Thursday, December 16, 2010

The child's advantage

The child's advantage over the adult is evident in Matthew 19. Here Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head as he rebukes the disciples for restricting the children's access to him because "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." This short story is sandwiched between Pharisees who complicate the Law with the subject of divorce and a rich man who wants to know the minimum amount of the Law that he must follow.

We should not teach children to be experts in the Law. Experts want to know loopholes and limits.

Rather it is our responsibility to introduce children to Jesus, allow their natural faith to flourish, and help them to be obedient to Christ.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why the church and I must change, always

It is this reason that I know that I should welcome change in my life. Steadiness is comfortable, but reconciliation is change. Of course, not all change is good. Some change is reverting to a deeper sinfulness, but I know that staying the same will never help me to progress.

In the same way, I don't think the church can be the same. Christ left the church, his bride, as his representative on earth but that doesn't imply that the church is perfect like he is. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, but that doesn't mean that it has perfect love. If that were true, Paul's letters to the first century church would be quite different. As they were, they were letters to sinful people in troubled churches. Paul's challenge was for each of these churches to repent and be reconciled. His challenge was to change.

John wrote in his revelation to imperfect congregations. These churches were not reconciled to God any more than the churches that Paul wrote were reconciled to one another. While I believe that it is important that the church understand and teach the traditions of the previous generations, I do not think that that means that the church's role on earth is to maintain. It isn't to maintain traditions any more than Jesus accepted the Pharisees for their maintenance of Jewish tradition.

What I don't mean here is that the church needs to modernize itself. It is very possible that in the name of contextualizing, the church has become more like the Sadducees with watered-down faith in lieu of political or cultural power. We need stronger faith and a stronger commitment to the Gospel than what so many do when they hope that by looking just like the culture people will come to Jesus because someone slip a watered-down gospel talk in between songs in the big show that we call a worship service.

The church needs to change. And change needs to come in many ways. We cannot settle into comfortable organizations. The church should never be comfortable. The church in Laodicea tried that, and Jesus pledged to spit it out of his mouth (Revelation 3:14-22). I think that has got to be one of the most ominous warnings that God ever gave to anyone. The whole reason for the warning was that the church just wanted to comforably be what is was without love that challenged its members to be something. I would assume that this church had no goal of reconciliation but only a goal of comfortable conformity.

The church must be about the business of helping people to change in reconciliation so that they can help others to be reconciled. With out this goal, there is no valuable purpose for an institutional church to exist. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but we as humans cannot accept that same claim, either as individuals or as a body so we need to change. Change will always be uncomfortable.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Christine O'Donnell's folks wisely changed their TV campaign from "I'm not a witch. I'm your wife."

"I'm not a witch. I'm you wife"
I'm not a witch. I'm you."

Two possible campaign slogans.
We might never know which is more effective.
But we can know that one is funnier.

Especially when it is preceded by "Liar! Liar!"

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Should we ask God to relieve our suffering?

When Jesus knew his life was coming to a very difficult end he didn't run from the suffering. In fact, he said,
"Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, `Father, save me from this hour'? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name."
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, "I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again."
When you are in a time of suffering or carrying a burden of grief, is your first prayer that God would take it away? Or is your first prayer that God would bring glory to His name?

Father, bring glory to your name today even if it mean a little discomfort.

Monday, September 27, 2010

How many commands do you need to follow? Pick one as long as it is love.

Bible scholars have for generations counted the commands in the Bible. Most people would say that the Old Testament has somewhere over 600 commands to follow. Of course, most children's Sunday School classes have focused on the 10 Biggies, the 10 Commandments. There was even a classic movie made of that with wonderful 1960's style special effects.

I think people over think this issue. Jesus said that there are just 2 commandments that summarize everything God asks people to do. They are, love God and love others.

In the Old Testament God made this clear as the summary of the giving of the 10 commandments. He said:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Deuteronomy 6:4-6
And in the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that all commandments boil down to just these two.
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
In reality to love God and love others is the same commandment. If you love God, you will love other people. So, in reality God only requires one thing of you. That is to love.

This should be very freeing. We are to love. We don't have to be theologians to love. We just need to love. We don't have to understand the political climate to love. We just need to be loving to all people. We don't need to have a perfect ecclesiology or eschatology to love. We just need to care for the needs of the people around us and focus on the goodness of God.

What extra things are you doing in your life that may interfere with your raw ability to love? What extra expectation are you putting on others that inhibit their ability to love you back, or may lead you to be less loving of them? 

I've heard it said that you should hate the sin but love the sinner. I wonder if we shouldn't just love the sinner and love God and let God focus more on the conviction of the sinner. Sure loving God will demand a separation from sin, but perhaps the best focus for my life is how much I can love God rather than labeling the actions of others as sinful. I often misinterpret actions anyhow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A warning for parents (part 2)

[Note: This the the second of a two part blog based on warnings that I have discovered over the last couple years of studying parenting and spiritual issues. In this time I have read two books by Christian Smith, a sociologist who studies spirituality in youth culture. He has identified that one type of faith predominates among American youth. He called it moralistic therapeutic deism. He doesn't consider this type of faith to be healthy. I would agree. Please read yesterday's post if you have not yet.]

