Flip the Table. Flip the Script. Change the World.

When I was a server at Zio’s, sometimes a group of guests (from now on lovingly referred to as a “table”) would come in and sit at one of my tables, and for no particular reason, they were angry with me. They frowned, they were terse, and they wanted to criticize me.

Challenge accepted.

With those tables, I would go out of my way to anticipate their needs; I would go above and beyond in figuring out what kind of dining experience they were after (intimate, hurried, leisurely, etc), and make it happen. I would be witty and charming and understanding and kind. And usually, usually, I could transform these bitter, hostile tables into happy, delighted guests.

I called such an accomplishment “flipping a table.” You know, ’cause I flipped them from grouchy, grumpy gusses to smiling, satisfied stanleys.

This last Sunday, Suzanne’s focus was on “Flipping the Script,” a reference to an NPR story that you can listen to here (if you don’t have an hour for the full audio show, check out the 8-minute video recreation of the first part of the story here). Go ahead and check one of those out; I’ll wait…

So my experience as a server “flipping tables” is an example of non-complementary behavior, a behavior that, as a server working for tips, came with a tangible reward (usually). It’s a much more daunting task to flip the script on an attempted robbery, offering your assailant a glass of wine. Would you be able to do it? Would I?

That kind of flipping the script is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said,

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
(Luke 6:27-31)

Now, when I mess up, when I’m angry or grumpy or I make bad relational decisions, it is my sincere hope that you will flip the script with me, that you’ll smile at my frown, that you’ll meet my curtness with joviality, that you’ll exchange my selfishness for your selflessness. That’s the way I hope you will treat me, so that’s how Jesus instructs me to treat you and everyone else.

When we refuse to return negative complementary behavior, we have a chance to change the world in real and meaningful ways – just like Jesus.

Community

This past Sunday as Steve was wrapping up the series on the Why of our community at CC I was struck again by the reminder that why we are doing something inspires us to do things we would not normally do all on our own. Sometimes that is to be challenged to step out of our comfort zone because we want to be there for another person or sometimes that might be to put in time and resources to help out those we care about during a special event or season in their life.

For the past several weeks we have been planning a special event in my family. One of my younger sisters got married this past Saturday after three months of planning and scheming to pull everything off. Friday morning started off with 6 vehicles full of décor, food, fresh flowers, and 10 of us headed off to pull off the plans my sister had made. This group of folks were made up of a few of us who for sure had our own thoughts and opinions about how we would pull something off like this…but that was not WHY we were there…we were there to help make the day special for my sister and her husband. So throughout that day and the next when all the pieces were put into place there was a constant sense of checking our own thoughts and opinions at the door and focusing on why we were there and who this event was for…the sense of family and a common purpose and community was there in all the interactions of the weekend.

A special event which brings folks together over a couple days, pulled off together, is community; however perhaps a better example of real community is over a much longer time. A community forged by a common relationship with Jesus and our heavenly Father, a group of individuals who over weeks, months, and years have chosen to be in community together. Each person has chosen unity in common over individual opinions and the human tendency to want to be right. It truly is something precious and worthy to keep choosing for each day and on into the future.

Blessed to get to live, serve, and love in a community of believers at CC, because together in community with Jesus and each other is certainly something special.

Existential Conversations with a Hitman in a Taxi Cab

The 2004 movie Collateral tells the story of a cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) who picks up a customer named Vincent (Tom Cruise). Vincent hires Max exclusively to take him to a number of locations for the night. Max soon learns that Vincent is a hit man, and he is forced to spend the evening with the cab as Vincent takes out his marks. It goes without saying that Max has a very, very bad night.

The film has excellent dialogue, but one scene in particular hit close. Max tells Vincent that he is only driving a cab temporarily. He plans on starting his own limo business. He’s just driving a cab to make ends meet and save his money to get a business loan. Vincent asks Max how long he’s been driving the cab. “Twelve years,” Max replies. As Vincent eventually points out, twelve years is not a temporary job. Max has not moved forward with his dream. He wants to have the perfect plan in place before he moves. Without the perfect plan, he’s afraid he will fail.

