April 23, 2014

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Time for 7 Idiotic, Controversial or Maybe Insightful Thoughts on the Future of the Church

What is the future of the church? How must the North American church change? How will ministry be different over the next 20 years? When will my thoughts go from new ideas of an the next generation to outdated ideas of a dinosaur?

Some of these thoughts might be absolutely idiotic. Some might seem controversial and bother you a bit. Others might seem brilliant and insightful. Those will be the thoughts that I got from someone else, the rest will be my own. Take them as you wish, but please add your own thoughts as I would love to discuss some of these things. These thoughts will be brief  and held back for later development. Some things I won’t defend or justify at all. Here you go.

 

1) We must reverse white flight. For years the church has left the inner city to move into the booming suburbs. I grew up at Baltimore First Church of the Nazarene. It was in Elicott City, MD about 15 miles from downtown Baltimore. I was on staff at Denver First Church of the Nazarene. It is in Englewood, CO this is nowhere close to downtown Denver. We have abandoned the cities and flocked to the safe areas where affluent white people live. The future of the church is a reverse of this white flight.

2) Women, as leaders of movements, are the future of the church. The leadership of women in particular, not just in management or service roles, but as primary leaders, will be essential for kingdom breakthrough.

3) The Holy Spirit will decide the debate on affirming same sex marriage within the church. Denominations affirming same sex marriage or ordaining homosexuals began decades ago. All of the denominations that have done so, however, have suffered massive decline and have had little impact for the kingdom.  With some very different denominations and churches joining this camp, either through theological shift or practice, time will tell as to whether or not the Holy Spirit will continue to be present. Will churches that embrace and affirm same sex marriage (this is different than simply not fighting it as a legal reality) continue to have kingdom impact? I am willing to wait and watch what happens. How will God react?

4) The hope of the Church of the Nazarene does not rest in the leadership of old white men from the Mid-west. That doesn’t mean we don’t need them too, but our denomination has been obsessed with the leadership of one particular group. We love pastors who have served at a handful of powerful churches within our denomination. We are seeing that beginning to change, and the more that it does the more hopeful our future.

5) The Church needs hospice care, morticians and reproduction. Churches are closing there doors everyday in our country. This trend isn’t going to change, it will accelerate. Denominations would be wise to spend less resources propping up churches that are dying and instead investing into the creation of new churches. We need to honorably close down dying churches, dismantle the bodies, reuse and repurpose what we can. Next, we need to start making some babies. If we took the resources we use to keep dying churches on life support and instead through them into thriving churches to help them reproduce we would see far greater impact from our investment.

6) The best thing that could happen to the church might be losing our tax-exempt status. What would happen if the game changed and we were no longer tax-exempt organizations? It would hurt, really bad. People would give less, churches would less be able to afford staff and buildings, and there would be far less money for programming. Maybe that is the best thing that could happen to us. It would force us to better utilize and develop non-clergy leaders, get outside of our buildings, spread out around a geographic area and invest more heavily in compassionate ministries. That might just spark a revival.

7) In 100 Years the church will look back at the our time and wonder why we ever thought corporate structures and slick marketing were compatible with the work of the kingdom. I think we are all blind to how much we have allowed our culture to dictate our actions on behalf of the kingdom of God. We are so deep into our consumer culture that we don’t even realize it. We are like fish swimming in the ocean that don’t realize there is something called water. We will be judged by history and I fear that the judgment will be harsh for our failure to offer our world an alternative culture to the pervasive consumeristic culture of our day. Lord have mercy.

 

Those are my thoughts for today. Feel free to mock them, offer your own, or add any discussion you might have.

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April 7, 2014

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Mondays are for Noah Ramblings….

I am still trying to figure out the fire sword. Was it the angel’s fire sword from the Garden? Does God have a host of fire swords that he handed out to people who really needed them? Can I get one?

