Honestly, say this with a straight face. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Acceptance is what holds us here, and you my dear are the one I fear tonight

I would like to take a moment to remember two men who have passed away in the past few days. First, this weekend Casey Calvert, guitarist and back-up vocalist for Hawthorne Heights, died in his sleep just days after the band began their Wintour. At this point, it is believed that he may have died of accute asthma. Casey was just 26 and leaves behind his wife.

Also, early this morning, Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins passed away at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Taylor was shot in the upper leg, severing his femoral artery, after an intruder broke into his home early yesterday morning. Taylor was a free saftey and was in his fourth year with the Redskins. Sean was 24 and leaves behind his daughter.

I'm not a Redskins fan, but I did follow Sean Taylor enough to know quite a bit about him. Casey Calvert was a member of one of my favorite bands, and I'm sad to see both of them pass away so young.

When things like this happen, we all hear stories of the great things that the deceased person has done and stories of the character of the person. These stories are rightfully told, and remembering a person through these great memories may, even for a moment, lessen the pain that we feel. Soon though, the grieving of family, friends, and onlookers is almost inevitably followed by questions. "Why did this have to happen, they were such a good person." Or "why would God let this happen when there are so many awful people in this world that go on living?"

Being close to the music community that Casey was a part of, I've seen many of these questions and those like them during the past few days. Reading through all of them brings a couple of things to my attention:

1. I think people may have some sense in them of the sovereignty of God. Even those who don't believe in God or have a vague understanding appear to have some sense during tragedy that God is the one in control and is the one making the decisions.

2. The "goodness" or strong character of an individual is not enough to ensure them long life and put them out of reach of the sovereign will of God. A truth such as this may not be timely when introduced to a family or loved ones of a recently passed individual, but it should be a sobering reminder to the rest of us who may not realize that we may fail to wake up tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 32:29 says:

"See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand."

I don't believe that much commentary is needed for this one verse. It should be a call to believers and unbelievers alike that we are not entitled to our next breath. Considering our current sinful state, the fact that any of us is able to sit up in our chair and inhale a breath at this very moment as an immese act of sovereign grace from God. We are not deserving of tomorrow, and God would be completely just to take the life of each and every one of us.

So what about that family member who you've been waiting to share the Gospel with because of a fear of rejection? What about that desire for the mission field that you've put off because your career got in the way? What about that person who you have yet to forgive because the time isn't right and you just can't let that wound heal?

James has strong words for each and every one of us in the fourth chapter of his epistle:

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."

I hope that you take the time today to think about the things that you've been pushing aside until a more convenient time. Pray for me as well, as I am just as guilty about forgetting where my priorities lie and assuming that I am captain of my own destiny. I pray that it doesn't take something horrible to remind me that I am not.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A final opinion is of less value than an appreciation of, and tolerance for obscurity

Southern Baptists irritate me.

So I guess I irritate myself.

With finals only a week away, I find my brain overloaded with knowledge and ideas that will soon spill out in a sloppy mess onto the white paper filled with questions that will lay upon my little lap desk. I can't even explain how much I've learned this semester, it's been incredible. I've been studying under some of the best evangelical teachers in the world and reading books by some of the most intelligent and Godly writers around. I've been stretched, pushed, and stressed at times, but all in all, I think it's been worth it.

There's just one problem. I have had absolutely no opportunity to put it into practice. Maybe opportunity isn't the right word, because honestly, if I wanted to, I could walk out of this apartment right now and meet people on the street or in their homes and start building relationships. I think what's really happening is one of two things:

1. I'm lazy.

2. I've been brainwashed into thinking that because I'm a seminary student, I need to focus my attention on my studies and stand around in the morning sipping on my coffee and participating in the hot theological debate of the day.

It's probably both, but it's really starting to tick me off. I met a guy recently who pastors a small church here in Louisville, he's the interim pastor while they search for a full time guy. This church has been around for decades and the congregation consists of people in their 50s, 60s, and up. It's dying, and the people have no desire to outreach to the community even though they're only one mile from the University of Louisville. This guy tells me that there's a 16 year old girl that's been coming to church and has told him that she's been cutting herself and struggling with depression. My first response was, "did you direct her to a leader in the church for counseling?"

His response - "the leaders in my church have told me that they don't feel comfortable teaching, counseling, or dealing with problems that others in the church might have."

