Monday, January 31, 2011

Mission Shift Essay #2 and Geoff Henderson Response

For those who are wondering why this post seems so different, and much longer than other posts, it is because I committed to blog three times about three different essays in a missiological book called MissionShift edited by Ed Stetzer in exchange for the free book. So here is my response to to Paul G. Hiebert's essay entitle "The gospel in Human Contexts: Changing perceptions of contextualization."

In this essay, Hiebert discussed different contextualization models from: minimal contextualization to uncritical contextualization to critical contextualization to his preferred model: Divine Revelation in Human contexts. 

Hiebert does an excellent job of reminding us that all of us have a cultural orientation. None of us stands outside culture, yet very few take the time to consider "what aspects of our contexts come from sociocultural and historical situations, and what comes from scripture." As a result, missionaries, have at times, been guilty of making this statement true: "one more Christian, one less Chinese." Now in all honesty, it makes no sense, and is I think sinful, to blast missionaries for doing the best they could at the time given what they knew. But as we evaluate mission strategies, it is necessary to evaluate what the church has done well and not so well.

I think that many of us today, whether missionaries, pastors, or simply Christians living in a fairly multi-cultural America, can often forget that we live in a culture which needs to be evaluated, not thrown out or un-critically embraced. Hiebiert reminds us that

"Human contexts are both good and evil. Humans are created in the image of God, and are the object of His great love. But they are also fallen, and the societies and cultures they build are affected by the fall. There is personal and corporate sin and personal and corporate dimensions to God's redemption." -pg 99.

This is a simple working model, which captures both the depravity of man but also the fact that we are STILL made in the image of God. Let us not forget that both Romans 1-3, and Psalm 8 describe men/women AFTER the Fall. This is model is not new, but forms the "missiology" part of Hiebert's triad. It is helpful for missions as well as how we live in America, celebrate its holidays, history, opportunities, cultural distinctions, etc...

I also commend most of Hiebert's "phenomenology." We have to study to study humans in their own contexts and own cultures. As a pastor I have to be a student of my part of West Virginia. Its different than other parts. Someone once commended a book to me on appalachia, but that book really dealt with people who live in other parts of W.V. For me to read the book, and then try to commend what is commendable and apply the gospel to that which is not-commendable and needs redemption, would not be very loving or appropriate to my congregation. I need to answer and address questions that my particular people are asking. We do this in children's ministry, and youth ministry without even so much as a question.

The gospel is so rich and multi-faceted, and answers so many of the heart level questions people are really raising, as well as concerns that need addressing. It is the responsibility of the missionary, pastor, and anyone who seeks to minister in his/her context to know what questions are really being raised. The gospel challenges our love of security, which CAN be seen in saving for retirement at the neglect of tithing and giving to missions. But when I write the lessons for the Jr. High, I don't mention this at all. In fact, I'll often highlight the gospel's offer of a new status, that the youth don't need to be popular because the gospel is true. Security, usually, isn't the heart question they are asking.

The gospel challenges and gives hope for them in a different way. I sat in on the youth group lesson last night so that I could study the youth in their context, hear their concerns, learn their way of thinking; and it is different than the way a 33 year-old father of two thinks. Therefore my gospel emphasis and applications (how they are affected by sin) will look different. We have to do the same type of homework for missions, aware of their struggles as well as questions.

I also think Hiebert is on to something as he seeks to involve input from the indigenous population in forming "local theology." However, I'd probably not use that word, because I can tell from the responses that seems to conjure up fears of liberalism and the slippery descent there into. And in all honesty, these concerns are well founded due to theologies that are inconsistent with the gospel. Liberation theology, as well as health-and-wealth theology may be local, but definitely misses the gospel.

Yet Christian indigenous folk do need to work alongside the mission teams to lay forth a mission strategy in the proclamation and application of the gospel that best fits that context. This limits our own subjectivity and cultural superiority. 

The danger for Heibert is that he comes very close to (if not lands on) a Barthian, Neo-orthodox understanding of scripture where the bible contains the Word of God, and becomes the Word of God to us, but is not specifically God's complete and understandable revelation to us. For Hiebert, scripture is completely necessary, and it is our starting place. Not only that, but what matters is not so much what we think about God, but "what does God think about us?" Good stuff.

Yet Norm Geisler rightly questions exactly what Heiber means when he upholds revelation, and how we can understand it. It does us no good if there is not a universal ability to understand it. And what error would you expect Geisler, who edited a book called Inerrancy, to attack! 

