Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Who Am I To Judge?

A couple of recent news events has brought to my attention how easily it is to judge others when certain aspects of their lives become public. The most obvious high-profile example is from a few weeks ago when Mel Gibson's had a little run-in with some police officers. His drunken rant after being pulled over made headlines for days after it happened and has led many of us to determine, even when we don't know the man, whether he is anti-semitic or just an overall jerk.

Most recently the case of CNN reporter Kyra Phillips has been a hot topic in the news. While a video clip of President Bush commenting on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was playing, Phillips made a little trip to the ladies room. Unfortunately for her, her microphone was still live and her conversation with a friend in the bathroom was broadcast to millions of viewers. Though her comments about her husband were positive, she did have some disparging things to say about her sister-in-law. We see things like this happen to Phillips or Gibson and we ask ourselves, "How could they do things like that!?"

I frequently find myself in the position of judge over others while engaging in one of my favorite pastimes -- reality TV. Whether it is a competition-based show or cameras following families around, I often find that I am judging how others act. I judge how they look, their intelligence, their discipline, their ability to get along with others, whether they are nice to people, whether they say stupid stuff, how they do their hair, what kind of morals they have and the list goes on and on. If I'm honest with myself, I think one of the reasons I enjoy watching reality TV or even picking up a People magazine from time to time to read the latest celebrity gossip is so that I can feel better about myself. Maybe if others' lives are so messed up and they act so stupid, then maybe I'm not so bad. My smug self-righteousness kicks in and I feel "better than" those I watch on T.V. or read about magazines.

But I have to wonder that if I were a famous movie star or professional athlete or even a well-known preacher if my actions would hold up under public scrutiny. What if my every word was put into print or captured on video for all to see? What if there were cameras throughout my house recording every time I was impatient with my kids or didn't serve my wife? What if I was on a reality show and you saw that I don't always act like a "professional" Christian should? Would you look at me as less than you or would you see my humanity?

I don't think that wrong behavior needs to be winked at or that we need to turn a blind eye to sinful actions. But remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
"Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
If the police wrote a report up everytime I said mean and hateful things about someone different than me or a microphone picked up my casual comments when my guard was down, I may think twice before passing judgment on others. Jesus told us that we would be judged with the same measure that we judge others. And God's standard for judgment is different than ours for:
"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, bu the Lord looks at the heart." ~ I Samuel 16:7b
Since we can't really look into the hearts of others, we probably need to be careful about rushing to judgment. We can hold others to a high standard, but we should remember that the same standard that we put upon them will be put upon us. We can judge others for their cursing, but God will judge us for our gossip (they both deal with the tongue). We can judge others for their sexual immorality, but God will judge us for our gluttony (they both deal with the body). We can judge others for their racism, but God will judge us for our Pharisaism (both deal with pride). All of our sin deals with the heart and only Jesus can change that. We can want others to conform to how we think they should act, but God only transforms the human heart.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Another Visit to New Orleans

I was able to spend a couple of days in New Orleans this past week with the Campus Crusade staff team and interns that have moved there recently in order to minister to the students of the city. My trip had some unexpected happenings since I left on Thursday morning, shortly after the terrorist threat in London caused the security at airports everywhere to get stepped up. It's amazing how worked up people can get over not being able to take their toothpaste and hand lotion with them!

My flight out of Orlando actually wasn't too bad, but my return flight connected in Miami and that didn't go so well. Not only was our flight delayed for an hour because it was late getting there, but after having boarded and being seated on the plane for about a half-hour, we were told that maintenance could not repair a blockage in the airplane lavatory. My guess is it wasn't a tube of toothpaste that was blocking up the toilet. So we had to de-board and get on another plane. I was supposed to get home at 10:30 p.m. Friday and ended up getting back after 2 a.m. Saturday. But I was grateful to be home.

Back to the New Orleans trip... Having not had a Campus Crusade staff team in the city for quite sometime, a group of brave souls have committed to give at least a year of their lives to help rebuild the city and rebuild the lives of its residents. One of the neat things about the New Orleans team is that is really two teams in one. There is a seven person campus team that will ministering to the students in New Orleans and then there is an eleven person intern relief team that will be primarily helping to gut houses and meet the physical needs of residents throughout the area. I think this is a great demonstration of Good News and Good Deeds working hand-in-hand.

