Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Speaking on Parenting

This Sunday is the next step in our series on "Building the Church."  This week is "building the church by building our children."  Nothing scares me more than speaking on the family.  Allow me to explain.

The life of a pastor is one that can be challenging for the pastor himself.  It can be unbearable for his family if he's not careful.  For me, I can manage expectations others have for me.  Those expectations are some that I signed up for when I began to serve as a pastor.  But the expectations for my lovely bride and our son. . . . that's a different story.  I convinced Julie to marry me based on the presumption that I was going to be a professor, not a pastor.  She grew up in a pastor's home - she knew better than to marry a pastor!  Furthermore, our son Joshua didn't have a choice.  By virtue of being adopted into our home, he bears the burden of those expectations too.  People expect us to be perfect, having all the pieces in their proper place and knowing where those places are.  People expect us to never argue, never struggle with parenting, never have a recalcitrant child, never experience anger, never find ourselves at a loss, never experience natural and normal emotions or to find ourselves challenged by the ebb and flow of life.  I don't know who started these expectations - as unrealistic as they are - but they have remained and thus have a life all their own.  With that in mind, now back to where I started this post. . . .

Nothing scares me more than speaking on the family.  My parents did their best in bringing me along but choices were made that were different than a traditional family.  My mom and father divorced when I was only 4 (and I'm the oldest of three).  My mom and step-dad married shortly thereafter.  They divorced when I was a senior in college.  My ideas and understanding of family and parenting are, therefore, decidedly non-traditional.  I don't fault my parents for any of that - they did the best they could under their circumstances.  Simultaneously, I don't want that experience for my Joshua.  I want him to be stuck with me and his momma all the days of his life.  Getting there?  My guide will, as it always been, the Word of God.  Thus, I'll stand firmly there and offer counsel that only comes from there.

Pray for me and I'll look for you Sunday - I'll be the tall one.

Monday, July 06, 2015

I'm about people!

It's nearly time to get Julie a different vehicle so we spent yesterday to go car shopping.  We made four stops and the first three were awesome!  They welcomed us a showed us exactly what we asked for and more!  Gracious and welcoming, it was tremendous!  McRae Ford, Bacon Chevrolet, Toyota of Tyler - I can't say enough good things about how they treated us!

But then we made a fourth stop.  It was getting later in the day - I think around 2:30 or 3 PM.  From the time we set foot on their parking lot, I knew this was going to be different than it had been.  No one had asked us for any information up till now.  This guy wanted everything except my mother's maiden name.  Everyone else had started with showing us the vehicles we asked for.  This guy started with us in his cubicle.  Everyone else - that we didn't already know - called us "Mr and Mrs Wood".  This guy - well younger than us - called us by our first names (it seemed a bit familiar to me). Hmmmm.  Not off to a good start.

All we really wanted was a competitive price on a particular car.  It was clear he'd be instructed to sell us an older model of the same vehicle.  I asked once - twice - three times - for a price on the new version of it.  He kept running back and forth to the sales manager and bringing me information on the older one.  I was as gracious as I could've been in my requests.  The salesman seemed like he WANTED to meet my requests but was being led wrong by whoever he was seeing in the "sales office."  Finally, the fourth time he had to leave to get a question answered, I told Julie it was time to go.  An hour and a half of waiting for the little dance between me, the salesman and the sales manager that I hadn't seen.  We didn't have the information we came there to get but I had been through all I was going to take.  We got Joshua out of the toy room and left.  Wouldn't you know it?  Joshua left one of his favorite drinking cups behind.  When I returned to retrieve it, the salesman - now panic stricken that we had walked - came hot after me with the sales manager with him.  "Oh Mr Wood, why did you leave?  We were just getting the information you requested!"  Yeah right.  SURE you were.  With the kindness and the gentleness of the Savior, I told them they stink.  I was as clear to them as possible that we felt misled and unheard.  After 90 minutes, NOW they were ready to give us what we asked for after multiple requests.  Too late.  Our business is worth more than that.

It made me think - they think they're in the car business.  They seem to believe THAT'S what they do.  I would submit to you they are wrong - they're in the PEOPLE business.  Here's what I mean.  You might intimidate some into deals using methods like these, but only once.  As for us, I can assure you we've made our last trip to that dealership.  You can sell to those who have no other options or who are so ill informed that they don't know / understand that their business is worth more.  But when they figure it out, they'll do the same thing we did - walk.  Why?  Because when you're in the people business, you're not just interested is selling cars, but in providing transportation for the people who are coming to see you.