I definitely uphold Geilser's concern. Heibert points out that "we dare not equate the gospel with any human theologies. Our theologies are partial human attempts to understand scripture in our particular contexts, but the gospel transcends them all."

There clearly are cultural elements present at God's giving of divine revelation in the Word. It's OK for women to have short hair and men to have long hair, though some churches have actually equated the gospel and gospel sanctification to look like women trading in shorts and pants for dresses, and dudes getting rid of earrings and cutting their hair. This is the case in my area.

And there are differing theologies. Baptistic theology, Reformed Theology, Charismatic theology often interact with one another and often disagree with one another. We are all trying to be as faithfully responsible to the scriptures, even though we can't all be correct all the time.

But the gospel story is an absolute universal story that has meaning for all people in all times. All TRUE theologies embrace the gospel and understand it, or they are not TRUE theologies. The gospel content and meaning is one which all believers can understand. It has to be or else it can't be communicated from generation to generation. The over-arching story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation stays the same. The content of the gospel, that Jesus Christ came to deal with sin, died, rose again, forgives, reigns above, will return, are just parts of the pieces that all believers MUST believe if they are believers. What is contained in the Apostles Creed has been understood by Christians of all ages, in all cultures; THIS provides the non-negotiable content of the gospel.

You might need to emphasize the gospel's free offer of heaven (EE in the 80's), the personal freedom from man-made rules to justify you (like in Galatians) inclusion into a new family (communities of high numbers of broken families and singles), reconcilliation of enemies (like in Rwanda), or how it changes your behavior and sexual ethic (like Corinithians). However, the content of what we believe is clear.

In the end, I appreciated Hiebert's direction and concern. I sincerely appreciated his freedom to recognize our own biases and the desire to limit them. I do hope he has a voice in helping us move forward in contextualization in missions, but that Geisler does as well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Osteen judgmental?

I just posted yesterday about judging, and one piece of the "judging" pie we should avoid as Christians (Matthew 7:1).  Last night, as I browsed the CNN website, I caught glimpse of a Joel Osteen interview  titled "Osteen thinks homosexuality is a sin." Osteen doesn't seem to talk too much about sin, so I obviously hopped on this interview.

Here are a few takes.

1.) Osteen clearly hates to be the bad guy, draw hard lines, and even speak about sin. Piers Morgan who interviewed him tried to get him to pull back from this, but Osteen actually went to "the scriptures" as the standard for what is right or wrong. Now whether (according to Osteen) sin is bad because it is spiritual adultery/rebellion against a pure, faithful, holy God or whether it is bad simply because it keeps you from living your best life now (it seemed more the latter than the former), at the very least, Osteen held to scripture as the standard. For that I commend him.

2.) Piers, like many Americans, holds this pre-supposition: If you morally (not politically-although everything political still has some moral component) disagree with something someone is doing, then that automatically makes you judgmental. We see that very clearly in this video. But the reality is that we pass good moral judgments all the time. For instance, pedophilia is wrong, and I'm guessing Osteen could have said that without much of a "You're being judgmental" type comment. Why? Federal law.  So you can be a "judge"as long as you're using that standard. 

But when you judge what is right and wrong according to the standard of the scriptures, then you automatically become "judgmental." So if pedophilia were ever legalized, or another crime which is now illegal, then would someone speaking out against it be considered "judgmental?" 

3.) Most people have no paradigm for someone who can morally disagree with them and yet still want to be their friend. And that's probably because they rarely see it happen. But that's not to say that it doesn't regularly happen when Christian sinners befriend non-Christian sinners. However the church (myself obviously included) certainly has a ways to go in this area of befriending folks with whom we morally/politically disagree so that people can taste a new kind of friendship.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Judge and Tweet not, lest you be judged and tweeted

I've been slowly working my way through the sermon on the mount, along with a little help from the good reverend Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. A week or so ago, I came across the famous, and very often misapplied, "Judge not, that you not be judged" (Matt 7:1). Obviously this passage can't refer to discerning whether an activity is sinful or not, because Paul reminds the passive Corinthians to "judge those within the church (I Cor 5) when they permitted sexual immorality to persist. Of course, how the church sometimes "judges" is grossly misapplied when prayer and time are thrown out the window.

Yet it certainly does mean something. To not apply scripture seems just as dangerous as misapplying scripture. I think I spotted a "perfect" example of the sinful kind of judging in the NFL yesterday.

Jay Cutler, who I really have no reason to defend, had to come out of the NFC championship game after sustaining a serious knee injury. However during the game, Twitter, which gives instant fame and following to people who probably don't need instant fame and following, allowed for a flurry of the bad kind of judgments.

