Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Gift of Belief...

I had a great conversation with a friend of mine yesterday. She's had a difficult life - one full of relational struggles and health challenges. In the last year she's had a heart attack and watched both her mother and brother die. We spent some time talking about her difficult year. And then she got brutally honest. She shared that she really wants to believe that there is more to this life, but sometimes it just seems impossible. She worries that as she faces death there will be nothing beyond. One thing that I really appreciate when it comes to our spiritual lives is honesty. I think that when we are honest with what's really going on in our hearts that God honors that by giving us deeper glimpses of who He is.

We talked a lot about what it means to believe. Jesus said that all the faith that you need is faith the size of a mustard seed. That encourages me. If I have even a shred of belief He honors that.

Sometimes we all feel like the man in Mark 9:17-27.

A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."

"O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

"'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" How's that for honesty? Can you identify with that?

So that's my prayer this Christmas - for my friend, for me, for you. That God will give us the gift of "belief" - the size of a mustard seed. And here's a tip. It begins with spiritual honesty.

May God bless you as you trust Him to bring to birth in you the very Christ child who changed the world 2000 years ago. Merry Christmas.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My favorite books...

...of 2005. I am a firm believer that God uses books. Time and time again I have found that he brings a book into my hands at just the pivotal moment. There is a crucial nexus of information and the need for that information. It goes without saying that the Bible is the ultimate guide to my thoughts and hopefully my actions. But here are some of the other books that have impacted me over the past year. I give them to you in no particular order - and I encourage you to read them.

Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechener

This is a beautiful book that looks at words, primarily theological words, and restores some of the wonder to them. I found myself smiling, laughing, and feeling the truths expressed by words my mind had long filed away as somehow important but irrelevant.

Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan
This book chronicles one man's journey to communicate the essence of Christianity to people groups who had never heard. It's quite insightful in regards to helping identify and challenge the cultural baggage we strap on to Christianity.

The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer
I have become a big fan of Parker Palmer this year. His main premise in this book is that you teach out of who you are. Until you can realize your own fear and weaknesses and learn to teach from a place of humility you can never help others learn.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
A great "leadership fable" about how teams work. This book came along during a time that I had very little hope for the team that I was leading. It gave me a new understanding of team dynamics as well as some practical steps to take to make things better.

The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal
This is a must read for anyone wondering what the church needs to be asking itself in order to impact our rapidly changing North American culture.

Unceasing Worship by Harold Best
Harold Best calls us to a worship that is more than music - a lifestyle of worship. This is without a doubt the most valuable book that I have ever read on worship.

The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
Want an education about the state of poverty in the world? Read this book. Feeling overwhelmed with the need and wondering what you can do? Read this book.

Lifesigns by Henri Nouwen
Nouwen always challenges me to a deeper faith in Jesus - one that is more than just doing things for Him - one that calls me to deeper intimacy with Him. This book is no exception.

Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us by Scot McKnight
McKnight deals with one of the questions that I think we have to ask as a church today. "What is the Gospel?" It's a question that we think we know the answer to, but I'm not so sure we do.

Confident Witness - Changing World by Craig Van Gelder
Much like The Present Future, this book talks about the intersection of cultural change and faith in Jesus. How do we maintain our confident witness to Christ in our ever changing world?

There are so many more that have impacted me. I encourage you to read - and read a lot. It changes your life...

And by the way, if you're wondering what I want to read next year you can look at my Amazon wishlist here.

"No matter how maddening is the Christmas rush…"

"It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmas-time. Then we would have a holy Christmas. But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Jesus do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas just as the early Christians baptized the Christmas tree. And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush…"

-- Andrew Greeley

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Yeah, what he said...

Once again, I find someone who expresses some of my thoughts in a much better way than I could...
"When I was in seminary, I got the impression that my job as a pastor was to help lessen the gap between the Bible and the 'modern world'. Here was the Bible, mired in the First Century. Here was the skeptical, critical modern world. The pastor, through preaching and various acts of pastoral ministry, labored to lessen the gap, to bring the gospel close to where modern Americans lived. Since then I have come to the conclusion that today's faithful pastor ought to clarify, accentuate the gap between the Bible and the modern world rather than lessen the gap. Evangelism calls people, not to agreement, but to conversion, detoxification, the adoption of practices meant to save them from the deceits of the 'modern world'. In churches which have for so long called people to adjustment, we are calling for pastors willing to call people to alienation..."

Read the rest of what William Willimon has to say here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A little cash on the side maybe...

Not sure if I should enter or just be a little disturbed by it all...

"Sermon contest offers $1,000 and England trip for Narnia preaching - If you go to a standard evangelical Protestant church, chances are very good that you're likely to hear a reference to Narnia in a sermon sometime this month. No problem there: The books preach without being 'preachy,' and Lewis's way with words can brighten any sermon. If you're a pastor who has preached on awe without quoting the Beavers on Aslan not being safe but being good, you may be in the minority. But now if you hear your pastor base a sermon around, say, the de-dragoning of Eustace, there's some reason to wonder if it's merely a product placement, like Sears appearances in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The official marketing for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe apparently includes a sermon contest, wherein the winner gets a free trip to London and $1,000 in spending money."


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Great Resource...

Want to learn to understand the Bible - in the privacy of your own home - for free?

Check out the possibilities here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A bit of humor...

...from my good friend Andrew Lakin.

As a young minister, I was asked by a funeral director to hold a grave side service for a derelict man who had died while traveling through the area with no family or friends. The funeral was held way back in the country. This man would be the first to be laid to rest at this cemetery. As I was not familiar with the backwoods area, I became lost. Being the typical man I didn't stop for directions. But I finally arrived an hour late, I saw the crew and backhoe, but the hearse was nowhere in sight.

The workmen were eating lunch. I apologized to the workers (who looked puzzled) for my tardiness, and stepped to the side of the open grave, to find the vault lid already in place. I assured the workers I would not hold them long, but this was the proper thing to do. As the workers gathered around, still eating their lunch. I poured out my heart and soul. As I preached the workers began to say "Amen," "Praise the Lord," and "Glory" (they must have all been Baptist). I preached and I preached, like I'd never preached before.

I began from Genesis all the way to Revelation. I preached for two hours and 45 minutes. It was a long and lengthy service. I closed in prayer and it was finished. As I was walking to my car, I felt that I had done my duty and all would leave with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication, in spite of my tardiness. As I was opening the door and taking off my coat. I overheard one of the workers saying to another, "I've been putting in septic tanks for 20 years, and I ain't never seen anything like this before."

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas...

Okay, I understand the outrage. We've all read (or heard) the stories of retailers who are telling their employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" (See here, here, or here). It saddens me that it's even an issue. But the reality is that it is. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. For years Christmas has become more about materialism than the celebration of God coming to earth. Since the dollar is the focus, no wonder decisions are made based on the bottom line.

