Sunday, November 04, 2007

Expert? That's just a regular guy away from home.

On Tuesday evening of this past week I was invited by friends from church to share a meal at their home, then hear Tom Erich at Christian Theological Seminary here in Indianapolis.

Tom Erich could easily be called, Father Tom, I suppose as titles go he could also go by The Rev. Dr. Tom Erich, (I expect that he has enough gilt edged wallpaper to use that title should he chose.) I know that he can be called daddy, he mentioned a son. Tom can be called author, newspaper columnist, Internet educator, businessman, frequent flier, yet I somehow believe that he would select just plain Tom before he would chose any of the other titles that he is entitled. Out of all of those titles many want to think of him as expert. Now, I was once told that an expert is a, “regular guy away from home.” There may be some truth to that, but in many fields I would say with confidence that Tom is an expert.

The format of the event at the seminary was, lengthy introductions, Tom spoke and then there was a panel discussion then some Q and A from those gathered. If the program had been left to my devising, there would have been no panel discussion and little or no Q and A. I would have chosen to have heard Tom speak longer. But, once again, the powers that be didn't call and ask me how I wanted them to do it. I just can't figure all these groups and businesses out, I'm in the book.

To be frank, I've not been in this kind of setting for a long time, may people know that I'm not exactly comfortable in a crowd, though I do tend to do okay in auditoriums and I do have a hearing loss that drives people bonkers. I will tip my hat to the designer of the auditorium at CTS, he had me in mind when it comes to sound there. WONDERFUL, applause applause, kudos. A couple of the last events of this kind that I have attended was a conference at the Indiana Government Center on World AIDS day, that has been many years ago, even farther back in the annals of history was the week long Christian Educators conference at the American Baptist Retreat Center in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Not being a man of, “organized,” higher education I don't always feel at ease in situations like these, but Tuesday night I could have easily pulled up a footstool and listened even longer. The facility was perfect, the company I attended with gracious and kind and I was hearing a man say exactly what I think about church growth, church management and the role of key players in the church as well as his opinion on where the church is headed.

Tom was candid, some of the things that he said made me want to jump up and say, “Preach it brother, help 'im Jesus.” They were what I think, and what I feel strongly about. There were a few things that I didn't agree with and some things that I would have loved to hear him say more on so that I might understand them better. I suppose it was what any educational setting might be, and opportunity to be challenged to think.

It is important to remember here that he was speaking at a seminary and there were many students in the seats, a fair amount of clergy already serving churches, many for lengthy times and then there were some folks like me. With these things in mind I find it amazing that in a setting that is thought to be a Christian Enclave there are people there that I feel confident aren't Christians. That's my view, but to me it makes sense. He slipped a little, “sermonizing” into his comments by saying this:

“Jesus came to fulfill the 800 Jewish laws mandated in the Old Testament. By coming to fulfill those laws he reduced them to three, those laws being, 'Love God with all of your heart, love your neighbor and finally, do not be afraid.”

Immediately I did a total brain scan, ripping through the education that I had stored and found that I was at a loss for having ever heard, “do not be afraid,” as law number three. I've never thought of that as the final law, I've never heard a minister say that from the pulpit in all my years of pew sitting and I've never read it. (I've read the statement in scriptures, in my mind I've heard Jesus say it to those around him, but, but...) Simply put, I wanted to ask, “tell me more about this third one and how did you come to that conclusion?” After all of that went through my mind, in really what was surely less than a minute it laid in my gray matter, then on the way home, and I took the scary way home which also reads the long way home, it fell from my head to my heart. In that very statement, that third law, I knew that I was busted. I might as well have put my hands on the wall and spread 'em right there.

I'll admit that being a son of Adam, I am sinful by nature. Doing a little shtick one time on a quote from Paul's letters I said, “Shall we keep on sinning that grace may abound? Why not, I'm not busy on Saturday night.” I know that I fall short of God's glory, I struggle with it, I suppose everyone does. It isn't that I don't love God, it's just that I don't tell him often enough. It isn't that I don't love my neighbor, I just don't always do what I could for whoever my neighbor happens to be at the time. Remember this changes based on where you are standing, well it sorta works like that, you know, “and who is my neighbor?” AND YES! I AM AFRAID. I stand in fear of many things, in fact, it looks a lot like a laundry list. Yet while I think about those things that I fear I can hear the words of the Gospel over and over again, “fear not...do not be afraid...” I hear them and yet I must confess before you, my brothers and sisters that I have broken the third law that Jesus used to replace the Hebrew Codes of Health Education and Welfare, more times than I care to think, and by doing so, I have failed to live up to the other two as well. Each time I fail at one of those, I fail at the other two.

This is where I think about how blessed I am that long ago while sitting in a musty basement in a Christian church out in the country, Sunday School teachers, preachers, youth group leaders and VBS teachers taught me the meaning of grace, “the unmerited favor of God.” When I moved to the Baptist church the meaning of grace was drilled into me even deeper and then when I moved to the Presbyterian church, I came to understand that God's grace was for me, there is plenty of it and I can't run the supply out, ever.

There were a few seconds in the car coming home that I wanted to think that Tom Erich had lost his expert status with me that he really was just a regular guy away from home, then I remembered that I was breaking law number two and was going five over the speed limit.

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