Thursday, March 31, 2005
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Could it be............?
More on this article interview with Brian McClaren:
Earlier in 2004, Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was touted by many Christians as “the greatest outreach opportunity in 2000 years.” I have not seen the film, but I imagine it is stunning and powerful, and I hope God will use it in unprecedented ways. But I find this assumption of many Christians disgusting.
What is needed is not the showing of a movie (no matter how great), but a revolution of Christians who are showing the love of Christ by moving into the world and loving their neighbors. In other words, unless disciples are following the Great Commandment, it is fruitless to engage in the Great Commission. If we replicate people who do not love God or their neighbors, we are not fulfilling the mission of Jesus.
I clearly remember hearing a pastor say something to the effect of "the greatest outreach opportunity" when Mel Gibson's movie came out - and I thought to myself, "Oh Please!" Why can't we (me included) rather work toward building a transformed life where people see Jesus in ME, as opposed to up on a screen while eating popcorn, or God forbid, on Christian TV! May it be so, may I love people uncommonly, make I care uniquely, may I love beyond my means.
And McClaren goes on to suggest that "the concept of church may be abused beyond recovery". The Church Lady would not be happy with THAT concept, for heaven's sake!
Hey people, want to "otherwise imagine" the church along with me? How about we begin to question our old, safe, warm and fuzzy models of following Jesus, and begin to take some risks? How about we religious introverts begin working on becoming extroverts? In the imortal words of Bluto in Animal House, "whooooos with me.....arrrrrhhhhhhhhh!
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
"Now is de time vhen we reinvent de church!"
One of my favorite Saturday Night Live pieces ever was "Sprockets" with Mike Meyers. The whole Sprockets concept was a fun poke at trendy Europeans and their snooty views of the rest of the world. Some of the best quotes:
"You are beautiful and angular."
"You disturb me to the point of insanity. There. I am insane now."
"Now is the time on Sprockets vhen ve dance."
Dieter and his trendy European friends had a whole new way of looking at the world. It was hysterical, if not somewhat tragic. They say that comedy is just tragedy separated by time. Anyway.
This leads me to a very interesting article I came across recently, in this publication from Fuller Seminary.
Brian McClaren reminds me in some ways of Dieter; except without the snooty part. Oh, and he is not German either. He is known pretty much as "Mr. Emergent" - the coolest guy around in terms of understanding what is going on in the Emergent Church. He has a completely different view of what "doing church" means. Go ahead, read the article, I dare you.
Have we misunderstood the Good News?
Whoa baby! There is a conversation piece for your next Bible study. Brian notes that "we need to rethink our understanding of the gospel". My goodness, what has this young fella been smokin'? Perhaps the gospel is, as McClaren suggests, "a vision of what life can be in all its dimensions". Worth giving some thought to. Also, this fits nicely with what my friend Pastor Tod is talking about today.
Lets redefine what a disciple is!?
Ok, now I am getting bugged at this bearded guy. A disciple is someone who always attends the men's bible study, is a deacon, usher, helps with the kids puppet show at church, and wears appropriately matched trousers and sport coat for the Ladies auxiliary events, right?
Wait. What? No? McClaren says "evangelism becomes not the recruiting of refugees who seek to escape earth for heaven in a flight of spiritual self-interest, but rather the recruiting of revolutionaries who seek to bring the good and healing will of heaven to earth in all its crises." Wow. Revolutionaries!? You mean my pants don't have to match? And its alright if I don't attend the Deacon's lunch, if instead, I might be playing golf with my unsaved neighbor, or maybe even buying him coffee and talking about what life means?
More on all this.....soon.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
"I do not understand why people who want to save the whales (so do I) find campaigns to save humans so much less arresting. I do not understand their lack of passion. But the save-the-whales people are somehow rarely the stop-abortion-please people.
The PETA people, who say they are committed to ending cruelty to animals, seem disinterested in the fact of late-term abortion, which is a cruel procedure performed on a human.
