The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Machetetiquette

MachetetiquetteMachete is my new word for a behavior I’ve observed on the roadways of Panama. I combined two words which are defined below with the help of Merriam-Webster:

   – Machete: a large, heavy knife that is used for cutting plants and as a weapon.
   – Etiquette: the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave.
 

Panamanians seem to have rules indicating the proper and polite way to carry a machete. A machete has a handle. Most of us carry things by their handles. Not so for the Panamanian and his machete. Here are some carrying positions I’ve observed:

  • Held by the blade, point and sharp edge towards the carrier – handle down
  • Held by the blade near the handle (sometimes wrapped with cloth) – handle facing out
  • Held by the handle, but upside down and facing back
When a Panamanian is holding a machete in the normal position they’re usually using it. I haven’t had the chance to ask, but I’m pretty sure that’s the point. There is a way to carry a machete that says, “I’m just carrying this. I’m not
intending to use it.” All of the holds I’ve described above recognize that a machete could be used as either a tool … or a weapon. They signal non-aggression.
 

Words have a lot in common with machetes. They can be helpful tools or harmful weapons and we need to be conscious of how we carry them. The careless use of words can signal aggression when none is intended. As we continue to think about how to improve our welcome, let’s put our words into the mix. I have no negative circumstances in mind, but offer the encouragement the Apostle Paul gave the church at Colossae:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5–6



Hurdles

Hurdles

When I was growing up, going out for track meant being tested in all events and competing in the areas of least incompetence. So, despite being “solidly” built and somewhat uncoordinated, I still had to run the hurdles. I had to run right alongside the kid whose legs started just below his armpits. It was hard to get up out of the dust and challenge another towering obstacle while others were floating across the finish line.

Getting into church should not look like a series of hurdles. No one among us would want it to be. Hear me loud and clear … CBC regularly gets praised as a friendly and welcoming church. But can I tell you a secret gained from 20 years of ministry? The same church can get high and low scores on its welcome depending on who you talk to. Much like your experience with physical activities … your experience of a new church can be somewhat tied to natural competencies. It’s not universally true, but people who score higher on the extravert level tend to report churches being friendly. You might say, they see what they are.
 

In a national survey on church attendance, first-time guests revealed obstacles they experienced to feeling welcome. Here are three worth examining:

  • People took all the aisle seats making it hard/awkward to get to a seat
  • People were gathered in cliques talking and laughing … we felt ignored
  • People covered seats around them with their stuff … signaling we weren’t welcomed to sit by them
 

 These could be hurdles for any guest … but especially for one who already feels vulnerable or shy. How could we help?

  • If you need an isles seat, please feel free to take one. But watch for the guest – stand, smile, shake a hand motion to the seats beside you.
  • Please enjoy your friends … that’s part of what makes Sunday morning great. But keep an eye out for the new person … the new potential friend.
  • Become more Panamanian in your personal space requirement :). Place your items on the floor beneath your seat.
 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4



Obstacles

Mud face
My friend, Will, served in the Marines and now serves as a police officer. He’s the kind of guy who lives for a challenge. If it isn’t hard, it’s not worth doing. Case in point: Will started participating in Mud Runs. Monochromatically brown pictures were splattered across his Facebook page. He and his compatriots were enveloped in mud. Only their eyes were clean.
 

When I asked Will about the attraction of slogging through mud, he excitedly launched into a soliloquy on the wonders of the sport! It wasn’t just running in mud … it was scrambling over logs in mud, scaling walls covered in mud, crawling through drainage tubes half-filled with mud, jumping over burning logs in mud … and … well “So much more!” One day he rushed up to me and said, “You won’t believe what they did to us this Saturday!” The last pit on the grueling course had a maze of high voltage/low amperage wires dangling above it. Pushing your way through the cables resulted in a long series of harmless, but painful, stinging shocks. Maybe it was the charge he’d picked up, but Will was beaming. His conclusion? “Dude … it was awesome!”

Judging by the pictures Will continues to post, there are thousands of people who love to take on and conquer such obstacles. But when it comes to braving a new church … I have the feeling that the numbers are much lower. For many, just stepping inside a church can be a harrowing experience. The more hurdles they find inside the higher the probability that they won’t return. The hardest thing about the obstacles that keep newcomers from feeling welcome is that they’ve become invisible to those of us who regularly attend. This year as we concentrate on having a positive presence in our community, we’ll also be looking at ways to improve our welcome. Tune in next week!

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7



Chasing Birds

Big Fish

I got invited “Deep Sea Fishing” and … well my mind conjured up something like this picture. I called to memory the beautifully plasticized Marlin that hung in my hometown grocery store. I could picture Daryl behind the meat counter reenacting “The Battle.” Some poor customer who had come in for fresh ground beef was getting old fish. Then I began imagining myself, center deck, lashed to the chair, the rod connecting me to some finned beast, twisted into a quivering horseshoe of tension. That dastardly denizen of the deep would not prevail … you need not have experience and skill to be a great fisherman!

Reality was somewhat different. I did catch a fish … the only fish. The Sierra must have been on the hook a while before the captain alerted us to pull in the line. He or she (it’s terribly hard to tell) did not put up much of a fight. Other than those ten second of excitement, reality was five hours of chasing gulls through choppy waters. The company was good, the day was beautiful, I loved being on the water … it just wasn’t what I’d expected. Expectations can be hard to manage.

I find among my fellow humans a general expectation, even a sense of entitlement, to receive great good. When the cosmos doesn’t deliver, we all feel horribly put upon. The Bible tells us a starkly different story. No person should expect good. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of that sin is eternal spiritual death. (Romans 3:23 & 6:23)

It’s terribly disappointing to expect good and receive bad … or even mediocre. God’s Holy Word turns the tables and makes possible a life of joy and constant surprise. I should expect condemnation and death, but that’s not what I get. Romans 6:23 which delivers the bad news

“the wages of sin is death” concludes with the Good News, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here’s a word to help you speak truth to your expectations … Grace!


Bottles of Sovereign Protection

pills
While sorting through “one more box” in my childhood home, I came across a bottle of prescription drugs in my name and dated from 1985. It was an almost full bottle of Darvon and the prescription read, “One daily as needed for headaches.” I remember the headaches during my senior year of high school, but I don’t remember ever seeing the medicine.

Curiosity led me to a webpage describing this narcotic pain reliever. Emblazoned in red across the article was the warning “DISCONTINUED.” The FDA pulled the drug for causing severe, often fatal heart arrhythmia in thousands. The year before the doctor prescribed Darvon for my headaches, I had spent three days in the hospital with a dangerous case of arrhythmia. I wonder what would have happened if my mother had followed the prescription.

The year before, I had been sentenced to a lifetime prescription to regulate my arrhythmia. Because I believed that God had healed my heart condition, I told my parents I didn’t want that drug. Ten years later, that arrhythmia drug was pulled after claiming thousands of lives.

During grade school a doctor proscribed an anti-seizure medicine with a dosage of three per day. I had never actually suffered a seizure and my mother “had a feeling” about the medicine. She gave me half a tablet and that small dose left me almost comatose. What if she had given me the prescribed dosage?

When I was in the womb, my mother experienced severe morning sickness for which her doctor prescribed a drug later found to contribute to infant deaths and birth defects. My mother suffered through her discomfort without taking the medicine … she had a feeling.

Just a series of fortunate circumstances or God’s divine protection? I believe my birth and death and everything in between are in the hands of my loving and capable God.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16