Mr. Porkupinickuous, or, “With Friends Like This, Who Needs the Holy Spirit?”

Over my years as Pastor at Tri-State Fellowship, you may have occasionally heard me tell a story or two about a youth pastor named Mike Fen, whom I worked with at my previous New Jersey church. Actually, Mike spoke one time at TSF in my early years here, when at that time he worked for the missions research ministry called “Caleb Project.”

Mike remains a good friend. He is from Nebraska, went to the University of Texas and Dallas Seminary, was a youth pastor with me in NJ, and since then has served in a variety of ways in Colorado.

Mike and I have together been to war and back (a long story of navigating a church difficulty I am certainly never going to write about online!!). There is nothing we cannot say to the other! He always teases me about my NJ roots and Eastern accent, but he is more aggressive and confrontational than I am! That is why he has the name of Mr. Porkupinickuous!

Oh, you say you’ve never heard that word? Probably not, because he and I coined it. Back in our days together in the early 90s, one day when telling the alumni director of our seminary (Dallas) about whom was working with me, he said, “Yes, I remember him; he’s a bit like a fellow walking around in a crowd with an open umbrella that sort of pokes people in the eye here and there!”  So, the idea of poking people sort of caught on … and then it morphed into the idea of being like a porcupine … and finally, it took form as an adjective – “porky” … but it seemed it needed to sound more formal than that and also not be confused with just being obese – so it turned into the wonderful word “porkupinickuous.”  The actual formal dictionary definition is “to have or express thoughts, attitudes, or actions that pertain to feelings not dissimilar to a close encounter with a porcupine.”  You get the idea!

So, true to form, when Mike calls – as he did tonight – within minutes of a few perfunctory questions about how I am, he quickly cuts through any smokescreens, whines, rants, carnal attitudes or general crap, and with the gentle touch of a 20-pound sledge points out whatever is lacking in perfect godliness!  With a friend like this, who needs the Holy Spirit?

The truth?  Two things …

1.  Everyone needs a friend or two like this. The praise of such is applauded by a smart guy named Solomon who said, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

2.  Though there is a lesson in this blog post, I wrote it to see if Mike will actually follow through and read this blog as I suggested, and prove that he has by leaving a comment. How about it – you porkupinickous scagpants shrub?

 

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Reading the Table

I saw an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the ways that high-end restaurants, and even chain establishments, are training waiters to “read a table” of dinners and understand how to best serve them. Wait staff is being trained to make note of such things as body language, eye contact, and casual remarks – seeking to personalize the experience.

Apparently now, as waiters walk up to the table, they are reading a host of cues. If you look up and make eye contact, it signals that you are likely to engage in some conversation about the menu. If the table is filled with quiet and tense people, the welcome to be given is a quick statement of allowing time to look over the menu. If you are dressed in business attire at lunch, the assumption will be that you’ve come from your cubicle and need to get back there quickly – hence, faster service. The same is true for early dinners wearing fancy attire – this signals that dinner is but the precursor to another event that evening.

Restaurants are moving away from the standard, oft-repeated line of “my name is Ferdinand, and I’ll be taking care of you today.”  So, a lot of work and effort is being applied to understand the situation at hand, and to respond in the best and most helpful way.

Here is what the article made me think about:  If people of the world will go through this much trouble to gain understanding of personalized needs for a simple event like a single dining experience, should not those who know Christ desire to have an ability to read the world around them with a view toward personalizing the Gospel presentation to the presenting needs? The old opening line of a Gospel conversation was, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” While that is true, the immediate need may not be so “macro” as a life plan, but rather a concern about how to make it through some immediate crisis.

Though the central truth of the Gospel is a singular and unchanging truth about being made right with God through the removal of the debt of sin by Christ’s sacrifice, the way to contextualize the Gospel message is varied by the felt needs of the one who is not vitally connected to God. For some, the obstacle may be the addictive pattern of some substance or behavior. For others, the issues of primary concern may involve worries about how to provide successfully for material obligations in coming months and years. Yet others may have relational trials boiling on the front burner. We know that a vital relationship with Christ supplies sufficient resources for navigating these troubles, and they may also be the very channels through which the Gospel presentation can flow successfully.

The Apostle Paul essentially noted that there are varied ways of presenting the singular truth of the saving work of Christ when he said: Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.  (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Pastors Facing Death

My eyes came across two articles this week about two pastors facing death – both likely dying soon from two very different circumstances in two very different corners of the world.

