Monday, July 18, 2011

You Might Live in Sheboygan Falls, Wi if . . .

I love living in Sheboygan Falls. I've already lived in more than one place within the community, and I quite enjoy the town. I could go on and on about it, but I thought I'd have a little fun.

Admittedly, some of these are only understood if you live nearby, but some are typical small-town midwest stereotypes. What is true about each item on this list, however, is that I'm guilty of it.

Enjoy! Feel free to add more.

You might live in Sheboygan Falls, WI if . . .
-You’ve slept within a mile of famous golfers.
-The only line or rush at the post office is the five people waiting for it to open at 9am on weekdays.
-You don’t dare drive north on Broadway through downtown late on weekday afternoons. It’s the most congested time of the week.
-You make sure you have a good balance of Kohler and Bemis products.
-No one can beat Broadway’s popcorn, Firehouse’s pizza, or Parkview’s steaks. Hands down.
-You show up 15 minutes early to get a good seat for 5 minute parade.
-You eagerly attend an annual festival where thousands of rubber ducks are dumped into a river for a glacial race.
-You’ve walked to the downtown gas station to buy some snacks and soda, since most the stores and restaurants are closed at 5.
-You’ve taken your children to festivals involving outdoor pony rides, both in July and December.
-You notice the 10-degree temperature differences between you and your lakeside friends.

Friday, July 8, 2011

For God's Sake, Let Me Help!

Self-congratulations on my first blog entry that’s entitled by a quote from Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard McCoy! In my defense, this was already a working title before I connected it with my Trekkie past. And such phrases have been used as titles before (see D. A. Carson’s book For the Love of God).

But I digress.

True story (but with names/places changed): A middle-aged couple, Wes and Kim, once leaders of a church plant in Seattle, had relocated to Baltimore. Wes now worked at a factory to support Kim and their teenaged children, but they still found ways to use the spiritual and ministerial gifts God had given them by serving in a growing church plant there in the Baltimore area.

Then their marriage hit a storm. They stopped coming to church. They slept in separate rooms, sometimes even separate houses. Mike, a pastor at the church plant who had been counseling them, couldn’t believe that Wes, a former pastor himself, would say such things about his own wife. Nonetheless, the small church plant came around Wes and Kim, prayed for them and helped them to reconcile.

A few months after the ripples of the struggles had settled, Wes and Kim wanted to, respectfully, leave the church plant’s fellowship and serve somewhere else. It wasn’t disappointment in the church plant’s community, services or even philosophy. With a renewed passion for their marriage, they wanted to “start afresh” in a new church family elsewhere. After all, this little church plant family had seen Wes and Kim at their worst, weakest and most vulnerable state, having helped them through their potential separation.

It’s interesting, because Mike thought that reasoning is exactly why they should stay at the church plant.

Wes and Kim remind me of a lot of Christians today that developed a talent for cover-ups. Whether it’s a sin they’re honestly struggling with, a travesty or an impairment, they strive for self-sufficiency and the impression that they’re doing just fine. Seems somewhat selfless, doesn’t it? Nobody wants to be a burden, and there’s probably bigger problems to deal with, right?

How much of such an effort is made out of pride?

We like to be seen as self-sufficient and professional, which isn’t surprising in a country that celebrates independence. In the Church, this cultural mentality has to collide with the Christian truth that all have sinned, making the congregation a mixed group of broken, dependent, needy people. This is exactly why the Church’s fellowship exists (Acts 4): to provide for the needy (spiritually, financially, everything) through God’s blessings.

The popular hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” reflects on Phil. 4:6, and it goes into great detail about the “peace we forfeit” and the “pain we needlessly bear” because we do not pray. The popular three stanzas don’t address that the verse from Philippians encourages prayer and petition. If you have been blessed with the fellowship of a church that has offered to bear some of your burdens, please take them up on their offers. It helps you. It helps them. It gives glory to God.

I struggle with this, too, sometimes. When I’m sick, I tend to isolate myself from the family and sleep it off, get better on my own. I tell myself and my wife that I might be contagious and don’t want to be a burden, but it’s ultimately pride and manhood that I’m trying to prove. I needed help. I had to swallow a lot of pride, having a masters degree and a family of 4, to acknowledge, both to myself and to my in-laws, that I can’t financially afford to support my family right now . . . and I needed help.

Do you need help? Be honest. Has someone offered to help? Take them up on it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Five Things American Christians Can Do Out of Love for Their Country

I’ll admit it. I do love my country. There’s a lot to admire about the vision upon which it was founded. Amenities are enjoyable, and we’ve got a lot of great scenery here. However, I’m working on myself right now to love my country with a different and higher type of love, and not a shallow, obsessive, nostalgic, or conditional type of love I can be tempted to have.

    The biblical model of love, as described in 1 Cor. 13 and lived out by Christ and the Church’s founding fathers, is a powerful and selfless catalyst, and a willing martyr. I’ve been thinking a lot about true biblical living, and if I’m doing it. 

    Going deeper into the quotable basics of the Great Commission and the command to love your neighbor, here’s five things (of many more I can’t produce right now) Christians can do out of love for their country, but often don’t. 

5. Be a steward of your local environment. (Psalm 24:1) During Al Gore’s global
warming campaign and the release of the movie Inconvenient Truth, I participated in some online debates with peers. By no means am I qualified or planning to open up that can of worms here, but I found one knee-jerk argument disturbing.

    One Christian put forth the logic that, since God created the world (true), placed humanity to rule the world (true) and the world will be destroyed later anyway (true, depending on your view of eschatology and etymology), our treatment of the world is ultimately irrelevant. We can trash it.

