Therefore Having Gone

Therefore Having Gone

Monday, March 4, 2024

FRIEND OR FOE

Recently I met a pastor who spoke to me about his congregation in terms which were not even friendly, much less warm.

In fact, he sounded rather antagonistic. This man referred to his church as "them" rather than "we". 

The weekly offering was growing a little thin and the future of the church was uncertain. "They did it to themselves," he explained.

How sad! 

I am coming up on my one year anniversary at Sardinia Baptist Church and I couldn't be happier. I consider each person there not only as a brother or sister in Christ, but as a friend. I have two desires: to get to know each individual better and to be found worthy of being their pastor. 

I thought about all this as I was reading the Apostle Paul's letter to the Thessalonians this morning. 

Paul's genuinely warm feelings toward all of his church plants has often struck me. To the Thessalonians, for example, he wrote, "We wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy." (1 Thess. 2:18-20)

Imagine a pastor counting the congregation not as adversaries, but as a hope, a joy, and a future crown to glory in when Jesus comes.

I am blessed!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

PEOPLE WHO WORRY ME

For years now there have been two groups of people who make me nervous about our nation's future:

  1. People who don't see their favorite news source (be it Fox News or CNN) as having a bias.
  2. People who are 100% supportive of every individual and every initiative connected to their political party. 

Now I am adding the folks who are oblivious to both the potential of AI as well as its pervasiveness. If they can't spot fakes now while the AI is still learning, heaven help us as it evolves. 

Here's a recent example from Facebook where someone posted "photos" of Star Wars themed cakes. Even by the thumbnails I could see these were AI fakes. And I don't think it takes Sherlock Holmes to deduce the fakery. Look:

Stormtroopers with lightsabers. R2D2 with a stormtrooper head. The land speeder shaped like a speed boat ... with its own lightsaber.




Below we have a stormtrooper wearing Darth Vader's cloak and the words "SARSTER WTARWARS". 

Samuel explained to me tonight why AI struggles with human hands and letters of words, but I didn't understand a word he was saying. 




This one is not even possible in three dimensions:



And finally a Mandalorian themed cake wishing someone named "BE?" a very "HIARPPY BIRTHDAAY"!



To be fair, the comments below these "photos" included quite a few gripes about the obvious AI fakery, but they also included numerous comments along the same lines as these actual quotes:

"These look so good (and they probably taste good too)!"

"Wow, impressive cakes"

"LOVE IT!!!!"

Some even requested the name of the baker in hopes of ordering one for their next birthday.

God help us! 

What's going to happen (likely this election year) when the internet brings us some deep fake of a candidate saying or doing something scandalous and half the population ends up convinced it's real?


On the bright side, somehow I feel a little less alone in navigating the cultural absurdity which is the 2020s based on the simple fact that someone took the time to make the following meme and then add it to the comment stream:


Saturday, March 2, 2024

LESSONS ON SIN

During Lent, we have permission to drop the fa├žade of perfection - this pretense that we have our stuff together. The season of Lent is all about fostering an awareness of our sin, our need to repent, our need for forgiveness. 

Once we have given our lives to Christ, temptation and sin do not automatically disappear. Sin does not just roll over and die. In fact, we are called into battle with our own sinfulness. Recall that sin is anything which misses the mark of God’s perfection, His holiness, His love. As Christ’s spiritual brothers and sisters, we are called to imitate Christ. To crucify ourselves. To serve God and to serve each other in humility. 

In the 13th chapter of John, just after Jesus has set Himself as an example to His followers by washing the disciples’ feet, we find foreshadowing of two of those same disciples who are about to fall into serious sin. 

Judas’ sin will be betrayal. Peter’s will be denial. Both come to regret their decisions. Both feel shame. Judas to the point of despair. 

God willing, neither you nor I will ever be guilty of such serious sins, but especially during Lent, it is a good idea to look closely at what was at the core of each sin and how they differed. Judas and Peter stand as examples to us, urging us to protect our own selves against even the hint of either betrayal or denial.

Lessons about Sin: (If these things are true about such heinous sins as Betrayal and Denial, they are true for our more common sins.)
  1. Jesus is not caught off guard by our sins – He anticipates them. He even knows the timeline and details of Peter’s three denials. 
  2. Jesus is not angered by our sins as much as he is saddened. When speaking of Judas’ upcoming betrayal, Jesus is “troubled” in spirit. It is a word meaning agitated or stirred up. Jesus is more distressed than angry. He’s pained, not enraged. Heavyhearted rather than furious. 
  3. Jesus stands ready to forgive. Even after thrice denying even knowing Jesus on the very night Jesus has been arrested, Peter finds Jesus ready to restore him to proper fellowship, forgiving him of his failing. How gracious!  Peter had known instinctively that his own life was in danger because He understood that Jesus’ life was in danger. He knew which way the wind was blowing and he had decided to save his own life. Still, he ends up forgiven.
  4. Jesus doesn’t shut the door on forgiveness … but we might. The question must be asked, “Could Judas have received forgiveness if he had asked for it?” I think there’s every reason to believe the answer is yes. After all, this is the same Jesus who prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Pharisees and all those directly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion were guilty of far greater sin than betrayal, right? Furthermore, Jesus specifically taught that there was only one unforgiveable sin: blaspheming the Holy Spirit. As bad as Judas' betrayal of Jesus was, it in no way qualifies as blaspheming the Spirit.
No, the only reason Judas went unforgiven was because he himself closed and locked the door from the inside.

