Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barry Bonds is not the only user

Baseball season is upon us now, and that means a few things. First of all, I have a chance to repeat as the champ in fantasy baseball. Secondly, the Tampa Bay Rays will get to see whether Manny Ramirez will hit like Manny Ramirez or act like Manny Ramirez (that is one dude to whom you don't want to say, "Just be yourself"). And thirdly, since games are starting up, it would be nice to see the Barry Bonds perjury trial not take center stage.

While its not been a media circus, on some levels this trial is quite comical. Former teammates have testified about his use, while the most incriminating man in this case, his trainer, would rather spend time in jail than testify. Even former mistresses have testified that Bonds' testicles had shrunk over time. It's fairly obvious that the unlikeable lad's head literally grew; that kind of growth doesn't happen with weights and protein supplements.  Here are a few of my takes on this trial.

1.) A need for truth
People don't like to be lied to. The Feds really don't like to be lied to. While Dr. House's "everybody lies" philosophy of life is unfortunately very accurate, people still want some sort of ultimate arbiter, or at least a final accountability to actual tell the truth. That and the fact that he is perhaps baseball's most unlikeable player ever (or at least top 5) will, in my estimation, leave many people pulling against him. 

2.) We're all users.
Baseball really enabled this whole steroid era to flourish, and not simply by limiting drug testing. MLB promoted these new found home-run heroes because THEY put people in the seats. And people knew they were on roids, but people didn't care. Baseball had use for rhoid freaks like Bonds and Mark McGuire. Fans had use for them as well. But now there is no use for Barry Bonds, and we no longer need him.

I find it funny how much I profited and enjoyed watching these home-run legends, and watching them chase such home-run single season and all time records. But now for some reason I feel cheated. Yet at the time, I didn't want them to change. It's not just that "chicks dig the long ball" as the commercial claimed, but guys did as well.

Martin Ban of ChristChurch Santa Fe gave a challenging, as well as fascinating sermon called "Sloth and Anger" on the connection between these two "deadly sins." In his application, he questioned whether or not we really want people to stop being angry or slothful. Parents can use slothful children so that they feel needed. Folks use angry people to have someone tough to follow, and let them do the dirty work. Ban argues that we often don't want people to change, because we benefit from them. We use them, and to call people to change will be hard because we're good at using people.

I think this is what most fans did with Bond's during the steroid era. We didn't want him to change because we would no longer benefit from him. But after hearing Ban's sermon, I'm beginning to think this happens in my life with more than just baseball. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Going deep

I know I've said, and I know I've heard the expression, "I would like this book/sermon/study to go 'deeper.'" What that really means varies from person to person. One time I actually asked a pastor I respect what "going deep" really means? He responded like this: "It's giving someone a fresh perspective on the passage that they've not heard before." I don't disagree that this is a good thing. But what does, or rather should, going "deep" or "deeper" really mean? Trevin Wax on his blog Kingdom People poses this question and considers an answer from a "gospel-centered" perspective.

It’s interesting you bring up discipleship materials. There are always people asking for “deeper Bible study” or for a “deeper walk” with Christ. But what people mean by “depth” is not often clear. Some people think in terms of information. They want to know more facts, whether they come from history or theology. Information dump. Others think “deep” means a practical tidbit for my life tomorrow. They think in terms of immediate application. But this can turn the Bible into a self-help manual.

The gospel-centered movement has the opportunity to redefine what “depth” means. We shouldn’t see depth as “more info” or “life insights” but gospel-centrality. Going deep means we immerse ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me. We’ve got to see the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s grace in such a way that it is clear we can do nothing to make ourselves more acceptable to God. Depth means going deeper into the gospel until it confronts the idols of our hearts.

I love it when studies/sermons to go deep into background and history (though I have a feeling most people don't). But this snippet is a good reminder to go deeper into my personal history and background to see my deeper need for Jesus. See your sin, and see your Savior. Just make sure you realize the latter is bigger, much bigger than the former.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My take on Radical

A number of folks recommended David Platt's book Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream. Someone finally bought it for me, so I decided to read and see what all the rage was about.

Here's my take on the book as a whole.


Challenging. The book is flat-out challenging because Jesus is flat-out challenging. The Jesus of the bible doesn't really square with the Americanized version of Jesus who exists to give you a happy marriage, good kids, and a great smile. In fact he tells you to love Him more than your family (which is ironically the only way to actually love your family instead of making an idol out of them), and if you don't, you can't be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Easy there....Platt pulls no punches because Jesus pulls no punches. Not really sure what that saying means. But it is safe to say that Jesus is a thrower of punches, and the American Dream is often its recipient.

