Tag Archives: service

All I Want in My Cashew Chicken is More Chicken

We recently moved and we’ve been trying the local eateries. Today I stopped by a Chinese food place and ordered the Cashew Chicken (side note: it comes with fried rice, which explains the odd look on the server’s face when I ordered some supplemental fried rice). I got my takeout order and walked back to my study to enjoy my meal while, you know, pastorally multi-tasking.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the Cashew Chicken box and couldn’t see any, ummm, chicken. It was there; I just couldn’t see it at first. I had to dig for it amongst an array of ingredients that didn’t seem to need to be there: carrots (ok…yeah and yum), mushrooms (boo…who wants to eat a fungus?), water chestnuts (good for crunch), along with some other ingredient that I could not actually identify. And, of course, there were the cashews…enough of them to meet the minimum daily requirement for nut intake–if there is such a thing–outside Washington D.C., that is.

Overall taste…not too bad. But, man, I had to go looking for the chicken–and I wanted more of it.

Sometimes I think we get like that in our Christian life. We do lots of good things–some of them actually tasty–in our efforts to reach people and serve them. We try really, really, really hard to be Christianly “nice”–and, we sometimes pull that off (unless we’re in a curmudgeon-infested church board meeting). But those good things are not, in my view, explicitly Christian. They’re good and we’re nice but our niceness sometimes even masks the call we have to serve explicitly in the name of Jesus.

I know all about the ways in which we’re told to make our presence felt with genuine hearts of service. And I know that we are called to be relationally invested in people as people–and not people as objects for evangelism or church recruitment. And I get it. We have to actually care for actual people–love them the way Jesus did.

So, we serve, with our outreach and community investments and our willingness to be “present” with people. But, I think sometimes we cover up the chicken with our genuine “niceness.” The Kingdom is about more than being nice (though I wish the lady in the beige sedan had been nice and honored the crosswalk sign–instead of trying to run me down–while looking at me as if I was in her way).

Jesus needs to be front and center. He is the Way and Truth and the Life. He said that what we do, we do in His Name. And it’s highly likely that if we are more purposeful about sharing Him, that people will want more of Him.

So maybe we could just be a little more obvious about using Jesus’ name and sharing His Name while we’re being “nice” to people.

Or maybe we’re just chicken.

© 2018, All rights reserved.

30 Days to Spring Training or What’s Wrong with Christian Free Agency?

Coming off last year’s World Series win for the Boston Red Sox, it’s a sure thing that Red Sox Nation is eagerly anticipating (nay…salivating for) the annual signals that America’s Pastime will resume.  Thirty days from today, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Plus…it’s been (already) enough of a miserable winter that any sign of spring approaching is most welcome.

Of course, given the vagaries and complexities of modern baseball, the 2014 team will not be identical to the 2013 team.  Some of the names that we got used to during last year’s playoff run will, sigh, be playing for other teams [Jacobi is off to the Bronx…though he did leave with class].

One of the highlights of last season’s really fun run was Boston Designated Hitter, David Ortiz (Big Papi).  He had an incredible .959 On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) and led the team in his inimitable style.  That style included the tide-turning pep talk to his posse during game four of the World Series.  Baseball writer Kevin Paul Dupont called it Ortiz’s “Fall Classic carpe diem” and the “series’ seminal moment.”  That’s our Big Papi, wading in unscripted to engage Fenway’s baseball boys with his own brand of insight and determination.

National audiences had previously seen this when, post the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings at the very beginning of the baseball season, Ortiz dared anyone else to mess with “our f_____ng city.”  Did I wince (well, simultaneously wince and smirk) at the choice expletive?  Yes.  Did I resonate with the voice of determination?  Absolutely.  That same determination led Ortiz to challenge his teammates to be the team they had been all season long and bring the World Series title home to Boston.  They did.

David Ortiz is apparently, at this writing, in talks to extend his contract with the Red Sox.  I don’t have any special insight; I just know what I’ve read.  He wants to stay another year and I think the team wants him to stay another year.

After the 2014 season, Big Papi will become a baseball Free Agent.  He will have more room to maneuver with respect to his contract negotiations, but he will also be on the edge of player viability.  He doesn’t seem to be slowing down but you never know.

Besides the fact that I love to watch the Red Sox boys play (hence the Big Papi preamble), I am fascinated by this notion of Free Agency…the movement of talented (and sometimes not so talented) players between teams.  In baseball’s yesteryear, players were often married to the same team (for better or for worse) for their entire career.  Now team rosters are much more fluid from year to year–that fluidity a byproduct of Free Agency. 