Even Derrick Brooks, beloved Bucs icon, couldn't resist the urge to pass judgment on Jay Cutler. Many others, including Maurice Jones-Drew, questioned his toughness and talked about how he would have just toughed it out, as he had done before.

Today the diagnosis of Cutler's knee was a torn MCL. Could he have gone out and played on it? We don't know Cutler's heart: whether or not he truly felt playing hurt (provided he actually could have) would have hurt his team or not.

We just don't know, and therefore our ignorance of this matter can only lead to silence, not tweeted judgments. This sinful aspect of judging seems to at the very least comprise the making of definitive statements of superiority over others based upon our perception of their situation and heart. Both of which are often off the mark. Even the current NFL players who tweeted were ignorant of both the situation and heart.

While the heart is nearly impossible to discern unless you are God, there are still some discernible cues mainly consistent behavior over time.

Bears' linebacker Brian Urlacher actually gives us a good paradigm. He claimed that Cutler was one of the toughest guys on the team, and never missed practice. Therefore, he wasn't going to quit on the team if he could have played. Since he had already displayed toughness, and was one of the "toughest" on the team, we should not pass judgment. For Urlacher, Cutler couldn't play, and if he could have, he would have only hurt the team.

All this to say, it is probably best to let those-in-the-know make the right judgments, and those not-in -the-know be slower to speak (or tweet), quicker to listen, and thus less judgmental.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Redeeming Facebook: What NOT to do

This is the third of the facebook related posts. If you're not a facebook user, these may have little to do with you, so I apologize. I'll be done soon, but feel like this is apropos for many. 

The last post dealt with ways in which I think people can allow Christ to redeem facebook by putting into practice Christ's commands to love our neighbors, even cyber-neighbors or "friends." I now to turn to how Christ can redeem our facebook activity by NOT using it in ways our world often does. So this is the negative side of things, how not to conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). Even your facebook use has to be brought under submission to the Lordship of Christ. So this is just my attempt to lay forth some ways I've thought about, and even been very tempted by.

1.) Don't bash or call out family members, even and particularly your children. It dishonors them. I'm personally thankful that Connar can't post, "Dad yelled at me me tonight when I dropped my cup of water on the floor. He was mad at something else and took it out on me." If he had an account, and could spell and type, that could have been his status update earlier this week. I failed as a father that night and had to apologize. I'd hate for him to post my failures as a father, so I think the same thing applies for his failures as a son. We've all given our kids plenty to post about so resist that urge to post ways in which they've failed. Obviously the same applies for kids blasting their parents.

2.) Be very careful (which is not the same as saying its always wrong) venting on facebook. When you vent to a real friend, you may feel the need to use words which are probably OK in that context, but not OK for the rest of your "friends." And the very nature of venting is that you will say things you probably shouldn't. But once you hear yourself say them, you can process, and calm down. You can be heard by someone, but you don't need to be heard by everyone of your "friends." We don't have to know EVERYTHING that is going on. You should have close relationships in which you can vent and bare your soul, and sometimes facebook venting really just manifests a dearth of such close relationships.

3.) Facebook community is a helpful supplement, and can be a great encouragement during super busy seasons, or for those separated by distances. But when you find that your "friends" are the only ones you are "talking" with, its probably a good idea to get out of the house or at least get on the phone.

4.) Jabbing is very easy on facebook. Gossiping and manipulating has never been so easy. Its easy to take jabs at other churches, people, friends, and family by posting things which outwardly seem positive, but really are designed to manipulate someone into action or jealousy. Examine your own heart before you post something that could be taken as a slap in the face by another.  Don't take the world's bait and live in the same manner as those outside Christ's family.
I would love to hear some more principles (I've left out many) which would help guide us in our pursuit to honor Christ and each other in this overall helpful and practical tool called the social network.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Redeeming Facebook

This is a follow-up in a short (perhaps even shorter than a standard "mini," I have no idea exactly where I'm taking this at this point) series of facebook related posts. Some folks have opted to shut down their facebook accounts for good reasons. Yet others simply argue against its use just because of its misuse: it has caused many problems and allowed people to sin against one another more easily. But I don't stop celebrating Xmas because of the Lexus commercials and rampant materialism (which is still present in my heart) accompanied with Xmas. Instead we hope to let Christ redeem it. 

