Archive for the 'Church and Society' Category

This post is offered to raise some questions on the subject of evangelism in general and open-air preaching in specific.  Questions that I have been pondering – off and on – for some time.

As a student of church history and the communication of the Gospel, it is apparent to me that many of the scenarios taking place in today’s public arena are new.  This does not make them wrong, it just makes them new.  Whether it is an itinerant preacher on a public campus or believers preaching to the crowds who file into a sporting event – this scenario of evangelism/preaching is unprecedented in both general church and biblical history.

I say it is unprecedented, not because men and women have never publicly proclaimed the Gospel – they have, so this is not new.   What is new, what makes it unprecedented is the relationship between preacher/evangelist and his audience. What is new is the starting position of the audience, the presuppositions they bring to their hearing of the Gospel… in this sense the contemporary scenario is unprecedented.  A least in the history of the western church.

From a pragmatic perspective It makes me wonder what is the intended outcome of open-air preaching to the masses?  If the masses do not share a biblical worldview, if they do not share a foundational morality, what is the expected outcome of preaching biblical prohibitions?  If they have “been-there, done-that” as far as the concept of judgment or  Hell is concerned, is that threat going to have any effect?

This leads me to a theological perspective; why preach law and condemnation to people who are incapable of responding anyway?  If we were commanded to do this, doing so would make more sense to me even if it were not pragmatic and appeared theologically nonsensical.  Those issues would not matter if there were command or precedent in the Scripture.

Yet, from a biblical perspective I cannot find any parallel example or command.  There are examples of public preaching in the Scriptures to be sure, but all the examples I can think of either involve preaching to a people who have a common worldview (e.g.,  prophets preaching to Israel, Jesus preaching to the crowds, Paul in the synagogues) or preaching in a context where the audience expects such a thing and is predisposed to consider them (e.g.,  Paul on Mars Hill).

Even more problematic is the fact that such preaching, as it is often carried out, seems to be inconsistent with the command to be salt and light, to be an aroma of life, to be ambassadors for Christ, to live in such a way that even unbelievers glorify God because of our contribution to society.  Scripture is full of metaphors like these that illustrate how the church is to strive to be viewed by outsiders.  And setting out to preach to complete strangers in such a way that is guaranteed to just make them mad, or in such a way as to just be easily ignore, does not fulfill any of these metaphors.

I do not want to assign or discuss motives, I exhort you to refrain as well.  I have no doubt that those who preach at me as I head into a game are very sincere.  I have no doubt the banners they wave about Hell and sin and Jesus and death are designed to show the love of Christ.  I understand that they see themselves as agents of God proclaiming the truths of Scripture.  Maybe they are – hence raising the question.  Yet, is that really the kind of glory and attention God is seeking?  Is this really the aroma he wants his church to emit?

As far as I am concerned the jury is still out.  But as I ponder these questions I am being influenced by these facts: 1) open-air preaching to stranger-pagans who are not interested in the message has no biblical example or command and 2) we are to behave in a manner that, in as much as possible, causes the world to thank God we are here.   And I just do not see how open-air preaching is consistent with either of these.

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. – Jesus (according to Matthew 7).

Recently a group I am part of studied these verses and the surrounding context.  It is quite possible that this excerpt from Jesus’ sermon is one of the most oft quoted and oft misquoted of his proverbial sayings.  Contrary to our cultural pressure; it is obvious from the context that Jesus is not making an absolute prohibition against judging others.  It is equally clear that Jesus is calling for judgments that are fair, informed, and free of hypocrisy.

Shortly after this study I came across a new entry into the Museum of Idolatry.  It is a posting of a video… offered without comment, explanation, nor objection.  It carries the simple title: Marriage Dance?. The comments in response to the posting are but three, yet they acutely illustrate Jesus’ concerns about judging.

The posting and comments exemplify the insatiable need felt by many within the Body of Christ to judge others without restraint, without context, without relationship, and without a proper understanding of culture, and from a decided ethnocentric point of view.  In short – they judge by a standard they would never want applied to them.  They judge by a selfish standard of their own creation.

The dance is offered as an “artifact of apostasy”  - an example of “the Great Apostasy that is sweeping through the “Christian” Church.”  The misuse of 2 Thessalonians in this context will not be pursued, what will be asked is why the posting is entitled “Marriage Dance?”  What purpose does the question mark play? What is being questioned; there marriage status, their ability to dance?

The real travesty plays out in the three short comments.  The comments display and incredible lack of cultural insight and abundance of ethnocentrism – of improper judging.

Comment:

I couldn’t watch the whole thing, I turned it off before 2 mins were up. What is this doing in a church service? How is it edifying our Savior? I’m sorry but I would have walked out if I was there in person. The only good thing I have to say, it that at least they were married to each other (I hope). Still, not the thing to be showing in church!

