Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pastor's Journal:From Southern Baptist to Non-Denominational

Traveling across a religious spectrum has provided some unique challenges. This journey has included being born into a Southern Baptist home, studying religion at a state university, going to seminary at a Presbyterian school, being ordained through the Baptist General Conference, planting a church under my ordaining denomination, and serving as pastor of a non denominational church. Many lessons have been learned, some of which I hope to share through this journal in the future.

So many labels exist for Christians. Many are helpful, and many are destructive. They include: evangelical, fundamentalist, liberal, parachurch, literalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Bible thumper, spirit-filled, charismatic, Pentecostal, reformed, Calvinist, Arminian, etc. It is one thing to be labeled, and it is another thing entirely to look through their lens at the surrounding world. A lot of the religious conflicts that I have caused, mediated, or observed have stemmed from a lack of understanding from other points of view. One person was labeling while looking through a lens, and another was defensive while looking through a completely different lens. Who was right? Who was wrong? How does anyone attempt to sort through it?

That lack of understanding has expressed itself in pride, ignorance, disrespect, and division. Maybe through my journey you can confront such attitudes in your own life as you read the way I am confronting mine. Let's take a thoughtful and considerate walk through this maze. It will be important for us to establish common ground from the outset.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Reflections

If you have ever had children, you know anticipation well. From the moment two lines show up to the day of the birth it is almost constant preparation. The nursery must be painted. Furniture needs to be arranged. Gotta check the baby development websites, everyday, sometimes twice or more. There are the birthing classes, bottles, diapers, baby showers, etc. So much goes into preparation, and then the day comes. It is a magical moment the first time you hear the baby cry, and for the next two years everything is surreal, mostly due to lack of sleep. But it is so much different than you expect. Don't get me wrong, it is amazing, but it is not like what you had envisioned.

Another birth that was greatly anticipated, but not what it was envisioned is the birth of Jesus. Advent is the season of anticipation of Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is focused on prophecy. There are more than 300 things foretold in the Hebrew scriptures about the One (Messiah) to come that Jesus fulfilled throughout His life. It seems that with all of those fulfilled prophecies there would be no disappointment or mistake who this Messiah was. But expectations are funny things. The more specific uncontrollable expectations, the greater risk of missing it or being completely disappointed. The expectation was for a great military leader and a king to take the physical throne of David. In contrast, Jesus was born to humble beginnings, and led as a servant giving of Himself to the point of a criminal's death.

John the Baptist was to prepare the way for the Messiah, and even for him, Jesus as Messiah was a question mark. John sent his followers to Jesus with an inquiry recorded in Matthew 11:3,

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

If anyone should know that Jesus is the Messiah, it is John. But it is understandable that he would ask the question. After all, preparing the way for One who has been anticipated for thousands of years is not something you want to get wrong, and the developed expectation that he was no doubt taught was much different than what Jesus looked like. Jesus wasn't the king or military leader they were looking for in a Messiah. The acceptance of reality and truth haven't changed much in the last 2000 years. Think about this,

What are you anticipating for Christmas? Maybe you envision a Norman Rockwell setting with a grand feast and warm fuzzy feelings about the people around the table. It could be big gifts under the tree with that perfect gift bearing your name on the card. Perhaps it is the look on your kid's faces when they see the gifts after Santa came the night before. There could be a more bleak outlook for you because hard times, unemployment, personal loss, or tragedy has struck. You may not even be able to envision any resemblance of happiness at Christmas. These are not the hooks on which to hang your hope and expectation.

So, as we enter the Advent season, maybe we should ask of our own expectations, "Are you really what I am anticipating? OR is there more?"

The hope that Jesus offers is not bound up in gifts we can buy or give. It is not found in a feast for the family. It is found in the historical reality that a baby was born in a miraculous way for a miraculous cause. He did not come to bring employment or warm fuzzy feelings. He came to die. Until our anticipation of Christmas is grounded in historic coming of a savior, and our hope is found in the salvation He alone offers; we are destined for disappointment and discouragement.