But my question is this - shouldn't our focus be on living out the true meaning of Christmas instead of campaigning to force people to use the right terminology? What good is it to force compliance in the words people say? Saying "Merry Christmas" is easy. It's living like Jesus that's the greater challenge in this season of materialistic consumerism. I like the words of Bob Robinson from Vanguard Church. (Caution - If you read the whole blog Bob may be a little overly critical of James Dobson, but he makes a very valid point) He writes...

"Having cashiers say 'Merry Christmas' at retail stores will not make Christmas any more Christian. In my opinion, perhaps cashiers should be saying 'Happy Holidays,' because very little about consumerism has to do with the meaning of Christmas.
In fact, I contend that consumerism is one of the top cancers for evangelical Christianity in today's America. American Christians have participated in and are equally to blame for how consumerism has taken over the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Instead of spending so much time, energy and money on fighting against retailers saying 'Happy Holidays,' maybe we should spend it more on creating a body of believers who would be so Kingdom-minded and so counter-cultural that they would recognize how their voracious appetites for consumer goods are corroding their spiritual lives.

And, maybe, instead of being a bunch of angry Christians demanding that people say 'Merry Christmas,' we should joyfully proclaim the Good News that God came in the flesh in order to free us from such truly insidious powers such as consumerism and materialism."

It's food for thought. Maybe if we had lived out the teachings of that baby in the manger then the world wouldn't be so quick to throw away the phrase "Merry Christmas". My deepest belief is that speaking out against a problem is often easier than confronting what is within us that contributes to the problem in the first place. May we be a people who seek to live what we long to speak - and may our living give substance to our words.

Vanguard Church Blog

Friday, December 02, 2005

We need each other...

Just received an email from a friend that relates to the last post I wrote, There's no perfect church. He writes...

I just read the following, and immediately thought of you:

“Jesus makes it very clear that when we "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (all the things we've talked about in this series), He promises to take care of our earthly needs. One of the ways He makes provision for us is through our relationships with each other. I was reminded of this fact in an e-mail I received this week. It was entitled, "Horse Sense."

Just up the road from my home is a field with two horses in it. From a distance, each looks like every other horse. But if one stops the car, or is walking by, one will notice something quite amazing.

Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.
Listening, one will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, one will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached
to her bridle is a small bell. It lets her blind friend know where she is, so he can follow her.

As one stands and watches these two friends, one sees how she is always checking on him, and that he will listen for her bell and then slowly walk to where she is, trusting that she will not lead him astray.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges.

He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by God and those whom he places in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to see God.

The story of the horses reminded me of how much we need each other.”

Good thoughts.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

There's no perfect church...

My generation hungers for "real" church. (See what my sister-in-law writes about that here.) We are frustrated with church as we see it, often admitting that we go more out of habit than conviction. Just last Sunday I had a friend tell me that he feels more like he is at church when he's playing in his band (a group of believers) at a bar in Vancouver than he does when he sits in church on Sunday morning. I understand where he is coming from. We want to "be" the church instead of just "going to" the church. It's easy to go without being.

The temptation, however, is to throw away the "going". To make bold statements about "being the church" and to lower the importance of coming together as a community. I realize that 11:00 am Sunday morning often leaves a lot to be desired. But realize for a moment what is happening. A group of extremely diverse people (different histories, different income levels, different spiritual heritages, different relational baggage) all come together to formally "be" the body of Christ. And it's not always a thing of beauty. We often see more of the sludge of our own selfishness than of the beauty of Jesus. But we need to be together. It forces us into relationships that we would not choose to enter otherwise. If we run off on our own to "be" the church we miss all the things that we need to learn about ourselves that come from living as a "body" - as a community of faith.

Just one example. One of my daughters suffers from an anxiety disorder. She can dream up more things to worry about and be afraid of than any person I've ever known. This has been a tremendous struggle for our family at times. All our decisions are to some degree shaped by how this daughter will respond.

In the past few weeks we have seen some progress in this area, especially in regards to her own spiritual development. And let me tell you why. People in our church are praying for her. People very different from myself, who have different thoughts and ideas than I have, who hold to different theological positions than I do, and who, if they read this blog, would wonder why I spend so much time writing about things that they would see as unimportant. But because we are a body - they pray for my daughter. And God hears.

Yes, there are times that I am frustrated with church. But there are also times that I know that without it I'm dead in the water. If you want to "be" the church then I encourage you to do that. Feed the hungry, give to the poor, share the truth with those who will never enter the doors, but don't neglect to "be the church" with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is often there that "being the church" can be the most challenging. Let "church" force you into relationships and situations that, if left to your own devices, you would choose to avoid. We need each other. Let's not forget that.

"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body...If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." (I Corinthians 12:14-20,27)

" he knew something wonderful..."

There's a great post today at Paradoxology about the reputation that goes (or that should go) with being a Christian. It's definitely worth reading and thinking about.
"He's probably one of the best guys I've ever known. He always had a smile on his face, like he knew something wonderful."

Read More

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Want to see where I live?

I live in an amazingly beautiful little town. I just came across some photos of it online. Interested is seeing what I see everyday? Check out some pictures from beautiful Hope, BC, Canada here.

Or get a bird's eye view of Hope from here.

Thanks to my new friend Stefan Viveen for leading me to these photo sites...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ready to be challenged...

Desert Pastor at Paradoxology pours some of the cold water of reality to wake us from a sound spiritual sleep. Here's an excerpt...
"And yet, despite the fact that horrendous acts of violence are being committed against Christians in many places around the world, the topic is scarcely ever found upon the lips of North American believers."
Take the time to visit this post and follow some of the links. It'll wake you up a bit.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I wouldn't have it any other way.

I think I may have blogged about this before, but it's something that I keep coming back to. It bothers me when people have a neat and tidy faith. When they have an answer for everything. I'm just not sure that's what we are supposed to have. That's why these words from Richard Hall struck home with me. And they've stayed around...

Mark D Roberts considers the book of Job:

"Yet Job is also one of the messiest of all the books of the Bible. It doesn’t lay out a systematic theology of suffering. Rather, it tells a story, the main part of which is a complicated dialogue. There are no easy answers here, and the conclusion of the book comes as quite a surprise. Even after you’ve finished Job, you might not be sure what to make of it."

These words struck a chord with me. I preached tonight at a harvest festival service where the gospel reading was Mark 4: 1-9, the parable of the sower. It’s such a familiar story, I was anxious to find a new angle on it. Not easy, since the gospels record that Jesus gave the explanation, leaving little for the preacher to do!

I found myself asking why it was that Jesus used parables. Mark records Jesus saying that he taught this way that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding’, which is counter-intuitive to say the least. Teaching in order to be deliberately obscure is not teaching! The most common assumption I’ve encountered is that Jesus told simple stories to engage with simple folk, using idioms that they’d understand. But apparently the disciples did not understand. We’ve become so familiar with the parables of Jesus, so used to what we think they mean, that we perhaps find their puzzlement difficult to understand.

