Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Hooray for a federal judge in Missouri for ruling that funerals are no place for protests. Fred Phelps and his Westboro (I won't demean a legitimate denomination with the name they have chosen) group have been protesting at the funerals of slain military members. They like to tell the family members that the reason their loved one is dead is because the U.S. military allows homosexuals to be in the military. While I do agree that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior, I cannot even begin to think that this is the most appropriate way to deal with the issue.
If you have a beef with the government, take it up with them. Not with the grieving family members of a slain soldier, sailor, marine or airman. That is not how Jesus dealt with the issues of his day, and it is completely offensive and without love and grace.
It truly sickens me. And I cannot believe that it honors God or advances the Kingdom.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
It is an old Shaker dance number with only one verse. Many of you may know it because Aaron Copland included it in his Appalachian Spring suite. The lyrics are:
- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
- 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
- And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
- 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
- When true simplicity is gain'd,
- To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
- To turn, turn will be our delight,
- Till by turning, turning we come round right.
- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
Our small group has been reading Jeanne Guyon's "Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ" lately, and I appreciate the call to simplicity in that book. I'm not a simple person, but I know I need to work in that area and calm myself before the Lord. Maybe that is why I appreciate the book and Richard Foster's writings on the subject. I can see the value, but the Lord has to work on me there.
Here is the view out my office window this morning. Isn't it glorious?
With that, enjoy the snow. Slow down, go play. You really can't play in the rain, but you can play in the snow. Make a snowman. Throw a snowball.. Go sledding. Snow is one of God's gifts to us, and his helps us to pause and renew.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Take a listen to the title track from their new CD.
The lyrics are here if you want to read them.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
No, this doesn't involve Pat Robertson.
But it does fit nicely with our world today. Let's take stock of where we are.
Iran and North Korea are pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran has a leader with a questionable grip on reality. He keeps saying that Israel and the United States will soon cease to exist.
The CIA just ran a sting operation and netted bomb-grade uranium in the Republic of Georgia. It seems that Russia is having a hard time controlling the old Soviet weapons. If my memory serves me correctly, Iran and Russia share a border. And Russia has been supplying weapons to Iran.
Oh, and the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 with some sort of doomsday prophecy.
It would be very easy to throw our hands up in the air, declare the world a lost cause and wait for the rapture (and pray that it came before the tribulation- which is a debatable issue). But that is not what our Lord called us to do in Matthew 28:
19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
We don't know when the end of the age is. And many people in past times have thought the end was imminent. I'm no prophecy scholar but I do know it could happen tomorrow, next year, next century. Only the LORD himself knows. Take the words of Joshua 1:9 to heart and be strong courageous, for the Lord will be with us wherever we go.
We don't have to run over anyone's toes getting away. God is with us.
Friday, January 26, 2007
I hope you have enjoyed the missional series. I know that thinking about what makes a church missional has been good for me. I'd like to conclude with a few thoughts.
Don't get hung up on terms. Missional is a mindset, not a form. I know in Christianity we love to classify people and groups. Emergent, post-modern, missional, liberal, charismatic, mainline, fundamentalist. Labels help us understand, but they also limit us. Focus on what a church is doing, not what it calls itself. If the majority of their activity is internal, that may not be your place if you are a Great Commission -oriented believer.
Since this is a relatively new concept in the Christian vernacular, expect a great deal of turbulence as the concept progresses. As the Church emerges from the Constantinian era, there will be a great deal of turbulence, much like the post-99 theses era. Apply a great deal of grace to your thoughts during this time.
Finally, think about how you can be more missional personally. Search the scriptures and let the Spirit speak to you. Here are some blogs dealing with missional concepts. Read them if you want.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Here is the original article from which this is derived.
(5) Finally, missional communities are not only ardent listeners for the earmarks of God's redemptive work in our world, these communities are passionate activists when they find the pathways and trajectories of God's redemptive presence. The work of justice, reconciliation, peace, and spiritual direction are becoming the dominant reflexes of missional communities.
What strikes me about this is how much of a difference this is from the main thrust of evangelical churches at the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st. Rather than run around condemning, protesting and exercising political power, these communities look for examples of lives that have been redeemed and seek to continue that process for all who are willing.
And by embracing "liberal" issues such as reconciliation, justice and peace, they have moved the church out of the right-wing ghetto that threatened to enslave it. God is not right or left-wing. God is holy. The church needs to keep a healthy distance from political movements that threaten to distance it even further from the people who so desperately need to hear its message of redemption and hope through Christ. The end of the Constantinian era will hopefully make some headway in this area, but the church needs to be apolitical and always be on God's side, regardless of the political landscape.
