Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Playing House

Sometimes I feel like I'm playing house. There are days when I come home from work and everything is as it should be. I am greeted at the door by two of the greatest little boys who shower me with affection for no reason other than I am their father. My wife, who has cleaned the house and done my laundry, is preparing us a filling and delicious meal. After dinner, the boys play quietly and then are in bed by 7:00 p.m., leaving Lori and I to relax watching baseball or a movie. Life is good. Feels like playing house.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pruggling: A term used to describe the ambiguous state of…

Last week was teen camp on the Missouri District. It was a good week, filled with fun and games, worship and learning. As the week progressed, a strange phenomenon emerged during our worship times. While there is no doubt that God's Spirit was there working in people's lives, there was something else being worked up as well. This leads me to the strange title of this post: Pruggling. It's a new word that one of our helpers, Lance Wallis, coined in response to spontaneous groups of persons gathering together during our worship and preaching times. Here's what it means.  Pruggling is (a) a term used to describe the ambiguous state of two or more persons involved in praying and/or snuggling. Or, (b) the act of using religious experience as a front for gaining physical contact with a person of the opposite gender.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Together and Alone…

The other day I ran across an interesting set of quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer's small work on…well, life together, he identifies two dangers: not being able to be alone and not being able to be with the fellowshipping, worshipping community. Here's what he says,

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community…You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called." 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Red and White Antennae Things…

I often go to the library at Webster University to do my studying and preparing for youth lessons and sermons. Webster's library now holds Eden Theological Seminary's collection. The seminary, and now the university, has been kind enough to give me a library card so I have access to both school's books.

One of the places I like to spend my time is the fourth floor in a collection of chairs which over look part of the campus. The other day, as I was working on the sermon that I will preach this week, I noticed a group of blind students being led down the sidewalk that approaches the library building. The group was being led by two students who obviously possessed the ability to see.  
The rest of the group trailed behind with their red and white walking sticks swinging back and forth feeling the way like the antennae of ants.

The sidewalk they were progressing down was narrow. It was easy to see that these visually impaired individuals were easily navigating the path before them. Stray too far to the left and they would run into a curb protecting the flower beds. Stray too far to the right and they would wander off into grass – obviously not the path. The path, however, did not stay narrow. As they continued on the normal width sidewalk the path began to fan out into a larger area with multiple points of departure. All of it was concrete. There were no obstacles which might pose a problem. The way was no longer clear.

I watch as one girl, who had been using the curb as a reference point, continued to use the curb to guide her way. As the curb curved away from the direction of the larger group, she followed it. Soon she was a good distance away from her friends and about to ascend some stairs. Just then, one of the student guides realized that she was going the wrong way and directed her back to the group.

Perhaps this imagery provides a good analogy to our life and faith journey. To a large extent we are like these blind students. We are unable to see very well where the path of life or faith will take us. We make decisions about what to do, where to go and how to act based on a limited set of information. This isn't hard when the boundaries of the path are clearly marked out. But what happens when the narrow path dumps us out into a giant intersection? What happens when our red and white walking stick antennae thing fails to give us any information other than that our path is a hard prepared surface? The path is there. It's smooth and straight and doesn't contain anything that will cause us to stumble. But how do we know the right direction?

At this point the common answer is to read the bible and pray; seek Godly counsel from mature Christians. These are all good things, things I have suggested to people and have used myself. But it has been my experience that sometimes those things don't help either. The path of life seems more often to be wide, with a multiplicity of choices and directions. Some of those choices and directions are better than others, but at the end of the day they are along the paved path.

I'm not facing any major life choices at the moment. I know, however, that as long as I trust the red and white antennae thing (the Holy Spirit?) that God has given me to keep me on the paved path, that regardless of which exact path I choose God will be with me and find a way to use me.

What about you? What do you do when the path becomes wide and the way is difficult to discern?

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Love Teen Camp!

Teen camp for the Missouri District NYI will be here in just a little over a week. I'm really excited for it. I love teen camp for few reasons. First, it's fun. There are tons of fun stuff to do: the blob, games, team competitions, and sports tournaments. A few of our teens have entered the basketball tournament and have already declared their victory by giving themselves the name, "The Winners." I'm sure they will do fine. Second, there is a good deal of time to just be in relationship with people. By that, I mean to sit around and talk. This, perhaps, is one of my favorite things. Finally, there's the food...? Ok, the food isn't bad, but it isn't one of my favorite things!

Of course, it would not be teen camp without some sort of worship and preaching. I'm hoping that this year both of these elements will be excellent, as they have been in years past.  
But I'm also hoping that the impact of worship and preaching will last well past the end of camp. David Fitch, in a blog that I regularly read, comments that many people have faced what he calls "church-abuses" that have led them to reject certain things within protestant evangelicalism (typical organization structures, authority in leadership, God's judgment, the authority of scripture, and conversion). These abuses have led to various degrees of discontentment and have sparked the creation of different movements which seek to find meaning and safety in Christianity again. One of these, conversion, is a big one at camp.

It has been my experience in camps of all kinds (Family Camps, Teen Camps, and the like), that we abuse conversion like a rented mule. We hype people up on emotion or scare the hell of out of them (quite literally) so that they might find a saving relationship with Christ. When the week is over, when they return to whatever life had for them before camp, things revert back. Salvation becomes an act of manipulation which almost always damages the one being manipulated. Never mind that the salvation that Jesus brought was never manipulative. This isn't always the case, but I've witnessed it enough to know that it happens more than we like.

I am not, like those who Fitch describes, saying that we need to get rid of the altar. What I am saying, what I am hoping for is that at teen camp this year salvation is proclaimed as an open invitation to begin to participate in the work and mission of God in the world. I'm praying that those who find Jesus at camp this year will realize that what they are getting themselves into is not nearly as much about them and their future destiny (which is important) as it is about what God would have them be and do in their schools, in their churches, and in their neighborhoods. It is only as we are sent with a sense of purpose and mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that our conversions – teen camp or otherwise – become more than just a moment in time.