As I said in yesterday's post, when I ask parents what their top goals for their children are I usually get these three priorities:
  • That they would follow God.
  • That they would do good and avoid evil. (Obedience.)
  • That they would be safe and happy.
While the first is a godly and biblical goal for parents, the other two are a distraction on the way to developing children who honestly follow God. We have already established that obedience is the wrong goal for parents so today I'll look at the goal of safe, happy children.

This is actually a very easy goal to knock down but it would do a disservice to try to knock it down with isolated verses. There are many examples for why safe living is not God's intention in scripture. Just look at the way that God treats his children: Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New. Let us look at some more macro examples.

Remember the story of the 12 spies. They were sent into the promised land and asked to bring information about the inhabitants back to Moses and the Israelites. Two responded to God's call to take the land. The other 10 chose to fear scary things and instructed the Israelites to avoid the promise. Because the people chose the safe way out, God punished the people for 40 years.

In Judges, the statement "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" is repeated several times. It is easy to assume that the people of Judges had no leader and no clear agreement about the standard so each one chose to make himself or herself happy. This pursuit of happiness led to all sorts of troubles for the nation.

The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus turning the tables on happiness. Jesus was not about teaching people the quick way to happiness, rather about putting others needs ahead for one's own. The best example for this principle are the beatitudes. In this teaching (as translated in modern English) Jesus says "happy are those..." But a careful reading makes it clear it is not about the one who wants to be happy to chase his own happiness. Rather it is about putting his immediate needs behind the needs of others.

Over and over again, the case can be made that God wants our happiness and even our safety to fall behind the needs of others and to be reliant on trust for him. If we teach our children to live safe and happy lives, we are short sheeting them. In this way, many Christian parents are no better than their non-Christian neighbors. Our children can easily become an idol for parents. This, in turn, teaches children to make their own state of mind their idol.

I love what C.S. Lewis says about God. Perhaps you remember this dialog in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When one child asked if Aslan (a form of God) is safe, Mr. Beaver replied, "Safe?...He isn't safe. But he's good."

Teach your children to live in the unsafe territory which is goodness, pursuing God with all their hearts. It won't be comfortable for you or for them, but it will be right.

If you'd like to read more about this topic, I'd suggest Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A warning for parents (part 1)

[Note: This the the first of a two part blog based on warnings that I have discovered over the last couple year of studying parenting and spiritual issues. In this time I have read two books by Christian Smith, a sociologist who studies spirituality in youth culture. He has identified that one type of faith predominates among American youth. He called it moralistic therapeutic deism. He doesn't consider this type of faith to be healthy. I agree with his analysis.]

If I ask just about any parent in my church what their top goals for their children are I'm likely to get these three priorities:
  • That they would follow God.
  • That they would do good and avoid evil. (Obedience.)
  • That they would be safe and happy.
In reality, I honestly think that deep down inside those are the answers I might give also, but 2 out of 3 of those responses are misguided. In truth, most of us really place the two weaker values ahead of the more biblical.

If you are a Christian parent, there is an absolute command to help your children to follow God. Deuteronomy 6 is the Lord's command to parents (the older generations) to give guidance to children (the younger generation) as the Lord says: 
"Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. (NLT)
It might be real easy to say that this passage gives parents two responsibilities: to guide children into love of the Lord and to guide children into obedience. But, that is not really accurate.  There is only one responsibility for parents here. That is to love the Lord. Obedience is something that flows from our love for God. Jesus said, "If you love me you will obey my commands" (John 14:15). You will notice in this statement that obeying God's commands is not a command, but are result of our love.

Have you ever notice that most Christians are more like the older prodigal son? We usually look at that story from the eyes of the one who ran off after taking his inheritance. But we think, like the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, that because we have created bounds, that God owes us something. Parents, just teaching your children rules and boundaries isn't enough for proper spiritual development. That parenting style can lead to an entitlement complex where children grow up thinking that because they followed the rules, God owes them.

Unfortunately, when Christian parents focus on obedience, they don't create people who love God. They create obedient children. In fact, that obedience is often not to God at all, but rather to the parents. In my experience, these children often walk away from spiritual things we they are no longer under their parents' authority. Even if they continue in obedience, they can do this without a deep, honest love for God.

Instead of focusing on teaching your children obedience, make a priority of teaching them to love God and to love others.  As evident in the Deuteronomy passage, conversations on obedience will be important along the way  as they learn to live out their love for God and their love for others, but obedience isn't the starting point. The major mistake I notice when obedience is the starting point is that parents make their own law the measure of good. That might include non-biblical rules like those that guide the way they dress, the importance of attending church functions and sitting certain ways in those functions, and choosing a parent-approved life path. Be careful not to create a false law in your children's life. It is better to create a honest love.