My response - " . . . "

Are you kidding me? How in the world is it that we end up with a bunch of churches with people sitting on their butts in the pews, claiming to be "leaders" who refuse to step up and help out those who are in need of it? Folks, this isn't an isolated issue, churches all over the place are doing this same thing. But get this, the Church of Christ a couple of blocks down the road from this church is drawing 70 youth off the streets every Wednesday with a sign outside that says "no guns allowed." I told this guy to send the girl down the street where it appears that people actually "care" about showing the love and compassion that Christ called us to exhibit.

What does all of this have to do with finals week, you ask? Well, if I've learned one thing about ministry this semester, it's that standing around trying to "out-smart" the other guys during the day's theological discussion IS NOT ministry. Helping the girl that comes in off the street and showing her the love that Christ showed me IS ministry. What in the world makes us think that we have the right to stand around filling ourselves with pride and puffing ourselves up when real people with real struggles are asking for someone, anyone, to reach out to them.

I'm ashamed to say that I've been doing this very thing all semester long and have seemingly fallen into the pit of theological nonsense that gets you nowhere if you're not willing to put your faith into practice. I do not, and I repeat, DO NOT want to turn into the 60 year old "leader" in the church that's too much of a coward to be the man that God has demanded that I be. Wow, you could be a Christian your whole life and be in church your whole life and REALLY waste your life.

Please God, give me the courage to be a real man and step outside of my comfort zone and start acting like a Christian. People are struggling, searching, and dying without anyone there to put their arm around them and tell them that you love them. Give me the grace to have mercy on all of your people and to be willing to step up when someone is in need and not let my pride convince me that I've got better things to do.

Better things to do . . . wow, someone I know named Kiel really needs to straighten out his priorities. By the grace of God alone, maybe he will.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Nickels is Money Too

I've always had a fondness for commercials. Especially funny ones. There's nothing quite like being caught off guard by a humorous advertisement while you wait for your favorite show to reappear on the television screen. I could make a laundry list of some of my favorites, but that's really not what this post is about. It is, however, about one commercial in particular that didn't cause me to laugh, chuckle, smile, or even smirk. In fact, it made me quite upset.

I can't recall the company (the first sign of a bad advertisement), but I remember the concept vividly. It involves a couple, presumably in their late 60s or early 70s, who have recently retired and are very happy with the company that has counseled them in their savings over the years. However, after all those hard years of working and putting money away for retirement, they are now faced with a dilemma - how are they going to spend all this money? I mean, no one ever told them what to do with it once it was time to spend it. How awful that must be!

The commercial goes on to explain how this financial company not only helps you save, but when it's time, will help you spend. The ad ends by the husband deciding that they're ready to "tackle the coral reef." But wait, the wife wants a trip to Paris! Well, I guess Paris will come first and then it's off to the reef. Aww, what a great story. A nice couple livin' the American dream!

I would bet that most people watched that commercial, took slight note, and continued on with their lives as if nothing had happened. I mean, what's the big deal right? We're all supposed to be saving for the future, one of these days we'll have wished we'd listened when our neighbors have two million in their retirement account and we've got a measly 500 thousand.

Listen closely . . .

If you claim to be a Christian and this is the life that you see yourself living or hope to have, you need to take a serious look at who you are and what you believe in. Let me toss a few numbers at you, just for the sake of casual information.

In 2005 alone, AIDS claimed an estimated 2.4–3.3 million lives, of which more than 570,000 were children.

It has been estimated that in 2001, 1.1 billion people had consumption levels below $1 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day.

One third of deaths - some 18 million people a year or 50,000 per day - are due to poverty-related causes. That's 270 million people since 1990, the majority women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US.

Every year nearly 11 million children die before their fifth birthday.

800 million people go to bed hungry every day.

I'm fighting back tears as I write this and I think of the two dollar coffee I bought myself during my break in class this afternoon. Not to mention the 15 dollars I drop on a new CD every month or the 200 dollars I dropped on an mp3 player after I graduated college.

"Oh, but Kiel. That's not our problem! There's people that will step up and take care of this. And even if they don't, it's not our fault that we were born here in America and they were born there."

As one woman I worked with last year put it, after telling me that her son was wanting to live in Africa and treat the sick after he received his degree in medicine - "I can't believe he wants to waste his life like that."

I wonder what Jesus has to say about this?

"And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.

Then he said, This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.

But God said to him, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?

This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." - Luke 16-21

"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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.'

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?'

He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'" - Matthew 25:41-45

Shame on all of us for shrugging our shoulders to a culture that tells us to hoard money for ourselves and build bigger barns so that we will have ample goods for ourselves while millions die from a lack of food to eat and clean water to drink. If you are a Christian, take a VERY serious look at what you stand for and what you want to do with your life, because one day every one of us will be asked to give an account for what you did with what you were given.

God help us.