20 December 2008

St-Marc's children's presentation - 14 Dec. 2008

Here is the video of the presentation from 14 December. Sorry about the sound quality.

video

This was a lot of fun, and turned out to be a community efforts in some ways. A lot of people helped in the production of this event.

Thanks to everyone!

26 November 2008

A Post-Modern Tribute to Thanksgiving













My Friend Mark has blessed us with another of his poems. This is too good to ignore, so please read on.


Tribute, Post-Modern Style

A happy, happy Turkey Day-
"Thanksgiving" it is called;
though god and thanks have been removed,
at this my cat's appalled.

Whom does one thank when god's not there?
to whom do praises ring?
in land of "post" to Christ and truth
one can praise anything!

So on this day I praise my socks,
some squirrels, a piece of pie;
I praise our car with mileage fair-
and not to wonder "why?"

I praise our house, our lawn so green
with Creeping Charlie weeds;
I worship cash that's mostly green,
though recently unseen.

I bow down low before some donuts
I did eat last week,
and honor due to spinach pizza:
melting cheese did creep.

But last of all I praise my bookshelves
full of stuff to read,
since death means zilch in chaos filled,
my cat to them I deed.

And if some folks- when I am gone-
do talk about my life,
for goodness sake don't speak of truth,
of meaning, or of strife.

For it means naught- the whole darn thing-
from birth until depart,
we just exist- that's all there is-
like cows that chew and fart.

Don't be dismayed as to the void
you move and soon will see;
good tires, good socks, good soles on shoes:
post-modern Trinity.

I write this to a faithless world-
"enlightened," it is said;
so pluck that turkey,
bake that pie,
eat much, then go to bed.

Post-Meaninglessness, Arch-Faithless, Pre-Nihilist, A-Spiritualist, Supra-Truthless, Intra-Vacuumist Pietist

10 November 2008

Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal by Dr. Mark T. Mitchell

Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal by Dr. Mark T. Mitchell

I recently came across this article on Center for a Just Society. In the days leading up to the passage of the emergency bailout package, politicians from both parties warned everyone that what was at stake was our American way of life, and without massive intervention the country and perhaps the world was heading toward an "economic apocalypse."

The author states,

I must admit that I am skeptical when powerful folks ask for more power. I'm even more skeptical when they do so using fear as a motivation.
What follows in the article is a series of questions about the ethical issues related to the current financial crisis. Some of the questions are more pertinent than others, but I think that we need to carefully think about them. For example, here is the first question:
1. Is it a fundamental problem when a corporation becomes so big that its failure threatens to bring down the national economy? Could it be that scale matters? Can institutions become so large that their potential harm outweighs their actual (or occasional) good? If yes, then are there measures that could help ensure that economic power is decentralized and therefore less dangerous?
An example of this is, according to a CNN report, if the Big Three carmakers were to cut U.S. operations by 50%, 2.5 million jobs could be lost in 2009.

I think the premise of this question is valid, and even necessary to ask. Many people believe that the standard of living is a reward for living in the U.S., or at the least a quid pro quo relationship.

2. The bailout was ostensibly necessary to protect our "American way of life." That such a reason was offered without justification indicates that our way of life is an axiom that must be assumed but never questioned. But is it too much to consider, if only for a moment, that perhaps our way of life is precisely the problem? Of course, a way of life is a complex thing, but insofar as the "American way of life" consists in living beyond our means, it is unsustainable. To the extent that consumer credit is at an all-time high and personal savings is at an all-time low, the "American way of life" is irresponsible.
My answer as to whether or not this is part of the cause of the financial crisis we are currently experiencing is an unequivocal YES.

The next two questions are questions we do need to answer:

3. Public debt mirrors private debt. Both publicly and privately, we have become a nation that demands immediate gratification. Is such a national disposition healthy? Psychologists tell us that adults are capable of delaying their gratification. If so, then publicly and privately we are, according to this measurement, behaving like a nation of children.

10. In Greek drama hubris plays a key role. This is the fatal pride that brings down even the greatest of men. Is hubris at the heart of this crisis? Hubris is the failure to acknowledge limits. It is the failure to live within the bounds proper to human beings. Ultimately, it is a failure of virtue. When we delay payments rather than our gratification, we reveal our ill-formed character. When our demands for more things are limited only by our insatiable imaginations, vice is running the show. When our leaders tell us that they can solve any crisis if only we grant them more power, hubris has taken center stage.

From my seat in the upper bleachers, it seems that many other people are beginning to be aware of these questions as well, which may help to explain why Obama won and not McCain. McCain campaigned as if there were no problems, while Obama said we need change. If we ask Ronald Reagan's question, are you better off than you were four years ago, then we know what the answer will be.

