Headlines from First Thoughts

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finishing First in Service

Competition drives so much of our society, but it's not the m.o. of the kingdom of God. Jesus actually talked about finishing first. But first place for him was a "First" at the bottom of a very long list of servants. It meant setting aside the impulse to win and to look for ways to carry others.

A life centered around competition creates envy and jealousy. But a goal of finishing first in service leaves room for a rivalry of love. See this article about women from Western Oregon who illustrated how we might begin the journey to a new kind of first place.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perseverance or Resilience

I love perseverance. I grew up on it. You buckle down, you work hard, you keep going. You overcome the enemies. You do as Hebrews suggests, "throw off what hinders you" and run the race. Perseverance works when you are in control of your problems and when you have the power to get rid of what oppresses you.

But what if you don't? What if the weight on your back is placed there by an oppressive boss, neighbor, family member or disease? What if you can't control what's hurting you. That's where resilience comes in. Little discussed in scripture, but often used, resilience is the quality of "bending but not breaking," of bouncing back. Resilience feels like those spongy balls that you squeeze to exercise hand muscles. They take their original shape after you squeeze tightly.

The Psalms sing of resilience as much as perseverance. In Psalm 129, for instance, the Psalmist speaks of a time when the oppressors were on the backs of the people with little hope of release. But somehow, some way, the Lord cut the cords. The people bounced back with new hope and trust in this saving God. Resilience is the quality we need when we're not sure they're going to get off our backs. Or when the work breaks our backs so much that only God can stop it and no amount of perseverance can change it.

Finishing First but Not Winning

Jesus taught his disciples how to finish first without competing against each other or other faith traditions. In Mark 9:33-41, he shows disciples how to "be first" in service.

We compete is against the very principalities and forces of darkness that use human rivalries to breed envy, jealousy, and scapegoats. By faithfully working downward to first place in service, we defeat the Enemy and trust Jesus to operate the scoreboard of faith.

See one example of this competition for service in an NCAA softball game that cost a team a victory but gave one woman a chance to complete her only home run.

Monday, September 21, 2009

25 Questions before Engagement

The most important questions in marriage are the ones asked before a
man and woman are engaged. Romantics speculate about a variety of
topics: “Is she/he the one?”; “Can I imagine myself with this person
the rest of my life?”; or “What will my parents or my preacher think?”

A person can be theoretically compatible with any number of
individuals in the world. The mythical “one person for you” is just
that. No amount of imagination or parental influence can prepare a
person for the daily commitments of a marriage. Abstinence, fidelity,
and a shared faith commitment prior to marriage do not guarantee
life-long commitment either. They are important in relationships but
do not function as a life time warranty of trust.

Three years ago, I picked up a suggested list of questions that
counselors should ask engaged couples. I have modified them to be
questions we should ask before engagement. With the help of trusted
clergy or a trained counselor, men and women can ask questions that
lead to deeper discernment.

1.) Would you change anything about the other person and why?
2.) What annoys you about each other’s parents or siblings?
3.) Have we been completely honest with the other person about our
previous relationships?
4.) What debts are you carrying into the relationship? Who will pay
for this debt and how?
5.) How will finances be handled? 1 Bank account or 2? Do we share
the same views about debt, retirement, and insurance?
6.) Do you have a will? Have you discussed with each other how you
want to be treated should you become incapacitated? Have you signed a
medical power of attorney?
7.) When will you take out a life insurance policy, and who will be
the beneficiary?
8.) Where will you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas?
9.) Will there be a television in the bedroom?
10.) Will you work outside the home? If one or the other is offered a
better position in another state, will you be willing to leave your
11.) If you have children, will one of you quit your paying job? If
so, which one?
12.) Is there anything you are not willing to sacrifice for the other person?
13.) How do you plan to communicate your schedule with the other
person? How often do you need a night with “just the guys” or “just
the girls”?
14.) Will you have alcohol or tobacco products in your home?
15.) Have you argued and been able to resolve the conflict peacefully?
16.) What, if any, forms of birth control will you use?
17.) Will you receive money from the other person’s parents for help
with a car or down payment on a home?
18.) Have you made a list of household duties (cooking, cleaning,
yard)? Who will carry these out, and how do you expect them to be
19.) Do you have student loans? Who will pay for these or future
tuition payments?
20.) Do you want to have children; and if so, how many?
21.) Will you raise your children in a religious environment? If so,
which faith tradition and why?
22.) Have you deleted all internet dating profiles?
23.) Have you fully disclosed each other’s physical and mental health histories?
24.) Do you get along with the other person’s friends? Are you willing
to make friends with other couples together?
25.) How far are you willing to live from your family of origin, and
how often do you need to see them?

People change in marriage, just not in the ways either person expects.
Commitments are fulfilled with the many decisions made to keep
promises. We prepare with better questions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Partnering, Collaborating, and other Ways of Doing Church Across the Street

The ecumenical impulse has never been stronger. The mechanisms, however, have never been more frail. The moment a person joins a church, particularity breeds togetherness. We want to say, "We are not alone," and yet we have programs and benchmarks for our fellowship. With multiple churches, ministries, associations, networks, fellowships, and conclaves competing for theological airspace, how do churches work together to demonstrate how Psalm 133 works: for people to dwell together in unity.

Three sprouts of partnership have blossomed over the last few months here at First Baptist. Most of you saw the first. We loved reuniting in September with our daughter church Mt. Zion Baptist. After the concert was finished, some people had enough freedom and humility to admit, "I didn't know they were once part of us." Togetherness does more than make you feel good; it offers an education in heritage.

Michael McEntyre has forged a partnership called Merge. Here 20 churches (Baptists and otherwise) work together to offer a youth retreat called DiscipleNow in the Spring. It seems that 1,500 or youth worshiping together work better than 50. But they also brought us Parent Merge, where newbies like me could prepare for the adolescent years ahead. At my table were experts like Ron Holcomb and Jim Decker to assure me that they were still learning as well. Parents across churches share the same concerns.

Throughout the summer, the Methodists invaded our building. While our Church Street neighbors renovated their kitchen, their homeless ministry worked with Herman Weaver and his staff to offer a lunch here. They did not want to let improvements shut down ministry during the hot summer. Church Street's minister Andy Ferguson gave us high praise for our hospitality on their television broadcast. We were happy to work with them and pleased to share the space and grace.

Last, six new churches have begun KidsHope programs at area elementary schools. With the work of Carol McEntyre and our Buckner partnership, more students will have mentors through Christ's love.

We might not see this kind of togetherness around a hymnal, baptismal, or communion table. But we surely sense this growth in the places that matter most: united around human needs.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Campus Tour

I'll be speaking next week for the college community in Knoxville. You're invited.

Wednesday night, September 16, 9:00 p.m.
Panhellenic building at UT
"The Cross" Worship Service

Thursday Morning, September 17, 11:00 a.m.
Pellissippi State Community College
Constitution Day
Topic: "Between the Walls of Church and State: Slicing the Cheese of Religious Freedom"

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