I had visited them to do some training with the team as they prepare for the school year to begin. The makeup of the team is predominately white, so we talked about some of the issues they will encounter in doing cross-cultural ministry in the predominately African American environments that they'd be working in and how to practically live out racial reconciliation. I appreciated their openness to examine what can often be painful issues to discuss and their willingness to examine and prepare their own hearts. I truly admire the commitment of these missionaries to leave their homes and families to live among the residents of New Orleans. Even with the uncertainty of whether future hurricanes may hit the city again, they have willingly moved to New Orleans to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who are looking for hope.

I was encouraged by the progress that is happening in New Orleans. Even since my last visit in May, I am beginning to see improvement. There is work going on everywhere and it's obvious that there are more people that have moved back into the city. More and more businesses are re-opened, although not all of them have. At the end of the training with the team, we had planned to go to a local soul food restaurant of one of the interns, Antonio, who is a recent graduate of Xavier University. However, all the restaurants that he knew of were still closed. We eventually found a great restaurant where we all had a great lunch together. I had some fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, fried okra and some sweet tea.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with our staff and interns and ask you to continue to pray for them and the people of New Orleans. For most of us, Hurricane Katrina is a distant memory and we go on about our lives in a normal fashion. But for the people of New Orleans, Katrina is still very much a reality and many are still seeking to rebuild their lives. I'm sure that they would appreciate your faithful prayers.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

MySpace for Christians?

Just read this piece from Vanessa Mendenhall, in USA Today's Generation Next blog. The blog examines the interests, views and opinions of America's 42 million 16-25 year olds and can be very insightful for those of us that are youth pastors and campus ministers. Check out this article on Christian networking communities:

"The media world has been abuzz this year over the predatory risks facing teens on social-networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook - prompting Gen-Y U radio hosts to refer to MySpace (in jest) as the “Gateway to Molestation.” A Monday story in the Los Angeles Times suggests that September will bring a new round of online sexual-predator legislation. But what if social-networking sites open not only the fiery gates of hell, but also the gates of heaven?

In the rather niche world of Christian television programming, teens can choose to watch Christian reality shows and Christ-inspired animation, or Christian hip-hop and rock music videos. So it was only logical that the wildly popular framework of personal profiles and user-generated content would be brought into the fold. On, a site sponsored by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, teens are “working together to save a generation.” How? By building personal profiles, networking online and blogging about their battles to convert the “unchurched” and avoid corrosive music and media.

On this new MySpace-esque site, friends are known as “Trench-mates,” comments are “Battle Shouts” and one’s notebook is a “Battle Cry Blog.” Yet, despite this deft
harnessing of teen-popular technology, many of the “Warrior Disciplines” and “Battle Tactics” suggested by the site point toward a distrust of technology. For instance, two declarations that users are encouraged to make include: “I will commit to only using my computer for God’s glory” and “I will commit to spending time in the Word before I watch TV or go on line.”

Browsing the profiles, one also notices that many members write their own “Warrior Disciplines.” In Virginia Beach, Va., Gideon, an African-American Battle Cry user made the commitment that “me and the Holy Spirit will pray with at least one youth every day.” A Caucasian teen who goes by the screen name SuperDog87 in Picayune, Miss., rewrote the suggested commitment to declare: “I will be intentional about using my technology gadgets to further my personal Battle Cry and His cause.” A girl in Dallas going by the screen name ChurchPunk89, however, adopted a suggested Warrior Discipline, saying, “I will recommit to be submissive to my parents.” So far the site boasts 61,109 Battle Cry Coalition members …”and growing.”


