Saturday, January 16, 2010
Brian Postman and Sam de la Rosa
Brian Michael Bendis and Leinel Francis Yu
Friday, January 15, 2010
The Marine Corps unveiled a new ad campaign last week. It represents a departure from the pitch for new recruits the Corps has used in the past. It emphasizes how difficult, first of all, it is just to become a Marine. A bracing exposure to the realities of what's involved for those who make a commitment to join up will undoubtedly cause some to opt out of the service and will probably incite others to sign on.I love the original Star Trek series - in it there are endless speeches by Kirk about how man was made to struggle, not enjoy paradise. A theologian would tell us that is that Kirk is right, but that such is a result of our sin, and not God's created order. Fair enough, but we are in a sinful world, so like Kirk, we might as well get used to the idea and learn to claim it as our own.
This development particularly caught my eye when I saw it last Saturday because, in considering today’s Gospel lesson, I've also been considering what's involved in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The fact is that we in the Church sometimes sugar coat things, trying to be palatable to our world, trying to make following Jesus like a trip to Walt Disney World. “Do anything you want,” we seem to tell an unimpressed world. “God will forgive it all in the end anyway.” The people of the world hear our mushy platitudes and wonder, “If you’re not offering anything new or different from the world, why would I want to be part of the Church?”
Jesus never tries to make following Him sound easy. Yes, Christ has done all that is necessary for us to be forgiven our sins and to have life with God forever. The grace of God, given through Christ, is amazing. That grace is the best news any of us will ever receive!
But though God’s grace is free, it isn't, as the martyred German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, "cheap." Jesus says, for example, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37-38).
Mark goes on and quite rightfully in his sermon points out how God helps us with the struggle, and provides us with all that we need. Amen to that, but I want to take us one step further. We really do need to embrace the struggle and learn how to enjoy it - it is not a burden, it is a blessing. It is the process by which we shed the old and become the new - it's hard and it hurts, but the results, oh the results.
If you want the perfect house, you better learn to embrace the remodeling or construction process. If you do not the "price," as measured in unhappiness and difficulty, let alone money, of getting to the finished product will grow higher than you are willing to pay.
That is what I think we really need to teach in the church today - not that it is easy, but that it is hard, and that hard is good, and enjoyable.
...The birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.
...I saw a coyote chasing a rabbit and they were both walking.
...The corn growing in the field is already popped.
...Farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.
...The potatoes cook underground, and all you have to do to have lunch is to pull one out and add butter.
...The cows are giving evaporated milk.
...A sad West River cowboy once prayed, "I wish it would rain - not so much for me cuz I've seen it-but for my 7-year-old."
...You eat hot chilies to cool your mouth off.
...You can make instant sun tea.
...You learn that a seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron.
...The temperature drops below 95, you feel a bit chilly.
...You discover that in July, it takes only 2 fingers to drive your car.
...You discover that you can get a sunburn through your car window.
...Hot water now comes out of both taps.
...You actually burn your hand opening the car door.
...You break a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m. before work.
...No one would dream of putting vinyl upholstery in a car or not having air conditioning.
...You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.
...Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, "What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?"
And my personal favorite...
...The trees are whistling for the dogs.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Something To Think About...From BATMAN
Here’s the context: Rachel and Bruce were in love with each other when they were younger, but then Bruce disappeared, only to return years later. He had not contacted Rachel since his return. In order to cover his identity as Batman, Bruce is trying to act the part of the “millionaire playboy.” One night he’s cavorting in a hotel fountain with a couple of young women. While leaving the hotel, soaking wet in his suit and tie, Bruce runs into Rachel. In this awkward moment, he tries to explain to Rachel that he’s not what he appears to be. “Inside I am more,” he says. Rachel responds:I have always thought that one of the best book titles ever was Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands A Verdict. I think that is a fine synopsis of what it is we seek to do with evangelism - present evidence that demands that people respond to it. McDowell did so primarily with historical arguments. Others use philosophical ones. Some use "fire and brimstone," and yet others promise a better self-image or prosperity. The appeal runs the gamut.“Bruce, deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you.”You can watch the clip here. Much later in the movie, when Batman has saved Rachel’s lives and is fighting to save others, she asks him who is really is. Batman responds, tellingly:“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Those are some words to weigh.
I first encountered McDowell's book in high school, far more than 30 years ago now. In those ensuing years, I have only encountered one piece of evidence that demanded response. It's not apologetics, it's not history, it's not emotion, nor reason. It is lives lived very differently. At those times when I had questions, when I doubted, God brought someone along whose life was genuinely unique - the evidence was not what they said, but who they were and how they acted. Such evidence cannot be ignored.
We shape messages, we hone arguments, we preach and we cajole. But in the end, if it does not result in changed people, nothing is accomplished.
Mark was right, these are words to weigh.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I Used To Be...Until...