I would recommend that parents read Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel and The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight. These books will help parents to focus on putting love for God ahead of obedience to you.

[Tomorrow I'll post on the thereputic mistake that parents make.]

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I love boobies and book burnings

A few weeks ago as my family sat in Chicago Midway Airport waiting to board our flight home from our wonderful time in the Midwest, I noticed a boy about middle-school age sitting with an escort. He had up and down both arms a good number of those rubber band style bracelets. Every single one of the bands had printed in bold letters, "I love boobies."

I've seen this phrase before on bumper stickers, but this time it really shocked me. I asked my teenage daughter if she notices. Her response, "Dad, almost every boy in school wears those."

Doing remarkable things is a good way to get your message out. People notice you or your organization when you make bold and shocking statements. I have a friend who calls it the man bites dog factor. The I Love Boobies bands are apparently a breast cancer awareness campaign. In my opinion it is a misguided campaign as instead of getting people to look at the need for a cure for a disease that claims many beloved mothers, sisters, daughters and friends, the campaign turns boys to giggling and trivializing the female. It highlights the breast as a sex toy and a joke.

Today I am so happy that Pastor Terry Jones has rescinded his church's plan for burning the Koran. I'm not sure why exactly he and his church thought it was a good idea to plan and make public a Koran burning. I can guess that they are very happy about the fact that fewer than 10 days ago, googling "Pastor Terry Jones" would have returned some pretty plain websites and most certainly no news. I can imagine that the church is happy that this has been a tool for furthering their message, which I would venture they think is the Gospel of Christ. They have become remarkable in the most direct sense of the word. People are remarking about Terry Jones' church.

The problem with building notoriety for planning Koran burnings is the same problem as the I Love Boobies campaign. You get a message out, but it is the wrong message. It is a negative twist on what you are actually trying to say.

If Terry Jones wants to share the message of Christ, he is going to have a lot of repair work to do to demonstrate that Christ is about love. He came to die for those who read and obey the Koran. He gave up his life for those kinds of people. The problem with I Love Boobies bands is that some wearers don't really care much for healing sick breasts, they are just looking for the next pair of healthy boobies.

What are some less obvious ways that Christians send a wrong message about Jesus when they are trying to make the Gospel more remarkable?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Does discernment have to lead to condemnation?

Skye Jethani has an interesting article on Out of Ur. In Judge Not he discusses two different uses of the word judge in the Bible: to discern and to condemn. When Jesus says, "judge not or you will be judged," he certainly did not mean we should not use discernment. We are constantly told to be discerning in the Scriptures. The problem is, when we discern that something is evil or wrong, we often move straight to the judgment of condemnation. Does condemnation have to follow the discernment? What is an appropriate Christian response to discerning something is less than perfect?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Happy Labor Day: Cheers to being average!

Today we celebrate the American worker. So if you haven't lost your job in the last year. Cheers! If you aren't self employed. Cheers! If you don't have the ability to look into the future and discover through an entrepreneurial mind great ways to develop something new without being on shift work or doing the 9 to 5. Cheers! If you don't take leadership to a new level. Cheers!

Of course, Labor Day is the celebration of the vastly important average Joe. The common laborer is very important to our society. With out those people, nothing would get done. I love and respect and even hold up with a lot of esteem the average people of this world.

Still doesn't it seem ironic that we have a day to celebrate being average? Doesn't it seem narcissistic to have a day when people (laborers in this case) get together to celebrate themselves? 

Just wondering. I'm going to celebrate by spending the day with people who don't fit the definision of laborer. I didn't plan it that way it just happened. I don't know that we will ever once mention the average worker or labor unions in the course of our celebration. How about you?

Monday, August 30, 2010

P90X: Is it an answer to the fat Christian's problem?

I'm trying to lose some weight and to discover a better attitude about my physical body. As a follower of Christ, I have fallen into the dualistic trap that it is my spirit that matters, not my body. As a result, I've been too happy to give into my body's immediate desires to eat and to rest. Now I find myself pushing the edge of the obesity charts and my body hurts with even the most minimal exercise. So, I've started using the (and associate iPhone app) tools for tracking calories ingested and exercise. In 10 days, I've lost about 3 very temperamental pounds. If I stopped tracking today, I'm pretty sure I'd gain those puppies back by the weekend.

My problem, that leads to my question is that I'm tracking, but I don't know that what I'm doing is going to fix the problem. So, is P90X the answer to this Christian's fat problem?

I ask about this product because so many Christians are jumping on it. We even have a men's group that encourages guys to do it on the same schedule. A few of those guys have shown more definition, but I'm not sure that many have shown me that P90X is a tool that I should use.

