Distractions and Worrying.

I’m a worrier.  I’m also easily distracted.  As such, it’s been a hard week.  I think I have a new job lined up.  Which is a good thing.  However, it will be a few weeks before I start so I have a lot of free time.  Time to worry.  I wonder if the new job will actually work out.  I hope it does because I hate looking for work.  I also have time to worry about what I should be doing.  Or what I want to do.  School?  Move?  I just don’t don’t know.

On top of that, and more worrisome, one of my dogs has been sick this week.  I know it’s a silly thing, but it’s all I can think about.  I have an unhealthy fear of loving then losing.  So, for the last few days I’ve been frantic on the inside with  fear and worry.  I can’t concentrate on anything.  It drives me to distraction.  Makes me grouchy.  Moody.  Tired.  

I think faith is a funny thing.  In a way it’s unpredictable or unreliable.  I know that it is not, but rather it’s us.  I believe that we lost more in the Garden of Eden than we could ever imagine.  Adam and Eve were perfect.  At the junction where their souls and flesh intertwined there was no disruption.  They were perfectly blended.  Their physical bodies didn’t betray their spiritual selves.  Body and spirit worked together in harmony.  Obviously they still had the capacity to be tempted but until they sinned their default mode was physical and spiritual perfection.

The curse of their legacy to us is that the perfect union between body and soul was cast down.  Faith seems to be unreliable because I am unreliable.  Has anyone else noticed this?  On Monday “X” could happen to me and I’m able to take it in stride.  To master it spiritually.  To be in control.  To be able to say all the right things, do all the right things, believe all the right things.  It’s very comforting.

Next day the same exact “X” could happen again.  But I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  I don’t feel good.  I’m feeling blue.  Sometimes for no discernible reason.  It’s a mystery.  However, for whatever reason, on this day “X” owns me.  The verses which soothed me yesterday now seem distant.  Improbable.  In fact my struggle with “X” whether it’s a temptation, an anxiety, an emotion or a disruption in a relationship seems to block out everything I know to be true.  It’s very uncomforting.

Isn’t it strange how there are days we can handle everything in just the right way, like Jesus, and then there are days where it appears nothing “spiritual” is working?  While Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect harmony between their flesh selves and spirit selves I sometimes feel as those realities within me are in a constant state of war.  My default mode is much more tense than I believe their’s was.  At least until they sinned. 

I love John.  He was related to Jesus.  Knew Jesus.  Proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God.  Baptized Jesus.  Got out of the way for Jesus.  Heard God say, “This is my beloved Son.”  And when times got hard for him he wondered if he had got it all wrong.  He had one of those days.  Like I have from time to time.

I love Jesus more.  Because he loved John without condemnation.  Jesus recognized that some days we conquer dragons, and other days simply getting out of bed requires the same courage.  He wasn’t offended by John’s doubts.    In a way I can’t express adequately I think Jesus saw the doubts as faith itself. 

So, as I say, it’s been a hard week.  I’m worried sick about my dog and anxious about my future.  My faith this week is not measured by doing and believing great things for God.  It’s measured by getting out of bed and thinking about God from time to time.  I know that sounds awful, but it’s true.

When I pray this week I pray the words of a song Rich Mullins wrote, “Lord save me from contempt for the things which make me strong.”  I like that.

Have a blessed day.

Tuesday

Amy and I just finished watching Dancing with the Stars.  I confess – I’ve never seen it before.  The internet is ruining my ability to watch TV.  I hate commercials, but not as much as I hate being manipulated to wait for what I want to see after the break “when we return.”  They don’t mean it.  It will be the very last item on the broadcast.  Local news is the absolute worst.  I refuse to watch it anymore.  I can see what I want – read what I want – when I want to  – on the internet.  As dumb as the purveyors of infotainment think we are it’s ironic they can’t for the life of them understand why viewership is collapsing all around them.  It’s a revolution.

