Monday, November 23, 2009

For A Feast


There once was a benevolent young woman who gladly gave out food to those in need. Time and time again she would take them bread and wine and sit among the hungry men and women watching them enjoy her generosity because of the joy she experienced in their very enjoyment. Often she would sit and eat and drink, feasting and imbibing and joining in the raucous laughter. But never did she eat and drink deeply because of need. You see, she was wealthy and had no lack like those she provided for. She was a person of great wealth.

But as you can imagine in all stories such as this, misfortune came like storm and poverty like Leviathan. She now felt she had nothing to give and indeed had nothing but her knowledge of nothing. She now sought out the very bread and wine she had so liberally given away. It all felt so distant and therefore precious beyond all estimation. What would she not give for the bread to be crushed between her teeth and tumble upon her palette finding purchase in her stomach, satisfying. She would give all the wealth she ever had for the sensation of wine upon her lips again – to draw the blood-red drops of it from the side of the bottle and lick them from her fingers. To hear the laughter she once enjoyed fostered by the bread and wine she provided. For a feast!

Would you believe me if I told you the very sort of people she provided for had come from their hovels and out of their poverty and emptied themselves so she could enjoy the bread and the wine again? She joined them as they ripped at the bread in fierce delight. She raised it along with them high in the air, with thankful praise! And the wine was the best she had ever tasted. It streamed down her throat, ran down her chin and loosened her tongue to sing songs of great joy. She wept as she looked at the crimson liberality so manifest in the glass before her. She lifted it high! She wept tears of joys! For she had just realized that the very thing she had seen as need in others and a reason for joy in others was now the one thing she needed and wanted alone. For a feast.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What If They Hate Us?

One of the questions which has gone viral for church planters and pastors in the last year or so has been something along the lines of, “If your church closed its doors today would anyone miss it?” The idea is a church body should bless a city – or at least a segment of the population – to the point they (the church) are missed if they are not there. This line of thinking comes from two places.

First, there is the call for the Israelites to seek the prosperity of the city of Babylon in Jeremiah 29. Second, there are 2nd and 3rd century accounts of Christians, who at the risk of contracting “the plague”, cared for the sick and dying instead of fleeing infected areas. As a result of their compassion, many converted.

I love Jeremiah 29 and I absolutely love the stories of the sacrifices of the early church. And I have no problem with asking myself if anyone would miss my church if we closed our doors. It’s not a bad question. But I have another question…

What if they hate us?

What if they want to persecute us? Kill us? Exclude us from the marketplace of ideas? What if the city riots because we have challenged its idols? What if they ignore us? What if they love what we can offer them tangibly, but are not bothered when we go? What if they think we are hackneyed? Backwards? Intolerant? Homophobic? And despiser’s of women? What if they are glad to see us fade into the night? What if they laugh at us in the name of God?

I ask this because we were never promised we will have favor with unbelievers but we are promised we will be persecuted (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12). In fact the whole picture of the Biblical witness is one of persecution, difficulty and trial because of believing the gospel and therefore following Jesus. It is impossible to read the NT and not see this as the case. Persecution is the norm, not favor. Those who placed all their work in the work of Jesus on the cross, dealt with persecution from the inside and the outside.

Now listen, this does not mean I disagree with the need to ask if we would be missed if we left the city we are ministering in. But the question is far too flat. The reality is there are contours to ministry in any particular culture. Sure, some may miss you but some may be glad to be rid of you. It would be great if people missed you and your ministry of the gospel but let’s face it; there are many who may not care at all.

But those of us who hated the bumper-sticker clich├ęs of the fundamentalists are tweeting statements like these. And when we do we flatten the landscape of thought about how we should love the city we live in.

My fear is we will push pastors into capitulation; capitulation to a culture that will gladly celebrate our mercy ministries but decry our evangelism, our theology and our ethics. Every city in the USA will love it when we care for the poor and seek racial reconciliation. But they will not love our biblical view of money and the call to repent of it. They despise our belief in the exclusivity of Christ. And I think the popularity of this question has the power to slowly push men and women into valuing the opinions of unbelievers inordinately.

You may think I am overreacting. But I ask you, “Is it not reasonable to worry about pastors wanting to curry favor with the culture to the point of watering down the message of the gospel?” It is not like I am worrying about the ecclesiological equivalent of the Yeti. This is a real problem every pastor must deal with. No pastor wants to end up being lampooned on Everyone wants to be liked and pastors are well – this may shock you – part of ‘everybody.’

Should we love the city we minister in? Yes! Should we care if they miss us? Absolutely. But why is no one tweeting, “Does anyone…anyone in your city seek to shut you down because of your relentless preaching of the singular need to repent and believe the gospel?” Too many characters, I suppose.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

50 Reasons I Look Forward to Living In the City of Birmingham...Again

We now have a move in date. We will be moving back home to Birmingham, AL. on Monday, November 16th. We are moving to plant a church in the Homewood area. And I really look forward to getting started.

But there are a lot of things I look forward to about Birmingham itself. It is my hometown and a town I have always loved. Even as a kid I thought Birmingham was a great city and would wonder why people would want to live anywhere else. It's beauty and wonder have only increased for me since we have been away for almost 10 years. Do not be surprised at the number of roads and restaurants. I used to spend a lot of time driving around Birmingham listening to Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. And I'm a foodie.

1. Family.

2. Old friends

3. The Apple Store at the Summit

5. Grant's Mill Road

7. The star over 18th Street in Homewood during the Christmas Season

8. 5 Points South

9. Homewood Park

12. Vulcan

13. The drive from the top of Red Mountain to 5 Points South overlooking the city.

14. Red Mountain

15. Oak Mountain

16. Shades Mountain

18. Montevallo Road

21. Red Mountain Expressway

22. Driving around downtown

24. Mountain Brook Village

29. Trees

30. The Regions (AmSouth) building lit up for Christmas.

31. Shades Crest Road

33. 280

34. Ruffner Mountain

36. Lakeshore Boulevard

37. Oxmoor Road

39. Old Leeds Road/Cherokee

40. Star Lake

43. Birmingham Public Library

44. The Merry Go Round at the Galleria

46. La Paz

47. The convergence of 280 and Lakeshore

49. The Cahaba River

50. When it snows/ices you have to stay home and talk about the blizzard of 1993.