Unlike-Minded

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There used to be like-minded people in the world, but now there are only unlike-minded people.  I used to pray for harmony, for unity, for getting along.  Now, I pray nobody gets hurt.

This is terrible, the state of things.  It’s a plague.  This is the kind of polarized thinking that tears down nations, and friendships, and churches.  Is there anything we can do to fix this?

A world filled with unlike-minded people will surely rip itself apart at the seams.  Surely this is not what our children want to inherit.  Surely this is not what Jesus taught us.  If you keep standing over there, and I keep standing over here, the chasm between us could swallow us whole.

What is to be done?

One answer is simple but a challenge:  We have to learn to like each other again. We have to try.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Philippians 2:1-2

When I relearn how I like your funny stories, your excellent skills as a chef, your passion for Fleetwood Mac, and your dedication to discipleship—then I remember your humanity, and that you are a person of worth.

And if you relearn how you like my doodles, and how I treat my kids, my ability to fix anything, and my willingness to step out in faith—then you remember my humanity, and that I am a person of worth.

We will still have some heated discussions about the issues, and sometimes we’ll be loud and proud about it, but our capacity to listen will be vastly multiplied.  We may never agree with each other on all the issues out there, but we will remember how to value each other as children of God.  Doesn’t that sound nice? Healthy even?

I’m tired of being unlike-minded.  I’m going to start liking again.  People.  Sisters and Brothers in Christ.  People I disagree with.  Would you like to try, too?

Well, look at that.

Something we have in common.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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5:23am

 

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I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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The Supreme Supreme Court

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Down through the annals of American History, there have been 118 supreme court justices.  We’re due for another, and the confirmation process is getting messy, as it sometimes does.

I understand why.  The stakes are high. As a country, we should be very discerning about who gets to join this exclusive club.  Let’s hope our elected officials make good, informed decisions.

9 people sit on the court, making definitive decisions about what is right, what is just, and what is law in the USA.  When there’s a death or retirement, a replacement justice is found.  Sometimes the nominee leans to the right, and sometimes to the left.  Sometimes the court is more balanced than others.  Whether or not we live up to the “Supreme”, the idea behind this “Court” is a lofty goal for us as a country.

I wonder if you are familiar with a court that is even more supreme than the Supreme Court.  There are hints of it in a few places in the Bible, although we rarely pay attention to it.  Genesis 1:26 is perhaps the best example.  .

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Who is “us”?  Who is “our”? Why does suddenly God shift to the plural, and then back again afterwards?  Ever notice that?  It may seem like a small thing, but this passage, along with some others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7, 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 1) paints a picture where God is not alone.

What are some possible explanations for this?  A translation error?  Maybe. Many would say God is speaking within the Trinity, a conversation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although that is never spelled out.  Some people have asserted that God is simply using the “Royal We” and talking to himself.

Others believe God is talking to his wife, a hold over from the Canaanite religion.  And still others have pointed out that the name Elohim (which means Children of El) is another ancient idea passed down to the Hebrews, in which God is a little like Zeus, presiding over a divine court.  Truth is?  Nobody really knows.

Regardless of the theological implications, wouldn’t it be kind of cool if God was the Chief Justice of this Supreme Supreme Court?  Making decisions about creation, about how people live together, about right and wrong?  Can you picture them (whoever they are) deliberating and discussing and driven by a desire to do what is right for the sake of the world?

Well now…it may have occurred to you, but God doesn’t NEED a Supreme Supreme Court to do all those things.  God is the source of wisdom, and love, and right and wrong.  God is already our Chief Justice.  That’s why we are a monotheistic religion.  That’s why we declare “In God We Trust”.

If God were being nominated for our Supreme Court, I’d like to think it would be a breezy process, but knowing how complicated things can be we might want to ask him a few billion questions first.

The truth is, God doesn’t need a court.  But we do.  It’s our human attempt to honor our values and each other in a diverse and ever-changing world.  That’s why we try to confirm very human people into these very demanding positions–9 at a time.