As I have said before, it is not that the question of abortion and the like are not important, it is that there are other questions out there that people see as important, and also need to be answered.

A person's stance on an issue may not qualify them to run or public office, but it does seem to be able to disqualify them.

Take a look at the article and the questions.



Posted using ShareThis

Barack and the Bible

How did we miss this? 

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory… for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his warriors down the slopes… into battle.
Judges 4:14


Posted using ShareThis

04 November 2008

How to Live as a Christian, Post-Election

A Christian Response to the 2008 Presidential Election
I have to admit to a bit of sadness over the response of Christians to the election of Barack Obama. I consider myself an independent, and more often than not during my political experience I have voted against a candidate rather than for. That too makes me sad.

I have a couple of observations that I want to comment on.
1. Election Rhetoric.

It struck me that much of what republicans and democrats are saying about this election is much the same as what came out of the mouths of republicans and democrats in 2000 and 2004. Only this time, the remarks have switched parties. For example, republican friends say that a large majority of the country do not agree with the views of the new president (The democrats said this in 2000 and 2004), while on the other hand, democratic friends are saying that the election returns give Obama a mandate for change; again, something that the republicans said in 2000 and 2004.

2. Many of my Christian friends prayed fervently for this election.
Obama won. Did God not answer their prayers?


Or, did God answer their prayers?

God is known to work out his will despite his people. If God did answer these prayers, what does that do to our theology? Still more, what does this say about our support for Barack Obama? I don't want to be put into the situation of second guessing God. My guess is that there is a lot of change in the air, and we have to decide for whom the church will be a handmaid. What if Obama is the gate through which we need to walk in order to bring change to this country and stave off judgment?

3. Election Issues.
There are a lot more issues in this presidential election that are as important as abortion and homosexuality, but evangelicals are shy to address. For example, approximately 30,000 people die of starvation, waterborne diseases and AIDS each day, deaths which are viewed as preventable, yet I am only now beginning to see organizations such as Feed My Starving Children gain visibility. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we better be certain that we don't react to what God is doing when Rhoda comes to tell us that Peter is at the door (Acts 12:12-17).


4. I am astonished at the amount of negativity coming from the mouths of Christians!

Come on people, we are people of hope. The elections are important, but let's focus, okay?

Having said all this, the point of this post is this: We need to stop moaning and beefing about who won the presidency, and pray just as hard for the success of this man in God's will as we did for the whom we thought God wanted as president during this election campaign.


Here are two parts of a post by by Mark Roberts that speaks to the issue of how to pray for the election and the new president (here and here). I like what he says in his first point:


We Should Act Upon the Call of Jesus to Peacemaking in the Way We Relate to Our Fellow Citizens.

There are other blogs that have shown up today (see this one by Randy Alcorn), which encourages me to believe that we will ultimately do the right thing, as soon as we stop focusing on why it was wrong to trust in Obama/McCain and not Jesus.


(Posted using ShareThis)

31 October 2008

And Then There Is This...

There are times that I am embarrassed to be a follower of Christ. It is NOT that I am embarrassed of my LORD, but because of some of the people with whom I am on the journey.  And that's too bad, it saddens me. Before anyone picks up cudgels to bludgeon me, please read through to the end of the article to see what I have to say.

From the "As if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot enough" department comes this: a group of Christians gathering to pray for the economy in a public spectacle. Notice the focus-point for their time of prayer --a giant golden bull on Wall Street.

The response is not surprising. One blog was a bit sympathetic (and to the point), but most were less sympathetic and understanding.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and told them that "...not many of you were wise by human standards," but I don't think that this is the kind of thing that he had in mind, any more than acting stupid for gospel insures that God will descend deus ex machina to answer our prayers.

I believe in the prayer, but I guess I don't get the point of this time of prayer. Yes, I know that they weren't worshiping this gilded statue, but the metaphor of the wall street icon shows the irony of this situation. What are they asking God to do? Restore our culture so we can continue to consume and spend mindlessly? The problem with the Israelites of the original story was that their stomachs were their god. What does this gathering tell people? Somehow it seems to point to all the evil and greed that got us into this mess to begin with (see this article).

I endorse praying for the economy, especially since the people on the lower rungs of society get hit the hardest. I loved the comment to an article that I found on a blog that said that "as Christians we should be giving MORE in a recession rather than less."  It is a matter of compassion and a realization that our source for wealth and giving is not linked to the vagaries of markets and such. Yet in financial turn-arounds like now we turn inward and clutch our wealth tightly to our chests to prevent it from slipping out of our grasp.

What is our agenda for praying for the economy? That I don't become poor? Or, that God will have room to work out his perfect will for our country?