We so desperately want to be accepted and liked, that we sometimes sell our birthright for political power and access. The church needs to keep the ability to critique, rebuke and cajole the government to do what it right. We cannot do that if we become factional.
"I am reminded of 1 Cor. 13: "Love...keeps no record of wrong."
For followers of Christ, when the day comes to be united with Christ, there will be no record of wrong. That is the grace of God, given to us in Christ. God will forgive and forget all of the wrongs we have committed against him. In our relationships with others, we would do well to emulate that behavior.
Otherwise, we are left in fear of retribution if we break our end of the deal. I don't want to go through life in fear like Abraham had in Genesis 15 where he made a covenant with God that he did not believe he could keep. Abraham was fearful of making a deal with God. In those days if you broke a covenant, the other side could demand your life.
We live under grace from God. I know I need to work on sharing that grace with others.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I was sitting in a Chinese buffet restaurant at lunch today (I know this sounds like the beginning of a bad country song) and overheard a conversation of five men at a nearby table. One of the things they were discussing was a contractual marriage one of them had heard about. In this marriage, a second marriage for both people, they literally spelled out all the things that would be required of each other. It ranged from house work to sex, and seemingly didn't miss much. One of the gentlemen lamented that he had not done that with his wife.
As I sat there I was saddened for each of them, and especially for the couple they were discussing. Marriage is a mystical union of two people to become one flesh, which is something that we cannot easily explain. And marriage is the model the Bible uses to describe the relationship between Christ and the church.
I started thinking about the people I know who are in contractual arrangements with God through their church. If they do a certain number of things, or don't do others, then God will reciprocate by granting them something. That is not what God had in mind for marriage or for our relationship with him.
I'm no marriage expert, but I have enough mileage on me to know that when we start getting the ledger out to keep score, something has gone horribly wrong. How can we selflessly give ourselves to another while keeping track of who took out the trash?
And how can we give ourselves to God while keeping one eye on the ledger to make sure that we don't do more than our share and checking to see if our prize is on the way? It just seemed really sad to me.
Monday, January 22, 2007
(4) Embracing the ethnic and social diversities of local communities is becoming a moral expectation. (This is one aspect of God's voice that I believe we have heard strongly from outside the confines of the church.)
This is an area where I think we are starting to see the church respond in a positive manner. I, like many of you, live in a primarily Caucasian area. Minorities in Monroe County make up less than 10% of the population. So ethnic diversity is going to be a difficult row to hoe. But social diversity, especially economic diversity is not a difficult task.
One of the most striking things about most (not all) American churches is their homogeneity in many aspects. Race, income, and education are all stratifying agents used to create homogeneous groups. We all want a church of people like us. That is an understandable reaction. But Jesus didn't call us to people like us, other than calling us to other sinners.
The Bible makes more than 170 references to the poor. It is an issue that matters greatly to God. In the Old Testament Israel was frequently punished for not taking care of the most vulnerable in their society - poor, widows, immigrants and orphans.
Who are those people for us today. That list is a good start, add the recently downsized or let go, former prisoners, and children of single parents. If we made solid connections with those groups and welcomed them openly into our fellowship, not just allowed them into our building or service, we would reflect the Kingdom Jesus was talking about.
It's a goal, and one that God would be pleased with.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
For review, here is the original article on which this post is based.
(3) Missional communities are discontent with spiritual formation as primarily cognitive assent ("I believe this to be true"). Instead, formation is presented as a way of life, a rhythm of being, and a rule of values. It emphasizes faithful living during the week rather than gathering for worship at a weekend event. The sharp boundary between the sacred and secular is evaporating as missional fellowships seek to hear God's voice in culture and creation.
Do you hear that? It is the sound of the author hitting the nail on the head! I've been ruminating on what kind of church I would like God to place me in when I begin pastoral ministry. The best I have come up with so far is a church where its actions are fed by discipleship and motivated by love. What I believe the Lord wants is for the spiritual formation that we go through be shared with others as He brings opportunity. Not just witnessing, but acts of service motivated by love.