I understand they need to turn a profit.  I've got no problem with that.  Where the breakdown comes for me is when my business is taken for granted or as if I'm a bumpkin who doesn't know beans or when I'm treated like a knucklehead.  Nope - that's the kind of things you do when you're in the car business.  If you're in the people business, you never will.  Examples like McRae Ford and Bacon Chevrolet - they are in the people business.  It just so happens they sell cars.

It made me think about some churches I've known.  They think they're in the "church" business.  Wrong.  As a church, we exist for two purposes: glorify God and share the Gospel with people.  We are most definitely in the people business.  The sooner we recognize that, the stronger our direction will be.  Let's serve Christ by serving people.  There's really no other option.  After all, Christ came for people.  He died for people.  He was raised for people.  He sent the Holy Spirit for people.  He's coming back for people.  If that's Jesus' strategy, it had better be mine as well.  After all - I'm about people.

Monday, May 04, 2015

A response to a same-sex marriage question

Last week, I posted on Facebook about the Supreme Court entertaining the arguments related to same-sex marriage.  I got this response: 
"I really don't understand this argument. For years there have been things that are legal that Christians did not support. How is this different? I am not trying to be rude, I really don't get it. I do not see how something someone else does effects my Christianity. I do not understand why this one thing will bring about the downfall of the church. My father is a minister, and there are many people he turned down for performing a ceremony. It only becomes discrimination if you turn down only one sort of people. It is discrimination, by the very definition of the word. I don't want to be attacked, but I really would love an explanation that isn't built on the old testament. And frankly, I do not see how an argument from the New Testament could be better. The bible has much more to say about indebtedness but I do not see any arguments that talk against how that is bringing about the downfall. of Christianity and the Church. Should the only reason we give to charity or the church be to claim a tax deduction. I have never claimed any charitable giving. It seems to me that doing so changes the motives of giving. Why are we not worried about that. Please I truly want a good argument, I haven't heard one yet."

Hi - thanks for your question.  Please understand I’m not angry - just concerned about what this means for the future of the church locally, the church globally and, more selfishly, for my son and his generation.  Like you, I don’t intend to argue or “stir the pot” for the fun of it, nor am I sure I'll satisfy your desire for a "good" argument, but I'll try. 

I’m a shepherd - it’s what I’ve done since we were at DBU together 25 yrs ago.  I’ve never asked anyone to leave my church or my home because of their life choices.  Furthermore, my church uses the motto “welcome home” and we treat everyone who comes just like that - as family.  So no matter what decision is settled, it won’t change my calling or my love for people.  But it may change how much freedom I have to accomplish that and THAT is my issue. 

Let me also say I couldn’t care less about tax-exempt status, tax-deductible donation base or protecting my “clergy exemption taxable status.”  These issues are peripheral and not a cogent part of my thinking about this issue.  Giving ought to be motivated by the desire to join God in His purposes.  But I know many who are so motivated and churches who won’t exist without it.  

With that out of the way, I'll break my response into two pieces: Biblical and then Political / philsophical.  Finally, what am I, as a pastor and the leader of my church and as an individual planning to do here?  

FIRST, a Biblical response - Marriage is created and sanctified by God.  At your request, I’m leaving aside all Old Testament references.  Instead, I’ll just use Jesus’ words.  Jesus addresses marriage in Matthew 19:5.  There, Jesus speaks of marriage with a clear voice: It’s between a man and a woman.  No matter how you translate His words or in what language you read them, they come out the same every time.  Male and female pronouns.  If Jesus meant to make other accommodations, he certainly could’ve done so - quite easyly in fact.  Same-sex marriage was alive and well in first century Rome.  Rather, Jesus’ words are intended to bring clarity to the first social contract created by God.  
Jesus links his understanding inextricably to the one used in the Old Testament.  For clarity, here’s what that definition implies: 
(1) God created marriage.  The state of Texas didn’t.  Neither did the federal government.  If God created it, who are we to redefine it?  
(2) God ordained marriage - In his infinite wisdom, the marriage is where God began.  
(3) God intended marriage to be unique.  Marriage is a symbolic picture of the relationship between God and his people.  
(4) God intended marriage to be exclusive.  While that’s not always the case (due to death or divorce), it seems to be God’s plan.  
As for homosexuality itself, the Bible is equally clear.  In Romans 1, Paul calls it out clearly as a sin.  That’s not to say we should seek to discriminate against them - as you’ve rightly acknowledged, it’s not the only sin mentioned in Scripture.  That’s a point I make regularly to my congregation. In our rush to condemn one sin, let’s make sure we realize judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).  Indebtedness is just one among many.  Within the churches I’ve served, I’ve sought to help drunks, drug addicts, people addicted to pornography, people who have cheated on their spouse, cheated on their taxes, cheated others in business dealings, lied to their parents or significant others, engaged in theft and even been responsible for killing another person (both in abortion and otherwise).  
Here’s the key distinction between them and what’s happening now.  The difference is that NONE of these I just mentioned asked for me to redefine my understanding of their sin nor did they ask for special accommodation as a “discriminated” group.  They didn’t tell me I was wrong on my convictions.  Some told me they disagreed with the degree of my convictions.  But none of those other groups asked me to surrender my religious liberty so they could feel better about their choices.  