How faithfully will they accomplish their task?

You and I may debate and disagree on that,

But only God can Judge.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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BOAST

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“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”–2 Corinthians 10:17

Here’s a little word study for you.  In the NIV Bible, 2nd Corinthians mentions “Church” 10 times.  It speaks of “Grace” 11 times.  “Love” is mentioned 12 times.

And the word “Boast” shows up 22 times.

Paul uses that word in all his letters, but in 2 Corinthians, it’s a major theme.  He boasts about one church or another.  He boasts about God’s power.  He even boasts about what has come about from his own suffering.

If it can point to God, he boasts about it.

That’s the point of his boasting.  Not to lift himself up or make himself look good, but to highlight the work of the Lord.  Worldly boasting is bad.  Heavenly boasting?  Very good.

So, how are you doing, boasting wise?  Have you done your share of bragging for Jesus this week?  Are you part of a church that is making a difference, reaching your neighbors, and serving those in need?  Who are you telling about it?

I think my main avenue for boasting is Facebook.  I have 1,309 friends on Facebook.  High School classmates.  Current and former church members.  Colleagues.  College friends.  Family and a lot of people I probably don’t really know.

Maybe 50% of my FB Friends are church-goers.  Another 30%, I would guess, are lapsed or disillusioned Christians.  10% are agnostics, and some atheists, and the last 10% are somehow outside these categories.

I believe I have a responsibility to those 1,309 friends (even though we don’t always see each other’s posts).  My responsibility is to boast.  Here’s why:

  • The Catholic Church’s ongoing abuse scandal “proves” to so many how dangerous religion is. (And indeed, sometimes it is)
  • Stories about hypocritical Christians who look down their noses at those who are different get a lot more traction than “healthy” Christian stories.
  • Accounts of Pastors greedily asking for money, or bookkeepers skimming off the top reinforce a negative view of the Church’s relationship with money.
  • Denominational fights over issues such as abortion and homosexuality present the Church as an anxious and contentious place where other vital ministry takes a backseat.

And so on.  There is very little above to boast about.  In fact, I’d guess the Church’s PR factor is as low as its ever been.  If that’s the public image the Church offers the world, it’s no wonder our congregations are shrinking.

So here’s what I do.  I take pictures of everything exciting, vital, or worthy that my church is doing.  Special events and services, mission opportunities, partnerships in the community, and so on.  And after every event, I post the pictures to Facebook.

(Oh, and by the way, if you TAG people in your FB photos, all of THEIR friends have a chance to see your photos.  That boosts the boast!)

I want all those Christians, disillusioned Christians, atheists, agnostics, etc. to see what the Holy Spirit is doing through my church.  I want as many people as possible to see The Church alive and thriving, living out its vision (although never perfectly), and changing lives, including our own. God forbid I ever run out of reasons to take pictures.

This is me BOASTING!  Now some folks may think I’m boasting for myself, lifting up my church or myself for bragging rights.  Others may think I’m oversharing.  I suppose that’s the risk.  I suppose that’s part of why Paul brings up boasting so many times in 2 Corinthians.  He wants them to understand his true motivations.  I try to convey that as best I can.

Facebook may not be your thing.  Instagram is an excellent alternative, and reaches a younger crowd.  And if social media is not your preferred method of boasting, feel free to share your enthusiasm with the crew that meets for coffee at the McDonalds, or the folks in your Pilates class, or in your office.

Sharing the excitement of your church reaching out and touching God’s Kingdom is nothing to be silent about.  It’s the way things ought to be.  The more we boast, the more the true nature of the Church can be revealed to the world.

By the way–I’ve got room for more friends!  Friend me at https://www.facebook.com/toddmit!

