Monday, September 20, 2010

God's Provision

A few months ago, Erin and were jumping with joy at this news, the chance for Erin to do a jobshare at her school. What we didn't know at the time was that I was about 3 months away from taking a 45% paycut in my pastoral salary. So what went from being a family income that would be just what we needed, we suddenly had a pretty big crises in the family budget. So to make up the difference, I took a position as a part-time package handler at FedEx in Lenexa, my former place of employment from 2000-2005.

A few months after starting this unfortunate job of being a package handler, I've now been moved onroad, as I've blogged about earlier. My job is easier (at least, physically) but I'm working a total of 4 hours a day.

Because I'm a nerd like that, I recently ran the numbers for our monthly budget. When you combine the hourly salary I'm making at FedEx (working 4 hours a day), the money we're saving by being on the FedEx insurance plan rather than the Olathe School District plan and the salary I am getting from the church, I'm making the same amount of money I was making before the paycut. Almost exactly to the dollar.

What I'm losing, of course, is time. But Sara Armstrong is graciously watching Dawson some half-days at her home daycare for way less than we should be paying her, so I earn back some time there. I've also gained the opportunity to renew old friendships, hang out with people who don't know the love of Jesus and even get to talk about that love every once in awhile. And being part-time has allowed me to relax, let some stuff go and enjoy pastoring without the self-inflicted pressure to produce. It's a great place to be.

And one more example of God's provision that is too specific to be just a coincidence. When I was in the process of being hired, FedEx was having some issues with the lab where I had done my DOT required drug test. No, it wasn't because there were drugs found in my system, but because some paperwork got messed up. I kept showing up at the FedEx station only to be sent home again and told to come back the next day, when "the paperwork should be finished." I even worked one day before being told I shouldn't be there.

So my hire date got pushed back three weeks longer than it should've been. With FedEx's policy of not being eligible for benefits until 90 days after the initial hire date, it looked like we were going to 1) be without health insurance for a little while or 2) pay an exorbitant amount of money to COBRA Erin's insurance for a short while. I actually pushed the issue with the manager who hired me, trying to get her to post-date my hiring date, since the paperwork had been messed up.

Well, turns out the 31 days in both July and August and the Olathe School District's agreement to let Erin stay on one her insurance plan an extra month was some more divine provision. We recently received a letter from Blue Cross / Blue Shield saying our insurance plan expired on September 1st. That letter was followed by a letter from Cigna saying our FedEx insurance plan was beginning on September 2nd.

Sometimes I wonder whether my worries make God chuckle, similar to how I laugh when Dawson gets frustrated with something that requires little effort from his dad.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How to Argue College Football

This week, I sent a FB message to a good friend from HS asking if he'd be down here for "Farmageddon" this Saturday, since he's an Iowa State graduate and die-hard fan. I said nothing about the complete and total domination that Iowa showed over ISU the previous Saturday but for some reason, this friend decided to start the typical ISU argument, "The only reason Iowa wins games is because they're in the sucky Big Ten and if ISU was in the Big Ten, they'd be just as good."

But I understand how he feels because I'm a fan of a terrible team who is almost an afterthought to a much more popular and successful team in the eastern side of the state. I'm referring, of course, of my allegiance to the Royals.

Anyway, that conversation reminded me of this picture I saw on my favorite sports blog the other day, Black Heart Gold Pants.

Not only is this picture true of college football arguments but I think it's true of most other arguments as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some Thoughts on 9/11

I'm a bit late on posting this but I wanted to share it anyway. I did some thinking about 9/11 last week and these are my thoughts...

As terrible and evil as the 9/11 attacks were, it was not a stand-alone event. It was simply one more tragic episode in an ongoing cycle of systemic violence. 9/11 and the two subsequent wars are exactly what happens when two people groups / nations buy into the myth of redemptive violence - that long-term good can come from violence. One group may be able to dominate another but that's hardly good or the biblical idea of peace.

The myth of redemptive violence is holding captive America, her enemies, her allies and many other nations, people groups and individuals in this world. Jesus, free your people from the alluring siren song and perpetual cycle emanating from the myth of redemptive violence.

