April 22, 2009

This Week's Sermon

We began a series on the Lord's prayer this week. This sermon covers Jesus' teaching on prayer in Matthew just prior to "The Lord's Prayer." Hopefully, this will be a particular help for those struggling with prayer.


April 20, 2009

Compassion vs. Guilt

I recently watched the movie Seven Pounds. I actually liked it (most unusual for me, seems lately I find fault with every movie I see). For once I believed the two people could actually like or even love each other.

Anyway, without giving away the movie, its' theme is guilt and attempts at redemption. After watching the film and then discussing it with my wife, I was reminded of something I wrote several years ago, while I was still in grad school. So here it is.

I attend a Christian university that recently raised over one-hundred million dollars to ensure its future. I preach at a church where many people aren't sure if they will have enough money this month to pay the rent on their rundown apartment. And I feel guilty.

I go to class in a multi-million dollar teaching facility, carrying hundreds of dollars worth of theological textbooks. I teach the high school class at my church, and kids beg me to take them by McDonald's afterwards because there is no dinner waiting at their house. And I feel guilty.

I watch churches spend millions of dollars on buildings that are used less than a fourth of the week. I see kids from my church who live in two bedroom homes that house 8 people. And I feel guilty.

To be honest, this guilt is part of the reason I do what I do. (You can only say no the "Homeless, Please Help, God Bless!" signs so many times.) Eventually, you either stop looking, or you feel guilty enough to hand a couple of bucks out the window. That's me, the guilty one with the hand out his car window, holding up traffic.

Guilt is a highly underrated motivator. Guilt makes people sponsor children in Africa. Guilt gets Dad home from his office in time for dinner. Guilt increases the offering at church. Guilt can get things done.

But in spite of its effectiveness, I praise God it wasn't guilt that prompted Jesus to leave the Father's side, come to earth, and take on flesh. Had it been guilt, not long after his arrival he would have left, with us to fend for ourselves. Guilt can only take you so far. Jesus might have left his home in heaven because he felt guilty that he had it so good while we had it so rough. But it wouldn't have taken long for him to see that we are to blame for so much of the pain and hurt around us. Seeing us as we truly are would have dried up the guilt. A couple of good deeds would have soothed his conscience. Guilt may heal a few sick people and feed a few poor people, but guilt won't take you to the cross.

Compassion will.

Compassion lies at the intersection of love and people. Compassion is not about your lack and my wealth. Wealth and lack are only the surface. Compassion is not interested solely in the surface. It is about deeper things. Compassion sees people, not positions. To compassion that's not a homeless man, it is a person. A human being. Created in the very image of God. Loved by the Father. The Son gave his life for just such a person.

Guilt is about me. Compassion is about you. Guilt may give two dollars. Compassion gets out of the car for a conversation. Guilt can't see past the moment at hand. Compassion sees the big picture of a person's life and soul. Guilt desires relief. Compassion desires goodness. Guilt cares about making me feel better. Compassion cares about the ultimate good of the other.

Recently, a woman stole some money from my wife's purse. We have no doubt she took it, but we can't prove it. This has been very difficult for my wife. You see, this lady goes to our church. This lady stole the money at church. And she has stolen from others, we are sure of it. My wife was extremely angry and hurt. Again and again we have helped this woman financially. Then she does this to us. Trust me, we feel no more guilt about this woman's situation. So how do we respond to the woman now? What do we do next time we see her at church? I'm not sure what the perfect answer would be, but I know that guilt will not longer cut it.

This week I looked over and my wife was handing our four month old son to this very same lady. The woman was smiling and cooing at our son. Our son was smiling back. My wife was smiling. Was it the exact right way to handle the situation? I'm not sure. But I am sure of this; at the moment when my wife handed this woman our son, the One who left heaven because of his compassion for us became flesh once again.