I do not understand why the don't-drill-in-Alaska-and-destroy-its-prime-beauty people do not join forces with the don't-end-a-life-that-holds-within-it-beauty people."
Towering Over Humanity
The Wandering Church Homeless Family traveled here today. The place has very fond memories for me, as it is the church where I first really heard that one can have a personal relationship with Jesus, 25 years ago. After listening to the gospel for about nine months, I quietly gave myself, my life, all I knew of who I was to all I knew of who Christ was. I have never regretted that decision for a moment for the rest of this life.
I experienced something in this Easter service that caught me off guard, took my breath away, and left me pondering the impact of Jesus in history and even today, in our modern world. I need to share it with you.
Before the sermon, the tradition at Bel Air is for a short video to introduce the message. The videos are home-made, but professionally done. The theme was on the difference between the first Easter and Easter today. It was a remarkable contrast. The video consisted of interviews, in period costume, of eye-witnesses of the resurrection - their shock at Christ's death, the period of hiding of those close to him, and the astonishment upon learning that the grave was empty. Their stories were sad, scary, moving, compelling.
AND THEN, interspersed through the interviews of the very first Believers, were quick vignettes of modern day Christians and Easter visitors. However, their comments were so different:
"The pastor says we should invite a friend to church, but if I do that, then they will find out I am a Christian"
"The Easter egg hunt was a disaster last year"
"Parking at church is such a problem on Easter"
"I'm not sure about this whole church, thing, the guy in the robes, all the singing people"
"I am so busy, not sure I can make church this year (talking on a cell phone)"
And then, this is where I lost my breath, and the tears welled up.
ALL of these people, ancient and modern, in current dress and first century grab, we transposed at the foot of the cross, staring up at the crucified Lord. First century and current century, brought together. The looks on the faces of all, of wonder, of confusion, of bewilderment at what was happening. To me, this was a huge shout of what the gospel is all about.
A timeless Christ, towering over history, still, to this day, transforming lives. Amen!
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
This is not Jesus
My 14 year old (Kelly) and her friend (Allison) and I were in the car tonight. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Four more days and I get to eat french fries." (This has been my Lenten dietary exclusion, we were driving past my favorite burger place - In N' Out)
Kelly: "Dad, you are such a woose."
Allison: "We get to have an easter egg hunt at our house. The Easter Bunny is coming; that is the best part of having a 9-year old brother - you still get celebrate all the holidays that aren't really real. My brother still believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny."
Kelly: "Oh yeah, I stopped believing in Santa when I was like two years old. I swear. I told all the other kids at school that Santa was not real. They didn't believe me. I told them to go ask their moms."
Me: "Well THAT was kind. Did you make any of them cry?"
Kelly: "Daaad, of course not. But I did tell them to ask their moms, I always did that".
Alison: "How in the world did the Easter bunny get made up?"
Me: "Good question, we need to Google that. With Christmas at least there is a vague connection between Santa Claus and the celebration of Jesus. With Easter its like, what does this bunny have to do with death and resurrection of Jesus?"
Allison: "I know, its so random!"
Me: "Maybe the greeting card companies made the holiday up."
Allison: "I think it might have something to do with the beginning of Spring"
Kelly: "Yeah, like something medieval"
Me: "Like a pagan ritual."
Kelly: "And what is the bunny doing handing out EGGS? Bunny's make eggs? Come on!"
Me: "Yeah, how come the Easter Bunny doesn't hand out little bunnies instead?"
Allison: "I had a little bunny once, we found him in our neighborhood"
This is something brief on the origins of the wacky Easter Bunny. But, as we know, Easter is so much more than fodder for sales at Target. More than decorations, family dinners, flowers, greeting cards, and kids having egg hunts.
Here is the focal point of Easter. A life sacrificed for every person ever born, an empty tomb. And ever since the events of those few days, the world has never been the same.
Its not about the Bunny, people.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Pope John Paul II
Musings below are based in part on this.
Although I am a confirmed protestant, Pope John Paul II continues to be a man who grows in my respect, almost with each passing day. And now, with his declining health, the world is watching as he becomes more infirm, more feeble, and well, less cool.