Giving up? Platt does a great job, particularly toward the close of the book, in emphasizing that giving up our lives is not really giving up anything. I love the example of Jon Patton he employs. When someone questions his leaving Scotland to head to a cannibalistic island, he says something to the effect of, "Whether worms eat me or people eat me makes no difference to me. We'll still get a new body at the resurrection." You don't lose out. That's a huge motivator because whether it's going to bed early, not having the coolest stuff, or not being able to full a childhood dream, we tend to be scared of missing out. We don't have to be. How cool is that?

Word and Deed. I also appreciated Platt's emphasis on word and deed ministry. Neither was sacrificed upon the altar of the other. It is important to feed folks, provide clean water, eradicate diseases when possible. To ignore such things is not much different than the person who leaves the gospel tract that looks like money AS a tip. Not good.

Platt's both/and approach to ministry in a local and foreign context. While he didn't seem to be in favor of domestic church planting-and I am highly in favor of that-I still thought he recognized the importance of both contexts. Definitely an emphasis on the foreign, but I need to hear that drum beaten often.

Community. Platt does not tell people to go guns blazing by themselves. They have to be part of a church community, and even better when they are involved in a small group community which studies the word AND actually does ministry together.

Things I might do or say differently

I hesitate to call these negatives, so I didn't. But there are a few of my concerns.
1.) Kevin DeYoung has a review here. I wouldn't call it a great review that I totally agree with, because I don't. I definitely disagree with some of it. But it is another perspective. And he has a point in that it is necessary to ground our sanctification (this radical crazy selfless life poured out for Jesus) in our justification (our perfect status obtained already by Jesus' live poured out for us). At some points, the reader can get lost in living radically without having the proper grounding and motivation. 

Platt's respsone to DeYoung shows he is on the same page. And I don't think you need to say before every point, "Because Jesus has saved you, you are now free to live like this, and are forgiven when you don't." I really don't. But perhaps he could have sprinkled it in the book a little more, rather than including the truth of justification, and then moving on. I told my teachers in our teacher training time, that they don't have to say "Because Jesus died for you and freed you from this idol, you can now live like this..." every time they make an application. But our tendency is to forget the gospel truth, and just apply. The problem is that we can sometimes leave Jesus, who is the author and sustainer of our faith, behind.

2.) Radical obedience to Jesus doesn't ONLY mean giving up way more than the tithe and going foreign, or going deeper locally. The gospel frees us to be generous to give more than the tithe, and frees us to walk across the street and get to know neighbors or go to India.
But a radical life also looks like someone honoring God with their work, working at it with all their heart (Col 3:23). Work, while a common American idol, is still a good thing and we don't need all Christians to give up their work and head overseas. Some are called to that, but some are not. Both can be just as radical, or at least as faithful to Jesus. 

Americans find their identity in work. They find their identity in hobbies, family, income, homes, etc...But these things need to be redeemed and the gospel light shed upon them. Work isn't evil and I fear that perhaps some folks may leave the book thinking it is, or is a lesser calling.

With those things said, I would still recommend Radical. Our pendulums need to be swung on this direction and we need Platt's voice, mainly because he echoes Jesus heart for the poor, needy, and broken. And Samuel Rutheford's take on the cross gives us hope that we can follow Jesus where he leads. Check this out: "Those who can take that crabbed tree handsomely upon their back, and fasten it on cannily, shall find it such a burden as wings unto a bird or sails to a ship." The cross is freedom.

A Sequel?

Some things for a Radical sequel, or if I were writing a book with similar title would be as follows. This is not the part where I say, "He should have added this or that." Platt's book was the right length. Books that are too long are ineffective for mass communication in my opinion. This is just my heart on what a radical life looks like.

1.) Commitment to corporate worship. When sports take you away from corporate worship, you don't give in. I can't wait (yeah right!) to deal with this because Connar loves anything that has to do with a ball. Perhaps not skipping church on Sundays in order to play soccer, basketball, or baseball might ruin a chance at a college scholarship? But to me it would be worth it if Connar loves Jesus and wants to worship with his church family when he goes off to college. Skipping church when kids are young FOR SPORTS, will lead our kids to believe church is unnecessary.

2.) Commitment to deep community. People with busy lives actually committing to come together, study the word, pray, fellowship, have fun, and actually minister together in some form of small group. It is very difficult to live out the plethora of "one another" commands found in the scripture outside some sort of regular and intentional small group.