Stories, by their very nature, are open-ended. They may have a meaning, but the meaning you take is not always the meaning that’s intended. It’s easy to be suspicious of this. Most of the time we’d rather have clear, consistent and (preferably) concise instructions. Stories offer ambiguity, and that can be hard to deal with. Textbooks for preachers often say something like: “Remember that a parable is not an allegory. It is a story with one clear simple message; the preacher’s task is to offer that message.” But the more I think about that sentiment, the more sure I am that it is rubbish: no story, however simple, has only one clear and unambiguous message.

That’s the point of parables, I reckon.

The truth about God cannot be packaged, systematized and presently neatly and tidily. How could it possibly be? The truth about any of us cannot be told that way, and if it is true of Mr Dai Jones of Swansea, it is all the more surely true of God. No, the truth about God (to borrow a phrase from my friend Kim) must be crept up on, circled around. Parables do not attempt to ‘explain’, but rather offer a truth which must be met and lived with, chewed over and digested. (Horrid mix of metaphors there!) The depth of God’s truth can never be fully plumbed. That’s why Jesus taught in parables.

And that’s why God’s revelation is a man, not a text.

God is bigger than me, He's more than I can grasp. And I'm glad that He is, actually. If I could understand Him completely I don't think that I'd need Him. It's pretty clear to me that understanding the world is beyond me. If He's going to make sense of it (transform it, renew it) then He's going to have to be a bit smarter (more complex, more aware, more powerful) than I am. So it doesn't bother me that much that I don't have all the answers. If anything, it's a relief. Kind of like when I was in grade 3 and the star High School football player defended me from the bully on the bus. I didn't stress over the fact that the football star was stronger than me - and it didn't even occur to me to wonder why he was protecting me. I was just glad that he was.

So here's to a big God. Even when I don't understand all that He does. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Open your eyes...

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes:
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The "Kingdom"...

One of the driving metaphors for my life in past few years has been what Jesus called the "Kingdom of God". It has captivated my imagination for several reasons. First, Jesus spent an incredible amount of time talking about it. In fact, when he talks about the "gospel" or the "good news" it's almost always tied to this idea of the Kingdom. Second, it gives me a picture of what it means to be a believer. When you enter into a new kingdom you usually get there by surrender. And your presence implies that you have adopted the authority of this new kingdom as your authority. Finally, it helps me understand what the church is here for. The Kingdom takes root in my own heart and as it begins to shape my life then it begins to spread to others. Tim Challies recently interviewed Derek Webb and they talked a bit about these ideas. Webb says,
"That's really what Jesus' kingdom coming means: 'the being made right of all things.' The way we proclaim that kingdom is by putting our hands to that. So you see someone who is hungry and you proclaim to them a kingdom where there will be no hunger by putting food in their mouth. If someone is ill or sick you proclaim to them the kingdom where there will be no sickness by caring for them or giving them lifesaving drugs. I think that is probably what St. Francis might have meant when he said to 'proclaim the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.' That is his famous quote. I really think that is exactly what he could have meant. We go into culture and proclaim the coming of Jesus' kingdom where all things will be made right by putting our hands to 'the being made right of all things' and of course there is the literal proclamation of his showing up on the scene that we also need to tell people." (Read the whole interview here.)

That's profound. It adds a depth to the meaning of Jesus' command of "Go and make disciples." We proclaim the "kingdom" through what we say - "Jesus died to offer you forgiveness and a way to a relationship with God." We also proclaim it thorough how we live - "This is what it looks like when you surrender to the leadership of Jesus..." This gives fresh meaning to some of the things that Jesus said...
"The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15)
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Lk. 6:20)
"Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'" (Lk. 10:9)
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Lk. 17:20-21)

Paul points us that way as well...
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." (I Cor. 4:20)

I hope the idea of the Kingdom captivates you. It's God at work...and who wouldn't want to be a part of that?

Friday, November 11, 2005

When words are many...

Pat Robertson is at it again. It is a scary thing to presume that you speak for God. Details here. My sister-in-law posts her thoughts here.

"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." (Proverbs 19:10)

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19-20)


Scot McKinght of Jesus Creed writes a great post of what it means to be "righteous"
"An alarming statement by Jesus: "Unless your righteousness/justice greatly surpasses the righteousness/justice of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never ever enter into the Kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:20). Does Jesus really think his followers are to be "better" than the Scribes and Pharisees?"

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The best 9 minutes of your day...

You need to take the time to watch this. It'll take you 8 minutes and 32 seconds. But if you don't have time...then you need to ask yourself why you can't spend eight and a half minutes thinking about something really important.

Lying to Americans...

I finally have it. Proof that Canadians are really mean and very tricky. Of course, it's also proof that Americans are very gullible.

Check out the video here.

Hat tip to Jordon for the link.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Beauty of Doubt...

My doubts and struggles have been the greatest gifts that God has given me outside of Jesus. In fact I would almost go so far as to say that every instance of profound spiritual growth that I have had has come out of questioning what I believe. The "church" today often tries to get us to ignore our doubts, to hide our questions. It's done for good reasons, faith isn't about understanding everything. And we have to be able to move on in spite of not having all the answers. But if we cut the questions off too quickly we short-circuit the growing process. It's the struggle of asking that clears our heads to see more clearly.

Brian McLaren puts it all very eloquently in an article that he wrote for Christian Single Magazine called "Doubt: The Tides of Faith". Here's a great excerpt...

When committed Christians come to me to talk about their doubts, one of the first things I say to them is this: doubt is not always bad. Sometimes doubt is absolutely essential. I think of doubt as analogous to pain. Pain tells us that something nearby or within us is dangerous to our physical body. It is a call for attention and action. Similarly, I think doubt tells us that something in us … a concept, an idea, a framework of thinking … deserves further attention because it may be harmful, or false, or imbalanced...

So, if you ask, “Is doubt good or bad?” I’d have to answer, “Yes.” It can go either way. Frederick Buechner expresses this ambivalence about doubt beautifully: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving” (Wishful Thinking)...

But again, isn’t that the way it ought to be? Shouldn’t a growing Christian have a growing understanding? Isn’t a vibrant, honest, tested faith worth some intellectual pain? In Finding Faith I talk about this in some detail. I describe how faith seems to grow in a kind of iterative, ascending spiral that has four stages. I call the first stage simplicity, where everything is simple and easy, black and white, known or knowable. Then there’s complexity, where you focus on techniques of finding the truth – since the scenario has gotten more complex. Then there’s perplexity, where you become a kind of disillusioned learner, where you doubt all authority figures and absolutes, where everything seems relative and hazy. I used to call the fourth stage maturity, but a friend pointed out it would be better called humility, because in stage four you come to terms with your limitations, and you learn to live with mystery, not as a cop-out, but as an honest realization that only God understands everything. You carry out of stage four a shorter list of tested and cherished beliefs that you base your life on, and a lot of your previous dogmatisms are now held more lightly. In a sense a person keeps finding faith and then becoming frustrated with it and in a sense losing it, and then finding a better version of it, and so on, maybe like a software upgrade….