I can still remember having Erin's birthday dinner with my sister and brother-in-law in the Applebees on 95th and I-35 when the news reports began showing the bombing of Afghanistan. It was the US's first official military strike against the Afghanistan. 9 years, two wars and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths later, we're still fighting in Afghanistan, though the war in Iraq (declared un-just by the World Council of Churches) has finally ended.

What if instead of bombing the Taliban, we'd gone over there and served them? Showed them we weren't out for their destruction but for their betterment? I'll bet they would've killed a few more US citizens but we also could've stopped the cycle of terrorism. Instead, we've simply guaranteed another generation of terrorists, the little boys who are living in war-time poverty and have seen their parents killed as "necessary casualties" of the war on terror. Maybe that Jesus guy really did know what he was talking about when he said "love your enemies" and when his follower Paul said we're "not to return evil with evil but to overcome evil with good."

And why do we continue to justify the hundreds of thousands (official military sites estimate 200,000 which, considering the source, has to be very conservative) civilian deaths in a war in response to the almost 3,000 civilian deaths on 9/11. How is that okay? Why are American lives 30 times more valuable than the lives of Afghan and Iraq citizens?

Finally, how could Christians jump on the bandwagon for a war of retribution? Where in the New Testament do we see the instruction to kill those who want to harm us? I'll admit, I was pretty gung-ho, "pay them back/ protect our freedom" in 2001. I was on the fence for the Iraq war until the Abughrab incident, then the veil was lifted so to speak. But now, I just can't see it at all. I'm going to post some scriptures below that can inform a Christian response the next time our lives and the lives of our family members are threatened.

Matthew 5:43-48
43 "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor'* and hate your enemy.44 But I say, love your enemies!* Pray for those who persecute you!45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.47 If you are kind only to your friends,* how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 26:50-52
Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him.51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest's slave, slashing off his ear.
52 "Put away your sword," Jesus told him. "Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Luke 6:27-36
27 "But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back.31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 "If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!” 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 "Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Romans 12:14-21
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.16 Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

"I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,"*
says the LORD.

20 Instead,

"If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads."*

21 Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

“[Jesus] did not retaliate when he was insulted, no threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” – the Apostle Peter
1 Peter 2:23-25

23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
and live for what is right.
By his wounds
you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
the Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 3:17-18
17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!
18 Christ suffered* for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.*

3 John 1:11
11 Dear friend, don't let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God's children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dawson's First Trip to God's Country

This past Saturday was a big day for Dawson's dad, though it might be awhile until Dawson understands the significance of the day. But having the chance to take my son to one of my favorite places was quite a thrill for me, as was watching Dawson clap in response to the applause of the crowd for a Hawkeye touchdown.

Dawson was a bit overwhelmed by all the things to look at. But his favorite part of the day was sliding down the slide at a park just off Melrose Avenue. Which is exactly why we stayed outside the stadium, taking pictures and taking in the sites. I didn't want to pay for a ticket just so Dawson quite squirm on my lap for 3 hours. But his first trip to Iowa City is complete, a few years from now we'll actually go into the stadium and watch a game.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kickoff is Finally Here!

As this blog entry is posting, I'm in Iowa City with my family, enjoying College Football's opening day at one of the great scenes in all of college football, Kinnick Stadium. To commemorate the ending of the long football drought, I'll share some motivating videos.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A strip club vs. a church

Here's a great story from Harmony Dust's blog.

In the Battle Between Church & Strip Club: Love Wins!

After hearing breaking news about women from an Ohio strip club showing up to protest at a local church that had been picketing their club for years, our friends from JC’s Girls in San Diego decided to show up. And I mean literally. They got on a plane and went to the strip club in Ohio to love on the girls.

What happened next is truly incredible. On Day 1, they had the opportunity to visit the strip club dressing room, tell share their stories, and tell them how much God loves them. They were met with open ears and open hearts.

On Day 2, knowing that God can change things around through Love, they decided to reach out to the Pastor of the church that had been protesting. There too, they were met with open hearts and ultimately invited to speak to the entire church on Sunday. They invited the congregation to “CHANGE THE FACE OF CHRISTIANITY by standing with us and truly LOVING God’s Beautiful Girls just as Jesus would.”