Anyway, I said all that to say I watched the entire episode of Dancing with the Stars to see Wayne Newton dance.  Don’t ask.  Poor thing (Wayne, not craig).  I think I’m going to keep watching because I think it’s likely will get to see ol’ Wayne drop dead on live TV.  My dream job is to be a lounge lizard so I hope to pick up some pointers from watching him work his act – and then apply for his career when the inevitable happens.  Apparently he fears for his life.  It must be that mob thing from a few years ago.  While he was practicing his dance moves and then during the actual performance tonight it looked like he was wearing a heavy duty bullet-proof vest.  Under his skin.

Danke Schoen

The Audience. The Preacher. The Message. The Result.

I noticed today that someone entered “Dr. Craig Hicks emergency surgeon” in their search engine.  They ended up at my place.  I hope they’re not dead.

On Sundays Memorial Drive has a large adult Bible class named “The Connections Class.”  This quarter I’m co-teaching with a team of fine gentleman.  Our assignment is the book of Acts.  I think the best Bible study anyone can do for themselves is to simply read the text.  As such we’ve challenged the class to read the book of Acts once a week for the duration of the quarter.  I’m already getting some positive feedback on the results of that request and I’m excited to see what God will do with a room full of adults who are consistently in the Word.

Yesterday I taught Acts two.  My life is so boring it is difficult for me to string together a bunch of amusing anecdotes and funny stories with spiritual applications.  Consequently, I’m dependent on the text to fill the time.  In a way I’m glad because I’m always learning new things.  The following is the outline I made in order to present Acts two.

I.  The Audience.

A.  Devout (v5).  It’s possible to be devout and to be devoutly wrong at the same time. Peter is about to introduce some concepts that will challenge their ability/willingness to change in order to be right with the will of God.  To obey is better than sacrifice.

B.  From every nation under heaven (v5).

1.  Parthians. 2. Medes.  3.  Elamites.  4.  Mesopotamia.  5.  Judea.  6.  Cappadocia.  7.  Pontus.  8.  Asia.  9.  Phrygia.  10.  Pamphylia.  11.  Egypt.  12.  Districts of Libya around Cyrene.  13.  Visitors from Rome.  14.  Jews.  15.  Proselytes.  16.  Cretans.  17.  Arabs.  I looked up a little background on each of these places and suffice it to say it was quite a cultural mix.  Customs, languages, histories, world views, ethnicticity, etc.  What does this do for cultural relativism?  One sermon  with the same content was preached to this diverse group.  They were not divided into their nationalities and given a custom made sermon.  All of them were expected to believe and practice the identical theology.  Their customs and cultures were not meant to give the message meaning and application to the message.  The message, the thing to be believed, was intended to give them meaning.  Their ideas, customs, practices, opinions didn’t define Peter’s words.  His words defined who they were supposed to be irrelevant of their cultures.  Give the Holy Spirit His due.  He’s pretty smart.  Almost as if He knew our thinking might be, “Yeah, that was then this is now.” He said, The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”  (v39)  Somehow I think that includes us.

C.  Conclusions.

1.  Audience was culturally diverse.  2.  One sermon=Same content – Why?

II.  The Preacher.  His manner of delivery and what it reveals about the truth.  Or at least what he thought of the truth.

A.  Manner of Delivery.

1. Taking his stand (v14).  2.  Raised his voice (v14).  3.  Declared to them (v14).  4.  He solemnly testified (v40).  Kept on exhorting them (v40).

B.  His Conviction.

1.  Give heed to my words (v14).  2.  Listen to these words (v22).  3.  I may confidently say to you (v29).  4.  Let all the house of Israel know for certain (v36).  5.  Be saved from this perverse generation (v40).

C.  What does it reveal?

1.  The message was something which could be stood on.  2.  It was declarable not debateable.  3.  It could be defended.  4.  It was divisive.  5.  It drew a line in the sand.  6.  It was urgent.  7.  It offered a way for a “perverted” generation to become un-perverted.