As a Christian I am also fascinated by the Church’s own version of Free Agency.  Players (a.k.a. church members) who regularly migrate from place to place (church to church) in search of that perfect place that dispenses perfect ministry that perfectly matches their needs (desires, whims, preferences…insert your own noun).  

While recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect church, I am puzzled by the seeming fragility of contemporary church connections–a fragility that rests on this notion of Free Agency.  Of course, I suppose it is largely a blessing that there are so many “options” for believers for worship and service.  But, there it is, the tendency to think more in consumerist North American terms than biblical terms: options. 

I pastored a church in Colorado for several years.  By “steeple envy” standards we did alright.  We may even have done well by God’s standards.  All that to say, we weren’t the “coolest” place in town but we were in the “top tier” [I know…worldly standards misapplied to Kingdom endeavors] of places to be “checked out” by the town’s new arrivals and by those who were somehow disenchanted with the place in which they worshipped. 

In that resort community, during my eleven or twelve years there, I was regularly amazed at the number of people who had been “called” to plant churches amongst the sun and winter frolicking destinarians (yes, I made up a word).  At the time, by my count, there were about 25 evangelically minded churches in a town of (then) 6,500 in a county of (then) 14,000.  If you spent a year at each church, you could move from place to place to place for a quarter of a century before having to start over.  By then, presumably, the church(es) fostering the disenchantment would have been able to get their act(s) together…or not.

Then came the archetypal Christian Free Agent.  She was in her 60s; she was grumpy; she had a mild-mannered (rarely heard) husband and she (one sunny winter’s day) alighted in our worship center.  She engaged pretty well and was initially upbeat, but after five or six months came a litany of “concerns.”  Upon further exploration with her it seemed that the church had failed to meet her expectations on several fronts. 

I was younger and dumber and less full of the kind of grace, tact, and diplomacy (and warmth and fuzziness) for which I am known today (sarcasm is hard to render blogwise).  I finally said, “Junia [that’s not her real name and perhaps me using that name is one of the reasons she huffed so…not really…I actually used her real name when I spoke with her, but I have changed the name to protect the guilty…and dodge litigation]…Junia,” I said, “You’ve been to eight churches in the last ten years [I am not making that up].  Is it at all possible that perhaps there might be an issue with you that has nothing to do with any of those churches?” 

Her husband slunk out of the room like a dog who had messed the carpet.  If I had been smarter, I would have left with him.  What followed was an explosive airburst not seen since the first hydrogen bomb (“Mike”) was tested at the Enewetak Atol in 1952.  Well…it probably wasn’t that bad…it just seemed that way.  Leaving her house that evening, shaking the fallout from my brain, I again pondered the fragility of church connections and the multiplicity of options available to those in the Body of Christ who largely think of themselves in “Free Agent” terms.

This is not to say that some churches sometimes aren’t egregious in their wounding of the gathered saints.  This is not to say that some solid saints haven’t gone the extra mile (or hundred miles) to try and redeem church circumstances such that they can remain and thrive.  Sadly, the church sometimes grossly disappoints, dissatisfies, and disheartens, thwarting even the most committed Christ follower’s attempts to make a go of it. 

It is to say that, in my view, the threshold for moving on to “another team” in our Christian Free Agency system is much too low.  It is to say that a distorted view of “freedom in Christ” tends to minimize the biblical call for perseverance, restoration, forgiveness, and plain old “hanging in there.”  The Bible commends persistence through difficulties and the beauty of brethren and sisteren dwelling in a unity based, not on preference satisfaction, but on commitment to Christ and each other, even when we disappoint.

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature,” the Apostle Paul said, “Instead, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.







Have You Had Your Affluenza Shot?

​I trust that you have had your flu shot this year; I’ve had mine.  I’m hoping it works this time; last year’s was a “fail” (at least that’s what I thought while I was lying in the hospital with simultaneous double pneumonia and the flu–which I thought was entirely unfair–surely I could have shared at least one of the pneumonias with someone…anyone). 

The very wise, fifteen-year-old emergency room physician advised me that I had waited “too long” to get my flu shot.  She said that it needed to “cook” (her word) in my system for a while to be completely effective.  [Does anyone else mind that flu vaccine manufacturers are allowed to “cook” their anti-flu juice in our systems?]

But there is apparently another kind of “flu” virus at work out there.  It’s not Influenza; it’s Affluenza.  The most recent case of which was diagnosed and reported in Texas. 

Dateline Tarrant County, Texas:  A Texas teenager has been spared juvenile detention for four deaths he caused while operating under the influence.  The judge ordered probation and therapy.  The teen’s defense team argued that the young man had “been a victim of his family’s enormous wealth.”  