It’s unfortunate this person cannot appreciate the manner in which people who are different from him/her express themselves to God.  Marriage was created by God.  The marriage covenant is one of the grander illustrations of the Trinitarian nature of our God… it also serve as an illustration for the relationship between our Savior and his Church.  Therefore, this dance could edify our Savior because it celebrates marriage.  And just why is this not appropriate for church?  How do you know it was a worship service?  Or is dance always inappropriate within a space used for worship?

Dance has a rich heritage in the African culture and nothing in Scripture prohibits it as an expression of God’s greatness.  The description of the video itself (which I suspect the commenter did not bother to research) gave the reason for the dance – “Married couples minister in dance: Giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage.”  Apparently thanks can only be given to God in a way that is culturally acceptable to Shar.

In response to this comment came:

You are so right, this is what is wrong with the churches today. It is suppose to be worship of the Most high God, not lifting up of the flesh.

Married couples giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage through dance is what is wrong with the churches today?  Seriously?  Again, no rationale is given as to why this is wrong, just the declaration that it is.  Though Floyd does add one clear objection – it lifted up the flesh.  This is an interesting (and rather cliché) objection. Since the Most High God created the flesh, created marriage, created the physical and spiritual bond… how is celebrating that “fleshly”  - in the improper sense.  Particularly when done in a tasteful manner.  Nothing in this video was inappropriately suggestive, or erotic.  Makes me wonder how Floyd would respond to… oh… say the Song of Solomon.  Talk about lifting up the flesh!

The final comment agreed:

Even worse than the obviously inappropriate, human-centered dance, is all the womens’ voices I hear cat calling in the background; makes me understand why Paul said women should be silent in the assembly. Boy, was he right.

This one made me laugh.  “Human (or man) – centered” is another cliché that is so over used it has become meaningless.  It’s basically code for “Anything I dislike.”  But Melba also shows a lack of understanding of the audience’s response.  No one was making cat calls.  They simply responded audibly to what they were seeing.

The bottom line is these comments show how easy it is to take our own cultural standards and assume them to be biblical… to impose on others the same cultural (as opposed to biblical) standards we hold… to assume the way we do things is the only biblical was to do things… to judge others who are different as inappropriate, as an examples of apostasy, as sinful – not on biblical standards, but upon personal preferences.

Appendices to address expected objections:

A – I am not accusing anyone of hypocrisy.  I do not know the poster or those who commented.  Nor do I intend to fully defend the Marriage Dance.  In fact, one could have come up with all sorts of biblical/legitimate objections to the theology and practice of a UCC church.

B – I found the dance posted twice on YouTube (here and here).  Each posting gives one line to describe the video.  They are “The Married Couples Dance Ministry of trinity united church of christ in chicago dance to BabyFace” and “Married couples minister in dance: Giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage.”  Neither video gave the context of the dance.

C – The issue here is not one of race, and certainly not racism.  The issue is judging others without the facts and from a false premise.

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Daily Office

After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

My journey with Jesus began when I was very young. It was in a small whitewashed Methodist church where I wore a white cape and lit the candles on the altar. I still remember the Pastor’s name, Chester Harrison, and I could even tell you about singing songs like ‘Fisher’s of Men,’ and also about putting coins in the plastic birthday cake on birthdays and junior worship. I remember my bible school class met in a small kitchen.

I can tell you about going to Vacation Bible School at the Lakemount Church of Christ where a young Chuck Doughty was the preacher. (Those in the COC tradition probably recognize the name.) I went during the week of my birthday and remember the cake I shared with another boy who shared my birthday. It was a great week.

I can tell you about different deans and teachers I met at the Elkhorn Valley Christian Service Camp. Garth wasn’t so nice because I wasn’t so quiet. Allan was OK but I remember distinctly the time he embarrassed another boy who was sitting cross-legged (as women normally sit) by saying, “Don’t sit with your legs crossed, it makes you look like a fag.” Bob Mack was camp manager at the time, he was a bit intimidating. Later he forgave me for committing a terrible sin at camp. There were others, but those days at camp were special. I first met Jack Cottrell at EVCSC at a mens retreat.

I also met Christian people at the Ohio Teens for Christ. I’ll never forget hearing Mylon Lefevre sing Crank it Up and Whiteheart tell us to Read the Book, Don’t Wait for the Movie, and David Meece sing about Grandma and Beethoven and Piano Lessons or something silly like that. I remember my friend Glenn, a really cool adult with a killer sound system in his truck, who took me to my first concert, Petra, and then later to Stryper at the Syria Mosque ballroom in Pittsburgh. We also water skied at his house. I never did actually stand up on the skis. He had a hot motor boat.

