Church Drama

I met a pastor’s kid last weekend.  Whenever I meet a pastor’s kid, I always pay careful attention to what he has to say seeing as how there are two pastor’s kids living in my home.

The pastor’s kid that I met wasn’t a kid anymore.  He’s all grown up now and to the best of my knowledge he is no longer involved in a church.  That really got my attention.

The now grown pastor’s kid told me that he moved something like 50 times before he got out of his teenage years.  His father had a special calling.  He would look for churches that were either dead or quickly dying and come in to try to lead them in healing and restoration.

I was shocked.

“Man, I’ll bet that you’ve seen your share of church drama.”

The look on his face told me all that I needed to know.  It also explained why he’s not in church now.

I spend a lot of time wondering why it has to be this way.  Why does it have to be a curse for a kid to grow up in a pastor’s home?  There are a lot of answers to that question.  Some pastors neglect their families in pursuit of ministry goals and some pastors place heavy burdens on their children.  But another contributing factor has to be the church drama that the child of a pastor has to witness.  Simply put, sometimes a pastor’s kid can get caught in the crossfire between people who claim to love Jesus but just can’t seem to get along with each other.

In Acts 1, Luke takes the time to list the disciples by name who were gathering in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised.  Among those names are two brothers whom Jesus nicknamed Sons of Thunder.  This is another way of saying that James and John were two tightly wound men who were probably hard to get along with.  There was also Peter who liked to talk a big game about himself.

But the two men on this list who really stick out are Matthew and Simon the Zealot.

Matthew was a tax collector.  Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were hated and considered thieves and traitors.  I know that’s hard to imagine but just stay with me on this.  Simon was a part of a group of people called the Zealots.  This means that if automobiles were invented back then, he would have had a truck with a Don’t Tread On Me sticker on the back.  And yet these two men, along with Peter, the Sons of Thunder and several other large, diverse personalities were in one accord, devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14).

There is a big difference between unity and conformity.  Conformity is when everyone pretty much gets along because they’re all alike.  Unity is when people from different backgrounds can get along because they share a common link.  For the church in Acts, that common link was the resurrected Jesus and the promised Holy Spirit.

Church drama does not happen because too many different personalities from various backgrounds are sharing the same church building.  Instead, it is a direct result of too little Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

One day, a few decades from now, when someone asks my two sons about their childhood, I hope that they answer with a smile as they talk about the joy of growing up in a community of believers who each had their own quirks and personality defects but who shared a common link of a resurrected Savior and an active Holy Spirit.

The Safest Street in Oklahoma

Dylan is three years old.  The other day he was playing outside and he had to go the restroom.  A number one, if you will.

This is never good when you’re three and playing outside.  Inside is a long ways away.  Well, Dylan is resourceful and he had the perfect solution to his dilemma.

But it turns out that little Dylan’s resourcefulness cost mommy almost three grand.

I’m glad that I don’t have to raise my kids on that street.  If I did, by my math, they would cost me somewhere around 9.8 million dollars.

To the Undecided Voters

Maybe you still don’t know who to vote for tomorrow.  Who could blame you?  I mean it’s not like either of the two candidates has been on TV or anything.  Who is it that’s running for president again?

Anyway, while you’re still trying to make up your mind you should consider this guy.

And remember what Thomas Jefferson once said.  “Any man who uses lightsabers and kung-fu dubbing in his commercial will be an excellent fit for any political office.”

 

 

The Economics of Trash Can Basketball

A few evenings ago, when my sons told me that they wanted to play basketball, I immediately thought of all the reasons why we couldn’t play basketball.

We don’t have a goal.

We don’t have a basketball.

It’s football season.

They didn’t care about any of that.  It was already settled in their minds.  We were playing basketball.

While I was constructing our basketball court I thought about all of the things I would need to buy so that we could play real basketball next time.  After all, anything worth doing is worth doing right, right?  Money is no option when it’s for the children.

I’ll need a good concrete slab over here.  Nothing elaborate.  Maybe just half the size of a regulation basketball court.  Oh, and if we could get a logo painted on it, that would be great too.  Something like Sanderz Boyz Ballaz.  Keep it simple.

Construction was complete when I moved our outdoor trash can into the yard and put a bucket on top of it.  There was a strong scent of rotten fish with a hint of mustard.  When we started playing I felt like one of Fat Albert’s friends.

For a ball we used one of those balls that you get at Big Don’s Kwick Dollar.  You know, the kind that weighs something like .02 ounces.  It was sort of orange so we had that going for us but there was no way any of us was dribbling it on the grass.  I decided that we should skip the dribbling part and just carry the ball, sort of like what happens in the NBA every night.

When we started playing, something strange happened.

We were having fun.

My oldest son was diving for loose balls like Charles Oakley in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

My three-year-old kept laughing.  Crazy laughing.  No matter what happened.  And he wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes.  He was our Dennis Rodman, only with more tattoos.