Friday, March 1, 2024

BAPTISM AS EXPERIENCE

When I get baptized a week from now, it won't be my first time. 

Not technically, anyway. My parents did baptize me as an infant.

That means some minister held me in his arms and sprinkled some water over my forehead while my parents pledged to raise me in the faith. The ceremony likely concluded with the congregation agreeing to support my parents in this endeavor.

My parents did raise me in the faith and many fine people within the church did give support over the years. And for that I am – and will be – eternally grateful. 

And in that sense, that baptism ceremony 55 years ago proved to be the genesis of something beautiful. My faith became my own during my college years and I have had ample evidence throughout my life of God's goodness and His capacity to forgive.

The more I knew of God, the more I wanted to know. I completed a Master of Divinity degree in the late 1990s and now I am working on a Doctorate of Ministry degree. 

But it's funny - the more head knowledge I have gained about the Christian faith, the more I value heart experience

I think it's interesting how often the Apostle Paul uses the word "know" in his letters, mostly in reference to what his audience already knows or should know. When he speaks about what he personally wants to know, he says this: 

"I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil 3:10-11)

The knowledge Paul sought was experiential knowledge. His faith was never merely comprehending a set of propositional truths about God and then giving mental assent to them.

Similarly, I have no desire to debate the necessity or the appropriateness of being "rebaptized" or the merit of sprinkling versus full immersion or whether it's proper to baptize infants. None of that is of ultimate concern to me.

It is simply the experience of baptism I am seeking. I was too young to appreciate it the first time around. 


Thursday, February 29, 2024

I DO

Today I started writing about my upcoming baptism. I had hoped to post those thoughts here tonight but I am finding it rather difficult to write about. 

But that's good. Writing helps me figure out what I really think - and baptism is a serious topic deserving careful consideration. 

It feels like a big part of my difficulty is my hesitancy to stir up theological animosity. Baptism is a topic which conjures strong opinions. I sincerely do not want to offend others who hold views of baptism not aligned with my own. 

As a pastor now, it seems like I might find it tricky to get baptized out of my own personal conviction to obey what God is calling me to do, without it being interpreted as something I would dictate for the Church as a whole. 

In the end, this isn't about whether anybody who was baptized as a baby needs to be baptized as an adult. It is only about whether Steve Gross - who happened to be baptized as a baby - wants to be baptized as an adult. 

And I do. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

LACKING RESISTANCE

I heard a podcast this morning where the guest, Stephen Pressfield, was speaking on the topic of "Fear of Failure" - which I can identify with. 

And it made me want to reread his book, The War of Art.

That book is all about every human's battle against what Pressfield calls Resistance - that force which strives with all its might to keep men and women from doing the important things which they are created to do and from becoming the people they were meant to be. 

While listening this morning, I started thinking of some generally unpleasant scenarios which I find myself enjoying on some level:

  • Cleaning the kitchen
  • Getting snowed in
  • Power outages
  • And even being sick

And I realized something: the part I enjoy is the reprieve from wrestling with Resistance. For each scenario, I am off the hook, at least temporarily.

That's because nothing consequential can be accomplished when the dishes need attention or when I can't leave the house or when I have no electricity or when I'm flat on my back with a fever. The lack of the opportunity to progress on something of value means Resistance has nothing to oppose.

And so the mind goes quiet for a time. 

That is such a pleasant change that it is almost worth having the flu for.

As a man of faith, the following question occurs to me: Is a similar escape from Resistance something a proper Sabbath could bring about?

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

BETRAYAL AND DENIAL

This week in my sermon preparation I am studying the tail end of John 13 in the lead up to Easter at the end of March.

What I find interesting here is that within a dozen verses, Jesus addresses Judas' betrayal as well as Peter's denial. Jesus tells Judas, "What you are about to do, do quickly"(v.27). And to Peter He says, "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times" (v.38). 

How tragic! Jesus is facing His own impending death and yet His companions - His students - His friends - are proving to be less than supportive. In fact, they are adding to His grief and suffering long before the nails are driven through His flesh. 

In this passage, the betrayal and the denial have some commonalities:

  • Both are done in secret - and yet Jesus knows.
  • Both cause Jesus pain.
  • Both entail a rejection of Jesus and a separation from Him. 

But there must be major differences as well. Clearly, the betrayal is the greater sin. Jesus does not announce at supper, "One of you is going to disown me". 

Also, the separation of betrayal becomes permanent (and deadly) while the separation of denial turns out to be temporary (by God's grace).

I am just starting to grapple with this, but it seems to me that at the core, the major difference between these two failings is that the betrayal revealed a truth: Judas had not been on board with Jesus for some time and now he was making it official. 

The denial, on the other hand, involved hiding a truth: Peter did know and love Jesus, but contradicted that reality out of fear. 

Have you ever wondered if Judas would have found forgiveness if he had not rashly taken his own life out of guilt and shame? 

I need to reflect more on this, but it seems to me that betrayal is on an entirely different level from denial

Peter's denial was a sin - and he later found forgiveness. 

Judas' betrayal was more than a sin. It was an abandonment of Jesus as the Christ.