I love the phrase the author uses "a rhythm of being" for its sheer imagery. It describes a life where our discipleship/spiritual formation or whatever you want to call it is so ingrained into our being that what we do directly reflects what we believe. I think of the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II. I saw a documentary film about that amazing community and what struck me was the statement of one lady who said,I'm paraphrasing here, "we didn't have to organize and think about it. We just did it because it was the right thing to do." That is spiritual formation driving action motivated by love.
For many of us, spiritual formation has become an intellectual exercise. And I speak of myself here. We need to renew our sense of awe and wonder of creation. Consider this from Paul's letter to the church in Rome:
Thursday, January 18, 2007
We continue our discussion of a Leadership magazine article on Missional Churches by looking at Tim Conder's second point:
(2) Programming and finances are directed outward. It's easy for much of the church's program and fiscal reflexes to become directed internally. Emphases on church growth or "building the body" are often presented as the mission ("A larger church means more space and opportunity for our community to encounter Christ," is the overt message, when the real message to staff is, in fact, "Keep the saints happy and coming back.").
To counter this temptation, missional communities may cut back on programming to leave space for breathing and living. Some ministries are relocated from the safe confines of the church into the community. Financial assets are viewed as both opportunity and burden. Some missional churches have made a pattern of giving away resources without control or strings attached to reduce congregants' sense of entitlement.
The natural inclination is to keep the saints happy, and that results from the dynamic tension that comes from deciding how to spend money. Is our focus on the current congregation, or on those outside the kingdom? Not that they are mutually exclusive, but resources have to be allocated, and that tension and the resultant budgeting decision will reflect the attitude of the congregation. I've heard many preachers say that "you can judge a person's priorities by looking at their checkbook." The same adage applies to churches. If all our money is spent on us, that tells you something. If it is spent on others, it tells you something else.
I say this not to judge. But I strongly encourage anyone in ministry leadership to prayerfully consider how their church's money is spent. It does tell a story about us.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
A recent article in Leadership magazine talked about some characteristics of "Missional Churches." I know this is another title like emerging/postmodern/seeker-sensitive etc that often has a vague definition. If you want to be part of the naming discussion, go to Out of Ur, the Christianity Today blog. The article is title "Missional Buzz" by Tim Conder.
I want to discuss some of the specific points he makes individually over the next several posts. He begins with:
Identifying missional churches can be difficult. Such churches are separated by identity and perspective as much as their visible forms. Nonetheless, there are some common commitments.
(1) Missional communities try to align themselves holistically with God's theme of redemption. They resist the use of Christianity as an anesthetic to the pain of human needs and as an affirmation of the superiority of one culture's way of life.Wow. That is a power-packed statement. That really smacks the state of American Protestantism over the past 30 years. We have gone into mission fields and interjected our culture along with our religion as if they were inseparable. That is getting better in some tribes of Christianity, but I suspect that it is still prevalent. I find it disheartening to hear people in the far-flung corners of the globe singing American or Western hymns in their language and at a tempo that doesn't suit their culture. The form is not as important as the function for this.
The whole "Christianity is the cure for all that ails you" argument has been spiritually destructive to many people. Yes, ultimately faith in Christ does cure your underlying illness of original sin. But it may not cure your illnesses in this life, it may not help you lose weight, get a spouse back or find a better job. God blesses his people, but He is also sovereign. And sometimes he chooses to allow suffering for reasons we cannot understand. Go read Job for an example.
So a missional church is one that does not misrepresent the Gospel as a path to prosperity and happiness, and one that does not ally itself with a particular culture. If we can grasp that we have made significant progress. There is no "right way" to do church other than to follow the instructions of the Lord. The rest is preference, and each group should be allowed to choose its preferences so long as they do not violate the laws and instructions of God.
We are all sinners, some have been redeemed, some are still waiting. If we keep redemption as our central focus, it will make the mission much easier to grasp. We don't have to be cleaned up first to be redeemed. We don't have to look good, smell good, stop smoking, drinking etc to be redeemed. Jesus meets us where we are. After that, the Holy Spirit will do the cleaning from the inside. We just need to keep focused on the redeeming process. God has cleaned many of us, and we can help those who have joined our tribe. But let redemption be the first order of business. The cleaning comes later.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
This morning I was listening to Glenn Beck talk about Martin Luther King day and diversity. He raised an interesting point that I believe directly applies to the church regarding diversity.
Glenn's comment was that we spend so much time on what makes us diverse that we are beginning to neglect that which unifies us. That is true in the church and society.