On one hand, the internet is a wonderful tool which has helped increase community and get God's word out, in addition to often re-creating a cyber-community and allowing porn to become so mainstream. The solution is to redeem it by allowing Christ to reign even over the facebook section of our lives. As a result, facebook should supplement (not replace) community, encourage (not tear down) one another, and help us connect (not disconnect) with one another. I'll start with a few ways in which I've seen facebook be quite helpful.

1.) Prayer. Because it allows you to recognize people's needs so quickly, it allows you to pray immediately, and specifically. There is nothing wrong with a short "on-the-spot" prayer. In fact, God honors prayers like that, so you don't need to pray for hours to get his attention. Facebook can actually enhance your prayer life and bless others.

2.) Encouragement. When you see someone's need posted, you can offer brief words of encouragement. It is an easy way (again it is not a substitute for actually talking to them at church or a phone call if necessary) to encourage them when separated by time and space.  Loneliness in a struggle only makes that struggle harder. Even commenting on posts which don't express needs still communicates that someone else is interested in his/her life and shares his/her joys in addition to his/her sorrows.

3.) Scripture. Sometimes folks will put up a brief scripture verse or passage that will really "hit the spot." The other day a "friend" (who is also a dear friend) quoted Psalm 91, my all time favorite Psalm, that I relied upon so heavily when my depression/anxiety was at its zenith. Those little scripture posts can be extremely timely for many, and Gods' Word is living and active, and it doesn't return void, even when simply posted.

4.) Care. Because a church member recently posted a "mini-tragedy" (hotwater tank explosion) many folks actually reached out and made calls to check and see if help was needed. So this cyber-community actually fostered real local ministry.

These are just a few ways in which facebook can be redeemed. My next attempt will be to list some ways in which I think we should not use facebook.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MissionShift Essay #1 and Geoff Henderson Response

This blog post is simply an attempt to interact with several essays related to the subject of missions found in MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millenium." It is one part of the missions discussion found at Ed Stetzer's blog.

Charles Van Egen lays out a very helpful paradigm for anyone moving toward defining and applying "mission" in the local church setting. I appreciated the practicality of his aim. Battling over definitions for the sake of having the best definition of mission is truly a waste of time. But I didn't sense that was his aim, and so applaud him for that. 

His grounding "mission" in the idea of being "sent" by Christ is helpful. Certainly not groundbreaking or novel, but we can't deny or overlook Christ's centrality in this whole process. He is ultimately the one who sends, and the local church, or denominational sending agency, simply recognizes Christ's call as a sender. In addition, the formation of any idea cannot have a better genesis than in God's Word.

Nevertheless it is the height of arrogance to limit one's definition of mission to personal exegesis of scripture. We do bring baggage (not to mention sinful hearts and minds) to the texts of scripture. In order to limit such subjectivity, this exegetical activity has to take place in community, and not just the community of saints this side of heaven. 

As a result, Van Egen takes a stroll down memory lane, at least someone's memory, and explains how saints before us have defined and applied mission over the years. From the Constantinian picture of Christendom-type evangelism, to William Carey's model, to the world council of churches to the "missional" churches today, Van Egen recounts, and sometimes evaluates, how the church has formed and applied its understanding of mission. 

One can see his favor or disfavor of some of these models, particularly disfavor for the World Council of churches which derives, or "redefines" mission, drawing its direction from the world and not from Jesus Himself. In addition, he does identify that the "three-self" church model in America takes a similar u-turn and becomes "self-centered."

After a helpful stroll, with bits of evaluation along the way, he returns to the church at hand, hoping to construct a helpful definition. The definition is quite biblical and encompasses the major thrust of the bible: Jesus is reconciling a people to himself, as well as all things, in order to bring about a complete re-creation. Van Egen's definition is scripturally solid, avoiding the gnostic residue as well as the secularization from a faithless world; he advocates for evangelism in word and deed. 

The only problem I had with it, was that it was too long. 

Things that are too long are by nature un-applicable and eventually discarded. Authors of books would do well to consider this, in my opinion (ironically, Guder's response sought to bring back Barth-certainly there is some helpful stuff by Barth but it is difficult to wade through the endless Dogmatics combing for that which may be very helpful, especially as it relates to missions).

Andreas Kostenberger seems to have offered something somewhat new by listing some guiding principles, although I think 12 could have been shortened down to 5 or 6. If the goal of this whole project is to assist the local church redefining and applying mission,  it is imperative to make things as succinct as possible.  Kostenberger failed to interact with the examples of how the church has defined and applied missions, and is one major weakness in his response.

Van Egen probably should have ended his pursuit with his helpful descriptive principles (instead of a definition) of a "missional" church (pg 24-25), although I undersand when you title an article "Mission: Defined and Redefined," you've got to conclude with a definition! Still, some guiding principles seem the best way to go.

