Foofy Dog Gone

Back about two months ago you may recall that a new dog came to live with us. It was not the kind of dog you would expect in the Buchman house. We have a Jack Russell – which makes sense – a hyper running dog fits our house! But, a foofy, prissy, little yapper, with long hair and a puffy tail??  Not my kind… but we took it in since it was apparently lost. The dog was fairly well-behaved and not much of a problem.

We never settled on a name, so maybe that is something that offended the little beast? But, it is now gone.

One day last week, the dog was outside in our large yard, sniffing around and chasing mice or whatever out at that back edge of the yard. She had done this many times. Our other dog was there as well … but after a time, the little dog was gone and seen no more.

This has happened a couple of other times over the years. I remember once in Texas when a similar little dog stayed with us for a while, and one evening just ran out the front door. I called to it, and it just kept right on going! It looked back once as if to say, “Thanks buddy for the kindness!”

I have to say that this all reminds me of too many folks I’ve known over the years in church ministry. They are kinda lost in life, come into the church for a time, get some love and shelter and renovation … and then a day comes when you look up and can’t see them anymore! Without announcement, they’re just gone from sight. I’ll never understand it.

Living within the New Normal

How to live effectively as a despised minority

My conclusion in the wake of this election cycle is that there is a new normal that has arrived, walked in to our cultural house through the front door, hung up its coat in the hall closet, put on slippers and reclined in the prime seat of the family room, and claimed the master bedroom.

The “new normal” – This is a phrase we often use at the annual gathering I attend of lead pastors of Evangelical Free Churches of similar size as TSF, called “Team 500.”  There we are talking about the church culture trends of lower commitment to a local congregation, a lesser attendance pattern equaling the definition of faithfulness, consumerism driving worship choices, declining generosity, and an overall softer view of moral choices.

But a new normal has arrived for the entire culture and the entire country. I am sad that this is true, though to not acknowledge it is to be in denial. For a number of years, this question has been in the balance, but the tipping point has come and the country and the culture have gone over to a different place – to a new normal. This is not the end of the world, but it is the end of the world as we’ve known it.

There has been much written since Tuesday – some of it good, most of it horrible. Some of the worst has come from the pens of evangelicals – high-minded statements, though without substance.

Yes – substance. This is what is lost in the new norm. We now have entrenched symbolism as the replacement for substance, along with the preference for subjectivism over objective truth.

One of the most inane pieces I read was an evangelical saying that what needed to be learned from the election is that the winning candidate appears to care more than the loser – that it is all about caring and demonstrating such as God’s people. Though a stated bone was thrown in a participial phrase that indeed the caring needed to be genuine, the entire tone of the piece was to emphasize how we market ourselves.

I’m mindful of the old illustration about objective faith. All the well-intentioned faith placed in a weak object will not hold. A person with deep faith in thin ice will soon be very wet and cold, whereas minimal faith in thick ice leaves a person secure. We live in a day that emphasizes the marketing of the appearance of the ice rather than the examination of its depth and substance.

Even within my own denomination, a piece was written that said there is one political party which is successful for caring about diversity, whereas the other does not – that we should learn from this and model such an inclusive diversity theme. I am all for diversity and celebrating it; that is what heaven will look like – people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. But let us be thoughtful at the same time. Let us understand that in spite of their verbal bluster the alleged group to model has fewer examples of diversity in the upper ranks of government than does the alleged perpetrator. Let us be thoughtful that redistribution does not solve root causes of a lack of industry and individual responsibility – Scriptural themes. Let us, in Maryland, be more thoughtful so as to see that the alleged champions of diversity have an entrenched and unjust network of preventing the very opportunities they trumpet as their raison d’etre (congressional districts that protect white urban power over ethnic and rural constituencies).

