Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Patience in a Right Now World

It is funny how we get used to things.  We have become a people of “I want it right now!”  It is hard to imagine how a younger generation deals with not getting what they want or expect in blazing “Jimmy John” speed.

I recently had to have a government document.  I needed it right now.  The people who were requesting this information from me needed it right now.  It was important in the loan process for our house.  I called the government agency involved and asked what the process was to retrieve the document.  The person I spoke to was great.  She told me that normally I had to go through different hoops and pay some fees but knowing that would take a couple of day probably she could just mail it to me.  Wait; mail it, as in snail mail?  But that would take at least three days.  I asked was there anyway she could scan it and email it to me.  Very apologetically she said they were not allowed to do that.  There was nothing I could do but wait for the document so I could scan it and email it to the loan processor.  Three, maybe four days and I was fearful this would slow down the process.  The document arrived, I scanned and emailed; it must have been just in time.

When I look back at my childhood and early adult life I can see this change in our expectations taking place.  I know that they are supposed to be for the better and by and large I like the changes but sometimes the speed our lives can cause major stress.  Here are some things to compare.

Growing up I thought it a treat to go to the “Drive In” and get a hamburger.  We would pull up and wait for the carhop to come to us.  Dad would order (he was usually driving) and we would sit and wait for the burgers and fries to be cooked and the cokes to be poured.  Then the carhop would bring them out to the car and place the tray on the window.  Dad would pay and sometimes leave a quarter tip or tell them to keep the change.  We would eat and then signal by flashing the lights or a short honk of the horn for the carhop to come get the tray.  Off we would then go.

Today Debbie and I pull up to the drive thru speakers, order and proceed to the window where our food is generally ready already bagged.  We pay with our debit card, drive off and eat on our way to the next place we are going.

Growing up we received these mail order catalogs; Sears, J.C. Penny and Montgomery Wards.  We could order anything from a pair of pants that couldn’t be bought at the local department store, to chickens.  Mom or dad would write a check after filling out the order form, seal it in an envelope, stamp it and put it in the mail box for the postman to pick it up tomorrow since we rarely did this in the day.  The order would get sent to the distribution warehouse where it would be filled and boxed and mailed back to us.  This process could take weeks.

Today, day or night, I go to Amazon or eBay or directly to a manufacture and find what I want, place the order paying with a credit or debit card and usually pick the free three day shipping.  But if I wanted to spend a little extra I could have it tomorrow.  Yep, we have done that!

When I first started in the ministry and wanted to get information out to all the church members I had to design a letter or flyer, address a bunch of envelopes, stamp and mail.  A two day process was expected.

Today, I needed to get an urgent prayer request out to the church and in less than ten minutes it was done.

One more illustration from an endless pool of examples.  When I was growing up I can remember my grandfather waiting up late so he could see what the weather man was predicting for the next day and beyond.  The news and weather came on at 10:00 pm.

Today at my desk I have a desktop computer, a laptop, an iPad and iPhone.  Each of them are on at this very minute.  Each of them have the power of delivering to me not only the weather but the news with just the touch of my finger.  When I think I need I want it now!

I enjoy the speed in which we can get things done today.  However, as mentioned earlier I believe it is this ability that has caused a lot of stress and worry in our lives.  The speed in which we can get things done has artificially convinced us that we are in control and when we lose that control all heck breaks loose in our lives.  How can we survive if we don’t get it done right now.? Our jobs, our families, our very psyches depend on our actions.  Or do they?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! Luke 12:27-28 NIV

(Why is lunch taking so long to get here?)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Event/Process - Either/Or??

I recently followed a discussion on whether outreach/evangelism was an event or a process.  I have always found it amusing how bad people want something to be “this or that”.  Subjects such as prayers should either be spontaneous or well thought out and written, bicycles should riden fully in the lane or against the curb or when ordering Ice Cream it is either only vanilla or chocolate.  The issues are endless.

In the discussion I was following there were those who believed true evangelism only happened in an event.  I heard echoes of the 1970’s confrontational evangelism programs that might have a disciple approaching a house knocking on a door and asking the question: “If you died tonight where would you go?”  This evangelistic technique was not only used in house to house outreach but on High School and College campuses heavily.  The evangelist was successful only if the “event” led to a decision by the person approached to give his/her life to Jesus as Lord and Savior. 

While the confrontational element of that form of evangelism is seldom used anymore (only by the most bold) the mind set of those who believe that evangelism/outreach is still an event is pretty solidly set.  From person to person they will make very good intended attempts to bring that person to a saving knowledge of Jesus; social butterflies bouncing from person to person cherry picking only the ripest of sinners ready to fall at the foot of the cross in repentance.  They see very little need in the process of building relationships with people that will bring them to their own faith and acceptance of Christ as the supreme sacrifice not just for the sins of the world but personally.

