Archive for December, 2006

OK, enough is enough! Two weeks ago I enjoyed my favorite meal from Taco Bell — two double-decker tacos and a bean burrito. The next day people in the northeast were getting sick from eating at Taco Bell. Well, guess what. I ate at Olive Garden yesterday and now folks are getting sick from that. I hardly ever go out to eat, now when I do somebody dies.
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Everyday brings the birth of our second daughter ever closer. Still no name decision in sight. It’s just that when we ask people for name ideas, the women just tell us to name her after them and the men give their wives or daughters name. Originality is dead!
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Christmas is coming very quickly. I usually get a lot of reading done during that time. On my list to finish before the January 1: Barna’s “Revolution”, Rainer’s “Simple Church”, McManus’ “An Unstoppable Force”, Stanley et al’s “7 Practices of Effective Ministry”, and Batterson’s “In The Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day”.

I just finished reading Rowan Williams’ book, Why Study the Past: The Quest for the Historical Church. I’m typically resistant to theological books that are on a “quest” for something. Usually they are an experiment in heresy and essential put forth some line of reasoning or argument that has long been debunked — think “The Da Vinci Code”. However, Williams work is different. At once it is boring, thoughtful challenging and inspiring.

Here are some of the more interesting quotes:

“The inspiration of Scripture, as some modern writers have said, is not a matter of the Holy Spirit holding a writer’s hand as a book is written; it is the present reality of a divine mediation that makes recognition possible as we now encounter the strangeness of the story. Abraham isn’t ‘one of us’; yet we and Abraham do make up an ‘us’ in relation to God, a shared reality before God which will take a lifetime to fathom.”
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“God is free to do what He wills, and his freedom takes the form of acting so as to change us. It is a mistake to think that Luther (or any other classical Protestant) believed that ‘justification’ meant only a change in God’s attitude without effect in us. On the contrary, what changes is that we become the locus of God’s free activity. Unprovoked, unconditioned, and unconstrained by any other agent. God steps into the void and chaos of created existence and establishes himself there as God.”
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“The challenge posed by the Reformation era is whether it is possible to conceive the question about unity and communion in the Church as bound to a witness to the priority of God’s act rather than to issues around visible structures…In other words, baptism already encodes the theology elaborated by the doctrinal disputes of the early church.”
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“If it (unity) is most clearly done in worship, then when we sing canticles, psalms and classical hymnody we express a unity across time as well as a unity in space.”

A Day with Bridges to Life.

Posted: December 9, 2006 in Everything
Reflections on the “Bridges to Life” Prison Ministry

**Warning! This post will be longer than usual, but most of us need to read it.
Maybe even twice**

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A friend of mine tells a story about walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Here in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place, shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only, inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before I came to the church where I currently serve, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree. A good Christmas mean I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was good. It had nothing to do with Jesus. In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event.

It was purely secular!

I remember asking my fifth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar. No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing! Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible. That’s true, I suppose. However, I knew that my grandmother as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledge her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught all us kids that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: the stuff!

And that teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing sexy – no iPods or new cars. I tell myself that I don’t need anything, and don’t want anything and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans. Suddenly things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement. Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately. So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness Christmas sales are right around the corner.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world and the healing of our broken relationships with each other and our broken relationship with God becomes a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience? Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously). Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After and illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings. He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor. As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated! His father took Francis to court and asked that the bishop force him to give back all the money he gave away. Equally irritated, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism. Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders. Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property. In short, they had no stuff! For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things he detested money above all. From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Could you imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment, who married Lady Poverty for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” –the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales. Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus? Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little. Maybe he would say that during Advent and Christmas, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty. Of course, there are a lot of us that give to good causes year round, but that’s not the kind of poverty I’m talking about.

I’m talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way that many Christians exercise no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians. I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves. I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them. I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole. We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year. We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven. If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.

I’m part of a fascinating church movement, called the Restoration Movement. As with all things, there is both good and bad. Plus, there are things that were meant to be and have been beneficial, but turned out to be negative.

One of these has been our emphasis on “ministry.” Now, of course I’m not against ministry; I do it for a living. But the word “ministry” became twisted over time and the few people that church leaders were able coax into a ministry formed ministries that for the most part just served others in the church. (I have a degree in Youth and Family Minister, which can become the ultimate “serve ourselves” ministry ever created, but that’s another post.)

Anyway, “ministry” became about what we did for each other and the world was left in the rear view mirror.

Luckily, some very thoughful theologians and churchmen and woman began to talk about being “missional.” Here they were aiming to get the church to think about what happens and is happening outside its own walls. Missional is about Christians seeing themselves as missionaries–people sent out with the message of God–rather than seeking the best religious goods and services for themselves.

The difference is best seen by asking the question of whether the church has a mission or does God’s mission have a church? The way you answer that question should transform what the church is and can become.

My wife and I believe deeply in missional ecclesiology, but we were raised in a different church culture and sometimes struggle to live out what we know is a better way. For instance, when Rochelle left The Briarwood Church to stay home with our daughter, her replacement, Jeff, was a new Christian and a member of an intentionally missional community here in Houston, Ecclesia Houston. Jeff began inviting co-workers to his home, out for conversation and other activities. At first Rochelle didn’t fully get what he was doing, but he was being missional. He didn’t know any other way to “do church.” For Jeff, Christianity was about getting to know people and love them the way Jesus would, and being salt and light to them.

And maybe that’s why new churches in America are the ones best able to reach non-Christians. New churches and new Christians aren’t burden with the old Christendom world where it was sufficient to just invite people to church.

What Driscoll points out in this interview is important for the church to understand. Enjoy!