Last week we took a staff outing to go and experience the film Noah. In the middle of a very busy season it was a welcomed respite with all sorts of thought provoking ideas and theology. Four days later I have spent enough time reflecting on the film that my thoughts may now have a bit of coherence and connection. Here are my thoughts on the controversial (seriously?) movie Noah.

First things first, I didn’t go into this film with any expectation that it would be Biblically accurate. I have intentionally stayed away from most of the reviews on the film but I have read some interviews with the director. I knew that this film was his attempt at a Midrash (a form of Rabbinic teaching) and not an effort to show exactly what Genesis says occurred. Darren Aronofsky created a film that wrestled with his questions and insights from the story of Noah. This is why I wanted to see the film, I wanted to experience someone else’s reflection and insight into the story.

The story of Noah is not a children’s story. One of the great disservices we have done to scripture is taking this story and making it a tale for Sunday School. There are few stories in scripture that are less appropriate for our children. The story of Noah is a huge tale with massive theological implications. It is apocalyptic. It is not a cute story about animals. It is a scary and difficult tale of God deciding to wipe humanity from creation and ultimately a story of God’s love and salvation. I was hopeful that the film would at least capture that reality of the story. Mission accomplished, Aronofsky created a massive story with huge scale and really important questions being asked. As a preacher and story teller I was thoroughly pleased by his treatment of the story from that perspective.

Ultimately Aronofsky with his mixture of themes from Kaballah and extra-Biblical material was pretty hit and miss with his theological interpretations of the story. That isn’t unexpected and frankly isn’t really a mark against the film. I love a film that makes me wrestle with God’s relationship to humanity and creation.

Here are the things he captured well. The point of the creation story is the role of humanity as those who are created in the image of God. We are created to be God’s representatives on earth and to take care of creation and become co-creators with God. I thought that stood out well in Noah and his family tree. Noah loves creation and surrenders himself to his service of it. The struggle of what it means to have dominion over the earth is also well captured between Noah and his nemesis Tubal-Cain. Noah serves and cares for the earth, Tubal-Cain represents humanity’s efforts to subdue and control creation for our own benefit.

The images of Adam and Eve in the garden, radiating light, was also a nice theological touch. Creation, before the Fall, reflected the glory of God. The resurrected Jesus shone forth the light of God. Moses’s face glowed beautifully after he beheld the glory of God. I thought it was a nice cinematic touch. This was also captured in the somewhat strange snake skin that was passed down to Noah. It was a reminder of their original calling and their responsibilities.

Other things I liked – God speaking through dreams. dark and brooding Noah struggling with why God chose him for this task, the actual Ark, weird animals I have never heard of or seen before, and the picture of the flood storm from space.

Things I didn’t like – The fallen angels imprisoned in rock were kind of lame looking, Noah was a bit too tough and Gladiator like, and the uncertainty about God’s salvation of humanity through the flood.

The real struggle of the film was that it left the purpose of God in the flood too uncertain for too long. Noah’s desire to end all of humanity because he felt like this was God’s judgment was a bit off base. It is a worthy question to ask of an apocalyptic story, but it left me wanting a bit. The Biblical account of Noah is a complex story written with the literary form of a chiasm. The whole point of the story is the Genesis 8:1- But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded. God remembered Noah. That is the point of the story.

Even when humanity’s sin was so great that God had to hit the reboot button on creation and start fresh, his love for humanity compelled him to preserve them. Noah and his family become the new Adam and Eve and restart the people of God made in his image. The film hinted towards this in some ways, but I thought it missed some opportunities to make it clearer.

So in all I enjoyed the film. From a merely cinematic experience I would give it a B+. As a film asking important theological questions I would give it a B. There are some great questions asked, but the answers were a bit lacking.

As to the controversy surrounding it – well that part is just stupid. Have some imagination people! If there is any tale in scripture that needs some poetic license to help us understand or at least reflect on its meaning, it is the story of Noah.

 

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March 31, 2014

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Mondays are for 1002 Rambling Posts …..

