Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Genesis 3: Don't talk to snakes

All this thinking about the fall of men after watching Star Wars III got me on the path of an old Sunday school lesson on Genesis 3. The profound summation of this story, as told to me, came from the mouth of a little girl.

A mother asked her daughter, "What did you learn?," expecting some overly-simplified response relating to the need to obey God's commands. That was the mother's point of telling the story, after all.

The daughter enthusiastically replied, "Don't talk to snakes!"

I cannot think of a better lesson to extrapolate from these verses, but I wanted to build on the idea for the purposes of organizing my new thoughts on the matter.

We are immediately drawn into Eve's conversation with the enemy at the beginning of this chapter:
(NIV) Gen. 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

Eve responds to the enemy by quoting God's word, a common response even today. One thing bothers me about this passage: Engaging a conversation with a talking snake would not be my first reaction. My first response would be, "You can talk?!" John Wesley, never missing anything, ponders the possibility that snakes were known for talking and reasoning in this age. Given Eve's response without any further context, I suppose this is one possible conclusion, although I think it's a difficult leap to draw such a thing.

We continue:
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

Here is the obvious conclusion of anyone who allows the enemy space to reason with us. First, the enemy is not telling a lie in the sense that the fruit of that tree won't do what he says it will. His reasoning is solid. Second, Eve gave up her righteous knowledge for worldly knowledge. Her righteous knowledge was a blessing because she was allowed a direct communion with God. Her worldly knowledge came at great cost, the price she paid was misery.

The rest of the story is familiar -- Adam, as sinful and carnal as Eve, jumped right in without any text suggesting he was conned. I think this is important. Perhaps this is a case of the Bible being silent. I suggest it is closer to reality, because I know of too many husbands (and wives) that trust their spouses so much as to lose sight of God's truth. A simple suggestion or offering and they are off the advisable path. They are cast out and the burden of their sin lives with all of us until God returns in final judgement.

On strictly theological terms, this event was providential. This event had to happen for the real purpose of both God and man on this earth to unfold. Any Christian theology is incomplete without this understanding.

On a more basic level, I think the young girl's understanding is best. If you want to remain in God's favor, don't talk to snakes. If we do not give the enemy an ear, if we do not engage the enemy, it becomes much more of a task for us to be tempted and swayed from righteousness. Of course, we are perfectly capable of doing it on our own, but at least we've removed one unneccesary ingredient for the fall.

When I think about this, I think about all the times I stewed in temptation. Sometimes I walked away and sometimes I gave in. But the first sin, whether I acted in the flesh or not, was that moment -- however long -- I let the enemy engage me with his reason. Justifications are offered. Liberties are considered.

In the end, I know what fleshly sin is. I'm becoming more and more aware of what sins of the heart are, though, and that is what this passage is speaking to me today. Before the flesh acts, the heart gives the enemy a voice and the mind engages his reason.

Pet peeve alert!

I took the afternoon off from work and, as the wife is laid up in bed with an illness, my time ended up being poorly spent in front of the television. Three things within a span of two hours set me off. I turned off the TV in anger:

- Malcolm X was running on HBO. I have great respect for the man, as well as this filmmaker, Spike Lee. However, the debate between Malcolm X and the prison chaplain begs the obvious: What seminary did this chaplain go to that taught him that Jesus was white? What profane seminary professor would teach anyone that God is white? Perhaps this is an exaggerated portion of the story. All historical and biographical movies and books have them to establish an understanding about a character in a time frame much shorter than real life. This seemed to go too far, though. It implied this was a general understanding of ALL Christians of that day, and it's simply not true. Unless this chaplain bought into the bogus Arian theology of Anglo-Israelism, I'm just going to put this blame squarely on Spike Lee. For the record, Jesus in the flesh was a Hebrew. That made him "olive" or "golden skinned." The Bible is pretty clear that God is genderless, and Jesus wore the only flesh a Person of God ever wore. Side commentary: Those that assign a skin color or gender of any kind do more harm to the cause of social justice than the good they think they're doing. It's no longer Biblical theology, it's pop-theology, retro-fitted to suit the cause of the day. That's not delivering the Word, without which there is no justice!

- Some pop-commentator on yet another pop-culture feedback show made yet another bad reference to "money is the root of all evil." Ugh! This might be my all-time pet peeve. 1 Tim 6:10 says the love of money is the root of all evil. It's about your heart, people. It's much deeper than this flesh-beating humanitarinism disguised as Christianity.

OK, maybe it was two things, but I ranted hard enough on the first one to include my own personal frustration with the gender warfare in attempting to redefine the Person of God.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars III: The need for transparency

I finally caught Star Wars III this weekend. I've been looking forward to this one because I am fascinated by the methods in which the spiritually gifted fall into darkness. People with great gifts often start with the right kind of humility and awe of the power given to them, only to crash and burn in the fire of their own pride. The process of getting to that point is rarely visible to the naked eye. It's why Christians are often in shock when a man or woman whom God has endowed with seemingly endless ability falls into sin. It seems like a sudden thing when it is really a gradual decline.

I was curious how Anakin would make the leap from impetuous youth (very common) to the leader of all darkness (not so common). George Lucas nailed this one. Anakin's slip was a gradual one caused by his own insecurities, his own fear, and ultimately, his inability to submit to the right authority. While there was leadership in place to keep him accountable, this story is a powerful revelation how there is no accountability if we choose not to participate.

While the spirituality of Star Wars bears only the vaguest resemblance to the Christian faith, the organizational structure looks a lot like the structure of many churches today:

  • There is a high council where a select handful rules with authority. While one, in this case Yoda, appears to be the leader of the group, the other Jedi on the council binds him. They seek agreement amongst each other in the spirit of the Force they serve.

  • Jedis are paired in twos, one as a teacher and the other as a student, or padawan. Maybe this could be a senior pastor and assistant pastor. Maybe this is a pairing for the mission field. Perhaps this could model a husband and wife. However you like to compare it, there is an implicit discipleship pairing of twos also common to New Testament ministry where the teacher is responsible for both the physical health and spiritual growth of the student -- and they are to be accountable to each other, because the final authority to which we are accountable is the Word, not the teacher.

  • The Jedis appear to govern by sourcing their principles, spiritual understanding, all in constant comparison to their own history (1,000 years of history is a common reference).

  • Each Jedi is accountable to each other, the council, and their mission to serve all life and the "light side" of the force. Service of one is service of the other. They are interchangeable.

  • With all of this structure and organization, the Jedis still could not prevent the fall of Anakin, whom by all accounts was the most naturally gifted Jedi. He was prophesied to be "The One," a powerful, spiritually enlightened Jedi who would bring down the powers of darkness that had begun to blind and weaken the followers of the light side and "bring balance" to the force.

    Anakin's departure did not begin with wholesale defiance, it began with his disobedience -- internally negotiated by his fear and the best of intentions:

  • He went to the aid of his mother despite the objections of his leaders. He could not save his mother from a horrible death, but extracted revenge on those who raped and killed her as well as those related to the evil doers, a genocidal act that was clearly in opposition to the principles of his faith.

  • He began a secret affair with Padme, although (as we learn in Star Wars II) apparently Jedis are called to celibacy in an attempt to foster a greater love of all living things. In Star Wars III, Yoda warns Anakin of a jealous love that is of the dark side (see Matt 10:37, where Jesus tells us to distinguish our love of God from the love of family and friends). Anakin was seeking advice about dark dreams in which he saw pregnant Padme die at childbirth.

  • Anakin's fear and disobedience allowed darkness to speak into this life by way of the Chancellor. With the promise of preventing Padme's death, Anakin gives into the darkness where he did not allow the "light side" to speak to his heart.

  • Through all of this, Anakin verbalized his subservient position with teacher Obi Wan -- in spite of his momentary bouts with pride. Even right up to his fall, he confesses both submission and humility to Obi Wan. His teacher responds with an exhorting word this builds him up. Anakin's faux humility was a guise, defeating the principles of accountability. He never truly submitted to Obi Wan's authority (or the Jedi Council's, for that matter), because he never revealed his genocide on Tantooine or his illicit affair with Padme. This secretness was his path to the dark side. Those things he kept in darkness allowed darkness to swallow his whole heart.

    Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

    Right up to the fall, Anakin knew of the consequences of his action. However, his love of his (secret) wife came before his responsibilities to all living things. His fear of death trumped his respect for life. This is a spiritual blindness we can all relate to.

    The fall of gifted Christian leaders is rarely so dramatic. More often than not, it's a common weakness -- a heart of lust, a heart of pride, a longing for personal power -- that leads to the fall. Their sins are kept in private, even though they may have an outstanding accountability methodology. However, unless they are truly willing to submit the secrets of their heart to the light of council, there is no method of accountability that can prevent their fall.

    This lack of transparency can be a church killer because many have placed their faith in God through the ministry of these people. Scripture appears to reveal an especially harsh judgement of the fallen because of the strife they bring to God's faithful who follow them (2 Peter 2:20-22).

    Of course, willing transparency can only be fostered in a community that is free of legalistic judgement. It can only exist in a community of grace and love. I know of a situation where an assistant pastor in a church held a grudge against his senior pastor for divulging very personal confessions to another pastor outside of their church. This outside pastor proceeded to put condemnation on the assistant pastor. Bitterness consumed the assistant pastor and trust was lost.

    Instead of bringing this very real grievance to a higher council or finding another church, this AP did what he felt God had called him to do and he resubmitted to that church -- but at a great cost to his heart. Sins in his life that he had felt freedom to confess before became things that he kept in darkness. He negotiated this business by saying he didn't want to "stumble" anyone in his church. In his outward life he had learned all the right words and body language of a man God had rightfully placed in authority. His theology was flawless. Inside his house and beyond purview of the church, he and his wife began living a life of sin. A few years later this came to head and his sin was exposed, his bitter heart was now defiant, and he renounced the authority of God and that church.

    Accountability and transparency go hand in hand with love, grace, and mercy. It is not just for leadership, it is for the entire body. God put us in account to him, and we are to account for each other. How serious does God take it? I think this is the kind of situation God was talking about in Ezekiel 3:20:

    Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.

    Friday, May 27, 2005

    Confusion musing

    I'm still recovering from a debate this morning with a young pastor here in Folsom, Calif. While interviewing him for a story for my newspaper, he was stunned to learn I was a Christian. His skepticism inspired him to flip the roles of the interview to find out exactly what I believed.

    Things were going OK until I told him I shy away from wholesale systematic theology (because I'm not very knowledgable), but my views can best be explained in Kingdom Theology. His church staff must've been running for the doors and gasping for air because the pastor sucked all the air out of that building. The problem is the assumptions he made based on his own misunderstanding of Kingdom Theology. He assumed I was a Dominionist, or worse, a Word-Faither.

    I don't blame him. What used to be termed Kingdom Theology, as espoused by Latter Rainers and other abbherant movements from the mid-20th Century, is more commonly known today at Kingdom Now Theology. The older phrase of Kingdom Theology is now more commonly associated with George Eldon Ladd, John Wimber, and Wayne Grudem.

    Kingdom Now Theology states we have God's kingdom in its fullness on Earth today. Kingdom Theology, as proscribed by Ladd in "Gospel of the Kingdom" (and borrowed heavily from Karl Barth and Albert Schweitzer), is simple enough: We can have a taste of God's kingdom via the Holy Spirit today in the Age of Mercy, but the fullness of the kingdom will not be experienced here until after parousia and the advent of the Age of Judgement. Hence, Ladd draws the now-very-familiar eschatological graph of the "already" and the "not-yet" kingdom of God.

    Kingdom Now Theology is an essential apology for the word-faith doctorine, one which is far beyond the reach of orthopraxy, if not fully escaping orthodoxy. I'll let you decide. I have a hard time totally wiping people from God's sovereign grace who still profess a Biblical salvation, however egregiously wrong I find their doctorine. I certainly would attempt to talk someone out of a word-faith practice.

    Kingdom Theology, to me, is just a better Evangelical apology for the presence of God's power today. While it is eschatological in nature, it does not neccesarily confine one to a specific eschatalogical interpretation. I'm told Kingdom Theologists are considered "progressive dispensationlists," although again I find the that kind of terminology more confusing than helpful in categorizing what one believes. I consider myself neither a progressive nor a dispensationalist. I do not believe you have to deny a literal rapture (Ladd did no such thing) or subscribe to a dominionist point of view to accept at least the very basic tenents of KT. I feel a basic understanding of Ladd's view of the Kingdom is a very comfortable fit within a Reformed theology.

    For more on the confusion of KT and the confusion over terminology, check out this dialogue between Vineyard pastors.

    Thursday, May 26, 2005

    Spin me like a record, baby

    A few years ago I served a major metro daily newspaper by soiling their website with a sports humor column. It was vaguely popular to the local crowd, but infamous around the web for the unusual Flash-based mugshot.

    I will spare you my narcissistic impulse to share past columns. Instead, I offer you the mugshot style of the future. (Yes, that's me)

    Whom does God call to speak for Him?

    What kind of person does God call to be a preacher?

    It’s a question I’ve mulled over in my mind since I had a spiritual transformation at 23 years of age that ... how do I describe this? ... clocked my heart and knocked me onto an entirely different path. At once I transformed from a casual Christian to serious-minded one. I began to hunger for a better understanding of the Bible and I began to display certain giftings, particularly in one-on-one ministry with my peers. All of a sudden – literally overnight - I could break things down for my friends and explain them in a way that added some illumination and depth. Teaching gift? That’s what I was told. Church leadership told me I also showed giftings in exhortation, discernment, and wisdom (which was not to imply that I am wise, but that God sometimes worked the miraculous and gave me some wisdom for a fleeting moment).

    My former pastor encouraged me in ministry and suggested the life of a preacher may be my calling. Nothing has scared me more since that day.

    Truthfully, I have never actually wanted to be a preacher. My father was a preacher, all his friends were preachers, my very best friend is a preacher, and my experience is the job presents far more headaches than it’s worth. A preacher spends very little time doing the things that were on his heart that led him into the ministry to begin with.

    A preacher’s life is not spent in the pulpit. A preacher’s life is spent in the pit, getting dirty helping others climb out. Their job is mostly a thankless one. Carrying the burden of God’s work is a joy, it’s all that other stuff – gossip, insurrection, personal attacks – that turns idealists into burned-out husks of men.

    Wordly opinion? Of course, but if the young could see the messiness of ministry, seminaries would have no students. I have a much more realistic understanding of the life of a preacher, which might have led to an overly cynical view.

    Combine that with a very humbling early experience in leadership, and you have the makings of someone who wants no part of the cloth. For a short stretch of my life I embraced my pastor's encouragement and began preparing an academic pursuit to match, but that zeal passed on as I bombed as a teacher and leader for two separate college and career groups. I had no clue how to prepare a lesson and deliver it in a systematic way. The group seemed to falter from the start. My vision for the group suffered through my fumblings as a teacher. To me, my failure was confirmation that calling was nothing more than the passing hope of a pastor with a young, God-hungry friend.

    It has been made clear I do not have the gift of administration, and my management of money is a source of embarrassment. While I tend to end up in vocal leadership roles, I shy away from seeking a top position because I don’t want the responsibilities. I don’t trust myself because of my previous experiences.

    Still, there’s a piece of my heart that continually burns to help people, to encourage them, to exhort them, to build them up. I still find myself explaining Scripture in a practical way to Christians and non-Christians alike. It just comes out sometimes before I even realize what I’m doing. I enjoy this kind of ministry and have never felt the need to practice it from the pulpit. I'm very content.

    At least I was content. Lately my heart has ached for something more. I see needs that aren't being met by churches in my area. I see needs that could be met with the kind of church and the kind of ministries God used to mature me.

    Recently, I informed my wife I might be called to plant a church. I did so as a warning because she is also a preacher’s kid who has stated in no uncertain terms she does not want to be a preacher’s wife. Strangely, she was comfortable with the idea, she could see that kind of gifting in me, and agreed to seek God in prayer for confirmation.

    What I didn’t explain to her is I’m still not convinced I’m called to be a preacher. I would feel much more comfortable helping someone else plant the church and supporting that ministry behind the scenes. It’s not clear to me what God is putting on my heart. I do not believe being led to plant a church necessarily means taking a visible leadership role. Sometimes God calls people like me to state the need to church leadership and they take up the vision while I follow them.

