Tuesday, March 30, 2004

the strangest thing that has ever happened to me at Common Grounds

ATTENTION: All who listened to Christian music in the 80's and 90's. Last night I came to Common Grounds, as usual, and hung out with some friends. While I was here I met a girl who is looking to come to Baylor in the Fall. Her last name...Chapman. Yep, as in Steven Curtis Chapman. His daughter is here on campus checking the place out. It gets better.

Well, I am at Common Grounds right now. I was talking with Jill Mashburn when I saw three people walk up to Common Grounds. Sure enough, it was a former Community Coordinator for CLL, Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife. I didn't know what to do. All of a sudden I turned into a middle school kid and I went to the back of CG. I wanted to avoid the Christian music super-star for some reason.

Well, I got my wits about me and casually strolled out into the front room where my stuff was sitting. And there was Melissa Taylor, the former CC, who I knew. So I struck up conversation with her and did some small talking. Wouldn't you know it, Steven and his wife came over to chat. So I shook their hands and chatted a bit about the good weather, Baylor and Common Grounds. Surreal.

Surreal is the only word I can come up with to describe the occurrence which just happened. The reality is that he will never remember meeting me. Its likely that he has already forgotten. But whenever his name is mentioned, I will be sure to remember the time I met him, his wife and his daughter...all at Common Grounds, my personal sanctuary.

Monday, March 29, 2004

status games at Collins

Allow me to share with you a little piece of working at Collins Hall. Its funny working at the front desk as all the freshman girls prance by. I have gotten to know a few of them by name and a few of them know my name. The fun part this time of year is watching all the girls with the boyfriends. When these girls were single, it was advantageous for them to come up to the desk and talk/flirt. By doing this ritual, they proclaimed to their friends and all watching that they know the guy at the desk "personally" and that he knows their name.

This has positive effects on their general status. To the other girls, it shows them that she is worthy. To the guys in the lobby, it shows them that she is a valuable catch. This all works, of course, until the girls get a boyfriend. Then the rules change. Upon the acquiring of a boyfriend, the guy at the desk becomes just that, a guy at a desk.

The girls who were so "friendly" a few months ago now adjust the appropriateness of their interaction with me. Its as if it dawns on them that what they were doing could be construed as "flirting" by their boyfriends. So to avoid this danger, I soon become nameless. Likewise, I move from "friend" status to "acquatance" status. I become merely that guy who gets their keys and vacuums for them. They even try not to make eye contact with me as if to say, "Please, dear God, don't strike up our normal superficial conversation with me. Not today! Not in front of the boyfriend!" Ah, how fickle the flirtation becomes.

All of this is a great reminder to me. In the end, if any flirting comes my way I can be assured it is less about me and more about the girl. It is not about how "cute" I am or how "charming" I'm not. Its about what flirting with me will get for the flirter. If it will help her gain a bit of status or a bit of self-esteem then she is a willing participant. If it will hurt their social functioning or her new relationship, then she will avoid it like the plague.

This cautions me against my own motives for flirting with people as well. I try to avoid returning the serve with freshman girls altogether, but with girls that are closer to my age range, I should probably question my own reasons for flirting. Why do we humans flirt in the first place? What may have once been an innocent play in the mating game, I fear, has turned into a deeply selfish endeavor. But alas, I am probably making too much out of so little.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

manifestations of power

What has been apparent in my prayer life is the notion that I have not really experienced much "power" in my spiritual life. But maybe I have the wrong definition of "power". It seems to me that Jesus' power stemmed from his servanthood, his submission to the will of the Father, and from his own suffering. Likewise, we see in Paul's letters that his authority comes from the same things. Suffering and obedience seem to lead to a powerful life.

What I mean by power is the manifestation of the Spirit working in miraculous ways. Do I desire to see this out of a lack of faith? Maybe. But I would also like to see these things as evidence of the Spirit working actively in my life. What would these manifestations look like? It may look like a person coming to know Christ after an hour long conversation on a airplane. It may look like me specifically praying for a specific healing and then seeing that person or that illness healed immediately. Imagine just laying your hands on people and praying for them and seeing them healed. Imagine after one conversation seeing people's lives completely changed by the grace and love of Christ.