That’s what has happened for me. At this stage in my life, I have sifted and re-sifted, and some beliefs I’ve had to release, while others have proven themselves as “keepers.” This is where Jesus is so wonderful and helpful to a person whose faith is in low tide, because Jesus looked at the whole religious system of the Pharisees, which was enormously complex and full of inconsistencies, and in essence, he doubted it. He sifted out a lot of clutter, and boiled all the rest down to some beautiful essentials … like loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. I would rather have someone be sure of those few essentials, and live by them, than have them be sure of a million fine points of systematic theology, and not live by Christ’s call to love.

So don't let your doubts and questions deflate you. See them as God calling you deeper. Let Him challenge you to move beyond where you are to where He wants you to be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

God and Caesar and me.

One of the greatest issues that I have struggled with in the past few years is how faith and politics mesh in my own personal life, especially as it relates to being a Christian who is an American. I have become convinced that one of the greatest errors of the church is to fall into the trap of believing that all we need to do is to convert the political system and there will be peace on earth. It's way easier to see the problem in the halls of political power than to realize that the problem starts within our own hearts. When it comes to political solutions to spiritual problems we should all be a but wary. Today Will Samson directed me to an awesome post by Dr. Will Willimon that reiterated a lot of what I'm thinking. Willimon writes,

"One day Jesus was walking along and he was asked a political question. 'Jesus, should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?' (Note that Jesus, who appears to be utterly nonchalant, disinterested in politics, did not raise the question of the coin. It was our question.) You know what Jesus did in response to this perfectly clear political question? He asked, 'Who has a coin?' (His pockets were empty.) 'Whose picture is on the coin?'


'Well, it's kind of sad that he needs to put his picture all over money in order to feel better about himself, but go ahead and give it to Caesar since it appears to be his. But you be careful, don't you dare give to Caesar what belongs to God.' And then Jesus proceeds along on his journey.

Could I note just a couple of things there:

First of all, this is our question, not Jesus'. Why do we think politics is so important in the first place? Why has politics become the major source of our meaning and significance in our lives, the solution to every problem?

Point two, note that Jesus' pockets are empty. He seems to be practicing a life of very different 'politics' from ours. When politics gets degraded -- away from the search for the common good -- and becomes a greedy matter of how much money you can keep in my pocket for me, or how we can structure our government to benefit a few, it just may be that politics is something which Jesus has no interest in.

Three, notice that Jesus, when asked about politics, considers it a matter of worship. Whose image do you bow before? What would you sacrifice your children for? What is most important to you? Politics and idolatry are here linked by Jesus.

Four, note that Jesus really doesn't answer the question. He doesn't really define what Caesar owns and what God owns. That means that when it comes to politics, maybe the Christian point of view is to be permanently uneasy, never quite sure, when we're giving to Caesar what really ought to belong to God. This says to me that if Christians are going to get in bed with Caesar, if we are going to be deeply involved in politics, we ought to be tossing and turning all night, the most nervous and uneasy of bedfellows!

That's clear thinking. And I think wisdom. What about you?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Living with the wind.

Jordon points us to a great article by Jim Wallis as a way to try to explain a little about his own thinking. I appreciated the article. I think that it makes great sense. Wallis writes,

I told the Moms on the Mall that I didn’t want them to waste any valuable time while they were in Washington. Instead, I wanted them to be able to quickly recognize the Members of Congress whom they had come to see. They’re the ones, I told them, who walk around town with their fingers held high in the air, having just licked them and put them up to see which way the wind is blowing. It’s quite a sight—men and women walking all around the Capital grounds with their wet index fingers pointed at the sky. The political leaders are really very good at figuring out the direction of the wind, and are quite used to quickly moving in that direction.It’s not a matter of malice for most of them. In fact, I’ve met quite a few politicians, and many came to Washington because they truly wanted to do the right thing. But after a while, they get entrenched in Washington’s ways, and change seems ever more distant. Power and wealth are the real governors here and people adjust to those realities. Even the ones who still really want to make a difference will tell you they can’t without public backing, and they don’t often find it. Many of us believe that by replacing one wet-fingered politician with another, we can change our society. But it never really works, and when it doesn’t we get disillusioned. We then get tempted to just grumble, withdraw, or give up altogether on ever changing anything. But that’s where we make our mistake.

The great practitioners of real social change, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, understood something very important. They knew that you don’t change a society by merely replacing one wet-fingered politician with another. You change a society by changing the wind. Change the wind, transform the debate, re-cast the discussion, alter the context in which political decisions are being made, and you will change the outcomes. Move the conversation around a crucial issue to a whole new place, and you will open up possibilities for change never dreamed of before. And you will be surprised at how fast the politicians adjust to the change in the wind. I think that’s what people of faith and conscience are supposed to be—“wind changers.” People motivated by spiritual values that give them a real vision for change are not like those with their fingers up in the air. They already know the direction to head in, and they lead by example. Their commitments, skills, sacrifices, creativity and, ultimately, moral authority are what makes all the difference, and changes the wind.

As I read this intially I thought, "Yes, that's what the church needs to be - wind changers." But as I've reflected I think that what I really believe is just a bit different. It's a subtle difference, but one that is important. Instead of being the "wind changers" we need to be the ones changed by the wind. The Holy Spirit is the change agent in the world. He is the one who Jesus said would
"...convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." (Jn 16:8-11)

Our tendency is always to give our lives to changing the world. Maybe our role is just to give our lives. As we learn to move with the wind then it does have an impact on the rest of the world. The Kingdom of God is very contagious. But we are not the ones who move the wind, it's the wind who moves us. It's not a turning away from the need of the world so much as it is a turning to the Spirit, asking Him to work first and foremost in me. None of this is a poor reflection on Jordon or Jim Wallis, these are men that obviously are responding to the 'Wind" in their own lives. And that "Wind" is speaking to me. Jesus is saying, "Follow me. I'll take care of the world."

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Kingdom at work...

"It became very clear very early that the best disaster-preparedness system the United States has is that of the faith communities, those networks of people already joined together by their love of God and their conviction that lovers of God also practice practical love for their neighbors." - Kay Campbell, The Huntsville Times


Out of the mouths of babes...

A few good ones sent to me by one of my neices...

JACK (age 3) was watching his Mom breast-feeding his new baby sister. After a while he asked: "Mom why have you got two? Is one for hot and one for cold milk?"

MELANIE (age 5) asked her Granny how old she was. Granny replied she was so old she didn't remember any more. Melanie said, "If you don't remember you must look in the back of your panties. Mine say five to six."

STEVEN (age 3) hugged and kissed his Mom goodnight. "I love you so much, that when you die I'm going to bury you outside my bedroom window."

