Archive for May, 2007

The Christianity I Know

Posted: May 31, 2007 in church, consumerism

I saw an interesting sign on my way home from Port City Java yesterday. A church sign read: “Things Go Better with God.” I thought to myself; “Really.” To give that church the benefit of the doubt, I’ll confess that I’m not wholly sure what they meant by “better.” But assuming they meant that life went smoother, with less upheaval, distress, and disappointment for believers than non-believers, then I find that statement curious.

The truth is that by almost any standard that the “world” uses, Christianity makes things worse not better; I mean, if you really practice Christianity! Being a practicing Christian means self-sacrifice, considering others better than yourself, giving your life away, attaining to the other, living simply, loving your enemies, seeking justice, caring for the least of these and a whole bunch of other things many of us would rather not do. How many people in your local church are ready to say, “O.K. I’m giving all of my life over for others, so that someone else might live better from the sweat of my brow. I’m ready to love until it hurts then love a little more.”

And if you don’t think that’s what life with God calls us to, then I dare you to go back and read your Bible. Moses’ life was better while he lived in Pharoah’s house, all the prophets had better lives before they started talking and people wanted to kill them, Jesus’ life could have been great if not for that whole persecution and cross thing, and Paul was a rising star until he decided to take a trip to Damascus. Now, how many of these people enjoyed more health and wealth than they would have if they had ignored God?

Um, none!

This church sign is completely antithetical to the church I know.

What’s more, it sets people up for heartache, crises and faith-failure. Those who walk with God don’t and can’t avoid life’s most devastating pain any more than those who don’t follow God. All my life I’ve known passionate believers who have watched their spouses slowly die of debilitating diseases, had children killed, seen financial reversals, and just about everything else that comes with living in this world. Life with God gives us tools and resources – you know, like God Himself – to deal with life when these things happen, but being a Christian doesn’t mean you can avoid it.

Every time I say something like this, someone mentions Jesus bringing Lazurus back from the dead and his family’s mourning being assuage. The problem with that is that Lazurus still dies eventually. Because of Jesus, the family mourns twice. For the family, having Lazurus around for longer was probably great, but in the end, he still dies.

I fear that this church – certainly made up of good people – may have fallen into the dreadful abyss of false marketing like so many entities do, they over promise and under deliver. I could not keep a straight face and tell someone that life with God means less catastrophe or bigger paychecks or whatever they meant when they promised “better” to the folks who drive up and down Fry Rd. But what I could tell someone is that life with God means exhilarating purpose, profound meaning, hard work, never-ending love and learning to love, expanding realms of joy, and discovering from your creator the beauty that is you. And if that is what this little church meant by better, than I’m full speed ahead. At the same time, if that is what this church means by better, then we have to get ready for all the self-sacrifice, persecution, and humility that comes with it, because it it through those things that we have true life with God.

Easy

Posted: May 29, 2007 in missional, spurs

I’m off to New Orleans, The Big Easy, for a quick day trip to scout out locations where we’ll be doing some rebuilding work this summer with a group from our church. My friend, Jeff Brooks is leading a group there this summer as well, so we are going together to split the cost.

One of the fundamental tenets of Scripture is the renewal of all things. New Orleans, like many places in our world is in desperate need to renewal and resurrection. I think one of the ways Christians can live missionally in our world is to look for places in the world that they can enter and bring resurrection to. Parks, lives, neighborhoods, cities, all need resurrection. After all, Jesus does make all things new.

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The Spurs looked good last night, event though Duncan broke his streak of playoff games with at least 20+ points. They’re going all the way, baby!

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I was thinking about taking a group of folks from church to see the Astros this summer, but I am pledged to not do anything to depress my congregants.

77% Dixie!

Posted: May 26, 2007 in speech acts

Here’s a little fun for your weekend!

My brother sent me an e-mail forward – which I usually hate – but for some reason I followed the link on this one. It was the “Yankee or Dixie Quiz”. Basically, you answer a set of questions about words and pronunciations you us and at the end it spits out a score.

Apparently, I’m 77% Dixie! That means I’m pretty heavily southeastern. That stands to reason given that I’ve only lived in Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. If you get a chance, you should click over and see what you are. It’s pretty fun!

Time!

Posted: May 25, 2007 in fatherhood, perspective

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Today was my oldest daughter’s last day of her first year of pre-school. Rochelle and I thought, talked and prayed a lot about whether to send her last fall, but given that the school was in our church, just 40 steps from my office and since she was only in school 2 days a week we decided to pull the trigger.