I mean if he were a cool Pope, he would be younger, dress better, say cool things, be funny, and not wear that zuchetto (skull cap) thingie. Come on please! And, oh yeah, the dude would retire at some mandatory age and go fishing in the Italian Alps. Like all of us western types you know, we are only useful for a season in life, and then it is time to move on. Mandatory retirement and then, off to the Old Pope's Home. Casa De El Papo Retirementamundo. Happy Acres. The Pope Farm. Get on with it old fella, out the door for you! Cash in on the 401k, baby.
But no. He stays. He goes in and out of the hospital. And he won't retire. Not this Pope. And perhaps, just maybe, this decision is infused with some of the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. I posted recently about this. Perhaps Eugene Peterson and the Pope have it right. Perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven is an upside down thing. Perhaps we, with our western civilization view of things, just don't understand this.
From Catholic theologian George Weigel, in the Washington Post, this:
It seems to me the Pope gets it. Much about this life is learning how to die, in so many ways. And so, Pope John Paul looks to us to be "out of it", infirm. We don't like this, it is not cool, it makes us uncomfortable. And perhaps, it is in these places where God dwells.
A few days ago in Rome, when I asked Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze what this phase of the remarkable pontificate of John Paul II meant, the cardinal suggested that, from his hospital bed, the pope was putting some serious questions on the world's agenda -- does suffering mean anything, or is it simply an absurdity? Does the suffering contribute anything to the rest of us? Is there dignity in old age?
In Cardinal Arinze's mind, the example of John Paul II offered an answer to those questions. Yes, suffering can have meaning. Yes, that suffering can teach the rest of us: It reminds us that we cannot control our lives, and it elicits a compassion that ennobles us. Moreover, the cardinal suggested, John Paul II, in his weakness and suffering, was a tremendous encouragement to the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the dying, who find strength and hope in his example.
The world has missed a lot of Karol Wojtyla's story in his 26 years as pope, because the world tries to understand him in political terms, as another power player on the global stage. There's no doubt that John Paul II has been the most politically influential pope in centuries. But that is not who he is, or what he's about, at his deepest level. His two recent hospitalizations and his unembarrassed struggle to live out the commitment to service that he made at his election in 1978 should remind everyone that this man is, first and foremost, a Christian pastor who is going to challenge us with the message of the cross -- the message of Good Friday and Easter -- until the end.
As Hanna Suchocka, the former Polish prime minister, described the pope to me recently, "He is living his via crucis," his way of the cross. It's not something the world has watched a pope do for a very long time. We should recognize it for what it is, and be grateful for the example.
We can't get far now in the car without the news radio telling us the latest on Terry Shiavo. And so it should be. This continues to be a tragedy, slowly unraveling. Today's Wall Street Journal has a great piece which summarizes the whole debate well, written by James Q. Wilson. Just a quote:
This is a tragedy. Congress has responded by rushing to pass a law that will allow her case, but only her case, to be heard in federal court. But there is no guarantee that, if it is heard there, a federal judge will do any better than the Florida one. What is lacking in this matter is not the correct set of jurisdictional rules but a decent set of moral imperatives.
That moral imperative should be that medical care cannot be withheld from a person who is not brain dead and who is not at risk for dying from an untreatable
disease in the near future. To do otherwise makes us recall Nazi Germany where retarded people and those with serious disabilities were "euthanized" (that is, killed). We hear around the country echoes of this view in the demands that
doctors be allowed to participate, as they do in Oregon, in physician-assisted
suicide, whereby doctors can end the life of patients who request death and have
less than six months to live. This policy endorses the right of a person to end
his or her life with medical help. It is justified by the alleged success of this policy in the Netherlands. But it has not been a success in the Netherlands. In that country there have been well over 1,000 doctor-induced deaths among patients who had not requested death, and in a large fraction of those cases the patients were sufficiently competent to have made the request had they wished.