Let me define my goal first of all. My problem is a sin that I need to overcome. Gluttony or sloth or both, one might call it. Whatever it is called, my problem is giving into material desires. The result of my sin is a body that is inefficient, a food bill that is too high, and a self propitiating habit of sitting on the couch watching meaningless TV.
So, what can P90X do for me? On the surface, it doesn't seem this is the tool for me, but I'd love to hear from those who have tried it. In short, my sin is idolizing material needs of my body. It seem to me that this program only builds on that by focusing on how your body will look in 90 day. Does P90X do more for the user than the surface draw of making one look good? An obsession for looking good can also be a form of idolatry.

Second, I hear a lot of the work is too difficult to complete. Is P90X doable for a fat, lazy guy?

Third, I really wonder about the sustainability of this program. Again, I can loose weight using my calorie tracker, but I've done that in the past, but I don't feel that I truly learned to overcome my sin. I just learned to stuff it. Does P90X teach any lasting values of health? Have you been able to maintain those values?

I would sure appreciate help with this.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When the pagans influence the church, what should we do?

When reading makes me frustrated the point of abrasion can come in two forms: 1) The authors haven't done what I would have hoped that they would do or 2) What I'm reading is too far from what I (or we) are doing for me to see how to get there. Obviously the latter is not bad as it can bring new ways of looking at issues and challenge me to move forward.

I just finished reading (as part of my vacation reading plan) Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna. I found myself frustrated as I read this book. In this case, I had alternating feeling of frustration from both sources. Viola and Barna have challenged me to do something, to think about the church and where to go from here and to live a life more centered on Jesus. At the same time, I think they fall short of their goal, even, at times, suggesting backward movement where the church has progressed positively and often deciding that the best days of the church were some glorified day that makes no sense to us today.

Their purpose was to "remove a great deal of debris in order to make room for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the fully functioning head of His church." This is a noble goal, and one that I agree with the authors as they set a need. They do a reasonable job of pointing out debris that needs to be removed. I agree that the church building has been falsely raised to a point of idolatry. Similarly, I agree whole heartedly that they idea of dressing up for church as it is a sign of my having when other don't is a great distraction from the message of the gospel. I have been pushing to move our church away from age-graded discipleship methods and from a separation of power, clergy and laity.

While I agree often with the authors as they criticized the institutionalized and paganized church, I struggle more with the solution which too often is to return to some model of church-life from the first century. That sounds fine and dandy, as certainly, if Jesus and the apostles lived in the first century, those folks had direct access to what the church should be. This might be somewhat true, but not completely. In fact, if you read the epistles, you should notice that a lot of them were written as correctives to a church that was already missing the mark.

Of course, our authors would likely respond that their premise is that the correctives where de-institutionalizing the church. This is true, but still, I think that the authors too often lead us back to a fictional image of the church. It may be that they did much research to discover what the church looked like and was supposed to act like, but it is still an image that we have little evidence to know how this early church formed, moved and interacted. Moreover, there is less evidence to help us to know what a church must look like 2000 years later. We do not really know that the first century church held normative practices or how many of their practices were our of necessity since the church was small and just begining in its formation.

I agree that we need to remove debris from the institutional church. A lot of debris. In almost everything there is junk that needs to be removed. Relics of cultures past must be put to rest or they become idols in our worship. The solution, though, is not to replicate a church from another culture long ago, but to re-learn how the church (the people in the family of God) can free ourselves of old cultural relics and appropriately connect with a culture today.

I think the church does need to be more organic; more natural to this world and culture; more focus on Jesus Christ and his gospel. Reading Pagan Christianity has helped me to take another look at influences that are clouding our relationship with Jesus Christ. I would recommend it as reading for church leaders (which the authors would say shouldn't exist) and for all church members as we continue to discover God's vision for the church today. My application, however, would be to examine our practices, know that the culture will influence who we are as a people, and eliminate any practice that distracts us from God.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Saying goodbye to Verizon

Me: Hello verizon. I'm a current customer. You just raise my bill and the Comcast guy is at the door offering me a better deal. 
Verizon: I'm happy to help you with that. Your bill just increased $10 after 2 years with no increase. Correct?
Me: It was 1 year.
verizon (after a few moments and some account searching): The bundle would be $99 [for internet and TV].
Me: That's $10 more than Comcast is offering. They also through in premium channels and phone for that price.
verizon: That's the same type of offer you got from us [last year].

Me in my head: Duh, that's why I'm inviting the Comcast guy to sign me up.

Bye, Bye Verizon! I'm sadder to see Vonage go.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fathers are important

Psychology today has a great article that should be an encouragement to fathers. Fathers matter in the life their children even if you are different than the more widely celebrated parent. It seems that there is a new body of research that have analyzed the way that fathers add value to the emotional develop of children. Interestingly enough, researchers are discovering that fathers influence is important but different from mother.
What emerges from their [ work is the beginning of a truly modern concept of paternity, one in which old assumptions are overturned or, at the very least, cast in a radically different light. Far from Mead's "social accident," fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.Key to this new idea of fatherhood is a premise so mundane that most of us take it for granted: fathers parent differently than mothers do. They play with their children more. 
 Interestingly, while mothers tend to relate more on a emotional level, children learn a lot about relation to others emotionally from their fathers. Children learn a lot about reading the emotions of other, reacting to those emotions, and listening to others. Fathers play an important role in teaching children how to cope in certain situations.