On the other side of the argument are those who simply believe that evangelism is a process and the thought of event is outdated.  Process evangelists speak of at least twenty touches that are needed before people will open up and hear what is being said by a Christian or the Church.  Those touches can be anything from simple polite hellos or the opening of a door to much more complex conversations.  They are all important as they help set the groundwork for relationship.

To the process person the important thing is living the life we confess.  Sayings like “the only Gospel people will see is the Gospel found in me” have come from proponents of this thought.  After enough touches and observation the person will choose to follow the Christ we confess to follow without a traditional word of evangelism from us.

My question on the subject is why is it either/or, why this or that?  If anyone knows me well enough they would know I lean towards the process idea.  That is probably for a couple of reasons and one is that I am generally not bold enough for the “confrontational evangelism” method.  I did not like it thirty years ago.  I also am a very personal, relational type person naturally so the process idea fits my whole personality better.  But that does not mean there are times and moments during that process that I may need to become bold enough to seek the event, to encourage a person to make that decision.  It may be something as simple as asking them to come to church with me or something more complex as expressing verbally the story of the Gospel and why I have chosen to follow it.

I would encourage the Event evangelist to take some time and risk to start developing those relationships.  You already have the tools to lead that person to Christ when they become ready.  Relationship involves the possibility that you might be rejected where confrontational types of evangelism does not carry that risk; they are not rejecting you, they are rejecting the Gospel.  Jesus took the risk of relationships and then when the time was right spoke His word.

I would encourage the Process folks, like me, to look for those opportunities when the spoken word is called for.  It becomes too easy for us to hide away in that relationship and protect ourselves from rejection to the point we lose the opportunities that present themselves.

Actually I believe there are places for spontaneous spoken prayers and a time for well thought out and written prayers spoken in public.  I am mainly a vanilla ice cream kind of guy but every-once-in-a-while I will get courageous and get a twirl!  I believe riding my bicycle in the full lane is generally the smartest and safest way I can ride my bike but also know there are times and a place that courtesy just simply trumps my rights to the lane and slide over as far as it is safe to. 

I guess the world is generally not either/or but both/and when you really think about it.  So is outreach and evangelism.  Let us use all the tools God has given us to become Kingdom builders

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When We Meet god

Praise the LORD, my soul, all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
—Psalm 103:1  the Psalms are full of praise for the promises of God and simply for who God is.  As New Testament Christians we can easily find things around us every day to be thankful for and to praise God for His Mercy and Grace. 
Many search for God’s presence and can’t seem to find it.  I have had more than one person say they came to church to be in God’s presence.  It made me wonder if they had an Old Testament theology of the presence and place of God.  You know, God lived in the Sanctuary and sat on the throne in the Holy of Holies.  The Israelite had to go to the Tabernacle and later the Temple to be in the presence of the Creator.  
Do people today believe that God lives within the four walls of the church?  Surely He is there but He is also out there.  He is in the face of the suffering person standing in line at the convenient store.  He is in the hunched body of the homeless person standing on the busy corner hoping for a hand out when the traffic light stops traffic.  He is in the cry of the hungry baby, in the laughter of the children playing and in the undecipherable utterances of the Alzheimer’s patient.  
We make a mistake if we expect to find God in the tornado or the blazing fire.  No doubt God can be found in those things but in most cases God meets us in the mundane. 
Do you remember, When I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was imprisoned you visited me.  Have you been in the presence of God today?  He has been in yours!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Christian Intolerance

I was listening to a Christian radio station a couple of days ago and once again found myself discouraged at the lack of compassion and tolerance the host showed when talking with callers.  The subject was, well it could have been anything, but it was one of the hot topics of the day.  I will say that it was not dealing with sexual orientation but it could have been and he would still have given the same message.

The bottom line is that the caller (a couple of them in fact) did not agree with his stance simply because they interpreted the very same Scriptures from a different point of view.  It could have been experience, culture, education or any other real life reality that causes us all to look at the world through our own particular lens.  They were polite and said they respected his view, they just didn’t agree.  The host grew more and more intolerant with their perspective interpretations and continued to claim they did not believe the Bible.  Yep, just because they had a different interpretation of that particular Scripture they did not “believe God’s Word.”

It just so happened that the subject dealt with an area that could easily (in fact I do which may be why I was so irritated at the host) been interpreted symbolically when traditionally conservative thought has viewed it as literal.  But what I heard was that if I did not agree with his particular reading then I might as well throw my Bible away because I didn’t really believe what it said anyway.  That might just lead to his questioning my salvation experience, or my desire to follow to the best of my ability the calling I have received.  I beg your pardon!