I keep coming back to questions like: Do I not submit enough to the Father's will? Do I not live in such an obedient way that suffering inevitably comes into my life? Do I serve people enough to have this kind of power and authority? Or do I explain it away assuming that I am just not "spiritually gifted" in these ways and that God must be manifesting Himself through me in other ways?

Well that last question then of course leads me to others. How is God manifesting Himself, through the Spirit, in my life? Is the power of God apparent in my life? It is not very apparent to me. One of the guys who was also a church planter candidate kept telling me last week that he saw God "all over me." I don't really know what he meant by that. Maybe he was just trying to be encouraging. The reality is from this side of my eyeballs I can't see God's power necessarily evident in my life. I don't mean to say I don't experience God's powerful love and grace. I certainly do. But I don't see the Spirit using me as a conduit in such a way that would make it evident to the world that it is God.

How does one remedy this? Or do we even try? Do I continue to strive for a deeper walk with Him and let the manifestation come as He wills? Do I pray for more power in my life? Do I pray for more evidence of that power? Do I pray for suffering to come my way? Do I wait patiently as I mature in His will and allow the suffering to come when it does? Surely it will come just by living in this world. Is my desire for more power a selfish one? Does my lack of power make me more dependent on God and on the faith community? Or is more power in my life evidence of my depending more on God and the community? As one can see, I have more questions and no answers.

Father, I don't even know what to pray. I trust that the Spirit will groan for me in words that I cannot even express right now. I deeply desire to be someone you can count on to be a faithful follower and an effective witness. I don't know that your power is manifested in my life right now. But I pray that when you need it to be, it will be.

Friday, March 26, 2004

music snobs

I have an issue to address. Neil's blog brought the thoughts on. It seems to be that the most tempting time to become a music snob is in college. This idea stems from a false notion that there is "good" music which one MUST listen to or suffer the consequences of being "out of style." This ultimately stems from a false notion born of modernity.

Music is art. Art in its very essence is subjective. Modernity has led to us trying to make "objective" statements about that which is truly subjective. Calling some art "good" and other art "bad" is pure opinion. This is not to say that there isn't good or bad art. It is simply to admit that any designation of good or bad is my opinion. The problem comes when people communicate this opinion to others. This often becomes a statement of factual reality rather than a comment of opinion. The conversation usually begins like this: "You need to listen to some real music." Or it can reveal itself in this question: "What kind of music do you listen to..." It seems innocent enough, but buried under this question is the inevitable judgment of character. If you respond with music that is considered "good" then you will be deemed culturally acceptable. But if you answer with "pop" music or anything that doesn't sound "cool" enough for the other person, you are deemed artistically challenged and utterly tasteless.

Music snobs revel in these kinds of interaction. In an instant they can either elevate themselves above the other person or they can find a fellow snob to compete with. As if there is some sort of musical aristocracy verses a lower class peasant of the 8-track. In the end, what college students are calling "good" music simply means "cool" music. Eclectic is in right now, be it furniture or genres of music. So, for instance, if you make a CD that is of eclectic styles then you can put a "cool" sticker on in and feel good about the fact that you know what "good" music is.

Its like the Oscars. What the heck is "best-actor" anyway? The reality is it is only the opinion of a group of people belonging to the Academy. But as soon as people hand out awards for which actor was the "best" that year, they are making a universal claim. By giving the award to one person over the others, they are in a sense saying that their opinion is nearly "objective" in its truth claim. But acting is an artistic and subjective medium. To deem one actor "best" for the year is a ridiculous idea. The same is true for music.