Malia has loved school. She’s made friends and it’s been amazing to watch her imagination and social skills grow. Each morning as I drop her off in class I nearly well with tears when her friends begin screaming, “Malia, Malia, sit by me.”

I can’t believe she’s been in school for a year.

I’m finding that as I grow older time grows faster. It’s no wonder that mothers and fathers sit at high school and college graduations and wonder where the time has gone. When I was in eight grade, I thought the five years it would take to graduate was an eternity. Now five years in a drop in the bucket, a flash in time, barely enough time to get to know someone.

All this says a lot to me about what I’m doing with my life and how I treat others. There is simply not enough time to live with resentments, anger and unfulfilled dreams. We don’t have forever to show love, generosity, care and patience.

Though today they are 3 years old and 3 months old, I know that it won’t be long before my two little girls don cap and gown and head off to find God’s purposes for their lives, and the mere thought of it makes me misty-eyed. Malia and Katharing are the loves of my life, and I’m so grateful that God has given us this time.

Avoiding Christians

Posted: May 24, 2007 in Everything, missional

As I think more about missional living and missional ecclesiology. The problem many of us have is, “How do we get started? What do we do?” I’m not sure, either, but I think there may be a good place to start: Avoid Christians!

I’m serious about this. Since I’m professional clergy, I spend most of my time with other Christians, so this might be a little easier for me to say, but the problem with many of us Christians is that we hang out so much with each other. And it doesn’t take a genius to understand that if we’re never around non-Christians then we are going to have a hard time understanding and hearing their stories, finding out what God is up to in their lives and being the message of Jesus to them. So here are some hopefully helpful tips: (more…)

The Sky is Falling

Posted: May 23, 2007 in books, change, Missional Church

sky-falling.jpgI’ve been working my way through Alan Roxburgh’s The Sky is Falling. Here are some salient quotes from the first half of the book.

“America’s religious history has been deeply shaped by the nation’s history and social formation. Beginning with the massive suburbanization of the nation in the mid twentieth century, a deep conviction has developed (particularly among white, Protestant congregations) that individualism and economic opportunity are the highest expressions of Christian life.”
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Speaking of change:

“The need for control and predictability still assert themselves in powerful ways. Oddly enough, congregations and organizations that promise people a return to stability will thrive in this period, even though they can’t truly provide it. Since everyone is looking for stability, when these churches say they can provide it, people flock to them like moths to a flame. Then, to make it worse, the promise seems validated because certain types of congregations do thrive (and they are generally homogeneous, middle-class, and suburban). Other leaders then see them as signs of hope and choose to copy their tactics, though doing so only pushes them even farther from embracing the transition around them and honestly addressing its demands.”
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“At a recent conference focused on church growth and seeker-directed leadership, a Mennonite pastor walked into an elevator I was using. Bemused by the discrepancy between the theological and ecclesial imagination of Mennonites and the nature of the conference. I asked him, why a Mennonite was at such an event. His response was quick and direct: ‘Because it works!’ In the midst of massive discontinuity, disembedding, and transition, leaders desire to find something that ‘works’ rather than stopping long enough to understand what is actually happening…They seek external resources that promise ways of reinstating control without changing the substantive nature of the system. There is little thought put into the question of fundamentally reinventing the system itself.”

Meet My Needs!

Posted: May 21, 2007 in church, ministry, ranting

Truth be told, the church has never met my needs. That’s odd to me since I’ve been in it my entire life and now serve her full-time. What’s odd to me is that people in church keep telling me that we need to do things to “meet people’s needs.”

Really?

I mean, I suppose the church has met my deeper needs in some ways that I cannot articulate, but the meeting of needs I most frequently hear about have to do with externals: services that last no longer than an hour, 15 minutes sermon about kids and families, events that are fun and high-energy, leadership that doesn’t challenge, etc….

I hardly ever hear anyone say, “I think our church should help me get over my selfishness and greed” or “I wish our church would teach me how to be humble person in a competitive workplace.” No one ever says, “Goodness, I wish this church had a word to say about the fact that water is thicker than blood and that life is about baptized brothers and sisters in Christ and what they do together in the world, more than about my immediate family.” Where are the voices saying, “This church could really be something if we learned to live peace-filled lives and love folks like Osama bin Laden and that crazy guy over in Iran.”?

Here’s my question: In the church’s frenzy to “meet needs” by having active kids and youth ministries, clever preaching, entertaining worship complete with the style of music we like, the lack of prophetic voices, and all at a cut-rate prices, are churches failing to met anyone’s true and deepest needs? It seems to me, that many of us in the church are lying to people. We imply that we can meet their needs, yet offer them something that satisfies their wants, but never get close to their needs.

What do you think?