9/1/2013 All Are Welcome

A thoughtful and insightful post about “servant-hood” from a talented fellow blogger who sees beyond the surface. Well done.

ForeWords

World Hunger Emphasis (Community of Christ)
Ordinary Time (Proper 17)

Jeremiah 2:4–13; Psalm 81:1, 10–16; Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16; Luke 14:1, 7–14

Any reading of the Gospels reveals this defining characteristic of Jesus: He loved a party. Of course, that raised more than a few eyebrows back then, as it does for many “good, church folks” today. Jesus was often confronted with the way he and his disciples comported themselves, in comparison especially to John the Baptist and his disciples. But Jesus was not John. His agenda and “gospel” was a different, yet related one. We pick up the action in chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel:

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely…. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them…

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On God and Suicide

I’ve spent a good part of my life wondering what God thinks about certain things.

When I was a kid, I wondered what God thought about all the bad things I did. Sins they were called. It’s what the pastor at our church talked about most of the time. This thing called sin. It was everywhere, and I was bad because I did it, he said.

Even as an older adult, I still contemplate God’s thoughts. When I was divorced several years ago, I wondered how disappointed He was in me. Certain things I read said I’d just filled out my own prescription to Hell.

Today, I wonder a lot about how God’s going to bring all this worldly mess together for His glory. He will do that, no doubt, but I don’t have a clue how.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

About the time I was 30, though, I was wondering something that I didn’t even know I was really wondering. Until, that is, Pastor Rick Warren wrote his best seller Purpose Driven Life.

It was Warren’s subtitle that really caught my attention … What on Earth Am I Here For?

When I saw Warren’s book on the best seller shelf of my local bookstore, I devoured it, because it was exactly what I’d been wondering for years.

It’s one of only a few books that’s really had a profound effect on my life for the good, and since that time, nearly 20 years ago, Rick Warren has carried a special place in my heart, as is the case with so many others across the world.

And so last weekend, we all collectively mourned when we learned that his 27-year-old son Matthew took his own life, a result of chronic depression.

Matthew Warren

Matthew Warren

Sometimes very bad things happen to really good people.

When such “everyday things” happen to prominent people, it makes us wonder. The Warren family’s circumstance caused me to ponder a  “God question” I thought about for many years.

Did Rick Warren’s son go to hell because he committed suicide?

The church teachings to which I was exposed as a child and young adult all basically gave an unfortunate, but profound “yes” to a this question. The justification behind the doctrine? In a nut shell, murder is a sin, the man took his life, and by taking his own life could’ve never repented for said sin. Harsh, but simple and true, the sin preachers preached.

It’s the academics of God’s word, I think they believed.

Because the authority figures taught that teaching, I bought it for the longest time. It made me sad, but I believed it because that’s what the men behind the pulpit said.

I’m glad I don’t believe this today. And thank God he’s not the God of Academics. Actually, he’s God of everything, but you know what I mean.

I didn’t know Rick Warren’s son, and truth is, I don’t know where he is today. I hope he’s in Heaven. But I do know this. He wasn’t doomed for Hell because he killed himself.

How do I know this? Because rather than counting mistakes and messes you and I make against us, His nature is forgiveness. Unquestionable, unconditional forgiveness, circumstances be damned.

Matthew Warren‘s mistake was an unfortunate one. Terrible timing with collateral damage everywhere – friends, family, you name it.

But it was a mistake, and that’s all it was. And mistakes don’t necessarily send you to Hell. I believe that, and I’m staking my life on it.

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A Birthday Gift to Myself: The Way of St. James

Carnival in Ecuador

On my 47th birthday earlier today, checking out the sites on the first real day of Carnival.

“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”  ~ Herman Melville

February 10, 2013.

My 47th birthday. Oh, the humanity.

I’ve almost always given birthday presents to myself. Over the years, sometimes I’d show others what I’d given myself. Other times, I’d keep it private.

The most special gifts I’ve given myself are challenges, or commitments that I’d make for the sake of nothing more than the personal satisfaction of facing the challenge itself.