If you do friend me, be sure to check out pictures from this last Sunday. We had so much cool stuff going on…

Paul could have written a whole book about it.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Early Onset Atheism

 

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“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Matthew 18:6

For years, we’ve been offering a semester-long confirmation class for all the 7th and 8th graders on our rolls.  We would bring in lots of students whose parents want their kids to get confirmed.  We’d meet once a week for several weeks, and talk about the basics, and then finish the class with a retreat and a special service.

And then… they’d disappear. We’d never see many of those kids again.  Or their parents!  It was as if confirmation class was like driver’s ed, or a get-your-Christianity-card training course.  Pick up your certificate and you’re good to go.

What a drag.  Another class of (literally) half-baked Christians, let loose on the world.

This week I read a study, found at psypost.org, about young Christians who become atheists.  In a survey of over 5,000 atheists, the ones who rejected Christianity earlier in life were the ones who grew up in families who “talked the talk” but didn’t “walk the walk”.

The study uses the term “CREDs” — or “CRedibility Enhancing Displays” to describe a parent’s actions, attitudes, and behaviors that reflect an authentic Christian way of life.  So, this study is suggesting that Christian parents who don’t have much CRED (i.e. they don’t act or talk in particularly Christian ways) may actually be pushing their children right out of the faith.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If the person I am looking most up to is doing very little to emulate this Jesus guy, then one of the primary opportunities to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God is never offered.

In other words:  There’s a direct connection between weak Christianity and early onset Atheism.  That’s a scary notion, isn’t?  The idea that some of us pew warmers have actually pushed our kids away because of our own lukewarm faith.

We’ve noticed this negative effect happening not just in parents, but in our church as a whole.  Could our church be pushing young people away from…church? What can the church do to increase our CRED?

Here’s a couple things we’ve done related to Confirmation:

Confirmation class for youth is now 2 years long, taught by the Youth Director, the Senior Pastor, and the ADCO chair.  The increased time requires greater commitment,  but the work is more of an exploration–fueled by the very deep faith questions the youth ask. The goal is to help them become mature Christians.

Parents are encouraged to participate along with mentors, especially on church visits that show our youth the variety of religious experience. Introducing a number of faith options reminds youth they have choice, which can paradoxically help them make a commitment.

Confirmation Class for adults.  We’ve offered a special class for adults who may have forgotten, or never learned, about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, Sin, Salvation, and on and on.  It was amazing to hear them ask the same questions our youth have asked.  Yes, some of them drifted away after the class.  But others have redoubled their commitment to the faith, and increased their CRED.

Efforts like this are a way for a church to help reduce Early Onset Atheism.  Even better is to help every adult (every parent) develop a rock solid faith, and learn to use it.  We still struggle to do this well, but small groups, discipleship processes, compelling preaching, and mission opportunities can make it happen.

There’s not a person in the congregation that doesn’t need to confirm their faith on a regular basis.  That’s how we remember what we believe, and commit to put it into action.  The more we can remember to walk the walk,

the sooner we give sufferers of Early Onset Atheism,

a cure they can believe in.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Runaway Empathy at the Village Inn.

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Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  –Romans 12:15

There’s a guy two tables over.  He’s eating by himself.

His wife died last year, and this is the one fun thing he does each week.  He goes out to Village Inn on Friday nights, and orders the catfish dinner.  And as he eats each bite he tries to be happy.  He jokes with the waitress, but I can tell it’s an act.

This lonely man, by the way, is a figment of my imagination.

I mean, yes, there’s a guy eating dinner over there, but I can’t tell from here if he’s happy or sad.  I can’t tell if he got the fish or a stack of pancakes.

I can’t tell squat!  But that doesn’t stop me from soaking up all kinds of sad vibes that probably don’t even exist.

It’s a little game I play called “runaway empathy”.  Ever play it?  It’s where you turn your receptors on soo high that you feel the feelings of everyone around you. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes, like tonight, I’m mildly out of control.

I mean, I really am quite empathetic.  It’s one of my gifts.  I couldn’t tell you what color shoes you’re wearing, but I bet 8 times out of 10 I could guess how you’re feeling today.