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Purpose of the Church

I have been thinking a lot recently about what a church is and what it means to be the Church. The Church is the worldwide body of believers, whereas the church is the local expression of that body. Both hold significance and both are important. John Piper has said that "missions exists because worship does not." Think about that for a second... The goal of the church is not necessarily evangelism (although that is a big part of it), but it is worship. We all "do church" in different ways. Some of us meet in old buildings with ministers who wear robes and sing from hymnals and this is church. Some of us meet in rented schools and have pastors that don't wear ties and this is church. And a growing number of people meet with a small number of others in their homes for prayer, Bible reading and expression of the gospel. And this is church.
I think so much of how we define church has to do with what we were brought up with. Unfortunately, some of what we use as a definition of what constitutes a real church has much more to do with tradition than biblical authority. There are people who say that people have to dress up to make it church. Others think a pipe organ makes it a church. Many people think that an ordained minister has to be leading the way or it's not really church. Or maybe that the fellowship has to be part of an "official" denomination. Funny, but Scripture doesn't place any of these requirements on what makes a church a church.
What Scripture seems to indicate is that when members of Christ's body gather together (Jesus said when two or more are gathered) then God is in their midst. So a church is not a building. It is people who love Jesus and mutually commit to follow Him. Our aim as the Church is to worship Almighty God and introduce others to our great Creator so that they can worship Him as well. Church does not exist to be a social club. Church does not exist as a place for us to make business connections. Church does not exist so that we can push our political viewpoints tax-free.
Church exists for us to meet with God, to meet with His people and to have a place to invite others to do the same. It's troubling to see when God's house (whether that's a church building, a schoolroom, a rec room, a living room or a coffeehouse) is defiled by using it for reasons other than worship. I came across this article recently and what I read really bothered me. While I have no problem with megachurches in general, large churches can see a subtle slip into creating a good show for people rather than creating a true environment of worship. Of course, small churches can fall into the same trap (they're just not affecting as many people). And to bring it closer to home, the ministry that I'm apart of, Campus Crusade, can also go down this road as we can spend way too much time, energy, and money on trying to have the best band, the sharpest videos and the funniest skits at our weekly meetings while forgetting what our real purpose is.
Please read the article and let me know your thoughts on whether you think this example is what you think the church should be. I have been fortunate to have been part of some great church communities and I'd appreciate hearing your examples also of churches that you've been a part of that have done a good job of living out our primary calling.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Childhood Memories, Baseball & Being a Dad

Last night Lori and I had the privilege in participating in a significant rite of passage for children -- their first major league baseball game! We were able to take Brennan and Leah over to St. Petersburg to see the Detroit Tigers take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. We left Jason with some friends for the evening because, though we love him dearly, we didn't think that our little two year old would sit still through a nine inning baseball game. It was probably a wise decision. We had a great time (even though the Tigers lost 7-3) and it was quite fulfilling to know that our kids were having a fun time.

The role of being a parent is not always an easy one. Though there are thousands of books written on the topic of parenting and there are always people willing to offer their advice on parenting, you always wonder if the job you're doing as a dad (or a mom) is good enough. Are you messing your kids up for the rest of their life? Are your bad habits and sin patterns rubbing off on your little ones, inevitably scarring them for life? You also ask yourself, "What kind of memories am I helping to make for my children?"

Fortunately, I think we made some good memories with Brennan and Leah last night. Even though they are only six and five years old, respectively, chances are that they will remember this evening for the rest of their lives. It was their very first major league baseball game. They probably won't forget it. They'll remember getting to see the players in person that up until that point they had only been able to see on T.V. They'll remember the hot dogs and cotton candy. Brennan will remember anxiously waiting in his seat with his ball glove on for a foul ball to come our way (sorry it didn't happen, buddy). And Leah will remember her favorite part of the game being the "Kissing Cam." That's when the Jumbotron shows kissing couples at the game. Five years old and the girl is already a hopeless romantic.

But most of all, I hope that our kids will remember spending time with their mom and dad doing something fun. I hope Brennan remembers us sitting in our seats and me explaining the intricacies of the game, like why a pitcher tries to pick-off a runner or why Dmitri Young could afford to lose some weight so that he can make the stretch at first base. I think of the many young boys that don't get the chance to go to a ball game with their dad because he's not in their lives. How sad.

I'm thankful that I have positive memories of time with my dad going to ball games at Tiger Stadium when I was a kid. Of getting hot dogs with a slap of mustard on 'em and munching on some Cracker Jacks. Of sitting in obstructed view seats at the old stadium. Of watching my favorites Trammell and Whitaker turn another double play or Lance Parrish hitting a home run. Is there anything more American than a father and son taking in a baseball game together? I hope that in the many memories that will form in my children's minds through the course of their years, I hope that the memory of last night will be as good as the memory that I will have of it.