Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The problem for celebrity protesters

One of the major reasons celebrities represent any protest poorly is because they live lives far removed from the issues they raise.  It's honestly hard to take their claims seriously, or to believe that they can empathize with the common person's plight.  How much could they care about groups and issues they aren't close to, or the people they rarely, if ever, spend time with?

Also, once a celebrity "takes a stand" the focus ends up more on the celebrity than just about anything else, it rarely stays trained on the issue. People forget about the problem when the spotlight stays focused on the personalty.  It's almost counterproductive for celebrities to protest much, because so much attention is showered on them, all the buzz seemingly revolves around them from that point forward.  

Finally, it's hard to point to any actions which celebrities have taken, to observe their actual front-line involvement, to see where they've gone out and invested time & energy to make a difference.  I'm not suggesting they should tap into their vast resources and use their wealth, or to even just show up on the scene, to influence any situation they say concerns them.  I'm sure when the time comes they'll step up and make a real difference for the things that truly matter to them.    

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What many Christians don't know about church

Do you know what’s one of the hardest concepts for many congregants to grasp? From the leadership to your marginalized, from the new families to those who have been with your congregation from day one -- it’s the fact that “your” church isn’t yours & it’s not about you. This is an incredibly difficult truth for most church folks to internalize.

In fact, for those who tightly control others, it’s downright frightening to think church isn’t about them. If you doubt this, just sit in someone else’s pew. Better yet, voice an unpopular perspective, or encourage people to step out in faith.

We easily get settled into the “way” we do church, we can get too comfortable with “how” we make adjustments, and eventually we forget that church is about submitting to Jesus & reaching those who have yet to meet Him. Church participation is a sacrificial act, meaning, you set aside yourself to pursue serving Jesus and you give up your preferences to better reach others. Simply put, this notion that church isn’t about you is discipleship 101.

As a christian, you don’t ever give up your personality or turn into a cookie-cutter robotic zombie. But, as believers we are called to die to self, to spread the good news, and together we pursue spiritual maturity. Sadly, many people who start out on the road to salvation take a personal detour away from the path of maturity because they are blinded by their concerns.

Maybe this is why churches plateau and decline? It could be that when we become inward focused (concentrating on our agendas and wanting our needs met) that we forget about serving our Lord and Master and we lose sight of our God-given goal of reaching people who are lost without Jesus. Where does this lead us?

When children get nervous they often chew their nails, adolescents get fidgety, and when adults get nervous, they often make bad choices. When we lose sight of the fact that church isn’t about us (sadly to the exclusion of others) we tend to lose our focus in other areas as well. Some of the fallout from this misdirection results in a heightened sense of anxiety within a congregation. At that point, many people no longer let faith guide them.

What happens when churches make choices based on our fears instead of faith? We go from making sacrificial choices (i.e., dying to self & actually reaching others) to hunkering down in survival mode. And what happens when the outlook grows bleaker and bleaker as our anxiety chokes out our ability to be optimistic? People sink deeper into their fears, and at that point stocking church restrooms with single-ply TP becomes the least of your problems.

When churches give into their anxiety, they forfeit the assurance which faith and only faith can deliver. Often times just like chewing your nails is a manifestation of being nervous, this congregational anxiety shows up in cocooning, conflict, and finger pointing. Until...

Until a church dies. Or better yet before that happens, at least one person, or hopefully a few individuals, feel called to take a stand for an authentic expression of faith, for trusting God at His word, to believe that God is in control -- not the obstacles we face.

Is it easy to shine a light on darkness? No. Satan will fight you tooth & nail, along with lazy people, mean-hearted people, and selfish people -- all who will try to stand in your way too.

Following faith as your North star instead of giving into your fears (fears are the biggest roadblock to true progress) is the big difference between people who choose to take God at His word and those who want the “rose garden” version of the “name it & claim it” false gospel of comfort & convenience. You can’t claim to be faithful if you are led by fear. When fear steers your decisions, faith takes a backseat. So, what can be done about this?

Churches need to be revitalized, frequently. But this requires trust. If you cut off the supply of freshwater to a pond, creek, or river, it stagnates it. Just like a gene pool becomes unhealthy from inbreeding, we in our churches need a greater diversity to have a healthier community. We need people to gather in the name of Christ who can disagree on non-essential ideas, but who enjoy unity on the major important Biblical truths. And just like a tree or a rosebush grows better by being pruned, sometimes churches grow better when old ideas/programs/perspectives are shed, stripped away, and removed for new growth.

A healthy congregation only thrives when it serves Jesus, reaches lost people, follows faith while suppressing fears, and encourages an exchange of ideas from a wider spectrum of views. Just like a tumor can metastasize, unchecked anxieties will grow and spread, and fear can stop the beating heart of any congregation.

“[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8 ESV)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Should we forget the phrase "Never Forget"

On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was sitting in Dr. Sennett's 600 level philosophy class.  Dr. Rae interrupted our class, and as he entered the room, he looked as if someone close to us on campus had just died horribly.  He informed us all to go quickly to chapel.  My 70 mile trip home from seminary afterwards was one of the longest rides of my life.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks, I simply can't see the value of perpetuating the phrase "Never Forget."  The phrase doesn't keep us vigilant, it keeps shackled to our past and to an enemy that frankly doesn't exist in the same way it did then.  Instead, we've created a new enemy.

Global terrorism and the death rates associated with terrorism has increased by 4,500 % since our response to the terrorist attacks.  We should remember, ISIS/ISL didn't even exist in 2001.

It's time to realize we are embroiled in a vitriolic battle of ideologies, not of nations.
This battle we face will not be won with military might, that's something to remember.

For a better perspective consider this.  You might be surprised that one of our greatest allies today, Great Britain, once stormed our Capitol during the War of 1812 and torched the White House.  Today, German companies dot the American landscape, and the Japaneses own a lot our debt -- last year they passed up China: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-15/japan-snaps-china-s-six-year-run-as-top-holder-of-treasuries

Am I suggesting we one day will become allies with radical Islamic jihadists?  A better question might be: What's the alternative, an extermination of them or us?  I don't how to move forward and solve this issue, but I know chanting "Never Forget" doesn't honor our fallen.  What best honors the dead is creating new life, making a brighter future, and fixing problems -- not fixating on past wounds.

Have you ever read "Bury my heart at wounded knee," and are you up to speed how we treat tribal nations on our own soil today?  What about the rift we once suffered during our own Civil War?  What about the fact that for too long during an embarrassing period of our nation's history, American women couldn't vote, nor could our minorities....  We should also be thankful the citizens of  Dresden, Berlin, and especially the people of Hiroshima & Nagasaki don't wave banners with slogans like "Never Forget."

It's not unpatriotic to say we need a better slogan, one that brings healing -- letting go of one that ties us to a painful past.  Maybe on disturbing anniversaries like 9/11 we need a new slogan, something like, "We'll always move forward"