What can I say? Some people are good at noticing details–I can read auras.

There are plenty of folks who are like this.  Maybe you.  Somehow in our development we just learned to hone that skill.  Or maybe we were born to be sensitive like that.

I don’t really know where it comes from, but as a pastor, it’s a skill I can use.  Teaching a group, counseling a troubled soul, running a staff—empathy serves me well, except when I overuse it at Village Inn.  Or take people’s emotions too personally.  Or even feel someone else’s feelings instead of my own.  These are things I have to watch out for all the time.

This is one of those standard examples of having a gift from God, and then using it poorly.  Can you relate?

Maybe you command air-tight reason, usually to your benefit–but when it comes time to be intimate with a loved one, you just can’t shut your brain off.  Runaway logic.

Maybe you’ve got the quickest, sharpest tongue, which is good for a lot of laughs, but when it’s time to be serious, you’re just plain tone deaf. Runaway sarcasm.

Maybe you’re an expert at free-living, at the detriment of order.   Runaway chaos.

It’s actually a very good and healthy thing to emphasize your strengths.  They will take you far in life.  But stress, anxiety, negligence and arrogance can take you past your natural limits, into something quite unhealthy.

Whatever runaway gifts you have to keep ahold of, remember that regaining your focus on God will quickly reframe things.  Remember, Jesus used his gifts carefully and responsibly, and he made time daily for recharging.

My dinner at Village Inn was a wake up call to dial it back, and that was good for me.

I took a deep breath, and watched the guy as he left…

It looked like he was smiling.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Meghan Markle Rocks Denim Dress

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They say to write what you know.

That is not what I am doing today.  Today, I am writing about the Duchess of Sussex, otherwise known as Meghan Markle.

Why? Because, as I’ve been surfing around the Interlands this week, I keep seeing little clickbait articles about her everywhere.  She is everywhere. 

Somebody out there clearly has an obsession with this woman, and all I seem to know is…didn’t she get married or something?

Yes, she did.  A little time on Wikipedia makes me a sort-of expert.  Here’s what I learned:

  • She was born in 1981.
  • She was a TV actress, best known as Rachel Zane on the law drama “Suits”.
  • She’s been divorced.
  • She married Prince Harry, the Grandson of Queen Elizabeth the II.
  • As far as I can tell, ever since the marriage, the press seems compelled to photograph every item of clothing she wears (like the People headline above), every tiny gesture that is not “proper” enough, and every time her and Harry make eye contact with each other.

It’s been so many months since the wedding, (May ’18) and still people are swooning about her.  I finally think I understand why:  She’s a living fairy tale.  Like Princess Diana a generation ago.  She’s an everyday person plucked out of the crowd to be part of the royal family.  It’s the kind of thing some folks just drool over.

To you Marklers (or Meghaholics?) please know that I’m not condemning you.  A fascination with the Duchess seems harmless enough.  But just the same, keep this in mind:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
–1 Timothy 4:7

It is possible, the writer of Timothy reminds us, to get tangled up in fairy tales, to the point that we lose track of the very real story we’re called to live. Daydreaming about marrying your prince could, if not checked, leave you drifting in fantasy land.

The same holds true for rabid sports fans, video game junkies, breaking news fanatics, Netflix bingers and more.  What fairy tales or other forms of escapism capture too much of your attention?

The Hebrew word for sin translates as “Missing the Mark”.  When the focus of our hopes, dreams, and discipleship is something other than God, we make the wrong things the bullseye in our lives.  That is sinful behavior, and can cause big problems in our lives!

Most of us have our things we geek out on, and I think that’s okay.  It’s part of how we have fun, and can even present itself as a hobby.  We just have to make sure we keep our priorities straight.

For instance, if you read the title of today’s devotion and instantly knew that this was the dress Meghan wore to Harry’s polo match a couple weeks ago, you may need to tear yourself away from the tabloids for a while.

After all, you want to avoid Missing the Mark,

even if it means Missing the Markle.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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