One is the story of a rather well-known pastor of an American mega-church, the other a largely unknown Christian leader of a house church network in Iran.

The former is dying from a long-term battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the latter appears to have lost the battle with the Khameni cleric-driven regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Pastor Ed Dobson of Calvary Church of Grand Rapids was diagnosed with ALS and given 3-5 years to live; that was 11 years ago. As the disease has worsened, the former executive with the Evangelical political action group Moral Majority has had to step away from his leadership and preaching at the 5,000-member congregation. What ministry work he is able to still provide is most often performed in 1-on-1 settings of helping others facing similar crises. Along the way, Dobson has also taught extensively through a series of videos that have been produced – as this spiritual leader who taught people so well about how to live, teaches now about how to die as a part of the walk of a pilgrim in the faith.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was first convicted of apostasy in November 2010. He appealed this charge to the level of the Iranian Supreme Court – all without release. Nadarkhani has refused to recant his beliefs and to recognize Muhammad as his savior. The word leaking from Iran this past week is that a final execution order had been issued. The general pattern is that when this sort of thing happens, the accused basically disappears and no word is heard about them again.

For those of us who have our settled faith in Jesus Christ, the Scriptures teach that “…we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”

Christ himself said of our prospective life of following him… “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Even as we live, we are dying creatures – our lives a daily testament of a larger and eternal perspective. This is the end game toward which we live and move and invest … yes “invest.”

It was interesting to hear Dobson say that it was always his thought that if he were to face something terminal, THEN he would really read Scripture a lot and pray a lot. But his immediate experience (though not lasting) was just the opposite – he was overwhelmed with the circumstances of his immediate experience.

The time to prepare and “invest” for terminal experiences is now. To do otherwise would be like saying, “If I ever face a devastating financial setback, THEN I’ll start really working and really saving money!” That may help, but better to invest well in advance.

We never know when the doctor’s report may give us the devastating news we have seen myriads of others receive, and then live and die through – folks no better than us in any way. Though we do not have the immediate personalized threats against our faith as is the sad experience today in Iran, as one would read the anti-Christian vitriol of comments under both these stories, such is not as outlandish as it maybe once appeared. But whatever, the Scriptures remain true in the teaching …“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

We Are Connected – No We’re Not! …. Yes We Are!

There are so many creative auto insurance commercials out there in recent years. I think I could write an entire year-long devotional book on ideas they generate.

One of the more recent ones features a young, long-haired, “emo” sort of edgy young man who rear-ends an older stereotypical serious business man dressed in a suit, driving a black high-end sedan.

Here is a link to it if you don’t know what I’m talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZxlqNht5jg

The older man immediately assumes the young fellow likely has some worthless cut-rate insurance policy, though they quickly realize they have the same coverage – even the same agent.

The younger guy seems to be almost drawn to a meta-physical revelation and says, “It’s kinda like we’re connected!”  This is obviously an odious concept to the elderly dude who twice asserts firmly, “No we’re not!” … though the obvious inference is that, like it or not, they are connected through their insurance coverage.

People who are different from each other – be it by age, interests, occupation, or a myriad of other qualities – will always find some difficulty in rallying around those fewer elements they have in common. This is human nature; it is not new – not even in the church of Christ. The family of faith is filled with quite a variety of people who have found a common eternal life insurance in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul had to remind the Colossians that “here there is no Gentile or Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another …”

We are a very diverse church family at Tri-State Fellowship. We are no longer just a baby boomer church with a lot of teens and children. Now we have elderly people, families with teenagers, young families with little kids, newly-marrieds, young adults and every other category imaginable. But in Christ, we are connected – yes we are … no we’re not … YES WE ARE!

This is not a weakness; this is a strength – if we will embrace it for all it can give in terms of a rich diversity of people saved by grace. Why settle for a cut-rate church experience, where everyone is just like you?

Already a Book on Jeremy Lin

I know I am a freak. After years of educational demands with its written requirements, along with decades of writing sermons and other church materials, I can cover page after page with text in a rather short time. That is how I feed three blogs along with everything else.

Chris Wiles makes me look like Charlie Brown hunched over a pre-electricity typewriter. I’ve never met anyone personally who can throw so much information together onto a screen or page quite so quickly. Not long ago, Chris had a short deadline and whipped off a commentary on Ephesians (or something like that) for an African Pastors digital training library … and did it all in a matter of days with little sleep.