Then there was my home church and the elders there, the men who signed my ordination certificate, three of whom are now with the Lord, who are on my short list of heroes. The preacher at my home church who has managed to last a lot longer at the same church than I lasted in my entire ministerial career. Bible school teachers and youth group leaders are also fond memories for me.

What can I say about those people, those Christians, I met while at Bible College? Paul Kissling, who taught me to value others’ opinions, makes my short list of heroes as does Ron Fisher who loves God’s Word and Terry Ferguson (RIP) whose preaching style greatly influenced my own style and George Brown who taught me that I can still love books that are not ‘christian’. Then at Cincinnati Christian Seminary I met up close and personally Jack Cottrell whose Doctrine of Grace class totally undid me—the effects of that class still resound within me five years later. I met Fred Thompson in a theology class at Emmanuel School of Religion. To this day I have no idea what we talked about in that class.

And elders, deacons, preachers, and everyday joes at churches in Traverse City, St Louis, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Alma and half a dozen other communities in Michigan. Churches in North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania where I have preached. People like Chris Lyons and Joe Martino and Brendt Waters and the rest of the gang here who have been so patient and loving with me—allowing me writing privileges when it was clear that I had no business talking about Jesus or his Gospel, let alone writing about it in public. I wish I had time to tell you about my love for Reed Duncan an elder at my home church whose kindness to my family extends more than I could ever fathom. I only briefly met Larry and Carol Necessary at a Church in Indiana, but they are two very special people. There was also the Catholic priest who conducted the wedding of my sister in law who was about as kind as could be when he allowed me to share his pulpit during the wedding and deliver a homily for my in laws. And another Catholic priest who shared his pulpit so I could preach the sermon at the funeral of one my young Cub Scouts who was tragically killed in a car accident.

There was this fella, at the church in Chester, West Virginia, where I served as preacher for a couple of years or so. His name was Earl and his wife’s name was Birdie. They died while I was in Chester. I preached both funerals. I love them and miss them—but not for what you might think. I remember when my Jacob was born, we had no insurance. The day of Jacob’s birth Earl came walking up the sidewalk as I was running out the door to go to the hospital. Earl said he had been walking around the property and had found an envelope. He also said that there was a rule that anything found on the church property automatically belonged to the preacher. I was all of 28 or so and thought he was serious. I didn’t realize how serious until later when I opened the envelope and found $2500 inside. But I miss them not because of that, but because of the way they died. I have never seen a couple, a husband and wife, love each other so much, and die so beautifully. They fought not, but gently went with Jesus.

There was Joe for whom I drove cab for a while and his wife Carolyn whom I loved dearly. I buried them both. Joe was a business man who was always trying something new. I think the church I served while driving cab for Joe drew the line when Joe had me delivering beer to people’s houses and picking up dancers at the local strip club and picking people up at bars or dropping them off at the local race track. Man do I miss Joe! There was Audrey Kilian and her son Scott, both of whom are now with the Lord. God how I miss Audrey and Scott. And there’s my friend David Rawls who has been my constant friend since we first met in 1991 at Great Lakes Christian College. Dave and his wife Gina taught us how to play cards and Dave has taught me how to love. And Kelly Irish, my best Anglican friend in the world who has taught me not to be afraid of the Holy Spirit of God.

There was a couple whose name escapes me that we met in North Carolina in 1994. We were on the highway at high noon when the timing gear on the car, well, broke. The car stopped. We were stuck. I remember an unnamed African-American girl who saw us stranded at a phone booth and took us in her car, three out of place white folks, to a hotel. I have no doubt she was an angel of God. No doubts at all. The next day some folks from a church there in Winston-Salem, he was an airline pilot, took us in for several hours while our car was being repaired. They fed us and gave us some space to rest with our one year old son who had spent the previous 5 days learning to walk at my brother’s house. We were to start an internship later that week so I cannot even describe for you how blessed we were.

I think about all the disciples I have known in the last 30 some years and I am overwhelmed. Everywhere Paul and his friends went they marked the place by the people, the disciples, they knew there. Mnason. Philip. Agabus. Disciples. Some named, some unnamed. I recall how each step of their journey was marked by some relationship or other. Maybe it was weeping. Maybe it was prophecy. Maybe it was prayer. Maybe it was hospitality. Maybe it was a dry bed. Maybe it was just a simple greeting of love and affection. I know why Luke thought it necessary to tell us Paul went to Kos and Patara and Ptolemais and Rhodes and Tyre—places no one in today’s world really cares about—it was because in these places there were disciples who loved and were loved. There were disciples there who remembered Paul and his companions. It was in those places that Paul his friends had people with whom they shared something in common: Jesus.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I could tell you about the people I have ‘met’ through their books—Christians along for the journey. I think about all the Christians I have met, in all the places I have met them, and how in one way or another they ministered to me or my family and I think to myself: My God I am surrounded on all sides by the people of God. How many people I have met throughout my journey who belonged to Christ and have loved us and cared for us I cannot truly count. This is why, I believe, chapter 21 exists, and why Romans 16 exists, and Matthew 1: look at all the people who have this Jesus in common and who minister to strangers and friends alike. Look how big is the body of Christ! Look how grand is this thing that God has made that I can travel from the UP in Michigan to Galveston Bay in Texas to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and find the people of God. For that, I give thanks to God.