Where do you go for information about holiness, wolf hybrids, the greatest rock song ever, post apocalyptic movies and the ramblings of one Nazarene pastor? Well, you are already reading this blog, so you know the answer to that question. The other day I noticed that I had just crossed over 1000 posts on this blog. Wow, that is a lot of writing. I should have at least written a book with all of those words.

I started blogging back on February 14, 2006. It began as a way to explore the theological conversations that were swirling in my head and to improve my abilities as a writer. What it became, however, is much more than that. This blog has become an extension of my ministry, a journal for my spiritual journey and a connection to a much larger movement outside of me. I am thankful for it and the way it has impacted my life and I am hopeful that it has had at least a minor impact in the lives of some others.

So today here are some fun reflections on 8 years of blogging and trying to reeducate the world on the idea of holiness.

Some of my favorite posts so far

Our Copilot, Clockmaker and CEO: Struggling with Metaphors for God

The Theology of Ricky Bobby

The Theology of Harry Potter

The Sexual Theology of Duck Dynasty

Gangsta God and Thug Theology

Why there is no equal sign on my Facebook Page

The Best Bad Movies of All Time

The 10 Guys You Meet Playing Church League Basketball

And from my wife The Preacher’s Wife Returns: Thoughts on Letting Go

 

Search Terms

Here are some recent search terms that regularly bring people to my blog. These always crack me up. It appears that I am the go to source for strange/unique/weird/unknown Bible stories, understanding what God is saying to you, sandwiches, and famous lead singers in rock bands. That sounds about right.

strange bible stories 75
unusual bible stories 73
weird bible stories 40
uncommon bible stories 34
what is god saying to me 20
weird stories in the bible 19
what is god saying to me right now 18
read the bible in 60 days 18
best tv series of all time 17
holy discontent definition 17
jimmy johns vs subway vs quiznos 14
trendy words 13
what would god say to me right now 11
strangest bible stories 11
avatar sociology 8
famous lead singers of rock bands 7
rock band lead singers 7
elf on the shelf 7
1 corinthians 13 7
unknown stories in the bible 7
carter hays 7
strange but true bible stories 7
how was jesus sanctified 7
god loves whores 7
md university football uniforms 6
best rock lead singers 6
best post apocalyptic movies of all time 6
christ figures in movies 5
what did jesus look like

 

Looking Forward

So now that I am 8 years in, have I finally figured out what I want from this blog. Ultimately I desire for my writing here to shape my writings to come. I am still working on the beginnings of a Holiness Reeducation book. I want to take some of the conversations I have begun on this blog and take them deeper. I have also discovered the ministry of this blog as a timely reflection on difficult questions the are emerging in the church. Engaging with these conversations continues to shape my own ministry and responses to these vital questions. Finally, writing is simply good for my soul. I gain great pleasure from it as it invigorates my mind. Regardless of whether thousands of people or just two good friends from when I was a kid end up reading my posts I will continue to write.

So thanks for the support, thanks for the input, and here is to another 1000 ramblings.

As always, if there are topics you are interested in me writing about, please leave your suggestions. I am always interested in writing prompts.

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March 27, 2014

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Thoughts on World Vision and the Latest Unnecessary Controversy

A dozen emails, numerous phone calls, conversation around the dinner table for three days, a dozen blogs read, and hours of my focus this week have been spent on the topic of World Vision. World Vision, one of the leading Evangelical Christianity compassionate ministries, has been in the news quite a bit this week. Not just Christianity Today, not just Facebook sharing, but ABC News, CNN, and a host of other news organizations have been reporting on World Vision. Why?

On Monday Richard Stearns the president of World Vision released a statement that World Vision would allow the hiring of employees who are in legal same sex marriages. World Vision, which is a ministry not a church, stated the following.

But since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.

I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone. Let me explain the thinking behind our board’s decision.

 

So a ministry that works with a wide range of denominations and Christians essentially said that they would hire people from across the breadth of those partnerships. They were trying to make a policy change that offered the hope of unity with all their partners.  The requirements for Christian faith, adherence to the Apostle’s Creed, and belief in the fullness of Christ and his work were still required for employment. But they were willing to hire Christians who affirm these beliefs  and are legally married to same sex partners. I say were because the backlash against this decision by World Vision’s partners and supporters was massive. Yesterday they reversed course on this policy change and will continue with the status quo.

So now that we have recapped a bit of the controversy many questions remain. Was World Vision right the first time or the second time? Who should we be angry with in this situation? Should this change our view of World Vision? What does this tell us about the landscape of our country and the church? Well if you want to read some good commentary on the changing landscape or our country head over to  my fellow pastor Josh Broward’s blog and read his commentary. For the rest, I will offer some thoughts.

This whole thing has left me deeply pained. We just don’t have any idea what effect our treatment of issues regarding the Gay – Lesbian – Transgender community has on our witness. In response to World Vision’s policy change numerous churches threatened to pull support from World Vision. Child sponsorships were cancelled in the thousands. I started getting emails and phone calls about whether or not we needed to rethink our churches partnership with World Vision.

Do we even stop to think what this communicates to the rest of the world?

Why do I partner with World Vision? I am running the Chicago Marathon as part of Team World Vision to get some of the poorest people in the world clean water for life. I am running to help save lives. Why would I consider going back on that commitment and partnership because of this decision. Did people really decide they were going to stop trying to save the lives of some of the poorest people in the world because World Vision opened itself up to hiring Jesus loving, God redeemed, Christians who happen to be in same sex marriages?

What the hell is wrong with us?

I mean that literally. When we let an issue like this communicate to the world that we care more about same sex marriage in the work place than sponsoring impoverished children it is the work of hell. It is the worst possible witness to the world about the love and grace of God.

Did World Vision make a mistake? Well they obviously made a political mistake. Christians who affirm same sex marriage would probably still work with World Vision regardless of this policy. Some may have some struggles with it, but I doubt they were campaigning against World Vision and their work because of it. On the other hand, those of us who are less affirming of same sex marriage were very quick to denounce World Vision and threaten to remove our support when they changed this policy. World Vision thought too much of it’s partners. They believed too strongly that the grace of God would temper the Church’s reactions and that people would respond with kindness and grace. They underestimated our ability to react in ways unbecoming of Christ.

So, for the love of the children they serve, because they really felt moved by God, or just to save face and money, World Vision reversed it’s policy. I am sad for World Vision because of this and I am sad for the church. For my part, I am still proudly running the Chicago Marathon as part of Team World Vision. My belief in their work and my excitement to help change lives through them hasn’t changed one bit. If any of those who have pledged to support me regret their decision I will happily right them a check myself to reimburse them. (By the way, if you want to give someone clean water for life you can support me here)

More than anything what I want the world to know is that regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of your skin color, regardless of your past, regardless of your gender, your age, or your income level, God our Father is calling you home to be part of his family. This is the good news of Jesus. There is a home, an eternal home filled with glory, where all can know freedom and wholeness. There is hope for today and hope for tomorrow in the love of Christ. I apologize for myself and all my brothers and sisters for all the ways we let our family arguments hide that good news and distract us from its truth.

 

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March 20, 2014

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Fred Phelps Sr., Founder of Westboro Baptist Church Passes Away

Fred Phelps has passed away. This pastor led his small but vocal congregation in Topeka, KS to undue notoriety and unfortunate influence. Their notoriety is undue because their work shouldn’t matter. They have influence because they have damaged the reputation of the church in North America in huge ways. It is hard to hear this news and not have a strong reaction.

I have no desire to speak ill of the dead or to pour out contempt or hatred on this church or this pastor. In fact I mourn at his death. I mourn for his passing and for his life. The dominant feeling that I have in regards to this congregation, their founder, and their place in our society is deep pain and sadness. I mourn each time the church fails to reflect the glory of God to the world. I am grieved when people who desire to be faithful to God exchange a call to love the world with a self imposed call to judge the world. I weep for the Church when the ignorant actions of a small group of us reflects so poorly on our work and on Christ. Today I grieve.

