Friday, May 25, 2012

Planning a vacation is like writing a sermon...

I'm planning my first cross-country trip with my family (I can't get the song, "Holiday Road" out of my head). Myself, my wife and daughter, as well as my sister-in-law and her daughter are all packing into a van and driving to the Grand Canyon.

Well, I just decided that was the destination.

I was leaning toward the Grand Tetons/Yellowstone, but I apparently had to book hotels a LOT earlier. And there were a LOT of hotels to book, and none of them allowed you to see what dates were open... you just had to enter dates and hope for the best. Most didn't have even two nights in a row. Sheesh. Frustrating.

I have spent a ton of time on the internet, at AAA (not very helpful at all), and talking with people trying to plan this trip. And honestly, it was getting frustrating. Hotels were hundreds of dollars a night or everything was booked. Someone offered to lend me their trailer and, for a while, I thought we would be camping. Then my ever-wise father-in-law reminded me that I would be doing the work setting up and getting stuff ready after driving 12-15 hours a day, with kids, and maybe I should just stay in hotels. He's a very wise man.

But this was not an enjoyable thing to be doing. Until....

A watershed moment: a friend and former Centralite offered me her family's time share. One possible location was just over 2 hours from the Grand Canyon (and about the same distance -- day trips -- from some other areas I thought about going like the painted desert, some other national parks, etc).

First, this was an amazing act of generosity. It cut my vacation costs in half, at least.

But it did something else.

It provided a destination.

Knowing that we were going to that spot, and that it would be our "home base" for a week, allowed me to plan around that destination. And suddenly my trip planning fell into place. What was initially taking days, even weeks to plan, I mostly did in a couple of hours.

And now it's MUCH more fun.

And although I'm on sabbatical and not supposed to be working, I immediately thought of preaching.

I can spend FOREVER getting started. For me to write a sermon, I need to figure out a key point. The destination. This one idea I want everyone "to get."

And I can spend a LOT of time trying to discover that one destination.

I can read book after book. Study ideas and words. Write pages and pages and pages that I know will eventually end up on the cutting room floor. But I need to get that one destination.

And once I uncover that destination, the rest is so much easier.

Then, all I really need to do is to figure out the best path to get there. When do I want to take the time to "take in the sights" and do a couple of leisurely side trips, and when do I just need to "plow through Kansas" while the kids are complaining in the back. And then, how do I "get home" once the point is made? And how long do I take to get there so people don't get too tired of sitting? What do I want them to remember after the trip is done?

But getting that "destination" makes it all easier. Getting that one thing make the rest of it flow.

And maybe life is that way. Maybe when we "get" the big idea, all the other ideas flow naturally from that.

When asked what the greatest commandment was... sheesh, there were 613 of them... Jesus said, "Love God, love people. Everything else is a side trip. Everything else supports that one place. That one idea.

By the way, I"m VERY thankful for my gracious friend and her family for her gift of our destination. Thanks for loving me and my family through your act of generosity. I know you are reading this... so thanks. I'm very grateful.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Messy Christianity

Warning: like most of my posts, this is as much for me as anything. No time is spent editing for grammar, punctuation or, God forbid, spelling. Take it as it is written. :)

So I've been reading Acts lately and thinking: "Wow, this early church thing is not as clear as we want to make it."

Interesting (and maybe obvious) thought: most of the early disciples did not have a New Testament.  There may have been parts of Mark floating around. Some other writings most likely circulated. They had their oral tradition of stories. But there were no completed gospels. No letters. The Apostle Paul didn't have the letters of Paul to refer to because... well... um... you get the point.

So honestly, they just made a lot of this "discipleship" thing up on the fly.

I'm not saying that the Holy Spirit wasn't leading. I'm not saying God was not a part of the process. But God certainly seemed (as in much of scripture) to give them some leeway to discern on their own. I know that this might make some of my readers uncomfortable, but as I read the bible, it's there. You really can't avoid it. Sometimes it seems the Holy Spirit directly guides... and other times, they throw the dice.

I would guess their theology was driven by Jesus' greatest commandment: in short -- "Love God, love people -- all the other commandments are summarized by this." So whenever they had a choice to make, they would ask, "What does love require of me? What does love look like in this situation?" And that is what they did.

Acs 15: People from Judea come to Paul and say, "People have to be circumcised to be a disciple of Jesus." This doesn't seem to be quite in line with what Paul has been teaching -- in fact they seem to fight about it -- so a group of disciples go to Jerusalem to gather with other believers and "consider the question." While there, there appears to be a lot of, "I think..." and "Well... no, I think..."  that goes on.

And then Peter says, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20) In the letter written back to the people they write, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."

It seemed good? 

It SEEMED good?

I mean, given the severity of what they were talking about (especially for the guys), I'm thinking that SEEMED is something you might want some more certainty on, right?

Also interesting -- Paul later writes that abstaining from food polluted by idols and following dietary laws are are no longer requirements either (So much for those).

Now, I'm not being a heretic here, I'm really not. I'm not throwing out the bible. But maybe we are making this "disciple" thing more complicated than it is. I love theology and a good discussion as much as the next person (probably more), but maybe the question we might ask in every situation should be: "How do I love God and people in this situation?"

Over the past couple of years, I've become a bit more humble in my theological positions. In some ways, I'm actually much more secure in what I believe and hold firmer convictions. But I don't feel I need to win every theological argument anymore. I don't feel the need to be right all the time. Honestly, I don't think I have to even have a clearly thought out theological position on ever issue.

And as I think back to my "college Paul" -- I'm not sure that guy was all that loving to people, especially people who disagreed with him. I often felt threatened. I was insecure. I functioned out of fear. I really wanted to be right.

Maybe this post is an asking of forgiveness and an act of repentance.

But maybe it is the hope that the faith I hold now is closer to what Jesus hopes for me than the one I held before. At least, that is what "seems good to me" now.