BRITTANY (age 4) had an earache and wanted a painkiller. She tried in vain to take the lid off the bottle. Seeing her frustration, her Mom explained it was a childproof cap and she'd have to open it for her. Eyes wide with wonder, the little girl asked: "How does it know it's me?

MARC (age 4) was engrossed in a young couple that were hugging and kissing in a restaurant. Without taking his eyes off them, he asked his dad: "Why is he whispering in her mouth?"

CLINTON (age 5) was in his bedroom looking worried. When his Mom asked what was troubling him, he replied, "I don't know what'll happen with this bed when I get married. How will my wife fit in?"

JAMES (age 4) was listening to a Bible story. His dad read: "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt." Concerned, James asked: "What happened to the flea?"

And my personal favorite...

"Dear Lord," the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. "Without you, we are but dust." He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter (who was listening!) leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little girl voice, "Mom, what is butt dust?"

The rumors of my death...

...have been greatly exaggerated. I haven't posted since September 23rd, almost a month ago. I've been asking myself why and I don't really have a good answer. I guess there are times when you just have nothing to write. I have been thinking quite a bit though, and have found some excellent people to stretch me and help me understand in a deeper way what it means to follow Jesus. If you're interested here's a few suggestions that have been great for me...

Scot McKnight of Jesus Creed has two great series of posts - one on "What is the Gospel?" and a second on "Doctrinal Statements and the Emerging Movement". I had written something in line with the series on Doctrinal Statements here. I really appreciate what Scot brings to the table. He is solidly Biblical, but willing to ask hard questions.

Also I read an incredible book on vocation/calling by Parker J. Palmer called Let Your Life Speak. It is one of those books that continues to impact you for weeks after you put it down.

And there is a lot more percolating through this old head of mine. I'll try to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and share some more of it with you in the coming days. Maybe my blogging sabbatical is over. Time will tell.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Building up the church?

Never thought about doing it this way. The First Church of Lego. See here for more.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Reading the Bible as a whole

Here's a great quote about how we need to read the Bible (or let the Bible read us) from J.I. Packer. Thanks to Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons for sharing it (he gives credit to Mark Loughridge). It's definitely worth not only reading, but applying.

". . . we are not in the habit of treating it as a book - a unit - at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of 'read,' we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious. It is, I grant, the way of natural religiosity. But it is not the way of true religion.

God does not intend Bible reading to function simply as a drug for fretful minds.

The reading of Scripture is intended to awaken our minds, not to send them to sleep. God asks us to approach Scripture as his Word - a message addressed to rational creatures, people with minds, a message we cannot expect to understand without thinking about it. . . .the Bible comes to us as the product of a single mind, the mind of God. It proves its unity over and over again by the amazing way it links together, one part throwing light on another part. So we should read it as a whole. And as we read, we are to ask: What is the plot of this book? What is its subject? What is it about? Unless we ask these questions, we will never see what it is saying to us about our lives.

When we reach this point, we shall find that God's message to us is more drastic and at the same time more heartening than any that human religiosity could conceive."
Often we treat the Bible as nothing more than a glorified "Daily Bread" that contains our inspirational thought or spiritual challenge for the day. Would that we would let the Bible be what it is and unleash the Spirit to use it to transform the core of who we are.


Friday, September 09, 2005

The Sadness of Joy...

I've often wondered why Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb. I've heard many sermons on it and none of them have ever really settled the issue. Jesus, of all people, knew exactly what was going to happen. He even knew that through His death and resurrection that death would be defeated. Shouldn't this corpse walking out of a tomb been a moment of victory? Didn't Jesus realize that it would foreshadow His own resurrection? Shouldn't He have been filled with anticipation as people saw the power that God has over death? And yet there it is in black and white, the easiest Bible verse to memorize, "Jesus wept." (Jn. 11:35)

I think that I have a better understanding of this now. It happened last week as I presided over a funeral of our friend Janice. Janice went home to heaven at age 42, leaving behind 3 children: Ryan, 20, Rob, 19, and Heather, 18. Janice has fought cancer for the last 18 years. We have known her for the last 2 years, and her kids have spent time living with us while she was in the hospital. (More info on that here.)

I had worked hard on my comments for her funeral. Although it was sad to say goodbye (even temporarily) to someone so young, my hope was that the funeral could celebrate the end to her battle with cancer. A battle that was won by Jesus. In order to help keep that focus clear in the service, I wanted to end my comments by reading from I Corinthians 15:50-58 from "The Message".

50I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don't in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very "nature" is to die, so how could they "naturally" end up in the kingdom of Life?
51But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. We're not all going to die--but we are all going to be changed. 52You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes--it's over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we'll all be changed. 53In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. 54Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
55Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now?

56It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. 57But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three--sin, guilt, death--are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!
58With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

That should bring people to the joyous point of remembering that death's hold on us is only temporary. The last word belongs to Jesus. Janice's battle is over. She has been victorious. And verse 58 tells us to throw ourselves into Christ's mission, knowing that He can complete all that He has set out to do. I envisioned reading the passage with power, confessing with confidence the joy that we have from Christ's defeat of death.

But what actually happened was that as I read I became so overwhelmed with sadness that I could barely finish the passage. And it was at that moment that I realized something. Sin, it's hold on us, and the ramifications it has for our lives is something so terrible that we should not gloat in our victory. Yes, Jesus has the last word, and in that we can have hope. But our rebellion against God has filled this world with such pain and misery that at times our joy has to be laced with sadness. That's part of living in a fallen world - a situation that will not be remedied until the Kingdom comes in all its fullness. Having a taste of what Jesus offers helps us to see the horrible reality of what the world has a little more clearly. Seeing what is to come brings us joy, but also overwhelms us with sadness for what is.

It's a bittersweet feeling that my friend Matt Auten has appropriately named "the stab". That sense of happy sadness or painful joy that reminds you of the celebration to come while showing you the desolation of the world all around you (and even in you).

So I think that's why Jesus wept. Yes, He knew the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. He knew the power and promise of God. But that knowledge only made Him more susceptible to the pain of the death of Lazarus and the sadness of those who loved him. And by experiencing that He was able to transform it into resurrection joy. As we know the joy of God better it emotionally stretches us to higher heights. But the view from those heights constantly reminds us of the depth to which sin will carry us. Our call is to embrace the sadness and let God transform it in and through our lives.

So it's important to remember God's words through Paul...

Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now? ... With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Don't ya just love old George

Mildred, the church gossip, and self-appointed monitor of the church's morals, kept sticking her nose into other people's business. Several members did not approve of her extra curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence. She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told George and several others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn't explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred's house...walked home....and left it there all night.

Sheer power

A picture of Katrina. There is power which we can't even begin to comprehend.

To Dunk or Sprinkle...?

John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church are taking a courageous stand as they seek to clarify what is necessary for church membership, especially in regards to baptism. It's a bold step and one that needs to be taken. Thanks to emergesque for the link.