I grew up impressed by the people I knew
in the buckle of the bible belt
hopped in the van with the band
now I’ve been just about everywhere else
Met a soldier from Seattle and a lawyer from the East
a Texas oil baron and a Roman Catholic priest
Every day I choose
to walk in their shoes
’cause pretty are the feet of those
who bring the good news
Good people
good, good people
everywhere, everywhere it’s God’s people
Been on the road been far from home
but I found me a friend or two
time has taught me well and I can tell you
the good things people do
they really care and I’ve been there
seen it with my eyes
you can tell that they’re God’s people
by the goodness in their lives. (Good People, Audio Adrenaline)

Yeah, that’s how I feel. It is easy to get frustrated with God’s people and to imagine they are the worst folks on earth. Lord knows I have shared my share of anger and vented my share of bile at the way some church folks behave. I haven’t even scratched the surface of how good God’s people are, and this is only how they have blessed me. I do think it is important to remember those who have blessed us. I think that’s what Luke was doing: remembering the good people who, because of God’s grace, shared a day or two or three with others who were taking a journey. I don’t think it matters if we are on our way to Jerusalem or Borneo or Grand Rapids or Houston. What is important is to remember the people who have blessed you along your way.

I believe Luke’s point was this: these were disciples of Jesus, see how they blessed other disciples of Jesus. I wonder who might journey through my neighborhood tomorrow? I wonder how the Lord will ask me to bless them and help them on their journey—wherever that journey may be taking them? I wonder if I’ll spend a day or two or three with them? I only pray that when the Lord does, I am ready. There are good people in the church.

I want to be like them.

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I’ve been accused of living in a bubble before.  Numerous times, actually.  This accusation has come from others inside the same bubble, looking out, wanting to connect with those outside of the bubble.  It has also come from those outside the bubble, some wishing they could of had my bubble experience.  ”Bubble” conversations usually include the phrase “the real world.”  Of course, what people usually mean by that phrase is harsh life experiences.  Somehow we have this idea that if you haven’t been through some kind of hardship, then you haven’t really lived, or that you are living in some kind of manufactured, protected fantasy.  The problem with this is that it tries to define others by the life situation into which they were born.   Or by their life experience.  It’s a caste system of a different kind.

The bad news is that there is a bubble.  But everybody is in a bubble.  It is the sphere in which we live.  Where we work, eat, sleep; who our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are; what we know and have experienced, etc.  Everybody lives in a bubble.  A bubble that may never be pierced by certain experiences, knowledge, choices, or people.  A bubble that my never brush up against the bubbles of others, making them aware of their existence.  Bubbles that might collide and bounce away from each other.  The small farmer struggling to keep his farm going may never come into contact with the war torn existence of an Ethiopian orphan.  His only interaction with latino migrant workers may be a fearful cry to deport illegal immigrants regardless of the legal status of that migrant worker and in contrast to the rather large shared experience of struggling through farming to provide.

The good news is that the bubble is clear, movable, and expandable… if we want it to be.  We are not bound by the bubble, just by our choices.  Despite finding ourselves in a bubble, we can help shape the character of the bubble by our choices.  My bubble has been changing.  I recently came across the Not For Sale Campaign and the Global Forum on Human Trafficking.  James 1:27 has taken on new meaning to me, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” If we turn away from the suffering and hardship others, our bubble can become opaque and hard.  If we are persistent in doing good instead of self-seeking (Romans 2:7), our bubbles will no longer be the limits of what affects us, but they will become the areas in which we are effective.

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For some reason or other I am on this Stanley Hauerwas kick. I’m not exactly certain why I am on this kick–he and I are not even in the same arena theologically and I have no political affinity for him whatsoever–or why I have been gulping down his books and whatever I can get my hands on at the time, but I am. Just now I am reading an older book he wrote called Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America.

He freely admits early in the book that he does not ‘know the ‘text’ of the Bible well–all my theological formation took place in curricula shaped by Protestant liberalism. Yet such formation was more ‘biblical’ than I suspected because I know think it an advantage to learn Scripture through the work of Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and Yoder’ (9). And I think this is probably where Hauerwas misses the mark most assuredly–he’d do better to spend more time with Scripture than not. But what do I know?