I grieve for Fred Phelps because, to my knowledge – which is none, he never understood his own misguided work in the name of Christ. I longed for him to publicly recant, repent, and be reborn into the work of the Kingdom. What a powerful message it would have been to the world for him to have abandoned his hatefulness and replaced it with the love of Christ. Nothing in this world is irredeemable. Westboro’s redemption would have shown this to the world in a powerful way.

So that is my prayer today. As I grieve what is and what has been, I look with hope towards what could be. I long for the voice of the church to be unified in proclaiming God’s love to the world through Christ. I pray for Westboro Baptist Church and those like it who are missing out on the blessing of the kingdom.

May we all serve the world with such grace and mercy that actions of hatred and judgment are readily dismissed by the world as clearly the work of someone other than the people of God.

 

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March 17, 2014

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Mondays are for The Son of God Movie Ramblings…

If you are a Christian then I am sure you have seen the new Son of God movie by now. If you haven’t your salvation may be hanging by a thread! What are you waiting for? I went and saw the film Son of God a couple of weeks ago with a group from our church. Having had a couple of weeks now to reflect on the film and my mixed feelings I thought I would try and share them today.

My first act, however, is to confess. It is Lent after all, so I proceed with a penitent heart throughout this post. Here is my confession: I generally hate Christian films. Ok, hate is a strong word, but hey I am confessing so I might as well be honest. Christians films generally make me cringe. The medium of film just seems to be difficult for Christians. Rather, the film industry seems very difficult for Christians. In order to make a film of real quality it takes serious backing by a major studio. Alternatively, if you don’t have money it takes a very skilled and creative director to make an independent film that is a cinematic achievement. There are so few films created with Christian intent that navigate these difficult challenges enough to create a cinematic masterpiece. I am still waiting for a Christian film, that is a film that is made with kingdom purpose, to blow me away.

Now that my confession is over let me dive deeper into the Son of God. The best thing I can see about this film is that it was not an embarrassment. That is a huge compliment from me! (Didn’t you just read my confession) The quality of the film, the artistic choices made, the acting, the casting, and the story telling were all at least average and sometimes above average. That is an achievement in my jaded mind. Some parts of the film were actually good to very good. Here are my favorite parts.

- The cast pretty much all looked like they came from the Middle East. I loved seeing people with bad teeth and missing teeth. They looked like a fairly good historical representation of first century peasants.

- I enjoyed the story telling from John’s writings. Using John as the primary text and even incorporating John’s later writings (including Revelation) was carried out well. They could have taken this a bit further perhaps, as they made numerous choices to include material from outside of John, but that was probably done to fill out certain parts of the story.

- They made Jesus’ humanity come out. The hardest part of the incarnation for most people is understanding the humanity of Jesus, the film did a pretty good job of making him human.

- The Pharisees made sense. For many people the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees don’t make very much sense. Since these interactions are vital to understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God I really appreciated the effort put into this tension. I especially love how they handled Nicodemus. Well done.

- The calling of Matthew was a great scene, that passage just came alive.

- My favorite moment in the movie is when Jesus kisses the cross as he is about to pick it up. Excellent.

- I liked just about every aspect of the film from Jesus’ arrest to the resurrection.

 

Here are some things that I didn’t like or was disappointed in.

- The movie looked and felt like a really good TV movie. I don’t know the history behind it, but with the creators having made The Bible miniseries on History Channel, it might have very well started out that way. Every time they showed the city of Jerusalem the budgetary restraints of the film were abundantly apparent.

- The guy playing Jesus was trying too hard to be Jesus. There are few roles that can be as difficult to play as Jesus, and the actor was fine. The way he talked, however, was distracting, He talked like someone who is always trying to say something profound. It was the one part that didn’t seem very human. It made Jesus sound weird.

- There have been numerous jokes made about this, but Jesus was almost too good looking. I think his humanity would be even better shown with an actor who is very average or even forgettable looking. No one ever recored what Jesus looked like. It clearly didn’t make him stand out.

