June 16, 2014

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Remembering Mawmaw

Almost two weeks ago we lost our Mawmaw. Gretchen’s grandmother passed away peacefully at age 88. She was a remarkable woman full of life, full of faith. I had the great privilege of leading her burial and memorial service. Years before Mawmaw had asked me to do the service and I had considered what to say for many years. Here is the manuscript of the sermon I shared. This is my celebration of a wonderful woman.

 

So much of who we are is defined by those we call family. Our family gives us our genetics, our culture, our heritage, our name, and our identity. We identify certain traits or characteristics that mark being a part of our particular family. When my wife Gretchen and I got married it was the joining together of two families with very common values and beliefs but different cultures. This led to many interesting and humorous exchanges between the McKenzies and the Arthurs. We often came to speak of these differences and we ask ourselves are we going to do this the Arthur way or the McKenzie way. Arthurs are Yankees who speak their minds. McKenzies are wonderful Southerners who smile and politely hold their tongues.

 

Clyda Vern, who I shall for the rest of this time call Mawmaw the only name I ever called her, and I spoke about some of these traits last week. We spoke about some of the family traits passed down through her into her great grandchildren. My son Logan can be a bit tough minded and stubborn. Mawmaw decided that was because he has some Waddle and Snellgrove in him. She took full responsibility for whatever stubbornness my children have inherited. My daughter Sophie can worry about unnecessary things, well Mawmaw was the queen of worry. I have heard her say numerous times that her beloved grandson Briant David reminded her so much of her first husband David Briant Waddle. She always thought that he had plenty of Waddle in him.

That is just the way that families work. We shape and form each other. Through shared holidays, share faith, tragedies, blessings, and our daily interactions, we created a culture that defines us. It shapes us and forms us regardless of whether we want it to or not. We may rebel against it or try to be something different, but it becomes a part of us and shapes our identity.

As we gather together today to celebrate Mawmaw’s life I can only think about all the way she has shaped our family. Mawmaw was a tough and hardworking woman. Growing up as she did she learned about work and sacrifice early on in her life and those lessons stayed with her throughout her life. She didn’t have much tolerance for laziness, she figured everyone had work to do and it needed to be done. Now of course this offset entirely if you happened to be a grandchild or greatgrandchild of Mawmaw. Even as a grandchild  she would tell you when you did something she thought was wrong, she wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion. No matter what you did however you needed to be spoiled and loved upon.

Oh to be Mawmaw’s grandchild! What a glorious thing to be loved by Mawmaw in that way. My wife always talked about how awful it was to visit Mawmaw and have her parents be there too! They got in the way of her time with Mawmaw. If you stayed at Mawmaws and you didn’t want to brush your teeth, well then you didn’t have to. If you wanted to go to the movies, or stay up late eating popcorn, or go shopping, well any of those things were yours to do.

Mawmaw expressed her great love for her family through her actions. She would tell you that she loved you, but it was her actions that always proved it. If Briant was visiting her she got up early to make her biscuits and her gravy just like he liked them. It didn’t matter if he was 10 or if he was 30 and he had to get up at 5 am to go to the airport, those biscuits and gravy would be there. Many of Mawmaw’s actions of love involved her good cooking. She would tell us stories of making David Briant fried chicken for lunch every Sunday with fresh made fudge for desert. That is a lot of work, and a lot of love. No holiday in our family is complete without her cornbread dressing and a chocolate pie for desert. After I entered the family each of our gatherings together would find Mawmaw and I in the kitchen cooking breakfast together for the whole clan. It gave her such joy to love on her family that way.

This extended far beyond her immediate family though. She was an active part of loving people through her hospitality here at the church as well. Who knows how many funeral dinners she helped to prepare or how many meals she made for those in need. Mawmaw knew what it was to grieve and to suffer and she had a big heart for those who found themselves in hard times. She talked with great compassion about people who were out of work, ill, or grieving. She knew she was blessed and loved to share out of those blessing to others.

Mawmaw was also extremely generous. She put her money where her heart was. She supported her church faithfully, helped out those in need, and gave far too generously to her family. Even now at 88 she complained that we didn’t spend enough of her money buying presents for her great grandchildren. She made a very generous donation recently to my fundraising efforts for clean water through World Vision. She was happy to help people she would never meet, it gave her pleasure. Of course she was worried as to whether or not she had donated enough money to support me. She wanted me to know I was loved.

Mawmaw often repeated a phrase that I am sure has roots here in Arkansas. She would say, “Everyone thinks their crow is the blackest.” I must say I hadn’t hear that one before Mawmaw said it. But it is true, and it was so true for Mawmaw, all her crows were the blackest. Starting with her children, she had such pride and joy in all her family. David and Margie and all there success professionally and as parents were topics she loved to discuss. Each of their successes was her own. It is impossible to look at David or Margie and their families and not see Mawmaw’s legacy in them.