I was particularly impacted by a talk given by Bryant Myers, now a professor at Fuller Seminary who worked with World Vision for many years. His question Do we point people towards our organization, towards money, towards, power or toward Christ? really had me thinking. He talked about how the effectiveness of World Vision projects often pointed people towards World Vision as the saviour rather than towards Christ and it made me aware of how subtle the difference can be.It may have been a "joke," but it was not necessarily funny. Much of the root of the problem lies in the necessity and realities of fund-raising. We have to promote the organization to fund it - that is certainly true with ministries like Young Life.
But the post looked at some other issues:
Bryant talked about the fact that the go and tell evangelism we so often practice is deeply flawed because the power of conversion and of discipleship remains outside the community. It is people outside the community who bring the message and hold the answers. It is often even the people outside the community who ask the questions – the community members themselves are often seen as passive receptors of our message rather than active participants in itThat's a challenge for the church - the church is not just called to preach, but to LIVE in the community and to be something different.
The challenge of the gospel is not in what we say but in how we live. To be truly spiritual people we must live our lives and do our work so that we bear witness to the spirit of God that dwells within us and not to ourselves and our own ambitions. We must live in a way that can only be interpreted in the light of the spirit that is within us. It is only then that we will find people respond with questions that point them not to us and our organizations but to God and the reality of Christ. Only then will we authentically bear witness to Christ and draw people into a living relationship with God.
I for one see that as the calling for the church in America, to learn how to live the message in the greater cultural community. We are outsiders in this culture. The message comes later.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Gerald Mann tells the true story of a pastor and his family who had something horrible happen as they were arriving in a new community where a local church had called them. Just as they entered the town, their baby, the couple's only child had a seizure. They rushed him to the local hospital where all attempts to revive him failed. There, in the hospital waiting room where she’d gotten the horrible news, the mother was understandably distraught and screamed out to God, occasionally using profanity.Of course, initially I was horrified for the pastor and his wife. Living in that situation, even for the short period of time it would take to extract oneself from it would be simply hell. But even more horrifying is the fact that such a hell-on-earth exists under the banner of the Church of Christ. Mark says it flat out:
One of the nurses on duty was a member of the congregation. She told the congregational leaders how the grieving mother had initially reacted to the death of her child. Those leaders, in turn, went to their denomination’s area superintendent to say that because of how “unspiritual” the pastor’s wife was, they wanted a different pastor.
The superintendent told those leaders that the members of that church needed to learn what it is to be the church, a fellowship where imperfect people can share the strength and the power to live which the resurrected Jesus gives to all who believe in Him.
The congregational leaders didn’t like that answer at all. And so, the president of the congregation pulled the new pastor aside and said, “Well, I guess we’re stuck with you. But don’t you ever mention the death of your son or any pain you may be going through. We hired you to make us feel good, not to join you in your family’s difficulties.”
Followers of Jesus Christ know that arrogance is inconsistent with our faith. We know that it leads us to kill one another, if not literally, then with our words, actions, and attitudes.*Mark drives throughout the sermon towards confidence without arrogance, rooted in true humility. What a very difficult goal. That's a balancing act between many competing forces of self, the world, and sin. Even God knows that we will fail to walk that razors edge throughout our earthly lives. So let's ask a question, "On which side of the balance should we err?"
We know, too, that Christ gives to all who turn from sin and follow Him, all who grasp God’s grace, the unshakable approval of God.
We know that we have God in our corners forever, helping us to become our best selves.
Yet the war in the gut that James writes about in our lesson today happens inside those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as much as it does in non-Christians.
May I suggest on the side of humility and lack of confidence. In the illustration quoted we see the damage caused by erring on the other side - we damage others, we damage the church, and we damage the name of our Lord Himself. But if we err on the side of humility we risk only damaging ourselves. Is that not the example of Christ on the cross?
Monday, January 11, 2010
Instead of using volunteers as a means to an end, use the tasks volunteers perform as the means to an end. It is the experience volunteers have and not the tasks they perform that is the point. Focus on the experience, and you’ll discover the commitment and productivity of your volunteers grow.That is a whole bunch of stuff wrapped up there. I want to break it down a it, and do so purely in the light of volunteering in the church.
First, any time someone volunteers in the church it is both about what they are there to do and what they get out of the deal. We do need to focus on that - ministry as a spiritual discipline. Making volunteer opportunities a part of the maturity process is vital. As I continually bemoan in this place, the church build people that build the church. To often we just focus on building the church.
Secondly, the author is correct - if the volunteers receive some sort of reward from the experience, meaning there is something about it that is about them - they will respond by wanting to do it again. But here is the thing, in the end Christian service is about the other, not the self. This particular bit of cultural observation is one of the things that the church should be working to overcome.
So, we end up with this situation where the focus of volunteer opportunity is to help the volunteer to mature to the point where he/she does not need reward to continue to volunteer. That is the nature of discipleship.
So, at some point, this person;s model is going to break down. That, in the end is why there are problems finding volunteers out there. We're running the programs and not building the disciples.
So what are you doing toe build disciples?