Every now and again, however, he does say something that doesn’t cause my blood pressure to rise and instead causes my eyes to light up and my mind to start churning. One of those things I’d like to share with you and invite you to respond to. Someone asked a similar question in a Facebook thread the other day and I confess that I wish there was an answer. I don’t think there is, but here goes:

If the Bible is at once so clear and full as a source of Christian doctrine, how does it come to pass that people are divided from one another over how to interpret it? (29) [And consequently, why are there so many 'sects', i.e. denominations, each with their own version?]

I confess agreement with his assessment. How indeed? Why is there so much division in the church strictly do to the Bible and how to interpret it? Why is the Bible such a source of divisiveness when it is meant to be an instrument that binds us together? Hauerwas’ plan, in the book I’m quoting, is to simply remove the Bible from the hands of the laity and return it solely to the hands of ‘the church.’ I do not know if I am willing to go that far just yet (that’s too Catholic for my taste), but his proposition is intriguing.

So what do you think? This is a ‘nature of the bible’ sort of question. What is this book meant to be and why have we fallen so short when it comes to the essential unity, the oneness of the church?

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Daily Office

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.”—Matthew 8:28-24

Isn’t it amazing that all Jesus says in these verses is ‘Go!’?

Demons talk.

The whole town talked.

Those tending the pigs talked.

But Jesus was quiet, except for the, ‘Go!’

Then the town folk told Jesus the same.

Strange, isn’t it?

But that’s not the only thing that stands out in this story. I noticed that these two demon-possessed men were on ‘the other side’ (of the lake), in the ‘region’ of the Gadarenes, and they were among the ‘tombs.’ I get the impression that these people were tucked away as far as possible from humanity. There were some pigs nearby, and maybe a few folks, but there wasn’t much. These men, living among the tombs, were as good as dead. That’s why they were living in the tombs—among the dead. No one considered these two living men alive.

No one could see these men as men any longer. They were dead, some sort of zombies right out of Resident Evil. And that is what we do with dead people: we banish them to the place of the dead. A place suitable only for the dead and pigs.

I suspect we do so because we do not want to look at them, or have to deal with them, or participate in their lives. They are dead and Lord knows that we mere humans, mere Christians, have no power to raise the dead. At least that’s what proper theology teaches us, right? That’s why when people die, we quit praying: there’s nothing else we can do.

Jesus was desperate to get to these men and the devil was desperate to prevent him doing so. The storm on the sea was a measure of prevention by the enemy: Jesus must not get to those men, he must not because he will see them as they are, as men. He will see them as men who have a spark of humanity in them still, men who can be saved, men who can be resurrected and brought back to life. “No one could pass that way.” But no one was trying to either.

Stanley Hauerwas’ latest book is called Hannah’s Child. It is a compelling read even if some of the stories he tells make the reader a bit uneasy. I was surprised to learn that Prof. Hauerwas spent twenty years of his life married to and living with a woman who had a mental illness. It is a remarkable story for this simple reason: Hauerwas never put his wife away. He stayed with her until she left him. He did not banish her to the tombs even though it was quite clear that Anne had serious issues that could have caused harm to Hauerwas or their son. This story, told in Hauerwas’ pitch perfect tone, makes this statement he utters near the end all the more remarkable: “In other words, to privilege Jesus’ cross and resurrection is to make a claim about reality that invites and requires Christians to see the world differently than others” (263).

A lot of Hauerwas’ theological conclusions frighten me and in no way persuade me, but I’ll say this for him: the cross and resurrection did cause him to see things differently. He saw his wife as one he loved because of Jesus. He saw his Anne as one whom he could in no way abandon or banish to the tombs. That aspect of his story alone is reason enough for me to spend time with his books.

I wonder if the two men in the ‘region’ of the Gadarenes ever got lonely? I wonder if their own company ever bored them and caused them anxiety? What does it mean to be ‘possessed by a devil’ anyhow to such an extent that people fear you and banish you to the place of the dead? I wonder why people were so afraid? Do you think it is easier to put away such people and pretend the world is not inhabited by such people? Do you think we are safer when they are put away?

The world sickens me most of the time. I was at the Emergency Room tonight with my son and wife. We were waiting on the Dr’s to set Samuel’s broken arm when I noticed an old lady laying on a bed in a different room. She was all alone. No family. No brother. No mother. No husband. No children. No pastor. No preacher. No friends. No sisters. No nothing. I forgot myself for a moment, old pastor habits are hard to break, and went into her room and spoke with her for a couple of minutes. She had a speech impediment, was very old, and I suspect she had some, at least, mild mental retardation. I left her room when I heard my son’s agony as they set the bones.

