Someone’s Got Sulfur Balls?

19 05 2008

I never would have believed it if I hadn’t heard it from my own brother. It’s true. My brother’s next-door neighbor has sulfur balls…

If you’re wondering if a new STD is wreaking havoc on the youth culture…that’s not what I’m talking about. Sulfur Balls, as it turns out, are (supposedly) the petrified remains of the “hell-fire and brimstone” that God rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah in an attempt to satiate his hatred and satisfy his wrath. And my brother’s next-door neighbor carries one…in his pocket.

Yep. My brother got “witnessed” to.

I know the last sentence isn’t exactly grammatically correct, but who has time for proper English when heaven and hell is on the line? If you are a Christian, you know what I mean. If you aren’t part of the flock, “witnessing” is when we Christians share our faith with you _____________________ (fill in the blank with reference of choice: “seeker”, “pagan”, “non-Christian”, “lost”, “eternally damned”, etc). It is an incredibly frightening experience and something that we’ve known since camp that we were supposed to do, but something that we don’t do very well.

Please forgive us…

But come on, Sulfur Balls—in your pocket! Is that how we attempt to share the story of Christ with those around us? The neighbor not only had the Sulfur Ball, he had a neat pamphlet (tract) to go along with it. The tract contained several full color pictures of the ancient ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah complete with descriptions of the ferocity of God’s attack. The tract ended with the prayer of salvation and web address for more information.

I believe that we can do better than that! Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that the zealous neighbor was out there giving it a shot (he claims that he passes out 30 Sulfur Ball pamphlets a day!). And I admit that more often than not, I wimp out and let opportunities pass me by…but I still think that something has got to be done about the way we share our faith!

Do I believe that God is a righteous God? Yes.

Do I believe that God judges evil? Yes.

But do I believe that God wants going around and scaring the bejeepers out of people so they’ll repent and visit our web site. NO!

The Bible says, “It is his kindness that leads us to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). God is waiting patiently, hoping that one more person will come to know him! He longs for us to reveal Him as the giver of all good gifts and the creator life to the full! He sent His son to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother! We’ve got a lot to talk about!

If that person you pass on the street today, or the woman sitting next to you at Starbucks, or the student checking out in front of you at Wal-Mart, if they only learn one thing from you about the God that we serve, please don’t let it be the Sulfur Balls…

(In case you think I’m making this up, here’s a pic.)


Pipe Cleaners and Popsicle Sticks

12 05 2008

I went to Vacation Bible School (VBS) once as a kid. I was about 10 years old and I was spending a week with my Aunt and Uncle in Martinsville, Indiana. Since my Aunt wasn’t a regular churchgoer, I’m pretty sure she just needed a babysitter. VBS to the rescue…

I’d been to church before, but really wasn’t much of a churchgoer myself—sitting in abject boredom for two hours every few months doesn’t really qualify you as a regular—which means, of course, that I didn’t get to lay claim to my own pew (but I did get a role in the Christmas pageant once). Anyway, mom had taken us to church a couple of times—enough that I knew that I went to a “Church of God” church. I had no idea what that was or what we believed, but I knew we were right. And deep down inside, I pitied all of the poor souls who were caught up in all kinds of false doctrines—you know, the Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, and, to say the least, Pentecostals. I felt sorry for them in a way. Someone had lied to them! They’d been duped into following down the wrong path and it ended them up in a quagmire of confusion. It was a crying shame, really.

When Aunt Debbie announced that we would be going to a church event—something called a “Vacation Bible School”—my heresy radar was immediately on tilt. “What kind of church is it?” I wondered? I later learned that it was a Nazarene church. No self-respecting, ten-year-old, Church of God, non-regular has any idea what a Nazarene church is, but I could tell that it smacked of heresy.

“I’m not going.” I declared with all the righteous indignation of a martyr’s last words. My aunt countered that either I would go or I would stay home and do chores.

I went.

As I reflect on that summer and my experience at the VBS, two things amaze me:
1) VBS teachers are masters with pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks! I’m pretty sure we illustrated the entire Old Testament with ‘craft’ supplies and a tub of white glue. (Check out the amazing Dancing Pipe Cleaner Man here!)
2) It is shocking how prone I am to thinking I am right, and everybody else is hopelessly wrong.

