Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Pegs Pop

Some more tentpegs popped this week. Last week's unity meeting between the black and white churches of Christ in the metro Detroit area were a wonderful first step and there are signs that the churches here meant what they said and will follow up with mutual aid, events, and love.

One opportunity to show our love came today. John R. Flowers, a giant of a man in the black fellowship and the father and mentor of many, many preachers and elders, passed away at age 98. Today was his funeral. The event was held at the Elmwood Park Church of Christ all the way down in Detroit about a mile and a half from Ford Stadium. I got up early and put on a suit and tie -- on a Saturday! -- found my way forty miles down I-75, down Gratiot towards the river, and found a place to park in a crowded lot. Inside, the pews were packed.

A word needs to be said about the African American brethren in metro Detroit. I haven't been to all of their congregations, but I could not be more impressed with each and every one I've visited. I have wondered how to describe them to people outside this area and four words keep coming back: wisdom, grace, warmth, dignity. A couple of months ago I traded pulpits with Dallas Walker, the esteemed preacher for the Wyoming Avenue Church of Christ. I am hear to openly attest this: there is no more grace-filled welcome anyplace in the world than you will find at Wyoming Avenue. Period. Everyone should travel there and see how you are wrapped in grace and love from the moment you walk in until long after you leave (you see, they will say nice things about you forever once they meet you!).

Why "wisdom"? Again, it is a danger to overstate situations or fall into stereotyping, but my experience has been that our black brothers and sisters know their Bibles far, far better than my white brethren (alas, I have had so little contact with Hispanic and Asian congregations I cannot bring them into this comparison). Not only do they have knowledge, they know how to apply it, hence, "wisdom."

At the funeral, at least thirty and maybe as many as forty individuals came up to me to thank me for coming or for speaking at last week's unity event. The warmth in their beautiful faces revealed their true hearts. I was, frankly, touched and deeply encouraged.

Some might lampoon the dignity and formality of their funeral services and worship services, but I would caution you: when a people has been stripped of dignity, formality, ceremony, and recognition for centuries it is an sweet and beautiful thing to see that these dear children of God know they are made in His image, that they are loved by Him, and that their lives mean something. While many of my white brethren -- including me -- seem to rush away from formality and dress down for Sundays, I think there is something healing in seeing the reverence and esteem for the Holy in black churches.

When the minister called to tell me details about the upcoming service he referred to a "Homegoing Ceremony." I apologized to him for my ignorance and told him I didn't know what that was. "Brother Mead," he said, "that is what we call a funeral when the one who passed is a child of God." How wonderful! During the Homegoing Ceremony nine or ten preachers preached and each one who referred to resurrection day called it "Gettin' up morning."

I have much to learn from these, my precious brothers and sisters. I hear tentpegs popping. Brother John R. Flowers has pulled his tentpegs up and moved on to glory. Those of us who remain behind are pulling up deeply driven pegs so that we can move our tents closer to each other.

God give us the courage to keep moving toward Him and each other.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Is In Your Hand?

When Moses was tagged by God for the great mission of freeing the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery he wasn't as keen about it as you might expect a Bible-type hero to be. He would have been primed, locked, loaded, and ready to rock when he was 40. Back then he was strong, active, and driven to help his people. Now, forty years later, he was 80 (note how quickly I did that math) and for the last several decades he was head of Sheep, Sinai Division. That's it. God called him into battle and, after Moses offered one excuse after another, asked him "What do you have in your hand?"

God is never interested in why we can't do this or that. He is very interested in what we have in our hand. What is available to you? What are your talents? Resources? What kind of backup do you have in place financially, socially, personally? What gift or gifts might you have that would help?

When people come to me who are depressed, or who have lost their job, or whose health is broken, or who have just had to take in aged parents while their kids were still not grown... one of the questions I ask them is "what resources do you have?" We work on this, sometimes for weeks for the answers do not always surface quickly. I have found that almost everyone has a lot more resources than they realize. They see the empty places, the lack of talents and support, rather than seeing the good things. This is normal. We all do it.

Want to test it? You have fifteen seconds to think of an embarassing or painful moment in your life. Didn't take that long, did it? You now have fifteen seconds to think of something wonderful, a moment where you shined and the world was a terrific place to be. Hmmmm.... takes longer, doesn't it? That is understandable. When you enter a room and see a snake on the floor you don't immediately counter by thinking, "But look at the huge expanse of snake-free floor!" However, when all we see are the snakes, we sometimes forget we have a hoe to kill them with!

When I think of the talents I don't have, the people who don't like me, the churches that write me (and Rochester) up, or my not-so-good health I make myself begin a list of the resources I DO have, the things with which God has blessed me. First and foremost, of course, are my darling wife, my dear princess of a daughter, and my towering, strong, and noble son. I'll leave you with their photos as I sit back and think about what God has already given me. "Count your many blessings... and it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Secret

Want to have a happy life? Want to find joy even in the hard times? Here is the secret:

Like what you've got. Want what you have.

That's it. Admittedly, this goes against culture's tidal waves of commercials, enticements, and created needs, but if you can work with this, learn it, and live it, you will find peace and contentment. "Godliness with contentment is great gain," says Paul (1 Tim.6:6). If Paul could find a way to be content when he was pursued by hordes of his own brethren, mocked, beaten regularly, and marked for death... maybe he knew a secret we need to know!

