Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Message?

From the state that brought you the PTL network, with its excesses and failings, comes another Christian network with a leader who believes in his right to build a four million dollar house in a gated community in the mountains. Now, a multi-million dollar house in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, even though it seems to me to be a bit of overkill. The problem comes when the network which pays this man big bucks is laying off employees because their revenues are down, after taking tax incentives from the state and starting a large, expensive campus for the network and its "ministries."

This network preaches what is popularly called the prosperity gospel. The basic message is, "Send us your money so we can build a bigger ministry, and God will give you every material thing you have ever wanted, and then some." In the state to the north, the government operates a lottery which they call the "Education Lottery." Their message is, "Buy lottery tickets to make our schools better, and you might strike it rich." If you don't win, it's just your bad luck. The prosperity preachers' run sort of a "Holy Ghost Lottery," except if you don't get what they promise, it's due to your lack of faith.

In a way, many in both the evangelical and fundamentalist branches of the institutional church preach a similar message. One side preaches that following _____ principles can change your life and make you a better _______________. The other preaches that following the rules and regulations that they say are Biblical will keep you living right and enable you to please God and stay "right" with him.

All three groups are essentially saying that of you do X, God will do Y. It puts things in the hands of human beings, and brings pride or despair. It is the doing that brings favor, rather than the Gospel message that it is God's favor that causes us to do good out of gratitude and love.

The church, in all its expressions, needs to stop running a game that encourages people to give more and do more to win or increase God's blessing on them. We need to get back to the message that the world is a messed up place and the folks in it are messed up people, BUT there is One who has changed everything, who has overcome sin and death, and who is making all things new. It does not depend on our own effort, but rather on the work of Jesus Christ.

Some questions come to mind every time I hear these popular messages. What would these preachers say to the Christians in China, India, or Darfur? Would they tell them they need to have more faith? Maybe they would give them a number of principles to follow? Would they say that they need to get right with God?

Friday, June 26, 2009

TGIF

What do y'all think of our governor down here in South Carolina. It's a sorry spectacle. What I get from this whole thing is the thought that he that thinks he stands, let him be careful lest he fall, to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 10:12. All of us must realize that, without the grace of God, we are capable of the same, or worse. Pray that the Father brings healing to that family.

Without further ado, here is the good stuff:

Dan Edelen responds to an earlier post. John Fonville on what the Gospel is and isn't. iMonk thinks things are changing at the Southern Baptist Convention. Are you searching for IT? What is justice? Brother Maynard weighs in on Jon and Kate. Just what are these people thinking? We'd better be careful, or this kind of thing might catch on (HT: Brother Maynard).

Alan Knox thinks we should just make disciples. Dan Kimball reminisces. He will build the church. Matt on the "good old days." Shaun Groves thinks Adam Smith was wrong.

Have a great weekend. Stay cool.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

World Vision Wednesday

I'm going to try something a little different here. On Wednesday, I'm going to share something from or about the work of World Vision. Jan and I have been sponsoring children through World Vision for a number of years and have volunteered at concerts sponsored by the organization. We appreciate the ministry of World Vision as it helps provide for the least of these.

This week, I have an excerpt from an article titled, "Rwandan Genocide 15 Years Later: Alice Forgives:

"They were armed with guns, machetes, swords, and clubs. They saw me and approached. One of them took my baby out of my hands and [killed her]," says Alice. Then, a man named Emmanuel cut off Alice's hand and slashed her face. "Others hit me with nail-studded clubs, and I lost consciousness."

Fifteen years after the genocide, Alice's memories are still fresh; she has a scar on her jaw and is missing a hand. However, there is something extraordinary about this soft-spoken woman: With the help of World Vision reconciliation workshops, she found the strength to forgive Emmanuel and the men who killed her baby. In fact, Alice lost 100 members of her extended family, and yet she forgave.

Read the whole story here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

TGIF

It's been a good week. Busy, but good. It took two days to get caught up on the yard work after a week away. On Wednesday, I drove a bus for a local camp that is just starting up this summer. Today I spent the day working at a basketball camp. Summer has officially begun and the days are getting hotter here in the sunny South. Our drought is over and we are actually hoping for a spell of dry weather.

I was able to catch up on my blog reading so here are a few of the good links for the past two weeks:

Jared Wilson's thoughts on the culture war. Perhaps you can find a way to help. Jesus is Alan Hirsch's disequilibrium. Alan Knox gives us a hypothetical situation. The Tall Skinny Kiwi is taking a break. Molly writes about pathological spirituality. The sometimes surprising price of success. Rich Wagner is scared of both conservatives and liberals.