The change in Peter is amazing.  Bold.  Confident.  Cool.  Commanding.  I love the way the text says, “taking his stand.”  It’s almost military-ish.  Here he becomes the hero of all counter cultural revolutionaries.  He’s pushing back, for the sake of Jesus, and going toe to toe with the devil.  There is no hesitation on his part.  No holding back.  No compromising.  No effort to make his message less daring or brazen.  He gives no quarter to the enemy.  Goodness gracious – he called them perverts.  How’s that terminology for reaching the “un-churched?”  On the other hand, most of the people who were listening to him were “churched” to the extreme.  Yet Peter doesn’t let them believe for a second their religiousness or devoutness or spiritual background allows them to share the stage with Jesus Christ.  Their religious heritage must completely yield to the Christ for them to be in God’s good graces.  They will have to be the ones who change – not Peter – not the unfolding Revelation – not Jesus.  The Transcendant God has once again inserted Himself into the space/time dimension of man to appraise them of what they need to do in order to be right with Him.  If they want to be right with Him.  3000 of them wanted to on that day.  I bet they were grateful for Peter’s clear direction and honest communication.  I am too.

Well, this will turn into another long post so I’ll cut it off here and finish the last two points tomorrow.  I didn’t finish on Sunday morning either.

Have a blessed day.

Sunday

It’s been a quiet weekend.  Amy is out of town.  Her mother is going to have surgery Monday morning so she won’t be back until sometime Tuesday.  I spent most of Saturday working on my Bible class lesson for today.  By the way, Amy’s birthday was on Friday and she liked the gifts I got for her which is an enormous relief.  Not long after we got married I got her a vacuum cleaner for her birthday.  It was a nice one.  She hated it.   She couldn’t even pretend well enough to fool me.  She didn’t even try.  Lesson learned.  Amy doesn’t want anything that can be plugged in for her birthday.  As far as I’m concerned this greatly reduces the pool of great gifts which exist.  I love to get stuff that has to be plugged in. 

 Today was my turn to teach.  My text was Acts 2.  Tomorrow I’ll try to post the outline I made with some thoughts added.  I had a lot of fun teaching today.  There aren’t many differences I’ve discovered yet between an adult class and a teen class.  Adults have just perfected what I call the “stare.”  It’s the look you get when you ask a question.  Any question.  

Who was the first president of the United States?  “Stare.” 

Who was the Son of God?  Hint, His name begins with J?  “Stare.”

Okay, what is YOUR name?  Audience’s self-talk = “Obviously he didn’t prepare anything so he’s trying to kill time.”  “Stare.”

Of course the “stare” is better than the “glare.”  The glare is when the person is communicating they know the answer but they prefer to see you die in public.  They won’t answer for all the tea in china. 

 I’ll take the stare or the glare any time over the few who consistently answer, but never the question which was asked.  While they’re blabbering on I’m thinking, “I have no idea what they are saying.  It has nothing to do with the question, the text or the theme of the class so how am I going to pull out of this without offending them?”  For some strange reason though, the people who make these sorts of comments seem to be completely immune to being offended.  They are not merely in their own world, they inhabit a completely different universe from the rest of us.  They do entertain the starers and the glarers though.  You can tell by the looks on their faces they just can’t wait to see how you’re going to pull out of this one.

And everybody wonders why a “discussion” class has become a series of Sunday morning lectures. 

The most bizarre response for me?  I was teaching on an Indian reservation in New Mexico and asked a question.  A man on the front row proceeded to pluck a nose hair and offer it to me.  In full view of everybody.  I assure you – it had nothing to do with the text, or the question.  I had never been on an Indian reservation before.  I had no earthly idea what this “token” meant.  I would rather have been scalped than to accept another man’s nostril hair.  Indian or not.  I can’t remember exactly how I got out of that one, but the starers and glarers were in heaven.

I hope your Sunday with your brothers and sisters was as blessed as mine.

 P.S.  In Tulsa we have a great used book store called Gardner’s Used Books.  I went their yesterday and bought two great books.  If the books we read reveal something of our personality my choices send a confusing message.  To myself.  One of the books I purchased is called Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  It’s a classic.  Lots of history.  Colorfully written.  The kind of information which can add insight to a sermon or lesson.  It’s about the fall of Rome and how Christianity affected the Empire.  It’s the kind of book which makes a person feel smart just by owning.

My second purchase.  King of the Night:  The Life of Johnny Carson.  It’s the one I’m reading first.

The John Dobbs Experiment

Pray for John.  He has agreed to have his head surgically removed for scientific purposes.  Rather, we should pray more for his wife.  It is going to be a challenge for her to lug her husband’s head around so that he can keep his ministerial appointments.