The psychologist who testified for the defense in the trial used the term “Affluenza” (from the 2001 book by the same title) to describe the teenager’s plight.  It seems that the sad, young man had been so often afflicted by his parents saying, “Yes,” to his every whim, that any notion of personal responsibility for his drunken driving was unreasonable.  His family’s “enormous wealth” degraded his moral faculties; the weight of Affluenza broke his “I shouldn’t do that” meter. 

This would be perplexing and heartrending if there was just this one instance.  But, sadly, I sometimes think our entire culture has fallen over and hit its collective head on a huge rock.  Because, truthfully, the “very rich” aren’t the only ones suffering from Affluenza.  We all, it seems to me, catch a touch of it from time to time.  Not everybody’s Affluenza results in traffic fatalities but it is debilitating nonetheless.  

Affluenza also seems to be horrifically contagious–striking irrespective of socio-economic status or Christian identity.   It can become deeply ingrained and doggedly take hold even among God’s people in the church.  Affluenza frequently appears in the form of entitlement that seriously derails our ability to be “all in” with Jesus and available to partner with Him in His purposes.

We live in times often characterized by not merely a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, but by a more sinister, “You owe me,” mindset.  Think about it.  Our government is increasingly the deep pocket for a massive array of knowingly labeled “Entitlement Programs.”  Even in (perhaps particularly noticeable in) the church there is a recurring plethora of self-centered emphases that can derail both genuine Christian community and the effectiveness of our witness to the wider culture. 

Of course, we tell ourselves, it’s not the wealth, per se, that is the problem; it’s our attitudes toward it (it’s the love of money, not money itself which is the root of all kinds of evil) and it’s what we do with our affluence (being good stewards not bad stewards) that counts.  But the simple truth is that, unless we take active steps to derail the onset of Affluenza, it can easily ensnare.  And wealth is so insidious that we can have Affluenza for years unawares.

I’ve previously posted about generational besetting sins and, therein, acknowledged that, irrespective of generational demographics, we share common sinful proclivities.  Have you heard any of these (spoken/thought any of these) church-related evidences of entitlement?  Wondering:  “How will they minister to me?” or “Will the preaching speak to me?” or “I hope I like the worship team,” or “Are the leaders ‘genuine’ enough for me?” or “I wonder if they have the right programs for my kids?”  You can dress up the cultural particulars in Boomer, Buster, or Millennial garb, but the questions, at their core, are the same ones–centered around self and in pursuit of the latest flavor of “You owe me.”  It’s Affluenza.  

Oftentimes inoculation doesn’t work for Influenza and I’m not pretending that it will work here, but I have to hope we can provide a way to prevent a pandemic of “Affluenza” and perhaps curtail its consequences among those already infected. 

So, here’s the Affluenza shot:  “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).  “Hang on,” you say, “that’s just another bloggily simplistic cure for such an insidious problem.”  I don’t think so.  Coming off the celebrations of Christmas (God’s great gift) and Epiphany (the Wise Guys’ response of gifts to the Newborn King), I think there is something to embrace about the simplicity of giving that can overcome our shared tendency toward Affluenza. 

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg develops the notion of material giving in this way: 

“First, if wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy, particularly with those who are largely victims of circumstances outside their control. Second, if wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it. Third, if stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives. Fourth, if certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of [Blomberg’s] book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world. Fifth, if holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances

‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ prayed the writer of the proverb; but, since most of us already have riches, we need to be praying more often, ‘and help me to be generous and wise in giving more of these riches away’ (Blomberg, Craig.  Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 247, 253–italics added). 

I would widen Blomberg’s summary of application related to material wealth.* In addition to reorienting our thinking about monetary giving, we can all, I believe, consider the giving of ourselves in more fully orbed ways. 

We can move toward a giving of ourselves that transcends merely money or stuff and that includes time and energy and a willingness to transition our questions from what’s owed us to what we can provide.  In the Body of Christ, questions like these can help reorient us away from Affluenza:  “How can I pray for those who minister here?”  “Who should I approach to see how I can pitch in?”  “Am I asking God to bless all those here in worship today?”  And, if we sense a ministry need (even one borne from personal ministry desires), perhaps we can ponder this thought:  “Since God has laid this ministry need on my heart, maybe He is calling me to help be part of its implementation.” 

Perhaps it’s long past time to stop worrying about what we’re due in order to more earnestly consider what we’re to do.


*P.S.  I do not intend to imply that Dr. Blomberg’s application recommendations are somehow deficient or any less robust.  Please delight (and challenge) yourself with a read of his entire book. 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

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