I found this article that I think has a couple of valid points. An important question is:

Is it right to pray for the economy?

I think it is appropriate to pray for the economy. After all, God said to Jeremiah,
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7).
When the economy is strong, people are able to work and support their families, believers have greater opportunities for generosity, and many benefit from this common grace.
This fits in well with Paul's idea of living in peace with everyone and other sentiments in Romans 13, among other things.
We can pray for integrity and wisdom for government officials who are faced with the incredibly complex task of regulating investment securities and banks in a way that is transparent and serves all of the varied stakeholders. We can pray that those who are willing to work will be able to find gainful employment. We can pray that greed would be restrained at all levels, from the leaders on Wall Street to individual families tempted to live beyond their means. We can pray for ourselves that we will participate in the national economy that keeps in mind the time is short and the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

In addition, Matthew shares a bit of wisdom from Jesus in his gospel about the best way to pray?
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matt 6:5-8).
I think this says that public spectacles may not necessarily be the best way to pray about an issue.

And then, what to pray about?
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life. Or single cubit to his height
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:25-34).
It seems that praying for the economy isn't about praying for our daily bread. It is about praying for Righteousness AND Justice. Righteousness is about our relationship with God; Justice is about our society's relationship with God.

And, this point:
"I guess as a Christian I can't help but think of the bigger picture beyond just my own nation. And sometimes I wonder if God orchestrates these things to show us things. Like if Ireland and America and other well to do countries don't change their ways with regards to consumption and waste would we not end up in a situation where the poor are suffering as a result, or that they will never have the opportunity to live like we do?"
Finally, a nice video by Max Lucado that's worth a look.

Time for a New National Anthem?

In light of recent events, maybe we need a new national anthem. I nominate this one.

25 October 2008

A Hedge or a Sword?

Hedgerows are a part of the history of humankind. They have been around since the Bronze Age, although many of the older hedgerows found today in Europe were first planted during Roman times.

They made life a living hell for soldiers of the Allied armies trying to break out of the Normandy beachhead in WW2. The hedgerows that they encountered, called bocage by the French, consisted of small, irregularly shaped fields, measuring only about 200 by 400 meters, enclosed by ancient, overgrown hedges that grow from earthen mounds flanked by drainage ditches.

These hedgerows surrounding the fields were four to ten feet thick, grew up to 15 feet high, limiting visibility to one field at a time, and were impenetrably dense — even for tanks. They formed a thousand square miles of tough patchwork terrain, connected by a network of dirt roads sunken far below field level.

The idea of a hedge is found in the writings of the Rabbis. They surrounded the law with a hedge, a body of interpretations, expansions, and applications of the Law that they came to regard as of divine origin. Look at this example from the Mishnah:
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah (Pirke Aboth, 1:1).
Incidentally, the word translated fence is a mishnaic hebrew word (סיג) for wall, fence, or a thick hedge.

Since you could inadvertently break the Law, we find the principle of “putting a hedge around the Law,” not to protect it, but to provide a margin of safety. Whatever one thought right to do, the oral Torah provided a margin of error. Any commandment was an opportunity to show one’s obedience. For Jesus this kind of scrupulous observance would only lead to a neglect of the major points of the Law. It is inevitable that there was an over-concentration on the manageable, the visual and perceptible things of the law—to the neglect of the weightier matters:
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matt. 23:23-24).
Speaking to the city of Jerusalem through the Prophet Isaiah, God likens the city of Jerusalem to the planting of a vineyard:
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,… (Isaiah 5:1-2)
The problem? quite simply:
...but it yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5:2b)
The wild grapes, according the metaphor, are the sins and unrighteous acts of the people:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
but heard a cry! (Isaiah 5:7)
Because they refused to turn away from the sins and crimes, God made a promise:
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down. (Isaiah5:5)
Hedges are meant for protection, either on a literal or metaphorical level. But I notice that a sense of complacency often occurs among those living inside a building, vineyard, or city protected by a hedge. God uses the hedge as a metaphor for his protection, by breaking down the hedge he allows the enemy to pour in to execute judgment.

What struck me is that I, like many people, often pray for a hedge of protection for myself and others. I’m not so sure that is the best use of that metaphor. I would agree that there are times when we need protection, but that is a passive approach to living the Christian life. I think Paul has a better approach:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Sort of reminds me of Nehemiah’s instructions to carry a sword in on hand and trowel in the other (Nehemiah 4:16-18).

So, the question is, do live behind a hedge, or do we follow Christ, in full panoply, ready for the day?