    This brings me back to my original question: What kind of people does God call to be His preachers? I see a lot of my own weaknesses in the people in leadership who have fallen – too much pride, too much worldliness, too little discipline. I see nothing of myself in the people I admire, the great teachers and thinkers. They are the kind of God-lovers I want to be. But that is my hope, not a present reality by my perception.

    Author indicted for "defaming" Islam

    Author and journalist Oriana Fallaci will stand trial in an Italian court on charges of defaming practitioners of Islam in her book, La Forza della Ragione, according to Reuters. In the book, Fallaci blamed Islamic terrorists for the deaths of 6,000 people the last 20 years and defined Islam as a faith that "sows hatred in the place of love and slavery in the place of freedom."

    Dr. James White puts the indictment in perspective here.

    White considers the actions of the Italian judge a sign of decay in Western culture, but I'm not so quick to use that country's legal or political system as a test case. Italy is not that far removed from their fascist roots, a political reality which is at constant odds with a judicial and academic culture more in line with France (but not that they would admit it). If I were Fallaci, I would thumb my nose at Italy and stay in New York to reap the same publishing rewards hauled in by Salman Rushdie.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    The produce of our faith

    The Broken Messenger is putting together a real supermarket of love with his post on 1 Cor. 13. I particularly liked his impression of the color of love:
    When I think of each of the fruits of the Spirit as their own color, perhaps a yellow for joy and maybe a blue for faithfulness; I see that when each of them are blended together that I again get white. If I add the fruit of love (more white) it will only yields me more of the same.
    Read more of The Supremacy of Love ...

    I, Hypocrite

    Michael Spencer at iMonk clicked off a lengthy post about his walk through a LifeWay Bookstore. His actually beat me to the topic today, because I intended to write about my walk through a Berean Bookstore. My experience was similar to Spencer's.

    I'm not above spending my money at Christian bookstores. I own many non-theology titles. I often quote from them (mostly from Jerry Cook's A Few Things I've Learned Since I Knew It All). I see nothing wrong with Christian bookstores in general, particularly since they are essential to pastors all over the world; a pastor's office is never official without at least meeting the 400 books-on-the-shelf-they-might-have-time-read-in-40-years quota (although they apparently have plenty of time to keep an active blog).

    I've been spending money at Berean and Family Christian bookstores all my life. I was with my father in the mid-70s at a Berean's after the church gave him a gift so he could purchase his first collection of Matthew Henry Commentaries there. I've collected enough Bibles, commentaries, and other non-theology books at those bookstores to start my own storefront, not to mention the large chunk of change spent in my early years on "positive message" CDs otherwise known as Contemporary Christian Music.

    Any criticism of Christian bookstores on my part is at least a little bit hypocritical. I confess that upfront. However, it's startling to walk through one today. The emphasis on the type of everyday-life literature and knick-knacks in a typical Christian bookstore does not reflect my faith nor how I walk in faith.

    The first thing I noticed at Berean's was a large display of Joyce Meyer's new book, "Approval Addiction," on which the cover proclaims to help readers to "overcome your need to please everyone." I was not aware there was a crisis of approval addicts in the church. I wasn't even aware this was a church issue. I can only imagine this was written to that one lady in every church who brings macaroni salad to every church social; she knows no one likes it, but she's afraid to offend that one person who grimaced their way through a compliment that one time in 1965.

    Once you get beyond Meyer's enormous displays, you have to wade through the gift section of the store. There is no trinket so trite that you can't wear your faith on your shirtsleeve -- literally. What does one say to explain their Christian fashion? "Maybe you don't know my faith by my love or my good works, so allow me to put this message in your face with my crass t-shirt and adorning furbelow."

    [Sidenote: Some of the greatest offensives of aggressive driving have been commited by people driving cars with that fish on the back. These are usually the same people you can identify by the middle finger they offer if you drive in approximation of the speed limit.]

    Past the gift section is the large selection of Christian CDs. Roger Ebert once complained there were too many films being made. I think we add Christian CDs to that selection. While I'm thankful we've moved away from the secularization of Christian music -- think about the "crossover" artists of the 80s -- not every band with a Christian message deserves to be recorded. If you're ministering to your local community, is that not enough? Do you really have music that transcends and deserves to be delivered to a mass audience? I'm personally in favor of the worship music, but even that has its limits on my patience. Do we really need to constantly re-record popular modern worship songs over and over and over again? Was the original recording by the artist who wrote the song not enough?

    The book collection was impressive by its volume and number of topics. You can learn how to keep your money the Christian way, raise your children the Christian way, and even cook the Christian way. As one gentleman asked me while standing next to me in another Christian bookstore a few years ago, "Can't you Christians do anything by yourselves?" As Michael Spencer pointed it, there is a vast shortage of books on theology. You won't learn much from browsing the theology section. You're much better off surfing the Internet and ordering a specificed title from an Internet wholesaler.

    I was stunned to find a software section -- and only one piece had anything to do with Bible study. I am still unsure what the other software titles did. Maybe there's some special Church accounting software I'm not aware of. I'll give some liberties there due to my lack of knowledge.

    The whole store is a monument to demographics, segmentation, niche values, and marketing -- with the implication of God's seal of approval. As much money as I spend there, I'm losing confidence this is a wise practice to support these kinds of blatantly for-profit "ministries" that are probably better managed by secular retailers.

    On bias and journalism

    I have worked in newsrooms big, medium, and small since 1995. I have worked with both print reporters and broadcast editors. I have personally written for print and online mediums, at large metro newspapers to small community newspapers.

    I have been inside the machine, but I have never witnessed an intentional slant put on a story nor have I ever been told a stated agenda before a story is written. I am an Evangelical Christian with neolibertarian political leanings. If there were ever a liberal agenda, I would have spotted it and called it out years ago.

    The one quality all of my peers have shared is a sensitivity to the charge of bias. In most cases, the bias is in the reader. If there is an appearance of bias, it's more likely the combined result of laziness, human error, and reporter/editor misperception. I'm not so defensive, but I recognize most people don't understand how news evolves, what drives it, or even why some things are considered newsworthy and others are not. Here's some things where readers are commonly confused:

    The difference between a columnist and a reporter: News columnists and news reporters have two very different jobs. A news reporter tells the story through the eyes of those who experienced the news event. The news columnist provides first-person perspective. A news columnist is someone whose opinions run on a news page, often as a sidebar to the news story. Many liberties are given to news columnists, but their opinions are clearly marked by a mug shot and byline that indicates their article is based in opinion -- quite often an opinion not at all shared by the reporter, editorial staff or publisher. Too many readers fail to understand this distinction.

    Headlines are rarely written by reporters or lead editors: This one drives me crazy because most newspapers put little emphasis on writing good headlines. I've had many stories where the headline misrepresented what the story said. It's never intentional, but headlines are usually the very last thing created for a story. In a crunch, and attempting to find something that fits the predetermined space on the page, copy editors will sum up something from the story. Sometimes this works great. Sometimes the summation is so abbreviated it removes context and conditioners in the text that explain what's actually being reported. If I write a story about President Bush wanting to offer financial assistance to pregnant teens, the headline should not be "Bush assists teens with pregnancy." Some papers have talented copy editors writing headlines. Other papers -- usually the ones with tiny budgets and an understaffed copy desk -- just don't put enough emphasis on the process, which should include having reporters and lead editors placing suggested headlines in their copy.

    Expertise is not common among reporters: It amazes me when reporters are allowed to cover sensitive issues without having an academic understanding of the people they are covering. To us Christians, the term "fundamentialist" is only one theological position in the expansive Evangelical universe. To many members of the media -- some of them Christians without much insight -- "fundamentalist" is the term used to cover all conservative Evangelicals and Charismatics, because it makes sense to them only a fundamentalist could believe in a literal translation of the Bible, etc. Reporters are completely unaware how offensive the confusion is and how the word appears to be used in a constant negative connotation. Again, I assure you this has more to do with the average reporter's ignorance and not because they hate Christians. Ironically, in the newsrooms I've worked in, the Christians (Catholics + Protestants) outnumber all other faiths and non-faiths combined. One of my former editors was an ordained Baptist minister. It was always entertaining to me to hear him getting verbally abused by some reader who was convinced he was an atheist with an anti-Christian agenda. If he ever quoted the Bible, well, "the devil can quote scriptures, too!" I'm glad he found the humor in it.