The greatest loss is objective truth. It is increasingly gone from the decisions affecting marriage and family, or what constitute “legal” versus “illegal.” Forget clear Scriptural injunctions about same-sex immorality; replace it with squishy statements like I read in the Facebook posting, sadly, of a person who actually grew up attending TSF, “I’m so proud of my state for giving ALL couples equal protection under the law.”  Forget that those who are “illegal” aliens are … uh … illegal; replace it with provisions and opportunities beyond those who are “legal.”  I understand the emotions; I can even love the people involved and feel compassion for younger folks victimized by the choices of older generations. But we have taken the meaning away from words; we have replaced it with mere feelings and passions.

It is not like this sort of alien cultural environment has not happened around the church before. In more generations than not, the church has had to live in a rather hostile culture. I wish it were not so. Paul encourages prayer for those in authority toward the end of a peaceful context for the church to thrive. And there are historic instances of the true church best thriving in the most hostile of contexts.

But it is sort of like the old Woody Allen quote: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  I’m not afraid to live in a hostile culture; I’m just said that it has to be much more that way. I’m sad for my kids and my grandkids.

So we need to learn to live in the new norm. But living there does not mean we jettison eternal values, truths, and admonitions. And to my evangelical brethren: As you salve your wounds with religiosity-based verbiage of “the last I checked, God is still on the throne” … remember … it is from that authoritative seat He decreed that His Word is a lamp to the feet and light to the path (not your feelings), that you are not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together in the community of the church which is His program for this age, and that the varied “one anothers” of the New Testament didactic corpus have little to do with consumer choices and your own personal preferences.

The sands have all shifted.


Memories of Elections Past

I was thinking today of what are my primary memories of election days in the past and of the emotions connected to them. I’m surprised at what most stands out to me year by year, and by how some of the oldest memories are the most vivid.

1960 – I was only five years old. I remember going to the polls with my parents and remember them saying that they did not see any Nixon signs. As I put out our Republican signs today at my assigned location – Williamsport High School – an activity that seems rather worthless to me, I do recall this memory and that people at least hope to see their guy’s sign nearby. My parents were historic Democrats – FDR types – though they became Republican in later years as the Democrat Party increasingly walked away from their historic values. However, my parents also were of a mindset common at that time that they could not vote for a Catholic.

1964 – My parents were not much for Goldwater – he creeped them out! Our voting location in NJ was at a firehouse just up the road and next to the school. The women’s auxiliary put on a fundraising dinner that my parents enjoyed, as it was the whole community coming together for the meal as well as to vote. I remember enjoying this much and being there with school friends.

1968 – This is actually one of my clearest Election Day memories, and some of you who know of my relative distaste for the sport of soccer will be so surprised. I was playing a soccer game on this day against a rival school. And this may take some imagination, but I was actually a very good front-line player and scorer. It was a close game. I had missed several shots and even hit the supports twice. With about 15 seconds left in a scoreless overtime I hit a shot off the crossbeam and it ricocheted back to another forward who easily put it in the goal. The midfield celebration was one who gave me the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in one moment. A backfield guy jumped on the pile and as his hand swung around it smacked the side of my head and broke my glasses. (This is before contacts – and I broke glasses in sports about once a month – to the frustration and anger of my parents.) So my memory is of eating dinner at the firehouse with busted glasses and angry parents about that … but happy that Nixon won. They really liked Nixon.

1972 – As a high school senior, I was totally involved in preparation for the state cross country meet – amazing how some things don’t change over the years. It was a runaway win for Nixon over McGovern, and was not actually that interesting

1976 – As a college senior, I was working the graveyard shift on building security. I was doing my rounds of the building every hour all night and watching the returns on the dorm’s foyer TV in the moments in between. We all mostly believed that Carter was more of an informed Christian than he turned out to be. What a disappointment!

1980 – Now married and living in Dallas and attending seminary, it was my first time to vote away from home. It was the big Reagan Revolution year, and Diana and I waited in long, long lines to vote in a high school in Garland, Texas. By the time we got home, it was all over and being announced, and was rather anti-climatic.

1984 – This was a total Reagan wipeout of Mondale, and I have few memories of it. I was now living back in NJ (and voting at the new firehouse in the same township) and more involved in making a first ministry work and dealing with two little children and a newly built home.

