Monday, August 25, 2008

Bridges or Barriers

I was camping for the last several days with some old friends from my previous employer. I go to the Adirondacks every August with this gang and we hike mountains together. This was our 24th year, and in this time we have grown to know each other quite well, in spite of the fact that to a large part we only see each other once a year.

So one conversation I wanted to talk about was with a friend who is a Buddhist. He married a Japanese woman, but I don't know if his conversion was before or after meeting her. I guess for today it doesn't matter.

I was prompted by a radio story about the meeting Rick Warren had with Barack Obama and John McCain. This well-publicized meeting took place at Saddleback Church on August 16th. I heard Rick Warren and his wife Kay talking about their faith, and their approach to social change. The part I liked was regarding the spread of AIDS. They talked about three approaches to limit the spread of this terrible disease: save sex for marriage, remain faithful once married, and the use of condoms. They were not going to budge on their personal morality that requires them to preach that premarital sex and adultery are wrong. But, they also recognize that many many people are suffering from AIDS, and the distribution of condoms would seriously effect the spread. Reducing suffering is, to them, much more important that sitting in their Ivory Tower and preaching morality. I was very impressed and happy that these very influential evangelical Christians were placing the teachings of Jesus above their personal political agendas.

So, back to the conversation with my Buddhist friend. After discussing the Warrens story and its implications, we were able to conclude that the overall goals of these very distinct religions overlap significantly. Just like Rick and Kay Warren, why can't Christians work with Buddhists or Muslims, or anyone really, who wants the same goals? Why do we have to always beat them over the head with the Bible, and refuse cooperation until they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior?

OK, before you get too upset, I understand that ultimately we need to do our best to share the Gospel. But does this have to preclude working with unsaved individuals, especially those of different faiths? And can we please separate our political agendas from the work to help those in need? I just can't see Jesus saying to a little child with AIDS "I can't help you since your mother engaged in sex outside of marriage."

Thanks for listening. Probably there will more on this later.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Offsite again

Yesterday our annual offsite service. We trek about 25 minutes to some property owned by some longtime church members, who graciously invite us in for the service. It makes for a very busy weekend for yours truly, since I mostly coordinate the audio setup. This year went particularly smooth, especially with respect to the great sound we maintained between Saturday rehearsal and Sunday worship. But I am skipping ahead.

The event starts about 9AM at church, when we load up the equipment. Fortunately, we do not have to dip into the Sunday equipment for this project. (Excepting personal stuff, like drums, guitars, etc, and easy stuff like microphones). This takes the pressure off for getting everything back to church and setup.

Next comes the fun part, and I mean that. The setup. There is no electrical power on site, so we start with generators, and lots of industrial-strength extension cords. The mixing board, and all the wiring comes next. Lots of signal paths, wireless devices, and monitors to straighten out. After all the channels are working, we bring in the musicians for a sound check and rehearsal. This is a little frustrating as it always takes a while to nail down the monitor mix. Singers react differently to hearing too much or too little of themselves or others. It is actually an interesting personality test, but that's another essay.

We spent a fair bit of time hanging the signal lines and the main snake around the edges of the tents, above the poles, just inside the rain flap. This kept the wiring off the ground, and completely avoided the dew that is always an issue. Dew creeps into everything, no matter how hard you try. I attribute the lack of Sunday morning crackling to this new wiring procedure. (Thanks for the brainstorm Dickie.)

As for the actual service, it went fairly smoothly. There are the usual issues, such as outside musicians who do not arrive for a sound check or rehearsal, and then stand up to sing. The soloist did a great job, but she would have been even better if we could have talked a few minutes about microphones, monitors, etc.

Off course there was often last minute pastor debugging the computer audio output during out opening music. For some reason this did not happen Saturday, so that setup was completed at about 10:25, after we started our first few welcome songs. And someone forgot to tell the praise team that they were responsible for the doxology after the offering. All in all the worship itself went very well in spite of the leadership shortfalls. I should be used to it by now, but I guess I am not.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Encouragement and Gratitude

So we all probably read a lot about encouragement. We are told to say a kind word, or jut give a smile, to anyone when they seem to need it. Or even if they don't. This is a philosophy I adopted many years ago, after my first coaching experience when my son was in first grade. (He recently celebrated the big 21.) After the final game of the season, parents and kids came up with really sincere thanks. I felt awash in gratitude in a way I had never experienced. Now I would call it the Holy Spirit. Then I was just very happy. From that point on, I have tried to express gratitude whenever possible, especially at larger type events (eg: church dinner) when I always seek out whoever was in charge and leave them with a kindness. This has often shown amazing results.

There are other ways to give encouragement besides gratitude. Mostly people just want to be noticed. An easy way to encourage is to simply not criticize, especially when you know the person is aware of their issues. Stopping to help someone, even for a moment, can be huge; it means that you noticed them, and also that their efforts are important enough to join. These are very important messages.