Turn your hope for Advent to Him. You may find a sense of contentment and peace you've never experienced before this Christmas. And along this journey you may discover a baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago fulfilling a new anticipation grounded in reality and Truth.

Favorite Christmas Movie Scenes 03

There will be more from this movie. My kids act this scene out more than any other. There's just something about bodily sounds that are hilarious. Don't forget to leave a comment of your favorite Christmas movie scenes. They may show up before December is over!

Favorite Christmas Movie Scenes 02

Here's another great moment. I remember after running a 5k race in Birmingham, AL sticking my lips to a Popsicle. OUCH!!! Anyone ever get stuck to something cold??

Favorite Christmas Movie Scenes

Christmas is here again and here are some of my favorite moments from some Christmas movies. Please leave comments of your favorite scenes, and maybe I will post them next!

The Christmas Tree from "Christmas Vacation." "It's not going in our yard, Russ, It's going in our living room." Hahaha!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

To My Kids on the Importance of Auburn Family: Iron Bowl 2011

It is rivalry Saturday in college football, and THE big game is on at 1:30 MST. Now, you guys know I love Auburn football, but you need to understand why daddy acts a little "crazy" on days like this. Today, November 26, 2011, is the first time in my life that I can remember NOT looking forward to the Iron Bowl, but we will talk about that more later. Suffice it to say that this letter is therapy so that I can keep things in perspective on what I am anticipating to be a painful day. There is a wildcard, however, that will come to play! Auburn is bigger than the stats and more resilient than a point spread. So we have a fighting chance with home field advantage and tradition on our side. So win or lose this family (AU family) will stand united and yell with pride, War Eagle!!

Last year Auburn came back from a 24 point deficit to beat Bama and went on to play for the SEC and National Championship. This year Bama is stacked with speed and talent. The landscape of a team changes every year in NCAAF, and that is one of the things that makes it great to watch. But the reason I love Auburn is deeper than what happens between the hedges on any given Saturday afternoon every fall; it is TRADITION.

It seems the culture of our day undervalues tradition from church life to politics to family heritage. People want to write their own history rather than live as a part of something greater than themselves. Individuals are praised at the cost of the collective. There is certainly a place for the individual, but only in so much as he contributes to the whole. The Heisman Trophy is a great example of how an individual contributes to a team for the betterment of the whole. The individual is celebrated, but only because of the contribution he makes to the team. I don't love Auburn because of Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson, or Cam Newton, but they help build a rich winning tradition of which I am proud. So what is the heritage and tradition that makes me believe in Auburn and love it?

We are two generations of Auburn graduates in our family. Your grandfather (O) started us on this journey in the 60's. He ran track, and secured the Swearengin name in Auburn history by assisting his mile relay team to an SEC gold medal win in 1966. Just four years later O and Pops (your great grandfather) went to the Iron Bowl of 1972 named the "Punt Bama Punt" game.

(Kick off just began the game Bama 3 and out-Auburn 3 and out.)

The day I became an Auburn Tiger was 10 years after Punt Bama Punt. Pops took me to see the Iron Bowl of 82. In this game Bo Jackson went over the top of the offensive line across the goal line to secure an Auburn win and snap a nine year losing streak. I asked Pops after the game, "Is this the biggest game in the world?"
He replied, "To some it is."

After graduating high school, I went to junior college for two years. There was no question that I wanted to transfer to Auburn for my undergraduate education. Your mom and I met while we were DJ's at WEGL, Auburn's campus radio station in the summer of 1994.

(Auburn just scored a touchdown off of an Alabama fumble to cut Bama's lead to 14-7)

We both graduated in 1996 and were married in January 1997. The church in Atlanta where we were married wouldn't let us play the Auburn fight song as we left the church. The next Iron Bowl we went to was the 2005 game where Brodie Croyle (AL QB) was sacked 11 times and Auburn dominated the game winning 28-18.

But the TRADITION is greater than our family and its part of the AU story. There are so many people who have built the greatness of Auburn. I am just proud to be a part of the family and hope to represent it well throughout my life.