Seriously, John called me today to talk about my last post, Consumer Christians.  We may not be the brightest bulbs in the room but together we manage to produce a few watts of bright ideas.  This is one of those ideas.

John is going to come up with a list of four or five people from the church he preaches for.  At some point, this week or next week, they will meet over dinner or coffee.  Instead of harping from the pulpit on our need to be counter cultural revolutionaries he is going to appeal ,face to face, for these few brothers and sisters to join his experiment.  His mission.  He is going to ask them to help him turn the tide – to create a congregation of gimme, gimme’s to one where the prevelant mood is, “What can I do today for a specific brother or sister.

The five participants will be charged with the mission of hitting the church doors on a chosen Sunday with the intention of purposefully saying something positive and encouraging to the one they have chosen.  It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I’m glad we go to church together.  I like you.  You make me excited to be here every time we meet for services.”

At some point after  Sunday the group will meet again to talk about their experience and what it did.  They will do this for four Sundays in a row choosing new people every week while reaffirming to the others they have encouraged that they are still thrilled to get to worship with them week after week.

Meanwhile, John can keep those of us who are interested in the results informed via his blog.  The goal is simple.  It is a token of our resistance to the cultural drift of meism.  It is our way of fighting back.  Rebelling.  It is our way of preparing our people for works of service.  It is our way of demonstrating to God that we do not believe the worship experience should be defined as meaningful only when we get our way.  It is our way of equipping rebels to hit the church doors heaven-bent on being an active blessing in someone’s life.  It is our way of being crucified.  It is our way of singing Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.  That is where true kingdom J.O.Y. is found.  It is our way of shifting the greedy spotlight off of ourselves and directing that light on someone else.  It is our defiant battle-cry that we seek, above all else, to walk in the steps of Jesus.  It is our way of saying sermons, songs and formats do not for us make worship.  We say, boring sermon, uninspired music and the same old format – Who cares?  As long as we get to serve somebody else we will be just fine thank you very much.

I can’t wait to see what happens in Mississippi.  I want John and his group to know that Craig and Amy will be with them every step of the way.  The two of us vow to do at Memorial Drive, in Tulsa, what you will be doing there.  It’s going to be exciting to compare notes.

John, did I get all that down right?  And please, keep your head – attached.

love ya,

craig

Consumer Christianity

It’s nothing less than stunning.  Can you imagine God filing for divorce?  Why would He take His loved one to court?  God used the problematic marriage between Hosea and Gomer to make His case.  Sadly, the prophet’s wife has been less than true to her marriage vows.  Their marriage was on the rocks as a consequence.  Sadly, Israel has been less than true to her marriage vows.  Like Hosea and Gomer her marriage has now entered the danger zone.  How did things go so awry?

God is never One to mince words.  He clearly set forth his case in the fourth chapter of Hosea.  He levels three charges against His beloved.  She is not faithful.  She is not kind.  She no longer knows her husband.  On the last charge God’s actual words reveal a shocking truth.  There is “no knowledge of God in the land.”

“No knowledge of God in the land?”  How could this be?  Of all nations on the face of the earth God had taken great pains to reveal Himself to the Hebrews.  The patriarchs, Moses, the miracles, the Commandments, the tabernacle, the temple and the priesthood were clear evidence that the Lord wanted to be known.  So in spite of every effort on God’s part how had His people reached a point where they no longer knew Him?  The answer is a searing, scalding indictment against the spiritual leaders of Israel.

In the courtroom the Lord shifts His gaze to the priesthood and He says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  BECAUSE you (the priesthood) have rejected knowledge.”  Ouch!  “Reject” is a stong word implying intention.

He continues, “Since you (the priesthood) have FORGOTTEN the Law of your God, I will also forget YOUR children.”

 He’s not done, “They (the priesthood) feed on the sin of my people AND direct their desire towards iniquity.  And it will be, like people, like priest.”

Could anything worse be said against the people charged with the spiritual welfare of God’s children?  It’s awful.  The spiritual leaders of the day had rejected the Revelation of God,  they themselves had forgotten who God was, they actually encouraged people to sin, and in the end the priesthood grossly reflected the populace, and the populace reflected the shame of the priesthood.  Like people, like priest couldn’t be a more damming statement. 

