Thoughts & Prayers

One of the things I love about the church that I am honored to pastor is that we have a mix of people from various political backgrounds on various issues. Some of us are progressive, some of us are conservative, and most of us vary depending upon the issue. I am more progressive than many I know concerning guns because I believe there are things we can do and need to do relating to better gun control, and I am more conservative than many I know because I own guns, and enjoy hunting and “plinking” with them.

So when there are mass shootings (it haunts me that I so easily type “when there are mass shootings”) I am surrounded by people I love and respect who are on various ends of the gun debate spectrum. But there is one thing that definitely gets me and that is when people casually say they are offering up their “thoughts and prayers”.

To pray to the God I know as revealed in the person and life of Jesus almost always leads to a call from Him for action on our part. It is not something done lightly or flippantly. There is power in the name of Jesus, and often that power calls on us to act when we pray in His name.

In the Christian faith, the Lord that you pray to, through, and by when you offer up thoughts and prayers is the same One that taught us to pray that His kingdom would come and His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our prayers are offered up to the loving Father Who leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost one, done through the power of the Spirit that perfects strength through weakness, and the mediation of the Son Who prays for those who are nailing Him to a cross. Praying for another’s comfort and protection through this triune God very may, and often does, lead to us hear the Crucified one say “I literally put you here ‘for such a time as this‘, I will work through you to provide comfort and protection. So go!”

Two quotes comes to mind when I think of this. The first is from C.S. Lewis

It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort; it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.”

⏤ C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis (Dec. 3, 1959)

The second is from Søren Kierkegaard.

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

⏤ Søren Kierkegaard, An Occasional Discourse: On the Occasion of a Confession: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

The Father has a nasty habit of changing us and directing our attention to things we weren’t asking to do when we earnestly turn to Him in prayer. Earthly comfort often focuses on “God please do this so I don’t have to do anything, change, or get involved in their messy grief and hurt.” The prayer for heavenly comfort calls those who seek it to desperately long for and try to live in the kingdom of Heaven that is already but not yet fully, here.

After all, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The living God doesn’t answer our prayer based on our agendas, He constantly shapes those who earnestly pray to Him to His agenda.

I can’t say what His Spirit will lead us each to do. I’m just saying when we lift up our “thoughts and prayers” on behalf of those who are hurting we need to be prepared for the great Comforter to call us to be the ones to comfort the hurting and change the possibility of others being hurt … and … maybe change our political agendas.

SBC I’m Watching

This week Russell Moore wrote the following article (This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse) for Christianity Today regarding the external report on sexual abuse and the SBC Executive Committee. In addition, David French wrote another fantastic article on the same subject for The Atlantic, The Southern Baptist Horror. Both articles describe horrific and evil actions of not protecting those that are in need and actually sheltering those who did the harm.

I have just enough Reformed thought in me to believe that we live in a fallen world so I am not surprised that evil took place inside various churches by the leaders of those churches. While I don’t expect evil to take place, I am not surprised when it does because of the fallen nature of the world. Of course, this isn’t just in the church. Look at any institution and you will find evil that has happened or is happening within it. Yet the church is supposed to be a place where we know that we have sinned and we come in repentance, which means admitting to and confronting with the power of the Holy Spirit the evil of which we have been participants. Like a spiritual Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, we enter the church by admitting our fallen nature. Hi, I’m Robert and I am a sinner – much like the wonderful Jesus prayer from my Orthodox spiritual family members – Jesus, have mercy on me the sinner. When we admit our sin there is no need to try and hide it to save face. Light drives away darkness.

But the report that came out this week shows that the SBC Executive Committee didn’t do that. Instead of repenting of evil and helping the victims, the SBC EC fought to protect itself, some of the members of the EC, and at least in its own mind, the SBC from reputational harm and possible legal liability. The church is supposed to be the place that leans towards the oppressed and yet the report shows that the EC leaned toward the values of power and cared more for organizational security than for the needs of those who have been victimized. It was very unChristlike behavior and evil.

What does this mean for me?

After all, I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I recognize that I owe a good bit to the SBC. While I wasn’t raised in church when I came to faith as a teen it was through an SBC church. The spiritual formation that still shapes me the most came from my college minister, Mike Nuss, who was funded by the SBC. My first step into church ministry was paid for by the SBC when I served over a Summer at Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Detroit. I have two different degrees from SBC seminaries where at least half my tuition was paid for by the SBC. Finally, Tapestry‘s initial funds came from the SBC. I recognize that I have a large debt to the support that came through the cooperation of many SBC churches.