So, we can all agree that giving encouragement is a Good Thing. What about when we need it ourselves? Is that a weakness? I don't think so. Given my approach to gratitude, I sometimes have a difficult time when others do not reciprocate. Does that make me selfish? I don't know, I think it just makes me human. In the volunteer world of Christ-centered giving, it would seem to be a fundamental part of everyone's approach.

But it isn't.

Why is that? I don't think that people are taking me for granted, but that is an easy assumption to make when you get little other feedback. I don't think people are unkind, when I see all the other wonderful things they do. So what is it?

Encouragement involves two sides: one person gives, and the other person gets. Without both functioning properly, the encouragement cannot happen. Are there people who are simply difficult to encourage? Absolutely! How well we accept encouragement will greatly affect how much we get. I have found that the best response to "Thank You" is simply "You're welcome." Wow, it turns out my mother was right all along! But those we try to encourage often make it more difficult. Have you ever heard (or said) any of these:

  • "It was nothing."
  • "I had to be here anyway."
  • "I had nothing else to do tonight."
These send the message that my thanks was unnecessary because the help they gave me was unimportant, or in some other way not worthy of gratitude. How about these:
  • "I was glad to help."
  • "Thank you for noticing."
  • "You're welcome." (As I said, my personal favorite.)
  • "You would do the same for me." (A great way to accept it, and turn some right back too!)
I think you get the idea. Don't let giving encouragement become a chore for the giver. Be glad for them, since they took the time to say something nice.

I will close with something I learned from an old Boy Scout mentor. He said this: "The best thing you can do when someone offers you a kindness is to accept it."


Thursday, August 7, 2008

KB 2008

OK, so here we are at Kingdom Bound, a giant music festival at Darien Lakes campground and amusement park. This is a great setting of fun for the kids and inspiration for the adults. Hopefully the kids get a little inspiration too. There are seminars and music all day every day, and the theme park is open for when you need to get wet or ride a roller coaster.

Yesterday I heard a few great music groups, both leading worship and performing on the big stage. One leader made some comments that I need to respond to. Who he was doesn’t matter. If you have been around contemporary Christian music for any time at all, I am 100% certain you have played or heard some of his wonderful tunes.

The venue was the worship tent, which has groups that are a little less performance oriented than those in the big arena. (I’m not going to debate performance vs worship here. We all know the issues, and every Christian musician is a little of both no matter what they admit to themselves.) After leading God’s people in several songs, this particular leader went into the evolution debate. I felt immediately offended, and it was very condescending to anyone outside a 100% creationist position, and even bordering on a young earth creationism.

First, as you might know, I do science for a living. I think I have a pretty good idea of the position taken by many secular scientists, and it does not make me proud to be among their ranks when they belittle those whose position is based on faith. When scientists do that, they are inappropriate, impolite, and generally just plain wrong. You don’t hold faith-based beliefs to scientific scrutiny just like you don’t evaluate science with faith. This is not complicated folks.

Note importantly that this is not a creationist vs evolution posting!

Back to Kingdom Bound. This worship leader started making comments like “if I leave a piece of bread in the backyard, it does not evolve into a Boeing 747.” (As direct a quote as I recall, along with a few other similar statements.) Guess what? This is just as ignorant as the scientist who belittles the Christian for their beliefs. Yes, there are a few ignorant and pompous scientists out there who behave this way, regularly and in public. Yet, while we are called to stand firm in our beliefs, I do not think this includes stooping to their level, and making outrageous statements like the Boeing 747 thing. It is just wrong, and only serves to inflame the scientific folks, while perpetuating the ignorance among the Christian believers.

This is getting long, so to wrap up, the idea here is to bring folks together. That doesn’t mean convince them how right you are. It means love them. And then love them some more. If you goal is based on the Great Commission, then how can inflammatory statements such as Boeing 747 serve to change any hearts? Respect, connect, and love. That will lead to community and changed hearts.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Today's Reading

I started a Max Lucado book this morning, No Wonder They Call Him Savior. Max has an amazing ability to hit the nail right on the head so often. Maybe I should say he can really drive the nail right through the hands. Either way, the comfortable writing style always grabs me and brings me right in.

The first few chapters focus on the Cross. We notice Peter's writing of the virulent insults hurled at Jesus on the cross by the Romans and Jews. And we notice Jesus' defense. That's right, there was no defense. There was "Forgive Them." Even the criminal next to Him threw insults. "Forgive him too." The other criminal, the new believer, was promised a place in heaven.

How unlike our typical behavior in society. We love to quote "eye for an eye" but we are less likely to bring up "turn the other cheek" when in the heat of battle. Retribution. Retaliation. Revenge. These are our thoughts. Give them what they have coming. That's what justice is, isn't it?

Nope. Sorry, but nothing too Jesus-like in those words.

In a very moving part of these early chapters, Max discusses the time before his father's death. He died of Lou Gehrig's Disease. A terrible degenerative muscular condition. Max kept coming back to this line: "It's much easier to die like Jesus if you have lived like him for a lifetime." What a quote. That's how we are supposed to do it. Just like Jesus. (Not coincidentally, the title of another Max Lucado book!)

Well, that's the thought for today. Not easy, but definitely worth it.