I agreed whole-heartedly with Ed's response as I sensed a fear from some of the essayists, particularly Eitel who began with an example more of syncretism than over-contextualization. He correctly calls much of Eitel's concern, a "slippery slope argument" applied to "any creative missiology" Stetzer considers this Pharisaical approach quite harmful. In addition, The Holy Spirit, scripture and community help us walk on such slippery slopes instead of ignoring them.

And not only is such an approach harmful, but it is equally ignorant. Very few of us realize that missionary practices of any day are always going to be culturally contextualized. Paul's missionary endeavors were super-contextualized to the extent where he took money or worked as a tent-maker, went to synagoues or public intellectual centers, dependent upon whom he was ministering. All churches do this today, as there is no biblical command for length of sermons, time of worship, instrumentation, etc....We apply the scriptural principles of the timeless gospel to our setting.

In considering missiology, I am becoming aware how much of this is dependent, or at least connected to one's ecclesiology-which I guess makes sense, since churches are usually the ones sending missionaries! What you think church is supposed to look like, and why it is supposed to look like that, will largely shape our vision for what "mission" churches look like.

I really can't add much to Ed's response. I know that's not adding anything there, but I felt like he hit all my concerns with the previous essays. I found the other responses thoughtful, and for the most part gracious. But they seemed once again to fall in the "either-or, word or deed, contextualiaztion or anti-contextualization, bible or culture," categories. Stetzer on the other hand, rightly sees the necessity of interacting with not only scripture, but how the church has applied or mis-applied it, even interacting and commending theologians he might not line himself up with, in order to move forward in the mission discussion.

I like reading and reacting. But I wrestled with even participating in this discussion because I couldn't see what the point was. People will disagree over definitions until the cows come home. But if the goal of this project is to help the local church clarify how to follow God's call to love their neighbors and those to whom will yet believe in the gospel and experience the blessings thereof, I'm all for it. 

Such discussion can be helpful for any missions committee as they set parameters for mission conferences, mission trips, missionaries to support, and participating in local missions and mercy. I think the goal should not be definition but guiding principles. Moving forward in missions thought and application will and should always be a journey filled with discussion. 

Since I'm of the Reformed theological perspective, I embrace their battle cry of "Always Reforming." Let's continue reforming our principles and practice, ever mindful of the sender (Jesus) and the conclusion (New Heaven and New Earth).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Deleting facebook?

I try not to read too many blogs because doing so inevitably takes too much time. I know, earth-shattering wisdom there. But of the 5-6 I follow, one of those which I've most benefited from is that of that of Jonathon Dodson, an Acts 29 church planting pastor in Austin, TX. 

After viewing the movie the Social Network (aka "the facebook movie), he deleted his whole facebook account. He explains why in his post here, but here's one of his more compelling reasons.

#4 Reason I Quit FB
I want to deepen in real friendship and community not chase dopamine bursts of false significance. After seeing The Social Network, I wrote a post about the The Social Network & the Decline of Friendship. In it confessed my tendency towards preferring the convenience of friends we can turn off over the inconvenience of friends we can’t. We prefer the dopamine rush of a virtual friend’s text, tweet, or FB message over the sacrifice and love of investing in a real friend’s joys, hardships, and concerns.

In summary, this is probably a decision that is part of new line of decision-making that will spill over into next year, a slow year. A year (and hopefully many years) of rich community, significant friendships, relished family life, deep thinking and devotion, and a more rewarding life all the way round.

I completely respect Dodson's decision to erase facebook (although it should be noted he still is on Twitter!). This last post is quite challenging, because facebook activity can replace personal, actual, "face" time walking alongside broken people.
But what I most respect about his decision is that he makes it very clear in his post that this is WHY HE DID IT, not WHY YOU MUST DO IT. That's called personal conviction. Because the scriptures are quiet on whether or not you should have a facebook account, we have great freedom in this area to be led by the Spirit.   

Facebook to me is neutral. Like alcohol, and like the internet in general, it can be used for good or evil. For me it is an extremely helpful tool to keep in touch with friends, family, and church family.

Nevertheless, we always need to apply the principles of scripture to facebook activity in the same way we apply scriptural principles to all of life. I'll give some reasons why I think it can be good to have a facebook, and some principles that I think should guide facebook activity. But this post is long enough as it is...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Like coach, like player

Throughout the NFL, you see different types of coaches, even different types of successful coaches. Tampa Bay Buc's coach Raheem Morris (they were successful in my opinion this year at 10-6, same record as the Green Bay Packers who are currently in the 2nd round of play-off's) prefers to be approachable and limit the player-coach distinction even to the point where players don't call him "coach" but "Rah." 