April 14, 2009

end of an ERa

Last week my wife and I watched the last episode of ER. We do not watch much TV, especially since we only receive local, over the air, free channels. (By the way, not having cable has probably saved us about $7200 over the course of our marriage, and has probably saved our marriage since we don't have ESPN.) But we typically have one show that we routinely watch. Early in our marriage it was ER, then X-Files, The Practice, now Lost. ER has always been our old standby.

For the first three or four years ER was tremendous. Over time it became very good with moments of greatness. Eventually it settled into routinely good. And, as I mentioned, we have watched the show off and on. As good as it has been, I am no longer particularly attached to it. So why was I so emotional when it ended?

The last show was well done, but nothing spectacular. The producers brought back several fan favorites, but only for cameos. The show was good, but what I felt went beyond quality television programming.

After contemplating this, it finally hit me. I started watching ER my senior year in college. (Okay, my first senior year in college.) My roommates and I would actually sit down together on Thursday nights and watch. We watched from the very first episode. We watched because two of us actually worked part time in a hospital. We watched together as some sort of roommate commitment.

At the end of that year both my roommates graduated and moved to DFW. I ended up in a house by myself, trying to finish school. It was the beginning of the rest of my life. But I still watched ER.

You know the feeling when you go back home, even as an adult, you feel like a child. I know I had that childish feeling going home even after I got married. I never felt like a real adult until we had children. I remember about six months after my oldest was born, it suddenly dawned on me, "Oh no, I'm an adult." Yes, it had been ten years since I left home for college, since I went out on my own, but in that moment I went from childhood to adulthood.

The same thing happened the other night with ER. The show ended and instantly I felt something change. If you look through my clothes I no longer have any t-shirt I picked up in college. No "Beach Bash '93", or "Search for the Holy Grub". I have long since graduated, and actually managed a Master's Degree. There is nothing left of my college days. Save one thing:ER. It was the last vestige of university life. And now it is gone.

The feeling which overwhelmed me from nowhere the other night was simply this: "Oh no, college is over."

April 1, 2009

No Woman's Land

My brother and his wife found out this week that they are having a boy. So let me say, "Welcome, baby boy Parker! Welcome to no woman's land."

Now, that is a little bit of a stretch. Obviously there are Parker women (somebody has to give birth). But just look at the numbers. My paternal grandparents had nine grandchildren. Only one girl. My maternal grandparents had five grandchildren. One girl.

I grew up in a house of four boys (my Father still acts like a twelve year old). Living in a world like that does something to warp your worldview. I remember one night when I was still at home, there was a knock at the door. This was later than we typically had visitors. A couple of us went to answer the door when my mom yelled for us to go away. All four of us, my dad included, were lounging about in our underwear. Not boxers, whitey-tighties. None of us understood what the big deal was.

There are distinct advantages to this kind of world. Hurt feelings are quickly dealt with (usually with some mixed martial arts). There is always someone to mow the yard. Zero spending on beauty supplies (although I did use mousse for awhile in the late eighties, and my cousin Micheal once got a perm).

Admittedly there are drawbacks. The smells (feet, under-arms, bathrooms). The inability to keep food around. The constant using of logic to prove that your feelings are completely ludicrous.

My cousin Michael has three children, two are girls. He is now the only one with more girls than boys. Subtly, we all think something must be wrong with him (the perm probably did something to him). That's how you think, when you grow up in no woman's land.

But, in the end, it is the only world I really know. I have three boys, one girl. She's praying for a sister come September. But history tells us we all know what's coming.

Here is a classic exchange from Seinfeld that fits perfectly.

ELAINE: Why do they call it a wedgie?
GEORGE: Because the underwear is pulled up from the back and ... it wedges in..
JERRY: They also have an atomic wedgie. Now the goal there is to actually get the
waistband on top of the head. Very rare.
ELAINE: Boys are sick.
JERRY: Well what do girls do ?
ELAINE: We just tease some one 'til they develop an eating disorder.