A little later, I peeked out of my son’s room to see if she was still there. I was on my way towards her when a nurse headed me off and gently told me that the law prohibited me from going into her room and speaking with her if I was not family. Seriously. The law prohibited me from speaking to a 90 year old woman who had no one else to speak with, no one else to comfort her. The law finds it better for her to be utterly alone than it does for someone to love her.

I sort of felt like Jesus for a moment when the people pleaded with him to leave, and if that is too self-serving, then let’s just say I understood in a very limited way how the two demon-possessed men must have felt when the town folk pleaded with Jesus to leave—Jesus, the only one who had looked at these two men and saw men, the only one who had dared to go where no one else would go. This Jesus was pleaded with: “Go!” “Leave!”

As disciples of Jesus we see the world differently than others. Maybe not better, maybe not perfectly, but differently. We see people differently. We are not ones who banish the living to tombs and regions. Instead, we are the ones who go to the tombs, or hospital emergency room rooms, or home, and we love the ones that the rest of the world has banished. We refuse to put these people away because they, too, are sons and daughters of the Father. We go to the places Jesus went. We love the people Jesus loved. We take the power of life with us into the tombs and invade the territory of the enemy. We bring light to dark places.

And so, I suppose if we are followers of Jesus, we will make the trip across demon enraged seas, we will pass the place no one can pass, we will find a way to get to the people who are held in bondage by the power of the enemy, and we will resurrect them and bring them back to life. Why? Because I suspect that the thing dead people want the most is life, a human touch, a spark of their humanity. I believe that Jesus holds this power and is waiting to unleash it through his disciples. He is already going into those places, blazing a trail ahead of us. All that remains is whether or not we will go with him.

He challenges us to see the world differently.

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I recently took my family to the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky (children under 5 are free and we had two free adult tickets, so it seemed like an ideal time to go).  The Creation Museum is the vision of Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis and it reflects his (and those who have partnered with him) particular views and opinions about the science of creation.  This view is described as Young Earth Creationism but Ken’s particular subset of beliefs is even more narrow than that of many Young Earthers.

I’ve been involved in a variety of discussions on the museum that, like divisive political issues, quickly turn into “us vs. them” rhetoric.  Like all issues that are not essential to the Christian faith, the writers here fall among the variety of viewpoints within creationism and we have had discussions on the matter in the past.  I personally believe that God created the earth a few thousand years ago.  I’m not particular on the date, or the exact number of years.  In fact, if it were important, then I would think that information would have been included in the holy Scriptures somewhere.

My summarization of what I have seen from negative reviews of the museum over the past few years is that it is antagonistic to non-believers and divisive for believers.  This seems to be reflective of Ken Ham in general and having now been through the museum, I am inclined to agree.  The only view presented as “biblical” is that of Ham’s specific young earth creationism.  But I don’t really care if you disagree with his view, or mine, about Creationism if you believe that God created all things and that scripture is the divinely inspired, authoritative word of God.  For that matter, I don’t care if I disagree with Ham.  I come across so much stuff in ministry that is either stupid or wrong or that I just disagree with, that if I spent too much time thinking about it, I wouldn’t get anything else done.  I also don’t think that any divisiveness perpetuated is the big problem.*

My major problem with the Creation Museum (besides the stupidly high cost for the smallness of it and other minor complaints, which really belong to the category of product review, so I will not include them here) is that it is trying to bring people to faith in Christ by correcting their world view.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing.  People come to faith in different ways.  Some because they want the hurt to go away.  Some because they have seen the very real impact of the Kingdom of God in their lives.  Some because they have been exposed to the knowledge that this world is not as God intended it and that sin is the cause of their current condition and the only cure is redemption through Jesus the Christ.  Even in the midst of a postmodern culture, the last example (which is the most basic expression of a biblical world view) still occurs.  But the creation museum attempts to do this in a void of relationship, community, and commitment.

Even the account of Genesis itself was given to the people of Israel, living in community with each other and with God.  The history and teachings found there were given through Moses to the Israelites coming out of Egypt, where they had spent hundreds of years learning and adopting the Egyptian world view and the worship of the gods that was a part of that world view.  It was a teaching given to the people of God to reorient their lives.  This occurred after God acted on their behalf to save them from the hands of the Egyptians, after they had chosen to walk through the water and committed as a community to be His people and that He would be their God.

We use most of Scripture in the same way.  The church gathers weekly in small groups and corporately in order to reorient our lives to be like Christ.  This is discipleship.  We do not expect an unbeliever to live like Jesus so that they can be saved by Jesus, and rightly so.  We are able to live like Jesus because we are saved by Jesus.  We have chosen to follow him through the water in a lifetime commitment that we would be His people and that He would be our God.  And we spend that life learning what it looks like for us to live as God intended, that His creation would be redeemed.