N.Y. Jets coach Rex Ryan prefers to coach in a boastful manner, trash talking (often profanity laced) and calling out other opponents. As a result his, players do the same thing. 

Bill Belichik, on the other hand chooses a different approach of letting the play on the field do the talking. Players are tight lipped because their coach is tight-lipped. Patriots never give other teams "bulletin-board" material, even when taunted. Why? Because they reflect the personality of the coach.

These are just three different coaches, with three different styles, each of which is reflected in their players. That's not coincidence. People under leadership often reflect the personality or at least practice of their leaders.

It would be hard to argue that this isn't the case with most leadership-follower relationships. Parents, pastors, and anyone in church leadership need to be sober minded that their behavior and what they teach (not just in word but in deed and in attitude) will be reflected somewhere. That's good news if leaders eat, sleep, and breathe the gospel, but certainly disconcerting if they don't.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

McNabb, the bench, and the freedom to fail

Strange that I would begin this day with a post about an NFL team not currently in the play-off's, particularly when the BCS championship game was so good last night. But I never claim to not be a little strange. My only take on the game was that it was good, and that Auburn will most likely eventually have to forfeit the title in a few years when the pay-for-play investigation concludes. Auburn fans, don't post hateful things: I'm seriously not pulling for this to happen, just predicting it.

Several weeks ago, just after the Bucs beat the Washington Redskins, Donovan McNabb was benched. Some players, including the vocal Clinton Portis, didn't think this was a good decision. 

“In the locker room, I think that [the McNabb benching] that would scare a lot of guys,” Portis said on 106.7 The Fan, via the Washington Post. “That Donovan McNabb, who is proven to do so much, and who has done so much in the NFL, gets benched. I think it becomes a thing in the locker room like, ‘Man, if they bench Donovan, anybody can be benched. Or am I next or what’s next?’ And I think guys start playing for safety.”

Now Portis, who's been in the league for a number of years, knows competition is part of the game. Those who compete and perform best in practice, will play on Sundays. But if QB's are scared to make mistakes, if DB's are scared to go for an interception, then I guess I could see how fear could really affect their play. Portis insinuates that fear doesn't motivate people; it cripples them. You will get less out of a fearful player because he won't take risks.

I've never heard this kind of thinking from a football player before, but it is the kind of thinking which results from believing the gospel. 

Jesus' perfect atonement for our sins removes the fear of punishment. We can be lovingly disciplined, (fortunately) when we stray, but the fear of punishment is removed. Therefore we can "play" without fear of losing our status. We need not fear being benched or having to work our way back into God's good graces. Instead of license (do whatever you want to do), this new freedom motivates us to joyfully follow the one who removed our punishment by taking it upon himself.

I can't speak as a coach and motivator of football players, because I never was one, and probably will never be one. But as a motivator of people (not motivational speaker), I've seen the gospel we preach free people from passivity to actively honoring Christ and moving toward others. Free to fail, such folks can take risks, not live in guilt, and move forward with the smiles of their Heavenly Father.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jim Joyce's bad call and the life after

Last season, Detroit pitcher Armando Gallaraga had a perfect game going. No hits, no walks, no base-runners through two outs in the ninth inning. Then came a routine ground ball to the first baseman, and Gallaraga running to first base to catch the ball. The throw clearly beats the runner and the perfect game is secure. Well that's what should have happened, but for some reason umpire Jim Joyce called him safe. He thought he was safe, but replays showed he was clearly out.

That blown call would change Joyce's life. Check out this article on the aftermath of blowing such a call. The article is helpful for a number of reasons. Here are several of my "takes" on the article and situation.

1.) The situation could be harder for this umpire. Gallaraga came up to him after the game, have him a hug, and received an apology. I don't know if Gallaraga is a believer or not, but he sure is acting like someone who has been shown lots of grace. Grace received should move us to show grace to others. Something I need to remember all of the time, as a parent, pastor, friend, neighbor, and spouse.

2.) Umpires and referees carry a heavy burden. They do affect the outcome of the game. While the only professional referee I've ever met actually did prison time for fixing games, most probably try their best without bribery. From a fan's perspective, its hard when officials blow a call and don't own it. But it in this article you hear from other officials, that this is probably not the norm.