The people of New Life Ministries Church rose to the call and committed to loving their community, beginning with the women who worked at the local strip club. They went to the women, loved them, hugged them and even sought forgiveness from them. The Pastor himself promised one woman “he would not fail her”.

Even the Pastor and Strip Club Owner have reconciled and scheduled a lunch date!

My heart is touched and inspired by this story. It is amazing to see what happens when we fulfill the mandate of Love that is placed on our lives. I believe that this community will never be the same.

Read the JC’s Girls full story here

Love, Harmony

Author of Scars and Stilettos

You can check out Harmony's blog here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Inglorious Pastors

I've recently come across a sermon series on Jesus' teachings on nonviolence and few pastors who have the guts to call Christians to live by those teachings entitled Inglorious Pastors. I don't get too caught up in catchy sermon titles anymore but I think that might be the best one I've every heard. Of course, it's a play upon a Quintin Tarantino movie that provides a perfect foil for Jesus' teachings on loving and forgiving our enemies. By the way, the sermon series' subtitle is Waging Peace in a World of War.

If you'd like to listen to any of the sermons and / or read any of the sermon notes and quotes, you can do so at this link.

I've only listened to the first sermon so far but it seems like one of the main ideas is that we're not to limit our relationship with Jesus as simply our Savior but to make our relationship with Jesus one in which he is our Lord. Savior means we've asked him to forgive us of our sins, Lord means we're actually doing what he commanded us to do. The Inglorious Pastors are radical enough to believe that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us and to not resist (the greek word refers to violent, military-style resistance) evildoers, he ACTUALLY MEANT IT!!!! And when we live with Jesus as Lord, we get the added bonus of having him as Savior, too.

And to whet your appetite, here are some quotes from the first sermon.

How we got from Enemy Love to Just War
The Anabaptists are beginning to make more and more sense to a world that is increasingly aware of the emptiness of materialism and the ugliness of militarism. Anabaptist logic is rooted in the wisdom of the cross of Jesus, which Scripture says confounds the wisdom of this world. It seems the world is poised for a new Anabaptist movement.
~ Shane Claiborne, Brethren In Christ author

I am finding a growing hunger for a more authentic, whole-life faith that makes a difference in the lives of others. Many are discovering their answer in the Anabaptist witness, as I did 30 years ago. ~ Tom Sine, author of The New Conspirators

The overwhelming evidence suggests that the followers of Jesus were pacifists for the first three centuries. Many early church leaders and documents underscore the unwavering commitment to nonviolence.
~ Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil

As the early Christians knew, the rejection of war is not an optional ethical issue. Rather, it is the clearest indication of the church’s calling to be a community free from nationalist and other forms of domination.
~ Richard Deats, Active Nonviolence:
A Way of Life, A Strategy for Change

How do you defeat a movement that defines defeat as victory? … Constantine.
~ James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword

The Constantinian Shift amounted to a fundamental reorientation in the relationship of church and world.
~ John Howard Yoder, Christian Attitudes to War,
Peace, and Revolution

In a way, the story of Constantine is the second-greatest story ever told, at least concerning what we think of as Western civilization. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the conversion of Constantine may have been the most implication-laden event in Western history.
~ James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword

Judging from his actions during the earlier part of his rule, one can conclude that Constantine at least completely misunderstood Jesus’ teaching about love, or more likely, didn’t even think about Jesus’ teachings at all.
~ Daniel Best, Anabaptist Scholar

When the power of the empire became joined to the ideology of the Church, the empire was immediately recast and reenergized, and the Church became an entity so different from what had preceded it as to be almost unrecognizable.
~ James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword

Whenever the church and the state enter into a relationship, inevitably the church ends up becoming the state’s whore. She is used for the political expedience of the state and the state is inevitably an abusive spouse.
~ Emir Fethi Caner, Christian Jihad

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.
~ Hebrews 12:2 (TEV)

And Here are the later sermons:

