Month: January 2011

Wilderness and Belief

So a friend of mine posted a statement on twitter today that really got me thinking. He wrote, “Disbelief leads to the wilderness.” At first glance it makes sense. It sounds right. The wilderness, that place of isolation, could only come as a consequence of disbelief. Right?

I started to recount the famous wilderness stories in Scripture by running them quickly through my mind. Two of those stories stuck out: Israel’s time in the wilderness and Jesus’ wilderness testing. Both stories don’t seem to jive with wilderness being the consequence of disbelief. Israel found itself traveling through the wilderness (with God) because of the nation’s belief in God. They went from Egypt to the wilderness (where God was providing them with what they needed) as they headed to the land God promised. Their initial venture into the wilderness came from their belief in Yahweh, but their stay in the wilderness was lengthened because of their rebellion and disbelief. The wilderness was a place of testing belief. That continues in the wilderness testing of Jesus, it didn’t come from disbelief but was a place of testing.

How often do we find ourselves in the wilderness and think it is because we didn’t believe right or we have doubts and disbelief? How often when things go wrong do we think it is because we didn’t believe right or it is because of disbelief?

The wilderness has become a place where the lost are instead of a place of the faithful. The wilderness becomes a curse rather than a gift. Instead of a place of testing, the wilderness has become a place of punishment.

To me the wilderness is that place where the faithful go to prepare for true glory. Israel was taken through the wilderness to see if they were ready for the glory of the promised land. Jesus was tested in the same way to show the way. The wilderness wasn’t a place of punishment, it was a place of testing. It was a place where beliefs were tested, not a place where one was taken to see the need for belief or to come to the realization of one’s own disbelief.

How often do followers of Christ start to doubt who they are in Christ because they find themselves in the wilderness as ask “What did I get wrong?” instead of “How will my beliefs help me in this time of isolation?” Can we see the wilderness as a gift? Is it a gift, or am I just wrong?

Designed for Purpose

So last night I celebrated my birthday by having our weekly college meal at Buffalo Wild Wings. One of the students has a night class this semester and so I let her know that I would hang longer than my family if she wanted to come. Anyone who has little children knows that restaurants and children don’t always get along for longer periods and so my wife and boys left early. When I got home, I went into the living room and was asked by my wife why she couldn’t get her computer to stream into our television.

For those of you who may not know Apple computers that well, when Apple changes design and models they have had the habit of changing the connection ports and functionality. My wife’s computer uses a mini-dvi port for video while my computer uses a miniDisplay port for video. The adapter my wife was trying to use for her computer was my miniDisplay port connector and she had put it into her firewire port where it “fit” but didn’t function. Something else happened too…my connector which was designed for connecting to a miniDisplay port somehow got damaged when she connected it to the firewire port and so now it doesn’t function with my computer anymore. Instead of giving me the image of my desktop, it now gives me static and then a blank screen.

My wife feels horrible, but really it isn’t that big of a deal. Accidents happen and now she has learned a bit more about computers and ports and connectors. However, as I was reflecting on this experience, I couldn’t help but think about church life, people, jobs, and gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:14-18 states:

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. (The Message)

The larger statement that Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 12 is that the community of believers all have gifts given to them by the Spirit which are meant to function as a part of the body and he is trying to emphasize that each part is important. With that he is also saying that each part has a function and if it were to be the only thing we emphasized the body wouldn’t function like it is supposed to. (well that is my short hand summary)

I think this also has an important connection to what Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-13 when he writes:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (New International Version)

Each one of us has been given a gift with a specific purpose to help the Body of Christ be what it is designed by God to be. But I often wonder if we actually function this way or if Paul’s words to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus still need to be heard by us today.

Think about it. How often does my wife’s situation and misuse of a connector happen in our churches with leaders and their place in the church? How often do we see a need for something (say sunday school teachers, committee members, lay leaders) and we just try to find someone who is willing? They may be willing and so it looks like it fits. By all appearances it looks like it will work, but then it doesn’t. It may not be obvious (like it was when my wife was getting a blue screen) but it ends up with either no one being taught, nothing getting done, or just plain frustration by the individual and those they are in service to or with.

We have a connection problem and I wonder if that is because we aren’t taking serious the discernment of each individuals gifts and seeing how they can serve the church. Instead we see a need and so we try to find someone willing to serve that need or in that capacity. What troubles me is that I think this can cause damage to the individual just like my connector was damaged and no longer functions. The individual who had a desire to serve wasn’t aligned with their God-given design and gets frustrated and beaten down inside and damaged and so they don’t want to serve anymore. I fear too that after an experience like that even if we put them in a capacity to use their God-given design, they no longer function because of the damage.

I have heard more times than I would like people who have left churches because of damage. After having conversations with them it was easy to see that they didn’t leave because of maliciousness. Rather many times it is because they had a bad experience of serving and it just not fitting. They either were worn out or damaged from the experience and felt they needed a fresh start. They were like my damaged connector: someone tried to put them in a port they weren’t designed for.

