

Killer

150 million Americans are on Facebook.  And in America, Facebook is involved in one out of every five divorces.  The article below is astounding.

The Marriage Killer:  One in Five American Divorces Now Involve Facebook
by David Gardner
for The Daily Mail

It used to be the tell-tale lipstick on the collar. Then there were the give-away texts that spelled the death knell for many marriages.

But now one in five divorces involve the social networking site Facebook, according to a new survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

A staggering 80 per cent of divorce lawyers have also reported a spike in the number of cases that use social media for evidence of cheating.

Flirty messages and photographs found on Facebook are increasingly being cited as proof of unreasonable behaviour or irreconcilable differences.

Many cases revolve around social media users who get back in touch with old flames they hadn’t heard from in many years.

Facebook was by far the biggest offender, with 66 per cent of lawyers citing it as the primary source of evidence in a divorce case. MySpace followed with 15 per cent, Twitter at 5 per cent and other choices lumped together at 14 per cent.

The survey reflects the findings of a UK law firm last year showing that 20 per cent of its divorce petitions blamed Facebook flings.

‘The most common reason seemed to be people having inappropriate sexual chats with people they were not supposed to,’ said Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online.

Friends Reunited faced similar claims when it was launched to help people reconnect with old classmates, but the 23 million plus people now using Facebook in Britain means it is having a much bigger effect on rising divorce rates.

‘Desperate Housewives’ star Eva Longoria recently split from her basketball player husband Tony Parker after alleging that he strayed with a woman he kept in touch with on Facebook.

An American minister also made the headlines recently when he called Facebook a ‘portal to infidelity’ and insisted that his congregation delete their accounts after revealing that 20 couples attending his New Jersey church had been led astray through the site.

Rev. Cedric Millier, who runs the Living World Christian Fellowship Church in Neptune, New Jersey, said Facebook enabled spouses to reconnect with former lovers, leading to rows and bitterness.

But Rev. Miller was forced to take a leave of absence after his own non-Facebook transgressions were revealed.

‘Going through a divorce always results in heightened levels of personal scrutiny. If you publicly post any contradictions to previously made statements and promises, an estranged spouse will certainly be one of the first people to notice and make use of that evidence,’ said American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers President Marlene Eskind Moses.

‘As everyone continues to share more and more aspects of their lives on social networking sites, they leave themselves open to much greater examinations of both their public and private lives in these sensitive situations,’ she added.

Marriage counsellor Terry Real said he believes some users go on Facebook to create a fantasy life and escape the drudgery.

‘There is nothing more seductive that the ‘one that got away’ fantasy that’s always better than someone who is up to her eyeballs in bills,’ he told ABC News in the U.S..

But he said Facebook is not really to blame.

‘Before it was email, then before that it was the phone. The problem is not Facebook, it is the loss of love in your marriage,’ he said.

In

I thought this morning, and of the past few days, of the meaning of the Christ-follower’s tenant to be “in the world and not of the world.”  Today, I thought of the church, and how that becomes reality with the church.

Here’s what I think:  It is obvious that if the church shows no interest in the world, then the world will show no interest in the church.

Now, to you, that could mean several different things, so even saying something that general is open to the vaguest of interpretations.  And the longer I’ve been in ministry, the less I believe that the church should look like the world.  The flash and bling, great stages and cool graphics are nice, and allow great and fluid communication, but that doesn’t really give us a presence in the world.  If we are honest, it just makes us look more like the world from which we are calling people.  So I’m not so sure a statement like that one above means the way we “look.”

(And for an interesting comment on this, exegete Hosea 4:6 and following, about how God views worship leaders and religious leaders who lead worship that “looks” like a world with a disdainful and sinful culture.  That should shock any minister or pastor.)

But I think the world offers tools of communication that we should use.  After all, if God has given us great abilities to communicate, then shouldn’t we use those?

I am fascinated by marketing.  I am fascinated by the way the world receives messages, and the way smart companies communicate those messages.  I am often frustrated by demure ideals of communication, especially if they are offered as “the way we’ve always done it.”  The world is quicker and faster and more skeptical than ever.  We have a timeless message, but we have to condense it in a world that only allows for about 140 characters of space.

So take a look at this graphic.  It’s an interesting look into the world of marketers, and how they access and utilize social media.  Cool stuff, and great learning for those of us trying to convince others to follow Jesus.