Friday, June 30, 2006

Why we like going to Vegas

ChristianMan has handed many of us the idea that our heart is wicked and that left to ourselves we will always hit that slippery slope to destruction. An Old Testament passage is always used to reinforce this, all the while overlooking what the New Testament says about rebirth, renewal and restoration. I am of the mind that we have been duped, misled to think that we are just one step away from oblivion. And where does that leave us if ChristianMan believe he is to live in fear of failure? My road has led me to consider all the actions that have been labeled sinful and ask the simple question, "Why?" If the Bible teaches us that Satan is only a deceiver, not a creator, it would seem to make sense that the core of all sin is something good that has gone wrong. I think most Christ-followers would affirm that sex is good at its core, but that it has been the target of deception due to its importance to the human heart. I must admit that one activity I am drawn toward that I could probably go overboard on is gambling. There is something about the energy of standing around a craps table that's really on. Again, I ask, "Why?" Why do we love it so much. ChristianMan has convinced me that it is because I love the darkness and the flesh and should rather love being in church on Sundays alot more. But in keeping with the idea that the Enemy is only a deceiver, is there anything about gambling that good? If we are made in His image, what about gambling is like God? Philip Yancey shed some light on this for me. He wrote a book called "Disappointment with God" that I recently read. He addresses the person who is struggling with God at some level. When he gets to the part of Job, he describes the scenario in language that I've never heard before. He calls the interaction with Satan, "The Great Wager." God put something on the line. He laid down a bet with Satan, took a huge risk on the man Job and told Satan, "You've got yourself a bet!" God believed in man enough to stake something on it, to let Job be involved in the action. Why would He do this? A closing thought: Could it be that God is a risk taker. Any free choice is a gamble, and God believed in His glory enough to put it at stake, knowing that Satan would accuse Him and knowing that the race of Men would turn from Him. The difference in His gamble and ours is the payout. We settle for a mere monetary one. His is eternal.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Annual Phone Call

My birthday was yesterday. Every year for the past 10 or so, I always get a phone call. (Yes, I get one from my mom, too, but this one is a little different.) It's a call that reaffirms my hope in the Gospel. It's from a guy who used to be in the student group I helped lead. To know why the call is so special, I'll have to give a bit of background on Dick. Dick has struggled along his life's path for quite a few years. When I met him at the University 11 years ago, I had no idea that he had a mental illness. I'm not sure anyone did. But to make a long story short, Dick found himself in trouble, the kind that gets you thrown in jail. Mental illness is severely misunderstood. There is a different consideration for people who's heart or kidneys don't function properly than for someone who's brain doesn't do what it was designed to do. We tell the person with a heart condition to go to the doctor, but we for years have told the person with mental illness to "snap out of it," or "stop being lazy," or "quit being weird." But every year when Dick calls on my birthday, I am encouraged and amazed. I'm amazed that this man who has a mental illness also has a mind for remembering details, like baseball stats, history dates, and birthdays. I'm encouraged by the fact that God does not give up on us. Yesterday, there was hope in his voice, even choking up at one point, grateful for the love God has poured out on him despite his brokenness. It reminds me that His love knows no end. It tells me that His love is what its really all about, not about how good or moral we try to become. Goodness and Morality can become an idol, becoming the focus of our lives rather than living in awe of the Love poured out for us every single day. Thanks, Dick, for the phone call. And thanks for your example to me of what its really all about.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My decision to quit football