Unfortunately, the benefit of what a father brings to a child is diminished in the industrialized and post-industrialized economies have generally caused more fathers than mothers to be distant from their children regularly. Further, the trend has been to emphasize the typical maternal characteristics and to de-emphasize the more playful and less nurturing parenting styles.

Of course, none of this should be taken to make the mother's role less important. But dads we should be encourage that being a dad is an important role. Being different from a mom is important, too.

Fathers you are important in the development of your children. Mothers celebrate the difference that your children's father makes in their lives. Dads be playful and spend as much time with your children as possible.

Happy Fathers Day.

Monday, June 07, 2010

God is more like a wild animal

CS Lewis responded to the question "Is God safe?" with the answer, "No, but he's good."

I thought of that when I saw this picture....


A zoo is an artificial environment where we think we are going to look at wild animals.

They aren't wild. Zoos aren't natural. They pen once wild animals up in a place where they are isolated from any danger they could cause.

Too often I think Christians put God into their own little Church Zoo.

He's safe in there.
   He can't claw at us.
       Doesn't he look just like a little teddy bear.

That's not the way God really is. That's just the way he appears.

Let's let God out of the cage. Run the risk of him ripping us to shreds. Look at him in his natural environment.

Then we might know just how good he really can be.

Otherwise he might just become a freak show for 2nd graders to visit on a field trip.

Thanks to Abraham Piper for the picture idea.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Woe to the church?

Read Matthew 23.

In Matthew 23 Jesus blasts 7 "woes" to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Jesus' lament wasn't that the Pharisees were not religious in their action. It was that their religion was doing little to help them or other to do God's will.

The seven woes are:
  1. They created a false religion that actually kept people away from the Kingdom of God.
  2. They created disciples who were committed to dead religious practices.
  3. They devalued the things of God (i.e., the Temple and alter of God) to increase the value of their own work (i.e., offerings and gold).
  4. They ignored the purpose of the Law (i.e., justice, mercy and faithfulness).
  5. They used ceremonial cleanliness to hide the sins of their hearts.
  6. They maintained a religious appearance that masked their spiritual deadness.
  7. They lifted up the memories of spiritual giants but displayed attitudes of those who martyred the prophets and righteous.

It is easy to be religious, but what might we in the church today be doing that detracts from doing what God values the most?

I'm going to guess that many will start listing things like we aren't strong enough of sin or we don't preach hell enough. We might even be encouraged to say that we aren't strong enough on encouraging people to attend our church services or prayer groups. But look again at Jesus' woes. It seems that these are the kinds of things that the Pharisees and Scribes were focused on. Jesus wanted to change the focus all together.

Beware! There are many Pharisees in the American church even today. Many of them might be heroes and symbols of the most religious folks. One of them might be me. It is possible the my religious emphases are a stumbling block for some on the way to the Kingdom of God. It might be that you are one in some aspects of your faith.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reflection on a strange strike

So the teacher are going on strike. Not walking out, but swearing to only do what they are contracted to do and nothing more.

Two thoughts: First, why the big deal? Can the community really be upset that someone is only doing what they are paid to do? If I go to Applebee's for dinner and my server only seats me, takes my order, brings my food and my check, and takes my payment, should I be upset that the server didn't also make friendly talk with my table? No, I don't have the right to demand that of the server.

On the other hand, a server who is friendly, takes the time to get to know me personally, and remembers my name will encourage both a bigger tip and my loyalty as a customer. That server would have pride in the end of the day that they are doing more than just earning a paycheck.

So, to the people in the school district just south of me, take heart. Your children's teachers are doing exactly what you (as taxpayers and voters) have asked them to do. You teachers in the same district, is that really enough? Can you really be pleased with your work when you allow an organization to dictate to you that you shouldn't go the extra step to feel good about your day?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How contemporary is my traditional church?

I was looking through my book selves and found this quote:
There are only two options to the church today: one is to struggle to patch up the contemporary church, retaining all we can of traditional forms and patterns of live, resisting with all our might the forces that demand change (until the whole edifice crumbles as a new generation rejecting empty form and seeing no meaning, abandons our churches--leaving them to die as gracefully as possible). The other option is to accept the challenge of change, and to channel it--to seek to build together a church which will be a true expression of The Church, yet uniquely suited to our 21st century world.
This statement is quite appropriate as we talk about the church in 2010. There is a battle between doing church the old way and or changing our methods to make sense in a changing culture. Interestingly, I found this quote on the cover of A New Face for the Church, written in 1970 by Lawrence O. Richards. Not much has changed in 40 years. In fact, the only thing that I can see that has changed is the methods that the old church calls sacred.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When it's tradition verse culture, Truth should win

I just heard an insightful sermon on traditions in the church. Mark Foreman, pastor of North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, California spoke on Matthew 15:1-20. I would highly recommend giving it a listen.

