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Monday, December 20, 2010

CayHistory - Disappointed about Pirates

I've heard this said a bunch of times, but it was Karl Barth who first said Christians must "hold the Bible in one hand and a Newspaper in the other." Barth was speaking to the importance of Christians knowing the culture around them well enough to relate eternal truth to it. This is true anywhere and it is especially true for those of us who live in Cayman.

Called to Engage Culture

We are called to engage culture -- and in order to engage culture we must know & understand the history of the particular culture in which we live (there are some great discussions defining 'culture' elsewhere--but I'll leave that aside for now). This call to engage the culture around us is critical because (a) We love God & His Word in doing so; (b) we love our neighbor in doing so.

We love God because we honor & emulate the example set forth in His Word of relating the good news of the gospel to different people in different contexts. The Apostle Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 9.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside of the law I became as one outside of the law (myself not being outside of the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel (I Corinthians 9: 19-23).

I'm not the biggest fan of country music. But once being a Pastor of students in a Southern U.S. town, I at least had to grow familiar with country music beyond Garth Brooks & "Achey Breaky Heart." So I'd make a habit of checking country music pop charts, read an occasional article, and even put in a Brad Paisley & Rascal Flatts CDs. This is not a Country Music love story with a happy ending -- I still cringe when I hear the twang of a guitar-banjo-harmonica combination. But, for that time & place, to the Country Music Fan I needed to humble myself ("made myself a servant" Paul says) and become a country music to win a hearing and, ultimately, to win Fans to Christ.
We also love others by engaging with culture. A piece of advice people in my line of work are often given: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." People know how much you care when you get to know them, where they live, their history.

Engaging with Cayman's History

Since arriving in January, I've attempted to ask questions of various pastors, leaders, 'old-timers' of Cayman in order to get to know its cultural history. Indeed, people have proved to be the greatest resource in this endeavor. However, you have to do both the social interaction and the hard work reading objective history to get a full picture.

Accordingly, I recently picked up the book Founded Upon the Seas: A History of the Cayman Islands and their People by Michael Craton. It's an exhaustive (500 pp.) but lively work. What I'd like to do over the next few months is regularly post re: a little tidbit of history...CayHistory -- whether merely interesting or immediately impactful for current life in Cayman.

This post especially goes out to those of us who are not originally from Cayman but currently live here. If you only plan on living here for 2-3 years, I recognize it's hard to get motivated to get to know & engage culture. But I'd encourage you to not make this season that God has prepared for you merely a blip on the radar or a fun fling -- rather, that God may use this time in your life to leave behind a spiritual lineage on this glorious island.

You can start by getting to know a bit of the history of Cayman, its culture, its people.
So without further ado......

Disappointed About Pirates

Everywhere you turn in Cayman, you can spot a Buccaneer statue, paraphernalia, or a person dressed up in the garb -- like this morning when I awoke to my son Mason dressed as a pirate, with the tip of plastic sword near an inch from my eye.

He received his pirate costume for Pirate's Week, which takes place each November. Pirate's Week is easily the most popular & attractive organized event we have here in Cayman. One of my favorite moments from the week was when a man, dressed as Blackbeard and emceeing a children's costume contest, stopped his playful 'avasting' to say, "You know kids, Pirates get a lot of flack for bad things they've done...but we don't talk about all the good things they did..." This made my Dad and I chuckle as this man went on to laud the positive effects of pirates on society (even my oldest son laughed).

But with all the fun & hype surrounding Pirates on this Caribbean Island, pirates had very little presence here during the golden age of pirating (1670-1730).

WHY? As Craton explains, there was simply not enough to plunder. You could only plunder other visiting ships, which were sporadic in frequency. "Unlike the Bahamas," writes Craton, "[Cayman] had no town where pirates could purchase provisions and supplies or spend their ill-gotten gains on riotous living."

Also, compared with the seven hundred islands of the Bahamas, the three Cayman Islands were too little and too close to Jamaica to offer easy hiding places, either for pirate ships or for ex-pirates seeking a life on shore.

Basically, pirates would make brief stop-offs to grab a bite of turtle to eat and for some wood with which to patch up their ships.