3.) Commitment to outward facing community. How radical would it be to not just study the bible but to actually apply and live out the gospel together in your community? We don't simply need more bible studies in the church but small groups of people committed to the gospel, one another, and their communities. The days of sitting on the couch and only studying the bible need serious evaluation. While these makes us feel good about ourselves, these miss 1/2 of what James 1:27 calls "true religion." Whether as individuals or as a group, such a small group bible study has to encourage or offer outward expressions of faith in the community.

To me these things are just as radical. But they are also just as normal and consistent with a life of following Jesus.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Facebook community of young and old: ammended

My cousin once told me, "I don't have accept facebook friend requests for people over 30." I asked about myself, and she said, "Sorry, even you!" I laughed, and later realized that she'll have to "up" the age restriction to 40 in several years when she turns 30.

It's a shame, but this type of facebook age discrimination takes place in the covenant community called the church. I can remember one of my former youth explaining, "I don't want that old guy looking at my pictures. That's creepy." Perhaps it is. I can't get in the mind of a teenage girl-nor do I necessarily want to be there! But what about older ladies? Should that be creepy too?

Earlier this week, one of my ex-"friends" on facebook posted something a bit concerning (my comments got me de-friended). It was the standard youth self-centered myopic comments I've come to know and but not so much love, yet expect. But what was beautiful was an older "friend" in her 70's who offered a simple regret and disappointment at such a post. The day before she even questioned a related post, explaining that the life of a teenager isn't as bad as teenager's think. Easier said, or written, than done. 

Whether or not any of these concerns were or will be taken to heart is hard to tell. Yet I think its a beautiful thing for teenagers to have more adults involved in their lives than only their parents and some sort of youth pastor. It takes a whole covenant community, and it is a beautiful to see the older taking an interest in the younger. 

Now facebook involvement is hardly a substitute for real community. But perhaps it is a start, and can be a place where the young and old BEGIN to do life together, sojourning along this difficult path we call the Christian life. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Not over thinking transforming culture: part II

This is a continued reflection on Tony Dungy's prison trip with Michael Vick and Dan Patrick. While Paul questions what "fellowship can light have with darkness," when it comes to a yolk-esque relationship like marriage (II Cor 6:14), does that mean He never uses non-believers in building His Kingdom? Has he ever done it in the past? Should we expect him to do it in the future and should we ever partner with non-believers when it comes to common justice issues in our communities?

When Solomon builds the Temple, he employs pagan labor and pagan goods (I Kings 5). In fact, the Sidonians are simply more skilled than the Jews in knowing how to cut timber. Then later comes the Persian King Cyrus, who actually orders the Temple be rebuilt and helps fund it by returning the originally confiscated Temple items taken by Nebucadnezzar (Ezra 1). In addition, their Babylonian and Persian neighbors reached into their pockets to give them all kinds of goods like gold and cattle (though I use "pockets" proverbially with the latter). We're not talking post cards or things sentimental trinkets to remember their time in Babylon. These gifts made a difference.

God's ultimate goal was not a building to "house" his special presence and glory. The end picture in Revelation is one of His glory and His will filling up the whole Earth, perfectly and completely as it is in Heaven. God accomplishes this through the preaching of the gospel. 

Sometimes unbelievers are hostile to it, and sometimes, they actually play a part in its promotion. At the end of Acts 27, and beginning of Acts 28, you see protection, provision, and hospitality shown to Paul and Luke by an unbelieving soldier and townsfolk.

So if God used unbelievers to partner (although granted it's not the same sense of "koinonia") with them through protection and provision, there's no reason such folks can't be used to assist in the proclamation of the gospel and the blessing of our cities. I don't think God has since ruled out using unbelievers alongside believers to bring about His will on Earth as it is in Heaven. 

That's why I think that Dungy using Michael Vick (professing believer) who's done hard time, and Dan Patrick (not sure of his faith profession) simply because the inmates listen to his show and has credibility was a good idea. 

The most impacting thing the Glazer family (Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners) have ever done was to hire Tony Dungy back in 1996. And perhaps the next greatest impact for the city of Tampa was to fire him six years later (after a 9-7 season and first round play-off loss). Not because the team won the super bowl the next year with Jon "Chucky" Gruden, but because God raised up Dungy with the Indianapolis Colts only to give him a further platform to come back and bless the city.  

How God uses unbelievers always amazes me and often shatters our separatist paradigms.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not over thinking transforming culture

One struggle for Christians is the tension of how exactly they are to relate to their surrounding culture. They are not to simply embody the surrounding values of their non-believing neighbors-which often happens so subtlely that many of us don't realize it. Yet we aren't to separate from it either. And still, a neutrality or ambivalence isn't even a possibility. Check out this Keller quote from his article "Church and Culture" I found on church planter Joe Holland's blog.