08 October 2008

After Bailout, AIG Executives Head to Resort


This was in the Washington Post

Nate


After Bailout, AIG Executives Head to Resort

UPDATED: 11:31 a.m.
Less than a week after the federal government offered an $85 billion bailout to insurance giant AIG, the company held a week-long retreat for its executives at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., running up a tab of $440,000, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said today at the the opening of a House committee hearing about the near-failure of the insurance giant.
Showing a photograph of the resort, Waxman said the executives spent $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 for the spa.
"Less than a week after the taxpayers rescued AIG, company executives could be found wining and dining at one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation," Waxman said. "We will ask whether any of this makes sense. "
While AIG was at the bar begging and drooling for money, this is one of the things that AIG did to battle the crisis:
Those documents show that as the company's risky investments began to implode, the company altered its generous executive pay plan to pay out regardless of such losses.
This is like having overdraft protection on your checking account without worrying about having to repay it if you do overdraw.

Nice.

What is also interesting are some of the comments posted by readers of the article in question. Basically most of what is said is that Congress should do something about it, pass laws, go after them, all that. I agree, Congress should do something about it.

But the question remains, why are we pouring money into symptoms instead of addressing the problem? The problem is a philosophy that says that "every course of action should have the potential to make money from it." It's okay to make money, but this philosophy shifts moral and ethical boundaries.

For example. some will say we should address the issue of global warming, but one of the primary consideration is how to make a profit from it? A friend of mine decided that he could make a lot of money by going green, marketing products and services. He set up a blog, went into business, but it didn't happen. What did happen is that all the reading and investigating that he did to understand this issue caused him to undergo a radical transformation, and he is now solidly green. He still wants to make money from the issue, but his philosophy drives his world view and his ethics and his mission, and he is a better person for it.

Another problem with yelling to congress to fix the problem is that we abdicate our own responsibility in the issue. Congress, like those in leadership at AIG, Bear Stearns and all the other companies have one issue that drives them --Power. Because of this, they manipulate people to achieve and retain that power, market fear and assess blame when things don't go well. The result is that we have our options severely limited and dictated to us, which as we have seen are not real options at all.

And if the "leadership" doesn't deliver or produce, what do we do? We throw them out and put another bunch of leaders in place, who turn out in the long run to be no different then the bunch we threw out earlier.

The focus is then on the problems that need to be solved. We want solutions and answers, people who can articulate the problems, but who will in the long run dominate the conversations.

They will be people who are defined by their self-interests, and power will eventually be lumped into the hands of a selected few who have too much vested interest in the outcome of the problem.

We buy into the illusion that after we find the guilty part and assess blame, we can then legislate or change policy or somehow mandate morality. It hasn't happened yet, why believe that it eventually will?

So things have to change. Acting morally is not the same as being moral. Individuals feel they have no power or voice in these issues. People will gather under the auspices of someone (usually with some vested interest in the issue), ostensibly giving them a voice, but are offered options that only fit into interests and goals of the person or persons in charge.

How to do this is another conversation for another post. I would suggest reading Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.

07 October 2008

BBC NEWS | Americas | Lehman Bros head took home $300m

BBC NEWS | Lehman Bros head took home $300m
(Posted using ShareThis)

This is the subhead of an article on the BBC News website.

"The head of failed US investment bank Lehman Brothers has told Congress that he took home about $300m in pay and bonuses over the past eight years."
There are other little gems in this article, such as:
"Mr Waxman also criticised Mr Fuld for requesting multi-million dollar bonuses for departing executives just days before last month's collapse."
"In other words," he added, "even as Mr Fuld was pleading with [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson for a federal rescue, Lehman continued to squander millions on executive compensation."

"To restore our economy to health, two steps are necessary," he said. "First, we must identify what went wrong. Then we must enact real reform of our financial markets."
I can think of a couple of things that might have caused "what went wrong".

And just to show where the American candidates stand on the issue, here is their response:
US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has attacked John McCain's links to a 1980s financial scandal.
He also accused his Republican rival of being more focused on running a smear campaign than on fixing the US economy.
It comes after Mr McCain's running mate Sarah Palin accused Mr Obama over the weekend of associating with terrorists.
Along the same vein, check out this chart in the NYTimes. (HT to Nate)

I could wax eloquent on this, but why waste the bandwidth? I think one of America's greatest philosophers said it best:

14 September 2008

An interesting video

Found this video on a website called Connaitre Dieu. It is a great metaphor for the love of God.

16 August 2008

I'm Moving...

stupid_moving_graphic No, I'm not leaving France,  but I am moving my blog to my own domain. You can find it here, but there are only a couple of things there right now which you can probably find here as well. I will probably take a couple of months to switch, but I will keep posting here until I get the whole thing set up.