    Most reporters are apolitical: The vast majority of reporters I've met can't stand politicans and have no faith in the system. They would be just as happy busting a Democrat as they would a Republican. It just so happens Republicans are usually easier targets because of the constant moralizing they do in their campaigns. It's an easy hypocritical bubble to burst, because it's very rare when a politician walks the way he/she talks. It's fair to criticize the cynicism of mass media, but I'd rather my reporters to be cynics than idealists. I think most reasonable people can understand the pragmatical professional need for cynics in the media.

    Don't confuse broadcast media with newspapers: Cal Thomas draws an excellent distinction between broadcast journalism today and broadcast journalism 25 years ago. He said he was required to have a college degree and five years reporting at a major newspaper before ever seeing time in front of a camera. Back then, TV reporters wrote all their own copy. Today, broadcast journalism is a ridiculous parody of what it once was. Reporters and anchors read the news and nothing more. TV news producers are the real stars of broadcast journalism, and I've met very few who have any journalism experience outside of their medium. Some of them come from a marketing background.

    Publishers have very little contact with the newsroom: The image of a publisher coming down to rewrite headlines and slant the news is a comical one. Maybe that was true in the days of Hearst, but it's just an impossible reality today. Publishers are concerned with circulation numbers and ad revenues. They spend their days schmoozing big-dollar advertisers and meeting with the veeps. Their whole goal is to keep their corporate investors happy. Most publishers do have the final judgement of newspaper content, but it's a rare occasion when they get to exercise that right. Most often it occurs when an editor knows something questionable is going in the paper and they need the publisher's approval. If it's a concern over libel, it goes to the lawyer, not the publisher.

    If you're looking for real bias in newspapers, look at who owns them -- large corporations. The Gannetts of the world have an incentive to be pro-Republican. If you look at media ownership deregulation efforts, it's entirely Republican driven. Corporate media giants are the ones picking up the tab on that hefty lobbying bill, and they have many Republicans in their back pockets. That should be a much, much bigger concern.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2005

    Power in an uncultured faith

    The two most prolific GUI operating systems of our day owe their initial successful launch to one killer application. For Microsoft, it was the spread sheet. For Apple, it was powerful graphics editing programs.

    Church historians might look back at the "Third Wave" churches borne in the late 20th century in the same way. For two of them -- Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Christian Fellowship -- the killer app was a long-haired, bare-footed hippie through whom God appeared to explode like the Colorado River after a heavy snow melt.

    When Lonnie Frisbee spoke, people shook, trembled and fell.

    That scene might sound like the charismatic chaos that has since received healthy rebuking, but back in the day when churches were reserved to lawyers, doctors, and respectable members of society, this was a revolution. Frisbee helped open the doors of the churches to the castaways of society without changing the message of the church.

    Rightly or wrongly, more people remember Lonnie Frisbee as the fallen evangelist who died from the complications of AIDS on March 12, 1993. Frisbee, we would later learn, struggled with homosexuality or bisexuality his entire life.

    Frisbee never defended his lifestyle. He opposed it, in fact, although he never could seem to shake the fleshly instincts that led to his being dismissed from both the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard. He was sexually abused as a boy, the type of event that might be attributed to some taking a sexually deviant path, but he never used it as an excuse to explain away his sin.

    Lonnie just wanted to serve, and he served to bring thousands of the unchurched and unsaved into the doors of the church where pastors Chuck Smith and John Wimber were able to foster a real relationship with Christ. To this day, no one who witnessed Lonnie's service will deny that God was using him in powerful ways to reach people the church could not (or would not) reach before his arrival.

    Lonnie was not Jesus and I do not mean to place him on that kind of pedastal. He would not want that kind of adulation, either. Neither do I want demean the real power of the Gospel that Lonnie preached. In the most real sense, the Gospel was killer app, but it was Lonnie reflecting the culture (or lack of culture) to which he preached that first allowed the Gospel to be heard.

    However, Lonnie's life stands as a reminder to me that our sin is something we should always confront, but it should not stop us from doing the things God has called us to do. We will never be so polished a Christian as to be "worthy" of God's service.

    Monday, May 23, 2005

    People I would like to see saved

    I'm pretty confident God does not make decisions by committee. I hope this isn't heretical, but I confess I sometimes wish He did, because there's a whole host of people out there who aren't saved that I wish were. All God needs to do is ask me. I've got a running list.

    First and foremost, I desire for everyone to be saved. Realizing the unlikelihood of that event, however, there's a choice selection of souls I yearn for a knowledge of Christ, if only because I enjoy their wit, wisdom, and talents. I'd like to think they'll entertain me for eternity.

    If God asked me, these are the people I would single out as needing to be zapped off their [donkeys], struck blind, and put into temporary sufferage until they relent to God's will:

    Eddie Izzard: This British comedian is wildly hilarious. First-class brain. He's also a cross-dresser and dips into some very disconcerting views on God and Church in his standup. Eddie distinguishes himself from the "weirdo" transsexuals while trumpeting his heterosexuality. I guess that means he intends to keep his native equipment and use it as God intended. Personally, I don't have a problem with the high heels or makeup. That's strange and well outside cultural norms, but that in itself won't keep a man out of heaven. I don't think it will, anyway. He clearly has a problem with God as Christians understand Him, and I suspect it has a lot to do with our advanced judgement of the way he likes to dress. If God ever gave him an epiphany, however, this guy could be a powerhouse teacher and theologian. A genuinely funny one at that.

    Chick Corea: Virtuso pianist who was the first celebrity Scientologist. Dedicates every album to the memory of L. Ron Hubbard, even though many of his equally talented companions -- bassist John Patitucci and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, in particular -- are born-again Christians. This guy has an other-worldly understanding of composition. I can't imagine the kind of music God could pour through him as a believer, because he has the facilities to play anything.

    Douglas Coupland: Author of Generation X and Life After God (and many others), Coupland is the most fluid writer of my generation. Pens some absolutely beautiful prose and is one of the most insightful commentators on the condition of the soul. I sensed at the end of Life After God, a scene in which the main character baptizes himself in recognition that he needs God, Coupland was also having that "moment," but a scanning of his most recent work reveals his views to be far more universal than I inferred them to be. Heavy sigh. God touch his heart!

    That's it for now. I didn't say it was a long list. Who ranks high on your list?

    A wave of humility separated by a common ocean

    In response to my public post of appreciation, Adrian Warnock humbly responds:
    But, Gaddabout and anyone else out there for that matter, the whole point of the blogosphere is that ANYONES invited

    It is said the United States and England are two countries separated by a common ocean.

    And this is true.

    Wait, it's two countries separated by a common
    language. Yes, this is true, as well.

    In the blogging world, however, we are all separated by a common audience. Warnock, UK preacher and popular Evangelical blogger, has earned his portion of it. I have not. Warnock writes with authority because he is educated. I
    attempt to write with authority because I'm foolish and have little better to do.

    The whole experience of getting caught up in that "blog shower" was like transitioning from the bleachers to the Indy 500 in my little Nissan Sentra -- after one lap I knew it was prudent to just get out of the way. Perception as a spectator changes once you move into the arena of participants. Those cars prove to be a whole lot faster when you're on the track.

    It wasn't the first time I've jumped into a scene where I didn't belong. I've been doing it my whole life.

    My father was an animated preacher. I was a typical preacher's kid -- fidgety and not at all impressed with my father's position of authority. In an attempt to correct my misbehavior in church, my father placed me on stage behind the pulpit. That first Sunday I fell asleep in my chair ... upside down, after spinning in it the entire service. My father counteracted me the next Sunday by placing me on a hard, wooden stool. This kept me alert, but I began mimicking his hand gestures, pulpit thumping, and foot stomping in an attempt to amuse myself. I didn't realize I could be seen by the entire congregation. As laughter began to roll across the church, my father turned and saw me in a fully-elongated gesture, eyes closed, matching his stance in mid-sentence.

    The segment of tape of that service recorded this: "And David wrote ... [long pause, rustling, sound of knuckle thunking noggin, sound of five-year-old boy reacting]."

    In many ways I still feel like that five-year-old boy. I'm not a preacher, but I can play the fool pretending to be one.