And my wife and I were having a blast.  I’ve always wanted to know what it felt like to dunk on someone and now that I have a three-year-old and a trash can for a basketball goal, I finally know.  Trust me, it’s awesome!  You should’ve seen me.

Our basketball game reminded me that something doesn’t have to be regulation size or have flashing lights to be fun.

We do our kids great harm when we act as though good memories and good times have to be bought for 36 monthly payments of $120 with 0.1% financing.  We can blame our politicians all we want, and there’s plenty that should go their way, but we also have to look in the mirror if we want to figure out at least part of the reason why our economy is in the tank.  All the politicians did was jump on an opportunity that the American people gave them.

For a generation or two, parents have been paying their kids off instead of playing with them.  Now the bill is coming due and in a lot of cases, everything those parents bought is broken, including their relationships with their kids.  It turns out that those toys with giant flashing lights are more expensive than we first thought.

Our trash can basketball game didn’t cost a thing but our family got a lot in return.

We were together.

We were doing something.

We were having fun.

Years from now, I want my boys to enjoy good childhood memories.  I’m often tempted to think that this will require a substantial monetary investment.  But in reality their memories aren’t likely to involve any backyard state of the art basketball facility.

Instead, I think that their memories will be about having fun with each other and with what we already had laying around.

Sort of like Fat Albert and his friends.

 

“It seems like God is out to get me.”

Before I ever became a pastor, a mentor gave me some valuable advice.

“Always remember that there’s a broken heart on every pew.”

At first I thought that he was just using preacher talk.  It sounded like one of those phrases pastors tell each other at conferences in between bragging about how many people they baptized.  Broken heart on every pew.  Sure.  Thanks.

And then I became a pastor and realized that there really was a broken heart on every pew.

Some of them are learning how to deal with a mother who is dying of cancer.

Some desperately want to be mothers but no medical procedure has helped them.  They cringe with every baby dedication.

Even more are dealing with the stress and worry that comes with a slow economy.

Many people in these situations say the same thing.  “It seems like God is out to get me.”

The typical church response is to gently grab this person’s hand, give them our best Bless Your Heart Face and say, “No, God isn’t out to get you.”

That couldn’t be more wrong.

It seemed like God was out to get Jonah when he got caught in the middle of a storm while out at sea.  It seemed like God was out to get Jonah while he was fighting for air on an ocean floor.  It seemed like God was out to get Jonah while he was squeezed inside of the belly of a fish.  And it sure seemed like God was out to get Jonah when that fish spewed Jonah out and left him lying on the beach, covered in fish vomit.

It seemed like God was out to get Jonah because he was.  Jonah, in his sin and disobedience, was trying to get away from God.  God wouldn’t allow one of his own to get away.  He was out to get his man.  This is how grace works.  Grace hunts us down and restores us when our sin has convinced us that the bottom of the ocean is the best place for us to be.

I don’t know why a godly couple, a couple that would have made excellent parents, lost their baby halfway through the pregnancy.  I don’t know why my mom died at an early age.  And I don’t know why smart, hard working business owners lose it all.  It’s always dangerous to assume that we know the exact reason why God is doing something or that suffering is always due to some hidden terrible sin in the person’s life (John 9:1-3).

But we can be certain that God is out to get us.  It’s just different than we tend to think.

If you walked around the outside of my house every morning you would hear the following three things.

1.  Crying.  By that I mean the loud, weeping and gnashing of teeth type of crying.

2.  An adult male voice saying, “Hurry up before I beat you!”

3.  The voices of two toddlers saying something like, “Go quick before he gets us!”

You would then probably be tempted to call 911 and report a case of child abuse.

But if you walked inside of our house, you would have a whole new perspective.  You would see that I had just told my two sons to make up their beds.  And you would find out that they were crying because, get this, they didn’t want to make up their beds.  If you stuck around for a few more minutes you would hear me challenge them to a race.

“Let’s see if you can have your beds made up before I come back in here.  Hurry up before I beat you!”

And then you would see their crying faces quickly transform into looks of determination.

“Hurry, before he gets us!”

It always works out that they win.  I get to hug them and tell them what a good job they did.  Three happy boys.

From the outside, you thought that a father was out to get his sons for all of the wrong reasons.  A better perspective, one from the inside, revealed that you were only partially right.  Yes, the father was out to get his boys but not to harm them.  It was their well-being and fellowship that he was after.

Christian, when it seems like your Heavenly Father is out to get you, he really is.  But you can rest in the fact that he is not seeking your destruction (Romans 8:1).  His Son took that for you.  Instead, it’s your ultimate well-being and fellowship that he’s after, two things that you can’t enjoy while gasping for air at the bottom of the sea (Hebrews 12:1-11; John 17:1-26).

So yes, God is out to get us.

And we shouldn’t want it any other way.