“To say ‘we must never try to change the culture’ is simply an over-reaction. No one
can live in the world neutrally. Culture is living out what we truly worship, and everyone is
worshipping something. Simply to work and live in the world, without sealing our faith off from our work, will transform culture.”

There are a few similar and related cultural models based upon the portrait of living FOR your city in Jeremiah 29. Exiles are to pray for and bless their pagan city, "For in its welfare, you will find your welfare."

But I think this is the most simple and succinct Jer 29 based model I've seen. I've read a number of books like Culture Making, and Christ and Culture:Revisited. And I have benefited from them and don't regret reading and engaging with them. However, simply living out your faith and loving your neighbors, co-workers, and friends is the simplest and perhaps most effective way to transform the culture.
Here's a great example of Tony Dungy living out his faith and inviting others, even unbelievers to join him in visiting a Florida jail. I originally heard about this on the Dan Patrick radio show, because Tony doesn't often self-promote. Dan was actually very excited to come alongside Tony and Michael Vick.
I don't know what kind of gospel centered conversations Tony and Dan have had behind the scene. I imagine that those things have come or will come up over time. But for the time being, Dungy is simply living out his faith and sharing his life with others. What ends this will have for the culture of Tampa is not Tony's job, burden, or responsibility. What means God delights to use is his (and ours) calling, joy, and privilege.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bashir interviewed: Redeemer, search for truth, and asking questions

On one of the blogs I follow, I found this recent interview with Martin Bashir, after he had already interviewed Rob Bell. Apparently he had been given much flack for his candor and desire to get to the bottom of Bell's question behind the question: aren't you just trying to make a palatable Christianity more than really seeking what the bible and the Church have to say about the issue of Hell?

If you have about 25 minutes, be sure to check out this interview. In it Martin Bashir explains he is a believer and actually goes to Redeemer in New York City with Tim Keller. I assumed he wasn't because I was playing the law of averages. Glad I was wrong.

Anyhow, in addition to discussing the poor historiography and scriptural manipulation in Bell's book Love Wins (quoting a letter from Luther, but ignoring the scope of the letter; quoting a verse in the bible, yet ignoring the next verse or two which gives the context and actually contradicts his point), he gives several fascinating and challenging insights.

1.) The church should be take the lead in diligently seeking what is true regardless whether that claim  is found in scripture, politics, or pastors promoting books. The truth can't be left out in pastoring, parenting, or politicking. 

2.) Any truth that is not open to being challenged or questioned is not a truth worth following. How true. Bashir was born into a Pakistani Muslim family and remembers one time questioning the prophet Muhuammad. He was told he dare not even ask or think such a question. Bashir thought and you're supposed to follow someone whom you can't even question?

I would hope that we don't embrace this attitude in the church. The church is a place where we are to "have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 22)" and not be afraid of questions. 

If we don't allow our young and our old to ask questions in our families or our covenant community, they will ask them somewhere else. Yet Jesus isn't afraid for people to question his uniqueness among other religions. I rather think he welcomes it because he knows that the scriptures shout of his unique glory. I don't think Jesus is afraid to tackle questions on whether or not He exists. Because He does, he's not afraid for folks to ask such questions. Jesus can take that one as well.

The church is a place where seekers, those asking questions, and those struggling with doubts can co-exist with those who have been granted faith (Eph 2:8-9) or simply granted greater measures of faith (Rom 12:3).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't believe in a "spiritual" Jesus

I've been working my way through Matthew for my devotional time, supplementing it with David Platt's Radical. This morning I came across the passage where Jesus feeds the 4000. Of course this is not to be confused with the time when Jesus fed the 5000; and it is not that eye witnesses interviewed by gospel writers pulled a Roger Clemens and "mis-remembered" the same activity as liberal folk will say. This event actually has a different emphasis. 

You've probably heard it said, "Why care about taking care of physical needs, when the eternal soul is what counts?" Sounds spiritual, doesn't it? We should care about where people spend eternity, and not about whether or not they live in poverty or have enough to eat for only a temporary period of time, right? While it may sound "spiritual" to the evangelical mind, it is, like my Cuban high school physics teacher taught us to say: "a bunch of bunk!" 

Jesus never thought like this, so we can't either. Check this out.

"Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." Matthew 15:32

When Jesus emphasizes the soul over material possession, it is never in relation to the poor and needy, but in connection to the rich and extravagant (Luke 12:19-20).