So to all you aristocratic snobs of melody and rhythm, get over yourselves. To you who declare that the underground band which you alone happened to discover is a break through in sonic pleasure, I spit in your general direction. And yes, even to you, you who revel in your eclectic genres as if you are making some profound generational-unifying statement, I pity you. From the heights of your self-established thrones, I hope you can see the absurdity of your value judgments.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

vanilla cowboy

I am stuck in a weird position right now. I have no major feelings to write about. No major desire for a female. No major trauma in my life. No major theological wrestling besides the usual. Though I anticipate the future, I am in no hurry to get there. I have too much school work to do in the present before I can even really think about working with Horizon. I have never really felt prepared to be a "pastor." I am not sure why I should expect that feeling to change in the next few months.

I just got back from seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In a word: brilliant!! Go see this movie. Don't wait for it to get to the dollar theatre or Blockbusters. It is a "must see." I am continually amazed at Charlie Kaufman with each and every movie he makes. Adaptation was brilliant but took some mental exercise to stay with. Eternal Sunshine is pure genius with no need for cognitive acrobatics. The deepest parts of me, the parts I rarely mention, relate to this movie and these characters in very profound ways. My attempt to articulate even this much has already done the movie injustice.

I need coffee. The very thing I gave up for Lent. I guess need is a strong word. Want. Ok, that's better.

Next time you take a look at the Pentateuch, notice the movement from west to east (exile) and the movement from east to west (back to the garden; promised land). Moving west is always a good idea in the Pentateuch. But watch out when you move east. Moving east means two things. You are in exile and that you are simultaneously becoming "more".

Adam was kicked out to the east. Jacob went east fearing his life. Lot chose the east lands of Sodom and Gomorrah, need I say more. And yet in the east is where Jacob got his wives and became a huge family. Abram came from the east when he was called to move west and inherit a land and a promise. The exodus from Egypt took a people eastward and made them into a nation. West is blessing, east is hardship. Yet its always in the east where we find Yahweh making a person into a family; a family into a people and a people into a nation. Once developed in the east, Israel is always called back to the west, back to Eden, back to the promised land. Inevitably, the blessing of the west leads to rebellion away from Yahweh. Rebellion leads to another exile to the east, and the cycle continues.

Can you relate? Is your life a picture of this same east/west struggle? Mine is. Where are you? If you are in the east let me assure you that there is hope. Life is probably tough right now but know that you are becoming more. God is developing you in exile, in the desert. Soon you will return home to the west. If you are in the west, bessings. But be careful friend. The comfort of the garden can lead to a swift kick in the buttocks. Staying true to Yahweh can prove more difficult in the west than in the east sometimes. Temptations are tough in Eden. It may be time for an idol inventory check. If only there was a Norton anti-virus program for our spiritual lives.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

back from assessment

My trip to Skycroft was a good one. It was exhausting and complicated but good. In the end I didn't receive funding. This was not unexpected. Basically they told me that I was very gifted for a 24 year old coming out of seminary, but that I needed more life experience and church experience before I could be considered a good church planter candidate.

And that is ok with me. My gifting fits better with a pastoral role, so they tell me, and that is the situation I will be entering into in June. The church planters assessment judges how well you would do with dropping into a city, casting a vision for a church, gathering people together and passing that vision off to them. I don't know if I really want to do that anyway. I have always worked in teams my entire life. I don't want to try to start a church alone. And the hard work of planting the church at Horizon has already been done by Dave and Clay. My job is not to plant as much as to help develop the church and vision toward health and growth. It seems to me this fits better with my gifting and personality at the moment anyway.

But in the end, I learned some about myself, my past experiences with God and my desires. The past few days have helped to remind me what my strengths and weaknesses are. They have also affirmed various personality traits and gifts within me. Plus, being told that I wouldn't make a great church planter helps to motivate me to be excellent at what I will do at Horizon.

Father, help me to finish well here at school and continue to prepare me for the exciting journey ahead.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

another trip to Skycroft

I am sitting here in Common Grounds about an hour before I have to leave for my flight back to Maryland. I am filled with mixed emotions. It will be good to see family and friends for the brief time that I will get to do that. I am a bit nervous about what will go down up at Skycroft during assessment. And yet I am excited as well.