In addition to her great hospitality, acts of service, generosity, and joy over her family Mawmaw passed on a legacy of faith. Mawmaw loved Jesus. Her faith was vital to her own identity. She was a member of this church for over 60 years. She loved to serve her church, she had deep and lasting relationships with so many brothers and sisters in Christ over the years, and her faith was active and vital. While uneasy and anxious at times during these last few months even the last two weeks as her body failed her, her faith never waivered and she looked forward with great hope to being made whole in the presence of her savior. When she and I would talk inevitably the conversation would turn to our churches, sermons, the future of the church, the role of pastors and the Bible. Mawmaw had a deep faith that has seen her through to glory.

 

From 1 John 3

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

That faith is ultimately why the traits that Mawmaw passed on to her family came not just from Snellgroves or Waddles, but from her Heavenly Father. John reminds us that it is the love of God that allows us to be called the Children of God. We have a Heavenly Father that through his great love has lavished on us the privilege of being his children. We, as the children of God, take on the family traits of our Father. John reminds us that the family traits of the family of God are sacrificial love, generosity, compassion, and actions that communicate to the world who we are.

Mawmaw showed the world whose daughter she is. She is the daughter of the one true God. Through her continual actions of sacrificial love for her husbands, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, friends and family, Mawmaw showed the world who she was and who she belonged to. Mawmaw was an example to us all of what it looks like to be a child of God. To be loved by Mawmaw was to be loved by God himself. Her love was complete and unconditional. What greater celebration of a life can there be than to say that Mawmaw showed the world the love of her her Father. She loved as Jesus loves.

So today we gather in our grief and loss to rejoice! Clyda Vern Snellgrove Waddle Steed lived a life that any of us would be blessed to call our own. She gave her self to a life of generous actions rooted in the love of Christ. Thanks be to God! We give God thanks for Mawmaw and how her life filled us all with such blessing and love.

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May 28, 2014

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The Blessings of Disunity

Our culture is changing rapidly. One significant part of this change is the end of Christendom. Christendom, in our modern sense,  is understood as anywhere the church enjoys a majority influence on a culture. For a long time now the Western Hemisphere has been under the political, economic, moral and dominantly religious influence of Christianity. That has changed.

There are lots of studies showing just how significant that change is across Europe and North America. I won’t bother rehashing those for you now. Instead just ask yourself this question. Do the majority of people in our country identify themselves as active members of the church? That answer is easy. It is clearly no. Most people in our country believe in God. A good portion still identify themselves as Christian. But within those groups the percentage of people who are active in their faith, are involved in a church community, or whose lives show a clear influence of Christ is dwindling. It is dwindling rapidly.

So what do we make of this new reality for the church? It might just be the best thing that could happen to us. Lately I have been reading Rodney Stark’s fascinating book How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. Stark, a masterful historian, looks at the rise of Western Civilization and the factors that allowed the West to thrive. He confronts many widely accepted historical views of the West in an in-depth and engaging way. One part in particular that grabbed my attention is his chapter called The Blessings of Disunity. Here is an excerpt.

The fall of Rome was, in fact, the most beneficial event in the rise of Western Civilization, precisely because it unleashed so many substantial and progressive changes.

This chapter will examine the dramatic progress that began after Roman unity fell apart. Europe in this era was blessed with lasting disunity; periodic efforts to reestablish empires failed. Disunity enabled extensive, small-scale social experimentation and unleashed creative competition among hundreds of independent political units, which, in turn, resulted in rapid and profound progress.

Many historians have bemoaned the fall of the Western Roman Empire as the beginning of the Dark Ages and the collapse of Western Civilization. Stark challenges that notion entirely. He puts forth, with numerous examples, how empires actually impede progress and change. They unify great numbers of people, but this unity actually hinders progress and creativity.

What we are seeing right now across the Western Hemisphere is a similar phenomenon. The Christian Empire is collapsing and with it there is a rebirth of creativity and progress that the church hasn’t seen in hundreds of years. Christendom hasn’t been a singular empire, like the the Roman Empire for example, but it has been a dominant force that has held back progress. Throughout the last 2-3 centuries we have seen bursts of kingdom creativity that have lead to rapid growth within the church. But these bursts have happened outside of the dominant sphere of the church. They have been on the edge, they have started in unexpected places and grown in unexpected ways.

