Friday, January 27, 2012

Roll reversals AND Worship Wars:

Let me first state clearly and forcefully: Worship preferences should never be a test of fellowship, or of determining "who's in & who's out."  Also, I'm equally in love with people on both sides of this issue of Traditional/Liberal.  I could care less if someone wants to sing "Just as I am" or if they want to sing 10 verses of Hillsong's latest praise & worship song.  Now, if this issue becomes an issue of judging or excluding, then I'm not "okay" with haters on either side.

Having said that, here goes... Most "worship wars" run between the traditional-contemporary divide.   The old hash mixed up into something new-er usually isn't enough to please people either; that would be the "blended" route.  As people contend for the faith or reach out to the unchurched, the label attached to traditional camp is "Conservative" while the contemporary tribe ends up being labeled "Liberal."

I'm about to turn that ideology on its head...

I think that the so-called Liberals are really the Biblical Conservatives, and the so-called Conservatives are really the Biblical Liberals in this discussion! How so?  

If you think about the Pharisaic establishment in the days of Jesus, they had rules surrounding their rules to make sure the didn't break any of God's rules.  So, for example, if you couldn't work on the Sabbath day, then if a woman didn't look in a mirror she wouldn't be tempted to fix her hair... Or, if she didn't carry a needle on her person, then she wouldn't be tempted to fix any lose threads, thus she avoided what might be work so that she didn't violate the actual command of abstaining from labor on the Sabbath.  Whew.

Most people would think, oh my, that's a very conservative stance those Pharisees had. It's kind of like people today who hold-fast to tradition today?  Actually, the Pharisees were liberals.  How so?  They "added" to the Text.  They weren't satisfied with what the Bible actually said, so they added a supplemental clause to the Scripture with a few rules of their own.   They took liberalities with the Bible by increasing the regulations to stay on the safe side.  Where does God say, "Play it safe and go beyond My Word to keep my Word!"????

So, the Conservatives of today, what are they adding?  Packaging the church in a bygone era, sticking to the form over the function, and making sure nothing changes, they've added to the Text a golden-age of the faith and fixed/ridged method of "this is how we do" church, where there is no formula in the Bible for this.

It may sound like I simply have an axe to grind with the conservatives.  Read on...

Liberals (which are really the conservatives) are the contemporary people sometimes acting like the people in traditionalism.  In what way?  Having an aversion to people who don't see things their way, for one.  And, the contemporaries who are really the conservatives, need to be careful they don't end up like the former conservatives (who are the real liberals) and get stuck in a rut themselves.  After all, I love "Shout to the Lord" as a praise song, but if I think that's cutting edge music, I'm stuck in the last decade already...  

If you're still wondering why I think the former Liberals (contemporaries) are the true conservatives, here's why.  What most people think of as a liberal today, these are the people who pretty much take the Bible at it's word.  The so-called liberals, the contemporary people who are labeled "liberals" stick to the Text.  If the Psalms were good enough for the early church, liberals harvest a lot of the material from the Psalms for the verses of their worship songs today.

If God was more worried about the downtrodden and the outcast, then we should be too.  If Jesus was in the streets with the prostitutes and riffraff, then His church should be too.  I see the liberals casting off the "country-club church" and the institutionalism that has shackled the so-called conservatives for too long as a good thing.

If the Bible doesn't give an eternal "How to" on worship, and there's actual freedom in how we participate in our gatherings, the so-called liberals who explore that freedom are simply taking the Bible at its word.  The so-called liberals aren't adding their set of regulations on top of the Bible to be the "true" church.

Now, how do we harness this for God's harvest?  Can we learn from each other?  Can we, on different sides of the great divide gain from rubbing shoulders?  Yes, but it takes respect and tolerance.   The typical Conservative in the traditional camp can have a tendency to be an elitist.  The typical Liberal in the contemporary camp can have a bohemian attitude that segregates too.