This is a challenge for the church and hard work. It takes time to discern our God-given gifts and it is even harder to align a church around God-given gifts. It is easier to say who we want to be and then get/ask people to fit that desire. Is this what might be plaguing the vitality of churches? Have we been trying to put the wrong connectors in ports they weren’t designed for? Are we too often emphasizing one thing and through our desires making the head nothing more than a huge eyeball that is gaudy and ugly to anyone that looks at it from the outside?

Dealing with people is not as easy as dealing with technology. I can just go down to Best Buy this weekend and get a new connector for $20 and everything will go back to normal. With people we cause damage and we can’t just keep going through connectors and trying until it functions. If we do this we damage the people and possibly cause them to not be able to function in their God-designed way. Are we willing to take seriously Paul’s words and begin to discern and align the Body of Christ in each context so that we are fulfilling our designed purpose?

Identity

So I turned 31 today. Not really a big deal. Last year when I hit my 30s it seemed like a bigger deal, but for some reason this “not really a big deal” birthday seems different. Over the past year fatherhood has taken on a whole new dimension for me. My youngest son Kai (pictured below) is a visual reminder to me everyday of my role as father. I love both my boys with my whole heart and they bring such joy to my life, but Kai got the “Halbersma” genes when it comes to his appearance. Micah, my oldest, got his mother’s side of the appearance genes. There are honestly moments when I look at Kai and I am reminded of my pictures as a young boy and other times I look at him and it is just like I am looking at a 16 month version of my grandfather.

Kai is a powerful visual reminder of my calling as a father. I have really tried hard over the past year to make sure that I am answering to my primary call from God. The one clear thing in my life has always been my primary call (and no it isn’t ministry) of fatherhood. I grew up without my father in my life and it became clear to me in high school and college that my primary call was to be a father to my children that my father was not to me.

Ministry can do funny things though, it can often pull us away from home if we let it. It is important work but over the past year I have noticed that most of the time the work shouldn’t be done by me all of the time. That has been freeing and I have discovered the joy of embracing my two sons and cherishing those moments and realizing that too often I have missed those opportunities for another meeting or obligation. Year 31 will be very different. I will only allow myself to stay at one meeting a week that may extend beyond 7:30, for the rest I will politely excuse myself to come home and hug my boys before bed and say goodnight to Kai and then tuck Micah in, say our prayers, and sing our song to him.

The reason this has become so important is because I often wonder how much of our being is genetically passed on or determined by our experiences of other people. My father’s absence in my life shaped much of my identity both for good and bad. Sometimes I can see how easy and tempting it would be to just get away from it all and I wonder if that internal feeling comes from my father. Is their some restless gene I inherited?

When those questions run through my mind, I am reminded of my baptism. I can remember my baptism. I was 13 years old and it happened in the front of the sanctuary on the right. I kneeled on a kneeler in front of the baptismal font at Faith Community Reformed Church and Pastor Don Baker baptized me by pouring the water over my head. It didn’t feel like anything happened to me existentially, but I know it marked me. I became a new creation. Baptism is my hope. The grace of God changing me moment by moment and working to re-create me into the person God intends me to be. Baptism helps me to break the pattern of fatherhood passed on to me by my absent father.

 

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The Lost Art of Public Confession

One of the things that I have really been pondering lately is the power of sin. Sin is a powerful force. A powerful force which is given that power when it is hidden. It is crazy and almost counterintuitive, but the things that we hide from others because of embarrassment or fear end up gaining control of our lives through that specific act of hiding them from others.

Anyone who has ever struggled with an addiction knows in some part the different levels of hiddenness. We hide things from ourselves through self-denial. We hide things from others by lying or by failing to reveal the whole truth leaving out parts of the reality. We hide things because we are afraid. Afraid we won’t be loved. Afraid of our own limitations and failures. Afraid that if people see us for who we “really” are they will reject us. The more fear grips us the deeper the hiddenness goes and the more power that thing has over our lives.

How do I know this? I have a highly addictive personality and have struggled with many addictions in my life. From things as innocent as collecting cards, television, fantasy sports to my continual struggle with my addiction to smoking. (So there you have it, if you didn’t know before you know it now…I’m not perfect and some may even now look at me differently and some might reject me because of that smoking addiction) Smoking has run my life, but slowly I have begun to face the “demon” that controls me. You can’t necessarily see it from the outside but inside things are changing. Before I used to hide it from everyone but my friends who smoked. I would mask it with cologne and chew gum (admittedly I still do this…patterns of life are hard to break). I would lie to my mother and say I quit or say I was smoking less than I was. The more I isolated myself from the truth and sharing the truth with others the more gripping the power of the addiction over my life became. I would drive to different towns to sneak a cigarette. I would make “grocery runs” so I could have a smoke. Life became a game of hiding it as best I could.