On my 38th birthday, I challenged myself to run a marathon before I was 40. I did three. More recently I proclaimed I’d be a published author by the end of 2012. Still working on that one. But it will come to pass.

Those who know me best, know one of the things that keeps me motivated and at my best, is when a great challenge, or adventure, lies ahead. It took me 28 years to beat my best buddy in a single round of golf, but I never quit.

In 47 years I’ve learned that adventure rarely creates itself, so today, I’ve given a birthday gift to myself.

The narrow path, or The Way.

The narrow path, or The Way.

I’ve given myself permission to plan for a new adventure.

Within the next two years (sometime before my 50th birthday) I’ll go on a great pilgrimage to walk the Way of St. James, or the Santiago de Compostela, or the Camino de Santiago, whatever you wish to call it. It’s the 500 kilometer pilgrimage to the burial place of James, brother of John.

Completing the camino should take about 75 days of steady walking.

With a little help from Wikipedia, here’s some information on the camino.

The Way of St. James

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, along with that of Rome and Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way of St. JamesThe Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the plague of the Black Death and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. In present day, the route attracts a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The Way was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987. It was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

The Way of St. James

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The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’ remains, though there have been years of fewer pilgrims, particularly during European wars.

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The Christian origin of the pilgrimage has been well documented throughout the centuries.

To the End of the World

The main pilgrimage route to Santiago follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues to the Atlantic coast of Galicia, ending at Cape Finisterre. Although it is known today that Cape Finisterre, Spain’s westernmost point, is not the westernmost point of mainland Europe, the fact that the Romans called it Finisterrae (literally the end of the world or Land’s End in Latin) indicates that they viewed it as such. 

To this day, many pilgrims continue past Santiago de Compostela to finish their journeys at Cape Finisterre.

Scallop Symbol

The Way of St. JamesThe scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.

Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol The Way of St. Jamesconcern the death of St. James, who was martyred by beheading in Jerusalem in 44 AD. According to Spanish legends he had spent time preaching the gospel in Spain, but returned to Judea upon seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River.

Version 1: After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
Version 2: After James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.

Why do I want to walk The Way? Because it’s there, and life’s too short not to. And I have no idea what the experience will bring, but I know something’s waiting.

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The Power of YES

“Say, yes. And if you’re lucky, you will find people who say ‘yes’ back. Now will saying yes, get you in trouble at times? Will saying yes, lead you to some foolish things? Yes, it will, but don’t be afraid to be a fool. Cynics don’t learn anything. Cynics always say no. But saying yes, begins things. It’s how things grow.” ~ Steven Colbert in his 2006 commencement speech to the graduates at Knox College.

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This story isn’t about me, or even Harold, really.

It’s about the power of “yes,” and it’s true.

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More than how it curbed my enthusiasm, I mostly remember how it outright dampened my spirit.

I’d just enjoyed an hourlong visit, and a cup of coffee with an old friend. Three years earlier, he’d presided over the ceremony where Dana and I became husband and wife.

We talked about life’s ups and downs, some common challenges we’d both shared, and how it can sometimes just wear you all down. Then he hit me with something I never expected.

“You know, I haven’t had a vacation in 17 years. I really need a vacation,” Harold said, explaining that he had neither the money, nor the time for a really relaxing trip.

Seventeen years. That’s a very long time.

This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he's one of my wisest friends. Bill has said "yes" more times than anyone I know.

This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he’s one of my wisest friends. Bill has said “yes” more times than anyone I know.

Minutes later, I left our visit determined to put the 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere, anywhere, tropical, for at least a week. But I would need some help. I would surely need some “yesses.”

Harold is a man who goes above and beyond the call for whatever it is he’s called to do. For a year or more we attended the same church where Harold was then leading its membership through a time of transition to a point where a new pastor would ultimately be appointed. I got sick of the politics and left the church months long before it all came to pass, but faithful Harold stayed behind to lead where no one else could, and he wasn’t one bit mad at me for doing what I had to do. He just wanted me to be okay. That’s why I love Harold. He “gets” things.