08 August 2008

More on "Missions? Missional?"

BastilleDauFirworks2008 In a previous post I shared a discussion I had with someone about the idea of missions in the church.

I want to take another look at one of these points: 
4. The French, the .... (fill in the blank) had their chance.
The premise is that France, Europe, etc., has had a chance to hear the gospel but rejected it, so now we want to go where they will be open to the gospel.

My question is, where would that be?  Europe has rejected the gospel, yes, but it is responding to it, though slowly. As my wife has also pointed out, when exactly did the French reject the gospel?  In the eighth century? 17th century? During the French Revolution? Recently? Did everyone do it? Just a few? Did someone pass a law to that effect?

How about China, they've rejected the gospel, shall we cross them off our list? China is closed, but it was a major missions field until the communist takeover in 1949. The new government then expelled all Christian missionaries from their borders. Yet Christianity is growing rapidly.

Perhaps Eastern Europe? It was closed to missionaries and the gospel for many years during the communist hegemony, but now it is once again open.

Or maybe the Middle East and North Africa? Everyone knows that people of Islamic background faith are resistant to the gospel, so perhaps we should not invest time and people to share the gospel with them?


If we shake the dust off our feet, and seek a place to go where people will be open to the gospel, I think that pretty much limits us to Antarctica.

And what of the United States? Is the gospel received in this country? I think it is obvious that the church is losing ground in the United States. Yet we are willing to plant new churches. According to the premise stated above, this seems counter-intuitive.

I find these facts interesting:

“Fifty-nine percent of U.S. congregations have fewer than one hundred regular participants, counting both adults and children; 71 percent have fewer than one hundred regularly participating adults”
"10 percent of U.S. congregations—the largest ones—contain half of the nation’s churchgoers."
So, if we are consistent in following our original premise, why start a church plant when this country is rejecting the gospel? Aren't there enough churches now that we have to start a new one?

I think this points to the fact that the church in the US has a less than adequate understanding of what it means to be missional, or to be in missions. And when the church is at odds to the world and can only expect enmity, what makes us think we can find anywhere that the gospel will be welcomed?

30 July 2008

Is this any way to do ministry?

stool As I sat having coffee with a friend, we focused on the idea of mission that seems to be prevalent in the church at large, and discussing what a healthy church in mission would really look like.

It is somewhat arcane, but the image of a church in mission that came to mind was a stool. A proper stool, as a high school industrial arts teacher once said, needs at least three legs if it is to be of any use. Otherwise, it will topple over. I think that the stool would look something like this picture to the right. stool_1_ministry

As a metaphor, church mission is much the same. There are three legs, Outreach, Service, and Spiritual Formation. And of course, there needs to be a balance between the three legs for it to function effectively.

What happens when the stool has only two legs, or one of the three legs is not the right length, too short or too long?

This happens when outreach is a program, not balanced by service and spiritual formation, or when service takes the place of spiritual formation.

Unfortunately, I have seen all the above. Churches are great at getting people interested in visiting the church, but they can't get them interested in spiritual formation. Or they use service opportunities as a substitute for spiritual formation.

A church I visited had several excellent opportunities for community involvement in place, booths in the lobby to get people signed up and involved. But I saw no opportunities for spiritual formation. It seemed that the service opportunities were being used to bring people into the church and then getting them involved, assuming that it will cause spiritual growth.

Without belaboring the point, the REVEAL study has put the notion of involvement as an indicator of spiritual maturity in perspective:

We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active (chart 2).

Part of the problem, or maybe even the root of it, is that churches do not understand what it means to be involved in missions, or, for that matter, what it is to be missional.

I have been wrestling with the issue of being missional and what it means to be emergent. I don't think they are synonymous.

It is easy to critique a church and its mission, another to give help and suggestions on how to make changes.

But that is for another post.

28 July 2008

Technorati Score

technorati According to Technorati, my rank is 2,639,653. I think that is somewhere down in sludge that the sump pump misses.

However, I did get a mention in Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog! (down a little where it starts with "A good blogger in France...).

That has to be worth something, right?

27 July 2008

Great Prayers

Brueggemann

Found this on another blog. I love this. Not only a great prayer, it's great theology.

Praying with Walter Brueggemann.

We are your people and mostly we don't mind,
     except that you do not fit any of our categories.

We keep pushing
               and pulling
               and twisting
               and turning,
trying to make you fit the God we would rather have,
               and every time we distort you that way
                    we end up with an idol more congenial to us.

In our more honest moments of grief and pain
     we are very glad that you are who you are,
     and that you are toward us in all your freedom
     what you have been toward us.

