Category Archives: Cultural

Black Friday’s Grayness

In an attempt to promote anti-materialism there seems to be a darting out into fundamentalist traffic that emerges this time of year from the social media realm.  This week begins its inaugural dash between semi and sportster as Black Friday reared his ugly face into the news.

Sure, there are some who feed like starving jackals upon any excuse to swipe their overloaded plastic for the chance at even more goodies. However, there are plenty people who simply know a good bargain when they see it.  Why be snarky about good stewardship?  What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and 70% off ?

Too many people run their lances through anything that seems to imitate WORLDLINESS, and yet, isn’t sniping generically at gray areas a bit ungracious? The Scriptures speak about money and stewardship hundreds of times because where your heart is, so too, shall your wallet be.

At this time of year it is apropos to begin to hear the lamenting of Black Friday and too much emphasis on spending, but spending within your budget is not overspending on credit. If you do the latter, you are a fool, but buying within budget and saving money by taking advantage of great sales makes you neither stupid nor materialistic. It makes you wise.

Lastly, remember that sometimes the greatest human gift you can give is yourself. Visit your old friend. Call your grandmother in another state. Pray for those who need it. Be slow to judge. Quick to listen and remember mercy.

Slow Six

Six years ago, my oldest daughter was only almost ten years old and my youngest barely over two. We lived in Natchez for a few months while the world settled its focus on a post-Katrina environment of chaos and purposed aid.  It seems like much longer.

From the crusted-mud pavements of flooded streets emerged Homeland Missions, a community relief organization based out of our church in Slidell. We were instantly catapulted into unfamiliar roles and unique opportunities to live out what we’d been teaching and preaching for over a decade. It was both a horror and a privilege, the kind of orchestrated dance that only God could have composed in His mercy, grace and unsearchable wisdom for He always knows what we need and when we need it.  I’m reminded of the crucifixion of  our LORD where both realities were juxtaposed in prime view. The greatest horrific crime perpetrated simultaneously with the greatest act of love ever. I’m still floored by the expanse of it all.

Much spiritual growth has happened since that monstrous hurricane came beating us out of our comfort chairs for a mad sprint northward.  Through the  marsh-grass mounds, house muck,  failed promises and sacrificial gifts came new wisdom – an insight into faith-filled perceptions that let us know that  we’re better off for having been shaken to the core.  Sometimes you need a trip to the woodshed to discipline your focus. Sometimes you need to lose what you were taking for granted in order to know what you actually had – a Big Yellow Taxi moment is a powerful teacher. Katrina filled the bill.

Increased faith, more patience, greater grace and an acute sense of our need for others are our fruit stands – evidences of God’s handiwork in molding our hearts towards Christ.  These six years have gone by slowly like the methodical churning of an overburdened dough hook longing to complete the next batch, yet it isn’t over.  Much is left undone and in reality will never get done. Interest is almost nonexistent, funding has evaporated and the bureaucratic overload is so high one is hard-pressed to even see beyond the immediate. However, we press on.

Through many challenges and setbacks, our community work continues as we are able and we  pray that the LORD will continue to use us as He sees fit.  It took a mighty storm to mobilize us from a status-quo congregation into an outwardly-minded fellowship. In between that mobilization has come a greater awareness of His providential provision as well as man’s great need of the Good News. May the next six years bring even more people to the same praise through the Spirit-empowered efforts of our labors and through the help of others just like you. Soli Deo Gloria.  Amen.

Beyond the Waterline

It’s hard to imagine that it’s five years later.  In some ways it feels like it has been a lifetime of swimming through concrete.  In other ways, it seems like just yesterday we came back home to a new normal – freshly renovated by the hand of God and a fist of furies.

As you travel through the tri-parish neighborhoods, you see a suffering urban triad. New homes sit next to empty lots that lay in between yet-to-be touched properties.  Blight sits like an ugly blind date among two other more attractive choices.  Much has yet to happen, but no one seems to want to dance.

There is an ADD view of charity in America. While we do give abundantly through many benevolent organizations, we are still a nation of distraction. One day our attention lingers over one disaster and then, just as quickly, it shifts over to a new area with little thought about long-term commitments. Devastated cities are not rebuilt quickly and people take even longer.

Yet, even through the confused difficulties and mire of mountainous and lethargic bureaucracy, we can see light. Hope was transported by God’s grace through thousands of churches and car after truck after van of volunteers. FEMA, the military, Red Cross and other agencies showed up week after week to help and assist in cleanup and recovery.  We were overwhelmed by a continuing trail of faithful servants who helped us sew up wounds and re-lay new foundations and in spite of all the delays, political pandering and illogical insensibilities; help arrived. Mercy is beautiful even when born next to death.