Why didn't Jesus say, "It doesn't matter if they faint or die of hunger, because they now have a chance to go to heaven since they've heard the gospel?" Because that kind of thinking is bunk. He cared not only that they not die, but that they not faint for lack of food. He cared about more than their souls, but their physical needs. 

Fortunately missionaries in Japan don't believe in this western, comfortably concocted, "spiritual" Jesus, but instead believe and follow the Jesus of the bible. Let's never forget that Jesus cares about people not fainting as well as people not spending eternity with Him.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Are there truly bad fans?

I have certain teams at the college and pro-level which I ALWAYS root against. The reason is in large part because their fans are, what I deem, obnoxious. My wife has always challenged my reasoning and questioned even the hope of objectivity in this matter. Is she right? Is there real objectivity in determining which fans are truly more obnoxious, or worse: which ones are most evil? Do some fans simply seem more obnoxious or belligerent, or are they essentially more obnoxious and belligerent?

Well GQ magazine, the bastion of objectivity, believes that some fans collectively are actually worse than others. Philly Eagle fan came in at #1 with Phillies fan at a close #2. My West VA readership might be interested to know their beloved Mountaineer Nation came in at #3. You can read why they get such a rating here.

If you read some of the other one's I will warn you that it is GQ reporting WHY they gave such ratings, so there may be some offensive material (largely because they are repeating what they've heard). But most of the stereotypes are pretty clever, funny, and spot on.

All in all, there may be more objectivity to whether a team really has "bad" fans than one would at first think. I would have ranked Red Sox fan a little higher (he came in at #6, though I realize I'm a somewhat biased Ray's fan), but in the end I still think they did a good job. 

If you think GQ missed the boat, comment with some of what you think are the worst fans.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Peterson and the "modern" slave trade

 Some times football players say stupid things. Not that I don't-my stupid words could fill a book. Its just that my "book" isn't nearly as public or as heavily trafficked. Here are some words that might go beyond stupid: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson compares the NFL to modern day slavery. Check it out below or read the whole thing here.

“It’s modern-day slavery, you know?” Peterson said. “People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money . . . the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money.”

Really. I know that the owners are really greedy. I know the players are as well. But slavery? Hmmm.....International Justice Mission, international sex slave trade, Islamic fundamentalism, cults which enslave little girls, and the NFL? Not sure that last one fits.
Of course Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall agrees and tweets:

@AdrianPeterson is correct in his anology of this game. It is a lot deeper than most people understand.  Anyone with knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that these two parallel eachother.”
Finally the voice of reason comes with injured Green Bay's Ryan Grant, realizing the ludicrosity of such comments.

“I have to totally disagree with Adrian Peterson’s comparison to this situation being Modern day slavery. . . false,” Packers running back Ryan Grant wrote on Twitter.  “Their is unfortunately actually still slavery existing in our world.. Literal modern day slavery.. That was a very misinformed statement.  I understand what point he was trying to make.. I just feel like he should have been advised a little differently.”

The very interesting thing to me is that Adrian Peterson is actually going to Africa where slavery and much worse things still exist. "Modern day" slavery of the NFL might not look as civilized as NFL slavery.

He and some other former Oklahoma Sooners like Bucs DT Gerald McCoy are going to Uganda and Rwanda this summer. I doubt real slavery impacted, genocidally depleted families and rape victims will feel too sorry for their "slavery." I just hope the Rwandans don't follow Peterson on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bell Interview and Salvific Stinginess

There has been much buzz about Rob Bell's book Love Wins, which apparently, according to a number of reviewers, depicts some sort of universal salvation. Many people have already written about it, so many that I don't know if I'll even purchase the book (which I had originally planned on doing out of curiosity and making an informed decision myself). 

This interview below is worth the price of admission for sure. Martin Bashir continues to allege that Bell is simply trying to present a picture of the gospel that won't offend people. Bashir finds that offensive, and reasons that it doesn't matter what you do with Jesus in this life. I doubt that Bashir himself believes the gospel, but even he can smell a 'sell job' from a mile away. He continues to try to get a squeamish Rob Bell to admit he's just trying to placate people, and deal with some evangelicalism induced, repressed childhood memories. Priceless.

Yet there's still another response from the Rob Bell responders that surprised me in both positive and negative ways.

Richard Muow, president of Fuller Seminary, speaks positively about the book. He is not a universalist and claims Bell isn't either. Other folks seem to have a different take. Maybe I'll have to read it after all......