What is it inside the heart of man that convinces us that we—the person who can’t even tie a tie—could possible have unlocked the secrets of the universe? How is it that we believe that our understanding of truth could be so much superior to those who worship at the church across the street? Why do we need to be right, and why do we need others to be wrong?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I take “poor in spirit” to mean open-minded—being willing to admit that you don’t have it all figured out; you don’t have all of the answers. I confess that I’ve spent too many days walking around like the spiritual upper class. I needed, and (confession) still desperately need to be right. And it wasn’t enough simply to be right; I needed others to know I was right. Insecurity fueled my quest for dominance, and, like a cage fighter seeking a belt, I took on any challenger.

The problem with being right is that it forces us to think that everyone else is wrong. It forces us to close our minds to other ideas, philosophies, and opinions. Our ideas become lines drawn with the intention of separating truth from fiction, but end up separating us from the actual person behind the idea—a person with real hopes and dreams and fears. Our quest for right-ness dupes us into seclusion, and it is ourselves that we hold hostage.

The world would be a better place if I could—if we all could—learn to love the person behind the idea. I think Jesus did that. At first I was uncomfortable with Christ’s seeming lack of zeal to defend himself before Pilate. I couldn’t believe that he refused to lecture the woman caught in adultery. Why didn’t he plea with the rich young ruler? Surely he could have out debated the Pharisees! Didn’t he want to be right? Didn’t he want to win?

Then it hit me: maybe he didn’t want to win; maybe he wanted us to.

The “Weight” of Sin

1 05 2008

During a creative worship session, we wanted to give our students a sense for the “weight” or “burden” of sin. We announced ahead of time that everyone should bring an old backpack or tote bag to service. During the meeting students moved in small groups from station to station where they dealt with and discussed various areas of sin relevant to their lives. Each station contained a pile of bricks. After each discussion students were encouraged to reflect on their own life and add one or more bricks to their bag. As the morning wore on it was powerful to see and feel the weight of our own sin! Then we wrapped up the morning with a time of confession and repentance where everyone dumped out their bag of “sin” at the foot of a cross.

Some of my favorite moments were seeing a tiny 7th grade female student labor up the stairs with her bag and yet refuse help because it was “her sin”. Another memory is of a strong football player agreeing to carry the bag or “burden” of his sister.

Overall it was a wonderful time. Hope it works for you!

Jump back over to to check out other posts!

Dandelions and Doubts

1 05 2008

I sprayed fertilizer on my yard. Fertilizer–stuff that makes grass grow! What kind of insane masochist came up with the idea of intentionally causing your lawn to accelerate its growth thereby requiring additional hours on the lawnmower? At least my mower has a shock absorbing seat and two cup holders! (But that is a topic for another post.)

So I sprayed my yard; but not to fertilize the grass, I sprayed to kill the dandelions. I remember back when I thought dandelions were beautiful flowers punctuating the lawn like commas in a run-on sentence. Flowers in the yard were a bonus! Why bother planting them in neat rows and in window boxes when nature sprinkled them through the grasses? We scraped their yellow heads across our cheeks like Indian war paint and inked the sidewalks with their yellow nectar. And their finale was brilliant–a fluffy white globe of seeds that fell through the air like paratroopers on a secret mission.

It must have been easier to find beauty in those days. Now I hunt them down like escaped prisoners. I loathe them for having the audacity to grow in a place of their own choosing—outside of my control and boundaries. “Aren’t I the king of this castle?” I ask myself rhetorically. “I decide where flowers grow and where they don’t!” “What if I don’t like green and yellow together?” I rationalize.

I guess in a world where life seems out of control we obsess over the few areas we can control. I just wonder how often, in our demand for control and our appetite for organization, do we poison beauty? What if we could learn—or relearn—to see beauty in the chaos and meaning in the mess. What if we, like God were on a mission not to eradicate pain and doubt, but to redeem them? What if the dandelions were safe?

But honestly, I don’t like green and yellow together.