It's been at least two years (maybe more) since I have separated myself from the church as we know it in order to pursue the answers to my questions about life and faith. I don't know that I recommend this path to everyone, but for me it has been the direction I felt compelled to take. I don't know why I am this way, but the first time I saw this kind of decision was way back in 9th grade. Growing up in a small town, there aren't a whole lot of opportunities for self-expression. In my school you were either a jock or a geek, not much gray area in between. So the choice was between sports or nothing. If you didn't play sports, you were seen as other, less than. I moved to a different school in 7th grade, due to my old school closing. Upon arrival, I figured out quickly the caste system, so I signed up for football. It didn't take long to realize what a difficult environment it would be. It wasn't hard because of the physical demand; it just wasn't an encouraging place. Coaches were psychologically cruel, as well as other players. I hated it from day one, but didn't feel I had the courage or choice to do anything else. So I stuck it out for 3 long years. Then came time to graduate Jr. High and move on to high school. In the spring semester of 9th grade, when all the prospective players were to try out for the football team, I declined. I wasn't on the bus for the tryout. You would have thought I had done something attrocious. "What the hell are you doing?" was among some of the nicer questions. The Jr. High principal even called me into his office to inquire of why I would not go out for football. To this day I am not sure why he was concerned. I was hardly a key piece of the puzzle. I never played more than a few downs per game, and those usually in the 4th quarter when the game was so far out of reach and we had no chance of winning. The thing I remember about sitting in his office was my resolve at age 15. "Yes, sir, I am not going out for football." "Yes, sir, I am sure about my decision." "No, sir, I don't think I will regret it." "May I go now?" Dan Allendar talks about our life will reflect certain themes as it is played out, and how these themes tell us something about ourselves. I'm not sure this all means, but the decision to leave the church as we know it feels alot like being 15 sitting in the principal's office. I am convinced of my choice, not out of spite or bitterness, but out of being true to my heart.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Quote of the Week

"No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive." Lou Gerstner

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Gospel in a Flat World

When you think about it, the Gospel is very resilient. It has survived a Roman World, a Greek World, a Dark Age, a Renaissance World, an Enlightened World, an Industrial World, a Technological World, and an Informational World. And each of those time periods influenced how the Story was told. It's why early Christians would have never used a cross as jewelry, but we do today. It's why the fish symbol was one of survival and not a bumper sticker. It's why cathedrals were built then and today we can just get by with meeting in a school or warehouse. It's why the Story was told in elaborate paintings on ceilings and walls versus a few pages in a mustard-colored booklet. The Gospel was meant to be understood. Which brings the question: How will it be told in a Flat World? Teachers of revival movements always point to certain external characteristics of past spiritual awakenings. Things like empty bars and saloons, full church buildings and non-stop prayer meetings, a reduction of crime and mass public repentance. But most of these revival meetings like the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings happened in a pre-technological, pre-informational, modern era. The world has changed significantly since the last Great Awakening, and I believe the Awakening of the future will look just as different.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Church is Flat - Pt 2

An expected resistance to the idea of a Flat Church is that it is just like so much else in the church culture, it is getting in bed with the business world and modeling itself after secular marketing practices. This is much of what the "church growth movement" turned out to be; business principles wrongly applied to the church, in turn making her look more like a business than the organic entity She is. The church is the Bride, a relational being, not a bottom-line financial organization. Here is where I see this flattening shift as different than the church growth movement. The Flattening of the World is not just a business idea, but a radical paradigm shift. Its not tweaking the old model. It is leading to a whole new way of thinking. It is cultural, not simply pragmatic, and we as leaders need to brace ourselves for the opportunities into which we will collide. The challenge of the gospel through the ages has been to figure out how to be understood by its culture. The message does not change, but its listeners do. This is why Jesus said to not cast your pearls before swine. I don't believe he was teaching a lesson on stewardship, but one of communication. Pigs can't eat pearls. They want corn or other grain. The farmer gives them something they can eat, or else the pig will grow hungry, and become beligerent. As the world changes, if we continue to cast pearls (ideas, methods that are precious to us) before a hungry herd, no wonder it will turn against us. It is imperative that we understand these time, and shape the course of the future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Great Sorting Out

A great quote from Friedman: "when the world starts to move from a primarily vertical (command and control) value-creation model to an increasingly horizontal (connect and collaborate) creation model, it doesn't affect just how business gets done. It affects everything--how communities and companies define themselves, where companies and communities stop and start, how individuals balance their different identities as consumers, employees, shareholders, and citizens, and what role government has to play. All of this is going to have to be sorted out anew." (The World is Flat, pg 210)

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Church is Flat (or at least it should be)