In other words, to Pirates, the Cayman Islands were the 7-Eleven of the Carribean. And that's a little disappointing.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Jesus' birth: Discomforting Sign of things to come

You might remember John Donne from English Lit. Class. Passionate dude. Many forget that this 17th century man, having trusted his life to Christ, spent his later years as a London Pastor at St. Paul's Cathedral. I ran across something he wrote about the birth of Christ in The Book of Uncommon Prayers:

The whole of Christ's life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line.

I recall Christ being misunderstood in his adult ministry, insulted and mocked by his enemies, betrayed by his friends during Holy week, persecuted by religious leaders, beaten by strangers, and finally murdered by the powers-that-be in a most public & humiliating fashion. In other words, from ages 27-30, I am continually struck by the fact that Christ was never at home (except during these little moments like a retreat to be with his father or a few minutes of fellowship with Moses & Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration -- how sweet those moments must have been for Jesus).

But as Donne correctly points out, the incarnation -- God taking on flesh & blood through this miraculous birth -- itself must've been so darn discomforting and alienating for Jesus. If it wasn't for his taking on God's just wrath for our sin at the cross, I'd say Jesus' birth would be as discomforting as the cross. The physical aspect of it must've been -- God all of eternity, then not only becoming a man, but a tiny, 7 lbs., 4 oz baby (unless you think he was an extra huge baby because he was God). This is why C.S. Lewis said of the incarnation, "If you wish to get the hang of it, imagine what it would be like to inhabit the body of a slug, or a lobster, or a crab."

That discomfort, that alienation must've then continued through his childhood. I think about Jesus' childhood a lot as well as the teenage years. Imagine, and I am speaking with regard to the human side of Jesus, seeing your friends, schoolmates, temple parishoners grow up to dream of marrying a woman, pursuing a career, having kids, seeing their grandkids. He could never relate as he knew his road would lead to an early death -- the road to Calvary.

Christmas can be a lonely time, even for people who will with family but especially those who will be without. I think we tend to seek comfort during the Holiday season more than any other time. Although we seek it a lot.

Somewhat recently, myself and the elders of our church were discussing ways to reach people for Jesus through Servant Evangelism. We spoke of giving away bottles of water with "no strings attached" but simply communicating to people that God loves them. But we immediately voiced the desire that we shouldn't do this by just going up to "strangers," as that would be unnatural, but we should have a picnic or barbeque at a local park with the whole church and then walk up to people who are also at the park and offer them a beverage or plate of food. In and of itself, not a bad idea -- but if I'm honest with myself, the motive was comfort. Let's maneuver or even wait for circumstances that allow the least possible discomfort and feeling of alienation from the world.

Yet this was Jesus' whole life -- and for our sake. So, through the Apostle Peter, his Word commands:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles (unbelievers) honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (I Peter 2:11-12).

Just as Christ was a sojourner, so are we. Just as he was never at home here (an exile), neither are we. When looking for peace and comfort during the Holiday Season, recall that you and I are not destined to find it in carols, Christmas Cookies, traditions with family -- these are all hints of the home and praise God for them because they just may possibly remind us of our true home -- in Christ. Christ whose discomfort in Bethlehem culminated on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, where he was alienated not only from the world but from God the Father. The Father alienated Christ while His Son took on the sins of the world.

If you trust in Jesus and find yourself in a place of discomfort and alienation this holiday season, don't worry -- that's where Jesus is. You will find him there. You see, he lived his whole life there beginning at birth -- so that through seeking him by faith, you will find comfort and a home for Christmas.

Surprising my Bride on her 30th Birthday

I still remember when I met Katie Metcalf in the Summer of 1995 as we washed dishes together (she washed, I dried...typical man taking the easy job). God used her in helping me to trust my life to Jesus. He continues to use her to help me trust in Jesus.

I'm so grateful for you, Katie.

This pic is in the parking lot of UCCI today. I put on the good threads and surprised her at her class with a bouquet of Gerber daises (her fav flowers). Twas a bit of a bummer as she has to be in class from 830-430 today. So I arranged a little sumpin' sumpin' with her professor.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A few quotes on Sanctification

This past Sunday we looked at Romans 6: 15-23 & Sanctification. In a nutshell, I argued that: "Through sanctification, God helps us become who we are."