The collapse of Christianity’s influence in the west is now forcing more and more of the church into a place of necessary adaptation. We can no longer just set up shop, put up a sign and expect people to show up. We have to find creative ways of expressing the Good News of Christ to the world. With the collapse of Christendom we are losing large numbers of church attenders. We are losing money. We are losing influence. We may be gaining, however, the blessing of disunity. This might be exactly what the church in the West needs to birth new movements and bring about radical change.

The church isn’t supposed to be an empire. It was birthed as the empire killer. It was injected into the Roman Empire as a virus to undermine its idolatry, ideology, ethics, and power. When the church functions as an empire it has to set aside a large part of what it was created to be. The Kingdom of God spreads like a weed, it goes viral, it is highly communicable. (Choose whatever analogy you like best) It doesn’t rule by political power and heavy handed influence. With the collapse of the Christian empire the church is being forced to rediscover its true DNA. We are being blessed with disunity, while at the same time discovering what truly unifies us. Structures, power and influence are not what unifies the movement of the Kingdom of God. Our unity comes in, through, by, and from Christ our Lord. In this reality we can function together as one movement of God without a centralized headquarters or emperor.

These are exciting days to be part of the Church in the West.

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May 19, 2014

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Mondays are for Post Traumatic Winter Disorder Ramblings…..

There is a sever disorder effect the lives of thousands, maybe even millions of people. If not treated properly it could have serious consequences for us all. Please read further to see if you are suffering from this disorder.

It is Monday morning and it looks to be a beautiful spring day. I will begin my work week with a lengthy run, enjoying the signs of new life that accompany the arrival of Spring. The birds have returned in large numbers and on my run I will see cardinals, blue birds, orioles, robins, and plenty of others that I can’t name. The trees are starting to bloom. There is greenery all around. With all these encouraging signs of spring, however, there are still lingering effects from the Winter of Doom to be found.

This spring has continually alternated between warmth and cold. One Thursday it was 92 degrees and the next Thursday it was 42 degrees. (I enjoyed running on the 42 degree day much more) It has been wet and rainy. The ground is already so saturated from our record snow fall hat all the storms have caused extensive flooding. In fact they are predicting that the massive ice coverage of the Great Lakes this winter will lead to a cool and wet spring and summer for the whole Great Lakes region. Winter is gone, but its effects are still being felt.

What has amazed me, though, has been the long term effects this winter has had on the psyche and spirit of our people. People are cranky, distracted, backing away from commitments, distracted again, unmotivated, and of fragile spirits. At first I couldn’t identify the source of communal discontent, but I am pretty sure now it is a longterm effect of winter. In fact I am diagnosing all of us as suffering from PTWD – Post Traumatic Winter Disorder. Having studied it for a while now I am confident in my diagnosis. Here are the signs. If you aren’t sure if you have it, talk to a loved one and see if they can diagnose you.

 

Signs of PTWD

Crankiness – Not just being your normal cranky self, but being unreasonably cranky for reasons that are unapparent. Signs include finding yourself being cranky because of minor life inconveniences, such as running out of napkins or the fact it is Monday.

Reduced Capacity to Problem Solve – If you are easily defeated by life’s challenges such as ironing, laundry, a raccoon in the ceiling of your church, or having to change your underwear, you may be suffering from PTWD

Extreme reactions to weather – If you heard it snowed on Friday in Chicago and you cursed, ranted on Facebook, checked the radar every ten minutes to make sure it wasn’t going to snow at your house or went out and took a baseball bat to your snowblower you may have PTWD

The Universe Slows Down – If the laws of physics no longer work in your life and the time until school is getting out, you are going on summer vacation, or you at least make it to Memorial Day is dragging on at an insufferable rate, you most definitely have PTWD.

I don’t wanna and you can’t make me – If that is your general reaction to things that normally don’t defeat you such as making dinner, getting up on a Sunday morning and going to church, mowing the lawn, dressing your children, reading a book, or getting your haircut, you have PTWD.

 

Treatment Plans

Sunlight – Being outside in the sun is life giving for sufferers of PTWD. Of course that would require the sun to actually be shining, but when possible get out in the sun.

Grill Power – Food cooked over an outdoor fire or any sort achieves chemical properties that alter the mind and restore the soul. It is true, that is science, you can’t argue with it.

Remember Jesus – One of the truly difficult parts of PTWD seems to be sagging church attendance and a general inattentiveness towards spiritual matters. This seriously compounds PTWD. Worship, sing music throughout your day, gather with others for prayer, reorient your life around Christ and you will be amazed as to how it effects your soul

Thrice Daily Doses of Thankfulness – Above all you can combat the effects of PTWD by giving thanks multiple times a day. Do you have a home? Do you have loved ones? Are you safe? Is another country threatening to attack you? Do you have a job? Are you loved? Are you forgiven? Take time throughout your day to give thanks for all the blessings of your life. This directly counteracts the longterm effects of that last heavy snow we got in March.