The first misunderstanding of the Flat Church is that is about technology. Discussions or blogs I have come across from those that are trying to tap into the "flattening of the world" wave seem to be centered around how to better use technology in the church. Such as: "Let's set up a web-based new member connection system...." "We can interconnect all our satellite campuses via video on Sunday morning..." "This technology can enable us to have the sermon broadcast to international congregations..." All of these are missing the point. And the point is not the use of technlogy; its all about getting people involved in the work of service, in their gifting, in their passion, prompted by the Spirit. The first step in understanding the flattening of the church is to get this. To gather all our people under one roof, or get them listening to the same sermon preached by the same guy is not inspiring. There was a time when I thought that way, so I can understand it to some degree. But getting all our people empowered and active is much more thrilling to me now. When I was a vocational minstry person, I had the idea in mind that the role of leadership is to empower the laity, but that's really much harder done that said. It was always rewarding for me to find a new musician who could sing or play in the praise band, but it was still church work, within the walls of the church as we know it. And while this worked for students who had musical talents, I finally realized that I needed to expand the scope of empowerment to those who could serve in ways outside the realm of church. And if I was to do so, I would have take a leave from the form of church that I knew and see if I could actually make it happen. Ultimately, the challenge was directed at myself; "Could I empower myself to move into my community with my gifting and be a blessing with it?" This is the unanswered question. You can follow this blog to see if the question will be answered, "Yes."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The World is Flat - Pt 3

So why does this "flattening of the world" stuff excite me? Is it because I love technology and progress or change and such? Is it because globalism stands to make me lots of money? Maybe it's a fascination with the Internet and its potential? Wrong on all three. I guess I need to explain a few things first before any of my thoughts on the Flattening of the World make sense. I will start with my blog header. I am a pastor at heart. I started to realize in college that one of the things that came naturally to me was to draw people around me and watch after their well-being. I was always a letter-writer then, now a phone-caller. Being connected to people and letting them know they are thought of and cared for helped me to see that a future in vocational ministry was a worthy direction. So off I went. I entered into what some would call a para-church ministry (which is a completely different blog direction, but I won't go there.) Serving students on a university campus, while attempting to attend and serve with a local congregation. Soon into this, I started to realize something, that it was difficult for me to find a place to serve in this gifting in the local church as we know it. There were plenty of ways to volunteer my time, like parking cars or helping in the toddlers class, but the shepherding and leading of people seemed be limited to those who were paid staff. I was even told one time by a pastor that I should probably think about going someplace else, since there were not enough opportunities in this particular church. That statement stung, but it started me asking, "What's wrong with this picture, and am I to do something about it?" What I think is wrong with the picture is the role of leadership in the church. It talks a good game about empowering the laity, identifying spiritual gifts and unleashing them, but many times the unleashing is simply to do more church work. It may say it is asking for leaders, but it is really asking for volunteers. Leaders lead. Volunteers just fit in where needed. And since volunteers were well represented, as a leader then, I knew I had to be a part of a solution, and to do so, I had to leave the current form of church as we know it and start fresh. My blog header states an idea of identifying the pastors and giving the church back to them. In the process I have come to realize that pastor is a gift, not just an office, and that we will overlook a multitude of gifted shepherds because the current form of the church as we know it does not make room for them. My struggle to find a place had more to do with the heirarchy of church organization than anything. The advising pastor was right; there was little room for me, because the form didn't allow it. This brings me to the point of why the "flattening of the world" is of such interest to me. I believe the culture is shifting toward a paradigm that will allow more and more pastors/leaders to get involved in exercising their gifting. The two words from a previous post--habits and participation-- say volumes. As the culture makes room for more and more people to participate in the global marketplace, they will grow increasingly suspicious of steep heirarchical structures. They will ask, "What's the use?" As it becomes more intolerable in the marketplace, it will most certainly be intolerable in the church.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The World is Flat - Pt 2

Changes are happening around us at an incredible speed. I think of the cell phone I have in my pocket. I am ashamed to admit this, but I can remember telling people before I got one, that I feared they might be the next CD radio; Fun for a few, but will fade over time. Did I ever have that wrong. Fast forward to today, I use that thing everyday. If I had to choose, I would forget my wallet at home as opposed to my cell phone. The reason cell phones and other such devices are so important to us is that they are forms of personal power. Without your phone, you feel disconnected. You are unable to access your means of communicating with others. This is the effect of the flattening of the world. You and I have access to so much communcating power, it is now taken for granted. I heard a commercial recently for a long-distance company boasting about all calls to Europe being free. I pondered the relevance of that offer. A few years ago, I'm not thinking that offer is that great for me, because who wants to call Europe!? Sure, I might know someone or have a family member there, but the cost would have been so high, I couldn't afford it any way. Now, its not that big of a deal. The world is flattening right before our eyes.