A couple of weeks ago, I started working on a draft of a story that has been floating in my head for a while. While brainstorming with Jennifer, I was tempted to put the story aside once more until I had figured out all the character motivations and plot points. I wanted the story to be perfect in my head before I put it to paper. I have many unfinished stories, sitting abandoned in mental boxes, because I am waiting for them to be perfect. I’m waiting for the assurance that the story is complete. Unfortunately, art doesn’t work like that. Art is one attempt after another—chipping away at clay, picking out notes, writing words, and sketching lines—until the meaning and emotion breaks through. With my story, I have to take a deep breath and be willing to make mistake after mistake because that is the only way to create the work. Draft after draft until I am out of ideas. And the hard part is that I have to risk failure. Like Max in his cab, if I wait for everything to be perfect, I will only find one thing: a life of waiting.

I can’t help but wonder if this habit of waiting for my art is also present in my life on a more existential level. I can’t help but wonder if I sometimes wait for a “perfect” understanding of God or a “perfect” way to serve. And like art, following Jesus may be dependent on the openness to mistakes and failure. Many sermons and books have spoken of grace with regard to sin, but what about grace with regard to our personal feelings of failure? We can wait and never fail, but in doing so we risk a life of waiting. We can move and will likely have many moments of failure, but in doing this we get to practice grace and forgiveness toward ourselves, which creates a habit of grace and forgiveness toward others. Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love others as ourselves. If we cannot extend grace or forgiveness to ourselves, can we truly extend it to others? If we cannot make the best of things and risk our own failures, can we accept others in their failure?

The horrible night that Vincent put Max through shocked Max out of a lie that was ruling his life: I need things to be perfect to move forward with my plan. This lie kept him trapped in a life that was not satisfying. The perfect alignment of circumstances would never come. And as he waited, he failed to live. The perfect draft of a story will not come fully formed. As I wait, I fail to write. The perfect understanding of God and the life he wants us to live will probably take decades to cultivate. If we wait, we fail to follow.

We have a Path to Forge

WP_20160617_07_09_10_ProToday I finished my path to nowhere (sort of). It dead ends at the fence to my back yard. I imagine having conversations with my neighbors about why I made a trail that leads into a fence. What’s actually going on is that I plan in the future to put a gate at that point in the fence and continue the path. One of the challenges of having a multi stage project is that along the way many people might question your judgement. You’re either a poor planner or a visionary.

We all too frequently approach material presented in the Bible in this way. Since it’s the Bible we tend to give it good credit, but have a “this is all there is” perspective. A good example of this is the Old Testament law. We all too often approach our spirituality as living in adherence to the law. And this is not exactly off course. In Matthew 5 Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, and presents a challenge of even stricter adherence to it. He says that until heaven and earth pass away, the law will stand.

But this will happen. Heaven and earth will pass away. That’s how the story ends (Rev 21). The path is not finished. This whole creation is a work in progress. The existence of heaven and earth is the presence of a separation between us and God and a delineation between the physical and the spiritual. Paul says in Galatians 3:24 that the law is merely a guardian until a later time. Jesus when questioned about divorce says that it is because of the condition of our hearts that law is necessary (Mt 19:8).

Now here is the real clincher: Jesus pointed to this new way of living, living with an understating that the whole law is built on love. As followers of Christ we are invited to join him in the blazing of this future path, of living in relationship with God and tethering the spiritual and physical. As Paul said in Galatians 5:6, the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love.

Whether it’s the law or other matters, let us not fall short on faith and see the path as finished. Let us understand that the invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to join him in carving out that future path – here and now. This is not the easy path. The law is the easy path because it’s already paved. But our call is to the unknown, governed only by love pouring into and through us. There’s no checklist or clear directions. There’s just Jesus saying, “Follow me.”

See you on the other side of the fence.

We Are Christian Community

I’ve often wondered what congregations would be called if we named them for what they are. Would “First Christian” be “We Sing Hymns and Only Hymns”? Would “North Baptist” be “Great Children’s Program”? Would “Oak Valley Presbyterian” be “The People Who Are No Longer at Elm Valley Presbyterian”? What would Christian Community be named?

Yesterday was our monthly potluck Sunday and the Haiti Team’s presentation from their trip last month. Walking into the hallway, I saw people milling around the breakfast and lunch tables, talking about their weeks, how delicious the food looked, and smiling at familiar faces. Before I even entered the meeting room, people were “fellowshipping” – seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, touching and being touched.

As I walked into the meeting room, the musicians and singers started doing their thing, people enjoyed songs familiar and new, and Haiti team members told about who most impacted them and what we most should hear about their trip. They talked about the significance of their trip, and the conclusion they all came to was that it was not the international travel or the unique culture or the break from work or school that made the trip so special – it was, every single team member said, the people of Haiti, their joy and contentment and love, that impacted them most. It was the people.