- The time constraints of the film really downplayed the teaching aspect of Jesus’ ministry. That was too bad.

- Easter was underwhelming, that seems problematic.

- The ending after the Ascension was lame. It was totally lame.

 

So overall I was pretty pleased with the film. There were some powerful moments and some disappointing moments. But it was a good telling of Jesus’ story, a good proclamation of his purpose and of his love. For that I am thankful. I am sure God will use it to impact many lives in a powerful way. ( I mean look at what God did with the Jesus film and that was terrible.)  I am still waiting, though, to be blown away by a Christian film.

March 10, 2014

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Mondays are for Living in the First Century

When you read about the first century church, does it seem to good to be true? Do the stories about the rapid spread of the church, the impact it had on the surrounding culture, and tales of the miraculous just seem made up to you?

When I read through Acts there is often a nagging feeling within me. Here in the earliest days of the church, the life that those followers of Christ were living feels fundamentally different than just about anything I have ever experienced in the church. That nagging feeling has often led me to struggle with how to teach the people in my church about the nature of the church based on the happenings of the first century church. It just seems like such a far gap.

Well this past week that gap between today and the first century was bridged in an unexpected way. It has been our immense blessing as a church to host the head of the Church of the Nazarene in Bangladesh (name removed for safety purposes). 21 years ago he became the first Nazarene in Bangladesh. Bangladesh instantly became the first fully indigenous mission field in the history of the COTN. 21 years later there are over 2500 organized churches and 150,000 Nazarenes. Those numbers are absolutely staggering.

The COTN in Bangladesh is organizing on average of one church per day. That doesn’t mean planting a church, it means organizing a church plant into an official fully formed church. They have  thousands of pastors being educated, trained and prepared for ordination. They have extensive Child Development Centers, Disaster Relief Missions, Sustainable Food Programs, and Micro-financing Coops that are empowering over tens of thousands of women. This all started with one man very humble and unassuming man who went to a meeting about this group called the Nazarenes and heard the call of God.

It has been exhilarating and challenging to spend time with this pastor and to hear about the work of the Kingdom there. What has been especially powerful is to hear about their very different approaches to leadership development and compassionate ministries. Much of their work in spreading the gospel has been through the work of the Jesus Film. They have teams that will go into different towns and villages and show the film. Then they have a team that goes back to follow up with those that attended in private, to evangelize and find people who are interested in Jesus. Once a group has professed their faith in Christ they will organize them and those people will choose one from among them, someone who is a brand new Christian, to be their leader. There is a church planter who then begins to train the leader of that group and help them organize the church. Over time that new leader is then enrolled in a course of study to better prepare them to be a pastor.

This new pastor will take a course of study focusing not just on theology, but also on organizational skills, managing finances, church polity, and compassionate ministries. While the church is organizing they also do an extensive survey of the community and find out what the greatest needs are in that community. This is where they begin their ministry. Before they are even organized as a church they will begin compassionate ministries in the area that the community has stated is the greatest need. Over time as the church and the ministry grow it will work to not only organize, but to birth more churches.

There is much to ponder about this incredible work of God in Bangladesh and what we can learn from it to apply in our own context. This week I will interact with some of these ideas and flesh them out a bit more. But the first lesson for us all is faith. When God’s Spirit is at work the stories from the first century church jump off the pages of scripture and into real life today. We need not doubt their truth, instead we should be inspired and compelled to discover their truth for ourselves.

March 3, 2014

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Mondays are for Celebrating My Mom

MomSophieGregOn Friday a remarkable event took place. My mother, Cassie Arthur, retired from her job. It was remarkable for several reasons. First, we weren’t quite sure she was ever going to retire. Two, it marked the end of 46 years working as a laboratory technician. Will anyone of our generation work 46 years in one particular field? It will certainly be rare. So today I am celebrating my mom and 46 years of impacting the world one biopsy slide at a time.