"The central issue at stake is: How should we define the membership of the church? That is, what degree of biblical understanding and agreement should a person have in order to belong to a local church? Or to put it another way: Should the door to membership in the local church be roughly the same size as the door to the universal church? If so, what is the basic set of beliefs that a person should be willing to affirm - or at least not deny - in order to give good evidence that he is born again into the family of God and a follower of Christ? After more than three years of study and prayer and discussion of this issue, the Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ. That is, we have come to the conclusion that it is seriously questionable to say to a person who gives good evidence of being a true Christian and who wants to join Bethlehem: you may not join. This conclusion raises problems of consistency for our present Constitution and By-Laws and our present church Affirmation of Faith and Church Covenant. These documents hold up some less than essential beliefs that must be affirmed in order to be a member at Bethlehem. Thus the door to membership at Bethlehem at the present time is significantly narrower than the door to membership in the universal body of Christ. The elders believe this should be changed because of how serious it is to exclude in principle any truly born-again lover of Christ from membership in the local church. The most obvious change this involves is allowing the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership."

Read More

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sorry for the silence...

Life has been very busy this week. Last fall we "semi-adopted" a couple of teenagers, Heather and Rob (See here). They lived with us for just over 5 months while their mom was in the hospital with cancer. They wormed their way into our hearts and will forever be a part of our family. This past Tuesday @ 11:05am their mom went on to heaven. It was a sad yet beautiful end to an 18+ year battle with cancer. So life has been busy. Please pray for Rob and Heather and their older brother Ryan. You can read more about the situation at my sister-in-law's blog here, here, and here.

By the way, everything my sister-in-law writes about my wife is true. She comes into her own when she is caring for others. She has a gift for organizing and serving that takes the load off people and makes them feel at home, loved, and secure. When I married her I never imagined how thankful I would be for her presence in my life. She is a gift to all who know her and an instrument of God in the lives of so many people. She's not a bad kisser either.

Thanks for your prayers. I'll post more as soon as I can get to it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Being Missional

Once again, Scot McKinght of Jesus Creed cuts right to the heart of the issue. He writes...
"The Real Shepherd, the Pastor of pastors, Jesus himself, was a compassionate person whose compassion for people drove him to prayer and to action for the people. A missional orientation will only be genuinely missional to the degree that it is prompted by compassion."

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Spirituality in America...

Interesting article in Newsweek. Here's a sample...
"You can know all about God," says Tony Campolo, a prominent evangelist, "but the question is, do you know God? You can have solid theology and be orthodox to the core, but have you experienced God in your own life?" In the broadest sense, Campolo says, the Christian believer and the New Age acolyte are on the same mission: "We are looking for transcendence in the midst of the mundane." And what could be more mundane than politics? Seventy-five percent say that a "very important" reason for their faith is to "forge a personal relationship with God"—not fighting political battles.

Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Where Do You Want to Play Today - Inside or Out?

Here's a great post from Tod Bolsinger (It takes a church blog) that reminds us to get out and be a family.
"When we came upon the rest of the adults on the way out, the kids were a good 20 feet ahead of me. My crawling pace was no match for their scampering little legs. When I finally caught up, my wife said to me, "You should have seen the girls' faces. They were so proud of themselves, so excited." They were genuinely having fun playing in a cave marching a mile in the cold dirt, hanging onto a old gas lantern. This memory is in such stark contrast to the now famous quote from Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv cites a fourth grader who says to him, "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are.""
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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Making church your life - or life your church.

Now here's an article (long but very worth the read) that will stretch your thinking a bit. It's from Len at In the article Len calls us to some radical steps in order to help the church see itself as a living community of faith 24/7 instead of a group that meet together once or twice a week.

Here are some excerpts -

I take my cues for this article from Mike Bishop’s article of 2002 that appeared at Next Wave online. Mike astutely observed that the deeper problem in the Sunday church paradigm may be rooted in our Greek way of thinking about culture. Unlike the Hebrews, the Greeks divided life and culture into categories of sacred and secular. In postmodernity, we are learning anew to question such assumptions.
What does it mean that "all life is sacred," and how will that impact our use of meetings versus "doing life" together? What does leadership look like in a community of friends (if we can even use the "L" word any more...)
"The way many evangelicals worship contributes to a secular world view or at least fails to challenge it. By worship I mean: gathering of people, singing hymns, praying, reading Scripture and hearing a sermon. By secularism I mean a world view wherein God is relegated to the edges of life." (Mark McKim)

One of the challenges we have had to face as we worked through a more incarnational and holistic approach to gathered life was dealing with traditional expectations based on our churched culture. We wanted to move from doing church to being the church in all expressions of our life, but we had people coming to us who were expecting to come to a “home group” or “bible study.” They expected to experience a “service” where various components were prepared and then handed to them on a platter.
But in our paradigm, we thought that description better suited a theatre or an audience than a gathered community. We were not interested in staging a performance, and we weren’t worried about who was in control.. our desire was to celebrate our life together.
The classical elements of a gathering are these. Many faith communities believe they must hit each point in order to have a valid gathering:
* worship (ie singing and meditation)
* word (teach/preach, response maybe)
* sacrament
* in all this, a hierarchy (positional authority) and an order
* an ethos of activity focused on a stage, with little space for reflection
But if the center is not the gathering .. if the focus is life 24/7... and meetings are secondary and not the end but one means of building life.. if a teaching need not be wrapped up with a neat conclusion in 20 minutes, but instead can be more like a learning conversation.. if defined leadership can fade into the background in favor of a real community.. things can begin to follow a different path.
While I don't agree with Len on everything - he really pushes the idea of a time of "detoxing" from church as we know it now - I do think that many of the things he is saying are very important for us to wrestle with AND to begin to act on. The way we currently 'do" church does reinforce the idea that faith has very little to do with everyday life. We meet away from society for a very contained period of time to think about Jesus and His call. We then re-enter the "real world" and live there until our next escape into church. We have to make structural changes that help people to live out their faith in every expression of their lives. We have to begin to see our lives as "church", our activities as "worship", and our friendships as "evangelism.

Len continues...
Isn’t it odd that we call our worship gathering a “service,” but less readily term our daily acts of service “worship.” We have inverted the priesthood and made it something truly divorced from life. We made something sacred into something secular, relegating it to the margins of life.
These are thoughts worth thinking - and implementing. Read the article and let me know what you think.


Note - Len also refers to an article by Mike Bishop that can be found here.

Pat Robertson clarifies...

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson, who called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said on Wednesday he was misinterpreted and there were a number of ways to 'take him out' including kidnapping. 'I said our special forces could take him out. Take him out could be a number of things including kidnapping,' Robertson said on his 'The 700 Club' television program. 'There are a number of ways of taking out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted,' Robertson added."

Well, maybe, but it seems to me that it would have been smarter to say - "What I said was a bad thing to say. I'm sorry."