We are sons & daughters of the King. But it takes a while for the 'family resemblance' to show up. We are God's workmanship, but when we first start following Jesus, we look at our lives and think, "I don't work like the Bible says I should." God growing us toward His resemblance and toward working right is sanctification.

Here are a few fun quotes on sanctification & our responsibility in it (obedience) that I had jotted down but was unable to share in the sermon:

"The more often [man] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel." - C.S. Lewis

"Only the devil has an answer for our moral difficulties, and he says, 'Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does doing them for God rather than ourselves." - Brother Lawrence

"Holiness is not an experience; it is the re-integration of our character, the rebuilding of a ruin. It is a skilled labor, a long-term project, demanding everything God has given us for life and godliness." - Sinclair Ferguson

'My child,' 'my child,' When fathers say 'my child,'
'Tis easier to conceive the universe,
And life's transitions down the steps of law. - Elizabeth Barret Browning

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Real Word: "FAITHIST" (*Use responsibly*)

Finally an -ist word we can all be proud of. No one wants to be called racist, sexist, bigamist, or polygamist (okay, unless you live in Utah -- I currently have no friends there). BUT then I came across this in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary (1900 pgs!!) while doing a bit of reading last week for a sermon on "Faith":

Faithist (n.) - A Member of a sect whose religion is based on a text given through divine or angelic revelation.

Hey, that's me! Finally, an -ist word Christians can legitimately use.

You can use it to encourage someone, "Jim is a true faithist in Christ" or for good-natured teasing toward an occasionally uppity Christian friend: "Dude, you're such a faithist."

That's all I got. I'm sure you can think of some better uses. Do tell....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The 'Shadow Side' of Relationships & Community (Part II)

Last week's rant was about 'The Shadow Side' of Relationships & Community from the perspective of the prophet Jeremiah. I then blog-committed (stronger than a Facebook Commitment but slightly weaker than a gym membership commitment) to address the following two questions:
(a) Why it is that we can feel lonely with people surrounding us ? (b) How we might consider striking a healthy & God-honoring balance between an unyielding trust in God & learning to trust our brothers & sisters in Christ? Soooooo...let's do this like we ain't new to this:

Why is it that we can feel lonely with people surrounding us?
The Christian answer you often hear to this is: "God has put a 'God-shaped' hole in your heart that no one but Him can fill." Biblically-speaking, there is actually a good deal of truth to this answer (but sadly diagrams of God-shaped holes are still impossible to draw). God has put something in each person that allows him/her to connect with Him relationally -- a spirit (Hebrew: ruach; Greek: pneuma...or as Rob Bell has learned to spell it 'Nooma'). We find this word, which is sometimes used interchangeably with 'soul,' in I Corinthians 2 as Paul is speaking of having one's eyes opened to the mystery of the gospel:

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. - II Corinthians 2: 10-11

One of the implications one can draw from these verses is that God uses His Spirit to reveal His thoughts to our (lower-case) spirit. Paul also says in Romans 8:10, "If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness."

Our spirits then are a relational property by which we have the capacity to 'connect' with God. I recently described this to a friend as being like an electrical outlet -- the spirit laying dormant until God plugs in the cord of His Holy Spirit. So when God commands in Malachi to "Guard your spirit," (see Malachi 2: 15,16), he's saying to guard your relationship with Him (or guard your capacity to relate with Him).

Isn't this cool? There is a theological reason, a biblical concept both for understanding the "God-shaped hole" idea and, more importantly, for why you can be connected to all other sorts of people but relationally you still feel unconnected -- because your 'spirit' has not been connected to the only Source that can spark & revive it.

If you believed that surrounding yourself with people would prevent loneliness, then you're essentially a monist (not to be confused with someone who studies Mona from "Who's the Boss?"...anyone get that reference? Anyone...?). Monism is the belief that a human being is essentially only one element -- body. That the body consists of all that a person is. So. according to this view, biblical terms like 'soul' and 'spirit' are just other expressions for 'the person' or for the person's 'life.' If you're a monist and you believe human beings to be relational, then there would be no reason why we should, in the long run, experience any relational dissatisfaction. Bodies relate to bodies...unless, as I'm suggesting, there lies within each of us something other than just flesh & blood.