But I never want to turn my back on victims out of some sense of indebtedness.

Matthew 25 is one of the passages of scripture that most shapes my faith in Jesus. In that passage, Jesus describes the sheep and the goats being separated and the determiner of that separation is how each has treated “the least of these.” Did they give something to eat, something to drink, invite them in, clothe them, or visit them? The sheep did and the goats didn’t. Jesus reveals that whatever they did or didn’t do for “the least of these” was done, or not done, to Jesus.

SBC Executive Committee the One you turned your back on, “gaslighted”, and exposed to potential harm by hiding predators was Jesus and your fruit is being shown for what it is. I didn’t participate in any of that but now that it is known I will be judged on my response to it. So what do I do?

Honestly, I don’t know yet.

I’m not one to care much about denominational business, and I don’t like “hot takes” and quick responses, but I will be watching the convention VERY closely this year to see the response to the report. The actions that happen at the 2022 SBC Convention in Anaheim June 12-15 will shape much of my response. If the SBC responds to the report in true repentance, not just with an apology but actually declaring evil as evil and taking steps to correct that evil and repair, as much as possible, the harm, that will shape how I respond. If the SBC moves to really begin listening to the victims, that will shape how I respond. If the SBC moves to be more concerned with biblical justice than when protection of the powerful in our midst and our perceived reputation, that will shape how I respond.

And if it doesn’t … that will shape how I respond.

I am sure that the SBC won’t really care how I respond because I am the pastor of a small church in Wisconsin. Someone who doesn’t have a name in the SBC, doesn’t have a desire to have any power in the denomination, and a church that doesn’t hold any sway in the SBC. So it won’t hurt the SBC if I say “I can’t be a part of this anymore” because there aren’t any “real” numbers of people or money involved. Therefore few will probably care. Yet I know the One who does care and He is watching to see how I respond when the people who are supposed to be His bride respond to Him in His most distressing disguises by turning their backs on Him.

I know many like to use the word “sheep” as a derogatory statement by saying people are “sheeple”, but Jesus likes sheep and I want Him to see how I respond and call me a sheep.

SBC I am watching how we respond on June 12-15. I pray that response is the response of sheep and not goats.

SIDE NOTE – Russell Moore has an informative podcast episode with Rachel Denhollander concerning the SBC Executive Committee report that is very insightful and well worth the listen. It is located HERE.

Tonight I Accidentally “Stole” My Supper

Pretty much every Monday night Pam and I eat supper with my Mom. Tonight we decided to pick up Panda Express for the meal, so I went on their website to place our order. As I was finishing up the arborist, who we’ve hired to remove 6 very large white pines and 1 dead maple tree from our yard, rang the doorbell to let me know he was finished for the day. I went up and talked with him for a few minutes and then left to pick up our food from Panda Express.

When I got to Panda Express I didn’t see our meal on the takeout shelf and asked one of the workers when the order for Robert T would be finished. They told meit would be ready in just a few minutes and asked me to take a seat while they finished. A couple of minutes later, as promised, a worker walked over with my order and I hopped in our vehicle to pick up Pam and Noah and head to Mom’s.

It was at Mom’s place that I discovered that this was not my order. Instead, it was a similar but not quite the same order as mine. It was a slightly larger order than ours without as much variety. The name on the receipt said “Rob C”. Well that explains it. The worker heard my “Robert T” as “Rob C” and gave me “Rob C”‘s order. They sound close enough for that to happen. I called Panda Express to tell them that I had received the wrong order but that it was very similar. While they were looking into it we were disconnected. Pam, Noah, Mom, and I decided we were good with this food and went ahead and ate it. Like I said the order was very similar and we all got something we wanted.

After spending more time at Mom’s we packed up and headed home. I briefly went to check something on my computer and that is when I noticed that the “Check out” page for the Panda Express website was still up. It seems that when I went answer the doorbell and talk to our arborist I never actually clicked the “submit” button. So the order was never placed. This wouldn’t have been a problem and I would have discovered it when I got there and there was no order for me EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT THERE WAS A “ROB C” ORDER THERE READY TO BE PICKED UP.