In long-term urban relief ministry, we’ve seen a juxtaposition of opposing truths that seem to wage war in a paradoxical fist fight.  Great blessings coexist with intense trials. One hand seeking to serve and love like Christ, while the other demands a better menu and preferential work projects.  One hand is grateful for whatever help it receives, while the other is never satisfied with the free labor it gets; even though it could never afford in the first place.  Grace and demand live as sneering neighbors sobering up those who pay attention.  Sometimes it seems like a miracle that anything gets done.  It is.

Beyond the waterline, we’ve learned much about our own weaknesses and self-interests and have been made clearly aware of our ongoing need for sustaining grace – the grace that only Christ can bring.  When funds disappear and interest wanes, the real fiber of your heart is tested.  As promises laced with good intentions break away into disappointment’s wake, it is through His sufficiency and new provisions that we press on. In the long haul, you notice both your utter dependency and inadequacy. God uses hard-baked vessels to bring truth and life, even when they are bruised and cracked.

Establishing our internship program at Homeland Missions has been a deep passion as we have sought to anchor and transfer the heart attitudes and practicalities that we’ve learned in half a decade. We know we are mere pups, but He’s taught us so much already.

As we move past another August 29th and into more unknowns; one thing has not changed. We are even more committed to sustaining a generational beacon of salt and light in our community. We aren’t sure about exactly what the end product will look like, but we are faithful to see it through. He never abandons us no matter how much the darkness feels empty.  Pray for us. Pray for the people we help. Come lend a hand. We need you.

Dearborn Debacle

Apologists from Acts 17, David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi were arrested in Dearborn, MI at an Arab Festival for allegedly inciting a riot and disturbing the peace. They were escorted off the grounds of the event and then summarily had their video cameras taken from them. Now, the video is here after being returned.

Does this look like a riot to you? Confusion? Swelling crowds?

While we certainly must reserve final judgment until having all the facts, one thing from this video of the arrest is clear – there will be much legal action against this clear violation of basic civil rights. Welcome to the new Amerika Comardes.  Pray for these men. Pray for justice. Pray for our land.

The Goodness of Victory

The Who Dat buzz is still humming, albeit a bit softer now. Mardi Gras has ended and the French Quarter vibe is a little slower, but we can rest assured that even though the celebrating is diminished, it is not over.

Several of us in our fellowship along with thousands of other eager fans attended the historic Saints Superbowl Victory parade in the city to relish in a long-awaited and significant triumph. Marching bands, brightly lit floats and wall to wall black and gold shirts filled the sidewalks and curbs and barricades held in the masses of onlookers as the team’s players and coaches rolled out from the Dome to the Convention Center. We finally did it.

In the chill of a uniquely-frigid February evening the city forgot her woes and the sounds of jubilation rang out from every street.  It was a bit surreal, not only because of the incredible ending to a miraculous Saints football season, but because of a special unity weaving throughout every social class. It’s as if each person has grabbed on to the hope found in victory and the struggle it takes to achieve it.  Even non-football fanatics, like me, are showing up and buying hats and shirts and stickers to join in the first-of-a-lifetime fun; chanting and singing and sitting on our car horns.

Interestingly, concurrent with the feasting and celebrating has been the criticism – criticism of making a big deal out of ‘just a game’ and criticism by believers of making an idol of sports. To the former point, those who claim that our merrymaking is overboard are simply speaking from a foreign hill. They are making observations from a remote tower looking down on something they just don’t understand. The Saints incredible season is a live and direct Rocky and Rudy storyline being acted out before our eyes except that these main characters are not acting. This is not a production based on a true story. This IS the true story – one of sacrifice, regional pride, love for the underdogs, hope amidst trial and devastation, courage, dedication and support. Every final victory you have ever been excited about in any and every story, play or film grew and blossomed for us right before our eyes. This is about a life-long dream finally appearing; why wouldn’t we be feasting?

To the latter point of idolatry, one must back up a few feet.  Sure the country is obsessed about many things including sports and sure many in the midst of this Saints ‘madness’ are overly-consumed by professional and collegiate athletics all year long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any and everyone who loves competition and victory is making it their god.  It is the same fallacious argument as saying that if one drinks wine then they are a drunkard. Christ Himself had to deal with the same false accusations when they labeled him a winebibber and a glutton. (Matthew 11:19)

I pray that we recognize that God’s goodness extends to many things both earthly and eternal. Our NFL success is not salvation, but we must be careful not to miss the opportunity to praise Him in all things and that includes great victories.