3.) Caring and caring too much. That people would give death threats for blown calls is unbelievable. That a blown call should or even could change or alter someone's life is sad. Sad, but inevitable when following sports moves from hobby to idolatry. 

4.) The support from imperfect people. Outside death threats, it is fascinating, but also obvious, how broken people attract support from broken people. From other referees who've blown calls, to airline workers, to children with cerebral palsy, it is cool to see a fellowship of the broken develop. That's also one picture of the church of what the church should be.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jersey Shore Sexuality and a good secular response

Sometimes I watch The Early Show or Good Morning America while eating cereal and drinking coffee. Today, the latter had on the cast (if you can call people who aren't really actors a "cast") of Jersey Shore. I've never seen the show other than just flipping by it, but I can tell that it is one which would probably kill brain cells faster than any alcoholic beverage one could concoct. 

I did learn that it took one dude, you can guess which one from the picture, 25 minutes to get his hair ready each day. Outside the fact that I'm still blown away that reality TV is really that popular-although I guess we could have predicted post-modernity would bring us shows like this-the only other redeeming part of my 10 minutes was it reminded me of an article I read last month called "Sex Ed in the age of Snooki." Ironically, Snooki, was the only member of the "cast" not present.

It's not from a Christian perspective, but because of God's "common grace" (we're all made in the image of God and can still reflect truth to one another) even non-Christians can make great points. Here's a clip from the above mentioned article.

On the surface, I’ve got it easy as a parent—my wife and I have two sons. “Boys will be boys” goes the conventional wisdom. We’ve come to expect—and often excuse—their bad behavior. That means it falls on a girl’s shoulders to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to create and protect boundaries in respect to her sexuality. While I think it’s important to teach girls how to be empowered gatekeepers of their own sexuality, I also believe that we have to focus on the boys, not let them off the hook. If girls operate in the male gaze (both actual and internalized), then we need to change that gaze. Boys need to learn how to see girls differently. Here’s how:

Start with your own relationship. Almost from birth, children model and imitate what they see at home. If you and your spouse don't treat each other with respect, you can't expect the same from your child.

It is good to see that even on, folks are aware that free and open sexuality is not good. But I was most impressed by 3 things from this piece.

1.) The affirmed need for families to take responsibility in discussing sexuality before the Jersey Shore, movies, and friends get their grubby little paws on our youth and distort this great gift from God.

2.) The affirmed need to not place the whole responsibility on girls for acting and dressing in sexually provocative ways. I for one am glad to have 2 boys (although I would have been happy to have a girl). Dealing with a daughter who wants to wear a long belt to pass as shorts or blue spray paint to pass as jeans is not something I look forward to. But as a father, and as guys in our culture, we have a responsibility not to expect women to dress as such. I particularly love the line "We have to change boys' gaze. Boys need to learn how to see girls differently..."

Perhaps if guys in the church can learn to see girls differently, at the very least, girls in the church, will less and less feel the need to dress or act in ways which can do harm to both them and their future husbands.

3.) The importance of respect in the Mom-Dad relationships in front of their children. I believe 90% (I have no way of proving this though) of what we teach our children is actually informal, and happens as we do life together.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Don't Waste Your Sports

I obviously like sports. I like playing them-on the rare occasion that I get-and watching them. I look forward to watching my son play them. In addition to simply enjoying them as a hobby, sports provide a great in-road into the lives of many, both believers and non-believers. 

Folks in this part of W.V. (Teays Valley) are like me. They like sports, so I feel like I fit in fairly well. 

But there is also a problem with sports: they can become an idol. They can become a place where our hearts, mine first and foremost, get overly distracted and entangled. They can quickly replace Jesus. And they can quickly replace the church as many American Christians will take extended breaks from worship just to take their kids to sporting venues (this may happen in other countries but I can only "vouch" for America). 

However, sports don't have to be an idol. In fact they can even be the opposite: something which points us toward Jesus and His glory. C.J. Meheney has as incredibly rich sermon on how to honor Christ with our sports called "Don't Waste Your Sports." Justin Taylor blogs a blurb about it here, and has a place where you can watch the video of it as well-I'm glad there is no video of us at Redeemer, although since we meet in a movie theater, you kind of think there should be....