 

PTWD effects us all. May we overcome its power over us by filling our lives with joy, rest, sunshine, times with loved ones and most of all thankful hearts.

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April 23, 2014

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Time for 7 Idiotic, Controversial or Maybe Insightful Thoughts on the Future of the Church

What is the future of the church? How must the North American church change? How will ministry be different over the next 20 years? When will my thoughts go from new ideas of an the next generation to outdated ideas of a dinosaur?

Some of these thoughts might be absolutely idiotic. Some might seem controversial and bother you a bit. Others might seem brilliant and insightful. Those will be the thoughts that I got from someone else, the rest will be my own. Take them as you wish, but please add your own thoughts as I would love to discuss some of these things. These thoughts will be brief  and held back for later development. Some things I won’t defend or justify at all. Here you go.

 

1) We must reverse white flight. For years the church has left the inner city to move into the booming suburbs. I grew up at Baltimore First Church of the Nazarene. It was in Elicott City, MD about 15 miles from downtown Baltimore. I was on staff at Denver First Church of the Nazarene. It is in Englewood, CO this is nowhere close to downtown Denver. We have abandoned the cities and flocked to the safe areas where affluent white people live. The future of the church is a reverse of this white flight.

2) Women, as leaders of movements, are the future of the church. The leadership of women in particular, not just in management or service roles, but as primary leaders, will be essential for kingdom breakthrough.

3) The Holy Spirit will decide the debate on affirming same sex marriage within the church. Denominations affirming same sex marriage or ordaining homosexuals began decades ago. All of the denominations that have done so, however, have suffered massive decline and have had little impact for the kingdom.  With some very different denominations and churches joining this camp, either through theological shift or practice, time will tell as to whether or not the Holy Spirit will continue to be present. Will churches that embrace and affirm same sex marriage (this is different than simply not fighting it as a legal reality) continue to have kingdom impact? I am willing to wait and watch what happens. How will God react?

4) The hope of the Church of the Nazarene does not rest in the leadership of old white men from the Mid-west. That doesn’t mean we don’t need them too, but our denomination has been obsessed with the leadership of one particular group. We love pastors who have served at a handful of powerful churches within our denomination. We are seeing that beginning to change, and the more that it does the more hopeful our future.

5) The Church needs hospice care, morticians and reproduction. Churches are closing there doors everyday in our country. This trend isn’t going to change, it will accelerate. Denominations would be wise to spend less resources propping up churches that are dying and instead investing into the creation of new churches. We need to honorably close down dying churches, dismantle the bodies, reuse and repurpose what we can. Next, we need to start making some babies. If we took the resources we use to keep dying churches on life support and instead through them into thriving churches to help them reproduce we would see far greater impact from our investment.

6) The best thing that could happen to the church might be losing our tax-exempt status. What would happen if the game changed and we were no longer tax-exempt organizations? It would hurt, really bad. People would give less, churches would less be able to afford staff and buildings, and there would be far less money for programming. Maybe that is the best thing that could happen to us. It would force us to better utilize and develop non-clergy leaders, get outside of our buildings, spread out around a geographic area and invest more heavily in compassionate ministries. That might just spark a revival.

7) In 100 Years the church will look back at the our time and wonder why we ever thought corporate structures and slick marketing were compatible with the work of the kingdom. I think we are all blind to how much we have allowed our culture to dictate our actions on behalf of the kingdom of God. We are so deep into our consumer culture that we don’t even realize it. We are like fish swimming in the ocean that don’t realize there is something called water. We will be judged by history and I fear that the judgment will be harsh for our failure to offer our world an alternative culture to the pervasive consumeristic culture of our day. Lord have mercy.

 

Those are my thoughts for today. Feel free to mock them, offer your own, or add any discussion you might have.

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April 7, 2014

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Mondays are for Noah Ramblings….

I am still trying to figure out the fire sword. Was it the angel’s fire sword from the Garden? Does God have a host of fire swords that he handed out to people who really needed them? Can I get one?

Last week we took a staff outing to go and experience the film Noah. In the middle of a very busy season it was a welcomed respite with all sorts of thought provoking ideas and theology. Four days later I have spent enough time reflecting on the film that my thoughts may now have a bit of coherence and connection. Here are my thoughts on the controversial (seriously?) movie Noah.

First things first, I didn’t go into this film with any expectation that it would be Biblically accurate. I have intentionally stayed away from most of the reviews on the film but I have read some interviews with the director. I knew that this film was his attempt at a Midrash (a form of Rabbinic teaching) and not an effort to show exactly what Genesis says occurred. Darren Aronofsky created a film that wrestled with his questions and insights from the story of Noah. This is why I wanted to see the film, I wanted to experience someone else’s reflection and insight into the story.