Food and Vice

cornucopiaAs Americans, we have abundant food resources that reflect the bounty of the Lord’s provision. Daily, we consume a wide variety of foods from whole wheat crackers and hickory grilled fish to bottled spring water and freshly squeezed juice.  Our shelves and stores and warehouses and restaurants all testify to sufficient supply.

Beyond mere provision, flavors, too, are a gift from God. After the Fall in Eden, He was under no obligation whatsoever to make our foods taste good; and yet, they do.

While we eat and drink to rejuvenate ourselves through divinely designed functions created to sustain us, the lure of a satisfied palate can become the doorway to overindulgence. That doorway can become a road to idolatry as the temptation of flavor and ‘food comfort’ supersedes self-control.  Instead of fresh grilled fish we dream about fast food tacos. Rather than spring water we consume gallons of soft drinks and corn syrup enriched liquids that stress our systems. Not only do our choices tend to lean towards unhealthy foods, but our ability to step away from the table wavers as well.  Food is our fuel and temptation.

After the completion of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary, all Old Testament dietary laws and restrictions were lifted. (Colossians 2:16ff)  The cornucopia has been laid before us through the sacrifice of Christ and we should be joyful with each bite we take. “..Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

As the holiday season quickly approaches, let us be reminded about the joy of food and her lure.  While we can experience great culinary heights in the consumption of wonderful foods we must remember moderation. Food brings us together as a people and a Body, but self-control is living in the Spirit. Overindulgence is sin.

The celebratory goodness in feast and festival is of God, but the glutton should put a knife to his neck. (Proverbs 23:2)

999 – 9.09.09 – 9/9/09 and the Nines

the NinesYesterday was a unique numerical day.  If I were inclined to love zany Zeitgeist theories and Van Impe fantasy tales, I would have taken out my binoculars and searched the horizon for an upside down Antichrist leaping from Harpo’s latest infomercial broadcast.  Instead, I tuned into a virtual leadership conference called The Nines.

I confess that at first, it seemed really nerdy and just another attempt at being ‘cool’ and some of the names I saw in the lineup were folks that I do not believe have a firm grasp of either the gospel or church.   Then I thought about it from a technological standpoint.  I looked at it as a unique use of a great time in history where how we communicate with each other changes so fast, that by the time you learn one niche, it seems to be obsolete. Every advance in technology is met with both awe and criticism. I remember when I was in college and cell phones looked like those huge GI Joe battle radios and people thought it was absolutely ridiculous to have one.  Only the wealthy had them and very few saw what was coming down the pike re: tiny hand-held flip phones and text message mania.

So now we’re here in multi-platformed communique where if you can’t use a browser you’re considered ‘out the loop’. Only dinosaurs can’t type on keyboards.  So why not use these great advancements for the Kingdom? Why not embrace technology as God’s providential means of connecting us more easily to education and encouragement?

I tuned in at nine minutes to nine just to have my own little geeky fun since the conference was supposed to start at nine after nine.  I watched about an hour of the conference and have assembled, in continued geek fun, a list of nine observations about The Nines.

999

1. The technology involved in the video stream and connectivity amazed me.

The video was seamless and the sense of being right with the speaker was attractive even though one particular speaker was so close to the cam that I felt like I was in a Seinfeld skit about close talkers.

2. The technology still needs to improve.

I have only recently entered into the Twitter zone and have been pleasantly surprised with Facebook after boycotting it for many years.  While some nitwits feel compelled to broadcast every inane and boring detail of their lives through social media, I have found a great benefit in being edified by good posts and keeping up with friends and the world.

That being said, there needs to be more real time text applications. Instant messaging isn’t always very instant and the delays in postings create an un-dialogue.  For this reason, I’m very much looking forward to Google Wave’s launch.

3. I kept thinking some speakers were trying too hard to be cool.

I’m not judging hearts, I’m speaking about my own perception.  A danger in newness is that it tends to lead us into trendiness. Trendiness is hip at the time but can lack genuineness. If authenticity is replaced with ‘fitting in’ the smell of plasticity will overpower the message. So, if you are already hip, stay hip. If you’re a nerd, be one.

4. Having over nine thousand participants logged in is encouraging.

As the apostolic prayer requested that the gospel run rapidly through the cities (2 Thess. 3:1), what better way to spread truth than through such incredible technologies.