This was just an example of the intolerance and narrow mindedness that has driven many of our younger generations away. Paul pleaded  in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:10) saying “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all you agree with one another in what you say and there be do divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 

Did the great preacher/missionary of the early church desire for all of us to be robots, each looking and speaking and believing the exact same way?  I don’t think so.  There is no question that he and Peter (another great preacher/missionary) and he and Mark (possibly the first writer to the story of Jesus to pen) had differences and some of them major.  But what they all had in common was the Lordship of Jesus Christ was paramount to everything else.  They the could agree on and when they talked about that there was no division.

Until we in the church, those who represent the Christian faith begin to understand that the Lord expressed compassion and not doctrinal correctness or interpretive singularity we will continue to push folks away.  And once again Jesus will weep!

Oh, and BTW I will give anyone a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 if they will give me a literal interpretation of the Song of Solomon.

Monday, July 7, 2014

When Technology Fails

Technology is great, when it works!  It has been a rough week and weekend for the Proctor family and technology. It started Friday when my new AC Adapter for my laptop came in the mail.  I plugged it in and let the battery charge for a few minutes.  When I tried to get my email (google) I was not able to access the site because the certificates were not recognized.  I tried other sites and all https sites gave me the same message.  After reading multiple forums with other people having the same issue and multiple attempts to clean it up I decided the computer was seven years old and ready to be retired – before I messed up and lost all my documents.

Saturday while on a ride Debbie “took on” a large Golden Retriever and the dog won.  Debbie sprang her wrist pretty bad and possibly then cracked the screen on her iPhone.  I took it into Ann Arbor to get it fixed this morning.  I don’t know Ann Arbor yet so I used one of the navigation apps on my phone to find the place.  Of course it is right in the middle of the city.  While there I discussed with the tech some issues I was having with my phone which evidently can be remedied by replacing the “Home” button.

I left both phones to be repaired, jumped in the pickup and reached for my phone and the navigational prowess it gives me.  Oh no!, I will not have the phone until 4:00 this afternoon.  I did my best to backtrack myself out of there but if you have ever been in major cities they are full of one way streets that dead end.

Evidently I made it back to the office as I am typing this.  However, I was expecting several important text today concerning our efforts to buy a house. Already somewhat discouraged about the snails pace of that activity I am unable to move forward as I am sure those text are on a phone in the middle of city that houses the University of Michigan.  Of course I have emailed the proper parties and told them of my oversight but the reason they text is because they don’t like to check their emails!

I am sure that we do not have the same issues with the faithfulness of our Creator.  Our God has no battery to run down, does not need to be plugged into a power source nor do we worry about his screen cracking. The Lord is not fragile and we do not have to worry about being without His presence because we have had to drop Him off at the repair shop.

The Psalmist reminds us that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18 NIV).  I know that he is close to me today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rejoice? You Gotta be Kidding!

I have heard people counsel those who were hurting or facing tremendous crises in their lives that they should take Paul’s advice and “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). This is usually said with great enthusiasm and certainty.  The look they usually get is priceless.  “Ok, it’s easy for you to give that advice when life is cushy, but don’t try to tell me that when I am in my deepest pain or my world is about to come crashing down on me I am supposed to run up and down the street and rejoice.”

Debbie and I have been “house hunting” for the past month and have actually lived with relatives nine out of the last twelve months due to the end of the CPE program and our move to Michigan with no secure employment.  It has been tough, both on us and our family which has been gracious to open their homes.  While trying to be positive about the situation there have been times when I have felt like throwing my hands high in the air and giving up.  Don’t read too much into that “giving up” statement, but it was really difficult to jump up and down and rejoice in the fact that family generosity was being strained, we were quickly blowing through all savings and dealing with disappointment after disappointment when an application was never responded to or rejections after making it to the final group of one or two others in interviews.

There is no question that almost everyone reminded me that it was all “God’s time” and there was a plan if we just trusted.  It wasn’t long that such counseling sounded hollow.  How could I, when dealing with doubts of self-worth, which is a pretty frequently trip even when things are going well, rejoice without being hypocritical in ingenious?

Then one day in my daily reading I read through Paul’s letter to Philippi I heard God’s message to rejoice.  When I read it I did not knee-jerk with the attitude that had become normal when I heard this passage from others.  What was different this time?  I understood it this time as not a command to rejoice in my current situation but rejoice in who God is, or at least in who I think God is.  Time after time God has manifested Himself in situations that could have only been Him working.  I was called to rejoice in my call to His service and the gifts He has bestowed upon me.  The peace that is spoken of in verse 7 “the peace of God that transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” was mine.

It wasn’t but a few days after that the wheels started turning that would eventually lead to the calling by Immanuel Baptist Church in Ypsilanti to be their pastor.  Now with the house hunting there are still are those times when rejoicing in our current situation just doesn’t seem to be genuine but when I look past that and rejoice in who God is I once again feel peace. 

I like peace!