Skycroft is a very comfortable place for me anyway. I went to camp there as a camper for 6 years while growing up. I have also been there as a staffer of Crosspoint camp for two years. And last summer I just went up there to visit. In fact there has only been three summers since I was twelve that I haven't spent at least a couple days up there. When I was 19 I didn't go to camp or work camp. When I was 21 and 23 my Crosspoint teams didn't make it to Skycroft those summers. But every other summer since 7th grade I found myself there in one role or another.

This time I will yet again be at Skycroft in a completely different role. One could map out my spiritual journey and calling based on my times and roles at Skycroft Retreat Center. That place is obviously thick with amazing memories for me. It is a mixture of my Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion. In any case, God always shows up when I go up there. It is my Jerusalem, my place of theophany.

Its amazing how God can use specific places and times to bring us near to him. Its also fun when he takes us back to those same places for times of remembrance. If I was a patriarch I would have set up many altars there by now. It just reminds me that God is more than transcendent, he is intimate. He is the God of history. He is the God of real time and real place. He is an infinite God who makes himself tangible. And there are fleeting moments up on that mountain when I can almost smell him. I can almost feel his touch. His presence is concrete. His being is evident.

Father, I return to our favorite spot together. I smile with the thought that your memories of our times together at Skycroft are thicker than my own. Once again I return a slightly different person, with a very different purpose. But just the same, I return to seek you and to find you. Father, would you be with me in these next few days at Skycroft in such a way that it is evident to others. I pray that your face would shine upon me and that your favor would accompany me on this trip home.

Friday, March 12, 2004

a hard drive and a hard message

I haven't posted in a while because my hard drive freaked out on me. After hours of work, this computer guru/saint salvaged my documents. And this was HUGE because I had all my documents since college, all my seminary papers, and all my notes for this year on there. God is faithful and can even work through computer nerds. So I am currently in the process of rebuilding the software and all the pictures and music which were once on my hard drive. It was a good lesson in learning to back things up.

I am also currently working on a 15 minute sermon to an audience of "lost people." These were my directions from the big wigs at the Baptist Convention of Maryland. I have been wrestling with it all week in my head. My understanding of how people come to know Christ has changed so much in the last few years. I don't think it just happens from a sermon. I think it happens after countless conversations and involvement in a loving Christian community. But I guess I limit God if I say that He can't work through a singular 15 minute sermon.

I think I finally have an outline in my head to work with. It won't be expository, however, and seems to be much more inductive in nature. It will be strange though as I try to keep my language and my analogies such that non-Christians can understand. All the while, it will be in front of three old men, who have been Christians for decades, with pens and paper taking notes on my preaching skills. I am not even sure I WOULD "preach" to an audience of people who don't go to church and don't know the message of the gospel. I think I would rather sit around with them over some highly caffeinated drink and discuss things.

We will see how it comes out. I am actually going to type it up tonight. I never thought it would be so hard to put together a 15 minute message which, in the end, offers salvation to the audience. It seems a bit trite to me. I will do my best to break out of the traditional mold of preaching, regardless of the consequences from my "graders." I really want to try to forget these folks who are critiquing my preaching and simply focus on the hypothetical audience. It may be one of the most important messages I ever struggle with.

Father, I ask for your clarity of thought, your wisdom of words, and your power of communication. I pray that they will above all sense you speaking through me rather than me fumbling over my own words.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

slipping through the fingers

Tonight I hung out with a bunch of old Crosspoint friends. We had all worked together at camp in one way or another and were all either Directors or Assistant Directors of a team. We all sat around a living room and just talked. That's it. Talked. No movie, no entertainment, no game....just each other's company. It was such a good time. I haven't laughed that much in a long time. We traded old war stories about camp, picked on each other and laughed with each other. It was rest and restoration all at once.