5. We still equate church growth with numbers and virtually  ignore internal growth.

God builds His church and while we should always rejoice in more and more people coming into the Kingdom, it does not happen because of our strategy. While we should be focused on functioning well in our labors, we should be more focused on whether or not we are making true disciples.

6. I think sometimes I’m too critical of honest attempts at doing things better and in the process lose focus on what is good.

Just because someone may be overboard in their approach doesn’t mean that they have nothing good at all to say. Just because they miss the mark in one are doesn’t mean that I can’t grow from something else they may have right. Just because I agree with this doesn’t mean I won’t stop criticizing. May I do it in the right spirit.

7. Leadership is best taught by the art of do

Show them. Teach them. Identify them. Let them. Help them. Lead them. Duplication.

8. There is so much to learn.

Wherever I hear so much from so many I feel overwhelmed and it reminds me that I will be a student my entire life while at the same time teaching. We transfer from one baton to the next what has been given to us to learn and pass on. Mentoring facilitates discipling.

9. Nine really is a good number.

Short, simple and clear means more effectiveness especially in front of the backdrop of busyness. We spend far too much time being distracted and much less time staying focused. The Nines helped me remember to focus more precisely.

Death Comes Quickly

no cementaryBy now, no doubt, we are all weary of the seeming avalanche of celebrity reports in the news related to the high profile deaths in Hollywood as of late – Jackson, Fawcett, McMahon, Malden, Mays, Travalena, Storm… These deaths bring to mind the quick passing time scroll that we call life.  In some ways we think that time is paralyzed in movies and pictures and with those whom we haven’t seen in quite some time. How often have you run into someone you haven’t seen in years and suddenly find yourself in shock that they look so different?  Time is the ferry that waits for no one.

God tells us that our expiration date has been sealed in heaven for “there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Eccl.3:1-4)  While our end is fixed we are not given the hour or day of our departure (Deut. 29:29); instead, we are firmly told to redeem the time we are given here on earth wisely for we do not know what tomorrow’s events may bring.

As James tells us in his epistle, “…you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:14-16)

jazz funeral

Thinking that tomorrow is ours is evil. Not acknowledging God’s providence over each inhale and every exhale is arrogant boasting. Our lives are indeed in His hands.  As we age, we become acutely aware of our inevitable stop. Our ‘vaporism’ is revealed. Skin loosens. Bones ache. Our frailty is made more and more evident as we ante up more frequent co-payments and attend more frequent funerals. The ferry plows on.

Death’s immediate impact on us is directly proportional to how close it is to us relationally.  The impact of a Sudanese dying in England whom we’ve never met is not even close to the impact of our spouse or parent passing. According to the U.S. Census bureau, there are approximately two and half million deaths per year in the United States – that’s five deaths per minute.  Interestingly, we don’t live as though this is the case; taking each day more precious than the next.

As you continue through your activities this weekend, remind yourself of these passages and another truth from the book of Ecclesiastes – It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (cf. 7:2)  May we take life to heart as the gift that it is and may we continue to warn those who are in danger of losing it forever.

The Soothing Soul of Music

bassMusic is a gift from God that soothes our weary souls. Naturally, an aesthetic switch flips on in our minds whenever certain musical packages are unpacked. Ever since Jubal’s first chords on the lyre and pipe (Gen. 4:21), music has always had an ethereal substratum floating in between each time signature creating a vibe and groove and providing us with audio medicine.  Even ungodly musicians recognize that something else is at work in musicology.  As creative artists, they understand that while they train and learn various techniques, scales and theories; there is a supernatural component to well-written pieces.

Many of us have the experience of curling up to favorite songs in order to reject distress and cope with loneliness.  Certain tunes are cathartic remedies that carry us through hard spots in life. Carefully crafted harmonies and grooves can create an endorphin rush that coats worry with a melodious membrane when the right songs are sung to us during depressing circumstance.  The right tune can uplift our spirits and put a tattered mind to rest. Sweet melodies tame beastly constitutions and can sedate tense infractions that invade our day.

In the book of Samuel, music’s panecean virtue is seen when David refreshed Saul and drove away an evil spirit with a well-played instrument proving that power rests in the flow of tones and string.

“Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” 1 Samuel 16:22-23

Bill Solley handsThere is no denying the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental intermingling that exists between staff and heart, beat and rhythm, note and piece.  Mothers have known this truth for quite some time as they, for centuries, have sung lullabies to relax restless infants as they lay in their arms. Friedrich Nietzsche is accredited with having said that “without music life would be a mistake.”  Indeed. God makes no such errors.