1988 – This begins the first of a series of Republican candidates that I deemed to be certainly better than Democrat alternatives, but not whom I’d particularly prefer. I don’t have that many memories of the Election Day itself … just that it seemed at the time that the Democrats were totally lost and devoid of ideas and viable candidates.

1992 – This was my final NJ election before moving to MD. It was my first memory of having a sad and sickening feeling about the results. I remember Rush Limbaugh putting the best spin on it the next day – declaring himself as the biggest winner, in that he now had four years of show material.

1996 – ah… make that eight years of show material. Now I was in MD. I remember spending a lot of the daytime hours eating lunch in the car and driving somewhere listening to the radio, and hoping against hope that somehow Dole could pull it out. Nope … not an inspiring guy.

2000 – Now I not only have five boys, but one of them had voted for the first time and was experiencing the election as a wee minority conservative at his collegiate stronghold of liberalism. The whole thing was thrown up in the air as the focus shifted to Florida and a discussion of “hanging chads.”

2004 – My primary memory of this election is my anger at Bush for being such a dreadful debater and a fellow who seemed capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory whenever he talked.

2008 – Totally sick and sad feelings like never before! How could the electorate possibly be this ignorant and gullible? I determined that night that I had to become involved somehow. I began to hang around with the Republican Club and the Republican Central Committee people – not even at the time knowing the distinction between them. A year later I was on the Committee to fill an unexpired term and two years later I was elected to the Committee, and then selected by the Committee to be the WCRCC chairman for 2011. And then there was a silly controversy, and I got to talk to the state prosecutor, etc., etc…. and it has been an interesting trip!

2012 – What would I write in this space if I had chosen to do this a day later? It is scary to consider. I don’t like over-dramatization of anything, but to those who say it is silly to call this “the most critical election of our lifetime” … OK … name what other election was more significant.  … Silence.

Communion Frequency

It has been noted by many people at TSF that there has been a more frequent observance of communion over these weeks where varied service changes have taken place. And this has raised the question as to why? … will it now be weekly instead of monthly?

The quick answer is that it will be more frequent than in the past, though not a necessary feature of every Sunday gathering.

The primary reason for the larger emphasis is from a conviction that we need to have a greater focus upon the communication of the Gospel. Many Sundays the communion time fits very naturally with the teaching topic and passage of the day. Other times however, the topic is focused upon another area of biblical truth; and including the communion allows opportunity to incorporate a section of our gathering time again upon the Gospel.

The primary concern I always have heard over the years regarding such a frequent observance of the Lord’s Table is that such a pattern of recurrence will make the commemoration too common-place and routine, thus diminishing its meaning. I would grant that anything in the expression of faith that becomes rote loses its uniqueness and special qualities … but the answer is not to diminish the event, but to diminish the rote nature of the event by creatively making it a meaningful observance.

I often respond to the objection by saying this: Think about it – why is it only communion that we worry about losing its meaning? We would never say, “We should only pray once a month, because, if we pray every week, it won’t be special and we’ll just be uttering vain and repetitious phrases.”  We would never say, “Preach, teach, instruct – it goes on every week and gets so tiring – let’s not have any teaching except once a month so that we don’t get so bored with it.”

One might respond that those examples are ridiculous – that the early church in the time of the Apostles gave themselves to prayer and teaching. Yes, they did. But what was the one, first, primary, central reason for which they gathered? It was to REMEMBER. That was the focus of the gathering – to remember the Gospel truth of Christ’s sacrifice … and along the way they prayed and taught the Scriptures. The early church would have NEVER gotten together without observing the communion.

So I would submit to you that our emphasis is the restoration of a rightful focus, and we want it to be meaningful in a fresh and new way each Sunday. We have no reason to meet; we have no life and relationship with God … without the incredible sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ – the innocent for the guilty. Let us – as oft as we do it – be awestruck in the memorial remembrance of the One who gave His life freely that we might live!