    Where this logic fails is that Scripture doesn’t allow that type of logic when applied to how we treat our own bodies or our own money and possessions, even though all those are also temporal. The call to stewardship flows through Scripture, pertaining to the environment, our bodies, money, belongings and everything that was given to us to rule over.

    So please, invest in “green” and energy-saving technology on occasion. See what fruits and flowers can grow in your yard. Adopt a road. Recycle when you can, and don’t instantly scoff at every climatologist and environmentalist campaign. God made this planet for us, so let’s not make it look like we’re putting up our feet on the coffee table. 

4. Support ethical businesses. (1 Cor. 15:33) We can talk endlessly about the “rat
race” that exists in America, and how people sacrifice healthful sleep, family relations and even their own values to get a higher income. I think, however, the same thing happens when we (even though we’re not looking for higher incomes), look for lower prices or a “steal.”

    Media piracy, for example, can contribute to job loss in Hollywood for the people that aren’t rolling in the dough. Other businesses may have made some unsupportable compromises to bring that price down for your convenience (e.g. child labor, malpractice in outsourcing, general unfairness to employees, etc.). We are a deprived species, so no business is morally flawless.

    Nonetheless, I’ve been striving to research what are the more ethical businesses, and I shop every week at the local farmer’s market (which also helps support the local economy). This is more for my sake than the unethical businesses (small boycotts alone won’t stop corporate greed), because I want to know that the money that I’ve been entrusted is being used in ways that reflect the values of the Giver, and I want to encourage the businesses out there that haven’t made huge ethical compromises to the way they do business.

    Won’t that be a bit more costly? Well, such is the Christian life. All-around. 

3. Help the sick, poor and the oppressed. (Gal. 2:10, Jas. 1:27) My favorite undertone in the foundation of my home country is the preset that “all men (gender-inclusive) are created equal.” (This sentence was written despite the African slave trade being a hypocritical eyesore, which would be addressed later).

    The pre-Constantine church in Rome, likewise, affirmed the God-given value of human life. They were a voice against abortion, infanticide, misogynist attitudes (which were extreme back then). They were also a voice against the activities of the coliseum, where slaves, criminals, and even Christians themselves were brutally killed for mass entertainment.

    As much as our government today strives to uphold its founding ideal, I’m sure we can name people that are (wrongfully) considered insignificant. It’s a biblical mandate to care for the needy, whether through hospitality, giving and emotional support.

    I remember that the Good Samaritan, upon seeing a ransacked man, almost dead, lying on the side of the road, didn’t hesitate with any self-questions (e.g. was this man’s suffering just? Is this man righteous? Will he exploit my help?). He just saw it as a simple axiom: hurt needs help. Jesus deemed the Samaritan a good neighbor. Let’s strive to be good neighbors to our hurting region. No matter the source or reason for a sickness, impoverishment, grief or oppression, persecution or harmful neglect are not what Christians, who believe in the value and dignity of human life, should stand for.

    Invest in good charitable organizations. Buy from or donate to (without trying to get some money on Craig’s List first, like I used to do) the local thrift store. Generously tip the servers and all employees that make an effort.  If you want to be more involved, volunteer at a soup kitchen or charitable organization. Share your resources.

    In the church of the book of Acts, most were poor, but there was “not one needy among them (4:35)” as they gave to the poor on a regular basis (2:45). 

2. Give the government its owed taxes, honor, respect and prayerful support.
Peter and Paul had plenty of general disagreements with the government. After all, the Roman empire was a haven for what Christians (rightfully, I’ll add) consider vice. Prostitution and infanticide were rampant, and many of the citizens either devoted themselves to a certain other religion or sought out a more intellectual form of atheist wisdom. All the while, the corrupt (and often mentally ill) emperors either idly stood by or even encouraged the imprisonment, torture and death of Christians in particular.

    Yet, Paul (from prison) and Peter both write to us, admonishing us to submit to the law, honor and respect governmental authority, and even pray for the emperor and all those in authority (and I don’t think they meant to pray for their impeachment or death). This is not so much because of the minute fistful of respectable aspects of their government, but because they believed God is sovereign, and that He had placed them in authority (Romans 13:1).

    The founders of the Church had no political stake, so their response (a very effective one, I should add) to the failures of the government and the decay of morality and justice was action, namely evangelism and charity, which served as a catalyst (both earthly and spiritual) for many. Sure, the Church did speak against the government’s ways (as the Manhattan Declaration points out), but it was not their voice that defined them, which brings me to the last point.
1. Do more than just voice your values. Live them. I remember my 8th grade history teacher trying to illustrate the concept of democracy. He compared the government to a computer, saying that our government’s functions and services, in theory, was only to be utilized at our will. Political leanings aside, I look at history and am an inspired believer in church empowerment. Simply put, the Church shouldn’t need government stake or assistance to do anything.

    I was once privileged to be a part of a mature church plant in the Philadelphia area. I worked at a coffeehouse to make some more cash and pitch proverbial tents. The church I served was creatively charitable during the holidays. They served Thanksgiving dinners to low-income families. They threw a Christmas Eve service at a homeless shelter. They regularly built for Habitat for Humanity. These were all much more intriguing to my co-workers than any lavish musical production that the larger churches were offering.

    Give financial support or volunteer at either a crisis pregnancy center or a child and family association. Help shelter and encourage a brave newly pregnant girl from judgment and difficulty. Consider adoption of an abandoned child. We could reiterate point 3 here, too. 

    It’s one thing to voice truth and values. It’s another to selflessly live them. We can better be Christ’s voice when we’re also His Hands and Feet.