Here are some things that I learned about traditions from Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees. These ideas reflect what Mark Foreman said, but I’ll say them in my own words.
  1. We all have traditions. Even if you think the things you are doing are tradition-less, you have a tradition. For me, my traditions tend to be to stubbornly dig in my heels at the first sniff of any tradition.
  2. Traditions are not bad on their own. They can be valuable tools for conveying truth.
  3. Traditions become our culture and as our culture, they can blind us from the truth. Because we are so enveloped in our culture, we can loose the language and skills we need to discern when a tradition has become an idol.
  4. While we ought not substitute our traditions (i.e., Christian culture) for truth, we cannot let our culture (i.e., worldly habits) lean in to define truth. The Word of God is our final guide on truth.
  5. When we are angry at a Christian brother or sister, we need to evaluate if the source of our anger is really truth of it is actually a conflict of traditions.
  6. Traditions that tear the church apart need to be reevaluated.
  7. “In essentials unity. In nonessentials liberty. In all things love.”
So, in the debate of traditional church verse the culturally relevant church, the truth of the Gospel of Christ should be the only winner.

I'm going to be working on some traditions of my own. What struggles in your life might be coming from a conflict of traditions? What practices does our church have that might be blind obedience to tradition rather than thoughtfully conveying the Gospel of Christ.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The meat of teaching

On occasion I hear someone say that the church should have more meat in its teaching. I ask them what they mean. Interestingly, I seldom get an answer that is thought out ahead of time. They aren't usually sure, they just don't feel the teachers use enough big words, give enough background information, list enough cross references, or are not clear enough on the doctrines of the Church. Certainly all of those things are important. But I think meat is something all together different.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14
Learning the information, the doctrine, the background and the reasons why we do something is what the author of Hebrews calls milk. Solid food (meat) is teaching and doing what God calls us to do. Student who are sitting in classes listening are nursing their faith like a baby nurses from his mother. Every person needs to do that for a season, but that cannot be the on-going form of discipleship. A baby needs less than a year of nursing before it is ready for solid food. I would suggest that disciples become fat on milk if they are not discipling in some manner within a year of their start on the journey.

To really grow in your faith, find situations where you will be challenged to live out your faith and do so with the watchful eye of a mentor helping you along the way.

To really help someone else grow, teach them until they get to the point where they can teach anyone else and be effective, then push them to do just that. Teaching is the highest form of learning. Doing is the meat we are after.

If teaching is discipleship, who are you teaching? Who are you helping to teach another?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Deep Church review

I have found that with so many changes going on in the church (my church as well as the Western church), I have been drawn to reading books on Ecclesiology. Back in seminary I remember comparing Resident Aliens with Rediscovering Church. It seems that I was the only one in Scott Wenig's Church Administration class who felt more aligned with Hauerwas and Willimon's book (RA) than with the exceedingly popular book by the Hybles. The pragmatic work of the Willow Creek megachurch just seemed too shortsighted to me.

I just worked my way through Deep Church by Jim Belcher (2009, IVP, Kindle Edition). In this book he investigates the debate between traditional and the emergent models of church. This is a raging debate in Christian leadership circles. If you aren't a leader, you might not think you care, but the truth is, the model of church will effect the way, the purpose and the form of your relationship with believers. Belcher talks briefly about the pragmatic movement of the church grow/seeker sensitive movement, but does not analyze it beyond deeming in dead. (Interesting that less than a dozen years ago, most of the students in my class were inline with this movement.)

In the end, Belcher is trying to set up a third way between the traditional church (fundamentalism) and the emergent church. His third way envelopes three elements for defining the body that Christ left for his work on Earth. They are the Bible, traditions and culture. Of course, both the traditional and emergent church believe they are using the Bible in their development, but they see the Bible in very different ways. The traditional camp interprets the Bible based on traditions. The emergent side works from a context of understanding the Bible according to the culture.

In the end, I think that Belcher has presented an excellent option to these Ecclesiologies. He calls this third way the deep church. I struggle a bit with his discussion on politics and worship. While I agree that those in the emergent camp too often focus on arts when talking about culture and agree that Christians need to be involved in all aspects of culture, I think that Christians need to be careful here. Too often we have adopted a worldly political system and named it Christian (whether it be conservative or liberal). We cannot afford to do that and maintain our witness. At this point of very divisive politics, Christians need to be questioning hard both poles of the political spectrum. Belcher hints at this but the warning needs to be stronger.

On my second issue of traditions in worship. I do not disagree that we need to understand and connect with our historical context as we worship as the body of Christ. But that is always going to be difficult. What tradition do we connect to is always going to be a difficult question. A glance at Belcher's Redeemer Presbyterian Church website shows a very western church image. How do we account for which traditions we follow? How do we discount an inappropriate tradition? It would seem that we need to ask these questions or the church will be driven to adopt practices of by-gone cultures which do not draw us closer to the Cross. For example, while the author chose his denomination over (among other things) a strong belief in ordination. The tradition of ordination, of course, came from the same tradition that gave us the totalitarian papacy. At the same time, while hymns are the history of the church that grew up in the west, why do we usually ignore African spirituals or music from eastern cultures?