Keeping people alive is the goal of medicine. We can only modify that policy in the case of patients for whom death is imminent and where all competent family members believe that nothing can be gained by extending life for a few more days. This is clearly not the case with Terri Schiavo. Indeed, her death by starvation may take weeks. Meanwhile, her parents are pleading for her life.
Might we together, agree to plea for the life of Terri to The Only Resource Left?
Friday, March 18, 2005
The title, "Your Best Life Now". Lets just take a second and examine these words:
Your - Hmmm....another version of that word might be MINE! The thing a spoiled 3-year old chants in the back seat of the Volvo on the way to Chucky Cheese.
Best - Not average, not mundane, not ordinary as life sometimes just is, but best, always perfect and shiny and happy and no problems. Ever.
Life - ok, this word is ok. Jesus talked a lot about life, but not Joel Osteen's wacky version of it.
Now - oh, great. Another classically American word. Now. Not later. Not someday. Not in the proper season of life. Now, dammit, I am an American, and I want it now!! And get me some fries with that, quick!
Alright, I have said my piece. But what do I know? So go read this, and get a much clearer view of it all.
I am sorry, but this is insane. While I am sure this is heart wrenching for all involved, starving this woman to death is simply unjust. I have to admit that I am feeling pretty pissed about the state of affairs in this country when there seems to be repeated attempts to play God by mere mortals.
Want to learn more; go here. And also, beseech the Lord.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Its about cotton candy...
I spent the evening tonight with a room full of really wonderful people, at a Young Life evening. These folks really are the best of the best. The purpose of the get-together was to thank our supporters for their gifts of finances and prayer. To thank them, and nothing more. These folks are those who, in my mind, "get it". Its not about denominations or competing ideologies, or even politics.
These dear people understand what is of Great Worth in life, and they throw their support in after it with all their hearts, and substantial portions of their wallets. I love these people. They want teenagers to know Christ. That is all, and its all that really matters. Our special guest for the evening was Hugh Hewitt, who was kind, gracious, told some wonderful stories, and gracefully, was brief. Great job, Hugh, thank you!
Being in a room of loud, laughing people, with a common sense of purpose and joy was energizing for me. And the noise, the din of people mingling, the serious conversations off in a corner, this collection of sounds reminded me, in a way, of what this life is about. It all moves so fast; one minute the kids are little, and need you so much, and the next moment, they have an attitude, and want you to leave the room - so they can talk to their friends on the phone.
When I got home, I stumbled on this bit by Anne Lammott, who's writing I have occasionally enjoyed (except for the silly monochromatic political stuff). She sums up the raising of kids so well, in describing her son:
I am thankful for the swirl of Milky Way in my own girls. I am also thankful for the swirl of remarkable, amazingly unique folks tonight in that home - all there for love of the Kingdom, and the King, who persistently, relentlessly, makes lives new.
"I know where he got his gallows humor. I can see myself so clearly in him, many of my worst traits, some of my goodness. I can also still see many of Sam's ages in him: New parents always grieve as their babies get bigger, because they cannot imagine the child will ever be so heartbreakingly cute and needy again. But Sam is a swirl of every age he's ever been, and all the new ones, like cotton candy, like the Milky Way."
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
A Sacrament...and a welcoming
More from the wonderful Peterson Interview in Christianity Today:
In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two bratty kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two bratty kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn't a very nice service; it was just not very good worship. But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.
Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they're Lutherans. They don't mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans! And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She's never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She's a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her. Now, where is the "joy" in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there's a lot of joy. There's an abundant life going, but it's not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there's a lot more going on in churches like this; they're just totally anticultural. They're full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn't know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?
I have a good friend who is in seminary studying for a call to the pastorate. As a part of this process, she has taken a class on Pastoral Care and Counseling; and a requirement of the class is that everyone attend at lease one AA meeting. At the meeting, there was a discussion about the concept of a "Higher Power", which is a mainstay of AA practice.