The story of Noah is not a children’s story. One of the great disservices we have done to scripture is taking this story and making it a tale for Sunday School. There are few stories in scripture that are less appropriate for our children. The story of Noah is a huge tale with massive theological implications. It is apocalyptic. It is not a cute story about animals. It is a scary and difficult tale of God deciding to wipe humanity from creation and ultimately a story of God’s love and salvation. I was hopeful that the film would at least capture that reality of the story. Mission accomplished, Aronofsky created a massive story with huge scale and really important questions being asked. As a preacher and story teller I was thoroughly pleased by his treatment of the story from that perspective.

Ultimately Aronofsky with his mixture of themes from Kaballah and extra-Biblical material was pretty hit and miss with his theological interpretations of the story. That isn’t unexpected and frankly isn’t really a mark against the film. I love a film that makes me wrestle with God’s relationship to humanity and creation.

Here are the things he captured well. The point of the creation story is the role of humanity as those who are created in the image of God. We are created to be God’s representatives on earth and to take care of creation and become co-creators with God. I thought that stood out well in Noah and his family tree. Noah loves creation and surrenders himself to his service of it. The struggle of what it means to have dominion over the earth is also well captured between Noah and his nemesis Tubal-Cain. Noah serves and cares for the earth, Tubal-Cain represents humanity’s efforts to subdue and control creation for our own benefit.

The images of Adam and Eve in the garden, radiating light, was also a nice theological touch. Creation, before the Fall, reflected the glory of God. The resurrected Jesus shone forth the light of God. Moses’s face glowed beautifully after he beheld the glory of God. I thought it was a nice cinematic touch. This was also captured in the somewhat strange snake skin that was passed down to Noah. It was a reminder of their original calling and their responsibilities.

Other things I liked – God speaking through dreams. dark and brooding Noah struggling with why God chose him for this task, the actual Ark, weird animals I have never heard of or seen before, and the picture of the flood storm from space.

Things I didn’t like – The fallen angels imprisoned in rock were kind of lame looking, Noah was a bit too tough and Gladiator like, and the uncertainty about God’s salvation of humanity through the flood.

The real struggle of the film was that it left the purpose of God in the flood too uncertain for too long. Noah’s desire to end all of humanity because he felt like this was God’s judgment was a bit off base. It is a worthy question to ask of an apocalyptic story, but it left me wanting a bit. The Biblical account of Noah is a complex story written with the literary form of a chiasm. The whole point of the story is the Genesis 8:1- But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded. God remembered Noah. That is the point of the story.

Even when humanity’s sin was so great that God had to hit the reboot button on creation and start fresh, his love for humanity compelled him to preserve them. Noah and his family become the new Adam and Eve and restart the people of God made in his image. The film hinted towards this in some ways, but I thought it missed some opportunities to make it clearer.

So in all I enjoyed the film. From a merely cinematic experience I would give it a B+. As a film asking important theological questions I would give it a B. There are some great questions asked, but the answers were a bit lacking.

As to the controversy surrounding it – well that part is just stupid. Have some imagination people! If there is any tale in scripture that needs some poetic license to help us understand or at least reflect on its meaning, it is the story of Noah.

 

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March 31, 2014

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Mondays are for 1002 Rambling Posts …..

Where do you go for information about holiness, wolf hybrids, the greatest rock song ever, post apocalyptic movies and the ramblings of one Nazarene pastor? Well, you are already reading this blog, so you know the answer to that question. The other day I noticed that I had just crossed over 1000 posts on this blog. Wow, that is a lot of writing. I should have at least written a book with all of those words.

I started blogging back on February 14, 2006. It began as a way to explore the theological conversations that were swirling in my head and to improve my abilities as a writer. What it became, however, is much more than that. This blog has become an extension of my ministry, a journal for my spiritual journey and a connection to a much larger movement outside of me. I am thankful for it and the way it has impacted my life and I am hopeful that it has had at least a minor impact in the lives of some others.

So today here are some fun reflections on 8 years of blogging and trying to reeducate the world on the idea of holiness.

