Archive for April, 2005

5 More Things I Think I Think

Posted: April 27, 2005 in Everything

I good while back, I blogged about “5 Things I Think I Think”. Well, here’s five more.

1. No Matter How Beneficial Something Is to No Matter How Many People, Someone Somewhere Will Find a Way To Criticize It. This is particularly true, I think, in religion. A ministerial practitioner writes a wildly beneficial book and the theological gliterrati respond; “Have you seen his book? He misses this completely, he misinterprets this text, he is working from praxis (practice) and not theology.” Or just the opposite. A thoughtful theologian writes and insightful text and practitioners begin to shout; “So, what? Is this helping anybody. The Academy is out-of-touch. You got to meet people where they are and not force heavy theology on them right away.” I’ve never understood why people simply can’t accept the offering of others, accepts what feeds them and their community of faith and use it as a launching pad for further growth.

2. Without Email and My Cell Phone I Feel Cut-off From The World. I don’t know why. I haven’t always had email or a cell phone, but when my phone is not with me or my email is not working, I feel as if the world is moving ahead while I am standing still. I get my news through email and communicate to colleagues and friends through email, so if my electronic addictions aren’t working, then I’m worthless.

3. As It Was When I Was A Kid, I Think Worship Services Are My Least Favorite Part of Being A Christian. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, the worship services at my church are great. I like them. But I would trade any worship service for summer camp, retreats, service projects, small groups, mission trips, a good, long conversation over cup of coffee, etc. I have just always felt like true Christianity was best expressed outside the church building.

4. The Designated Hitter Rule Should be Abolished. Hey, American League Baseball, if you can play in the field you can stand in the box. That’s the way you play on the playground, in high school and college and in the National League. You’re the only ones who play DH ball. Don’t you think there’s something wrong with that?

5. Discipleship Is The Lost Art of The Church. Somehow, Christianity become about facts, figures, propositions and doctrinal statements. Discipleship became a science instead of an art. People learned the data, but often never became more personally devoted to the cause of Christ in the lives, their family or society. Too many church-going men abuse their wives and children. Christian executives host Bible studies during lunch and then rip off their investors by cooking the books at the next days board meeting. Many children never see their parents pray except at church or over dinner. So-called Christian activists parade in front of news cameras with signs reading: “God Hates Fags!” Does that sound like something you would hear Jesus saying? We’ve had far too much emphasis on looking like Christians and not enough on being Christians.

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One Voice!

Posted: April 26, 2005 in Everything

It was just me and my daughter, Malia, this past weekend. My wife, Rochelle, was off at our church’s annual women’s retreat. The women’s retreat must be much more fun than our men’s retreat. At the men’s retreat, guys so up late and leave early. At the women’s retreat, ladies show up early and stay late. What’s up with that?

This year, I spoke at the men’s retreat and Rochelle spoke at the women’s. I am so grateful to have a marriage in which we compliment each other so well and share many of the same gifts. At our house, you can tell who is going to speak somewhere and who is not. The person leaving is getting on the person staying’s nerves. It’s non-stop questioning: “How does this sound? What should I say hear? How do you think this will go over? Can you think of a story about…?”

Public speaking and preaching at our house is a family affair. When our daughter was a newborn, my in-laws visited every weekend so that I could have Saturday nights to go over the sermon again and again and so I could get some sleep. After those sermons, my late father-in-law–a former preacher himself–and I would break down the sermon like football coaches break down game tape. Poor Rochelle, by the time a sermon is heard in public, she’s heard it 20 times. And the same is true when she is speaking. But that’s the way we like it. Or at least that’s the way I like it.

I like that when I speak, I am not just approaching the text with my eyes, my experiences, my insights. I have Rochelle speaking alongside me. And I need her, several weeks ago I was speaking at a retreat for a large church in Dallas. For the second session, I had nothing! I asked Rochelle about it and from her words emanated the session. And if you were to ask those present about the retreat, they would probably tell you that the second session was the best. I hope that I am as much of a help to her as she has been to me.

We compliment each other and we challenge each other. I think that’s the way it is supposed to be when the “two become one.” We share the same passions, frustrations, loves, and hopes. That’s not to say that there are not places where we could not be more different, but it is to say that God has worked a miracle in our marriage. He has taken two people from two very different places, with different backgrounds, different experiences, different family styles, and even from different races and given them one voice!

I don’t think I could ask for more.

New Pope, The Old Pope

Posted: April 20, 2005 in Everything

I’m not Catholic, but I caught about 30 minutes of the media’s coverage about the new Pope, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). Apparently, it doesn’t take long for a new pope to find new enemies–or old enemies re-emerging.

Ratzinger, like all German boys his age, was forced to participate in ‘Hitler Youth’. And in his adulthood he has been a staunch defender of traditional Catholic doctrine and faith. At 78-years-old, he was John Paul’s “enforcer” (as he was dubbed by the New York Times). It appears–depending on how much you trust the mainstream news–that a minority of Catholics, and non-Catholics, are ‘troubled’ by his selection. But should they be?

It seems that some commentators and religious observers neither understand the church or the papacy. They somehow view the Pope like an elected political leader, storming onto the scene with a new agenda, perhaps dismissing the executive orders of the previous administration. To hear people talk one might think that the Pope’s job is to bring the church more in line with culture. And American culture at that! His job might be exactly the opposite. His job might be to bring society in line with the church, insofar as the church represents the lifestyle and teachings of Jesus Christ. (By the way, that job doesn’t stop with the Pope. It is the call of all those who name Jesus Christ as their savior.)