Attendees were discussing why it is that AA uses the concept of "a Power greater than ourselves", and this discussion had lead to a conversation about God. From this conversation came a number of comments about pain inflicted upon AA folks by people in the church. Judgment, isolation, awkwardness, and a lack of compassion. All from us in the church. Church. That's us, people; me, and you. Causing pain, not loving like Jesus (who hung out with some rather nasty types on occassion) for those most in need of healing. We can be a pretty awkward and judgemental bunch, can we not?
Maybe we need to hang out with some rather dull Lutherans. I believe their church is somewhere in Montana.
Monday, March 14, 2005
A universally acceptable Christian emblem would obviously need to speak of Jesus Christ, but there was a wide range of possibilities. Christians might have chosen the crib or manger in which the baby Jesus was laid, or the carpenter's bench at which he worked as a young man in Nazareth, dignifying manual labour, or the boat from which he taught the crowds in Galilee, or the apron he wore when washing the apostles' feet, which would have spoken of his spirit of humble service. Then there was the stone which, having been rolled from the mouth of Joseph's tomb, would have proclaimed his resurrection. Other possibilities were the throne, symbol of divine sovereignty, which John in his vision of heaven saw that Jesus was sharing, or the dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven on the day of Pentecost. Any of these seven symbols would have been suitable as a pointer to some aspect of the ministry of the Lord. But instead the chosen symbol came to be a simple cross. Its two bars were already a cosmic symbol from remote antiquity of the axis between heaven and earth. But its choice by Christians had a more specific explanation. They wished to commemorate as central to their understanding of Jesus neither his birth nor his youth, neither his teaching nor his service, neither his resurrection nor his reign, nor his gift of the Spirit, but his death, his crucifixion.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
"It's learning how to die..."
More on the interview with Eugene Peterson. Excerpts below:
I don't want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don't have any fun, that there's no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They're just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world's values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives.
The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love. It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.
Its learning how to die. Oh my. As I have passed my mid-40s, and have two parents now in their mid-80s, as well as a dear friend battling cancer, I tend to think about the fleeting nature of life more than I used to. So, it really is about learning to die, isn't it? When one accepts Jesus as Lord, there is a real sense of submitting control of life to Another, a letting go (dying to self). As one becomes a disciple, there are new learned behaviors, and letting God have more of the "bad parts" of ourselves (in my case anger and selfishness); another form of dying. Death and dying found in the midst of new life in Christ.
Giving up our lives. Now won't that make a slick "come to church" brochure. "Come to the First Church of Happy Valley (where all the Happy, Handsome, Well Dressed, Normal, Disease Free, Clean and Thrifty People Come!) and learn how to....DIE!? But then, that is what Jesus is calling us to, in many ways, is it not? Much to think about here, in the thoughts of Eugene. Perhaps we can reason together....
Final thought. Go out today, and buy this book. This is the meatier text behind the interview with Eugene Peterson, and will give us all plenty to think about for months to come! I bought my copy today.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Warning, it is not for the squeamish, but it is, at least for me, such a wonderful example that God, and his people, are still at work bringing healing to the world. Make sure you hit the "morph" link at the end of the photos....it is wonderful. The morphed pictures make me think of what Jesus' touch did to the lepers.....
Were you moved? Donate here.
In a way, I am like a walking billboard. It is my prayer that where ever I go, I might be light for Jesus this day.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
I am shamed by the beautiful simplicity of this man's commitment to and love for Jesus.
The Wrong Kind of Intimacy
As I mentioned yesterday, I was thunderstruck by the thoughts of Eugene Peterson in this article in Christianity Today. More to discuss today:
The Christian life is not a wonderful life - in the way we want it to be. Oh my goodness, that single comment right there, in my mind takes out about 1/2 of the stuff I see on the bookshelves in Christian Book stores (including this book, which merely by its title, gives me massive willies). Maybe that is why, when I seldom visit my local Christian book store, I get a feeling like I have been dipped in Sweet N' Low; all sugar, no calories, no protein, no carbs, no real nourishment for the soul. A kind of parroting of all the nice neat parts of American culture, without cuss words, and lots of Thomas Kinkade art.
We've got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It's a wonderful life, but it's not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.