So be your faithful self
     and by your very engagement in the suffering of the world,
     transform the world even as you are being change

We pray in the name of Jesus,
     who is the sign of your suffering love.  Amen.

01 July 2008

Missions? Missional? (revised 14 July)

missions2 I recently had a discussion with a friend about missions in the church.  Granted, he was talking about a specific church, but his comments reflect a common thought process and approach to missions in the emerging church. 

My friend told me that there were several parameters for the missions focus of the church, such as:

1. The mission field had to be accessible.
services5 For my friend, that means that anyone who wants to go to a specific field can access it without a long flight or paying a lot of money for a ticket. Wouldn't that eliminate most of Europe, the Middle East, and much of Asia? Is accessibility to the field a major specification for missions?

When the Holy Spirit said to separate out Paul and Barnabas for a mission, was it based on accessibility of the mission field to Paul and others? Did the HS only send them to places where they found it easy to go?  Mission history abounds in stories of people such as Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, David Brainerd and others who gave up family, friends, and secure lives to go to proclaim the gospel, at great personal cost to them. Judson, for example, spent months traveling to Burma, a country closed to the west, only to be thrown into prison by a government that was suspicious to him and reasons for being in Burma.

As for Paul, there were times when he wanted to go somewhere, and the HS did not allow him to go at first (Acts 16:6-10), in addition, the times Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23-33) would seem to have an impact on the accessibility of the field.

For whom is the mission field to be accessible? Everyone in the church? A few chosen individuals?

I don't believe that accessibility be a primary specification for mission.

2. Biggest bang for the buck?
biggest-bang-buck I will be the first to say that we are to use good stewardship, but does that dictate the shape of missions, and where we are to go?

Again, cost was not the dictating factor for Paul and Barnabas. The Holy Spirit sends and provides the means to do so.  It is not that we should obsess over the money, but how we follow the leading of the Spirit. I don't think we do this by setting up parameters and hurdles to force the Spirit to do and work as we want, based on budget considerations.


3. Is it Mission Field or Missionary?
Mission Field Cropped When the Holy Spirit was preparing for the outward expansion of the church, he spoke through the prophets in Antioch saying, "Separate Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them (Acts 13)."

As for Jesus, he told his followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). When we look at the the various forms of the great commission, the focus for mission is obedience, The specific area mentioned is the world, not one geographical location.

The Spirit did not ask the church in Antioch to separate out a mission field, but a missionary.  Is our emphasis on a field backwards? Or do we send people out to the field whom God has called?  I think so.


4. The French, the .... (fill in the blank) had their chance.
French-food The idea is that a specific area has been evangelized and had the gospel, but they rejected it, so we will go someplace where they will accept the gospel.  I have had this said to me about France, and Europe in general.  Yet is the place where the stirrings of the Spirit are evident.

First, who gives anyone the right to pass judgment by saying they had their chance, now it's too late? I was under the impression that God does not want anyone to be lost, but to have the fullness of life, and have it abundantly?

And where will you go? Somewhere (like Nigeria, for example...??) where they will receive the gospel? Nigeria is over 55% Christian (by their profession), but it is also a very materialistic church that is submerged in the culture and compromised by it, not unlike the United States.

There are other places to go, China is a large potential area for the gospel, but there are issues of accessibility for these areas. China, Burma, Vietnam, and other areas are closed to missionaries.

5. Go Make Disciples

holyspirit I have been told that the mission of the church needs to start where the church is located (i.e., Jerusalem), and then move to Judea and Samaria (outside your community), and finally into Europe, Asia, Africa, or where ever.

The problem is that the various passages tagged as part of the Great Commission are often seen as a linear process, i.e., start where you are, then go out from there.  Unfortunately, the result of this is that this is taken to mean that we need to plant ourselves and be fruitful and successful at one level before we progress to the next.  So, we need to fully evangelize, preach, teach, feed, clothe, etc. in one place before we move to the next.

I doubt we can build a case for this either theologically or linguistically. The Greek text behind Acts 1:8 does not support a progressive or "step by step" plan for evangelism.  There are several good ways of understanding the conjunction καὶ (usually translated as "and"), but the best way to understand the use of καὶ in this passage is as a coordinating conjunction with an ascensive function, a point of focus, as Wallace comments (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p 761).  The focus of the passage is the whole world, as Matthew 28:19 points out.

Theologically, Matthew 28 states that we are to make disciples of all nations. The command is holistic, not fragmented into parts or agendas.  That is modern management practice.

Another story that illustrates this very nicely is the persecution in Acts 8. The church was busy hunkering down in Jerusalem when a persecution breaks out and pushes them out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria, and by implication, Antioch in Syria. It was the intent of the Holy Spirit that they move out into the world. Left to their own devices, the church would probably only be reaching Greece today.