How many of us have proof texts to advocate for the reasons why "our way" is the "true way" of doing whatever it is we are discussing. Whether it is theology, worship style or whatever it is that makes up the 30,000+ denominations in Christianity, we spend an awful lot of time and energy focusing on our differences.
Naive Dreamer moment coming.
What if we took that same time and energy and devoted it to that which unifies us? What if we looked for points of common intersection and chose to work on those? What if we stopped bad-mouthing those not like us and congratulated them for being in the faith?
I have a sneaking suspicion that the church Jesus was looking to establish was more like what I have suggested than what we have today. I may be wrong, and feel free to correct me, but that is my hunch.
Friday, January 12, 2007
January has turned into a season of grief for me, my family and some of our friends. Nothing new and devastating has happened, but I have been made acutely aware of my own grief over the past and God is putting people in my path who are going through similar experiences.
Two years ago, during one of the darkest spiritual times I have ever experienced, my friend Kurt recommended this book. The Emotionally Healthy Church was an eye-opener for me, because it pointed out that I do not deal well with grief. I had always put grief in the category of someone dying, and that is something that I mercifully have little experience with. But Peter Scazzero pointed out that grief encompasses many things, including life changes, moves, job losses and other non-mortality issues. And that is where I am today.
Because of circumstances, I cannot elaborate on the topic, but there have been issues and incidents that have left painful scars on me and my family. And they all came flooding back when a reminder of the most recent one arrived in the mail last week. Since then, I have been in a dark place, and not wanting to go back to face the situation one more time.
But I truly believe God wants me to go there, and I will be obedient. This has been a time of learning for me. God is softening my heart, and bringing others who are grieving across my path and allowing me to see His hand in their lives. I may even be able to help some of them through the process, because they are on a similar journey to the one we endured. I pray that I can be obedient and humble enough to be used however God wants to use me in this. I am learning what grief is. I pray that He can use this as I move forward into ministry. I wish I were not in this place, but God is Sovereign and I am not.
In case you were wondering about the photo, that is a tear moving down President Bush's cheek during the ceremony that posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to a fallen U.S. Marine. Below is the Reuters caption and photo credit:
Tears run from the eyes of U.S. President George W. Bush during a ceremony in honor of Medal of Honor winner Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in the East room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2007. Cpl. Dunham was killed when he jumped on a grenade to save fellow members of his Marine patrol while serving in Iraq. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (UNITED STATES)
I cannot imagine the grief Cpl. Dunham's family feels, and the grief of the President who ordered him into battle. Mine pales in comparison. And that is another lesson from the LORD.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
No this isn't about Pat Robertson.
It seems we have a new comet in the neighborhood. And this one, if it lives up to expectations, may be brighter than the Hale-Bopp comet in the late 1990s. Let's pray that no doomsday cult attaches themselves to this one.
This reminds me of the discussion on Epiphany earlier this week. The magi were astronomers and astrologers who studied the heavens for signs. Comets were often portents of doom, and caused great fear in the people. We kind of laugh at their superstitions, but there is some reality to their fear. Things do fall out of the sky.
Just last week a family in N.J found an iron meteorite in their bathroom, along with holes in the ceiling and roof. And the photo I have attached would cause great fear for people who didn't understand the difference between a comet and the shooting stars that we know as meteorites
The heavens are a magical and beautiful place. But there are also many loose objects flying around out there. I have not doubt that the ancients knew of impacts, had seen and heard them, and feared that the God of the Universe was punishing them.
We understand a little better than them what is going on. But we still are powerless to interfere with the sovereignty of the God who made the universe.
Maybe a little fear should accompany our awe at the celestial light show he puts on for us.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
It's back to Pat again. Here are his official comments on the mass killing that he forecast onthe 700 Club earlier this month. Consider this excerpt from his comments:
...Well, the other thing I felt was that evil men, evil people, are going to try to do evil things to us and to others during the last part of this year. I don’t know whether it’ll be in the fall or September or later on, but it’ll be the second half, somehow, of 2007. There will be some very serious terrorist attacks. The evil people will come after this country. And there’s a possibility that—not a possibly, a definite certainty that chaos is going to rule, and the Lord said that the politicians will not have any solutions for it. There’s just going to be chaos. And, of course, we saw chaos in the Gulf after Katrina. The politicians had no answers.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: I think that that rang resonant in everyone’s heart, as they looked at it and realized that when something big happens . . . .