How we got from Enemy Love to Just War
Week 2: THE RADICAL REFORMATION - Introducing the Anabaptists
Week 3: WHAT DID JESUS TEACH? - An Honest Look at a Radical Message
Week 4: JUST WAR - Busting the Myth of Redemptive Violence
Week 5: BUT WHAT ABOUT...? - Responding to a Thousand Objections
Week 6: JESUS VS JEHOVAH - War & Peace in the Old Testament (with Greg Boyd)
Week 7: SO WHAT? - Moving from Basic Training to the Front Lines
INTRODUCTION – Starting With Jesus
Matthew 5:38-48
Clarifying Terms... PEACE – A way of living, not just a goal to be fought for.
PACIFISM – Not being passive, but living the way of peace, reconciliation, and creative non-violence. A commitment to pacify, to peace-making and peace-living.
JUST WAR – a theory or collection of theories developed by Christians to justify war and selective use of violence. Held by the vast majority of Christians today and ever since Constantine.
ANABAPTISTS – 16th century radical Christians who called the church back to the way of Jesus. Reflected today in movements like Mennonites, Amish, Quakers, Hutterites, and Brethren In Christ.

How Constantine Changed the Church
For the first three centuries of Christianity, all Christian leaders, without exception, were pacifists and called all Christians to live the way of peace. Military service is seen as wrong for 3 reasons: a) ETHICAL: Violence is not an option for Christians; b) PHILOSOPHICAL: War is based on the State’s goal of self-preservation or self-advancement rather than the Christian’s goal of self-sacrifice. c) SPIRITUAL: Military service demands too much loyalty, leading to idolatry. Early in the fourth century, Constantine declares Christianity a religio licita (a legal religion) through the Edict of Milan, immediately reversing any ongoing persecution. Instead, he lavishes gifts upon all Church leaders (e.g., increasing their salary, making them exempt from paying taxes, building church buildings, funding Bible copying, etc.). Crucifixion and gladiatorial games are abolished due to the traumatic connection with Christian victimization. Sunday is declared a weekly holiday for all people. Pagan holidays are absorbed into the Christian calendar. Pagan temples are converted into Church buildings, with statues of Roman gods replaced with statues of the Apostles and other biblical characters. The Church is now friends with the State. Augustine (354 – 430 C.E.) & later Aquinas (1225 – 1274 C.E.) develop and defend a “justified war” theory for Christians, based on existing Roman and Greek thought. Christians are now encouraged to join the army and be involved in government. Violence is to be used as God’s instrument to “punish” evildoers (e.g., Romans 13:1-7). Augustine sees punishment as a more justifiable motive than self-defence. By 416 C.E., all Roman soldiers are required to be Christian. Note: “Pagan” (Latin, paganus) means civilian as opposed to soldier. It now comes to mean non-Christian as opposed to believer.

Today, Christians live in the echo of “the Constantinian shift” (Yoder). We have to work hard to step back, gain perspective, and shake off the influence of centuries of thinking that has eclipsed the plain teaching of Jesus. We invite all Christians to reject Constantinian Christianity. This is not a matter of rejecting one denomination in preference for another, but rejecting a mentality that has gone unchallenged for too long. This may or may not lead to someone becoming a pacifist, but at least we will all be agreeing together that Jesus – and not philosophy, politics, tradition or the impulse toward self-preservation – must be our Lord.
Luke 6:5, 46; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On the Road Again

What you're seeing here is a picture from my last day as a Courier at FedEx, in August of 2005. As I've shared before, I've had to come back to FedEx for a part-time job. I've spent the last three months unloading packages in the early morning, before the delivery couriers go on-road. As I was being welcomed back by the old crew, I kept assuring everyone I was not going to become a Courier.

Well, I'm not a Courier (don't get paid as well as they do and am keeping that part of the promise) but I am now what they call a "DOT Handler," meaning I've passed the Defensive Driving course (had to take it again) and can go on-road. So I'm now doing what's called a "bulk route," in which I deliver to some places that get about 100 or so packages per day.

It was a bit surreal to get behind the wheel of the W700 again. I've been fighting feelings of discouragement, embarrassment and defeat as I've been working at FedEx again but this morning was a bit nostalgic. "I can't believe I'm doing this again" kept running through my head. That same thought was also running through my head the first time I put the uniform back on. Oh well, at least I left on good terms so they could hire me back. At least my family is still being provided for (God has yet to fail us). And while I'm doing a scaled down version of Courier work for Handler pay, at least I'm not having to unload the cans anymore. Three months and several trips to the chiropractor and I'm glad to have moved back on-road again.