But on the very positive side, Muow cautioned Christians away from not simply picturing Hell too empty but also from picturing it fuller than it may be. This line is beautiful.
Why don’t folks who criticize Rob Bell for wanting to let too many people in also go after people like that who want to keep too many people out? Why are we rougher on salvific generosity than on salvific stinginess?
Theologically conservative folks might need to be careful about "salvific stinginess." Or in other words, slicing the pie of who's in and who's not, too thin. Jesus says that only he can save, and Paul gives a list of folks, like greedy or swindlers, who won't inherit the Kingdom of Heaven without repentance (I Cor 6:10). But people don't have "saved" tags on them. Revelation reminds us that the one who "conquers" (Rev 2:7) or remains faithful to the end will taste the fruit of a new Heaven and Earth.

The best we can do is make educated guesses based upon Christ and the fruit of His Spirit. It's probably best to speak in terms of levels of confidence instead of being dogmatic when dealing with people who claim Christ, demonstrate some fruit, and persevere until the end.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jeffersonian and Geoffersonian thoughts

I remember one summer eating at Panera with an early morning men's bible study. It was part of a brief three week internship when I lived in Richmond waiting to get married (Jacob had to live 14 years near in-laws; I just had three weeks-so that wasn't too bad). One guy talked about how he was learning of Thomas Jefferson's faith and then referred to him as a "Christian."

I can't remember the discussion that ensued other than some follow up questions to such a ridiculous claim. In case you're not aware, Thomas Jefferson literally cut out the parts of the bible which didn't run counter to his own deistic theology (he left the miracles, among other things-God was the divine clockmaker and played a hand's off role) and rationalism. He was not a Christian by any respectable definition I've heard. 

Check out this article where folks are trying to restore the Jefferson bible called the "Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazereth." The exhibit includes this book of excerpted pages, as well as the bibles from which he cut them out. Sad, but very interesting.

Well at least he was consistent and thorough with his rational "faith" commitment. Jefferson's beliefs would be fairly easy to address because you could simply go to his personal bible and see what was or wasn't there. That would be one easy way. Gosh that would be intimidating because he was a smart dude.
I don't know how cutting out pieces of the bible would have been received in his time. But today that probably wouldn't fly so much in the church or even in alternative faith communities. 

Since our bibles are usually all in one piece with verses in tact, is there another way to discern whether or not we or others actually believe the content (commands, promises, doctrine, truth, overall story) on those pages? Yep, our lives, our behavior. When I look at my life, or any life for that matter, it will tell me exactly what I believe. How I spend my money, how I treat my kids, what I say driving down the street, are all affected by what I believe or don't believe.

The amount that my life changes is the amount that I truly believe the gospel. If I'm declared righteous in God's sight-even though righteousness in this earthly community depends upon behavior/performance and my kids' behavior/performance-and my needs will be taken care of, and so will my real enemies, I will be generous with my money, love my kids more (but not need them), and pray for my enemies. 

Is that what my life always looks like? Hmmm.....

Just because we don't cut stuff out doesn't mean that we're SO different than Mr. Jefferson. Admitting that we don't believe as much as we say we believe is really the key to changing our behaviors.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsunami thoughts: A God who grieves

I just watched some crazy video last night of the Tsunami's devastation in Japan as cars were moved to and fro like driftwood. The power of water, something which seems so, well, not hard (I know that sounds very scientific) never fails to bedazzle me. How destructive it can be. And then I'm also amazed at some of the survival stories, such as this one, where a man is seen sitting on a piece of roof, having floated 9-10 miles out to sea before being rescued. Unfortunately his wife didn't make it.
There is time for theodicy (defending the existence of God amidst such evil), but obviously not now. The time is to mourn and pray and trust that the waters of the ocean will have washed away any spiritual apathy toward the gospel in Japan and everywhere.

Yet I have found one very helpful theological truth when wading through the mess of such natural disasters and "man-made" disasters like 911. While I hold firmly to the fact that God ordains all that comes to pass, that doesn't mean that He sits unmoved by all things. For instance, at one point He was "grieved" that He had made man, and Saul king (Gen 6:6; I Sam 15:11). 

It doesn't mean that he regretted it. I think it shows that God can ordain things which grieve Him. Scripture doesn't say that God grieved while Jesus was on the cross, but does it really need to? God clearly ordained that Jesus bear the cross for our sins, but do you think His experience was the same as when Jesus was baptized and He said, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased? (Matt 3:17)"
In addition, our own experience reminds us that we too can "ordain" things which grieve us. For instance, the way a Father chooses to discipline His son. That grieves me, but I still planned for it happen and didn't regret it.