Don’t worry I went back to Panda Express, explained the situation, and paid for our meal so as to not be living on the lamb. They all thought it was hilarious and even gave me a coupon. I’m gladly that it worked out this was because I don’t think Rob C would have liked my order as much. There would have been too much variety in it for what I believe are his tastes.

… Ask a Person’s Family

I once heard Tony Campolo say that if you really want to know if you are Christian, just ask your waitress. I really like his point, because the gospel should shape how we treat all those around us, and that begins with those closest to us. This is all the more true during the pandemic when so many people in the hospitality industry are seeing the worst side of people. This week I read a quote from D. L. Moody that I would place alongside Campolo’s statement. In fact, I suspect that Moddy influenced Campolo’s thoughts on the matter.

Moody wrote:

“If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his wife. We need more Christian life at home. If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”

I like this quote because I believe that home and friendships are where so many of the simple aspects of faith are played out.

Too many people want to do “great things for God”, not realizing that 1) God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything for Him, and 2) being used by God to accomplish something big doesn’t indicate closeness with God or growth in the character of Jesus in our lives. After all, God used Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish His will while Nebuchadnezzar was the type of person to set up huge golden idols and punish God’s faithful people. So some live trying to do something grand for God and leave out the mundane parts of their lives from being transformed by the Holy Spirit. This is a shame because the mundane parts of our lives are the most important for actually developing the character of Christ in us.

Unfortunately, such a focus often leads to ministries and ministers who ignore, or worse , mistreat their family, friends, and employees while feeling justified because they are doing something big for God. It sounds like we may have another ministry serving as an example of this in Preemptive Love. While trying to “stop the spread of violence” it appears that their leadership may have been “bully(ing), gaslight(ing), and abuse(Ing) the peacemakers” on their own team. Jesus said that “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:18) and the people closest to us are therefore going to know our hearts better than others because they have the chance to experience what is in our hearts more often than others.

We have been called to be like Jesus, but so often we would rather just do something for Him because that takes less change of our selfish ways.

Klunking & The Gospel

As a result of getting into mountain biking more, I have begun to watch many MTB videos on Youtube, and today I ran across this gem.

It is from 1979 and it is about a Klunking race. Klunking was an early name for downhill mountain biking because those early bikes were just Schwinn newspaper boy bikes which the riders had modified with things like thicker tires and more gears. These klunkers were riding fast down terrains that those bikes were NEVER meant to go down and they had a blast. Around the middle of the video up pops a guy named Gary Fischer who eventually became one of the most influential bike designers in mountain biking. In fact, the bike I currently ride is a Gary Fischer designed bike. Yeah my 2013 Trek Mamba Gary Fischer Edition is a wonderful machine.

Those early bikes were dirt cheap and just put together from whatever parts the riders could find that would work on the difficult terrain. Mountain bikes today ARE NOT CHEAP. In fact, they are super expensive to the point that it is prohibitive to the point that it keeps some from getting into the sport.

Or at least it is prohibitive when people decide that you HAVE TO HAVE a bike with certain features. Don’t get me wrong many of these expensive features are really helpful and make mountain biking more fun and safer. I am a really big fan of suspension and cushy tires that absorb many of the bumps that are involved in mountain biking. But do you have to have suspension and cushy tires?

Nope!

How do I know this? Well I know it because I have seen people riding the same trails, that I was repeatedly told to not even consider trying without a strong mountain bike with lots of suspension, on bikes that were definitely designed for nothing more than a lazy Sunday afternoon ride. Some people even get pretty snobby about telling people that you can’t actually be a real mountain biker unless you have certain specific equipment. There can be a lot of snobbery in biking.

Yes, the more expensive mountain bikes make the trails significantly more manageable, but you can have just as much fun riding on bikes that are pretty similar to those old klunkers. The bike industry has realized this and over the past few years, they have begun selling gravel bikes which are basically nothing more than expensive versions of early mountain bikes with no too little suspension.

I love the new bikes but the video of the klunkers reminds me that all it really takes to mountain bike is a desire to ride two wheels down terrifying stretches of trail. Well, that desire and good health insurance.

I think we often do the same type of thing with the Gospel. We start out simple. We repent (admitting who we are and are state of neediness), which in a world obsessed with image is a revolutionary act because it demands that we actually admit who we are in all our messiness rather than present curated “authenticity” concerning ourselves. As we repent we ask Jesus to forgive us and give us His grace. That grace is the Gospel, the “good news”. That is what it is all about.

