Category Archives: life

Sweet Education

This year, some of the youth sold candy as a fundraiser for an upcoming missions trip. There’s a lot of work involved, but it is fun… and educational!

Here’s what I learned from chocolate molding:

1. When you lose your temper, cool off a bit and try again. (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2005/08/tempering-choco/)

2. You can re-melt chocolate that has gotten cold and hardened, but you can’t re-use chocolate that has gotten too hot and burnt. Avoid burnout. (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581829)

3. Sometimes, you just need to let things chill. (http://www.wilton.com/technique/Basic-Molded-Candy)

4. Mistakes are just as tasty as the perfect pieces!

Seeing Things

I’ve never really enjoyed being in the audience at a large event. The crush of people all trying to be in the same place at once is pretty much the opposite of what I consider “a good time.” Parades fall squarely into this category for me. Although I’ve assisted behind the scenes in creating floats for many parades, I’ve probably *attended* fewer than a 5 parades in my nearly 40 years, and participated in a parade (as in, drove, marched, or rode on a float) fewer than a dozen times.

This morning, I drove my church van in my area’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade. I’ve been a part of a couple of Christmas parades in my city, so I thought I knew what to expect: throw some candy and toys, dodge the unwanted candy the crowds inevitably throw back, try to keep the kids in my vehicle from falling out, and watch out for parade goers who might dart out in front of my vehicle.

From our position in the parking area where floats were lining up, we got to watch the majority of the other float entries and marching groups ahead of us as they reached the starting point of the parade. And what I saw (or perhaps, what I didn’t see) was a sobering reminder that even though it is 2014, racial divisions are still alive and well in central Louisiana. As I watched the marching bands and floats pass, I was struck by how few of the participants were white… and almost without exception, every adult white male in that parade was a politician.

My social anxiety temporarily gave way to a sense of sadness. I thought this would be more like Christmas. The pattern I noticed in the participants was amplified in the audience: very few white faces in the crowd. Where was everyone? MLK day is a school holiday. Some businesses stay open – but many are closed in observance of the day. So where did everyone go? I kept thinking that this should have been more like Christmas. But I also realized that it wasn’t really about the parade. This was just a symptom of a deeper racial divide, one that extends into businesses and schools and social organizations and especially churches. It’s voluntary segregation.

Jesus was the ultimate barrier-breaker. As Christians, we see Jesus’ birth as God bridging the immense divide between Himself and man. That gap should make any division between human beings seem trivial in comparison. How can we truly claim to be like Jesus if we’re not willing to reach out across racial divisions?

New Year, New Goals

Hard to believe that it’s 2014 already! I wasn’t going to do any New Year’s Resolutions this year, but over the last few days I saw some folks posting about some year-long projects that they were getting ready to start… so I decided to jump in and set three very reachable goals for myself. Here’s a visual aid:

365-0sm

The first was a no-brainer… exercise! I won’t bother to make the diet commitment because inevitably I will fail at that. But I can commit to exercise more. I have a recumbant bike now, and my Fitbit to track steps taken during the day.

The next, and most intimidating (and potentially the most rewarding as well), is the photo-a-day project. I needed a good creative challenge, and honestly I haven’t been doing as much photography as I should… so this was a good fit for me. I’ll be posting some of them here, and more over on my Facebook page, but you can also follow me at http://365project.org/onepursuit where I’ll (hopefully!) be uploading a few pictures each day.

Finally, I saw some friends on Facebook talking about reading Augustine’s City of God in very small chunks over the course of the year. They set up a facebook group to discuss what we’re reading… so it’s kinda like a college class without the high pressure deadlines or the tuition 🙂  I’m looking forward to that too.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but after I posted this picture I realized that I’ve chosen goals that will challenge and enrich body, soul, and mind 🙂 Not bad for something I didn’t plan!

Legacy

In all the busy-ness of the last couple of days, I initially missed the news that Harold Camping had passed away Sunday. If that name sounds familiar, it is most likely because in 2011, he gained a lot of notoriety when he falsely predicted judgement day and the end of the world… complete with an extensive, expensive, and pretty embarrassing advertising campaign.

To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about him for years before he made the news for that. I wrote about it (and my childhood connection to Camping’s ministry) here. For better or worse, he had a significant influence on how I thought about the Bible and Christianity in general, and that influence continued long after I tuned him out. When I hear certain phrases, even today, I can’t help but recall them in Camping’s distinctive voice. The people we encounter in life, even temporarily, can leave a mark: sometimes good, sometimes bad, and most often a little of both. This is what I’ve taken away from his life:

1. “The Bible alone, and in it’s entirety, is the Word of God.”