That all being said, I liked this museum as much as I like most museums.

*Don’t get me wrong, divisiveness in the church is and can be of major concern.  I just think that if somebody is going to be divisive about this particular issue, that you end up seeing it in any issue of biblical interpretation.  It’s the classic problem of, “You disagree with me about what this passage means, therefore you don’t believe in the Bible.”  This, of course is a logical fallacy, one to which we are all prone to commit as we all think that we are right about whatever it is we have an opinion about; otherwise, we wouldn’t have an opinion about it.

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I imagine this could be a fun topic to run with for a long time and that I could write a nice piece on it that would justify a certain church’s actions in regard to the Qu’ran. I’m not going to mention the church nor link to their website or their blog. Instead, here’s a link to the story at foxnews.com where we learn that even General Patraeus is warning of the potential danger of burning the Qu’ran.

“Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence ,” Gen. David Petraeus said. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.”

In the interest of developing a good practical interpretation of Acts 19:17-20, one that all of us can benefit from, I ask you the following questions: Is this particular church right on or suicidal? Is this what God demands of us as citizens in this world? Is this at all helpful in the cause of evangelism?

The foxnews.com story also quoted from the church’s blog:

“We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world and we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Is this how we help ‘the Word of the Lord’ increase and prevail? Is this how we demonstrate our love for ‘all people’?  What are your thoughts on this very sensitive, hot issue?

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This morning, I read an interesting article posted by Andrew Peterson on his personal blog, “Money, Part 1: Not the Root of All Evil“.  It was something that really hit home, and kept coming back to mind as I was at an all-day conference at my work:

Years ago I played several shows with a few members of the Kid Brothers of St. Frank. Remember them? It was the unofficial pseudo-Catholic order started by Rich Mullins in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, and included a few younger musicians like Eric Hauck, Michael Aukofer, Mitch McVicker, and Keith Bordeaux (who wasn’t a musician, but who was on the verge of moving to Arizona to serve however he could before Rich died). I was as big a Rich Mullins fan as you could imagine, so in the years after his death I was honored and a little frightened to find myself occasionally doing shows with those guys.

The day I got the advance for my first record deal we threw a party at our little house in Watertown, Tennessee (a 1000 square foot farmhouse we rented for $500 per month), and I splurged on the following: one cheap propane grill, some ground beef, and one Nintendo 64 game system. We used the grill to make burgers for our friends (several of whom were Kid Brothers) and the Nintendo to play the James Bond shooter Goldeneye until sunrise. All told, I spent $200. I remember one of the guys pulling me aside and gently questioning my materialism. I was flummoxed and a little defensive. Was I being materialistic by purchasing a $100 video game? Was I being materialistic to have bought a cheap grill to cook the food? (Food they were happily eating, I thought to myself.) These guys, back when they were official members of the unofficial order, had taken vows of poverty and chastity. I hadn’t. And besides, for the first several years we lived in Nashville (even after the record deal) we were living well below the poverty line. I stood there by the new grill thinking, “I haven’t taken a vow, but I’m living it, by golly.” It wasn’t a big deal, though. I shrugged it off and partied on. It was a good day, and the fun we got out of that James Bond video game was worth every penny. I love those guys and the mighty honor they paid me by letting me do shows with them. [emphasis mine]

This stung a little bit, with my own feelings, for a few reasons.  At the end of my freshman year in college, Rich Mullins was on campus and I had dinner with him and a couple of other guys, during which he mentioned that he was always looking for guys with desire and/or talent to travel with him on the road (this was during the pre-Kid Brothers, amorphous thought stages of his, I recollect).   That night, I almost decided to leave school and travel with Rich, but in the end I was too scared to leave, and thought that my talents in math and chemistry were probably greater than those in music.  Had things gone differently, I might have been a Kid Brother, and y’all wouldn’t know me and/or Zan.

Later, after Rich’s death, I became involved in the ministry he most loved and cared for during his life, teaching art and music to kids on the Rez.  Whenever I returned from a week of camp, every $7 lunch seemed like guilt-inducing extravagance.  At the same time, I was blessed with a job that allowed me to care for my family and support several missions, including The Legacy.

Peterson writes:

Around this time I read an excellent book by Richard Foster called The Freedom of Simplicity, and I had my answer. What I envied about the Bolivians wasn’t poverty. It was simplicity. They didn’t choose it. It’s a necessary result of living in poverty, the silver lining on a dark cloud. That’s why people come back from Africa with that infectious gladness–not, of course, because of the terrible smell or the sickness or the injustice–it’s the simplicity. It’s a life uncluttered by television and power bills and traffic jams–a life enriched by the intense joy of interacting with other souls at a profoundly deep level, which is what we were meant for. What we miss when we come back from mission trips and church camps and spiritual retreats is life at its simplest.