Now as I have started to do the deep seated heart work, I have realized the importance of publicly naming my addiction. It isn’t so much to gain sympathy or even really to get advice and support from others. The importance of publicly naming my addiction is the only thing that really releases that deeply hidden sin. The layers of lies and self-delusion keeping that sin in its deep dark recesses of my life begin to be pealed back and light is able to shine as it is exposed. I haven’t kicked the addiction but I am beginning to loosen its grip on my life by naming it.

I had to share that because I needed to name it and deal with it in my own life, but just as importantly I have been wondering if “sin” has a grip on so many of our lives and even our corporate life of the church because we are afraid and so we hide those things and give them dominion over our lives. Instead of admitting our brokenness we hide it or ignore it.

I have seen the power of that hiddenness in my own life, but I beginning to see the same thing ruling over the lives of my friends, loved ones, acquaintances and even the churches I have served and serve. Instead of naming those things and publicly confessing them we continue like they don’t exist. The proverbial “elephant in the room” that weighs our individual lives down and our corporate lives down.

Now some of you might be thinking in your head that we do have public confession as we often have prayers of confession in our liturgy. Yes, that is true. However, I wonder if our inability to specifically name our individual and corporate sins in our contexts has kept us from true healing from God.

I am reminded of passage from the fifth chapter of James (verse 16 to be exact):

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (The Message)

Have we lost the art of that practice? Could it be that part of what is holding us back from being the Christians we are called to be both individually and corporately is that we have let sin get dominion? Could it be that the spiritual vitality of our churches is held back because we don’t bring those things out into the open and hand them over to God in prayer?

What would it look like if our churches were actually places where people could reveal their brokenness and be prayed for and be healed? One trip to postsecret.com will show you that many people have those hidden things, but what if we had a space where those could be shared and prayed openly so that we had “whole and healed” people? What if we took purposeful time in our elder meetings or administrative council meetings and confessed those things that grip our church?

Have we lost the art?

Buying Happiness/Worth

I love the above video because it is great satire. Satire is best when it hits just enough on the truth but then expands it to absurdity and this video does this with great skill. So the video is old: like 2 years old and you would think that in a recession it really wouldn’t apply right? I mean almost everyone knows someone who is unemployed either through layoffs or position termination. So one would think that in a tough economic time like this people would spend less at Christmas time and look for new and creative ways to find happiness in the holidays. You would think….

But guess what.  According to USA Today, this year America set a record for spending this holiday season.  The previous record of spending over the holiday season was $453 billion (yes…billion) in 2007.  This year we set the new record 9 billion higher at $462 billion dollars. (as a side note The Week assures me that because the population increased by 8 million since then we actually spent less per person on average….I guess that is a small consolation) So at a time when we hear how many are without work and struggling with day-to-day life and bills, how can this happen?

I don’t have a concrete answer, but it seems that consumerism is a powerful, powerful force. We are constantly bombarded with messages that our happiness and worth comes through material things. The iPad (or any slate computer) will make our lives better because it is lightweight and we won’t have to lug around those heavyweight laptops anymore. The new car that will somehow transform our life (and make our neighbors jealous…which obviously gives us status…which then obviously makes us happy because other people want what we have). I know the message, it seems so right. Every day I look at the new cell phone technology that is coming and the latest Apple rumors to see what the next “best” thing is that will make me happy. I get it.

And the fact is this: it does make us happy if only for awhile. It doesn’t bring lasting happiness because it doesn’t last. It is all fleeting to be replaced soon by the next must have happiness thing. I see it everyday with my 5 year old. There is a constant want for another thing that will make him happy and it does for a minute, an hour, a day, sometimes a week, hardly ever longer then that. There is never enough and yet he always finds something that brings him happiness even if he doesn’t get that toy. My goodness you should see all the “inventions” he has made out of literal junk and he loves them.

Stacy and I have begun to get worn out by the “clutter” of life. Stuff fills space, gets forgotten and a couple months later when we are cleaning we wonder: “Why did we get this?”  I wonder how much of the stuff bought this holiday season will be held in the hands of someone else with that question running through their head… That stuff may have brought us momentary happiness, but Stacy and I have found that spending time with each other, spending time with the kids, spending time with others has brought us a never ending source of happiness. As we have released some of the clutter we have realized the time and space we free up and realize we aren’t missing anything.

This year we participated in Advent Conspiracy at Central United Methodist Church. We spent less on the kids and didn’t give one another gifts because we realized we had more than enough and we gave that money to help people in Liberia who don’t have access to clean water.  Clean water! A thing we take for granite is something that people still don’t have access to in other parts of the world. If we really look around we begin to realize that our homes are filled with empty and often unused rooms while at the same time individuals are without shelter. We throw away food and still there are people in our own towns who often go without food over the entire day. It breaks my heart, and it breaks even more when I hear that we spent all that money during the holidays to show our love to one another with material things and their fleeting happiness….

As a Christian I am reminded of and convicted by the words of Jesus in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (The Message)

Lord, give us a heart to care for the least of these and find our happiness in You!