I am also impressed by the fact that Jesus chose to go throughout all the villages and towns of Galilee, not picking out one town and set up a ministry there. Paul was sent out by the Spirit, first to Asia Minor, then to Greece and finally to Rome.  Did he evangelize all the areas in between, therefore he needed to move on to the next mission field?

So, I don't think we can build a case that we have to set down a base in one place, overwhelm it with the gospel, then move on to the next area.  

So, being sent, being missional, or whatever we choose to call it, is not what we often make of it.

Final Notes:
Please don't think that I am against serving the poor, oppressed, marginalized, or social justice.  Anyone who knows me will testify to my vision of the rule of the Kingdom in our lives. I believe in righteousness and justice. Righteousness in the individual axis of our relationship with God, and justice is the community or social aspect of our relationship with God.

I don't know quite how to verbalize the disconnect I mentioned above, but I think the issue of the focus of missions/missional breaks down into call and vocation (what we do?), which focuses on making disciples of all nations, and life in the kingdom (what we are?).
The intersection of these two trajectories are summarized in this petition from the Lord's prayer, which says:
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matt. 6:10)
I think that drives our desire to reach out to the poor and marginalized is because we want to do something significant, to make a difference. My response to this can be best illustrated by something I heard Jim Plueddemann once say, which goes something like this:

We can do something SIGNIFICANT! for God, or
we can do something significant for GOD!
Significance comes in obedience to God, as we seek to serve him. But the answer to how is yes.
Finally, to run missions through a grid like this pretty much pre-defines what the will of God would look like.  It take the worry of faith as well, because you see by sight...


29 June 2008

Japanese Potty Training

Japanese-Potty-training My wife found this on line. It is a video for potty training children. It is in Japanese, with English subtitles. 
I think it is hilarious.
I swear, this is for real, I am NOT making it up.

Technorati Tags: ,

24 June 2008

Pew Forum Report

Religion_dm_500 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has recently released a report, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The report is worth a read for the info that it supplies about the American religious landscape. A lot of it is surprising, and as the report states,

...The Landscape Survey confirms the close link between Americans' religious affiliation, beliefs and practices, on the one hand, and their social and political attitudes, on the other. Indeed, the survey demonstrates that the social and political fault lines in American society run through, as well as alongside, religious traditions.

One section is worth pulling out for consideration:

Most Americans agree with the statement that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including more than half of members of evangelical Protestant churches (57%). Only among Mormons (57%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (80%) do majorities say that their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life.

Most Americans also have a non-dogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion. For instance, more than two-thirds of adults affiliated with a religious tradition agree that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, a pattern that occurs in nearly all traditions. The exceptions are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, 54% and 77% of whom, respectively, say there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.

I can imagine evangelicals and Christians of all stripes bending over this report, concerned about the direction and focus of religion in American (which is basically dropping dogma for spirituality).

There will undoubtedly be many initiatives to stave off and reverse this trend of faith in this country. Lack of faith on one side, and apathy and weak theology on the other is destroying our country, culture, ...(fill in the blank).

The problem is, of course that we see it as our battle, our problem, and probably our fault because Christianity is losing ground. If we can be more faithful, preach and witness more, proclaim the word, people will hear and turn and be saved.

Unfortunately, the problem is that all of this is simply getting in the way of the the work of the Spirit. I see more and more that Christianity in the US is more "Jesus lite."

The battle is not ours, it belongs to the Lord. We do not fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12).

What we have is managerialism imposed on the church, enthralled by systems thinking and programs that do not rest on faith, but reason and intentionality.

Image source:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/images/200708/20070828BizReligion_dm_500.jpg

22 June 2008

The Myth of Belonging

sheep-belonging-to-tenant I'm a fan of REVEAL, the initiative started by Willow Creek. I think their findings concerning the reality of spiritual growth in the church are significant, and point to an issue that I have been harping preaching about for years.

The sources of the problem are largely the result of the descent of managerialism on the church. However, that is an issue for another post.

One of the five "key findings" of REVEAL is that there is not necessarily a correlation between commitment and church attendance, or community. This is what REVEAL reports:

We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active.
This led us to discovering a Spiritual Continuum centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ, which was much more predictive of spiritual growth (Chart 3).

image

What I find interesting is that I missed the conversation going on in other quarters. I have a book I purchased a few years ago, long before REVEAL hit the stands, written by Joseph R. Myers, The Search to Belong.

In a chapter entitled "the myths of belonging (p9)," Myer writes:

More commitment = more belonging. People often believe that there is a significant relationship between commitment and community. That is, however, a romantic view. When we search to belong, we aren't really looking for commitment. We simply want to connect (p12).