But I might have heard of a “rapid-write” match for Chris in the person of a fellow who wrote  a book on basketball sensation Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks. If you don’t know the story of Lin, just look back in the blog about 4-5 posts and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The book is entitled “Linsanity: The Improbable Rise of Jeremy Lin.”  The author did the research (all online with quotes of Lin, family, and others who know him) and wrote it in its entirety in 72 hours. From idea to final marketable product, it was less than one week!

As books go, it is fairly short – about 15,000 words, and is available as an e-book. But still, having a book out this fast is linsanity! It only took a linstant to do, and I’m sure it is linteresting and full of linformation! I confess it is all rather lingenius! And my relative lack of writing speed makes me feel linept, and I’m lindecisive if it is something I’d ever like to linaugurate!

By the way, you can download the book onto your Lindle reader.

Baseball and the Apostle Paul

There is hope … hope for the passing of winter. Just as Punxatawny Phil  guarantees only six more weeks of winter (whether the dumb rodent sees its shadow or not), so the onset of baseball spring training means that Spring is about to … well … spring! And yes, dear Christians, baseball has begun again in Florida! All is well in the world.

One of the reasons I like baseball so much is that it is a most fair sport (although, as a high school distance running coach, I could argue that running is the ultimate fair sport). Athletic talent alone cannot make you good at baseball. There are no pure naturals who excel at it the first day. It takes work and attention to detail, and over time, there is reward for those who most invest.

And beyond that, it replicates the realities of life. The season is long. Even the best fail about 70% of the time! No one person can carry a team by himself; it takes everyone working together. But one key player on a given day can win or lose the game for everyone else. Sometimes the team that deserves to win does not, but in the end, the best team who did the most right things the most often will prevail. And in the long run, the statistics don’t lie.

As a pastor and teacher, another reason I love baseball is because it also replicates some biblical teachings – particularly of the Apostle Paul.

Albert Pujols baseball - hopefully he tithes his income!

One of the major teachings of Christianity as expressed in the institution of the Church is that everyone has value and has a place of needed contribution. Though some may seem more important, everyone is given gifts and talents by God to contribute to the good of everyone else. The Apostle Paul (in 1 Corinthians 12) talks about this by using the illustration of the human body – how the body is not all hands or all feet, but many parts. And even the smallest part – one often overlooked and forgotten – when it hurts, everything hurts! So God has made it that in a church, everyone needs everyone else; it is not just teachers and preachers that are important, but equally also those folks who do things behind the scenes like care for people in their times of need.

A baseball team is a great illustration of the same big idea. In fact, if the Apostle Paul (who was clearly a sports fan!) knew about the game of baseball, and if it was played on the isthmus of the Greek peninsula in the 1st century, I am convinced he would have preferred using it as a metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12.

A baseball team that excels is comprised of a wonderful diversity of talents. A baseball team often has big strong guys to play positions like catcher and first base, smaller fast guys for the middle infield (and yes O’s fans, Cal broke the mold on that), and gifted athletes to roam the outfield. Some players hit, some catch, some pitch … where would a team be with all hitters and no pitchers; or, just the opposite?

Baseball is the best game! I am sure God loves it, but can’t give you any reference for that beyond His creation of everything in the big-inning.

If you are an Orioles fan or are interested in my Orioles writing on the Fansided Sports Network, go to http://birdswatcher.com … where if one of my articles is not featured on the front page, you can find my name on the staff writers list and check out my many, many baseball opinions.

Snake Snatching

In my family’s franchise of businesses – the Potomac Bead Company jewelry craft stores – theft is a common problem. You can easily imagine how simple it is in such large stores to drop small objects into a purse or pocket. Extensive efforts with cameras and employee vigilance are a constant reality … especially keeping an eye on products made of silver.

We hate it, but in a small way we are able to understand that there is value in these objects.

But stealing a snake?? Snake-snatching? Reptile-robbing?

First of all, the very concept of a snake store is bizarre for my way of thinking. What kind of business plan would an entrepreneur in reptiles take to the bank for a business loan? I’d simply like to read the portion about the target customer base!

It is just so sweet and cute - makes you want to go right out and buy one for $500!

Well, at a Sacramento business called Serpentarium, a thief brazenly broke the lock on a cage and stole a baby ball python. This particular snake was the off-spring of two pythons with different coloration patterns, and only about 25% of the snake babies born from such a union are known as “Bumblebee Ball Pythons.” This loveable little cuddly ball of joy was selling for $475!

Clearly my son Nathan had the wrong vision for his business empire! He should have gone into snakes instead of beads.

There is so much about this world that I do not understand.