American culture is one extreme (a land of plenty at the cost of simplicity) and the Third World is the other (poverty with the gift of simplicity). Each has its blessings and its curses. This point of this isn’t to get to the bottom of which of these extremes is better, but to propose a better way. A Christ-centered life of intimate fellowship unharried by either sickness and starvation or the chaos of a capitalistic rat race might be a good picture of the order of the day in the New Jerusalem. We don’t want to thrust electronics and trinkets and McDonald’s fries on Elba’s family any more than they’d want to thrust their dirt floors and malnutrition on us. What I wish for Elba is clean streets and sturdy houses, good food and warm clothes: hope. What I wish for us is walks in the woods, good friends, a tight community with a loving church at its heart: peace.

The only way to usher in that Kingdom is to walk in the way of Jesus. To love well, to push back the fall, to let the Spirit lead. Now, the beauty of it is that each of us carries a peculiar gift to light the darkness. Rich Mullins, God bless him, was single. That meant he could give most of his money away and hitchhike barefoot. It meant he could up and move to Arizona to live with Native Americans and he didn’t have to ask a soul. The Wind blew, and he floated on it. He wrote about his long, lonely, love-struck journey with Christ, and we, the Saints, were edified.

But what about the rest of us? As much as I’d like to be as cool as Rich, I can’t. I got married at nineteen, so as long as I’ve been writing songs I’ve had a family to care for. That means I want a roof over their heads, and shoes on their feet (sorry, Rich and Eric), and beauty and safety and health. In my walk with Christ I have found that at times my footprints align with my heroes’ and other times they don’t, no matter how hard I try. Most of the time, their shoes are just too big for me to fill.

This I understand, and I feel the twinges of guilt/longing/discomfort when I make comparisons of my life with those of others – when, in reality, I need to have peace and seek simplicity and provide for my family in a land of plenty, while still seeking to improve the basic conditions of those in less fortunate circumstances, without taking from them the benefits of their own culture – which are different than mine.

He concludes:

The point: being poor is not the only way to radically follow Christ. Some people are called to it. I have long felt a tension between all that I learned from the Kid Brothers and Rich Mullins about identifying with the poor and the weak, versus my holy responsibility to tend to my family’s spiritual and physical needs. Had Rich ever married, I’m certain his wife would have appreciated a nice dress every now and then, or a bouquet of flowers, or a decent kitchen, and she probably would have lovingly insisted that he not give all his money away, especially after she bore his children and needed to buy diapers, and school supplies, and shoes for goodness sake. And the other thing is, Rich Mullins had hit songs that are still making money. He gave a lot of his money away, but he also had a constant stream of it flowing in. Lots of it. And I’m sure the ministries he supported with the surplus were grateful that he channeled it to them for Kingdom work.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. The Bible doesn’t say that. Here’s the verse: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10) We’re called to keep watch so that we don’t fall in love with money. To be sure, wealth is a heavy burden and isn’t for everyone, just as poverty is a burden and isn’t for everyone. The people of the church are varied in strengths and weaknesses. Money itself isn’t evil. In fact, money can be a great tool for Kingdom work. It’s easy to tout ideals about how wrong it is to be wealthy until you’re on the receiving end of someone’s generosity.

Thanks, Andrew! (Now – get back to writing the sequel to North! Or Be Eaten, my daughters and I are eagerly awaiting…)

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Brotherly loveA study was recently published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which concluded that individuals who display consistently unselfish behavior are often rejected by peer groups for exhibiting this behavior.  The basic conclusion was that the individual was seen as a “rule-breaker” (breaking from society’s norms), someone who made others in the peer group “look bad”, someone who made them feel uncomfortable (feeling like they “owed” the do-gooder something in return), or as someone with ulterior motives.

This might seem surprising or counter-intuitive, but consider:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Being Hated for the Right Reasons

So you see, Jesus, in the same conversation in which he gives the command that we should love each other, his next observation is that the world will hate us as a result, if we are acting like him.

Doing the right thing the wrong wayWe should not be surprised that we’re disliked by the world (and by other Christians) if we act like asses by showing up and preaching hate at gay pride parades, wielding our bullhorns to assault Spring Break partiers, or protesting at funerals of soldiers. The hate and dislike of our sanctimonious, ego-edifying grandstanding is rather understandable, and credits righteousness to nobody, ourselves included.

However, if we act like Christ and unselfishly serve, we should also not be surprised that the world will distrust our motives and reject us as ‘rule-breakers’. If we act consistently, though, Christ will be lifted up so that others will see him in the works he has given us to do.

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