I'm not saying that Willow Creek borrowed the idea, quite the contrary. When an organization as large as Willow Creek picks up on an issue that has been surfacing throughout the church,to say we are sensing a moving of the Spirit is a bit of an understatement.

This sentiment is also found in Rick Richardson's writings, such as Evangelism Outside the Box, as well as in the the halls of the emerging church.

So, what's next? That is the question that faces my colleagues and I in France. I'll get back to you.

10 June 2008

“People just don’t touch eternity when they are around us...”

Interesting post found on Dr. Jim West's blog that I think is worth noting.
The Truth About the SBC (10 06 2008)

According to former President Jimmy Draper, who said Monday “We have reached a place that our spiritual forefathers feared.” “We need to admit that the problem with America today is not the government or the politicians,” Draper said. “It is not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain. It’s not the senators or representatives.


The problem is not the educational system or the economy. It’s not the liberals or the abortionists. The problem lies with us.” “We conservatives claim to have the truth and we think we are rich in spiritual position and power, but yet we are cold, complacent, impotent and unattractive, and irrelevant to the world,” Draper said. “I hate to say it, but we are not plateaued. We’re not even just declining. We’re in a free fall.” “You know why we don’t win the lost?” Draper asked. “Because we don’t like them. They are different from us. We don’t care for them. We have no real love for them.” “People just don’t touch eternity when they are around us,” Draper said. “We’re too self-absorbed.”


I wish there was something I could say to prove him wrong, but unfortunately, it is all too true. We have a faith that is compromised at best, apathetic at the least.

But the point of this is "How do we make a difference?"

My take is a flavor taken from the title of one of Schleiermacher's books: On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers


We try very hard to present a religion that is culturally acceptable to people who do not accept Christianity as a viable alternative to life. As a result, we have what we paid for, a mutation that has nothing to offer, it is safe, and completely unthreatening.

Long way from the scandal of the Cross that Luther discovered...

03 June 2008

Snakeskin Boots

vogon-lg My friend Marcus is his own brand of Renaissance Man. One of his many talents is his turn of a phrase to compose some very interesting poetry. His work ranges from some that are very good to some that are akin to Vogon poetry.

But on a more serious note, Brother Marcus sent us his latest work, which I think is worth a look. Here it is:

De-cursed, Rehearsed, Well-Versed : Snakeskin Boots


I've had some thoughts about this snake
who came and stole our birthday cake;
he spoke the truth, Eve did assume,
he came in light and left in doom.


He seemed so lovely, wholesome, pure,
but was a fake, that is for sure;
by God's command he bit the dust,
to crawl, not walk: this is a must.


Inherited by all who come:
a conscience broke and mostly numb;
a spirit dimmed with shadowed sight,
the truth forlorn midst shadowed night.


God cursed that snake, it was to be,
still cursed through all eternity;
a lake of fire: it waits ahead,
for snake of sin amidst the dead.


But Christ became a curse for me
by hanging there upon that tree;
I stare, I gaze with wonder filled,
this spirit soars, my heart is thrilled.


For cursed no more: that is my state,
redeemed and sealed: this is my fate;


the lamb was slain, the snake was stomped,
we praise the King's deliverance prompt.


O join with those whose snake is gone,
in praise of heart, yea praise in song;
for boots of snakeskin we will wear,
upon those streets with golden glare.


MWA; June 2, 2008

Picture Credit: http://hitchhikermovie.free.fr/images/vogon3b.jpg

Technorati Tags: ,,

Psalm 107

praise In the process of doing my preparatory study for a sermon on Psalm 107, I discovered a structure that runs throughout the entire Psalm. It looks like this:



Psalm 107

Situation

Cry to God

God’s Response

Summons to Give Thanks for Hesed

Result

I. Deliverance
4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.

6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.


7 He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.


8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!


9 For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

II. Freeing the Prisoner
10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.

13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.


14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.



15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

III. Healing and Forgiveness
17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.

19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.

21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!



IV. Salvation from the Storm
23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits' end.

28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
I find the structure interesting. What I plan to do is explore the structure at two levels. The first level is the original setting. Most commentaries see this as post-exilic, which it could be, but that could also reflect the presuppositions of the commentator. It seems, at first blush, that it is a reflection of God's interaction with his people, from the Exodus to the Exile.
The second level I would explore is the significance of this structure. Is it meant to be a reminder and a call for people to thank God with praise and thanks giving?
A reminder for people to call out to God for help, and then to acknowledge his help?
Or is it just a formula, similar to the cycles in Judges, to recount God faithfulness, based on his covenant love?
Anyone have any ideas?
I'll let you know what I come up with.