Whether you're a fan of watching sports, play church softball, or have kids in sports, this sermon is very applicable to you (if you're not a fan or athlete or parent of either, then you probably won't find it worth your time). And challenging. And frankly, most of the American church thinks very little about how Jesus and sports collide. Questions like "How do I honor God by watching football" and "Should I regularly skip worship so Johnny can play soccer?" have to be asked. Too often we just do, without any real consideration whether or not something is honoring or dishonoring to God. We just do without thinking. We do without being challenged to think through what it really means to "eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God." Convictions will and should vary among Christians, yet we still need to be challenged and encouraged to "Not Waste Our Sports."
This sermon has actually been made into a booklet of the same name, which I'm going to pick up soon. It's never too early or too late to start thinking through how to truly honor Christ with your sports.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Andy Dalton and I Peter 5

Last night was another bad bowl game, at least for the 2nd half, with Virginia Tech eventually getting blown out by a very good Stanford team. I had anticipated a closer match-up, and so was quite disappointed. But the opposite happened in the Rose Bowl this year with "little" (they actually were quite smaller and had to use strategy more than power to bring down the bruising Wisconsin tailbacks) TCU defeating Wisconsin. 

While TCU was ranked number 3, they were still in many eyes, the underdog. They played in the "nazareth" of football conferences. Yet this sideline reporter noticed that the team as a whole continued to remain humble throughout the week. They didn't self promote. They didn't take any media "bait" to defend themselves. 

Here QB Andy Dalton talks about his motivation for humility: that God will lift you up "at the proper time." A quick look at I Peter 5:6 couches this verse in the older/younger relational dynamics in the church. While athletes need to be careful not to isogete (read their situation "into the passage" they still need to take what's there and apply it to their sporting venues. Most Christians do this everyday to their situations; they're just not interviewed about how they apply such verses.

And this QB is probably fully aware of the original context. What I think Dalton is doing is applying the general principle of humility: letting God exalt you at the right time. Should we not humble ourselves outside the church as well? And there is nothing about this exaltation in I Peter 5 that would lead one to conclude that God only exalts us when we get to heaven. He lifts people up all the time, and sometimes for only a season (probably Dalton will not go far in the NFL). 

I do confess that I sometimes cringe when Christian athletes get in front of the camera because they often forget that there are Christians on the losing side as well. And I think the most beautiful display of fellowship is when winners/losers pray together after the game. 

But 9 times out of 10, I think they simply want to give God glory for lifting them up in victory. And I think ultimately what our brother Dalton is doing in this interview is simply following I Cor 10:31:  "....whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

So thanks Andy for the reminder to humble ourselves before one another and let God pick the times to exalt us. Check out this brief interview below.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tucker Carlson's version of Must Love Dogs

For many, 2010 meant something new. For Michael Vick, it represented his first chance to start at quarterback since spending time in the slammer for all of the dog fighting mess. And with that chance to start, albeit only because of another Q.B.'s injury, he has gone on to enjoy an incredible season. A season which he pretty much single-handedly propelled me to a fantasy football win in our Redeemer league. Even Obama lauded praise on Vick for taking advantage of his 2nd chance. 

Now I never pulled for the guy to begin with, and really have no reason to pull for the guy. But he did his time and is now making the best of it. However, you wouldn't be in any spiritual danger to pull against Vick; but then again, for some, pulling against Vick isn't enough. 

FoxNews analyst Tucker Carlson, who is the spitting image of a K.A. (Kappa Alpha) fraternity boy at my alma mater Furman University, had this to say:

"I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances....But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did [it] in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that. He wasn't, but the idea that the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs?" 

I like dogs. I'm allergic to them, but I still really like them. But dogs are not people. Dogs are not made in the image of God, and that's why doing things like murdering people made in that image can get yourself executed in the Old Testament and present day period (Gen 9:6). And this whole made-in-God's-image thing is also why its so bad to curse people (James 3).

You can root against this joker. You can make the case that he didn't go to prison long enough, because he really didn't do any time for the actual murder of the dogs. Mike Florio of, and also a lawyer, writes:

As to Vick, he was fortunate that the state-level prosecution for killing dogs was bungled; Surry County, Virginia prosecutor Gerald Poindexter somehow couldn’t get a grand jury to indict Vick on charges of killing dogs even though Vick admitted to killing dogs in conjunction with his guilty plea on federal charges.  A zealous and competent prosecutor would have obtained an indictment and a conviction and would have pushed for an additional sentence over and above the time served at Leavenworth.
But you can't, as a Christian, want him executed.

The spirit of Tucker Carlson lives in on so many Americans. One facebook "friend" (I wish they were called "contacts" instead of "friends") whose posts I chose to permanently hide now, blasted people who gave her weird looks for traveling with her dog. She wrote, "I love this dog more than some people love you." How sad, but how true. Dog lovers keep loving your dogs, but don't love them more than you love people. And if you do, don't use your Christian faith to promote your stance.