(Half time and AL is up 24-7)

The AU Creed emphasizes the importance of education, character, country and God. I'm sure other institutions emphasize the same, but there is no personal connection to any other. The family extends to others all around the world and is evident when traveling and saying War Eagle to others donning the Orange and Blue. I have had those moments almost everywhere I have traveled.

(Onterio McCalebb just returned the kickoff to start the 2nd half to make it 24-14)

Well the game is over now, and it turned out about like I expected this year. Final score Alabama 42 Auburn 14. Not the way we ever want it to end, but it is important to understanding the Auburn family. Even after a game that can be frustrating and depressing as a fan, most of us will still say, "It's still great to be an Auburn Tiger!" And as O always says, "We didn't lose, the time simply ran out this year." That is the way it is in this rivalry. It means bragging rights for a year, but the time will start again next November no matter who the score favors. So, even though I was not looking forward to the game, I know that we (AU Family) will stand together through good years and bad years believing in Auburn and loving it! And that is Auburn spirit. War Eagle!!!!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Clarifying the Win: Thanksgiving

We all have things that need to happen for a fulfilling experience at almost anything, but rarely do we clarify what those things are. For the last several years for Thanksgiving we have hosted people at our home who did not have family in town nor were they traveling. With that scenario the win is accomplished every time almost by accident. This year we were invited to someone's home for the big feast. So, I had to really consider what the win would be. Do I have to watch football? Do I have to have turkey? What are the ingredients to a successful Thanksgiving?

I will assume that the day is spent with family in some way. That is an essential. It's not always with extended family, but it has always, ever since I can remember, involved family. So that is a given. I found out yesterday that football is not essential. But there were some menu items that can not be avoided for the proper celebration of Thanksgiving in my mind. Here are some of the items:

1. Pumpkin Pie: I love pumpkin pie with spray whipped cream. It has to be there!

2. Sweet Potato Casserole: This is not the marshmallow topped atrocity. It is the one with a double topping of crushed pecans, brown sugar, and butter. Lots of butter! Yes this is a southern dish, and corners can not be cut to make it more "healthy."

3. Canned Cranberry Sauce: It was on the table every Thanksgiving I can remember growing up, which makes necessary.

4. Sauerkraut: Now this one takes some explaining. Melanie's grandmother always had this on the table, and one year as we were engaged in our gluttonous feast, the question was asked. "Why do we always have sauerkraut?" To which she replied without any hesitation, "Because it makes you sexy!" If it wasn't officially established before then, that comment made it a requirement.

Well, those are the wins for our family. We may develop more over the years and, Tyler and Megan, you will probably have your own. Tell me when you have one of your own. If you know what they are, you can prevent, at least some, disappointment with the holiday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Resolutions

Well, I am getting a head start on the new year with a few resolutions that I have already been working on but are being built into my whole life. Here goes:

1. I resolve to write. I have explained this in a past blog entry but suffice it to say I want to leave a written picture and profile for my children and future generations of their heritage in my words.

2. I resolve to learn and live the Word. Aside from my calling to pastoral ministry there is an even greater call to be the living stone mentioned in 1 Peter 2:1-12.

3. I resolve to preach the Word. My calling as a pastor is to preach the Word not psychology, popular opinion, or the gospel according to Disney.

4. I resolve to learn church history. This has become even more important since taking a position leading a non-denominational church. I need to know and teach where we have come from and how we have developed theologically and Biblically. The church has too many people leading out of passion and ignorance alone. I don't want to be one of them.

5. I resolve to read. Maybe this is assumed from some of the previous resolutions, but it still needs to be stated.

6. I resolve to lead my family. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

7. I resolve to make disciples of Jesus. This is confession, repentance, and resolve that the unintended result of intentional discipleship has been that disciples of Lance have been made. This should not be. The only one worth following is Jesus.

8. I resolve to play Yahtzee. These have been too serious so far and the mood needs to be lightened. The best game ever is Yahtzee, and I play it at least 10 times a day on my phone.

9. I resolve to develop my grasp and understanding of Christian Theology.

10. I resolve to kill an elk! This comes from my desire to feed my family the most lean and delicious meat in the world, not to mention the whole kill and eat thing:)

Happy Thanksgiving!!