After songs and reports from the Haiti Team, we shared a wonderful meal together. Tables were filled with smoked meats, potato casseroles, salads of kale and spinach and fruit and pasta, creamed corn (my favorite) and a whole table of cakes and cookies and sweetbreads. It was a feast! After filling my plate and not even making it to the second half of the spread, I returned to the meeting room to grab a seat. I lifted my eyes to see people laughing, enjoying each other’s company, and connecting over overcrowded plates.

We do community well. We share food together (a lot!). We focus not on music or where we gather or other superficial things; we focus on living God’s love with whoever we are around, whether we’re in this country or Haiti or any other place on Earth.

We follow Jesus. We love and connect with those around us. We are Christian Community. We may just be the most appropriately named congregation ever.

WE ARE CC

He is Risen Indeed!

Easter Sunday…a special day for believers…the day we get to specifically celebrate that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, but He didn’t just die…He rose again! It reminded me of the hymn He Lives by Alfred Ackley.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

He lives within each of us and it was a blessing to be able to celebrate a risen Savior together this Easter Sunday. Any time we get to do life together, worship together, and eat together I am blessed, but there is something special about Easter.

I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

The day starts bright and early with a small crew that gets coffee brewing and the food and dining tables setup, next come a dozen or so Easter lilies to brighten the room, the worship team arrives and music and singing fills in the background as they do a sound check, the tables are filling with delicious breakfast foods which all smell marvelous, and the plastic eggs to be hidden for the kids keep arriving. There is the often repeated, but joyously shared “He is risen.” and response “He is risen indeed!” throughout and the overwhelming spirit of Hope is tangible. A blessing over the food, and then the delicious food is eaten and coffee is drank amidst a background of visiting together. Eventually the dining tables are taken down, chairs setup back in rows, the communion table set and surrounded by lilies, and it is time to worship together. Music starts to fill the air, voices are raised in song, passages from the Word are shared, and the Easter celebration has really begun. Communion is served family style, as the bread is dipped in the juice, and then hugs are shared among our family and friends, all while we’re singing praises together. Requests and praises are shared and prayers lifted up to our heavenly Father.

In all the world around me I see His loving care,
And tho’ my heart grows weary I never will despair;
I know that He is leading thro’ all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing will come at last.

What a huge blessing, a reminder that life is filled with hope, filled with a sense of peace, not because of what we can see in this world, but because He lives. He lives and we serve a risen Savior who is in the world today. He is within us and allows us to experience hope for today and for tomorrow that would not have been possible if He hadn’t died and then rose again. The truth of this is reflected in each of us and Christ’s love that is demonstrated among those who love Him.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find,
None other is so loving, so good and kind.

Because He lives, then each day can be one where hope is tangible, each day can be a celebration that we serve a risen savior. So while not every day is an Easter Sunday where we specifically celebrate that Jesus has risen, each day in life can still be a day where we can be reminded that:

He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

P.S. And yes, a part of the celebration of Easter did include a hunt for eggs for the kids, which was managed despite the rainy weather thanks to some inventive folks who made the space work.

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A Fork Stuck in the Road

This week marks an anniversary for me. In 1981, I was a young English teacher at a rural high school in Oklahoma with a wife and baby son. I was working at the job I had prepared for, the one I thought I had been born to do. There were things I really liked about teaching English, moments when I got through to a kid, times when I felt like I was making a difference.

But mostly I hated it. This really surprised me because I had always wanted to be a teacher. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t in the right place and I should find another job. But what kind of job? What would I do if I didn’t teach? I had no idea, but I knew I had to try to make a change.

So, I started looking for other work, and through a bit of serendipity, I got hired as a technical writer for a government contractor at Fort Sill. I wasn’t completely sure what a tech writer was supposed to do, but they wanted English majors, so I was their guy. I started my new job on March 16, 1981.

Thirty-five years have passed since I faced that crisis, that turning point in my life. There have been many other such moments since then that I now look back on. From the perspective of today, I can see ways that God worked in my life at each of those times. I often think about how my life would be different now if I had stayed in teaching. Friends who started out teaching with me are retired now. I could be too, I guess, if I had taken a different path. There is really no way to know what my life would be if I had made different choices along the way.