We cannot fully comprehend the extent of God's emotional frame as He exists both in and outside time as we know it. We can only know such emotions/thoughts are perfect, the way Jesus' were perfect: he was righteously angry, and righteously joyful. 

In the end, we don't have a weak God, but a powerful one who still grieves with the broken.
We have a God who can grieve, even in the midst of what He has ordained. And that's unique. And that's helpful too.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

From the Fan's perspective

Just a day ago, the NFL talks between owners and union officially came to an impasse. The owners are going with a lockout and the union has de-certified. Much of the bickering back and forth has been extremely confusing for anyone without a law degree, at least on one level. On another level it is as simple as "each side wants more money." Of course there are different nuances like protection for players, an 18 game season, shorter off-season routines, and the like. But in the end its hard to deny that money doesn't have the most to do with it (love's sure got nothing to do with it).

And so for the average fan like myself, I see two angry factions fighting over some things I just don't get: the issues, the terms, and of course the ludicrous amount of money. Both sides look like a bunch of yahoos.

I wonder if that's what non-believers think when they see opposing parties in the Church blasting each other over spiritual issues they just don't get. I'm not saying that some issues aren't worth fighting over like breaches of orthodox doctrine. And I know that the natural mind isn't going to "get" why some truths are so important because those truths are only "spiritually discerned (I Cor 2:14)."

There will inevitably be some confusion or condescension from unbelievers amidst fierce church debate. Yet I wonder if unbelievers often see our back-and-forth as not much different than owners and players squabbling over issues and money which they just can't understand.

Perhaps we will have more sympathy for the unbeliever if we can see our public debates from the "fans" perspective. Maybe it will make us be more gracious to one another?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The combine "crush" and selecting leadership

Despite the fact that the NFL owners and players have been greedily negotiating their lives away on and off for the last several months, the NFL combine went on without much of hitch. It's a time where athletes show up to display skills like how high they can jump (while standing still mind you), their broad jump (again while standing still), and how fast they can run. Quarterbacks get to throw without pads to receivers without pads without any lineman (hypothetically also without pads) chasing them. 

The problem is quite obvious: this is not real life. These are not real situations. In games, players jump with pads, run with pads, throw or catch or block with pads. And yet scouts often salivate over players who stand out not in real game action but at the combine. It doesn't seem much different than the sorority rush weekend at Furman University where girls in ONE weekend were picked or not picked based upon short conversations, (brief interviews), non real-life situations (40 yard dash) and external impressions like appearances (how the players looked in full body spandex).

When it comes to the draft in April, one or two teams always fall prey to this sort of combine crush. Wide receivers who didn't necessarily excel in college like Troy Williamson or Darius Hayward-Bey have cracked the top ten simply because of their 40 yard dash times. Both have been busts.

I think very often the church falls prey to this type of "combine" thinking when selecting its leadership, particularly in regards to elders and deacons. We, and I'm guilty of this myself, tend to look for people who talk the loudest, sound the smartest, teach the best.

But a good way for a church to base its selection is not by how good they look in un-realistic situations, like teaching a class, but in how their real life (most everyone looks good at church) is conducted during the week. Are they "eldering" and "pastoring" people already; they won't just magically start to do so. Do they like having say and control? Do they pastor their families well? Are they already well thought of by outsiders and do they open up their homes? Do they have any hidden agendas? Do they seek to learn in community and share with others, or do they do everything by themselves? Do they naturally teach and desire to train others or do they reserve it only for Sunday School? Good teachers and smart people don't necessarily make good elders.

A friend of mine asked me about church leadership this week, and these are just a few questions I would want my congregation asking of its present and future leadership. They are questions I need to regularly ask of myself as well.

Monday, March 7, 2011

There may be no crying in baseball but basketball is a different story

While there may be "no crying in baseball" according to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, there certainly is in the NBA. And I'm not talking about the prevalent whining to officials which characterizes the league and its stars. And it's not just Michael Jordan making Kwame Brown cry in practice. The latest display of tears came from the much hyped Miami Heat locker room the other day. After their 4th loss in a row, and a tough one at that to the Chicago Bulls, the coach reported that there a "couple of guys crying in the locker room."

Here are a few of my takes on "crying in basketball"
1.) The difference in crying in the NBA and college is not tears, but where you shed them. Crying in the NBA occurs in the locker room or at practice. But the college kids aren't afraid to shed a few tears during NCAA tournament losses, and sometimes even in victories. When people get older, or more "professional," they get better at hiding their tears. Unfortunately, this is often the case in our Christian lives. As we get older, we get better at hiding our hurt and need before others, even to the point where younger Christians might get the impression that such folks have "arrived." Not good. God gives us  proverbial "locker rooms" (family, close friends, small groups, etc...) to cry, but we should never hide our brokenness so much that we give the appearance of having it all together.