If you know me at all, you know I'm open for most anything.  I have no qualms with new innovations in "doing" church.  I love the idea of becoming all things to all people to win them to Christ.  I have radical views on women's rolls, in the eyes of some, and I'm simply too progressive for some others.  I'm comfortable in my own skin, so none of that bothers me.  Actually, not much bothers me.  Having said all of this, take time to rethink the labels people toss around.  Make sure the description you utilize is accurate.  And, next time someone calls you a liberal, may you not take offence at their complement.  Oh, and if someone calls you a conservative, you have reason to smile too.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Celebrating Heroes:

I guess I'm blessed in the fact I have heroes like Rich Mullins.  He exemplifies, for me, radical commitment to Christ.  When I listen to his music (or his lectures that have been preserved) I'm inspired to reach for a deeper, more real faith.  There's an intensity in Rich's eyes, a ring of truth to his speech, and an air of authenticity that catches me by the shoulders and shakes me awake.   It's a shame Rich died so young, like an incomplete tapestry that once hung just leaves people guessing.  He had too much to offer to pass from this life without being missed.

I have other heroes too, guys like Bonhoeffer.  Some former professors.  Some others are in the literary world, guys like C S Lewis and practitioners like Peter Stienke.  I even enjoy and am motivated by the ramblings of Donald Miller.  I don't have any sports heroes but instead I admire historical men like Lewis & Clark who trekked into unknown territories and charted the West for us.  The early leaders in our Restoration Movement who risked everything to spread their wings and explore their faith on their own, too.  As for the realm of politics, there aren't any living political heroes that come to mind.

Heroes aren't the smartest, strongest or richest people we know.  It is the personification of our hero's traits & character we admire most.  Whether it's their courage, integrity, persistence, or integrity we struggle and strain at their example like a castaway swimming towards the shore.

Pause and consider the people you admire, you long to emulate, and who inspire you.  I doubt you'll find people who gave up early.  I don't think you'll list people who settled for the mediocre.  I would say they didn't sell-out either.  They paid their dues, took their lumps, and did amazing things that other people said couldn't be done.  Reflect for a while on your heroes, it will do your soul good to ponder such things.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why churches wither & fade out:

There's an alarming trend of shrinking churches across America, so the data goes.  Young people are leaving their faith in the dust as they enter their 20's.  Churches are closing their doors; last I read it was in the 100's of congregations per week.  And, the recent census data reveals an increasing selection of "none" for religious affiliation.

I'm not totally sure why the North American Church is experiencing this phenomena, but I have a good hunch why the opposite isn't happening here.  Why aren't we growing?  We aren't growing because we... well wait a moment and let me try a metaphor out, tell me what you think:

There's an old phrase that's been around in the business world for years.  It applies when it comes to reaching a target audience, whether it's in advertising, marketing, or even in evangelism: Low Hanging Fruit.  The metaphor is meant to be reminiscent of nomadic peoples roaming through the forests or orchards, picking the fruit that's within easy reach...  thus, if you are broadcasting your organization's message, you hit the target that's easy.  i.e., the people you've already reached, they represent the "low hanging fruit" while the fruit that's been out of reach rots or is eaten by bats, you trek on.

I think the North American church is not growing because we've been accustomed to the low hanging fruit for so long we don't realize there's a tree full of fruit just out of reach.  We want to convert the nearly converted.  We're more comfortable being keepers of the aquarium than we are being fishers of men.  We enjoy when families of like-minded faith move into our town and join us more than we do reaching over the fence.

Do you know how walnuts are harvested?  There's a piece of mobile farming equipment that grips the trunk of the walnut tree like a giant robotic hand, and then the machinery violently shakes the tree...  and wallah, presto, a fuller harvest is gathered.  So, what am I recommending?  Ingenuity, a revitalized & energetic membership, and hard work.