Some of my favorite posts so far

Our Copilot, Clockmaker and CEO: Struggling with Metaphors for God

The Theology of Ricky Bobby

The Theology of Harry Potter

The Sexual Theology of Duck Dynasty

Gangsta God and Thug Theology

Why there is no equal sign on my Facebook Page

The Best Bad Movies of All Time

The 10 Guys You Meet Playing Church League Basketball

And from my wife The Preacher’s Wife Returns: Thoughts on Letting Go

 

Search Terms

Here are some recent search terms that regularly bring people to my blog. These always crack me up. It appears that I am the go to source for strange/unique/weird/unknown Bible stories, understanding what God is saying to you, sandwiches, and famous lead singers in rock bands. That sounds about right.

strange bible stories 75
unusual bible stories 73
weird bible stories 40
uncommon bible stories 34
what is god saying to me 20
weird stories in the bible 19
what is god saying to me right now 18
read the bible in 60 days 18
best tv series of all time 17
holy discontent definition 17
jimmy johns vs subway vs quiznos 14
trendy words 13
what would god say to me right now 11
strangest bible stories 11
avatar sociology 8
famous lead singers of rock bands 7
rock band lead singers 7
elf on the shelf 7
1 corinthians 13 7
unknown stories in the bible 7
carter hays 7
strange but true bible stories 7
how was jesus sanctified 7
god loves whores 7
md university football uniforms 6
best rock lead singers 6
best post apocalyptic movies of all time 6
christ figures in movies 5
what did jesus look like

 

Looking Forward

So now that I am 8 years in, have I finally figured out what I want from this blog. Ultimately I desire for my writing here to shape my writings to come. I am still working on the beginnings of a Holiness Reeducation book. I want to take some of the conversations I have begun on this blog and take them deeper. I have also discovered the ministry of this blog as a timely reflection on difficult questions the are emerging in the church. Engaging with these conversations continues to shape my own ministry and responses to these vital questions. Finally, writing is simply good for my soul. I gain great pleasure from it as it invigorates my mind. Regardless of whether thousands of people or just two good friends from when I was a kid end up reading my posts I will continue to write.

So thanks for the support, thanks for the input, and here is to another 1000 ramblings.

As always, if there are topics you are interested in me writing about, please leave your suggestions. I am always interested in writing prompts.

March 27, 2014

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Thoughts on World Vision and the Latest Unnecessary Controversy

A dozen emails, numerous phone calls, conversation around the dinner table for three days, a dozen blogs read, and hours of my focus this week have been spent on the topic of World Vision. World Vision, one of the leading Evangelical Christianity compassionate ministries, has been in the news quite a bit this week. Not just Christianity Today, not just Facebook sharing, but ABC News, CNN, and a host of other news organizations have been reporting on World Vision. Why?

On Monday Richard Stearns the president of World Vision released a statement that World Vision would allow the hiring of employees who are in legal same sex marriages. World Vision, which is a ministry not a church, stated the following.

But since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.

I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone. Let me explain the thinking behind our board’s decision.

 

So a ministry that works with a wide range of denominations and Christians essentially said that they would hire people from across the breadth of those partnerships. They were trying to make a policy change that offered the hope of unity with all their partners.  The requirements for Christian faith, adherence to the Apostle’s Creed, and belief in the fullness of Christ and his work were still required for employment. But they were willing to hire Christians who affirm these beliefs  and are legally married to same sex partners. I say were because the backlash against this decision by World Vision’s partners and supporters was massive. Yesterday they reversed course on this policy change and will continue with the status quo.

So now that we have recapped a bit of the controversy many questions remain. Was World Vision right the first time or the second time? Who should we be angry with in this situation? Should this change our view of World Vision? What does this tell us about the landscape of our country and the church? Well if you want to read some good commentary on the changing landscape or our country head over to  my fellow pastor Josh Broward’s blog and read his commentary. For the rest, I will offer some thoughts.

This whole thing has left me deeply pained. We just don’t have any idea what effect our treatment of issues regarding the Gay – Lesbian – Transgender community has on our witness. In response to World Vision’s policy change numerous churches threatened to pull support from World Vision. Child sponsorships were cancelled in the thousands. I started getting emails and phone calls about whether or not we needed to rethink our churches partnership with World Vision.

Do we even stop to think what this communicates to the rest of the world?

Why do I partner with World Vision? I am running the Chicago Marathon as part of Team World Vision to get some of the poorest people in the world clean water for life. I am running to help save lives. Why would I consider going back on that commitment and partnership because of this decision. Did people really decide they were going to stop trying to save the lives of some of the poorest people in the world because World Vision opened itself up to hiring Jesus loving, God redeemed, Christians who happen to be in same sex marriages?

What the hell is wrong with us?

I mean that literally. When we let an issue like this communicate to the world that we care more about same sex marriage in the work place than sponsoring impoverished children it is the work of hell. It is the worst possible witness to the world about the love and grace of God.

Did World Vision make a mistake? Well they obviously made a political mistake. Christians who affirm same sex marriage would probably still work with World Vision regardless of this policy. Some may have some struggles with it, but I doubt they were campaigning against World Vision and their work because of it. On the other hand, those of us who are less affirming of same sex marriage were very quick to denounce World Vision and threaten to remove our support when they changed this policy. World Vision thought too much of it’s partners. They believed too strongly that the grace of God would temper the Church’s reactions and that people would respond with kindness and grace. They underestimated our ability to react in ways unbecoming of Christ.