PAT ROBERTSON: We’re not ready.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: . . . . there’s no solution.PAT ROBERTSON: It’s going to happen. And I’m not saying necessarily nuclear. The Lord didn’t say “nuclear,” but I do believe it’ll be something like that that’ll be a mass killing, possibly millions of people, major cities injured. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope people will pray and that won’t happen.
Let me get this straight. Pat "hopes he is wrong" and he "felt" these things? He claims that God told him this message. If we stick with orthodox Christian thinking, God is never wrong. So, when Pat's previous messages from God didn't happen, what was the problem?
Either God is wrong or Pat isn't listening to God very well.
If I were purporting to speak for God, I would make VERY sure that I had the details down. In the Old Testament, a prophet who was wrong was typically branded a false prophet and earned a one-way tripto the stoning pit outside of town. I'm not advocating that for Pat. But I would ask anyone with their own satellite and television network to think carefully about what they say GOD TOLD THEM especially when previous pronouncements have not come true. It diminishes God when people say they are speaking for Him and are not accurate. We already have a credibility problem with many people. This does not help.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
We just celebrated one of the quietest parts of the Advent and Christmas Season. January 6 marks the date of the wise men from the east described in Matthew 2:1-12 went to see the Christ Child. There are several amazing parts to this story, but I only want to concentrate on the astrology portion of the story, highlighted in a World Magazine essay in December, 2006.
In the essay, Bill Boyd notes that to most observant Jews, the magi were sorcerers and idolaters, because they were astronomers and astrologers. But it is magical that they noted the birth of the Hebrew king, yet it seems that no one in Israel did. God used nature to speak to non-believers to call them to Him and fulfill His purpose. That is the true magic of Epiphany to me.
Romans 1:18-20 sums up Paul's argument that no one is without excuse for knowing who God is:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. And the Magi got the message. That is just an amazing part of the story to me.
How would we react if non-believers came to tell us what God was doing? Would we dismiss them? Listen to them? Fear them? Ignore them? Probably a little of all of those and some I haven't listed.
Let us never forget that God is LORD of ALL CREATION, and He can choose to speak through whomever he wishes. Our part is to have discerning ears that can hear his voice.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Friday, January 05, 2007
What does genuine Christian accountability look like? It has been talked about for some time, especially since Promise Keepers made it an emphasis for their men's groups. I've been in accountability groups where guys were forced together, and they never seem to take off. It seems kind of like an arranged marriage, and we were doing a kabuki dance around the issues.
I've been thinking about accountability lately. For many people accountability is all about confessing our sins of commission to each other in order to stop committing them. Promise Keepers made a huge push on the issue of lust and its traveling companion pornography. Both of these are common issues for men in our hyper-sexualized society. There is value in that. But I fear that many stopped at that point.
I've been wanting to start a Renovare group at my church, but that didn't happen last fall because I was asked to chair a capital campaign. I'm still kicking that idea around and looking at the type of accountability it offers. I need to have accountability for my sins that recur. But I also need to be called on the carpet about how I am growing in the faith. How am I integrating my faith into action? Am I living the faith or just reading and talking it? Where did I meet God this week? What did I learn? What didn't I learn? These are measures of accountability that also need to be taken into consideration.
If any of you have any good experiences with accountability, please share them. I am honestly working through this issue and would love to hear your examples. You can post them as comments or email them to me. It's your call.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Another new year, another profoundly ignorant comment from Pat Robertson. It seems that Pat is our generation's Jeremiah, or prophet of doom. God has told Pat that we will experience a "mass killing" from terrorists late in this year. Why he told Pat and no one else, well that is between God and Pat.
You know my love for the inane things that come out of Pat's mouth. No doubt there will be a "clarification" in the next few days of what he meant, like he did after he called on the U.S. government to assassinate Hugo Chavez.
Will someone either take his microphone away or shoot down his satellite? Please?
Soon we will be treated to the Clinton attack machine subverting all opponents. It appears that Barack Obama may already feeling that pain.
But the more interesting race to me is on the Republican side. It involves the religious right and whether they can support a conservative like Mitt Romney, who happens to be a Mormon. Americans tend not to elect Senators to the presidency (Kennedy is the exception in the past century) and Governors have management experience. But Romney's faith may be an obstacle, that opens the door to Rudy Guiliani and John McCain, both of whom have issues with the religious right.
I'm not nearly as political as I used to be, because I have learned that all politicians disappoint, because they are human. But this will be a fascinating test for the right. Do they hold to their religious values or their political ones.