A Great Moral Teacher?

September 30, 2008

(I’ve been preaching a series of lessons on Judas Iscariot at the county jail.  This article was the basis for Lesson 3.)

No doubt Jesus was a great moral teacher.  The “golden rule,” the “good Samaritan,” the “prodigal son” – all are teachings of Jesus that have shaped Western Civilization’s sense of morality and ethics, right and wrong.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Take care of people who, for whatever reason, are unable to take care of themselves.  Be willing to ask for, and extend, a second chance.  These principles are fundamental to Western ideas of politics, economics, and social entities.  All come from the teachings of Jesus.

But sadly, many in our world are quite comfortable with the teachings of Jesus, as far as they go.  They are perfectly willing to be hospitable, generous, and even forgiving.  They may even give Jesus credit for teaching them how.  But when forced to choose between what they have been taught and what the want to do, many who espouse the great moral teachings of Jesus find themselves perfectly willing to go against them when they decide the situation so dictates.

But Jesus wants more.

Jesus came to Earth to be more than a rabbi.  He came to be Lord.  He doesn’t want students; He wants brothers.  His message was not just how to live well in this life, but how to conquer death so there could be hope for the next one.

The difference comes down to one question.  Is Jesus your Rabbi, or is He your Lord?  Is your loyalty to your King, or to yourself or something else?  Is Jesus a wise philosopher full of good ideas people should listen to, or is He King of your life, having the authority to inform you of His will and trusting You to carry it out?

When told of Jesus’ imminent betrayal at the Last Supper, every disciple asked Him, “Lord, is it I?”  Well, every disciple but one.  Jesus was Lord to the eleven who stayed loyal, but to the traitor – Judas Iscariot – Jesus was merely “Rabbi.”

Ultimately the difference between Jesus as rabbi and Jesus as Lord comes down to a matter of trust.  Do you trust Jesus?  And can He trust you?

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A Thought on Statistics

September 9, 2008

A conversation with my Dad this weekend opened up a can of worms that has been sitting in my brain for a while now.

We’ve seen reports about the growth (or lack thereof) in Churches of Christ in the last decade or so.  Every three years 21st Century Christian puts out what is as close to a comprehensive list of congregations as anybody can get.  In addition to contact information, that directory includes data on church size and any distinctive characteristics one might look for.

Upon closer examination, however, one quickly discovers that a significant portion of the numerical data is inaccurate.  For instance, my parents’ home congregation is listed with attendance of 300, when in reality they run closer to 425, a 25% under-reporting.  Pleasant Grove is under-reported by 15%.  Other churches I’ve worked with have been mislabeled by up to 50% over or under.

Preliminary analysis indicates that they typical number listed in the directory is off by 4%, plus or minus.  What that means is, when you see those articles in the Christian Chronicle or elsewhere celebrating a 1.7% increase over three years, or bewailing a 1.2% decrease, take a deep breath. The changes in brotherhood totals in the 3 three-year intervals since 1997 have all been under 2%.  Basically, Churches of Christ in America are stable.  We’re not growing, but we’re not shrinking either.

And it’ll take at least a 4% change in the totals to comvince me otherwise.


Across Five Augusts

September 5, 2008

Five years.

According to the laws of probability, you should not be reading this article. You see, there’s a reason cardiologists call a severe blockage of the right coronary artery a “widow maker.” And when the blockage occurs before the age of thirty, the diagnosis is most often made during an autopsy. What’s more, even when the problem is treated with surgery, a significant majority of bypass patients either die or have another surgery within five years.

Five years.

This week marks five years since that life-changing Wednesday afternoon when an otherwise-healthy, twenty-nine-year-old soccer referee who didn’t drink or smoke fell over dead for a few seconds. Friday was the five-year anniversary of my morning on the operating table. Five years ago today was the first time I ever missed a Sunday preaching assignment on account of illness.

Five years.

The good news was that the doctors repaired the vascular damage in about six hours with bypass surgery. The physical recovery took the better part of a year. But truthfully, even five years later, I suspect I’ll probably never be “good as new.” You see, my heart didn’t just stop; it was broken. There was a real emotional, spiritual illness in me, one that revealed itself in destructive habits as dangerous as any drug. Inadequate to the challenge of dealing with my own problems, I instead buried myself in my work of helping others. When I was hurting, I sought out “comfort food” rather than the God of all comfort.

Habits like the ones that nearly killed me five years ago cannot be surgically removed, nor do they simply disappear by force of will. When I sat down to write this article, I thought it strange to do so since I am still such a work in progress, even after five years.

Five years later, I’m still not “well,” and probably never will be.  But I am getting better. And if you’re reading this article, you have probably helped. Whether you’ve been my family, my friend, or just my audience, I’m better today because of you.

Thank you.