During my first year directing, my cheerleading coach was a girl named Jill. She is an extremely cute girl. My second year directing camp she became my assistant director. We worked very closely all summer and developed a mutual attraction for each other. The problem was that she had a boyfriend that summer. She and her boy friend, Tom, met the previous summer on my team. I was their director and saw their relationship develop that summer. He was my videographer the summer that Jill was my cheerleading coach. But this summer, their relationship was on the rocks. They struggled all summer. It seemed that the more they struggled, the closer Jill and I got. Or maybe it was vice versa. I don't know?

Bottom line is that at the end of the summer we sort of admitted to each other our mutual admiration and attraction to each other. We confessed it in order to put it aside. I didn't want to hurt my friend and Jill didn't want to hurt her boyfriend. Tom is a great guy and I cared about him too. So we ended the summer appropriately. We didn't act on our desires. We didn't spend inappropriate time together. On the surface we were professionals, inside we were fighting like crazy against the temptations that came daily.

So I just saw Jill again tonight. She had driven in from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to visit Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. She is going there in the fall and will be getting her masters in marriage and family counseling. The struggle is an obvious one. The attraction is still there. Its not just physical either. She is an amazing girl with a deep spiritual maturity. She loves kids and is passionate about serving God. Her personality is awesome and she is so fun to be around.

So what does one do with this? Our life paths have crossed once again, but once again we are moving in different directions. She is headed to seminary I am graduating from it. She is headed to Texas I am leaving it. To pursue her doesn't make sense. And yet she has much of what I am looking for in a wife. What do I do with this? Yet again I feel as though I have to let this opportunity pass through my hands. I don't think it would be possible to sustain that kind of relationship long distance. I don't think I am capable of doing that. I am not even sure she is still interested in me anyway.

It is as if I am out fishing and out of nowhere I catch a huge fish. And in all likelihood the fish wants to be caught. But the sign says "Catch and Release." And so the I must be gentle and place the fish back in the water. I care about the fish and so I let it go. I do this knowing full well that the fish will be caught someday by another, and when they catch it, they won't put it back in the water. And the fish won't want to go back either.

It is kind of a depressing place to be. But I am reminded that I do not operate out of desperation or out of neediness. I operate out of obedience and submission. And because of this, I let go of my own desires, and try my best to submit to desires that are greater than me. I wish I could say that obedience to Christ brings some wonderful satisfaction or some heavenly peace. It doesn't. At least not initially. It sucks. It sucks because the cross came before the resurrection. Death comes before life. Less of me must precede more of Him. So I submit not because it "feels right" but because I trust. I trust, somewhat blindly and naively, that God has a plan for me and that He will reveal that plan in His time.

Father, your ways are better than my ways, ...your thoughts higher than my thoughts,....your plans wiser than my plans. I trust you, help my distrust. I believe, help my unbelief.

Friday, March 05, 2004

greatest in the kingdom

Well, this afternoon I am headed down to college station to do a retreat. I have done this same retreat for the last two years. It is with little sixth grade boys. We talk about growing up, adolescence and puberty. A doctor comes in for one of the sessions and talks about what happens biologically to boys when they go through puberty. Its hilarious because they ask the funniest and most innocent questions about their own anatomy. We also discuss the female anatomy, of which they know nothing about.

Regardless of all the seminary education I have been through, I still love hanging out with these kids for a weekend. I have done college retreats and youth retreats. And they are fun too. I can discuss deeper issues of the faith with the older crowd. And yet, with these guys, its so simple. Ministry is so simple. Play with them, laugh with them, love them. That's it. I don't have to have all the answers. I don't even have to have profound questions. I simply have to share with them how much God loves them and then show them this truth through my own love for them.

This retreat has been a great reminder for me every year. I am reminded that the better I am at loving people, the better I am at ministry. I am reminded that laughter is healing and that playing has its own rewards. I am reminded that what I take for granted (puberty, simple questions about girls, and common scripture passages) was once new, exciting, dangerous and confusing. It reminds me of what I was like 12 years ago and it gives me hope for how I might grow in the next 12 years.

