Sunday, March 30, 2008

When is it right to flip the bird?

Future Pastor, beware of your perceived need for Law. This will inevitably affect how you approach the Scriptures. As a young man, as I was taught how to read the Bible, I was told to look everyday for a command I wasn’t keeping, or a rule that I was breaking or some other aspect of how I was not measuring up. Since I was new to the game, I felt I should know what the rules were so I could get on God’s good side and not get in trouble. This is basically why we rely on Law. It brings order, provides boundaries, and keeps people safe. Do you feel vindicated when you see some guy speed by you on the interstate at 90 MPH, only to crest the next hill and see him pulled over by the state patrol? If so, you are probably a rule keeper of some kind. I like the fact that the bad guys get punished and the good guys win (usually.) It’s why I feel justified in giving the finger to the guy who runs the red light in front of me. I’m right and he is wrong, and I need to let him know. But Law as we know it is incomplete. It is necessary for society in maintaining peace and order, but gets in the way of faith expressed as Jesus would have it. Rules and authority can easily take the place of love and trust. The reason you signed a legal contract to take out a loan to buy a car is because the bank does not trust you to pay the money back on time. The bank needs a means to protect itself from being taken advantage of. Handshakes won’t cut it. Love does not allow the bank to turn a profit. So is this the reason we have the Bible, because Jesus really doesn’t trust you to walk with him, so He ordained a new set of rules called the New Testament? Is the life of faith to be wrapped up in daily awareness of all the new orders I’m not carrying out? One thing I believe about heaven is that there will be no rules or laws to live by. The old will be passed away, and included in that is the need to be governed out of distrust. Romans 13 tells us to obey authorities, not because it will be an eternal reality, but because it is an earthly construct. Paul does go on to conclude by saying that every law can be summed up by this one; Love your neighbor as yourself. This is a better way to live. Future Pastor, lead others to be guided by love, not law. Granted, it will get you in trouble. You will be taken advantage of, but in doing so you will be aware of how the Kingdom of God is here already.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Here, you can have this back

He is risen! These words will be spoken and celebrated around the world today as the resurrection of Jesus is commemorated on this Easter Sunday. But how can I know it’s real? Who’s to say it’s just not another story passed down from generations ago that we just accept as true? Why Jesus and not Mohammed or Budda? How can I be certain? Of course I’ve heard all the arguments about the primacy of Christ, that he’s either a lunatic, a liar or Lord. I’ve sat through the sermons using stacked boxes that represent other religions, and Jesus’ stack of boxes reaches the ceiling. I could hand you book after book that uses historical evidence, philosophical reason, and logical rationale for why one should believe in the resurrection of Jesus. And you may have also. But doesn’t something still fall a little short? I used to think that seeing it with my own eyes would have made it easier, but even the text itself says that it will be better for those who have NOT seen and yet still believe. How is that the case? If I could have only seen the empty tomb with my own two eyes, it would put all the disbelief aside. Or would it? Science and its facts only go so far in giving us what we think we need to believe. Science limits itself to what it experiences within the senses, and since Jesus is not physically present and doesn’t fit in a test tube, there isn’t the same kind of verification that Science demands, and therefore it seems logical to dismiss the claims surrounding him. Future Pastor, build the Church of the Future on this foundation. Recognize the limits of physical, philosophical and logical evidence for belief. These have their place and I would add that they can provide support, but nothing will substitute the one thing required for belief, and that is faith. To lead this way requires a confidence that the Spirit of Jesus can and will communicate Truth in a way that results in faith. It’s not all up to you. It’s not all on your shoulders. If it is, remove it and give it back. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. Continue to be kind to those who don’t believe like you. If arguments arise, don’t be defensive. Listen more, talk less. You may be getting in the way of what He is doing if you speak too much. Offer kindness and blessing. And in all of this, keep doing so by faith. He is risen, indeed!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Russians don't take a dump without a plan, son.

Years ago, as I was leaving college, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Like you, I had a few dreams, but nothing definite or mapped out. There was a move on in my circles to try and push us to come up with a 5 year plan, followed by a 10 year plan, both of which were supported by a life verse, a personal mission statement and a detailed personal budget. Needless to say, my leaders were out of touch with where we were as students. We were looking for pizza coupons in the trash, not graph paper to draw impressive looking pie charts and Venn diagrams (unless it would have helped us get dates.) “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” This was the club used to beat us into submission. Future Pastor, I’m not advising you not to try and plan your future. I only want you to feel free from the burden of feeling like you have to have everything figured out right now. Planning is always a good idea, but to a certain extent it falls short and needs to be accepted as such. There is no way at age 24 I could have even imagined owning a restaurant of which I started from an idea and very little capital. I have both a college and graduate level degree, neither of which are food related. And I don’t feel like either was a waste of time or money. What I would recommend, however, is that whatever decision you make, be aware if it is proactive or reactive. The reason this is important to determine is that you may just be running from something instead of toward anything. The summer after I graduated college, I had no job, no girlfriend and no money. At about 11:30pm one night I got a call from a guy I knew asking me to move to California to be a youth pastor in their young, growing church. Given the lack of options, this seemed like a good one. At least someone was extending an invitation, which was more than I ever had. After a few days of consideration, I decided to move. As I was talking through the decision with a friend, he asked me if I going to California, or just leaving Oklahoma. I asked what he meant, and he said to just make sure California was where I really wanted to be and not just an excuse to leave my troubles in Oklahoma. This distinction sunk in and I retracted my decision a few days later. Sometimes we need a fresh start, and a drastic move like that is just the ticket, but for me it wouldn't have gotten me any closer to my heart's desire. Keep learning who you are and let that uniqueness define and shape you and what you do. Don’t be so concerned about the details of the future as you are with the details of your identity. Knowing this helped me make the decision to leave the Church As We Know It and start creating my role in the Church of the Future. I think it will serve you well, also.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Could you just shut up?