It's all up to the Holy Spirit to work on people, but the Holy Spirit depends on us to spread the message too.  Romans 10:17 says faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ.  And, Jesus says in Luke 10:2 we need to pray for more workers in the field, "And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

We need to shake things up (walnut tree harvest) and reach those who haven't been.  I read somewhere it's a terrible thing be lost and it's even worse when no one is looking for you.  Let's prayerfully turn around the trends we see and make every effort to reach those who aren't interested in church because of church as usual.  We need to become all things to all people and not expect unchurhced people to convert to us, but for us all to be transformed into the image of Jesus.   When we focus more on the needs of the people than our comfort zone and when being like Jesus becomes the goal, then good things will happen.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I give up, I quit... at least I'm trying to.

                      Please watch the above video before reading this post.

Thanks.  Okay, that's my all-time favorite song on surrender.  Tammy & I met The Waiting in Little Rock when we lived in Searcy.  They were a blessing, to say the least.

Here's where I'm going: Submission, while it's essential to being faithful, is arguably the toughest challenge to the Christian life. Free will, choice, determination, call it what you will, allowing someone/Someone else to direct you is an incredibly difficult processes.

Here's a couple of examples of our struggle:

  • In grad school/seminary my advisors had the final "say" over my research projects, and the countless revisions of major papers...  
  • In work we have to report to people above us on the food-chain who seemingly hold our fate in one hand and balance that with our cooperation in their other hand.  
  • Then there's our eternal-internal battle, choosing between good & evil...  I want to do the right thing, but don't, or I want to avoid the wrong but give into it anyway (think Rom 7:14 f.f.).  

I don't have all of the answers (or even most of the answers) on how to submit to others or God, but I'll share the foundational idea that can revolutionize us, it's in how we see ourselves.  If I see myself as the center of the universe, submission is out of the question.  If I see myself as a servant at the bottom of the Totem-pole, then and only then can I begin to see my will is meant to be subservient.  Better yet, if I see myself as dead to myself and the world, I have no-say and then it should be easier to submit.  My favorite verse in the Bible pretty much encapsulates this, Galatians 6:14.

I think this subject is the crux of why we fail in our efforts to be "kosher" Christians, basically, this submission stuff is too hard and no one wants to give in. I've counseled dozens of couples and watched more than one of their marriages collapse because neither one wanted to give in.  I've had the "battle-of-wills" with our teenagers; nobody wins that war.  I've seen people refuse to embrace Christianity in the 1st place because they wanted what they wanted, no brainer there...?  And, I've seen my fair share of people walk away from their personal community of believers -- following the siren-call of "freedom" from responsibility &; accountability.

Until we throw our hands up in surrender, we'll never find peace with others or within.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why people hurt us:

There's saying you may have heard: Hurt people hurt people.
In other words, when people are hurting, they in turn feel the need to hurt those around them.  Power-trips and narcissism are merely cover-ups for the inner conflict our tormentor wrestles with... so the story goes.

If you've ever been bullied, and who hasn't, you know that terrible sensation of helplessness or the shame of feeling vulnerable.  People bully us or try to inflict upon us emotional pain because (supposedly) they are hurting or have low self-esteem, or have an inferiority-complex, or on-and-on.  But these are simply symptoms, these aren't the real causes.   Honestly, I don't know all of the motivators behind why people perform acts of cruelty, and really, their motivation is immaterial to me.

The reason people hurt us is, because we let them.  
"But they are stronger, have power over me, are bigger, hold all the cards, they-they-they-they..."  I'm not making light of the real anxiety you might have.  If you are an abused spouse, an employee who's boss takes advantage of you, a student who gets roughed up daily, or a member who has been abused by your leadership,   I'm simply asking that you turn the focus off of "them" and refocus it on your community.

When I say hurt people hurt us because "we" let them, I mean "we" in the plural.  None of us alone can stand up as well as all of us can.  There's no stronger force on earth than the community.  If we unite together to stand up to those who threaten others, challenge them and then keep an accountability factor well maintained, we can live healthier more loving lives.   As the old saying goes: The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Idea so old it's new to us:

"Creed" from the Latin word "Credo" which means "I believe"  
In our heritage within the American Restoration Movement (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ), "creeds" have been downplayed, discouraged, even forbidden...  This total avoidance of creeds is unhealthy and the results have been detrimental.