If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don't have veils, or I don't have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that's wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up. It's very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. We've got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and we'd better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good.
Shame on us church folk for using the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Eugene is so right, we need to use the the Scripture as the basis for our vocabulary. But this is hard. How do we communicate a gospel that has at its core these two competing ideas (among many others):
Matt 10:38 - "and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
Matt 11:30 - "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Darn that Jesus. He is not self-actualized. Not listening to his inner child! How do we communicate this to a waiting world. This stuff is not easy. But our silly Christian culture makes out like it is.
One more quote from Eugene, that speaks for itself:
I've been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, "Pastor, how can I be spiritual?" Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that's a good place to start. But that's not what they're interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?
My name shouldn't even be connected with spirituality.
Eugene, your views on the "s word" are not so bad after all.
May I love my wife, my kids, my friends, my neighbors all in a most unusual way, and may that love be seen as something of value for the Kingdom. May it be so Lord.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Softball Season has begun!
Blue Crush 5, Other Team (Name unknown by me) 7 Darn!
Season Record 1-1
The thoughts of Eugene Peterson in the most recent edition of Christianity Today has done me much good. To wit:
Spirituality is no different from what we've been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It's just ordinary stuff. This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it's like any other intimacy; it's part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don't feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn't primarily a mystical emotion. It's a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.Hearing this, for me, is like opening a window to a fresh spring breeze, after that drunk uncle has been visiting after eating a bad burrito.
Ordinary stuff. Image that. And all those books on Spirituality. I just Googled "Christian Spirituality" and received back 2,970,000 hits! At Amazon, you get 2,285 relevant book hits for this topic. Whew! I am tired, just thinking about it.
Not mystical. Itimacy as a part of the fabric of your life. I love this idea, and it seems to be a concept I can get my mind around. Openness, honesty, transparency. These are so very much the characteristics of Jesus, and so much of what I struggle against. After all, in our world, isn't it better to have your guard up just a bit, to be cautious of the other person? Perhaps I need to spend my time listening to Jesus, pondering the life he lived here on earth, seeking Him. Imagine that. Ordinary stuff.
If you read the saints, they're pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then it's a surprise to them. They didn't do anything. We've got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It's a wonderful life, but it's not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.
Not wonderful in the way we want it to be? What could that mean. More later, its late. Work tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
As my plane ride to Sacramento for business hit cruising altitude yesterday morning, I was perusing the latest issue of Christianity Today. From long-time Presbyterian pastor and the author of The Message, we are now blessed with this remarkable interview. If you do anything today, read this please!
My thought: all we Believing folk should take Eugene's ideas, and make them grist for discussions about the way we do church. This interview with Dr. Peterson serves to clear away the cultural fog we face in building the church. As I finished the article, I set down my glasses, and thought to myself, "Wow, now this is clear thinking about life in Christ." And then, out of the window of the plane, laid out before me, were the snow capped Sierras. Wow - look what God has done....and continues to do. Creating!
Oh that Believing people might love their communities, their unchurched friends, and even their dysfunctional church like that "beloved drunk uncle"!
Sunday, March 06, 2005
A response to Derek
I received a thoughtful response to two posts, here and here, from Derek, who is obviously a kind, handsome, thrifty, brave, and courteous Christian fellow. Oh, and one who takes well to compliments.
Derek had a couple of thoughts that I wanted to respond to here, as they are important ideas that beg further discussion. Derek was concerned about setting a "low bar" to membership in a church. Lowering the bar seemed to be troublesome to Derek, in that some compromising (watering down) of the Gospel may be taking place if a church is too easy on letting in new members. This is a good point. Derek noted that some of the "wild questions" from potential new members about the responsibilities of membership in a church would avoided if we were more strict in our delineation of what membership is all about.
In my mind, the height or depth of the bar to church membership, wild questions, and the general spiritual depth of congregants are all related to three primary things - the Word proclaimed, the Word received, and Christian Community. If we assume together that the Word is being faithfully proclaimed, then we have the issue of whether people hear it with open hearts and minds, and then whether they are acting on the direction of Scripture to lead lives that reflect genuine Christian Community.