I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.  Jonah 2:6b

Holding Room or Training Facility?

Is your church’s children’s ministry a holding room or a training facility?

In their book Creature of the Word, Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger explain the importance of teaching the gospel to children.

“Some children’s ministries are simply viewed as child care, which is most tragic when we understand the blessed vulnerability of children.  Why would we be content to provide child care while mom and dad, who are far less likely to realize their own weakness, are somewhere else being taught the Christian faith?  No, this is the time to lovingly melt the hearts of children with the good news of Jesus.  With children especially, we must help them see that the goal of the Commandments was much deeper than tweaked behavior.”

Anyone in a church leadership position, not just youth or children’s ministers, needs to consider whether or not they are simply keeping people busy until the next event on the calendar or if they are training them up as disciples.  Creature of the Word is a helpful resource for those who are committed to the latter.

Doctrine of Integrity

The auditorium was packed, mostly with people who didn’t want to be there.

It was spiritual emphasis week at my small Bible college which meant that we were all required to spend pretty much every night that week listening to a guy give lectures about something spiritual.

On the last night of the week the speaker decided to start things off with a little review.  This would prove to be awkward for everyone in attendance.

And it was all my fault.

“What was our main point on Monday night?”

Hands shot up all over the place.

“Yes.  You way in the back, in the brown shirt.”

“Love God.”

“Good.  Very good.  And what about Tuesday night?  Anyone?”

Again, hundreds of eager hands popped up in the air.

“Okay.  You in the red dress.”

“Love others.”

“Excellent!”

Without giving it much thought, I told my friend Derrick that Doctrine of Integrity was the answer to the next question.  It wasn’t.  I just thought it would be funny to tell Derrick that it was.

My heart stopped when he raised his hand and the speaker called on him.

“Yes, you in the orange and blue shirt.”

“Doctrine of Integrity!”

Derrick seemed so proud to have the right answer.

“Excuse me?”

“Doctrine of…”

Derrick knew that he had been had but it was too late.  He was stuck.  He finished his answer with gibberish.

“What was that, son?”

“Forget it.”

It’s amazing that I was allowed to graduate from that school.  It’s even more amazing that Derrick kept being my friend.

A few years later Derrick and I were out with a bunch of friends.  When things started getting crazy, Derrick was the one that drove home with me, away from all of the drama, to watch TV.

When I found out that my mom died, I never asked Derrick to come to my house.  He didn’t let that or a ten hour drive stop him.  I’m glad.

When my firstborn son was about to be born, Derrick was at the hospital almost as fast as me and my wife.  When it was time for delivery, he was in the waiting room.  When the labor dragged on and things started to look bad, Derrick was still in the waiting room.  And he was there for the four minutes that nurses worked to get my newborn son to take his first breath.

My son made it out okay.  And a few years later, my second son came with a little less turbulence.  When they grow up, I hope that they have friends like my friend Derrick.

Friends they can laugh with.

Friends that will call them out when they are wrong.

Friends that are there for them.

The Day That My Son Became My Brother

He had a very concerned look on his face.

We had talked about this kind of thing before.  A lot.  This time was different.  He wasn’t going to settle for answers to his questions.  Something had to be done.  Now.

“Dad, I need to know how to repent of my sins and believe in Jesus.”

“Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave like we talked about?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, now you just ask.  Jesus told people to repent and believe in the gospel so you need to pray and ask him to forgive you of your sins.”

My son ran away into the woods to pray.

He came back a new creature.

This happened almost two years ago and I’ve wrestled against a temptation almost every day since then.  The temptation is to think that my job is over.  My kid has repented of his sins and put his faith in Christ.  One down, one to go.

Jesus’ last commandment in the Gospel of Matthew always brings me back to reality.

“Make disciples.”

This commandment is just as relevant for parents in the United States as it is for missionaries in China.

The day that my son became my brother was really the day that my work had just begun.  Jesus didn’t tell me to get my son to say a prayer.  He told me to make a disciple out of him.

This means that if I want him to live in total submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ like I pray for every night, I better be living in total submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  It means that along with telling him how important it is to love Jesus and others, I need to be showing him as well.  And later on in life, when our schedule gets more chaotic, I need to show him with my time that Jesus is more important than work, running, soccer and karate.

My son asked me the other day why we waited so long to baptize him after he became a follower of Jesus.  I explained how we were just taking our time to pray and watch.  My three-year-old son was listening and interrupted.

“Dad!  I don’t want to get dunked in water.”

My baby boy, the Presbyterian.

My oldest son stepped in to explain that once you become a Christian, getting dunked is no big deal except for the fact that, “you might miss a few songs during church.”

By the end of this explanation, my youngest son was convinced.

“I think I’ll be okay getting dunked.”

I pray that this conversation was a small vision of a future where both of my boys are my brothers in Christ.

But even when that day comes, my job will not be done.