Second, a POLITICAL / PHILOSOPHICAL response: The issue of before the court is about same-sex marriage but in reality the issue is much MUCH larger than that.  This case is essentially about religious liberty and who gets to define that.  Here’s what I mean.  Those who are proposing same-sex marriage want to redefine two things: 
(a) Marriage itself.  As it stands, any one is free to marry anyone of opposite gender that they choose and thereby join the institution of marriage.  Instead, to approve same-sex marriage demands a redefinition of the term altogether.  If same-sex marriage is approved (and by the way I actually believe it will be), then what about the thousands of years of history (and please don’t invoke slavery here - that is as far removed from this discussion as possible) that have defined it as it always has been known.  What about the millions of Americans who find the concept offensive?  To allow same-sex marriage, the institution itself must be redefined and altered accordingly.  Thus, marriage can (and will) mean anything.  Group marriage will ultimately find it’s way to legality as well.  After all, if we’re redefining the term, why stop with same-sex?  

(b) The second thing to redefine is religious liberty - what do those words mean and who can decide what’s allowed and what isn’t?  Can my church decide what events we host and who can use our building or will we be charged with discrimination or bigotry if we choose otherwise.  Currently, there are very few regulations related to non-discrimination.  Even here in East Texas, where racism has a deep history, this really isn’t an issue for us.  We’ve invited numerous non-church groups to use our campus and variety of civic events (we have the largest building in town).  From school events to funerals for other churches, regardless of color or denomination, we’ve welcomed them all.  The largest event we’ve held in my 6 yrs at Central was a funeral for an beloved youth league coach, murdered at his business at the young age of 43.  As soon as I heard about it, I contacted the family and asked if we could provide the space for the service.  They accepted and brought a crowd of approximately 1200.  It was a beautiful picture of the church in action.  Did I mention he was African-American?  Stacy was a dear friend.  I was humbled when they asked me to say a few words and I did - I was the only white person who spoke.  I’ve even had a man of “alternative lifestyle” (his term) speak in our church at one of these civic events.  I’ve had no problem with any of it.  Discrimination, in it’s classical sense, hasn’t been an issue for me personally nor us as a church (at least not since 2009 when I got here).  
If we redefine religious liberty, however, I’ll be FORCED to make accommodations for groups, whether I want them or would’ve invited them or not.  To meet the nondiscriminatory standards, I’d be forced to host same-sex weddings and, if I operate a school, I'd even be forced to hire outside of the faith standards I hold so dear.  If I fail to do so, I’ll be under judgement of law and endanger myself and my church.  It doesn’t have to be a same-sex marriage.  It can be anything.  If I fail to meet the new standards they establish changing religious liberty, then there’s no liberty for me.  What about free speech?  Will I have the freedom to speak on issues related to this discussion?  If this finds footing, the answer is no.  Thus ends my freedom of speech as well.  The slide gets faster as you go along and that’s the most troubling issue.  

So what WILL I do when this is approved?  The same thing I’m doing now: love people right where they are.  As I said earlier, I’m a shepherd.  I’ll love people no matter where or how I find them.  I’ll serve them regardless of how they find their way to me.  Regardless of creed, problem, history or issues, I’ll love them just as Christ as loved me: freely, selflessly, sacrificially, sometimes, even to my own detriment.  I’ve never made it a habit of criticize or judge others or their choices.  What I will NOT do is surrender the convictions that have led me thus far, even under penalty of law.  I know it won’t be a popular stance, but it’s a needed one and I’ll take it.  Not to make myself an example nor to take a martyr’s position, but to underscore that there are indeed some things that are sacred and marriage is at the top of that list.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Herding Cats and T-ball

This is Joshua's first year of organized sports.  He turned just a week ago.  Thus, it's time for T-Ball.  We signed him up weeks ago.  I didn't really want to be the head coach since I know so little about teaching real skills in baseball.  But when I realized that there were 68 kids signed up and 3 coaches, I knew I'd better do something to help insure he has a good experience.  So here we are - all set for this weekend and I'm doing what I guess all T-ball coaches are doing - praying that they at least know how to get from home to first!