So, for the love of the children they serve, because they really felt moved by God, or just to save face and money, World Vision reversed it’s policy. I am sad for World Vision because of this and I am sad for the church. For my part, I am still proudly running the Chicago Marathon as part of Team World Vision. My belief in their work and my excitement to help change lives through them hasn’t changed one bit. If any of those who have pledged to support me regret their decision I will happily right them a check myself to reimburse them. (By the way, if you want to give someone clean water for life you can support me here)

More than anything what I want the world to know is that regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of your skin color, regardless of your past, regardless of your gender, your age, or your income level, God our Father is calling you home to be part of his family. This is the good news of Jesus. There is a home, an eternal home filled with glory, where all can know freedom and wholeness. There is hope for today and hope for tomorrow in the love of Christ. I apologize for myself and all my brothers and sisters for all the ways we let our family arguments hide that good news and distract us from its truth.

 

March 20, 2014

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Fred Phelps Sr., Founder of Westboro Baptist Church Passes Away

Fred Phelps has passed away. This pastor led his small but vocal congregation in Topeka, KS to undue notoriety and unfortunate influence. Their notoriety is undue because their work shouldn’t matter. They have influence because they have damaged the reputation of the church in North America in huge ways. It is hard to hear this news and not have a strong reaction.

I have no desire to speak ill of the dead or to pour out contempt or hatred on this church or this pastor. In fact I mourn at his death. I mourn for his passing and for his life. The dominant feeling that I have in regards to this congregation, their founder, and their place in our society is deep pain and sadness. I mourn each time the church fails to reflect the glory of God to the world. I am grieved when people who desire to be faithful to God exchange a call to love the world with a self imposed call to judge the world. I weep for the Church when the ignorant actions of a small group of us reflects so poorly on our work and on Christ. Today I grieve.

I grieve for Fred Phelps because, to my knowledge – which is none, he never understood his own misguided work in the name of Christ. I longed for him to publicly recant, repent, and be reborn into the work of the Kingdom. What a powerful message it would have been to the world for him to have abandoned his hatefulness and replaced it with the love of Christ. Nothing in this world is irredeemable. Westboro’s redemption would have shown this to the world in a powerful way.

So that is my prayer today. As I grieve what is and what has been, I look with hope towards what could be. I long for the voice of the church to be unified in proclaiming God’s love to the world through Christ. I pray for Westboro Baptist Church and those like it who are missing out on the blessing of the kingdom.

May we all serve the world with such grace and mercy that actions of hatred and judgment are readily dismissed by the world as clearly the work of someone other than the people of God.

 

March 17, 2014

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Mondays are for The Son of God Movie Ramblings…

If you are a Christian then I am sure you have seen the new Son of God movie by now. If you haven’t your salvation may be hanging by a thread! What are you waiting for? I went and saw the film Son of God a couple of weeks ago with a group from our church. Having had a couple of weeks now to reflect on the film and my mixed feelings I thought I would try and share them today.

My first act, however, is to confess. It is Lent after all, so I proceed with a penitent heart throughout this post. Here is my confession: I generally hate Christian films. Ok, hate is a strong word, but hey I am confessing so I might as well be honest. Christians films generally make me cringe. The medium of film just seems to be difficult for Christians. Rather, the film industry seems very difficult for Christians. In order to make a film of real quality it takes serious backing by a major studio. Alternatively, if you don’t have money it takes a very skilled and creative director to make an independent film that is a cinematic achievement. There are so few films created with Christian intent that navigate these difficult challenges enough to create a cinematic masterpiece. I am still waiting for a Christian film, that is a film that is made with kingdom purpose, to blow me away.

Now that my confession is over let me dive deeper into the Son of God. The best thing I can see about this film is that it was not an embarrassment. That is a huge compliment from me! (Didn’t you just read my confession) The quality of the film, the artistic choices made, the acting, the casting, and the story telling were all at least average and sometimes above average. That is an achievement in my jaded mind. Some parts of the film were actually good to very good. Here are my favorite parts.

- The cast pretty much all looked like they came from the Middle East. I loved seeing people with bad teeth and missing teeth. They looked like a fairly good historical representation of first century peasants.

- I enjoyed the story telling from John’s writings. Using John as the primary text and even incorporating John’s later writings (including Revelation) was carried out well. They could have taken this a bit further perhaps, as they made numerous choices to include material from outside of John, but that was probably done to fill out certain parts of the story.