Other things can be helpful in living in the Gospel. Yet they are never the main thing. Living in the Gospel is what life is supposed to be all about.

Berm Peak Reviews

The purpose of this post is to list all the products reviewed by Seth on Berm Perk so that there is a searchable page of the items. When the name of the product isn’t self-explanatory I add a description. Here is a link to each video.

I have been a “Hey I Have an Entry Level Mountain Bike” biker for a few years, doing around 60ish miles each season. This year that changed dramatically. Not only have I been putting significantly more miles (450 thus far this season) on my constantly upgraded entry-level bike (new, non-entry level bike is on order but won’t be here till May of 2022 because of the bike shortage) I have also been consuming a good amount of MTB-related YouTube videos. My two favorite channels have been GBMN and Berm Peak. Both channels are excellent.

Anyhow I really like both channels’ product reviews and recently I wanted to go back to one specific video to consider a product that Seth had reviewed on Berm Creek. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the specific video from searches and ended up watching quite a few videos in order to find the product I was looking for. I am sure this is good for Seth, but it wasn’t for me.

Therefore I decided that I would create a blog post listing the products each video reviews (something Seth does in the video description but for some reason my searches weren’t finding the products listed in the description). I am updating this list as I watch videos to find the original product for which I searched.

Hopefully, this will be useful for others too. If you have come here looking for a specific product just search the page and hopefully it will be here.

November 20, 2020 – 10 Mountain Bike Products from $5 to $200

December 6, 2019 – 10 Strange & Unique Mountain Bike Products

September 27, 2019 – Reviewing a Strange Array of Bike and Outdoor Products

May 30, 2019 – 10 Unique Bike Products Reviewed Brutally

May 8, 2019 – 10 MTB Products I actually use

February 27, 2019 – 10 Bike Products Ranging from Terrible to Great

Mountain Biking This Summer – Upgrading 2013 Trek Mamba Gary Fisher Edition

If you searched for Trek Mamba upgrades and are just here for the upgrade list CLICK HERE to go to the list.

During the second Summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, I, and apparently everyone else in the free world, got into the sport of mountain biking. If you doubt that “everyone else” got into mountain biking go to your Local Bike Store (LBS) and try to buy a bike. You will most likely discover that they will gladly sell you a bike that will arrive around June – if you are lucky.

I have actually mountain biked for a few years but it was biking of the “hey I have an entry-level mountain bike and I should use it” variety. This meant around 60ish miles a season (late Spring through Fall). I would go out with a friend every now and then. This season has been significantly different. We aren’t through with the season yet and I am over 425 miles. I am going to my local trail (Standing Rocks Park) 4 to 5 times a week.

Of course, I am still on my entry-level mountain bike (a 2013 Trek Mamba Gary Fisher edition) because the bike I finally convinced myself to buy won’t be here till May 2022, at the earliest. Though I have made some pretty significant upgrades to the bike. Many people will say that you shouldn’t do significant upgrades to a bike like the Mamba because your money will be better spent on buying a new bike. They call it “polishing a turd”. This may be true when bikes are not in short supply (it is difficult to almost impossible to find a decent used bike now too), but it isn’t when you are:

  1. in the middle of a pandemic that is causing manufacturing and distribution problems
  2. Trying to determine how into MTB you are going to be
  3. Keeping your old bike as a backup/spare for guests

So I slowly upgraded the Mamba (or FRamba – Fred the Mamba) through the season. Here’s a list of what I have done to the FRamba. I had a heck of a time finding information concerning what upgrades would work well for my 9-year-old bike – mountain biking technology has changed a great deal in the past 5 years. Hopefully, this list will help someone else with their still very fun to ride older Mamba.

The Upgrade List

This “turd” will be thoroughly polished once the new air fork is placed on her in November. She has improved as a ride throughout the season – partially because my skill has improved and partially because she has been improved through the upgrades. The conversion to a 1x drivetrain and the dropper post probably made the greatest difference in her ride. I understand why so many MTB videos and articles sing the praises of 1x conversion and dropper post-installation. Both upgrades made substantial differences in how she rides. In addition, she is around 1,000 grams lighter than she was at the beginning of the season and is another 500 grams lighter from the fork replacement.

I have a new and improved Trek Roscoe 8 on order that hopefully will be here May 2022. Until then the FRamba is a great ride and she will continue to be a wonderful backup/spare bike for when guests are around.