I can imagine the talk on the streets when news of what was taking place in the Court House began to filter out.  If I had been there I would have burst into the courtroom and thrown myself on the mercies of the Lord.  I would also distance myself as far as I could from the priesthood, and be more than willing to sell them down the river.  I would look at God, while shedding crocodile tears, and lay every problem and sin I had directly on the doorstep of the priesthood. 

I would let God know, in mounful tones, that my lack of spirituality was the result of the fluffy, superficial sermons I was forced to endure (against my will) week after week.  I would tell God that my children no longer believed in Him. or went to services because our local priest was ineffectual.  “Lord, my kids were bored right out of a relationship with you.  It’s those darn, infernal priests who have ruined my families faith in You.”

Under the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant I just might have had a credible defense.  The priesthood WAS responsible for making God known to the people of Israel.  However, if I were to offer that same defense today I would be thrown out of the courtroom for not having a valid case.  The terms and the conditions of the New Covenant are far different from what preceded it.  We are all priests.

Our current culture is breeding a generation of Christians who are spiritual consumers.  We take our remote controls to church with us.  We believe the ads which make each one of us demi-gods whose personal needs and wants outrank everyone elses.  We go to church with a predisposition that we go to be served – To be catered to – To be wined and dined – That the Bible classes and sermon should provide the meat me and mine require – That the song service should include those songs which move my heart – That I can sit in a pew and expect people to come to me and get in a huff when no one says “hi” to me – That I am the center of attention.  Like the cows of Bashan Amos speaks of we lay on beds of ivory and scream to our husbands, “Bring now that I may drink.”  It’s all about what I want, when I want it and however I want it.

The priesthood of old proved to be a failure in protecting the spiritual integrity of the lambs of God.  Like people, like priest.  When the priesthood went bad so did the entire nation.  Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ there is a marvelous fail-safe.  You are now your own priest.  You and Jesus can work out your salvation, together, with fear and trembling.

If you’ve read my blog you know I am no longer in paid ministry.  In fact, I’m not getting paid to do anything right now.  The things I say here are said as a civilian.  With love.  If you are not the person you want to be in Jesus Christ it has nothing to do with your preacher.  If your kids are not faithful, or on the fringe it has little to do with the youth minister.  If these things are true it is because you have, or are in the process of abdicating your God assigned responsibility to be your own priest.

Under New Covenant terms no one will be permitted to stand before the Judge and blame the woebegone spiritual mess of their lives and families on an eldership, a preacher, a family minister, a youth minister, a worship minister or a missionary.  We will all have to look the judge in the eye and give an account for our own personal actions or inactions as a priest.  It’s true – elders and ministers should be a blessing to us as we officiate our priestly duties in our own lives and in the lives of our loved ones.  However, if they are faithless, shallow, misleading, aloof, boring and otherwise unhelpful it will still be you and me who will be called to give a personal account for the condition of our hearts. 

Consumerism is an insidious beast now assaulting our perception of spiritual responsiblity.  It undermines unity.   It casts blame.   It diminishes stewardship.  It dilutes ministry.  It destroys ministers.  It breeds pride.  It births selfishness. 

Some of us are in danger of allowing the culture of “me” to turn us into carnivourus beasts who sit at a table devouring whatever’s in sight irregardless of other’s desires, and complaining when what we want is not on the table.

As hard as it is to hear, I truly believe that if we blame others for our own shallowness, or for the fact our kids are not faithful  the High Priest will rightly dump all of our complaints right on top of our own heads.  If we are shallow it may be because we are consumer Christians.  We want someone else to do the hard stuff, and then feed us what we think we need.  If our kids are faithless it may be because we are consumer Christians.  We simply “drop them off” and expect someone we may, or may not be paying to do the very thing God demands of us.

If Jesus went to church today He’d hit the doors looking for someone to bless.  He is not a consumer.  If the song service didn’t float his boat he would look for faces in the crowd which were obviously moved by the music and rejoice with them.  He is not a consumer.  If the sermon wasn’t his style or profound enough for him his thoughts would be on those for whom the sermon was perfect.  Anyway, he studies at home.  He is not a consumer.  If he had children he would walk every step of the spiritual journey with them.  His relationship to his kids and his involvement with his congregation’s youth ministry would only be an extension of what he was already doing with them at home.  He is not a consumer.  He was the captain of his spiritual journey.  As each one of us should be.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”  Are you?