My mom’s story in her field really starts back in high school. By the time my mom was 17 she was essentially on her own in the world. She grew up raised by her grandmother on a farm, on top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere West Virginia. For most people in these circumstances the daunting challenge of finding your way out of such a place is too much to overcome. The cycle of poverty in West Virginia is testament enough to how difficult it is to emerge from such a place. So despite being a senior in high school and essentially being a social orphan, my mom just started working to find a way out. After graduating high school she needed to find a job to provide for herself and ended up going to laboratory technician school. I don’t know that she thought at the time this would be part of her the the next four and a half decades of her life, but a journey was begun.

The  journey out of such humble beginnings is a slow journey of determination. It is a grind. It is about perseverance and sacrifice. My mom found herself working as a lab technician in a histology lab. Histologists prepare tissue slides for examination. If you get a biopsy in a hospital or have a growth removed, the histology lab takes that sample. prepares it and analyzes it to understand it. The volume of slides that a histology laboratory in a hospital can face in a given week is remarkable. These slides are measured in the tens of thousands. So for 46 years, in a number of different laboratories, in 4-5 different states, working for a variety of hospitals, my mom patiently and with great dedication to her craft worked to prepare slides and assist in the care of patients.

How many slides has she worked on? That answer is surely measured in millions. Think about that for a moment. Consider the dedication and the long slow journey to helping millions of patients in hospitals. It takes a lifetime. It takes 46 years.

What has truly set my mom apart in her field, however, is that this has never just been a job to her. My mom has always been very committed to her work. She is committed to excellence. That has been recognized everywhere she has worked. Her work has been praised and rewarded. She is committed to people. As a coworker, employee and manager my mom has displayed the grace of God to those she has worked with. The light of God has been a constant glow surrounding her work. My mom is also committed to providing for those she loves. For a long time her job has been not just about lifting her out of poverty and making her way, but also ensuring that her children and grandchildren would never face that same challenge.

As I reflect on my mom’s amazing career I am not sure which part of her legacy stands out the most. Everything I have in my life, each ridiculous blessing, is in someway tied to millions of patients she served. I have never known want. I have had the most supportive environment possible in which to grow and thrive. The abundance of my sister and mine’s existence is the gift of my parents diligence and work. Beyond our family’s blessings, however, are so many individuals who have been impacted by her work. Many of them have known my mom and been blessed to work for or alongside of her in her field. But so many others never knew who it was that was serving them. They were anxiously awaiting test results that would change their life. They didn’t know my mom was working with skill and conviction to help them in their moments of need, but she was there doing whatever she could for them.

So for 46 years of dedicated work and service I celebrate my mother Cassie Arthur and rejoice in all she has accomplished. I am even more excited for this next chapter of her life as she gets to enjoy the fruit of her labor far more than she has allowed herself these many years. May it be a season of grandparent days at school, quilting, random day trips to the beach, visiting old friends, making new one, and the satisfied rest of a long  journey completed. Thank you for working so hard for our family, your coworkers and those you did not know. It is a legacy of love that the rest of us can only hope to emulate. I love you and couldn’t be prouder to call you my mom.

February 24, 2014

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Mondays are for Floating Down the Lazy River of Holiness

The Puritans are really a pain sometimes. There aren’t a lot of them around anymore (thought their theological descendants are plentiful) but the common image of what the Puritans practiced and believed is still problematic. (We need to be fair and say that many of our images of them are inaccurate or improperly applied, but that is for another blog post.)

There is this dominant image of these early American Christians that still infects our imaginations. When we think about what it means to be holy we often end up with Puritan caricatures in our minds. We think of boring, dull people who are obsessive about purity down to the smallest detail of their lives. Unhappy, unattractive people afraid of humor, amusement and pleasure become a boogie man of holiness scaring us away from the calling to be holy. We have this fear that if we truly follow Christ and try to live like Jesus we will end up like “those people.”