Requiem for the word "religion." How do you like your coffee? This is just a bit much. (HT for the last two: Brother Maynard) Speaking of Brother Maynard, he's doing some navigating. iMonk on worship: here and here. Rob Woodrum has begun a new chapter of "Rabbi Encounters". Laurie D. Russell redefines beauty (HT: Scot McKnight). Grace gives us her doctrines of grace.

Enjoy your weekend. Tomorrow, it's another day of camp.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Confession

Before I begin, I realized that in the post titled Mustard Seeds, I didn't give proper attribution to the source of a large part of my thinking. The basic thought about the mustard seeds came from Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. I just added a couple of my thoughts. So, Shane, on the outside chance that you read that post :), I apologize for not giving credit where it was due. Thanks to Jeff McQ for jogging my brain on that.

I'm realizing more and more that we, meaning my generation, have failed our children in a major way. During my twenty-three years as a Christian school teacher, I constantly heard about the numbers of students who were graduating from Christian schools around the country and abandoning their faith within a couple of years. This was usually blamed on things like liberal atheist professors in the secular schools (thus making it "imperative" that we get our students to go to "good" Christian colleges), the influence of wicked friends, or just the human tendency to "backslide" when left without good teaching.

As a parent of two adult children, who went through Christian schools and who grew up in church, I'm more attuned to the possibility of their faith being left in the dust, and I think I know the reason why their generation is abandoning the church, and, in some cases, faith.

We spent most of our time teaching our children that being a Christian was a matter of "asking Jesus into your heart" so you would be able to go to heaven when you die. We taught that salvation was a destination, that it simply placed you in the position of being acceptable to God. Correct behavior was important, but it usually was a matter of managing sin by following a set of rules and regulations. Becoming like Christ was reduced down to "sinning" as little as possible. Spiritual discipline consisted of reading the Bible every day, praying, and witnessing, and discipleship was doing those things longer and more often.

Now, in our defense, we taught them this way because that is the way we were taught. Back when the culture was more in sync with "Christianity," the idea of making people Christians by getting them to "accept Jesus" worked culturally, so not a whole lot of us knew any different. Now that the culture has become apathetic, if not hostile, toward Christians, the old cultural way of Christendom doesn't work. Our children have seen through the barriers that we placed between them and Jesus, and have rejected what they knew as "church."

As the walls of Christendom coming tumbling down it is imperative that we teach those who are learning from us that there is much more to following Jesus than having a home in heaven when you die. We must teach them that being a Christian is a matter of being a citizen of a different Kingdom, a subject of the King of Kings. We must communicate that following Jesus means that we are a new creation, that we have the Spirit of God inside us. Becoming like Jesus means living our lives as he would live them, and loving others as he would love them. Spiritual discipline means doing what Jesus did, spending time in prayer, solitude and silence, and fasting. Our lives are to be lived from the inside out, not just by managing our behavior. Fortunately, there are those from our generation who are teaching these things, and there are many from the current generation who have learned them.

O behalf of my generation, I confess that we have failed you that are our children and grandchildren We have failed in communicating the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom, and have replaced it with a gospel of Christendom.

Some of us are learning, and are trying to make up for lost ground. I pray that those who have grown up in the church and have left will be drawn by the Spirit to the reality of the Kingdom of God and the true King.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm Baaaaack!

...and there was great rejoicing. :) Saturday we returned from our trip to the Los Angeles area. We had a wonderful time with Jennie and Josh.

The Saturday before, we flew out of Charlotte at 11:20 AM. We landed in Dallas, where we had lunch and changed planes for the flight to LA. We arrived at LAX and were picked up by Jennnie and Josh. We went to Jennie's place in Santa Monica where we freshened up from the trip. That evening we went to the area of Santa Monica that's beachfront. We ate at a place called Barney's Beanery. The menu looked like a newspaper and had just about every type of food you could imagine. After dinner we went to the famous Santa Monica Pier, where a one man band serenaded Jan and me. It was actually chilly that night, as it was every night the entire week. Sunday morning we went and fellowshipped with a community called Kairos in Santa Monica. Hopefully Jennie will get involved there. That afternoon we had a cook-out and met Jennie's boyfriend, Chris. In the evening we went and watched Jennie direct a short film for a friend who had entered a contest connected to a local film festival.