Father, I thank you for kids. I thank you for how they see the world and how they see life. I pray that I will learn from them this weekend as they learn from you.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

blind sight

A thought hit me today right after I got done with my workout. Its funny how revelations can come to you when you are least expecting them. The thought was this: Isn't it funny how its our own sight that blinds us sometimes?

Its kinda like when I see a beautiful girl. She is beautiful physically. This may attract me to her. But this attraction can blind me to her emotional and spiritual disfunction. It is my sight which blinds me. The same could be true for a girl that is not as appealing physically. Her emotional maturity, mental sharpness and spiritual faithfulness may all be overwhelmingly obvious. And yet I may not be able to "see" these things because of my own eyes. I am blinded to her worth because of my sight.

The same could be true when I see a bum on the side of the road. I can't see that he is nearer to the Kingdom than the mug I look at in the mirror every morning. He is nearer to the Kingdom of God because his physical poverty is closer to the truth of God's Kingdom than my wealth. His broken spirit is closer to the Kingdom reality than my self-reliance. His desparation is a better picture of the Kingdom of God than my comfortable middle-class life. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. This is what the Gospel of Luke tells me, but I can't see this. I am blinded by what I can see. I can only see their schizophrenic babbling and their dirty, torn clothes. My own eyes have blinded my vision.

Father, give me eyes to see your reign and your Kingdom all around me.

a day of great news

What a difference a day makes. Lots of good news today so allow me to share.

First, I got a phone call from the pastor I will be working with at Horizon. Good news. The conversation we had yesterday was a bit of a miscommunication. It turns out that Horizon Church has me budgeted into their budget this year and regardless of whether I get funding from the Baptist Convention of Maryland I will be paid full-time in June. Awesome!

Second, I got up an hour before a big mid-term today which I hadn't studied for. I put in a good hour of study and headed off to class. The two essay questions that I knew the best where the two that I got to answer on the exam. Bottom line, I think I did well even though I didn't have much time to study.

Third, I found out today that a project that was due on Monday got pushed back. I have to lead a retreat this weekend and had virtually no time to work on it. But because of my trusty friend Lizzie, we got it pushed back. She has a job interview that Monday and won't be able to make it to class. She is my partner on the project so naturally Dr. Tucker allowed us to do it on a later date. Woo hoo!! Thanks for that one Lizzie! I owe you.

Fourth, I have a book to finish and a book review due on it by tomorrow. Likewise, I have to read 50 pages of another book for that same class and make a presentation on them. The good news is that now I don't have to spend time working on that project for next Monday and I am ten pages away from finishing the book. I should have the book review done by tonight and maybe even start on the class presentation.

Fifth, I got a packet in the mail inviting me to be a part of the church planters assessment in March (spring break). This is good because I had already bought the plane ticket to Maryland. With the help of Jason and Chad, my trusty partners in crime, I crafted an email to Kevin (the head of the church planting in Maryland) explaining where I agree and disagree with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. My hope is that this email will allow me go to assessment, regardless of whether they fund me or not.

Indeed, it was a day full of good news. Yesterday I had a bunch of friends, two different classes, a couple professors, and my family all praying for me. Thanks guys. I don't want this to sound trite, but God is good and He does hear our prayers. I still have a lot of work ahead of me. I have pages of church planting application stuff that I have to have finished and mailed in before spring break. I have all of the afore mentioned work due tomorrow. And I have a retreat that I have yet to prepare for this weekend. Even still. It was a day of good news.