In the end, I was quite impress and swayed by Deep Church. The issue I have are minor and I like the way that Belcher is working to bring the positive of both extremes in the church debate together. I would love to hear from others as we work out the issues of worship and culture. Do you think Belcher found a reasonable middle point?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Understanding the Bible in cartoon

I found this great tool today. You can make a cartoon movie with not much trouble at all. I made this one today on understanding the Bible. It took me about 40 minutes. Enjoy the story.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Talk on disciplining children

I'm speaking next week to a group of moms about disciplining children. Here's a quick preview of what I think I'll talk about.

  1. The purpose of discipline (discipleship)
  2. Keys of God's discipline model (Grace and Truth)
  3. Tactical discipline
    • Plan toward a goal rather than react
    • Focus on purpose not facts
    • Teach love through obedience not because I say so
    • Demonstrate joy not emotionless responsibility
    • Guide to life-long meaning not just how to be a good kid
What do you think? Is it practical enough? Will it give young moms more than they already have?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Biblical Family?

My title at the church is Pastor of Life Development. People ask me what that mean all the time. Usually, if I don't figure that they really care what I do specifically, I just tell them that I'm a family pastor. That is sort of true but not really.

Family is a complicated thing. What is a family? Many, or most, evangelical Christians that I know lament the loss of the the traditional family. I might agree that family as our grandparents understood a family to be is going away, but what are we really lamenting? Most people would say that we are loosing the biblical family. But is that true? What did the family look like in the Bible? Was it more like the Duggers or like the Osbounes?

Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at North Park University, has an interesting post today about a book by the Scottish theologian Stephen Holmes. I would suggest that these men will paint a different picture of the biblical family for us.

In my role of pastor of Life Development, I want it to be more inclusive that just managing the spiritual lives of nuclear families. I hope that Life Development is about challenging all people to a great involvement in mentoring and disciplining the next generation. First, with parents taking a greater part in their children's spiritual development. But just as important is that all people all people--married or not, old or young, with children or without--see that they have an important part to play in the spiritual development of the next generation.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Never eat zebra and sponsor a Kenyan girl because they count

Compassion is doing a blogger's tour of Kenya right now. I'm glad they are especially since my daughter began to sponsor a Kenyan child a year ago. Her child's name is Margaret. In a recent letter to El, Margaret asks my daughter if she knew what a census was. It seems that the census was taken in her village. Margaret seemed very excited because "she was counted too."

All kids count. We just need to help them to know that. Sponsoring one with Compassion will make that known.

I know you're wondering to read Shawn Grove's post to find out why you should never eat zebra. The pictures are great, too.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

PT: Perfectionism leads to miserable children

Dr. Jim Taylor writes on Pychology Today's blog that children suffer when they feel pressure to be perfect. On the heals of our "All In the Family" series where I talked about ways that parents provoke their children to anger, this article could be helpful for understanding some ways that parents can cause this kind of pressure in the lives of children. Is it possible that you are sending messages, either explicitly or implicitly, that your love is contingent on their success? Here are some ways that parents may to that.

  • Rewarding success and punishing failure.
When children succeed, their parents lavish them with love, attention, and gifts. But when they fail, their parents either withdraw their love and become cold and distant, or express strong anger and resentment toward their children. -Jim Taylor

  • Model perfectionism by be unduly frustrated at yourself when you fail or overly competitive. 
Children see how their parents hate themselves when they're not perfect, so they feel they must be perfect so their parents won't hate them. These parents unwittingly communicate to their children that anything less than perfection won't be tolerated in the family. -Jim Taylor

  • Projecting your flaws on your children. 
These parents project their flaws onto their children and try to fix those flaws by giving love when their children don't show the flaws and withdrawing love when they do. Unfortunately, instead of creating perfect children and absolving themselves of their own imperfections, they pass them on to their children and stay flawed themselves. -Jim Taylor
Taylor goes on to suggest that parents need not be perfect, rather they should strive for excellence. That's a confusing statement, but what he means is work hard to do good as much as possible but allow yourself to fail. I would add that you should let your children fail as well. Bs, Cs, Ds, and even Fs are OK. Big a benchwarmer on a second rate team isn't the worst thing. Not having the whole Bible memory packet complete isn't spiritual suicide. These things don't signal that children are failing at life. They should be a challenge to know where to improve or maybe a signal that the child has a different path in life.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hope for young adults: a review of Soul Searching

I have now read several different books on the lives of what Smith and Snell call emergent adults; The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdales, Path to Purpose by William Damon and now Souls in Transition. Now I have just complete Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2009) by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell. This book focuses most directly on the spiritual health of this age group.