For me, the very thought that Harold hadn’t seen a vacation in 17 years was unacceptable, and I intended to do something about it, and right fast, but I’d need some help.

On a dime, I scrapped the day’s schedule, and put on my fundraising hat. In a previous career as director of development at a 12,000-student university, I’d helped raised millions of dollars a year over several years, so the $5,000 we needed to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical would be no big deal, I thought, and I had every intention of raising it by 5 o’clock that afternoon, and putting Harold on a plane to somewhere tropical in the next two weeks.

I went back to my office and wrote down 10 names. Ten names in Harold’s church who I really thought would see the need and vision for this wonderful opportunity to “give back” to Harold for all his wisdom and leadership over the years. And, moreover, 10 names that I thought could cough up $500 each on the spot, and never miss a dime.

An hour later the list was on paper, and I was making phone calls.

“I think it’s a great idea, but I’m not sure the time is right,” one said. “Maybe in a few months.”

“Don’t you think this is something we ought to run by the leadership?” another asked.

“I see where you’re coming from, and admire the effort, but why such a hurry?” another finally confessed.

Less than halfway through the calling list, it was clear we weren’t going to put 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical that week, or any other time for that matter.

No one would say “yes,” to such a whimsical gesture from such an apparently naive dreamer.

Harold’s still there, giving as much as ever, and he’s not getting any younger.

Many months later “when the time was right,” the church leadership went on to acknowledge Harold. I’m pretty sure they gave him a certificate of achievement.

One day soon, I’m going to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical. Count on that.

***

To lead a movement, one of the greatest qualities a person can possess, I suggest, is the ability to say “yes” now, and figure out the “how” later.

Are you a leader? At your company? In your family? In your church?

Want to see your team make a difference? Learn how to give a reflexive YES. Stop throwing up barriers to the very people who want to make a difference.

Stop making them sense apprehension at the very thought of asking your PERMISSION.

Lead with a yes, and ask how later.

Now what laughable dream will you say yes to, today?

Say yes.

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Failure: Friend or Foe? (Part II)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gdvnm5a7i6zj9od/Watkins_EverydayMissionaries_20121212.mov

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As a follow-up to this post yesterday, I’m attaching a 7-minute video clip produced by, and shown yesterday, at Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR. Just click on the link above and enjoy.

For Dana and me, it chronicles our life during the last three years, how things seemingly fell apart, and then,  how God responded to it all with the most laughable dream we could ever imagine.

Life is good.

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Failure: Friend or Foe? (Part I)

(Blogger‘s Note: This is the first in a two-post series on how I look at failure. I’ll post Part II this afternoon in the form a a 7-minute video – a short testimony from Dana and me, produced by Fellowship Bible Church of Jonesboro, AR)

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“I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” ~ Tony Robbins

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Kings of  Failure. Queens of Regret.

Thank goodness God wants us to live in a Realm of Redemption because I invent new ways to fail every day.

And I wouldn’t exactly call failure my friend, but he’s someone with whom I’m very well acquainted.

In fact, up until not too long ago, when anyone asked me about the one thing in life that motivated me most, my response would’ve been – fear of failure. How screwed up is that?

Mile 25 at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, just looking for the finish line.

Mile 25 at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, just looking for the finish line.

One day in 2005, after nine months of training, and just moments after completing my first 26.2-mile marathon, all I could think about was the failure of having missed my finishing time goal by 20 minutes. The fact that I’d just finished the monumental race – unfortunately, it was meaningless.

One day in 2008 I woke up to the realization that I was divorced, a business failure, broke, and a likely disappointment in a new marriage to the most amazing woman I’d ever met.

And one day shortly thereafter, my professional and personal life went dark, absent of a vision, and I thought I’d never again have the opportunity to work again in the communication business I loved so much.

It took a long time to grasp, ever so slightly, the concept of Grace, and my freedom to fail without penalty.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14

Experienced failure? Let people down? Got guilt? Violated the very thing you knew was right?

What does God say to that? This, I think, maybe…

“I’m not going to ask for your transcript or your resume. Fallen short?

“It’s okay. And it’s okay to Own It. But I’m God, so for God’s Sake, Own It, But Stop Carrying it Around.”