Some will say that they can't be content because, unlike others, they were dealt a terrible hand. Okay -- some people seem to have less stuff, more pain, more disaster, and fewer friends than the bulk of mankind... but what of it? Or, more correctly, what are you going to do about it? You can only play the cards you've been dealt. How can you make the best of it?

Look at your mate -- the one you've complained about (at least silently). Women marry men hoping they'll change, and they don't. Men marry women hoping they won't change, and they do. Yikes. Over time, when passion is allowed to fade and life intrudes, we tend to find fault with our mate... but look at them. Please.

They're beautiful. Maybe not Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue beautiful, but beautiful nonetheless. He's handsome, maybe not Mel Gibson before he went nutso handsome, but handsome nonetheless. There are things to admire in their bodies and personalities. There are gifts there, if you are content to receive what they can give. Make your life together a voyage of discovery, where you are dedicated to helping them develop, grow, enjoy their life, and feel free to give their gifts in return. Learn about them. There are no boring or useless people. Everyone has something special living in their minds and hearts. Search for it and enjoy the search as much as you enjoy the finding.

Experience the joy of giving away, rather than buying. Since you want what you have and like what you've got, you really don't need or seek for anything more. Take one of those things that have blessed your life and give it to someone else so that they, too, can be blessed.

Experience the joy of serving the ones you have -- up to this point -- liked least. Find out what they like, what they need (or think they need), and what interests them and supply that as much as you can. If they fail to react, so what? The joy was in the doing. We aren't looking for a payoff. We do what we do because we are content and at peace with God.

Want what you've got. Like what you have.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Decision in Marriage

You only own one thing: your power to decide. All your possessions can be taken from you by an army, an illness, or an attorney. Your health can disappear overnight. Your reputation can be trashed by your own behavior or by the entirely specious claims of another.

But you can always decide how you will react, what you will do.

On my other blog I mentioned that I wanted my marriage to be passionate, risky, joyful, etc. and one of the comments asked me how did I keep that going when I or my wife are tired?

I decide to.

As a man, I believe it is my job to give first, serve first, and love first. If I have had a bad day (as someone with chronic pain and a few health issues, this happens!) and my wife has had a bad day (this, too, can happen) it is MY job to bring joy back into the day. I find that if I get my butt off the couch, ask her what I can do for her, hug her, smile at her, treat her, that that usually changes the course of the day. Does it wear me out or make me even more tired sometimes? Yes, but no more than the grind of joylessness would have. I can be tired and unhappy or tired and happy. Guess which one I choose? When it is in my power to decide, I will decide in a way that brings joy back into the marriage/day.

Does it cost me something? Sometimes. Okay, usually, but who cares? I have a choice. I can decide. I choose love, joy, and life. Yes, it is against my nature. My personality is more suited for a lighthouse keeper or a lone gunman, but I can decide to rise above my DNA and so can you.

Men -- love your wives even -- especially -- when they are not lovable. Love your children and spend time with them even -- especially -- when you don't feel like it. Serve your God and spend time in prayer even -- especially -- when you feel distant from Him and reluctant to speak to Him.

You can do this. You have the power to decide. You have the power to choose.

And if it costs you so much that you get worn out sooner and so see Jesus sooner... tell me, where is the downside in that? So you don't get to spend some time in the hospital dying of nothing in particular... where is the downside in that?

Stand up. Show up. And make a choice. THAT is something no one and no circumstance can take from you. No matter what happens, you get to decide what you will do in response. Maybe it won't be the response you'd like to make. Maybe it won't be the perfect outcome. But it is the best one you could find and you have made a choice.

And that changes everything.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Goals, Plateaus, and Progress

The old saw says that "if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." We've heard that a thousand times, but we act as if we haven't. Case in point: what are you aiming for with the children in your family? In your church? Let this serve as a plea to develop congregational targets for each age group, and for each individual within each group.

For example, we could have as a target that every one of our 3rd graders would know the books of the Bible, where to find the parables of Christ, the names of the patriarchs, etc. By the sixth grade, each child should know the major doctrines of the church (I'll let your church decide which ones those are!), the different kinds of Psalms and how they are used, and how to defend their faith.

You can take this and run with it. It will require a great amount of discussion, prayer, and effort to graph out knowledge goals for each level all the way through high school but it is worth it! When a child comes into the church late, there is still time to catch them up with special attention and with materials, perhaps shared with the family. Families would know what is expected of their child -- and this would give them a starting point on family devotionals, moving them along until they become a Deuteronomy 6:4-9 family.

But there's more. Other goals are service goals. By the second grade, the children should be expected to be involved in serving others. That could take many forms and those forms might change as the child gets older, but every child -- and every family -- would be expected to be at work in the kingdom. In our congregation that includes (this is by no means an exhaustive list) sorting clothes and food at God's Helping Hands, sitting with the people who come in for help at that warehouse, mowing lawns and doing errands for people who are sick, in the hospital, or on a mission trip, writing letters to missionaries, raising funds for mission or charitable work... all the way to joining a short term mission work -- at least once -- before graduating from high school. Volunteering at Christian camp or at inner city missions/camps/sports is also part of the list of goals we've set for our teens.

Set goals for your children, for all children of the church, and for the families. Be flexible and realize that not everyone can do everything, but help them do as much as they can and honor them publicly when they achieve their goals. Let part of your gathered worship on Sunday be a time where we celebrate and encourage the kids on their pathway to spiritual maturity.

Because, if you don't, you are aiming at nothing. And we know what that means!