Father, I thank you for times of uncertainty which remind me of my trust in you. I thank you as well for your faithfulness in answering our cries for help.

tithing like a fat boy

I just had a thought and needed to get it down. What if "tithing" was meant for the world and not the church? Typically we think of giving a tenth of our income to pay for the "upkeep" of the church. But what if the church gave what they could. Some may be able to give only 5% others 40%. But in the end, similar to Acts 2 and 4, the income was given to those in need. Not just those in need within the body of Christ but also those outside of the community. Imagine the impact that the Church would have on a broken world. Imagine what that kind of giving would do to transform the housing projects, the poor families, the homeless teenagers. Instead of sacrificial giving being for the Church, it becomes for the world. Finances change from being a way for the church body to "maintain" to being a way for the church body to "transform" the community around them.

For this to happen a few things within the church would need to change. Buildings wouldn't be built. People would meet in homes and apartments and maybe rent out a public space once a week on Sundays. Middle class folks would have to give well over the usual 10% tithe. The mindset would have to change from "what do I have to give" into "what should I keep." Finally, pastors and other leaders would not get paid to do their "job." Everyone would work in the "secular" world and likewise everyone would have to take on pastoral responsibilities of various forms. At most, pastors would be part-time employees of the church. Then with the pot of income that develops, the money would be used transform society.

Ahh, yes, an idealistic seminary student strikes again!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

four powerful statements today

I heard 4 powerful statements today that may profoundly affect my present and my future. Here is what they were:

I was in Common Grounds this morning doing homework when the pastor that I will be working with in June calls me. We do some small talk and then he begins to share with me the financial difficulties of the church. Bottom line, he told me that if I didn't get funding from the Baptist Convention of Maryland as a church planter then they wouldn't be able to hire me on as a pastor. Statement #1 went something like this, "Mark, I just want you to be prepared for the worse case cynario. We may not be able to afford to hire you in June." Wow! So at this point I am trusting that all will go well with church planters assessment in March and that I will get the funding from the Convention.

Then, literally, a few minutes later Kevin Marsico (the guy in charge of church planting in Maryland for the Baptist Convention) gives me a call. Again there is some small talk which is followed by him explaining the next steps in the process. He mentioned that the review board went over my application and they noticed that I didn't say that I would sign the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM). What I put on my application was that I agreed with most of it but that I hadn't read it in a while. He informs me that, Statement #2 "This year we are requiring that all of our new church planters be willing to sign the Baptist Faith and Message 2000." My heart sinks. I believe that women are not limited by scripture to serve in any position of the church. The BFM states in section VI that only men can serve as pastors. Since I disagree with this, I cannot sign this document.

So with the first two statements of the day, I was hit pretty hard. I went from thinking I would have a full-time paid ministry position with benefits to having no pay and no position in a matter of minutes. Right now it looks like I will be working full-time at Starbucks until we can figure something out with funding. Then came the next two powerful statements of my day.

I shared all of this with my Texts and Communications class of which Dr. Gloer is the professor. We always share prayer concerns at the beginning of class and pray for one another. Only this time, Dr. Gloer said something that brought tears to my eyes: Statement #3, "Today LETS ALL pray for Mark and the situation he is in." Usually one person prays for another. This time each and every person in the class prayed for me. It was a touching and powerful moment. I truly felt loved by my Christian brothers and sisters. My heart and my eyes began to well up.

Then as they were praying for me around the room the final powerful statement of my day hit home. It was simple and true. It was more powerful than the first two statements combined. The last person to pray for me was Chad. My friend, my accountability partner, my brother. It was the simplicity and truth of his first prayerful sentence that impacted me. He said Statement #4, "God, I thank you for my friend." That was the phrase that truly sunk in. Every other person in the room prayed from a place of being sympathetic to my situation. Chad prayed from the place of a close three year friendship. The power of the phrase was not in the eloquence of the words but in the reality of a deep friendship. I knew he meant it from the depths of his heart. And regardless of the situation I was in, my present circumstances or whatever struggle I had asked them to pray for, that phrase broke through all of the passing circumstances and into the reality of our relationship.