BTW the folks at Point Area Bicycle Service have helped with many of these upgrades. They are wonderful and I would encourage you to go there for your bike services.

My First Coronavirus Vaccine Shot

If you are a part of Tapestry Church I would like to tell you that your pastor got his first coronavirus vaccine shot today. I highly encourage you to do the same thing when you get the chance. #GetTheShot

I don’t really understand why this is political for some people. It isn’t for me. I suspect that it has become political for some because for so many people in our culture your political ideology is basically your faith. It is what brings meaning and purpose to your life. In such cases, people who hold such views would rather their kids marry someone from a different religion than someone from a different political affiliation.

When such beliefs are held whose side you are on becomes the determining factor of whether you are a good person or a bad person. Then everything has to be understood through political ideology. The vehicle you drive, the restaurants you eat out, where you shop, where you get your coffee, and whether or not you get the coronavirus vaccine is viewed as a chance to tell others what side of the political spectrum you are on. It is all about whose team you are on.

For me the vaccine is a way of upping my odds of not needing to go to the hospital for COVID-19 complications and thereby helping my neighbor. This is why I encourage you to get the shot.

Pardons & Forgiveness

I started thinking about this post a while back on the last full day of Trump’s presidency. The last full day of a presidency is typically the day in which the more controversial presidential pardons are issued. The reason being that the outgoing president typically knows these pardons are going to have more political ramifications and they want to avoid as much of the backlash as possible. So they issue the pardons as they are going out the door. I, therefore, thought I would take this moment to talk about one of the aspects of pardons that I believe connects closely with forgiveness as articulated within scripture.

It is a bit of an oversimplification but presidential pardons typically involve a recognition of guilt.

I am not a lawyer, nor the child of a lawyer, so please bear with my analysis hear as that of a very ignorant layperson on the subject. What I know is that  Burdick v. United States (1915) states that acceptance of a pardon implies a confession of guilt. Now there are other circumstances under which a pardon may be issued. For example, a pardon may be issued on the grounds that the person is now viewed as innocent or that the whole act was a miscarriage of justice. In addition, a person may have been legally guilty but morally innocent because the law was a bad law. I know there are other reasons but I want to focus on the recognition of guilt in regard to forgiveness because often those being asked to forgive can see such forgiveness as letting the perpetrator “off the hook” and even more often the perpetrator can hope that forgiveness is literally avoiding the rightful punishment for their actions.

Forgiveness implies guilt and that guilt needs to be recognized.

Of course, looking at and actually confronting our own sin is a difficult thing. It is so much easier to point out someone else’s sin than it is to acknowledge our own. I once ear Miroslav Volf say that it is always a work of the Holy Spirit when someone repents and acknowledges their sin because this is not something we typically can do in our own human strength. Forgiving someone is an act of taking back power, you, not them, are determining how you will respond to something someone else has done. Want an example of this? Watch Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement to Larry Nasher. There is nothing passive about that statement. It is an act of taking power back.

Repentance, on the other hand, is an act of vulnerability. It is opening yourself up to someone saying “No! I am not going to forgive you!” You can get hurt when you repent. I believe that is why it is so hard to do and so miraculous when it does happen. Laying our sin bare and truly admitting our guilt is incredibly difficult.

Demond Tutu is the man!

This is why the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission was so powerful. The people who admitted to their crimes there weren’t “let off the hook.” No, they were seen clearly for the first time. They were no longer allowed the veneer of respectability. They were seen as murders and bigots because their guilt was made public for the whole world to see. There was no denying it any longer. This is why many decided they would rather face punishment than have the truth laid bare for all to see. Their sin being made public was simply too great a punishment for them to bear.

Like them, instead of admitting our own wrong we often would rather deny it, deflect to someone else’s error, or offer bland apologies that aren’t actually repentance. “I am sorry if your feelings were hurt.” There is no pardon that comes from such actions because no repentance has been made.

To be pardoned you have to recognize your sin. That is when we are really set free. That is when we receive the gift of forgiveness. We can be forgiveness without recognizing our guilt because that is the act of the one forgiving, but we never really receive the freedom that comes with forgiveness without acknowledging our error.

SIDE NOTE – none of what I just wrote is true for the turkeys that are pardoned each year by the President. To my knowledge those turkey have done nothing wrong, other than being delicious.