2.) I wonder if Coach Eric Spoelstra had the individual criers, or even the team's best interest in mind when he admitted grown men were crying over a loss. Spoelstra simply tried to let the media know that the players really did care about losing, and weren't satisfied with the current state of affairs. However, what he did was create a stormy speculation game of "who was crying" and open his team up to further unnecessary disrespect. Revealing your own need and weakness shows that you are secure in Christ, and that he came to die for people like you (I Tim 1:15). There is much beauty in brokenness.  Revealing others brokenness without their approval is a different story. We're better at that one.
3.) Should a Christian ball player cry after a loss? I don't know. Tim Tebow did. Sometimes I get too involved into sports, whether watching football or playing church softball, so I'm not approaching this from high ground looking down on others who cry. Perhaps tears are acceptable for athletes in the moment of defeat? After all, their failure or success is seen by millions. But for fans or players, losses in sports can't be allowed to linger. Jesus enabled Paul to be content whether well fed or hungry; Christ, who can do all things not only calls us to contentment, but empowers our contentment in all situations (Phil 4:12-13). So if crying is acceptable hours after defeat, I don't think it's acceptable days after a tough loss. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I just don't feel connected to this church.....

I'm aware that sometimes churches are incredibly unfriendly. I've been to ones like that. Sometimes churches make it hard to "break in," and feel very clique-ish. I get that too. And I know Redeemer isn't perfect, in any aspect of our ministry, so we can certainly get better in providing community (though I think we do a pretty good job). Expecting perfection in the church now is a little on the premature side. That comes when Rev 21 happens.
But just as often, if not more so, the issue lies not with the church, but with the tentative way many people "seek" community and connection within a local church. People often passively approach community, expecting the experience of deep fellowship to happen overnight, and for it to simply fall into their lap without a lick of personal initiative. 

Check out this blogpost parodying a couple passively "seeking" community and not finding it. It's kind of funny, but also very spot on to the American consumer culture in the evangelical church today. Our tendency is to work hard at marriage, raising children, improving job performance, continuing education, but we often expect community to simply come to us. It's not something we feel like working at. Yet the truth of the matter is, I think it's impossible to experience real gospel community without regularly seeking it out and applying the gospel when you're frustrated.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Some praise for BYU?

I got tired of Florida fans (especially those within my own family!) ragging me for former FSU Coach Bobby Bowden's "forgiving" and giving "second chance" to wayward players doing things like, well, breaking the law. Mostly because they were right. In the end, FSU's standards amounted to either a simple desire to win with the best players, or an enabling spirit which leaves college students unaccountable and only reinforces their behavior. Neither is loving.

But if you're like me, you also have to wonder what the deal is with BYU dismissing star center Brandon Davies from their team. We don't know anything, and its really none of our business. Yet most folks aware of the situation are intrigued because the reason for his dismissal comes down to a "violation of the honor code." An honor code in some colleges like Presbyterian College will include things like "no cheating" or "plagiarism."And violations often lead to dismissal from the college.

But a Mormon honor code, since it is not informed by THE gospel, but ANOTHER gospel, is naturally going to include violations which differ greatly from biblical standards. Some of them differ from not only the law of Christ and the United States, but that of common sense or "night owls." Here's a list of honor code commitments from BYU's honor code office website. You can find answers to your burning questions like "how do I get a beard exception" at the website as well.

Be honest
Live a chaste and virtuous life
Obey the law and all campus policies
Use clean language
Respect others
Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse
Participate regularly in church services
Observe the Dress and Grooming Standards
Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code 

Now if this lad violated the law or substance abuse, I applaud BYU. That would be a rare display of concern for integrity, even at the cost of winning. BYU has only two losses and could get a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This dismissal could end up costing them a national championship.

But of course, if he were dismissed because of a cuss word or a trip to Starbucks, then, wow. I have a hard time imagining that was the case but I don't want to slander the school or the lad. Yet in some strange way, I think I would applaud such punishment for "minor" violations. At least they are consistent. 

When a group of folks add anything to the gospel, whether it be the Book of Mormon, political affiliation, or even an unhealthy family dynamic (the unwritten rules that have to be embraced to be accepted), it will inevitably lead to rules taught by men and a concomitant slavery to them. That much will consistently be true in every situation where the gospel is subverted.

Sad for the lad, but maybe their rejection will lead to God's approval for him in Christ, who offers us not only a new record but a new freedom.