In a sense the first two statements deconstructed my security in the future. My ability to pay bills and to pay back loans has been (temporarily) torn apart. Yet, in the last two statements I found hope. There is hope in a praying community. There is hope when people are praying for you and lifting you up before the Father. There is hope in friendship. There is joy in the relationships that we have and in the people that know us. There is hope when our lives are reliant on Christ and not on the world. In these last two statements I am reminded that God is sovereign and that he will take care of me. His care doesn't mean that I won't have to deal with the crap in life when it comes. It simply means that I can be in the midst of a large pile of crap and have a warmth in my heart and a peace in my mind.

I am reminded even now of when I was first called into minstry. I was nervous about going into full-time ministry because I didn't think I would be able to be the provider for my family. Then, as I was praying to God about it, He reminded me, "Mark, I am your provider. I will be the provider for your family, not you." What was true then is still true today and will be true tomorrow.

Father, I thank you for my friends. I thank you that I can trust my future into your hands. I thank you that future insecurity only draws me nearer to you. I wait expectantly for your provision and guidance in all of this.

Monday, March 01, 2004

on passion

And I saw The Passion of the Christ. I loved it. I think Mel Gibson did a great job retelling the story. I loved the flashbacks. The incessant whipping while Jesus was carrying his cross was a bit "unrealistic" but other than that, it was great. I could pick up themes of catholic theology but nothing so overt that the average church goer would have picked up. I have never been to a movie, especially one where I knew the whole story and ending before I entered the movie theater, which effected me so much physically.

There was one scene that I wanted to end more than any other movie scene I have ever experience. Each blow received by Christ was mimicked in my own body with jolts and tightening of muscles. It wasn't the movie that moved me emotionally, however, it was my own relationship with Christ which brought tears to my eyes. From the first second of the movie, I felt like I knew the main character. We had been friends for years. We had talked and laughed and cried together. The movie simply reminded me of his last 12 hours before his resurrection. What I know of Jesus personally is only post-resurrection. Everything else about his life I have had to read about from four different accounts. This movie helped me see what my imagination couldn't grasp in the reading. It helped me to feel what had grown numb in my own heart.

It served the role of a wedding video. Only much more graphic, violent and powerful. But as a marriage goes on, two people grow closer together. Though they get more "comfortable" with each other and actually know each other better over the years, some of the "passion" can be forgotten. Some of the honeymoon feelings and wedding butterflies can seem a lifetime away. But a wedding video has a way of reminding the couple of that "passion." Though they have stories in their mind and pictures in the albums, a video has a unique way of bringing the couple back to the beginning like no other form of media.

Likewise, this movie was made for believers. I don't really think it can be understood, appreciated, or truly felt by someone who doesn't know, not only the stories, but also the intimacy of Christ. It was, in a sense, the wedding video for the bride of Christ. It reminded me, and the rest of the believers who have seen it, of the lengths our Savior went through to show his love for us. And by seeing, quite possibly for the first time, his passion for us, our own passion for him is renewed.

Some were hyping up this movie as "life changing." Its not. Jesus' relationship with me is life changing. I might call the movie "scripture changing," because I am sure my mental picture of scripture has been changed forever. Will I ever read the gospels the same again? Probably not. But the reality of Christ in my life is not just dependent on the "past" action of God in the world, but on His "present" action in my own life.

I was moved physically because of the masterful work of Mel Gibson, but I was moved emotionally because of the real, live relationship I have with Jesus himself. It is his present outpouring of grace in my life that made me tear up in the Mary Magdalene flashback. It is his present voice in my prayer life that made me tear up when he said, "No servant is greater than his Master." It is his present willingness to love me today that caused me to shake my head in wonder at his words on the cross, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I imagine that it is good to watch wedding videos as an older couple. I am sure it is a moving and healthy reminder of the passion they once shared. But I am also sure that it is their present day relationship with each other that kindles the fire and sustains the marriage.

Father, thank you for your continual presence and action in my life today. Thank you that you are a God not just of salvation history, but also of the present and the future. Father, I pray that I will be moved not just by what you did for me, but also by what you are doing in me and what you will do with me.