Monday, Josh took us into downtown LA, where we saw the Disney Concert Hall, the Grand Central Market, Chinatown, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Tuesday, we went to the Skirball Cultural Center and the Getty Center. We had lunch at In and Out Burger. That night Jennie and Josh took us out to dinner for an early Fathers' Day. We ate at a very nice Asian restaurant overlooking Hollywood. The food was delicious and the view was beautiful. After dinner we walked around Hollywood and saw the Walk of Stars, Grauman's Chinese Theater, and the Kodak Theater. On Wednesday, Josh and I went to an English pub to have lunch and watch England play Andorra in a World Cup soccer qualifier, while Jan and Jennie went to lunch at a French restaurant in Pasadena. After lunch, Josh, Jan, and I walked around old-town Pasedana and then met Jennie at the visual effects studio where she works. Chris gave us a tour and then treated us to a very nice dinner at an Italian restaurant. Jennie's friend Rachel flew in late Wednesday night.

Thursday, we went up the coast to Malibu, where we walked down a cliff to a fairly secluded beach. We spent a couple of hours there, and then had lunch at a fish place in Malibu. The restaurant was where some of the TV show "Privileged" was filmed when Jennie was an extra. That night, Jan and I moved to a hotel in Venice, where we had a nice room with a great view of the coast. Friday morning, Jan and I had breakfast next to the hotel, and then walked around for a bit and saw some of the interesting people of Venice Beach. The kids picked us up and we went to Rodeo Drive. We walked around for a while, looking at all the stores with stuff we could never afford. We did get delicious cupcakes from Sprinkles. They weren't too expensive.

We drove around Beverly Hills, and then drove up Mulholland Drive. The views were spectacular and some of the houses were unbelievable. We went to a park with 360 views of the entire area. Then we drove to a park just down the hill from the famous Hollywood sign. After that we went to Griffith Park and drove around it a bit. We went to the Griffith Park Observatory, and spent some time there. We went to another In and Out for dinner, and then drove around Hollywood and some other areas.

We flew out of LA at 8:20 AM Saturday, had lunch in Dallas again, and arrived back in Charlotte Saturday evening, exhausted but very satisfied. The only regret is that LA is so far away.

I have put pictures here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

TGIF

To quote the philosopher Alice Cooper, "School's out for the summer." Tomorrow Jan and I fly out to California to visit Jennie, who lives in Santa Monica, and Josh who is out there visiting. We're looking forward to the trip. My internet access will be a bit spotty, so there may not be much activity here for a while. I leave you with the links for this week:

Shawna has an adventure in India. Harold Vance has a conversation with a beast. Molly has some good thoughts on the way of love. Never, ever, ever do this. A short introduction to NASCAR fashion. Now, this is just wrong. Alan Knox writes about grace. iMonk studies grace and discipleship. This artist is good! (HT: Brother Maynard)

An answer to the Patriot's Bible? Jeff McQ on last things. Are we teaching people not to think? I don't know quite what to think about this (HT: Jonathan Brink).

Enjoy reading. Have a good week.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mustard Seeds

In the Gospels, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard plant. I had always understood that story as meaning that the Kingdom starts out small, but then grows into something great to which everyone will eventually pledge allegiance (this all would happen during the future millennial kingdom). Evidently, Jesus had something different in mind.

To the Jews of the first century, mustard was a managed weed. It could be useful, but needed to be tightly controlled. Evidently it was against Jewish law to plant mustard in a garden. If managed well it grew into a large shrub, but not anything we would call a tree.

The Jewish concept of the Kingdom of God was something that was big and powerful, like the cedar tree. It was something that would come with a bang, and everyone would know it was here. When Messiah came, he would restore the throne of David to its former glory. Israel would take its rightful place as the premier nation. Jesus turned that upside down. He stated that the kingdom would be something that started small and worked its way along like a mustard plant, like a weed that grew in places where it was unexpected, and unwanted. It would be a large shrub, not a majestic cedar. The common fowls would flock to it, not the majestic birds like the eagle.

The Kingdom of God is not out there in front. It is not found in human glory or national pride. Many times it is invisible, as it works its way through society. It is found in unexpected places, inside the four walls of a church, and outside where people live their lives. Too often we miss it. Regardless of how small the kingdom may appear, it is powerful. It breaks down barriers as it works into the cracks. It flavors life for its subjects and those they encounter. It cannot be contained in our neat little gardens, sometimes it can't even be found there.

The Kingdom of God is open to all who wish to enter, even those who are at the bottom of the ladder. Many who are looking for a kingdom that arrives with power and glory may stand in danger of missing the true King. As Jesus told Pilate, his kingdom is not of this world.

Follow this King and enter his kingdom. Be part of the mustard plant.

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a while since I've posted a links post. A lot has been going on in the world, and a lot has been going on in my own life (...