    Monday's best

    Some great posts to start the week:

    Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum illustrates a popular pew sitter he calls the "Faith Bomber."

    Rev-Ed presents a balanced critique of Rick Warren's work.

    Cal Thomas writes about the mess that is celebrity blogging.

    My new friend Robert Darden has a great interview with author Bob Flynn, the sullen Baptist.

    The Wittenburg Door also has a great column by Gordon Atkinson of reallivepreacher.com on TV preachers and how he accepts their shame as his own.

    Christians and online dating

    One of my Christian friends sent me an e-mail railing on the advancement of online christian single sites on the Web. From his point of view, they promote the "meat market" mindset on which some conservative megachurches previously held a monopoly. Furthermore, he said, most are not even owned by evangelical entities. Some of them are owned by churches (LDS, in particular) far outside evangelical orthodoxy.

    My friend, who shall remain anonymous (because I don't intend to embarass him), is not aware that I met my wife in 2003 on one of those sites: www.loveandseek.com. The key here is neither of us were looking for a spouse. We were both genuinely curious what all the fuss was about.

    We were both well-acquainted with the pitfalls of online dating, since both of us had maintained long-distance relationships with people we had met in chat services. We both had horrible experiences. We were both aware the Internet creates a false sense of transparency, a false sense of intimacy that is almost impossible to recreate in person. We were both very slow to move into an exclusive relationship, even agreeing we would not use those magic words "I love you" until there had been considerable time spent with each other in the flesh. I think this is why we were so successful finding and accepting each other ... eventually into a lifetime of marriage.

    That said, I do not neccesarily disagree with my friend's position. Online dating is not for everyone. I would suggest it is for a select few mature Christians who have first come to terms with their own singleness. If you are looking for marriage, you are more likely to find heartache.

    The problem with the state of Christian dating in general is a lack understanding about the challenges of marriage in general.The American ideal of a spouse is someone with whom, "I can't live without." The problem is they should be looking for someone they can live with. I knew this before I got married, and my wisdom has been confirmed over and over again since then. Marriage requires work no matter how much in love the couple is. It requires sacrifice. Behind every successful marriage there is a spouse that is continually swallowing their pride. It takes someone who understands who they are in God as a single person to accept this reality going into marriage.

    The Internet doesn't make finding this compatible companion easier, it creates more obstacles, particularly distance. My wife and I were seperated by 850 miles. While both of us had comfortable occupations, neither of us could afford a jet-setting relationship. One of us -- in this case, my wife -- had to sacrifice their comfortable existence and move to other's city to continue the relationship.

    This does not account for the rampant deception, even by professed Christians. Many participants are dishonest in their pictures, in their bios, and their personal lives. Because you don't get to see them in their daily life, you have no idea if they walk out their faith when they're away from their computer. I'm thankful that God has afforded me a certain amount of discernment in these matters that has helped me avoid some horrible online dating experiences, but I could not imagine trying to discern someone's faith on my own abilities. In most cases, it's pretty easy to use a few keywords and fake a sincere faith.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with online dating is that it mimics the "point of purchase" environment that has more in common with eBay than any church:

    Before I get to know you and fellowship with you in Christ, I want to compare your photos and occupation to others to determine if you're even worthy of my time.

    It's a wordly quality that puts indecorous emphasis on the flesh that makes online dating questionable on this point alone. If you want to add this poor attitude translates to the real world, too, go ahead. However, the online dating world fully empowers narcissists .

    My experience was ideal, so I can't knock it outright. God has blessed me with the perfect mate because of it. My only advice for those single people considering online dating is to first challenge their hearts. Ask God to help you accept your singleness, that ultimately you don't need anyone else but Him in your life. That heartfelt perspective will keep you out of more trouble in both the real and the cyber realm of dating.

    Sunday, May 22, 2005

    Emerging Felinism

    I once had an argument with a Universalist. OK, it wasn't really an argument as much as it was me trying to stave off incredulity while listening to another man's profound stupidity. My objections were half-hearted.

    His theology was so universal, God had a plan of salvation for all living things, right down to single-celled organisms. I admired him for his consistency. In this plan, mountain rescue dogs go to heaven for their good works. Carnivores and all instinctive fresh meat hunters must have token grace since God did not give them the analytical tools to understand the destructive and selfish zero-sum game by which they live. This, however, puts the greatest burden on humans, since we should know better.

    I didn't want to tell him that nothing was going to make me feel guilty for enjoying every single bite of my 12-ounce T-bone.

    We didn't have time to get his whole worldview down, but I imagine the path to heaven under this theology is a narrow one for all cats. Cats are evil by nature, right? I could be wrong, and perhaps I should make at least academic room for a growing phenomenon. My theology only allows a plan of salvation for humans, but I am fascinated by the emerging Felinism. Bucky from Get Fuzzy seems to have a good handle on it.

    As far as I can tell, Bucky represents the moderate or classical Felinist point of view. This is in stark contrast to the radical Felinism we find in more progressive American communities. Classical Felinism even has a growing art community, as represented in this piece by Zac Robertson demonstrating the matriarchal order of the cat world.

    I question the potential of a true proliferation of Felinism in the mainstream. Not only will most prospective converts find the hairball methodology difficult to swallow, there have been no emerging apologetics to explain away the fact that God spelled backwards is dog.

    Saturday, May 21, 2005

    Blessed in the blogosphere

    I want to thank all those heavyweight Christian bloggers out there who allowed me to participate in a discussion to which I was not originally invited. Lots of grace for me, especially since I have nothing professionally at stake in the matter.

    In no order whatsoever, I want to thank:
    1. John Schroeder at http://blogotional.blogspot.com/
    2. Brad at http://www.brokenmessenger.com/
    3. David Wayne at http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/
    4. Adrian Warnock at http://www.adrian.warnock.info/
    5. Mick Porter at http://www.unveiledface.blogspot.com/
    6. Milton Stanley at http://transformingsermons.blogspot.com/
    7. Rob Wilkerson at http://mymiscellanies.blogspot.com/
    1 John 1: 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.

    Friday, May 20, 2005

    Worship is the Warfare

    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You're gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
    - "Gotta Serve Somebody," Bob Dylan

    Dylan's lyrical point here isn't that eventually you'll have to serve somebody. He's saying you serve someone right now, whether you intend to or not. By your actions, by your daily choices, you are either worshipping God or worshipping the enemy. Leave it to Dylan to pen the best post-modern definition of worship, and by relation, the best post-modern definition of the meaning of life.

    All of man's wisdom fails to answer that question (or even ask the right question), but God's Word points to one challenge: Who are you going to worship? It is the essential question for all ages, part of God's plan. The nature of the question avoids silly things like methodology. The nature of the question does not ask whether your church uses a 200-year-old organ or a modern worship band to sing songs. In fact, the definition of worship is so much bigger than the art that often accompanies it, although music appears to be a God-ordained tool of worship. I can only guess it's because the melodic application of language tends to strip away man's tendency to look away from God. It allows our hearts -- our spirits -- to express the unexpressable where our small minds fall short.

    Someone once explained to me the etymology of the word worship literally leads to this translation: "Acknowledging the quality of being worthy." In other words, worshipping God is our confession that He is worthy and we are not. This is an expansive definition that spreads out the meaning of worship to all areas of our lives.

    Worship is:
    1. Obedience
    2. Submission
    3. Service, to God and man
    To quote my former pastor, Jack Moraine:

    When we worship, we are in warfare whether we realize it or not. Everytime we worship, we are declaring which side we are on. The reason there is an intimate relationship between worship and warfare is because the warfare between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness is all about worship. You don’t have to study the book of Revelation very deeply to see that both God and the devil are seeking worshippers (Revelation 14:7; 7:11; 13:4; 14:11). Time and again the line is drawn between those who “worship the beast and his image” and those who worship God.

    In fact we see in the Bible that all of Satan’s attacks ultimately come against the worship of God:

  • The attack in the heavenly realm (Ezekiel 28:11-17; Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:4). He tempts angels to worship him.

  • The temptation in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4-5). He tempts Adam and Eve to worship themselves.

  • The temptation to Israel in the Old Testament to worship false gods. He tempts God’s people to turn from the worship of the true God to worship idols.

  • The temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8-11). He tempts Jesus to worship him.