Recently an American pundit–speaking of John Paul II–stated: “In an age of an AIDS epidemic, he (John Paul) was against condoms and Ratzinger will bring more of the same.” Well, of course he will! What escapes the minds of some talking heads is that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI are Orthodox Catholics. Should we anticipate that a new pope would be much different in theological leanings than the old pope?

Think about this. What if every person in the world followed the teachings of Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Christianity concerning sex; abstinent until married and then faithful to your spouse. What might that do in the fight against AIDS? Others have said that Benedict XVI is the “grim reaper” of the faith, being a “hard-liner on matters of faith and doctrine.” These kinds of statements say much more about those making them than they do Benedict XVI.

I find it surprising that so many people expect that a theological institution should exist in the world without theological moorings. It seems that some people want a church that reflects the lifestyle choices they have already made. The answers that the church provides, however, are not rooted in the prevailing culture, popular behavior, opinion polls, or pragmatics. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

There is a lesson for all Christians in the election of Benedict XVI: We are a theological people, and our thoughts and behaviors should be informed by the life and teachings of Jesus, not what is acceptable to the prevailing culture. In response, the culture will not always like our lives being theologically informed and will press us to be more like the culture. Of course, we need to make every effort the reach out to the culture, engage it, love those within it (as we ourselves are), and redeem it (as we ourselves are). Those of you who read this page frequently know how I feel about the church’s lack of zeal in communicating Christ in our culture. But at the same time we cannot be overcome by culture. We need to be prepared to guard against the winds that would blow us farther away from the course set out by Christ and closer to the shores of secular society. If we know one thing from history we know that cultures change, the message of Jesus does not!

May the God of all grace continue to guide us and reveal to us how to be “of the world, but not in it.”

Putting the World Right

Posted: April 18, 2005 in Everything

Words from C.S. Lewis are always both insightful and challenging. I read these words from Mere Christianity this morning.

“If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’ For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world–that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”

Power-Plays

Posted: April 13, 2005 in Everything

I’ve done a lot of thinking t about power over the last few days. For some reason everyone seems to want to be in power, keep others out of power, know people in power, or influence those in power. This is quite natural, I suspect.

Anyone who aspires to freedom or self-determination can easily surmise that power is the fast-lane, one-way highway for reaching that goal. Unfortunately, I see very little in the way of power-grabbing in the way Jesus lived. As a matter of fact, Jesus does not only not reach for power, He goes out of His way to relinquish it; to “empty himself,” as the apostle Paul put it.

When Peter ask Jesus what the disciples will receive at the end of days, the Savior responds with blessings but then informs the disciples that many who are now first shall be last. “The first shall be last,” is the same statement Jesus made when the disciples were arguing among themselves about which one of them would sit at the right hand of Jesus.

It seems that Jesus has little time or appreciation for power-plays. He is not interested in those who want to puff themselves up, regardless of the reason or issue. It seems to me that the one person in the history of humankind who could have wielded unending, unthwarted, unbelievable power chose not to. Instead He lowered Himself, considered others better than Himself, and died for them.

Did He suffer an injustice? Yes. Did He suffer because someone else was wrong? Yes. Could He have stopped it and been right for doing so? Yes.

Be He didn’t!

Jesus seemed to know what many of us either forget or never learned. Power is cold, callous, and conflictual if it doesn’t originate in love. Not love for what we want, or a love for how we think it should be, not even a love for what we think is right, but love for what God loves–people.

Jesus knew that all authority on Heaven and Earth had been given to Him, but it is His restraint in unleashing it that is most impressive. I suppose Jesus knew that displays of power would lead us to worship power instead of God. Unfortunately, from all my years of church attendance, participation, and ministry, I know that Jesus was right. For most churches, it is power not Jesus to which most of us aspire.

Perhaps we should heed these words from C.S. Lewis, “The descent to hell is easy, and those who begin by worshipping power soon worship evil.”

My prayer for myself and for the church is simple. The next time any of us has an opportunity to display our power let us first ask to be made empty.

More On Evangelism

Posted: April 4, 2005 in Everything

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing much here. Sorry! I thought I would give you some words today from one of my favorite contemporary Christian thinkers, Brian McLaren. The following is from his book, “The Church on the Other Side.”

“For starters, somehow we Christians, especially evangelicals, convinced ourselves of the myth that America used to be a Christian nation–“our” nation–and some bad people took it away from us. Let me just ask: When was it a Christian nation? When we were killing, culturally imprisoning , and stealing the lands of millions of native peoples in a New World version of the holocaust? When we were importing and exploiting millions of slaves? I believe the Christian nation myth is untrue, but more than that, it is pernicious for what it does to us.

“The myth turns us into victims (Those bad guys took away our country!), aggressors (We’re going to take it back, so watch out!,) and defenders (Quick! Circle the wagons!). As aggressive, defensive victims, we hardly carry the posture of Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save the lost, who had compassion on the nameless crowds. As aggressive, defensive victims, we sound more and more like the Pharisees, who said, “This cursed mob doesn’t know God’s Word!” (see John 7:49), and less and less like Jesus who said, “These poor people are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (see Matthew 9:36). The cover story of the November 1995 issue of Moody Monthly described the problem too well: ‘Sinners in the Hands of Angry Christians.’

“In the new church, this attitude toward non=Christians will change. ‘The world’ will be viewed less and less as the bad boys out there whom we fear, fight, and resist, whom we seek to control through legislation and intimidation with a self-righteous sense of superiority. Instead, ‘the world’ will be viewed more and more as the needy neighbors who haven’t yet found the grace that has found us, who receive our love because God loved them enough to send his Son to give them ‘eternal life’ (John 3:16), who are doing the best they can with what they’ve got, and who can’t be expected to do any better until we find ways to help them want what we’ve got.”