My thinking is that one of the big reasons that the Word (once faithfully proclaimed) is not received well, or is received not in the proper context is that we church folk are pretty lousy at practicing Christian Community. Ok, let me rephrase that, we stink (often times) at understanding what Christian community really means. For further very good reading on this subject, please see this book. We can live transformed lives, we can model communities, families, friendships, and fellowships that reflect the grace of Jesus. It is very hard work, but my experience has been this is the single most important thing that leads people into relationship with Christ, not setting the bar high to membership in a religious institution. My life in Christ was brought about by seeing Christian community practiced in a college dorm at UCLA - if you can imagine that.
Derek also made a very good point, and points to something that the modern church is very poor at conveying, the concept of Christ as LORD, as opposed to Christ as Savior. Again, does this not go to the issues of Christian community? Are our lives really transformed, and do we this out in a way that is attractive to others - magnetic, appealing, life-giving and affirming?
I am concerned about the use language such as "ungodly neighbors", or the "remnant" (pertaining to the small band of faithful believers). My neighbors may indeed be ungodly, but I will choose, to my last breath, to persistently express to them, in ways that they might be able to hear, the great and immeasurable love of Christ. I will not dismiss them as ungodly, for the Hound of Heaven pursues us all, to the end. We are all, to the last person, loved greatly. And a remnant we may be, but I think we might want to be a remnant possessed of the need to share our faith to a world dying around us. Not just a defiant and self-satisfied remnant.
Derek, I hope that I have responded with a kind heart, heard your concerns, and in some small way brought understanding and hope. Hope for the church.
P.S. Derek, do you have a blog??
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau once penned:
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"
This was written as Thoreau spent two years and two months on Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, pondering the life of being removed from civilization. There is wisdom in taking this time of separation to consider one' place in life, and the ways in which live moves around us and affects us.
Sitting by a Pond
I identify with the idea of separation in some ways, and the words of Thoreau, in that I have been on a journey of sorts for some time now, as we left our church home of many years, and are, in some ways but not all, "church homeless".
My wife and I have sought the counsel of a wise pastor, who understands well the struggles we have been facing. His encouragement has been very helpful. We have decided together that this is both a time of mourning for what we have lost and a time of discovery, to see what God will provide in the future. How thankful we are to have both wise counsel and a God that leads and cares for us.
I came across a second thought about this concept in an editorial in Christianity Today, that contains this quote:
"Natan Sharansky, in his The Case for Democracy, argues that societies are based on either fear or freedom. A free society allows for public protest without fear of punishment. Fear societies do not. As a result, fear societies subdivide three ways: there is a small minority of true believers in the totalitarian regime, another small minority of dissidents, and a vast middle of "doublethinkers." Doublethinkers publicly toe the repressive party line but inwardly yearn for freedom."
Doublethinkers. Interesting. I wonder if, in fact, we might have a form of quiet fear going on in all our own lives to some extent. Would the quote above not also be true for the spiritual state of us, and many of those around us. And what is the "regime" we face? Is it not a regime of consumerism, success defining our character, status in society? And what does "yearning for freedom" mean? Could it be a freedom of the heart, as described here?
Only relationship with Christ will make us truly free. But freedom is a subtle thing, there are varying degrees of freedom. Only the constant healing grace of the Savior can save us from "lives of quiet desperation" and transform us into free people.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Go Rachel, Go!
Feel like your life has too many challenges? Too many bills to pay, kids too noisy, feeling lonely, like your job stinks. Feel overwhelmed? Wonder if life has no meaning?
Try this. Try being born with a severe visual birth defect. Try coping with life that way.
Then try taking on a 1,131 mile dog sled race. You have to go see this, it is amazing. Awesome. I am going to be watching after Rachel. I sent this link to my daughters, and told them....you can do anything, if you set your mind to it.
And, while you are looking it over...think about this.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
One of his favorite questions came recently, when a prospective new member shot up her hand and said, "Can I ask a question here.....ok, so how many Sundays a month are you guys expecting me to be here?" What an interesting question.