Watch for the video post later today and see how, for Dana and me, our greatest failures turned into the realization of our most Laughable Dreams.

“The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of, and response to, failure.” ~ John Maxwell, Failing Forward

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Are Christians the Least Forgiving People on the Planet?

“I could be a really good Christian if it just weren’t for other people.” ~ unknown

As research for an upcoming book project, I recently posed this open question to anyone who wished to respond:

Do you believe Christians are more forgiving of sinners outside the church than they are to their own “brothers & sisters” inside the church? Example: If a man or woman had an affair as a member of the church body, would members be less forgiving of them than they would to someone who was not a church member? Are Christians nothing more than cannibals who devour their own?

Sweden Zombie Walk

The question was prompted by a recent story in Christianity Today, titled “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard.

The response was overwhelming. Read of few of these unedited reader comments, and feel free to add to the interesting (and very civilized, I might add) discussion…

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Maybe not cannibals… but they do have a way of shunning for a real long time. Even then, the whispers continue.

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Now this is just my opinion … I think yes, if you truly ask for forgiveness of your sins, I think it would then be a sin of the fellow church members to not forgive you … nobody lives a perfect life … isn’t it also a sin to judge others ?

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cannibalThe measure of grace that we show is usually directly correlated to how close to home the sin occurs.

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As a general observance, I don’t see the majority of Christians being very forgiving at all, to either party. However, personally, I tend to be grace-filled/forgiving more to believers who are truly repentant and not as much to unrepentant believers … as for unbelievers. It just depends on the situation and how close it hits home for me (see comment above). I say all of this realizing that my feelings on forgiveness are subjective and not at all what they should be, obviously.

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I am one of those folks who doesn’t lead the life that most Christians would approve of, but I do my best, and I have faith that grace will save me from any of my earthly mistakes.

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I have to keep going back to your question! Romans 3:23 tells us that everyone sins. I believe that to be truth. Each of us, daily, makes mistakes. But I believe that we are to hate the sin and love the sinner. So that is why Gal 6:1 makes sense to me. We are to restore those who have made bad choices.

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I’m not going to quote any bible passages but I do know that good christian people make cannibalmistakes and sin frequently. But is it also not a sin to judge people? Especially when you have not personally walked in their shoes. I grew up in a christian family with parents that were truly heaven-sent. But I know what it is like to do something so against what you were taught and wish you could just crawl under a rock or make time turn back. From my experience, the guilt I experienced was worse than anything anyone else could do to me due to the fact I was a christian. What I’m trying to say is, instead of judging each other, christian to christian, why can’t we just be there for each other. Sometimes that’s all people need. The problem is between them and their God after all.

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In theory, they should be. In reality, unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way most of the time. The hypocrisy of those that CLAIM to be Christians blinds the view of what being a Christian should be so often. And I’m definitely not saying every Christian is like this; I’m saying those that are, ruin the true meaning of what being a Christian is about. I know this doesn’t answer the question, but I think this is why so many people lose faith.

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If we could all be saved and have no further fears of making a mistake or committing a sin, why would Jesus have stressed the importance of fellowship? Am I not to be just as good an example to my fellow Christians as I am to a sinner, up to, and including, the understanding and forgiveness that all of life is one day at a time? Not one of us, whether or not we are at church every time the doors are open, is perfect. I depend on my church family to lift me up in prayer and mercy just as I do each of them.

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We are in the Kingdom because of Redemption. It’s God’s best work. I’m compelled to believe it should be ours as well. Awesome discussion.

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Generally when folks are judgmental and unforgiving, I believe they are frightened of their own vulnerability to the action they are condemning, inside, as well as outside the church. Which is less forgiving? Not sure. I suspect that it us good Christian people. Somewhere through the centuries church membership became confused with Pharisee-ism, where we get to decide who is in, and who is out. It makes us feel safe if we see someone else step in it.

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Don’t think I can add anything that hasn’t been said, but I enjoyed reading this feed & seeing a discussion carried out the way adults should speak with one another!

What would you add to the discussion?

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