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More on Pat Robertson...

Here's a link with the exact quote (and video) from Pat Robertson. Is this what the world thinks of when they think of Christian leaders? I hope not.


Missing God as He stands there in front of you...

Excellent reminder from Paul Littleton who writes -
"If you are going to take your clues as to what to believe from your parents, grandparents or that preacher you loved growing up without testing and proving it by the Bible and in light of it's historical development then you may, like those religious people in Jesus day, miss God as he stands there in front of you. It was their firmly-held traditional interpretations of the Old Testament that prevented most in Jesus' day from seeing him as the one God had been promising sent to set the world aright."

Monday, August 22, 2005

From the "I can't believe that he actually said that" department...

For some reason this just doesn't seem like "You are the salt of the are the light of the world" behaviour.
"Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson called on Monday for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, calling him a 'terrific danger' to the United States. 'We have the ability to take him (Chavez) out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,' Robertson said."

Read more if you can stomach it.

A bit more clarity...

I posted here about my desire for believers to at least give equal time to doctrine and practice. This has been something that I've been wrestling with for quite some time. How do we "do" church in a way that supports and encourages real life change and transformation rather than settling for mental affirmation to set of doctrinal propositions. While my thinking is still very fuzzy in regards to how this might play out, I have gained a bit of clarity, maybe, I hope. What I am envisioning is something very much like a monastic rule. For those of you not familiar with a "rule" the best known rule is the Rule of St. Benedict, used in Benedictine Monasteries all over the world. In a monastic community the rule is the guideline by which the monks or nuns live. It gives a common set of expectations and behaviors that everyone is committed to living out. Now maybe this is a little too much to expect from a church today, and I can see where it could definitely lead to a problem with more legalism, but I only said I had a little more clarity. What I am envisioning is a series of statements, agreed upon by the believers in a given location, that would communicate what Christianity should look like when lived out in the given context. A series of basic principles that are solidly Biblical, but also practical. Values that we hold to be true and the practices that would naturally flow from people who held those values. My goal over the next few months is to spend some time thinking about what this might be.

If you are interested in more about a modern "rule" I am going to print below an example from Brian McLaren. This is something that has developed in the "emergent community". This a long post, but worth the read. It will give you an idea of what I am envisioning for the church. Keep in mind that this is written for those who would consider themselves a part of the "emerging church movement" and as such has some specific details (especially in the last section) that relate to that movement. The first three sections, however, could be applied at a local church level almost verbatim.

Members of the global emergent community hold in common four values and practices that flow from them. In the language of a religious order, we call these four values our rule:

1. Commitment to God in the Way of Jesus:

We are committed to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures teach. As lifelong followers of Jesus, we seek to live by the Great Commandment: loving God and loving our neighbors – including those who might be considered “the least of these” or enemies. We understand the gospel to be centered in Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God, a message of reconciliation with God and among humanity.
We are committed to a “generous orthodoxy” in faith and practice – affirming the historic Christian faith and the Biblical injunction to love one another even when we disagree. We embrace historic spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, study, solitude, silence, service, stewardship, and fellowship, believing that healthy theology cannot be separated from healthy spirituality.

- As Christ-centered people, to understand the gospel in terms of Jesus’ radical, profound, and expansive message of the kingdom of God.
- As people seeking to be formed spiritually in the way of Christ, to learn historic Christian spiritual practices (disciplines), and to use them for the development of character, integrity, and virtue which flow from true communion with God.
- As participants in the historic Christian faith, to be humble learners and to stimulate learning in others, and to give priority to love over knowledge, while still valuing knowledge.
- As lovers of God and God’s truth, to seek wisdom and understanding, which are the true goal of theology, and to engage in respectful, thoughtful, sacred conversation about God, world, and church.

2. Commitment to the Church in all its Forms:

We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal. We practice “deep ecclesiology” – rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential. We believe the rampant injustice and sin in our world requires the sincere, collaborative, and whole-hearted response of all Christians in all denominations, from the most historic and hierarchical, through the mid-range of local and congregational churches, to the most spontaneous and informal expressions.
We affirm both the value of strengthening, renewing, and transitioning existing churches and organizations, and the need for planting, resourcing, and coaching new ones of many kinds. We seek to be irenic and inclusive of all our Christian sisters and brothers, rather than elitist and critical, seeing “us” we were used to see “us versus them.” We own the many failures of the church as our failures, which humbles us and calls us to repentance, and we also celebrate the many heroes and virtues of the church, which inspires us and gives us hope.

- To be actively and positively involved in a local congregation. We work in churches (as pastors, artists, lay leaders, whatever) seeking to live out authentic Christian faith in authentic Christian community.
- To seek peace among followers of Christ, and to offer critique only prayerfully and when necessary, with grace, and without judgment, avoiding rash statements, and repenting when harsh statements are made. To speak positively of fellow Christians whenever possible, especially those with whom we may disagree.
- To build sincere friendship with Christians from other traditions.

3. Commitment to God’s World:

We practice our faith missionally – that is, we do not isolate ourselves from this world, but rather, we follow Christ into the world. We seek to fulfill the mission of God in our generations, and then to pass the baton faithfully to the next generations as well. We believe the church exists for the benefit and blessing of the world at large; we seek therefore not to be blessed to the exclusion of everyone else, but rather for the benefit of everyone else. We see the earth and all it contains as God’s beloved creation, and so we join God in seeking its good, its healing, and its blessing.

- To build relationships with neighbors and to seek the good of our neighborhoods and cities.
- To seek reconciliation with enemies and make peace.
- To encourage and cherish younger people and to honor and learn from older people.
- To honor creation and to cherish and seek to heal it.
- To build friendships across racial, ethnic, economic and other boundaries.
- To be involved at all times in at least one issue or cause of peace and justice.

4. Commitment to One Another

In order to strengthen our shared faith and resolve, and in order to encourage and learn from one another in our diversity through respectful, sacred conversation, we value time and interaction with other friends who share this rule and its practices. We identify ourselves as members of this growing, global, generative, and non-exclusive friendship. We welcome others into this friendship as well. We bring whatever resources we can to enrich this shared faith and resolve.

-To make an annual pilgrimage to an emergent gathering; to give one another the gift of our presence at annual gatherings whenever possible.
-To publicly self-identify with emergent where appropriate and to represent emergent well whenever we can; to exemplify the best of what emergent strives to be and do.
-To invite others to participate and welcome new participants.
-To seek to be positive and constructive in caring for the emergent friendship. To find some specific way we can help the circle of friends in emergent - by hosting gatherings, by networking people, by recommending good books or other resources, by writing for our website or other publications, by serving in some behind- the-scenes way whenever we can. To honor “unsung heroes” among us.-To stay reconciled to one another. To give one another the gift of commitment not to give up on, betray, or reject one another, but instead, to encourage, honor, and care for one another.
-To stay informed about emergent locally and globally via the website and email updates.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Do you have an 8th grade education?