How one man overcame the occupational hazards of ministry and thus proved to be a man like Jesus.

Every career, job and position comes with its own unique set of hazards.  Occupational hazards.  Ministry is no different.  By its nature ministry attracts people who have been blessed with what I call public ministry gifts.  In some ways it requires the same skill set you might find in a political leader, or even a professional entertainer.  Not to be funny or trite, but I think some of our ministers would have made outstanding politicians, and others would have been fabulously successful comedians etc.

Communication skills, attractive personality, a leadership aura , driven, ambitious and the ability to stand center stage without breaking into a sweat are all excellent gifts God can use.  On the other hand, these very same gifts can become  hazardous to the one so gifted.  If they do become hazardous  bad news for many of the people in this person’s ministry usually follows.

Preachers are not exempt from feeling insecure.  They are not immune to jealousy.  There is not a pill to pop which dulls the angst brought on by the competitive surge they experience when they compare themselves to other ministers.  The gulf between who they know they should be like, Jesus, and the raging realities of their insecurities can seem insurmountable.

Unfortunately some of us are probably aware of situations where the occupational hazards of ministry and a particular minister’s inner battles with self erupted into the public arena of faith.  It’s never pretty.  I don’t want to talk about it.

I said all of the above because I want you to know one of the hero ministers we have Memorial.  His name is Bobby Smith.  He’s the youth minister.  My old job.

If you know me then you know I have a “loud” personality.  I talk loud.  I laugh loud.  I teach loud.  Although it’s been five years since I was employed at Memorial the nature of our ministry there, team ministry, and due to the energy and excitement of how God used that at the time people tend to remember me.  In the same way they remembered, and never let me forget, the youth minister who preceded me.

When Amy and I came back to Memorial I don’t know how that made Bobby feel.  I do know how I would have felt.  Weird.  Uncomfortable.  Insecure.  Possible jealous.  Probably threatened.  Bobby may have experienced those things.  He may even still be wrestling with all of that.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is how Bobby lives his faith in spite of how he may feel, or misgivings he might have.  By that token, his faith in the public arena is heroic.

A year and a half or so ago Bobby, Jason Thornton and I met for coffee.  The youth group was in transition.  A decision had been made to split the jr. high from the high school during Sunday morning and Wednesday night classes.  They needed a teacher for the jr. high.  Bobby asked me to be that teacher.  Contrary to expected human behavior and by silencing his doubts and fears with a physical, public act of faith Bobby revealed his true colors.  He is a man of God.  He is one of my heroes.

Bobby is a true Kingdom man.  It’s not about what he wants.  He isn’t allowing his inner battles to dictate the course of his ministry.  He is refusing to lord over a personal fiefdom hell bent on protecting his turf.  He is not afraid to let others shine.  He is not flinching in the face of possibly being “out-gifted” by me or anyone else in his domain.  In fact, because of his humility and confidence in Jesus his star rises higher and shines brighter.

I wonder how many people have had to go unblessed because a minister was afraid to let his co-workers shine?  I wonder how many people have gone untaught because the person God gifted to speak to a particular person was denied access because of jealousy?  I wonder how many lambs have sustained fatal wounds in the clash of public personalities?  How many others will needlessly be ignored or alienated by the raw pride of church leaders?

I know this for certain.  If more of our leaders were like Bobby Smith there would be a marked decline in spiritual fatalities.  Bobby knows it’s not about him.  It’s not about being the funniest.  It’s not about being the most profound.  It’s not about being popular.  It’s not about invites to lectureships.  It’s not about being a Christian celebrity.  It is about being like Jesus.  In Bobby’s ministry he has demonstrated to me, to his youth group, to the Memorial Drive family, to his co-workers and now to you that he is a true superstar when it comes to ministering like Jesus.  And many people will be blessed because of it.  Thanks Bobby.

Are you allowing your insecurites to determine the course and actions of your ministry?