I value the Bible as much as I do in large part because I heard this phrase repeated over and over again by Camping on his call-in show (which I listened to). Enough that it made me want to read the Bible myself… which I did, several times cover-to-cover as a young pre-teen and teenager. It also made me want to study ancient languages like Greek (and I did go on to study Greek for a short time in college) so I could read the Bible in its oldest preserved form.

Although it appears that Camping no longer truly believed this (at least, not the way he was teaching it when I was younger), that statement has stuck with me all these years. Ironically, he often used and elaborated on this phrase when he responded to callers asking about various charismatic phenomena… including prophecy. Long before he himself became a prophet in the eyes of his followers.

But listening to him as a preteen/teenager, the biggest thing I took away was a foundational belief that I could and should read the Bible for myself. Thankfully, that stuck with me, even later on when I had pastors telling me some very different things.

2. You can be successful and still… wrong.

Harold Camping was successful at building a radio empire. That might not seem like much today, when nearly all radio stations are ‘networks’ and radio itself is just a minor player in the media world, but he did it starting in the late 50s and 60s, before the Internet, when radio (though past its golden age) was still significant.

For more than 50 years he gathered a devoted international following, but his teaching changed over time. Since I hadn’t really followed his teachings since the mid-to-late 80s, it was a little shocking to hear about what he was teaching by 2011. It wasn’t at all what I remembered. He no longer believed in the existence of a literal Hell. He thought he had his own special revelation of what the Bible meant. In the end, it seemed like he became the very thing he taught against back then. He had people so convinced that the world was going to end in 2011 that they quit their jobs, sold houses and other assets, and gave all their money to Camping’s ministry.

When I was reading through various online forums in 2011 trying to understand what had happened, it was scary to read what some of the most devoted followers were saying. They were star-struck. He could do (or teach) no wrong.

3. Community and Accountability matter.

If Harold Camping had retired before the 2011 mess, the story could have been much different. He could have been remembered as the Christian radio pioneer with some doctrinal eccentricities, but someone who genuinely loved the Bible. He could have left a thriving radio network as his ongoing legacy. But that’s not what happened. In the wake of the failed prophecies, donations (understandably) dried up quite a bit. The network was forced to sell some of it’s most powerful stations — including the one I used to listen to as a pre-teen.

The fact that he didn’t know when to stop may have something to do with this: the founder of “Family Radio” seemed to be a spiritual orphan. Camping and his ministry were not affiliated with any other organization or church, a fact that was prominently displayed on their website. Camping himself had not been a member of a local church since 1988. He felt that churches were all corrupt and apostate, and advised his listeners to stop attending churches as well… just study the Bible and listen to his broadcasts. There was no one in Camping’s life who could question his teachings… and no one on earth who could hold him accountable for his errors.

Camping was never an ordained minister and never claimed to be one. He didn’t call himself a pastor, though what he was doing certainly seemed like virtual pastoring. Behind a microphone in a controlled setting, his radio flock couldn’t really know him. They didn’t see him “doing life.” They knew the radio persona only to the extent to which he wanted to be known. They loved him, and they assumed that he loved them. But after May 21st and Oct 21st of 2011 came and went… he appeared very much unmoved by the pain those who trusted him and felt betrayed. And for those who were hurt, that lack of empathy and community to heal the wounds probably hurt worse than the actual failed prophecy.

My love-hate relationship with Martha and Mary

I haven’t always gotten along with Martha and Mary. Their story in Luke 10:38-42 is one of those passages that kinda bothered me. It seemed a bit out of place, a dissonant note in what otherwise felt like a harmonious chapter.

There are several stories in Luke 10: Lots of going and doing and serving, practical rubber-meets-the-road stuff and spiritual gotta-step-out-in-faith stuff. Jesus sends out the disciples and tells them not to take provisions with them because the laborer is worth his wages. They come back excited because they God used them. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan – someone who tended to the smallest details of making provision for someone else in need, even if that someone was not part of a group that they would usually associate with.

And then at the end of the chapter, there’s Martha & Mary.

In a few short verses it seems like Jesus does a 180. For most of the chapter Jesus seems to be telling us that it is good to go, work, provide, and serve. Yet Martha (who seems to be doing a lot of working, providing, and serving) is rebuked.

Martha was a doer. She had opened her home to Jesus and the disciples. She had made the arrangements and was taking care of all the details. She had a servant’s heart. And I can see myself in her: I like doing stuff. I revel in logistics. I find immense fulfillment in orchestrating an event. It’s exciting. Serving can be the most life-giving thing in the world to me. I am Martha! I can see myself there with her, hoping there was enough meat to feed everyone, making sure all the rolls in the basket were arranged top-side-up, folding all the napkins, and ensuring the perfect ice-to-sweet-tea ratio in all the glasses (OK, they probably didn’t have sweet tea, but this is my daydream)!