I’m listening to NPR on the way home from work yesterday and hear an interview with Richard Dawkins, noted atheist and author of The God Delusion. I’ll admit that people who don’t think like me can be very interesting, especially when you have thought out your point of view as thoroughly as he has. I don’t know if it was my 4 Laws training or just human nature, but I found myself reflexively trying to mentally refute or respond to his arguments about why he does not believe in God. With every statement, I would come up with a counterpoint. But then I realized what I was doing. I was not listening to the man’s position. I was only setting myself up to swat the ball back into his court. I was not trying to understand, because I was not taught to do so. It seems imbedded into the evangelical DNA since so many of us seem to be guilty of this kind of response. The radar is always scanning for thoughts to take captive, for fear that if I don’t, I will be guilty of some sort of treason. Future Pastor, this is my point I’ve been trying to make that the Church of the Future will not feel this need to impulsively be defensive. As I was listening to Dawkins, I kept asking myself if I could just listen to him and try to understand where he was coming from. But for some reason, to do this has become equivalent to compromising your faith. Solomon reminded young people like you that speaking before listening is not a good thing. He went so far as to call it foolish, even shameful. I don’t know anyone with whom I’ve argued that changed their position because I refuted it, but I do know plenty of people who have said, “Thanks for listening.”

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Don't Stop; Rock the Flock

You need not despair over what you are seeing and reading about the decline of the Church As We Know It. You probably read some of the same blogs I do written by people who are disillusioned with their faith. Seems like every day there is a new “Why I Hate Going to Church” book being printed. Let me offer you some perspective on this. You know the principle of physics, “for every action, there is a reaction.” The Church As We Know It has been in reaction mode for as long as I have been a part of it. You probably aren’t old enough to remember when Christian Rock became a genre. The big defense that supported that style of music was that it sounded kinda like real rock and roll, but it had safer lyrics. Didn’t really matter that Led Zepplin sounded better than Servant. The action of Rock produced the reaction of Christian Rock. Then there was Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which locked us in evangelism on defense mode for 30 years. We had to have an answer for EVERYTHING. “I’m not sure” just wasn’t good enough. The world around us was going to hell in a handbasket and it was up to our generation to stop it. And if we failed it was because we weren’t vocal enough, or well prepared. Fast forward a bit. Even today one of the more hip publications you are reading is called Relevant. Why, may I ask, does the editorial staff feel the need to be so defensive about their content? Who are they trying to convince? Do I feel better about what I am reading with such a title to remind me that, yes indeed, I am relevant? I’m not trying to smack the magazine. I’m just trying to point out how The Church As We Know It does not seem to operate from a secure core. Why else would it be so defensive? Future Pastor, I believe the despair that you are witnessing is good and necessary to usher in the kind of change that will allow the Church of the Future to emerge. The Future Church will not be a reactionary one. It will not feel the need to convince itself that it is right and the world is wrong. It will operate from its beliefs regardless of what the culture around it is doing. In the Future Church you won’t see any need for comparisons of culture. You won’t have to put out statements like “if you like Foo Fighters, you’ll love the guitars sounds of My Hair Points to the Sky…” The cottage industry of refuting popular books like DaVinci Code won’t be necessary. Kids won’t have to wear A Breadcrumb & Fish t-shirts. They just won’t care anymore. I believe we are in exciting times. We are in the process of spiritual awakening unlike anything History has ever seen. Most folks don’t see it this way, but I do, and I hope you can catch a glimpse of it as well. You can’t be looking for a revival like the previous Great Awakenings a hundred years ago. In those movements, the Church As They Knew It flourished, but not so with this one. Our 21st Century Great Awakening will create a new expression, because new wine won’t keep in old wineskins. Make it your goal to live deeply in the faith in which you are convinced. Even if you are not convinced, take all the time you need to work it out. Stop worrying. Lighten up. Don’t be so uptight. SomeOne started something in you and won’t abandon it until it is complete.