8th Grade Final Exam: Saline, KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case. Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
8. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
9. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of theRebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates:


Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e'. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentence:

cite, site, sight,
fane, fain, feign,
vane, vain, vein,
raze, raise, rays.

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver,Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.

Wow. Makes you wonder if we're not getting what we used to get out of our education system.

For more info on this exam click here. The reality is that most of the students who took it failed it. But I'm not sure that any Grade 8 students that I know could pass it.

From the "Too much time on your hands" Department

"AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - A former Hollywood stunt man now living in the Netherlands launched his greatest project to date Tuesday: a 45-foot replica Viking ship made of millions of wooden ice cream sticks and more than a ton of glue. Rob McDonald named the ship the "Mjollnir" after the hammer of the mythic Norse god of thunder, Thor. After the 13 ton boat was lifted into the water by crane, "Captain Rob," as he is known, stood calmly on the stern as a team of volunteers rowed the apparently sturdy vessel around the IJ River behind the city's central station."

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Laying all presuppositions aside...not!

It appears that one of the key ideas that undergirds true scientific inquiry is being left by the wayside. What I remember from my science classes was that one of the keys to a successful experiement was to set aside your expectations and seek to look at the data objectively. From the article below, it seems as it the intellectual elite of Harvard University have forgotten this basic premise. They are funding a multi-million dollar research project to investigate the origins of life on planet earth. Here's a comment from professor David Liu:
'My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention,' said David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard."

Shouldn't he wait to see the data before assuming the outcome of his research?

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The Necessity of Humility

This week I'm preaching on Acts 9-10 - Peter's education in regards to the gospel going to the Gentiles. I have been reminded once again that one of the fertilizers for spiritual growth is humility. In my web wandering I came across the following which just reiterated what I was learning.

Professor Tim Huffman writes about the great reformer Martin Luther and the need for humility as we seek to follow Jesus:

“For Luther, the enemy of the grace of God was not irreligion but religion itself, not one’s distance from God but a confidence in one’s nearness to God. The cross, as Forde (Gerhard Forde - “On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518”) puts it, “reveals that the real seat of sin is not in the flesh but in our spiritual aspirations, in our ‘theology of glory’.” (p. 1) The “theology of the cross…attacks what we usually consider the best in our religion.” (p.2) “The delicate thing about it is that it attacks the best we have to offer, not the worst.” (p.3) It is the most religious, the most pious, the most virtuous of Christians for whom the message and impact of the theology of the cross are hardest to hear and to appropriate. Its message is that our devotion, our piety, our deep religious commitment are the hardest barriers of all for the message of the cross of Christ to break through. Yet, our only hope is not to rely at all on what we do, not even the best we do; nor on what we avoid doing, not even the hardest work of self-denial; nor on how much we conform ourselves to what we take to be God’s will—because all of these finally constitute works of self-righteousness, and their effect is to wall us off from the true righteousness that comes only from Christ, the Christ of the cross. The “better” we are, the harder it is for is to acknowledge our total depravity, and our total need for God’s utterly undeserved acceptance. This is a painful but necessary reminder that every one of us comes before God and the Christian assembly as a sinful and helpless person, full of gratitude for God’s love in Christ. But where is theological humility in our churchly debates and struggles? Far too often the debates reveal what are really personal ambition or a defense of cherished personal positions…What could happen if we began our discussions and debates with the confession of our own sinfulness and our own lack of worthiness before God? What if we granted to others the grace that comes from acknowledging that we, like they, stand judged by the Law; and that they, like we, are redeemed by the cross of Christ? What if all parties set aside their confident assertions that they are right, and they alone? Would (our debates) develop differently if (they) were approached in the spirit of Luther’s theology of the cross, rather than in a theology of glory, in which each debater were confident of his or her own goodness?”

Peter had some lessons to learn. Odds are that we do too. Can we follow in humility? Think about it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Kingdom at work.

World Magazine tells the story of First Baptist, Leesburg, FL. It appears to be a church that takes seriously the truth of Scripture without ignoring Jesus' concern for the needy.

"Ministry is not an elective. It is a divine mandate. Any church not involved in ministry is guilty of high treason and spiritual disobedience. . . . For too long we've evaluated a church by how many people stream in the front door on a Sunday.' He proposed an alternative: 'Evaluate a church by how many people serve the Lord Jesus by serving the hurting all week long.' Mr. Roesel referred to the main sin of Sodom and said it was not homosexuality: That was a sin, but it was part of the Sodomites' overall tendency to be 'arrogant, over-fed, unconcerned.' He said many of today's churches are like Sodom: 'staff members strutting on platforms,' with the church becoming 'the knife and fork club . . . ignoring the needy, callous and unconcerned, committing silent murder. . . . We don't spend time with those who are lost, we spend time with each other.' Mr. Roesel began emphasizing what he calls 'ministry evangelism' shortly after he became the church's pastor in 1976. The church's typical attendance of 200 leaped to 600 six months later, but not everyone was on board with the plan to make First Baptist known for its compassion. When the pastor pushed for the church to create a children's home, only 51 percent of congregation members voted for it. 'I backed off and started expository preaching through the New Testament,' Mr. Roesel recalls. 'The centrality of ministry to the needy comes up over and over. I hit it hard.' One couple decided to give $25,000 for the children's home, and additional money came in once the home opened and stories about the needy children circulated within the congregation. One 9-year-old who came to the home trembled when anyone tried to hug him, didn't know what a bathroom was, and at first slept in the closet rather than on a bed, because that was all he knew."

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A picture is worth a thousand words...

...but sometimes that really isn't enough. I was looking at some pictures we have from a family trip to the Grand Canyon. They are amazing, but once you've seen the real Grand Canyon, a picture just can't do it justice. I can show people who have never been there my pictures and they say things like, "Isn't that pretty", or "I'd like to see that". But when I show the picture to someone who has actually been to the Grand Canyon they automatically look at me with their eyes wide open and say, "Isn't it amazing how big it really is. A picture could never do it justice." For those who have experienced it, the picture serves as a link to their experience. For those who have yet to visit it, the picture gives a tiny taste of what is actually there.

I'm learning that when Jesus described the Kingdom of God that something very similar as happening. So many times He said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like...". He was giving pictures to all of us. Pictures that could never contain the whole of the Kingdom, but pictures that would give us a tiny taste of what is actually there. The Kingdom and the way it functions can never be contained in an idea, the ideas only give us the ability to see a little part of what is actually going on there.

In the same way, when people begin to experience life in the Kingdom, they will never be content with mere pictures again. When you begin to describe it their eyes light up and they say, "Isn't it amazing how big it really is. A picture could never do it justice."

Words of wisdom...

...from my 11 year old daughter.
"Getting married is alot like burping. If you try to force it is is never as good as you had hoped. But if you just take your time and wait for the right moment it will be satisfying."

Out of the mouths of babes.