How we might consider striking a God-honoring balance between an unyielding trust in God and learning to trust our brothers & sisters in Christ?

The answer lies, as it often does, in one's motive. I'm going to assume we all agree that trust is forged through building and working on one's relationship. So why ought we get away and work on our relationship with God? And why ought we, at other times, stay put and work on our relationships with people?

The famous mid-20th century professor & theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who essentially was martyred for his faith) puts this better than anyone in his little book Life Together, which he wrote to describe his convictions regarding nature of the local church:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had answer to that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.
Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear the cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.

How does this relate to motive? When you enter into community, are you finding your sense of 'rightness', your worth, your 'justification' in their acceptance or in God's ? Do you find yourself forgetting Christ, his teachings & your responsibility before him when you are in the joy/euphoria of relationships. Are you looking to bring Christ & your relationship with him to bear as a blessing? Put succinctly: When entering community, are you looking to satisfy or build up self through others or longing for others to be satisfied in Christ as you build Him up?

When you enter into solitude, are you doing so not only for yourself but for your brother & sister in Christ? To pray for his/her needs? Do you get away in order to come back refreshed and ready to serve not only your friend but 'the least of these', your enemies, and the guy at church who rubs you the wrong way?

We can strike a God-honoring balance in trusting both God & our fellow brother & sister in Christ by making sure we take community to our time with God and be sure to take God to our time in community.

Of course, only by His grace!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The 'Shadow Side' of Relationships & Community (Part I)

Accompanying every good & perfect gift that God gives, there is what I like to call its 'shadow side.' The 'shadow side' is the always lurking, always potentially nasty face of the good gift that Satan & our sin nature like to use to pervert or twist for the purpose of evil.

So for instance, in my case, the gift of teaching/preaching has before been perverted by my sin nature & the Enemy for self-glorifying & prideful purposes in my heart. A more obvious example is the internet -- through which churches & Christian organizations are reaching millions with the gospel, through which we can more easily give both financially & with other resources, and by which we can keep in touch with friends & loved ones. But it's 'shadow side' is quicker access to things to which we are prone to being addicted -- wasting time in chat rooms/gaming, gossip, and of course pornography.

Relationships & Community are no different. At Sunrise, we've been stressing, preaching, highlighting community over the past few months in our church with the advent of a major Community Group launch--and, to say the least, the Lord has been so gracious in using these groups to draw us closer to one another and to Him!

However, there is a shadow side to surrounding oneself with people.

This truth is vividly portrayed by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah -- who himself experienced very little community and so had time on his hands to carefully observe how the sin nature/Satan could pervert it. God used these observations and spoke to & through the prophet about it.

5 Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
- Jeremiah 17: 5-6

Now hang on, there is a medicating & healing balm to come. But let's not miss Jeremiah's point. Namely -- you can surround yourself with people and, yet, be incredibly isolated. The phrase "He is like a shrub in the desert" should stand out -- as these are two contrasting images. Here's a guy who thinks he's doing okay, I've grown myself into a well-watered little shrub, & surrounded myself with other shrubs who can help me...oh wait (and here comes the irony) there's nobody here! It's desert. "Wilderness" in Hebrew thought always denotes isolation (as opposed to images of Tarzan, vines, savages with spears & gorillas in the mist like we might think of when considering 'wilderness'). The sad irony here is that the person Jeremiah is describing thinks he has surrounded himself with other plants, foliage, and the like -- indeed, he has 'trusted' and built his life around this supposed reality. But it is not reality. The community is really a mirage

Ask yourself, even at age 25, 30, 40, when you sit down to eat lunch in an office cafeteria or you contemplate going to a movie/social event, do you make sure you have always have a wingman or wing-woman? Would it still make you uncomfortable (though maybe not 6th-grade-uncomfortable) to sit or do things by yourself? Have you ever experienced this before? I sure have. I would surround myself with people, yet feel lonely and the Lord proceeded to 'cure' that loneliness by taking away people. "Lord, I don't want to tell you how to do things as you've done a pretty nice job stewarding the universe," I would say, "but this seems counterproductive." But it is exactly how the Spirit usually goes about shifting our trust in others (and usually what they can do for us) to Him.

