Saturday, September 18, 2010

Learning from Arick

Arick is a special member of our church. He is both physically and mentally handicapped. He probably loves Providence more than anyone and there are a few selfless men in our church that take turns giving him a ride to and from church. He lives in a small group home on Washington Pike.

This past Sunday, Joe Denton was slated to give Arick a ride home after church. He and I both had daughters playing in a big soccer tournament so we rushed to see the last of the game after church. Joe brought Arick with him to the soccer game. At church, I found out that it was Donna’s (Joe’s wife) birthday, so I offered to give Arick a ride home so Joe could be with Donna. Arick, satisfied and happy to be there, just joined right in and watched the game (the field was muddy and there were muddy hills to walk up and down to get there, so it wasn’t easy for him and he got mud on his shoes and pants). By the end of the game, we were hungry, so I took him to get something to eat.

I had a great time with Arick. While eating, we talked. He talked about how much he loved Providence. He told me all these things he had learned that were “in the Bible.” We talked about Jesus. We laughed and talked. To me the rest of the world went away. Often while talking I couldn’t help but think about what I had JUST preached about from John 9. How God had allowed suffering and disabilities (as in the man born blind), for the sake of his glory. Here with me was a REAL example. Internally, I struggled a little. It was one of those moments where my own words almost didn’t pass the smell test. I had the feeling of the injustice of it all as I remembered that humanity’s sin had corrupted the world. I felt regret and anger that Arick’s condition somehow results from this. Arick struggles to see, eat, and walk, although he is completely content. He is so kind. He always wants to hug me vigorously, no matter who’s watching or what’s going on. “Maybe God uses guys like Arick to show me how beautiful a person can be who is simply satisfied and joyful despite his circumstances.” I thought. Nothing in my heart was really resolved.

On the way to his home, I played Jason and Bryan’s CD “Beauty in the Fall” (Joe had warned me that Arick had a Christian Rap CD that he had asked Joe to play, so I thought I would be preemptive!).

I wish you could have been there for the rest.

I didn’t know that Arick knows EVERY SONG on that CD by heart. We both sang the whole way to his home along with Jason and Bryan. I don’t think there was another word spoken. Just singing. I was moved to the point of battling tears as Arick sang every word of the songs.

The last song before Arick got out was “Beauty in the Fall.” He sang aloud with Jason:

Creator of Life, you spoke and it was.
The Image of God given to us.
Fallen and cursed, naked we run.
Into the arms of the Son.

(Chorus) There is beauty in the fall of man. There is grace enough to rise again.
Cause underneath it all we are resting in the palm of his hand
There is beauty in the fall, beauty in the fall of man.

Dust to dust, cradle to grave.
We breath in, the story of grace.
A song that’s made for those who believe.
A song that the angels cannot sing.

[Chorus repeats]

That you would trade the splendor of heaven for a manger,
This is the beauty in the fall.
That you would pay the cost through the power of the cross,
This is the beauty in the fall.
That we are sons and daughters loved by you the Father,
This is the beauty in the fall.

I fought my emotions while he sang loud and clear (I couldn’t sing with him). I walked in with him, hugged, and said goodbye. When I got back in my truck I burst into tears almost uncontrollably.

I learned more from his example than he could ever learn from me. I can’t wait to spend time with Arick again. I think he is closer to God than I will ever be this side of heaven. And IN heaven...Arick will not have any handicap at all. And neither will I.

Thanks, you guys who bring Arick, for your ministry to him. I know you say, “No big deal.” but it is. And God is pleased.

If you haven't gotten the CD, you can pick one up from church or search "Beauty In the Fall" on iTunes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Football and Church Planting

Ok, it’s fall and football time, so suffer me a related thought or two.

One of my favorite lines from the movie, Remember the Titans, is from Coach Boone when he was questioned about his small playbook. He said,

“I run 6 plays, split veer. Like Novocain, just give it time, always works.”

I guess you have to have played football for (or against) a veer-offense team to fully appreciate that quote. The veer is a fast attack, running offense, that forces the defense to make decisions and exploits them. To the casual observer, it’s not really that pretty. But to the educated eye, it is a thing of beauty. The bread-and-butter play is the triple option. The quarterback is the key. After taking the snap, he must make a decision based on the defense’s reaction to give the ball to the running back, keep the ball himself, or pitch to the other running back.

Many times a characteristic of veer-offense teams is that they will run two plays resulting in very few yards gained, followed by one that breaks for 5-9 yards, and slowly move down the field, eating up the clock. The offense keeps this bam, bam, break; bam, bam, break; pace going—daring the defense to stunt and take risks to stop it. When they do, a long break happens, many times for a touchdown.

What does this have to do with church planting? Let me name three things. As with veer football teams, church-planting churches must: 1. Believe in the strategy, 2. keep the offense on the field and the defense on its heels, and 3. learn from and reduce mistakes.

This might demand some translation/explanation for you football novices.