Why do we think following Jesus would make us boring? Why do we think living like Jesus would be a life without pleasure? Everyone wanted to party with Jesus! One of the most common critiques of Jesus was that he spent too much time partying with prostitutes, drunkards, and rich people. Everyone wanted to be near Jesus. Rich and important people threw lavish dinners just to have Jesus attend. He wasn’t boring, his life wasn’t dull, he experienced great pleasure and he was holy. A life lived like Jesus is the best life possible. If we are going to pursue holiness we need to rid ourselves of the infectious cultural baggage we have inherited regarding the Puritans and other dull pietistic images.

We need another image to shape our imaginations about holiness. The image I offer today is the image of floating down a lazy river. You have probably been to a water park sometime in your life, so you are aware of the existence of the lazy river. When I was a kid the lazy river held no interest to me. I spent all my time running around and standing in long lines to get 10 seconds of joy from the slides and other rides at the water park. But as I grew older I recognized the joy of the lazy river. You get a group of friends together, you hop on some inner tubes, and you don’t really go anywhere. You just float around the water park enjoying life. You laugh, you pull pranks, you chill out, and you just go along for the ride. Some of the best memories I have ever had at water parks are from a big group of us spending hours hanging out in the lazy river. 

What if a life of holiness is closer to floating down a lazy river than being a Puritan? What if giving yourself over to the will of God and following Jesus is supposed to be this wonderful communal experience of making your way through life full of joy, laughter, and a surrender of control? Doesn’t that sound more inviting than the dull and strident life we often associate with holiness?

We worship a God of great joy. We worship a savior who brought the best wine to the party. We are filled with a Spirit that transformed a scared group of people so thoroughly that the rest of the city thought they had been partying all night. If our lives aren’t moving towards that image, then we aren’t becoming more like Christ.

February 17, 2014

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Mondays are for Secret Sauce Ramblings…

Sometimes the sum is less than the total of its parts. Sometimes the sum is greater than the total of its parts.

It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a movie (American Hustle was less than the total of its parts),  a band (U2 is much greater than the sum of its parts), a sandwich (the Fritos Chicken Enchilada sandwich at Subway was more than the sum of its parts – good combinations) or sports (the Pro Bowl is amazingly terrible considering its parts), everything seems to have a secret ingredient that is necessary for greatness. I like to think of it as a secret sauce. (Of course my native language is sandwiches.) This is what G. Love & Special Sauce remind us in one of my favorite songs from high school.

The question I explored in my sermon yesterday was “What is the secret sauce of the church?” Have you ever noticed that some churches just seem to be missing something? For some reason, all the right parts are there but the church is fairly impotent in its witness and mission. Other churches, which appear unspectacular, are thriving and full of power. What is the difference between them?

There are lots of differences that can rob the church of our power, but the secret sauce of the church is unity. In John 17 Jesus makes it clear that the only power we have to demonstrate the glory of God to the world is rooted in our ability to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. We can have churches full of ministries, worship services, God loving people, and faithful giving and yet they lack the glory of God. Most of us have probably been part of these churches. Well the part that is missing in most of our expressions of church is unity.

The oneness that Jesus and the Father share is not something that can be accomplished one hour a week. It can’t be found through a brief moment of shaking hands in the middle of the service. No preaching is powerful enough to build community. No program can be planned out and organized well enough to build unity. The work of unity is the hard and slow work of continually giving our lives to one another. We cannot be holy without each other. Loving each other is hard. Forgiving the people who hurt you is gut wrenching and full of risk. Blessing your enemies is a discipline of grace that few of us truly seek out.

But it is intentionally living out these actions in community that makes us holy. If we seek the grace of God together we can become that which we could never be by ourselves. The secret sauce to becoming holy is life as the body of Christ. If we are stuck spiritually we need more community. If we are lacking power in our churches we need to give ourselves over to the community pursuit of God. If we can’t hear the voice of God for ourselves we must rely on those who love us and are wrapped up in our lives to listen for us. Unity through Christ is our power, our calling, and our secret sauce of holiness.

The beauty of unity, of course, is that when we discover it life is delicious.

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