- They made Jesus’ humanity come out. The hardest part of the incarnation for most people is understanding the humanity of Jesus, the film did a pretty good job of making him human.

- The Pharisees made sense. For many people the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees don’t make very much sense. Since these interactions are vital to understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God I really appreciated the effort put into this tension. I especially love how they handled Nicodemus. Well done.

- The calling of Matthew was a great scene, that passage just came alive.

- My favorite moment in the movie is when Jesus kisses the cross as he is about to pick it up. Excellent.

- I liked just about every aspect of the film from Jesus’ arrest to the resurrection.

 

Here are some things that I didn’t like or was disappointed in.

- The movie looked and felt like a really good TV movie. I don’t know the history behind it, but with the creators having made The Bible miniseries on History Channel, it might have very well started out that way. Every time they showed the city of Jerusalem the budgetary restraints of the film were abundantly apparent.

- The guy playing Jesus was trying too hard to be Jesus. There are few roles that can be as difficult to play as Jesus, and the actor was fine. The way he talked, however, was distracting, He talked like someone who is always trying to say something profound. It was the one part that didn’t seem very human. It made Jesus sound weird.

- There have been numerous jokes made about this, but Jesus was almost too good looking. I think his humanity would be even better shown with an actor who is very average or even forgettable looking. No one ever recored what Jesus looked like. It clearly didn’t make him stand out.

- The time constraints of the film really downplayed the teaching aspect of Jesus’ ministry. That was too bad.

- Easter was underwhelming, that seems problematic.

- The ending after the Ascension was lame. It was totally lame.

 

So overall I was pretty pleased with the film. There were some powerful moments and some disappointing moments. But it was a good telling of Jesus’ story, a good proclamation of his purpose and of his love. For that I am thankful. I am sure God will use it to impact many lives in a powerful way. ( I mean look at what God did with the Jesus film and that was terrible.)  I am still waiting, though, to be blown away by a Christian film.

March 10, 2014

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Mondays are for Living in the First Century

When you read about the first century church, does it seem to good to be true? Do the stories about the rapid spread of the church, the impact it had on the surrounding culture, and tales of the miraculous just seem made up to you?

When I read through Acts there is often a nagging feeling within me. Here in the earliest days of the church, the life that those followers of Christ were living feels fundamentally different than just about anything I have ever experienced in the church. That nagging feeling has often led me to struggle with how to teach the people in my church about the nature of the church based on the happenings of the first century church. It just seems like such a far gap.

Well this past week that gap between today and the first century was bridged in an unexpected way. It has been our immense blessing as a church to host the head of the Church of the Nazarene in Bangladesh (name removed for safety purposes). 21 years ago he became the first Nazarene in Bangladesh. Bangladesh instantly became the first fully indigenous mission field in the history of the COTN. 21 years later there are over 2500 organized churches and 150,000 Nazarenes. Those numbers are absolutely staggering.

The COTN in Bangladesh is organizing on average of one church per day. That doesn’t mean planting a church, it means organizing a church plant into an official fully formed church. They have  thousands of pastors being educated, trained and prepared for ordination. They have extensive Child Development Centers, Disaster Relief Missions, Sustainable Food Programs, and Micro-financing Coops that are empowering over tens of thousands of women. This all started with one man very humble and unassuming man who went to a meeting about this group called the Nazarenes and heard the call of God.

It has been exhilarating and challenging to spend time with this pastor and to hear about the work of the Kingdom there. What has been especially powerful is to hear about their very different approaches to leadership development and compassionate ministries. Much of their work in spreading the gospel has been through the work of the Jesus Film. They have teams that will go into different towns and villages and show the film. Then they have a team that goes back to follow up with those that attended in private, to evangelize and find people who are interested in Jesus. Once a group has professed their faith in Christ they will organize them and those people will choose one from among them, someone who is a brand new Christian, to be their leader. There is a church planter who then begins to train the leader of that group and help them organize the church. Over time that new leader is then enrolled in a course of study to better prepare them to be a pastor.

This new pastor will take a course of study focusing not just on theology, but also on organizational skills, managing finances, church polity, and compassionate ministries. While the church is organizing they also do an extensive survey of the community and find out what the greatest needs are in that community. This is where they begin their ministry. Before they are even organized as a church they will begin compassionate ministries in the area that the community has stated is the greatest need. Over time as the church and the ministry grow it will work to not only organize, but to birth more churches.

There is much to ponder about this incredible work of God in Bangladesh and what we can learn from it to apply in our own context. This week I will interact with some of these ideas and flesh them out a bit more. But the first lesson for us all is faith. When God’s Spirit is at work the stories from the first century church jump off the pages of scripture and into real life today. We need not doubt their truth, instead we should be inspired and compelled to discover their truth for ourselves.

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