  • The ongoing temptation against the church today. The enemy continually seeks to distract, pervert, or dilute worship.
  • As the modern Church becomes more aware of God's presence in today's world, many Christian authors have taken up the topic of spiritual warfare. There are no shortage of books on the topic telling you how to pray down those dark principalities that impact everything from angelic battles taking place in Iraq to your marriage and your household.

    While I do not deny the need for prayer warriors, led by God, praying for the advancement of His kingdom on Earth, I think it's real easy to lose focus. I think it's easy to focus on the enemy far too much, detracting us from the very principles of our worship. In some ways, the enemy may receive the focus of our attentions on him as worship of him -- because it has detracted from our focus on God.

    The best example of spiritual warfare I can find in the Bible is in 2 Corinthians 20. As nations prepared to make war against Israel, this text outlines the whole process of Israel's heaven-approved response:
    1. Worship God before the trouble starts.
    2. Worship God in the midst of trouble, and wait on His word.
    3. Have faith in God's desire to fight your battles
    4. Give thanks to God for his love, grace and mercy
    As it turned out, the kind of warfare that was fought was not a bloody battle. For the people of God, worship was the warfare. They turned to God and chose to acknowledge his worthiness. They turned to God and said, no matter what happens here, we are submitting to You and Your judgement, but we are asking for Your mercy. God responded with mercy and fought the battle for them.

    God does not want our songs, our intricate musicianship, or well-trained voices. Those are fine devices of worship, not worship itself. God wants our hearts, our submission, our confession of weakness, our acknowledgement that He is worthy or worship and we are not.

    This is how I intend to worship God, in my obedience, in my submission, in my service to God and man. I pray He receives it and have faith in His word that whatever the enemy is doing now, Jesus has already fought the final battle and won.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2005

    My grounding: The doctrine of suffering

    I refuse to be called a Charismatic or Pentecostal since leaving the church of my youth, The Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.). I love those people and I can affirm their faith in the essential things of Christ, but I now consider myself an Evangelical -- an Empowered Evangelical.

    It's not that I have tossed aside my acceptance of the charismata for today. Quite the opposite. I embrace it more than ever and am more comfortable with my understanding of it. But then, acceptance or denial of charismata has never defined Evangelicalism. It is probably one of the most misunderstood elements of Christianity today. What does separate some Charismatics from the mainstream is specific doctrines relating to the methodology of charismata, and I'm not talking about glossalia.

    The greatest weakness of the categoric Charismatic churches I'm familiar with is the lack of emphasis on the doctrine of suffering. Simply put: When God does not heal or even offer a relief of pain the person they pray for, the temptation is to blame the person for whom they are praying as lacking in faith. Without discernment that is the case (and it does fall under a possibility - Matt 13:58), I find this an especially unloving practice. If the person was brave enough to seek prayer for that ailment in the first place, I have a hard time believing God would not accept that faith as sufficient in most cases. God's requirement for sufficient faith is not stringent. (Matt 17:20)

    No Christian can always offer healing, but we can always offer love. If we have a proper understanding of the doctrine of suffering, we might also offer understanding to those who do not receive healing:
    1. Our flesh is condemened to pain, suffering and death the moment we are born. This is product of Original Sin and God's judgment. (Gen. 3:17-19)
    2. We may suffer because God loves us, and uses our suffering to conform us. (Heb. 12)
    3. We may put ourselves in harm's way because of our sin. (Gal. 6:7-12)
    4. In some cases, we may even be persecuted because of our faith. (Just read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelations).
    To deny this doctrine is to put the greatest burden on those that are already afflicted, which is all of us (but some more than others). One would have to assume we possess the power of healing, that God has somehow surrendered his authority in this matter, which is stopping just short of saying that we are also gods. It denies the very purpose of our existence on earth which was defined for us the moment Adam and Even fell in the Garden of Eden.

    Some Charismatics like to point out that Jesus had a perfect record when it came to healing, and so should we, we just need to "claim it." I see a much different model in Jesus' ministry. Jesus, as God in the flesh, also had perfect discernment. I believe God the Father was already doing the healing, and God as Man saw what God the Father was doing before He prayed for people.

    In John 5, Jesus says:
    19Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
    Jesus explaining this reveals several important elements on His view of healing:
    1. There are things which God is not doing.
    2. He appears to not be offering healing to everyone.
    3. There were people for who Jesus did not pray for healing, because God was not performing the healing.
    4. Discernment what God is doing is an essential tool for a healing ministry.
    I would not expect perfect discernment from anyone who is not Jesus no more than I would expect a perfect record of healing. Lack of discernment would not stop me for praying for healing for anyone who asked me to do so (or where I see a need), but I would not put impossible expectations on my prayer, either. I have faith that God can heal someone of any affliction we ask Him to heal, but I know that God loves us whether He heals us or not. The latter is the only message I wish to convey to anyone I pray for, whether or not they receive healing.

    Ultimately, Jesus did not come to heal our flesh. Jesus came to deliver us from the fate of our flesh, which begins the process of death at birth. Healing is a part of the ministry that reflects on God's dominion on earth. He is in control, and any display of His perfect power should point back to the Cross.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2005

    Pulpit Evangelism

    Interesting debate from the intellectuals gathered around Blogotional's contention that preaching is about maturing a flock and not evangalizing.

    Interesting might not be the best description. Disconcerting is more appropriate.

    I'm neither a scholar nor a professional minister, so perhaps that's why I have a hard time understanding how maturing the flock is somehow a detour or deviation from the plain message of what Christ did on the cross. I cannot think of a single message that does not somehow relate back to the promise of Jesus, the realization of Jesus in the flesh, and the fullfilment of it all in Jesus' death and ressurection.

    How is that popular authors like Jerry Cook and Steve Sjogren can be so influential as modern-day thinkers and methodologists while having such a great influence as evangelists in their own congregations? It is because they always remain focused on the main and plain.

    Think of any Christian sermon a preacher might give, putting weight into the maturity of the material, and consider how it ultimately relates to the Gospel message:

    Message: Gifts of the spirit, determining gifts, fostering gifts, using gifts
    Bottom line: Gifts are the tools of the church to minister to each other and to hold revelation of God's power to those not yet saved.

    Message: Prayer and fasting
    Bottom line: Both are needed for discernment to see what God is doing today, which is to discern how God is revealing Himself to the world right now, where He's doing it, and what He's requiring of you.

    Message: Holiness, obedience, faith
    Bottom line: No matter how far you work your way into Hebrews, it is impossible to avoid the message of the cross in relating how holiness is only achieved by submitting to the power of the cross. It is not by our works but by the work that God does in us. It begins at the moment we give in to His will by accepting Christ.

    I'm not out to criticize anyone, but I do not believe Paul was arguing in favor of moving beyond the simple understanding of the cross by moving away from it. The message of the Cross by any name is the underpinning to all Christian messages. Maturation may be best defined as a continually deepened understanding of the most plain and simple precepts of our faith. As the Spirit writes His law on our hearts, He creates an abiding faith, a joyful contentment that does not want, a yearning for more of God and less of our own flesh.

    As I mature, going on 17 years of Christian adulthood, I find I yearn more and more that basic meal of bread and wine. It is not that I do not know that message or that I need to be saved again, but that my journey into God's understanding continually leads me back to this wisdom:

    It all leads back to the Cross.

    I suggest anyone who thinks this is not the very basis for every Christian message you could possibly give from the pulpit might be missing an important ingredient in their education. You do not have to abandon the flock to grow it, nor do you have to obsess over the flock to keep it. I believe God made it all simple enough, even though we sometimes think we need tosegment and micromanage what he's already perfectly organized.

    Monday, May 16, 2005

    Naturally Supernatural

    Some people are quick to question my zeal for evangelism because I don't write much about it, I don't speak much of it, and I generally don't buy into a recognized method. I grew up in a church (affiliated with Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn.) that was overzealous for evangelism. Each Sunday morning was a 2-hour long altar call. While many were "saved" over and over again, there wasn't much focus on maturity or growing up spiritually. People seemed to spin their wheels at heaven's starting gate, and lived in constant fear of losing their salvation because they could never get beyond the conviction of sin that first led them to Christ to begin with.