You may be familiar with a song called “Time of Your Life” by Green Day. If not, you should check it out. It is one of my favorites. It talks about those times in our lives when we have to choose another path:

“Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
Directs you where to go

So make the best of this test
And don’t ask why
It’s not a question
But a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life”

When I decided to take a different path in 1981, I had no idea where it would lead me. Looking back, I can now see that it led to a challenging job that gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It also led to consistent employment for me for a long time. I rode that Gravy Train all the way to July 2, 2015, when I resigned to move to Missouri. I am thankful for all those things, and I know they led me to the life I have now.

One of my favorite verses is Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Being ever mindful of context, I realize that God is speaking specifically to Joshua in this verse, not Steve Fouse, Sr. However, looking back on the forks in the road of my life, I can see how God led me, how he went with me on every path, and he never left me or forsook me.

Knowing that brings great comfort, and courage to face the turning points that lie ahead.

steps

Would You Like to Come Over?

Yesterday was Superbowl 50. It was a great game if you’re a Denver Broncos fan; not so great if you’re a Carolina Panthers fan. We were planning a watch/hangout party at the Poplar building, but we were unsure about our internet streaming abilities. We were confident of our bandwidth at home, so we offered to host if people wanted to come over.

We knew of only one person for sure that wanted to watch the Superbowl. But we started asking around and inviting people to come to our house for food and hanging out. We just invited people over, no pressure, just if they wanted to come.

Our house is in an *entirely different town*, so we weren’t expecting a big turnout. Also, we’re not really football fans, so there was a loss of excitement there. Also, did I mention we live in an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT TOWN?

So we were a little surprised when more than 20 people joined us for the big game, sharing snacks, laughing at weird commercials, and enjoying being together.

And I realized something yesterday, with a house full of friends and family – people like to be invited to the party. They appreciate being included, even if they can’t come, but if they can, they’re usually pretty excited.

But inviting people to join you is inherently vulnerable – they can say no, which means you get shot down, or they can agree out of a sense of unintended guilt and show up, but not because they want to.

But the risk is worth it, because the payoff is community. So this week, invite others to join you in whatever you’re doing. By doing so, you will help create community, just like the Great Includer whom we follow.

We believe in forever

The focus of worship this week was God’s faithful love endures forever from Psalm 136. It reminded me that as a believer my outlook or focus in life is impacted because I believe in a God who is faithful and loving FOREVER.

That belief does change the way you see things…life’s little irritations are less in focus when I remember that God loves me faithfully, forever. The most heavy days and painful experiences are still all of that, yet there is also hope and peace because God’s faithful love endures forever.

Precious time with our loved ones, no matter how fleeting, can be appreciated in the moment because God’s faithful love endures forever. Our journey here on this earth with family and loved ones is just the beginning because God’s faithful love endures forever.

Every moment we walk through life and each situation we’re in has a different meaning and focus…because God’s faithful love endures forever. As a family of believers, we are blessed to get to live life together, share in each other’s joys and sorrows, which have different meanings in the context of God’s faithful love enduring forever.

We believe: The Bible is true. We need Jesus. Prayer makes a difference. Small groups are important. Teamwork is essential. Authenticity is valuable. We grow through struggle. We are all called to impact the world with Christ’s love. If you missed it, check out Steven’s teaching on our purpose and beliefs via our Message page.

God’s faithful love endures forever and that amazing enduring forever love is how we can impact the world around us through Jesus. Together, with Jesus, we believe in FOREVER.

When You *Get* to Go to a Business Meeting

A couple of weeks ago I got to go to our monthly Practical Ministry Team meeting. This is the small group of people who do thrilling stuff like talk about the budget and coordinate communication for events. I’ve been a part of many such meetings with a number of congregations, and they’re usually long and boring…usually.

Except with Christian Community, those meetings are not a terrible, mind-numbing drag. They’re not always the most exciting, but they’re never torture, and quite often I leave having really enjoyed who I was with and our time together…which is really weird for a business meeting.

Yesterday I got to go to another planning meeting for Life Groups. And while there was planning and scheduling and coordinating, it was quite enjoyable, because the people in the meeting with me, we do life together. Sure, we have fun together and eat lots of meals together at other times, but that just means that the more-boring times are *more* meaningful, not less. It’s a pleasure to live in community with other people, especially when we have our relationships with God in common.

I ended yesterday feeling like I had been in community with people, even though it ended with an almost 3-hour meeting. I hope that, as we all continue to do life together on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, our sense of connection continues to grow, and even the most mundane tasks become rich with meaning as we live out the Kingdom of God together.

Anybody else excited for our next planning meeting?!?