So, is this what some people think the church expects, that we just "show up"? That there is some sort of "attendance protor lurking in the balcony"? Remember it was Woody Allen that said that "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Oh please!
What if we churchie folk, those who care dearly for the Body of Christ, devoted our passions to building a church like this? A place where people would never need to ask a question like this. Ever. A place where the sense of community, grace, learning, laughter, and care for the real needs and hurts of life were so well met that - folks would never need to ask this question. They would just always show up. Always feel the need to go. Be attracted. Have to go!
Wait, I know of a para-church place that does this, for youth.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Gosh, come on and smile you people, or is church THAT bad?
Ok, so Tod Bolsinger has summarized for us what people want from the perfect church. I love the ideas people mentioned and those things not mentioned. What a nice gaggle of Christian folk. However, this whole topic has me wondering, what about people that don't usually, or do seldom, or won't ever -- go to church. What do THEY want? This question lead me here, where there are some rather scary thoughts on "unchurched" folk.
Try on for size:
- There has been a 92% increase in the number of unchurched Americans in the
last thirteen years. In 1991 there were 39 million unchurched Americans compared with 75 million currently. (2004) 92%!!
- Men are one-third more likely than women to be unchurched (38% of men and 28% of women are unchurched). (2000)
- More than half (54%) of unchurched adults consider themselves to be Christian. (2004)
So, what should us church folk DO about this? Pretend like these people don't exist? Work hard to understand what their needs are, and why church is completely irrelevant to them? Care for them, start conversations with them about what they really want from life? Is their indifference about church our problem, do we "own" this one?
Or do we attribute their lack of attendance or interest in church to, well, their sinfulness? Their laziness? I mean heck, they can't get out of bed for a couple hours on Sunday? What is wrong with these people? Why would they want to go hear a potentially irrelevant sermon delivered in a place that looks like 1970 occurred yesterday and mingle with a group of indifferent Christian folk who like like they would also rather be at home, in bed, reading the Sunday paper?
I had lunch yesterday with a pastor friend. He has always been known as a bit of a nonconformist, not really fitting in well with the crowd. He said to me, over sandwiches, "you know, the church as we know it, is a dying breed. Its over."
The more I have thought about this, the more encouraged I become. Perhaps God is doing a new thing? And perhaps those of us who Believe will be called to something really new, and different, much more like the First Century Church, or Revelations calls us to be. Who knows?
Thoughts, comments, questions?
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
So I am driving home today from work, listening to NPR. There is lengthy coverage of the news that freedom seems to be breaking out in several places in the Middle East. Amazing. Its beginning to feel like 1989 in Eastern Europe. I am smiling, thinking, maybe God is at work in all this. Maybe, all this Iraq mess has some unexpected dividends. I wonder what Rob Asghar is thinking?
Then its time for news analysis with Daniel Schorr. I sink lower in my car seat, anticipating the typical smug discouragement I have come to know. Now mind you, in my recollection Mr. Schorr hasn't said anything favorable about a Republican administration since Ike. I am thinking, "here it comes", some form of indirect tribute to Madeleine Albright's brilliant foreign policy is the reason for recent developments in the Middle East. But instead, to my shock, I hear THIS (you have to listen to it, especially the ending).
I wanted to shout! "George Bush may be RIGHT." Right? Daniel Schorr on George W. Bush? I nearly piled my car, and could not stop grinning all the way home.
"You know, our church has four different "styles" of worship, which are all different versions of the same thing. But the idea of going to Mexico and building a house seems to me like an act of worship--we are offering our bodies as living sacrifices, a spiritual act of worship (Romans 12), and we labored and worked honestly with our own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy (Ephesians 4), we rendered service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men (Ephesians 5), we did it for the "least" of God's people (if there is a "least") and we did it for the King (Matthew 25). People at our church have asked me what is my favorite style of worship...from now on I will tell them the truth--my favorite way to worship the Lord is to build a house for someone who doesn't have one."