    It was odd, considering that church which my dad pastored clearly believed in a powerful God actively working in our world today. We were not given the onus of a cessationist, who I can only imagine bear a terrible burden of evangelizing without also being able to offer a tangible, fully realized God. What we believed and what we offered to the world appeared to be two different things. I didn't know many people in that congregation who ever felt relief from being convicted. We'd sing "Blessed Assurance," but not many people seemed assure. On the whole, we were a timid, terrified bunch.

    I guess I became desensitized to the conscious activity of proselytizing the non-believing public. I do have a method, though, and it's borne out of a simple slogan passed on to me from my time in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship: Naturally Supernatural.

    The phrase was John Wimber's attempt to strip away the undesirable package commonly associated with charismatics in the late 70s and early 80s. In other words, Keep It Real. God doesn't need us to "spice up" the effects of an experience with the spirit for God's power to be realized in us. As Andrae Crouch once sang, "Don't have to run down no aisles ..."

    The idea of being Naturally Supernatural was appealing to me, someone who grew up in a charismatic church, but was fleeing the excesses I had clearly seen as derivative of man. It was also reinforced by the wisdom of my local leaders. My father's mentor, Pastor Don Price, put it this way, while explaining why he refused to use "catchers" for people who are "slain in the spirit" during the after-service ministry time:

    If you fall down (during prayer) and it's God, you won't get hurt. If you fall down and it's not God, you should get hurt.

    Pastor Price simply wanted to remove the expectation and encourage his congregation to be real before God. If you don't shake, if you don't fall, if you experience nothing in the flesh, it is not a sign of the absence of the presence of God. We believe what we believe, and we do not need the experience to vindicate that belief. He does not need to blast you into convulsions to do whatever He needs to do inside of you.

    All of this extrabiblical wisdom has affected my worldview, as well as how I go about talking about Jesus to unbelievers (or not-yet believers, as Steve Sjogren would say). I realize it is not my job to conjure something unique. In fact, I have nothing to offer the world. It is God's job to shine through me, I merely have to be submissive to God and allow Him to speak and act through me (admittedly a challenge in my very depraved state).

    If you're looking for a methodology, I suppose it might be organized in this order:

    1. Submit to the Cross daily, with nakedness and humility.
    2. Be comfortable with Your own faith, know what you believe and why.
    3. Show up.
    4. Speak up.
    5. Respond accordingly, with the same kind of love and patience you were shown before you knew Christ (and I required a lot of both!).

    That's it. I realize this is not the outline to a best-seller on evangelism, but it has worked for me. Instead of constantly looking for windows of opportunity to hammer home the essential message of the Gospel, I find myself constantly speaking of my own faith at work (in the newsroom!) and in the public. I do not think about it, it just comes out of my mouth because it is naturally integrated into part of my life. I don't give speeches or sermons or testimonials. I just talk about my faith as it relates to the topic of conversation. I talk about it in very real terms, including my own fallability and the fallability of others in the church. Because I am comfortable in what I believe, and I am only dogmatic about the "main and plain" things of my faith, most people are comfortable talking with me about it. I earn a trust because they know I do not have an aggressive agenda.

    Has it been successful? Well, I'm not Billy Graham. The number of people I've led to Christ I could count on my fingers. The amazing thing is, in all cases, I cannot appraise my words as profound. In some cases I feared I had totally blown it. However, it is clear to me that each case it was God's time for them. I was just willing to not get in the way of what God was already doing. So in reality I haven't led anyone to Christ, but I got to be a conduit for Christ calling people to Him.

    Two of these encounters happened over the Internet, and I got to watch them grow up in Christ over a 12-month period. One of them, a 21-year-old woman in Houston, died of cancer within 14 mos. of her conversion. If I've ever seen the reasoning for God's graceful timing, that was it. She was in a very dark place before we met, and she hadn't even learned of her cancer or was aware she was ill. She wasn't ready to hear what God had to say until the moment we met. I suspect it was a very small window. Another phrase from the Vineyard: If you can't minister healing, you can always minister love. I'd like to believe I was a part of that kind of ministry to that woman at a most crucial time.

    Whatever method you choose, consider how much of the method is man's machine and how much God can actually use for His designs.

    Thursday, May 12, 2005

    The place where God wants you

    Parableman, responding to a blog by Baldilocks, makes a few points about why he thinks men have difficulty with the modern church. Too much singing, not enough preaching, the two bloggers suggest.

    It got me thinking about my year-long search for a church here in Sacramento. Gender had little to do with it. I believe some people -- myself included -- are guilty of looking for the perfect church (it just doesn't exist in this age) when we should be looking for God's guidance, because often times where we want to be and where He wants us to be can be at odds. It's even more important to be flexible when a challenge such as interdenominational marriage enters the decision-making process.

    My wife and I are spawn of preachers, a distinction which comes with some dubious connotations about our behavior as children. Less recognized is the stigma many PKs are left with as adults. We are privy to the absolute worst behavior in church and some grow away from the Lord because of it. I know my wife and I are still scarred from the wounds of attacks from church members who were merely attempting to injure our fathers. PKs are often the most instinctive critics of any church they may come across. Cynicism is the order of the day. If you already have denominational bias, a PK backround only serves to exponentially increase the bitter point of view.

    That aside, I grew up as a Christian after I left the bonds of my father. I chose my own church and blossomed under a pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Arizona. The pastor, who would become my closest friend, served as a much-needed mentor as we planted this new church and grew it to the point it was a self-sufficient ministry. He even forced me to deal with my bitterness towards the church, but his correction was always more gentle than I feared it would be. I did not realize at the time those 14 years had such great impact on me. Although I attempted otherwise, I probably spent the past year attempting to find that exact church, forcing biases on others while not paying much attention to where God was leading us.

    We moved back to Sacramento in Feb. 2004 and had struggled to find a place of worship. We tried many churches, including one from each of our own denominations. It became immediately apparent that finding a place we both agreed upon would be a task. She was raised in a Calvary Chapel, which presents some strain since Vineyard grew out of that organization and the two have had a tenuous relationship at times because of harsh (and at times, unGodly) criticism from a very visible member of their church. The Vineyard was certainly guilty of poorly managing chaos typical of non-denominational, neocharismatic asssociations, but it hurt that so many piled on without much grace. The strain between the two organizations is odd, since they are nearly identicial in both theology and methodology.

    My wife and I have never been at odds over the issue, and we both understood we needed simple guidelines to help us move out of our denominational biases. We tried to reduce our requirements for a church to the most simple elements:

    - A balance between worship and the word.

    - A loving congregation.

    Perhaps the guidelines were too streamlined, but I struggled as we visited many churches. I did not care how long the praise/worship lasted or whether or not the preacher was entertaining. I just wanted to find a place where I knew we would be fed. My conclusions about some of the churches we attended include:

    - A megachurch that was fundamentally solid, but was wholly focused on new Christians. The worship, which was played with outstanding technical ability, was more like a concert -- people sat on their hands and watched. The sermon was always very entertaining, but I felt it was short on substance for a mature Christian. My wife loved this church because it was affiliated with her father's organization. I felt like I was going to wither on the vine, so to speak.

    - A broken church of about 25. This church was affiliated with my organization. It's pastor had departed (or was he booted? I'm not sure) and while I was impressed by the loving nature of those people, it seemed wholly consumed with the methodology. Worship was an hour long and the leader seemed to be in more of a trance than someone attempting to lead the congregation into God's presence. The sermon, obviously given by someone without any kind of formal training, was wildely improvised. Neither of us felt comfortable there. There was no leadership. Given what I know of the Vineyard, there would be no one checking in on a regular basis to see the direction of the church. The thought of an abandoned congregation fending for itself with literally no oversight scared me.

    - A nice church that was a bit heavy on the legalism. The worship was right out of the Vineyard songbook, full of references to God's grace and love. The sermon was right out of the 18th century, full of calls to the kind personal holiness that seemed at odds with the evangelical nature of the organization. I'm all for obedience, but I also know it's God's job to make me holy, that submission to the Cross is my only source of real holiness. I didn't hear that balance in any of the three sermons given.

    All of this nearly led to my surrender in a search for a church. At one point I told my wife to just pick one and I'd attend without further comment. This frustrated her because she knew I would be dissatisfied. My wife was suggesting I had a critical spirit, but I felt -- and I still do feel -- there were multiple churches out there that met my criteria, I just had to eliminate all bias about denominations.