Mary was a worshiper. She wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet. The details could wait. She had something more important to do. And I get that, too: because I love worship. I love to pull away from all the busy-ness and just spend time with God. Whether in solitude or a church service, I know the joy of being so absorbed, so focused on worship that nothing else matters. I am Mary! I can also see myself there with her, hanging on every word from Jesus’ mouth, asking questions, oblivious to my growing to-do list, and enjoying just being with Him.

I could see Mary’s perspective and understand why she wanted to focus on Jesus didn’t want to get involved in the detail work, but I could also understand Martha wanting to serve Jesus but feeling frustrated because she was left to do the work by herself.

How could I be both of these two seemingly incompatible characters?

The story of Martha and Mary had typically been presented to me as a story of the priority of worship – specifically, choosing worship over work. Of course, this perception was colored by my particular church background, and may not apply to everyone. This passage was often cited in the context of encouraging everyone to show up, pay attention, and participate during church services. It was also a favorite for encouraging a particular style of worship that was very emotional and experiential. The implication was that true worship only happened in the absence of all work, service, and “doing.”

The thing is, that kind of work vs worship distinction didn’t make sense to me. It seemed to contradict what I saw elsewhere in the Bible… even elsewhere in Luke 10. If “the better part” was worship, and more specifically, worship in the absence of all work or service, wouldn’t Jesus have excused the priest and the levite in the story of the Good Samaritan? After all, they were the professional worshipers of their time. And wouldn’t Jesus have encouraged the disciples to stick around at His feet, rather than sending them out into the surrounding areas?

But the answer was right there the passage from Luke 10:

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NASB)

Jesus didn’t say, “Martha, stop working.” He didn’t even say, “Martha, you’re working too hard.” He said, “Martha, you are worried and bothered.” The issue was not Martha’s work, but the fact that her service had ceased to be worship. This story is about worry vs worship, not work vs worship. And that makes sense: it is possible (and we are even instructed) to work for the glory of God, but it is impossible to worry for the glory of God.

I need to remind the Martha in me that just because I’m excited about doing something, others might not be in the same place. I need to be aware that the same fire and passion that motivates me to do a lot of good things can also run me ragged and burn me out if I’m not careful. I need to keep an eye on my own heart to ensure that worry doesn’t overcome worship in my life.

The Darkest Days

June isn’t an easy month for me. It’s the brightest month of the year — there are more daylight hours in June than any other month — but for me, it’s also the darkest. It has the bittersweet distinction of being both the month of my father’s birth and of his death, and Father’s Day rounds out the month with an onslaught of sentimental father-oriented commercials on TV and products in stores.

Even though I never knew my biological father (or mother), I was incredibly fortunate to be adopted by an amazing couple. They weren’t my biological parents, but that didn’t matter. They were the only “mom” and “dad” that I knew. It wasn’t perfect — no family is — but growing up, moving from stereotypical suburb to suburb, life was good. I was loved. We were comfortable, dad worked and mom stayed home, the 70s incarnation of 50s values. I learned a lot from my dad — he worked hard, he was generous, he was wise… and he was quick with a corny joke or goofy comeback. I’d like to think I have some of those traits too, because of him.

So even on days like today, the third anniversary of his death, when I’m keenly aware of the loss … I realize that it only hurts this much because it was such a tremendous privilege. Thanks dad! I’ll always miss you.

Healing the “Out Of Joint”

This morning, I saw a familiar verse quoted on a friend’s page. Here it is in the NASB:

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;” (Heb 12:14-15 NASB)

But my friend also quoted it in the Amplified version:

“Strive to live in peace with everybody and pursue that consecration and holiness without which no one will [ever] see the Lord. 15 Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God’s grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it” (Heb 12:14-15, Amplified)

Usually, Heb 12:15 is quoted to encourage folks to examine themselves and keep bitterness out of their own lives. And that is true, we do need to examine ourselves and our attitudes. But what struck me this morning was the extra emphasis in the Amplified: “Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another].” We’re not just supposed to look after ourselves! If we are in a community together, we should be watching out for one another.

Bitterness is a deeply personal thing… but it’s also something that, frankly, others can clearly see long before the bitter person is conscious of it himself/herself. Unfortunately, many times, we don’t “look after one another” in this regard… but look down on one another and avoid the issue. We recognize the sinful attitude of the bitter person and condemn them to isolation without extending the grace that could not only heal them but prevent much damage to others as well.

When I see v 15 this way, it makes me look at verses 12-13 differently as well:

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Heb 12:12-13 NASB)

We are all members of one body. I pray that I might become one who heals rather than one who puts things out of joint.