1. Believe in the strategy:
A veer team can’t be thrown by plays or series that don’t produce first downs or touchdowns, respectively. Losing teams panic and give up on game plans when the first drives fail or switch offensive schemes during the season. Winning teams stick to the strategy. Patience and execution will eventually yield results. Church planting is Providence Church’s primary strategy for culture change. It’s biblical and it works. It’s not glamorous. It is hard. Some plants don’t make it. Some struggle. Some need additional help. Mistakes will be made. But eventually, “like Novocain,” it works. Sometimes you get a big break for long yards. Over time, thousands of people’s lives are changed, and more churches are multiplied!

2. Keep the offense on the field and the defense on its heels:
Check the stats yourself. The team that wins almost always controls the ball longer. Football is also a game of aggression. The veer is an offense that goes forward almost always. It takes it to the opponent. The church is to be on offense. Jesus said, “Go.” We dare not take the foot off the proverbial pedal. It is Hell’s gates that are on the defensive. When Satan’s forces attack us, we must quickly respond. We must never rest. We must always move forward. Even when it is hard we must keep planting and keep planting. God will do the rest.

3. Learn from and reduce mistakes.
My dad used to say it all the time. “We’re not playing the other team. We’re playing ourselves.” This is a statement of confidence. When we work the game plan and run the offense WITHOUT turnovers, penalties, and execution mistakes, we will certainly win. But mistakes WILL be made. The opposition WILL throw schemes at you that you did not expect in order to try to stop your offense. This is where discipline is important. Patiently figure out what they are doing and how to respond. Make adjustments at halftime. More importantly, watch the film, evaluate, and correct mistakes for the next game. Get better. With church planting there are universal principles, but every context is different and demands adjustments on the fly. Mistakes ARE made. We must not become shaken. We must learn from them and move forward.

Believe me, I could compare many aspects of church planting with football! Perhaps later. Pray for the elders right now as we are considering some church planting-related opportunities that have come our way. You will no doubt hear about these soon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Burn the Qur’an? How ‘bout READ it?

We all knew it would happen. Some fringe preacher wanting to be noticed was bound to come out and say something extreme that a willing media could exploit. I’m only surprised it didn’t happen sooner. This guy has actually been trying to get attention for years, writing a book entitled, “Islam is of the Devil,” printing t-shirts and displaying signs in front of his church building that say the same. But he really won the lottery when he decided to publicly burn a Qur’an. National news, Presidential pleas, international riots, this guy hit the mother load!

As soon as I heard about this guy, I wondered how long it would be before someone asked me what I thought. It happened at my daughter’s soccer game. A parent asked me what I thought about the guy wanting to burn the Qur’an.

We Christians are historically the most tolerant people the world has ever known. There is a reason for this: we truly believe that Christ is the truth. Jesus said, “and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” We believe that when all the evidence for every faith system, every religion, every worldview is revealed and put to the test, there is no comparison. Christianity is more logical, more credible, has more answers about how to deal with the real issues of the human condition, and has much more of a proven record of making the world a better place for all humans—Christian or not.

Are there some bad eggs in Christian history? Of course. There will continue to be wolves in sheep’s clothing and Christ warned us in advance that some would come. Are some Christians well-meaning but ignorant? Yep. This guy in Florida has admitted that he has never read the Qur’an he wants to burn. This is nonsense, and makes Christianity look either intolerant or fearful of the power and influence of Islam. Most Christians are neither. We believe the truth will win. Want an example of this guy’s ignorance? He said under oath in court that Judaism is of demonic origin! Did he forget that Jesus was a Jew? Wow. Among other revealing things, this guy calls himself “Dr.” when he has never earned a degree of any kind: bachelors (he didn’t finish college), masters, let alone a doctorate! He has an “honorary” doctorate from a non-accredited school in California, which has now distanced itself from him. Like many of the Charismatic, self-appointed-and-exalted types, he’s an embarrassment to credible ministers and Christians everywhere. Of course members of the media are going to make him out to be a representative of Christianity. Many of them are themselves committed to competing worldviews (whether secularism, liberalism, progressivism, statism, atheism, libertinism, et. al.), which do not stand up to the light of examination and puts them at odds with the Christian worldview.

So don’t burn the Qur’an...READ it. Compare it to the Bible. Do the same with the Book of Mormon, the Tripitaka of Buddhism, the Analects of Confucianism, the Bhagavad Gita and Veda of Hinduism, and any other “holy” book. It is reasonable to believe that an intelligent creator God would reveal himself verbally to the intelligent beings he created. The question is, which book contains God’s revelation? Would it not be the one that has the most evidence to support it, the one that contains prophecies that were literally fulfilled, the one that has changed the most lives, the one that tells of the creation events in a way most consistent with what we can observe in creation? Would it not be the one with the least contradictions (or containing no contradictions at all)? Use the intelligence God gave you and read it for yourself! Trust God to show you the truth!

Having read the Qur’an myself, let me tell you: the truth will be obvious.