    This led us to the Foursquare church in our neighborhood. Now, I've had a bad experience with a Foursquare church and I had serious reservations. A congregation split with my father's church to form a Foursquare church. They spread nasty lies about my father, sometimes daring to tell me, as if I needed to be warned of what they perceived to be sin. The split was about power and nothing else. They wanted a more charismatic church, and some of their emerging "word of faith" beliefs even conflicted with what I've come to know as Foursquare theology. I didn't know that then, though. Until a few weeks ago, I just assumed Foursquare churches were all like those people I knew, even though I have much respect for Jack Hayford, the Foursquare national director. Hayford is a formidable teacher.

    I suppose it's God's sense of irony that we would end up in this place, because my wife and I both are committed to this Foursquare church. We immediately felt at home. The worship, the sermon, the people, the ministries -- our needs are immediately being met in ways in which we are most comfortable. It is still somewhat foreign to us. The worship in a slightly different way. My wife is not used to topical sermons -- Calvary Chapel teaches verse by verse, book by book, to teach the whole bible. The vernacular they use for ministry is different. But there is a distinct feeling this is where God wants us, and for once, we are content in our spiritual place.

    I mention all this because I feel churches should not change who they are to accomodate a certain type of person. There are SO MANY churches, I can assure you there is a church for everyone. I think it's critical for a married couple to find a church where they are BOTH comfortable, because it's a union God ordained. There should never be any excuse for a couple to not attend church together. It may take some compromise, but I can't think of any fruitful part of marriage that doesn't.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2005

    Nash almost a Grizzlie? Bibby almost a Sun?

    Some interesting comments recently made by a Dallas assistant (Larry Riley) who was the first player personnel director for expansion Vancouver. A couple of revelations:

    Nash one that got away

    - Vancouver considered trading down from the No. 3 pick in the 1996 NBA draft to somewhere in the teens to justify taking Santa Clara PG (and native Canadian) Steve Nash with their first ever pick. The feeling was Nash would solidify the NBA in Canada. Instead, they chickened out and selected Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Nash was selected by Phoenix with the No. 15 pick. Sidebar: I was friends with an asst. coach for Vancouver at the time. We both agreed (days before the draft) Adur-Rahim was the best all-around player in the draft. Another reason why I'm not employed in the NBA. I don't believe he's currently employed, either.

    - Vancouver later pushed the Suns in an attempt to acquire Steve Nash (who was backing up Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson at the time). The Grizzlies offered Mike Bibby, but the Suns balked. Instead, they sent Nash to Dallas in exchange for Pat Garrity, Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and a future first-round pick.

    A couple things stand out in my memory:

    - The Nash trade was neccesitated by the fact the Suns had acquired Jason Kidd in 1997. With Kevin Johnson on the bench and fending off retirement after a career beleaguered by hamstring injuries, the Suns couldn't afford to keep three point guards on the roster. Still, it's amazing to think three All-Star point guards were vying for playing time on the same team.

    - Nash was not highly regarded in Phoenix because he didn't play much defense. It was (wrongly) believed Nash needed to be in a Utah-type plodding offense to take advantage of his skills and hide his (perceived) lack of footspeed. Fans were totally focused on Kidd. It wasn't until Nash was teamed with Finley (another former Suns draft choice) and Nowitzki -- and allowed to play his frantic style -- that he blossomed into an All-Star PG.

    - The Suns probably faired a bit better in the trade than Dallas. Forget that Garrity, Wells and Muursepp washed out in Phoenix. That pick, the No. 9 pick in 1999, turned out to be Shawn Marion, who is pound-for-pound the best all-around player in the NBA. Nobody does more with less attention.

    - The Grizz eventually got hoodwinked by Sacramento in a PG swap of the efficient Bibby for the Globetrotter wannabe Jason Williams. The Kings got a good team basketball player. The Grizz got a showoff with a bad attitude.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Cal Thomas is my new hero

    Little did I know I had a champion all these years.

    As some of you may recall, I spoke openly for my dislike of the political pro-life movement and the moral majority in general (At what cost do we sell morality). This came after some serious soul searching in 1994/95 after trumpeting the Young Republican manifesto as a stupid college student.

    Now I discover that Cal Thomas, former leading mouthpiece for the Religious Right and owner of a Hitler-esque mustache, had a similar Evangelical awakening in the late 90s. I found this three-year old interview to reflect the very heart of my own transition. Whatever else Thomas might say -- and I'm not conceding total agreement yet -- his comments in this article could not better state my own position on the issues.

    My favorite quotes:

    [Speaking on banning gay marriage] I would like to pass a few laws that would ban lying and bearing false witness and all of that. However, some of these preachers and others who are so heavily involved in some of the issues that you mention have no problem with gluttony or with 300 pounds and lying about people and bearing false witness and sending out fundraising letters that are flat-out lies and spending the money on other things. That’s just the way it is. So I find it rather curious that some people who claim to be righteous or to appeal to a standard of righteousness are less than that in their personal lives.

    I think you can affect the issue (of homosexuality) in a positive way, which I believe I do in my newspaper column. You can argue, for instance, about the benefits of traditional marriage. But there is a bottom line–that is, I believe there is a greater threat to the country from heterosexuals divorcing and people living together without being married than I do from the so-called gay rights movement.

    Well, (America) was never the Christians’ country to begin with. I personally don’t want it to be a Christian nation for the same reason that I don’t want the federal government aiding the church. I think Bush’s whole faith-based initiative thing is one of the biggest camel noses in the tent that I have seen in my life. I wasn’t aware that God declared bankruptcy under Chapter 11. There is no mandate or expectation in Scripture that the state should fund the work of the things of God. I think that is extremely dangerous.

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    Fried Spam

    A couple of teenage girls continue to confuse my hotmail address with, apparently, the address for some "hot male" at their Texas high school. I get a couple of these questionnaires each day. I'm tempted to report them as spammers, but I confess I get a great deal of satisfaction of messing with their minds. I can only assume I'm ruining the social life of some poor high school kid, but why should he have more fun in school than I did? Here's one from the other day:

    1. What is your favorite color?
    Black. It's the color of my heart.

    2. What is your favorite piece of clothing?
    My mother's lingerie. I love the way the silk caresses my skin.

    3. Where is your favorite place to eat out?
    Madras Pavilion Vegetarian. They make a stuffed acorn squash that's to die for. If you really want to impress me, pick me up some take out.

    4. What is your favorite meal?
    Confetti Vegetable Curry.

    5. What is your favorite sport or recreational game?
    I play football, but I LIVE for curling. I wish we had some ice around here so I could teach you about the greatest game ever played!

    One of the girls responds:

    I don't understand. You told me you luvd football. Whats curling? I've never even heard of that curry stuff. Do you really where your mom's lingere? Your acting really really weerd lately. Your all normal and stuff at scool and the phone and then your a ritard on the net. I saw the email you sent to Kayly. That was really mean what you said about her teeth. Theres nuthing wrong with them. You make me worried. Call me 2nite!

    I respond:

    I feel weird. When I'm writing y'all in e-mails I feel more honest. There are some things about me I'm afraid to talk about when I'm around you. I just don't fit in anymore and I have these really weird feelings. I can't talk about this stuff at school. Know what I mean?

    She returns with:


    That was two days ago. I haven't decided where to take this conversation, although I have clearly set the table for some kind of homosexual confession. That's probably too cruel considering high school sensitivities and the fact it's in Texas. What do you think?

    Gloaters Become the Goats

    I've been pondering how best to torcher my wife as the Suns breezed past the Grizzlies while the Kings' front office is busy working on the draft board because everyone knows the Sonics have their number. Some ideas I've considered:

    A) Do a little dance on her Kings hat while singing "By the Time I Get To Phoenix"

    B) Drawing a mustache on her Bibby photo

    C) Putting a banana in her car's tailpipe, e.g. Axel Foley

    While imagining the possible rewards for such taunts, I've arrived at these possible responses:

    A) She jabs a carving knife through my larynx

    B) She shaves "Go Kings" into my goatee while I sleep

    C) She reminds me that I drive her car and am making payments on it while she recovers from surgery

    I think I'm going to go with:

    D) Keep my mouth shut, smile and enjoy the fact I'm not personally jinxing my team by celebrating while there's still plenty of time to be embarrassed.