The universality of music’s ability to soothe our stress and be our symphonic sensei overreaches borders and cultures and peoples of all time. Just as God ordained the calming sounds of a fresh brook He has given us the seven-strings of a great jazz guitar. For us, as those who have received such wonderful and useful gifts, we must learn to handle this treasure rightly. We must learn how to first understand it and then secondly, to discern our way through it. To fail to do so will ensure that we end up malnourished; feeding on stockpiles of stale and poisoned tunes.

May you find beauty, solace, refreshment, and energized motivation through the right use of song and piece. Amen.

Bringing Glory to God in the Workplace

fishmongerMany believers are under the misconception that they must be teaching Greek in a seminary class or pastoring a flock of sheeple in order to be a significance in the kingdom.  “If only I were a missionary in Thailand or Bangladesh, THEN I would be reeeeally serving God fully!” This would be true if only God had not called each of us to varied and diverse callings.  Not only does the Body of Christ function together as a cohesive organic community of multi-purposed parts it also functions outside of its corporate gathering in the same way.

By doing all that we do for Him alone, the common work of an ordinary occupation can radiate His glory as a reflection of the work of redeeming grace.  Through us, as willingly obedient and joyful vessels, the beauty of the Lord’s work in the gospel penetrates normally dismal cubicles and office complexes into vibrant places of salt and light living.  Here is a story written by Calvin Seerveld about his father’s work.  It demonstrates the point quite well.

My father is a seller of fish. We children know the business too having worked from childhood in the Great South Bay Fish Market, Patchogue, Long Island, New York, helping our father like a quiver full of arrows. It is a small store, and it smells like fish.

I remember a Thursday noon long ago when my Dad was selling a large carp to a prosperous woman and it was a battle to convince her. “Is it fresh?”

It fairly bristled with freshness, had just come in, but the game was part of the sale. They had gone over it anatomically together: the eyes were bright, the gills were a good color, the flesh was firm, the belly was even spare and solid, the tail showed not much waste, the price was right–Finally my Dad held up the fish behind the counter, ?Beautiful, beautiful! Shall I clean it up??

And as she grudgingly assented, ruefully admiring the way the bargain had been struck, she said, “My, you certainly didn’t miss your calling.”

Unwittingly, she spoke the truth. My father is in full-time service for the Lord, prophet, priest and king in the fish business. And customers who come in the store sense it. Not that we always have the cheapest fish in town! Not that there are no mistakes on a busy Friday morning! Not that there is no sin! But this: that little Great South Bay Fish Market, my father and two employees, is not only a clean, honest place where you can buy quality fish at a reasonable price with a smile, but there is a spirit in the store, a spirit of laugher, of fun, of joy inside the buying and selling that strikes an observer pleasantly; and the strenuous week-long preparations in the back rooms for Friday fish-day are not a routine drudgery interrupted by rest periods but again, a spirit seems to hallow the lowly work into a rich service, in which it is good to officiate.

When I watch my Dad’s hands, big beefy hands with broad stubby fingers each twice the thickness of mine, they could never play a piano; when I watch those hands delicately split the back of a mackerel or with a swift, true stroke fillet a flounder close to the bone, leaving all the meat together; when I know those hands dressed and peddled fish from the handlebars of a bicycle in the grim 1930’s, cut and sold fish year after year with never a vacation through fire and sickness, thieves and disasters, weariness, winter cold and hot muggy summers, twinkling at work without complaint, past temptations, struggling day in and day out to fix a just price, in weakness often but always in faith consecratedly cutting up fish before the face of the Lord: when I see that, I know God’s Grace can come down to a man’s hand and the flash of a scabby fish knife.


fishmonger knifeIn his book, The Other Six Days,  R. Paul Stevens writes, “…the biblical doctrine of vocation proposes that the whole of our lives finds meaning in relation to the sweet summons of a good God.”(p. 72)  We are called BY someone before we are called the do something. We musn’t allow a poor understanding of vocation in occupation rob us of our Ephesians 2:10 exercise of faith. Surely, mere living ‘right’ and ‘purposed’ before men will never convert them for faith comes by hearing the Word of God; however, He has called us to live differently in all that we pursue.

I pray that we would meditate more on the role of work and occupation and instruct our children well before we find ourselves into an irreversible clench of time, resource and wasted gifts.