  • We lose out on the unity of the larger church universal.
  • We lose out on the mnemonic benefits that creeds best provide.  
  • Our churches are splintered and Biblically illiterate (or so the cry goes out from leadership).  

BTW, While we have dismissed creeds, we have simultaneously allowed several "slogans" to supplement our beliefs:
"We are Christians only, but not the only Christians"
"We speak where the Bible speaks, and we're silent where the Bible is silent"
"Call Bible things by Bible names"
"We have no creed but the Bible" or, "No creed but Christ"
All of these (and there are more) ironically sound a lot like a creedal statements to me...

                                                     So, what am I recommending?
Having had only a couple of classes between my undergrad & graduate work dealing directly creeds, I'm certainly no expert on creeds. But, I had to read all of the historic creeds and read about the situations that provoked their framing.  Even so, I'm comfortable enough saying I would encourage congregations to recite, in unison, the Apostles' Creed at the beginning of their corporate worship services.

I'm also in favor of believers re-reading the ancient creeds, studying them, and using them as ways of helping us understand and articulate our faith.  I'm not saying make it binding that people "have to" recite a creed to be recognized an authentic believer, yet, I wonder why believers are so hostile to these creedal statements?  After all, we have people make "a confession of faith" before we baptize them...

Someone once said, Stand for something or you'll fall for anything.  Creeds were simply written to help Christians understand what we stand for, what we believe, and help us fight heresy.  So my final recommendation is, don't take my word for it, read a few creeds for yourself and see what you think...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My problems don't compare:

It's with tears in my eyes I jot down a few feelings tonight.
Tammy & I were so very blessed to be part of the MSN (Ministers support Network) retreat last April.  Hands down, it is the best hosted and best healing experience any ministry couple can be exposed to.  Charles & Judy Sibert & and a handful of their friends who are seasoned veteran ministry couples, bring in a group of downtrodden, depressed, burnt-out ministerial couples, and over a weekend transform us into something more useful, if not more optimistic.  The fellowship is more than memorable, the bonding is lasting, and the experience is sustaining.

Charles was while at our retreat, and still is, battling cancer.  Our group that met in April has stayed in touch via-email since the retreat, sharing life and various updates.  Charles stays a constant theme; his battle with cancer seems to have more downs than ups, but he and Judy are crazy with their responses that I read.  They are upbeat and optimistic too, and frankly I'm baffled because I'm the one feeling encouraged from their response.

Since our April retreat, one member of our group was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and now tonight I just read an email that another one of our group has been diagnosed with a mass in the center of her brain...

Life for our family hit a few bumps in the road over the last year, but we haven't really suffered.  I really and truly can't complain one bit.  In the big-picture of life, at the worst, I've been inconvenienced from the struggles we've faced.  The love and support we've received from a few close friends has far outweighed the sorrows we shared.

I'm upset at the news I've read of our friend tonight and her new battle with this mass in her brain.  I feel like I've been immature, pouting over my petty problems; my blood sweat & tears pale in comparison to what some are facing tonight.  Please pray for our friends who are fighting real battles, God knows who they are, please just lift up the MSN group from April tonight before you go to sleep.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Quick prayer to read by:

I want to quickly share a prayer with you I like voice to God as I open my Bible before my daily Bible reading. It goes something like this: Lord please help me to understand what I'm reading, please help me to remember what I read, please transform me by what I read, please bless me so I can share Your Word with others, and please bless me so that I love You with all of my heart, soul, strength, mind and understanding.

For me, praying about my Scripture reading has given me a deeper connection with the Bible, and I hope has developed some spiritual maturity in me.  I hope you'll prayerfully read through your Bible in 2012, or at least read more than you read in 2011.