God could be giving you the gift of loneliness. Do I mean that God's ultimate goal is for you to feel lonely? Not at all, only that He, even as you relate to many different persons, might temporarily cause you to feel lonely so that wouldn't begin to or wouldn't continue to trust in man. Which is all to easy to do, right? People at the church are so kind to me, people in my Community Group now open up to me and I to them -- "Finally," we often conclude, "I have found what I'm looking for...for what will satisfy my needs." It's true that we are created for community with our fellow man. But we are primarily created for Community with God and such community is, alone, all-satisfying. Hence the Lord going on to say to & through Jeremiah:

7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD
8 He is like a tree planted by the water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when the heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
- Jeremiah 17: 7-8

God gave Jeremiah the gift of loneliness so that his trust might be forged & shaped into an unwavering fidelity to His God & Savior. This gift often seemed like a curse to Jeremiah. His messages were not well-received (7:1-8:3; 26:1-11), he endured a great deal of persecution for speaking up as God asked him (20: 1-6; 37: 11-38; 43: 1-7). He had only two people we know of who responded well to his message -- one being his own scribe, Baruch (who some might argue 'had' to buy into it since, well, he worked for the guy). And, at God's command, he never married (16: 1-4). But for Jeremiah to surround himself with others in trust & vulnerability would have been disasterous, as he lived amongst persons who weren't exactly going to encourage him in his walk with God.

Responding like a Tree. Here's the point, in the midst of this loneliness, Jeremiah started to trust and live like a tree planted by the water. Even while alone, when persecution, mocking, and (worse) those inner lies & discouragements came his way, he simply went to God and God alone with his prayer & with his pain.

Soon after God speaks the above words to Jeremiah, he has a rabble of people say "Let's get together for a few days and just make plots against this dude." Can you imagine people getting together for the expressed purpose of plotting against you? My natural tendency would be to either (a) Move; (b) Break out the Rolodex and Start forming my own alliance. Jeremiah's first response: "Hear me, O LORD, and listen to the voice of my adversaries" (Jeremiah 18:19). He doesn't mince words or speaking kindly of these people in his prayer, but the key is that he goes to God first with his complaint because his "trust is the LORD" (17:7)

Next up, the head overseer of temple supplies & activities (like the church's activities n' fun coordinator), steps up to persecute Jeremiah. He has him beaten and put in stocks (basically, publicly humiliates him). Jeremiah's response is, again, very genuine & real with God -- but the key is He goes immediately to the Lord, his trust.

O Lord, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
- Jeremiah 20:7

Are you lonely right now? Nobody seems to care or show interest. Are you lonely -- even while you've surrounded yourself with many friends, co-workers, acquaintances? Perhaps You might be helped this new perspective from Jeremiah -- that God is giving you this loneliness as a temporary gift that might spur you on to make Yahweh your trust & that He might fashion you into a well-watered tree whose roots are sent out by the stream. If you think this might be the case, I implore you to stop reading and, like Jeremiah, go immediately to the Source of Living Water with your prayer &, yes, even your complaint.

---In my next post (Part II), I just want to touch on: (a) Why it is that we can feel lonely with people surrounding us and (b) how we might consider striking a healthy & God-honoring balance between an unyielding trust in God & learning to trust our brothers & sisters in Christ.---

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hawking's #1 Bestseller: God No Longer Necessary

Stephen Hawking's new book The Grand Design has immediately shot up to #1 on the N.Y. Times Bestseller List. One of the reasons for all the hype is Hawking's claim that God no longer needs to be the answer to questions concerning the origin of the universe, which is a departure from his conclusions re: divinity in the book that made him famous twenty-two years ago, A Brief History of Time (sold over 9 million copies -- for a scientist appealing to the masses, that's pretty remarkable).

Anywho, seems as if a lot of people think his work on The Simpsons (which was masterful! -- see right) is more skillful than his newest book. If you're interested in science, rub elbows with people who are, or you just care to reach an atheist neighbor who may be looking for reasons not to believe, Professor Edgar Andrews has a great, two-part review of Hawking's new bestselling book, which can help us make some sense of all this. And even I can semi-understand this review (and I barely passed any science class I took):