I find Souls in Transition to have a flavor of mixed of concern and hope. Spiritually, 18 to 25-year olds are dropping out of the church in large numbers. We have all suspected this fact and the authors prove it is true with an immense amount of data. As youth transition into adulthood they are finds spiritual question and a desire for a certain lifestyle to be a deterrent from attending the religion of their youth. As a group, there is an across the board shift from more religious commitment to less religious commitment.

On the other hand, the authors have some hope. Like every generation before, I have heard older people of faith proclaim that this younger generation is more lost than ever before. Smith and Snell find that perception is simply not true. At least as far as their study goes back (1972), the current emergent adults are not dropping out any faster than previous generations. In fact, there is a hint that current emergents are actually maintaining faith at a higher rate.

I particularly enjoyed the application of the study. In brief, maintain faith through the emergent adult years is not a matter so much of addressing emergent adults, but a healthier treatment of the teens. Smith and Snell describe that as a process of socializing that first starts in the home but is echoed in mentors within the church. Older adults of faith, both parents and church-folk, need to avoid the pitfall of encouraging youth to push away from them. The myth says that youth no longer want adults to participate in their lives. Instead, the authors’ data show that youth want adult contact, but they need it on new terms. Youth that receive a good amount of attention from adults of faith are more likely to maintain their faith into adulthood.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I long for thunder

I long for thunder

I long for thunder
Thunder rolling in
The kind I can hear for an hour before the first raindrops fall

I long for thunder
Thunder that when it arrives the house shakes
The dog paces
And I think this is what the end will be like

I long for thunder
The flashing of light
The count down before the CRASH
The search for candles to replace electric lights

I long for thunder
It brings me back to my childhood
To my father telling me "it's all OK"
The comfort I have in knowing
It's much bigger than me

I long for thunder
But alass. It is winter and the rain that comes
Only brings wind, icey pings, and the sound of the heater kicking up

I may long for thunder
But today I'll face the cold rain
Knowing that I'm fortunate enought to have a warm house for retreat
And it is still bigger than me

Steve Johnson

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The uncomfortable Blue Parakeet can make you think

Recently, a good friend complained to me that a particular Bible discussion didn't help to clarify the particular issue in his mind. He said, "I walked a way less sure and more confused." My response was "good."

Over the recent years I have become more comfortable with the idea that God is too big for us to know with clarity. Without a doubt, we are to strive each day to know him better than the last day. We are to study his word (the Bible), listen to expert comentaries, and discuss it in faithful groups of Christians. These are important steps for the follower of Christ and will facilitate spiritual growth.

We cannot expect that Christian growth means that we are less confused, that we know God more perfectly, or that our study will raise much of anything but more questions. Karl Barth (pronounced bart), a Swiss, Neo-orthodox theologian who valiantly battle liberal theology in the early to mid-1900s, called this dialectical theology because he believed that too much of God was paradoxical and unknowable to the human. Barth's point was that the best answer to a theological question was the next best question.

This brings me to my book review on Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet (Zondervan, 2008, 240 pages). (I provided this link for your convenience should you like to read the book. I read the Kindle version.) McKnight is a thoughtful, seasoned Bible scholar who teaches at North Park University in Chicago. In The Blue Parakeet, McKight examines how we should read the Bible, particularly the difficult passages. I'll let you read the book to discover why it is named so.

McKnight, by his own reasoning, is an evangelical scholar. There are many with a more narrow interpretation of evangelical who wouldn't agree, because many evangelicals will only identify with others who subscribe to specific set of doctrine. This doctrine is often narrow in interpretation and broad in scope.

One point that many evangelicals will struggle with the Blue Parakeet and McKnight, is that he is in many way post-modern. He makes a strong argument that the Bible must be read as a story (not a fiction story) and applied according to the context of the reader. He argues that too many want to read the Bible as a list of laws, morsels of blessings, an psychological inkblot, a puzzle, or examples of Maestros. I will let McKnight explain those.

McKnight, on the other hand, believe the Bible is God's story from begining to end, with each book being the author's telling of the story at a particular time to a particular people. The challenge then is to read the Bible with an understanding of that time and people, and learn what that means to today and to the people you live among. This is not easy. It is more work than the other ways we can read the Bible. It also means that two people in two different places may draw different interpretations, particularly with respect to a passage's application.

At this point, I'm sure that many of my Christian friends are getting uncomfortable. That is alright. I was too, and I think that it is that discomfort that drove me to read the rest of the Blue Parakeet with an open, but discerning mind. In the end, discernment is the crux of McKnight's book. Everything in the Bible must be discerned with the Holy Spirit and nothing is settled.

This post is already too long, but there is more I would like to say about these matter. I hope to do so in other posts. Let me just conclude by saying that as I read the Blue Parakeet, I felt uncomfortable. I still do not agree with every point he makes, but I can tell you that I also began asking a lot more questions about my God, myself and my understanding of what it means to know God. I was driven deeper into my Bible, and, while I developed more questions, I believe that the depth of my questions is growing. I believe this book has helped me to grow as a believer, too.