By Jon Weece
My daughter is almost 3 years old, and it takes little to entertain her curiosity or occupy her attention span. She was recently given a free balloon while dining at Fazoli’s. I can’t explain why this particular balloon became a prized possession, but it did. She named it and wouldn’t allow her younger brother near it. In a few short days, it was obvious a strong bond had developed between my daughter and this inflatable wonder, even with the helium leaking out of it.
One night, just before dinner rolled around, I put my daughter in her chair and asked if I could move the balloon, which she was clutching, from the dining room to the family room.
With her permission, I took hold of the string and gently pulled the balloon away. As I did, it touched the textured ceiling and popped. In an instant, I went from being a superhero to a scoundrel. My daughter’s bottom lip came out; a single, solitary tear rolled down her cheek. She was trying to be strong, but that was her best friend and I was the big jerk who had come between them.
I quickly scooped her up in my arms and drove her to Toys “R” Us. An hour later, we walked out of kid heaven with a small kitchen and a 19-piece pot-and-pan ensemble that any gourmet chef would envy! In the end, a free balloon from Fazoli’s ended up costing me $30!
LESSONS FROM MY JOURNAL
I am learning to be like my daughter—content with little. One of my prized possessions is a journal I keep with lessons God is teaching me. Like the first article I submitted, I can’t help but write about a few gifts that came in the form of teachable moments this past month. These are simple gifts I hope will encourage and challenge you.
Everybody needs a trip to Fresno. I’m opening up a can with this one and I run the risk of being a lightning rod for criticism, but I need to ask, “As Christians have we properly responded to the homosexual community?”
During the presidential election season, my heart broke on several occasions when I read editorial pages and saw protests organized by what I believe were well-intentioned Christians. The tone more than the motivation is what kept me up at night. And I can’t begin to tell you the pain I felt when I read an e-mail from a man in his 50s who has struggled with same sex-attractions his entire life. He wrote to inform me that he would never come back to Southland because of a comment I made from the platform, a comment that received thunderous applause from most.
I’m all for protecting the sanctity of marriage, and I’m all for taking a bold stance against sin—any and every sin. But I feel like we need to wrestle with this subject more than we do. My prayer life was greatly disrupted and disturbed when I met with a support group from our church that has been meeting secretly for years, grappling with the shame of being in the homosexual lifestyle or having a family member who is.
For the sake of brevity and space, I’ll sum up a four-year personal journey by saying I found myself a few months back in Fresno, California, listening to the most redemptive testimony I’ve heard to date. A former male prostitute shared about a little church in Tennessee that refused to give up on him and was relentless in modeling a love he had heard about, but never experienced. Long story very short, by the grace and power of God he married a post-abortive woman, they have two sons, and he is a leader at Focus on the Family.
I went looking for answers and clarity. I walked out of that session and found myself wandering down a sidewalk, crying, begging God to forgive me for how I’ve alienated an entire community of people in Lexington who need him, and in the same breath asking God to give me the courage and wisdom to know how to help. I just want to help!
I’ve now read six books on the subject, I’ve searched through journals, I’m planning an entire sermon series around what I’m learning, and strangely, without prompting, my e-mail is loaded weekly with people who have come out of the closet, but now want out of the lifestyle.
In all honesty, I’m still a bit confused by the issue. Tears come quicker than answers for me, and my hands are shaking even as I type this. So I hope through the printed page you can gauge the sincerity of my heart when I ask again, “As Christians, have we properly responded to the homosexual community?”
Growth without health is dangerous—especially in the church. Maybe I should clarify that statement by saying, “Numeric growth without spiritual health is dangerous—especially in an era of cookie cutter churches.”
You know this, but the labor of love we refer to as kingdom building cannot be explained in algebraic equations. I’m thrilled by the growth of the church today, but let’s not get swept up in the trendy euphoria of plugging in a formula to get people to come through the doors. I’m reading the same books you are on church growth and attending the same conferences you attend. And there are principles we all can apply and practices we all can learn from. But remember, one of the beauties of our movement is autonomy, and thank goodness no two churches or two church leaders are the same!
So if you are feeling pressured to keep up with the megachurches of the world, don’t be! Ask God what he wants the church you are in to be and do, then obey that calling. Let the Spirit of God partner with your faithfulness to his Word, and I promise people will fight over pew space like kids scrambling for the last seat in musical chairs.
It seems too many leaders today are interested in building crowds and not communities. The two are interrelated, but not interchangeable.
Don’t drink from the bitter fountain of cynicism. They stand in the back of a meeting with their arms folded and grimaces on their faces. No matter what you propose they snicker and say, “That’ll never work!” Now, I’m all for feedback and constructive criticism, but I’m learning the hard way that some people’s glass is not only half empty, it’s half empty with sour milk!
The church cynic lives to destroy optimism and unity. He or she can pinpoint every problem with a plan, with no apology for never offering a solution. He or she knows just enough to be dangerous, a “jack of all trades and master of none” type.
The poisonous, toxic air these cynics spew out is as destructive as an airborne plague. They’re like a wrecking ball that can single-handedly destroy the momentum and mood of any church atmosphere. They will bully a well-intentioned leader until he or she has had every ounce of energy siphoned out. They want you to be apathetic because, strangely, that pacifies them.
Negative and divisive, selfish and joyless, they cannot be ignored as harmless gossips. Their sarcasm intimidates weaker brothers, leaves innocent people wounded, destroys trust, and prevents a culture of intimacy from taking root. Don’t be naïve; they will shoot you when your back is turned.
No matter what, to avoid bitterness and stooping to their level, you need to pray for them fervently, love them sacrificially, and forgive them wholeheartedly. God doesn’t suggest that course of action; he demands it. Not what you want to hear, is it? But depending on the stage of the wildfire they have set, God also says you may need to coach them, confront them, or even dismiss them.
Whoever your blessed “thorn in your flesh” is, please, don’t be swayed, coerced, or discouraged by them. From one battle-weary pilgrim to another, I know that is easier said than done, so . . .
Revel in the cheering. Go to a basketball game and not a JV game or an intramural ame. Go to a real game and watch a real team that is coached well. (We have one in Lexington for all struggling to find such a team!)
The first time a play is executed well, watch the response of the crowd and watch the response of the opposing coach. The crowd will jump to its feet, and you will see dignified, mature people yelling and whistling and clapping and giving high fives to complete strangers. The opposing coach however, will remove his jacket, loosen his tie, pull on his hair, pace back and forth, mutter unmentionables under his breath, and basically worry about the security of his job. The second time a play is executed well, close your eyes and imagine the cheering is for you. And imagine you are the one giving the opposing coach an ulcer.
And then remember every encouraging note you write, every sermon you labor over, every high school student you counsel, every hospital call you make, every widow you help, every struggling couple you cry with, every guilt-ridden person who hears your prayers, every child you raise, every missionary you support. Remember every one of them and then remember you are part of a team that is executing well and giving our rival fits. Listen to the right coach, practice hard, don’t be a ball hog, stick to the game plan, play like the champion you are, and never lose sight of the euphoria of being cheered for! (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Jon Weece is senior minister with Southland Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky.