Thursday, June 30, 2005

The identity of the anti-Christ revealed

Life's complications have kept me from blogging with any real effort this week, but I wanted to drop a quick complaint to the peanut gallery.

I would like to join the ranks of people who are tired of hearing others talk about the Left Behind series. I'm glad people have found some kind of renewed interest in the things of God. However, let's not put undue emphasis on things that do not transform us in this age. This is so reminiscent of the 70s "end-times" prophecy crazy, when everybody had a prophetic chart and spent countless hours trying to figure out which modern world leader was the anti-Christ.

This is not to say I think eschatalogy is unimportant. I think it's important to know that Jesus will return someday -- perhaps as soon as right now -- and we will all stand before God and be judged. That is about the extent of my eschatology. Apologies to those who have pursued degrees and even careers in this field of study. As long as you are bringing people back to the Cross, I support your work.

What I find totally fruitless is the pursuit of the human identity of the anti-Christ. I've got news for you: If you reject Christ and His atonement on the Cross, if you do not believe through Christ is the only path to heaven, you are walking in the spirit of the anti-Christ. Our unrepentant sin, our God-offending flesh, our wandering hearts and minds, are the manifestation of the human identity of the anti-Christ.

You want the details on the global conspiracy? How about a cosmic conspiracy? An angel some unknown time in the past attempted to overthrow God by corrupting His angels. They were cast out of heaven and have been plotting against God and His people ever since. Know what? Their futures have already been decided. The fix is in. The rebellious angels have already lost, and we are suffering through 2,000 years of "garbage time," like so many Super Bowl second halfs.

While the details of eschatology may titillate, the above message is all we really need to know and understand. There's no need to build the cabin in the remote mountain and stock it with black-market artillery and 40 years' worth of canned foods. My suggestion: Hope Jesus comes today, but plan as if He's not coming back for five years.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Cal Thomas is on fire

I've met few men with whom I find so much to agree. Check out Cal's take on the conflicting Supreme Court decisions on the display of the 10 Commandments. He uses it to jump right into asking the real question of the day: What about the display of the 10 Commandments is worth spending the effort to fight for it in court? Isn't this an empty gesture to God so we can feel better about our otherwise amoral culture? Does God honor such a gesture?

Cal gets it right again

Monday, June 27, 2005

Death by chili

I'm working on a cookbook for young, single men. The idea is to help men learn some skills so: a) the don't have to starve; b) the can save some money by cooking something that should produce leftovers; and c) show them they can cook something that doesn't come entirely out of can. My wife would probably add: d) so they don't rely on their (future) wives for every meal.

The following recipe is one of my favorites that came out of a lot of experimentation. Get your crockpots going and try this out! I tried to think of a theology-related name for all the God Bloggers out there, but it was going to be a stretch to call it "Chili con Calvin" and "Dante's Inferno" sounds too dang Catholic. If Phillip Johnson keeps firing away on his blog with both barrels, I may add a few more jalapenos to the recipe and call it PyroManiac. I am pretty sure, however, Jesus could have used this recipe during His time in ministry, because it can definitely feed a multitude. If only He had a crockpot ...

Death by Chili

2 pounds ground beef
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 - 25 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 - 6 oz. can of tomato paste
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons powdered sugar
1 - 30 oz. can of pinto beans
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 chiles of your choice
1/8 cup chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1 heaping teaspoon dried cilantro.

Brown hamburger. While ground beef is browning, start putting remaining ingredients into a family-sized crock pot. Put in the hamburger and slow-cook ingredients for about four hours.

This is called "death by chili," because you'll find yourself sampling so much after 2 hours in the pot, you will have eaten more than enough servings for several people. It makes about a gallon of chili without massive sampling. Good for meals throughout the week!

(For the health conscious, try ground turkey)

Griego scandal expands credibility gap

I was supposed to be blogging about my Friday challenge: What are good works? I'm delaying that a day or two to spend some time reflecting on a local journalism scandal.

Diana Griego Erwin, a former Sac Bee columnist, has been accused of inventing people to suit the narrative style of her column. An internal investigation revealed so many dubious sources as to impale all 20 years of Erwin's work, whether it was truthful or not. Her career has been left for dead.

This is a different, more appalling scandal for the journalism community than some of the more prominent embarrassments because Erwin's alleged indiscretions can't be blown off as some lazy punk with a refined sense of deception. She isn't Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass. Her name is attached to a Pulitzer. She's won a George Poke and an ASNE award in her category. She didn't just fly under the radar, she's been recognized by her peers and superiors and set aside as an example for other columnists.

That such an esteemed writer came under suspicion is a story to itself. A reporter for a local weekly grew suspect after one too many Griego columns wrapped up with a perfect twist, with quotes that were a bit too ideal for the storyline. Anyone who has ever worked at any level of journalism knows stories rarely present themselves in dynamic narrative fashion, and people -- even educated people -- are not full of pithy, transitional quotes that help you tell the story.

It's why most copy can be a struggle to write and difficult to read. It's why there simply aren't that many great "human interest" columnists, and the ones that do aren't on top of their game in every column. If a hitter safely hits a baseball a little less than 40 percent of the time, and a home run between every 7 to 10 at bats, he's considered Hall of Fame material. In the age of anabolic steroids, that hitter is also going to face a lot of skepticism, such as the once deified Barry Bonds. Griego's success was met with similar results.

The temptation to actually make up sources is a strange one to me. It's never crossed my mind as I sit down to write a story. I'm usually too wrapped in trying to redirect my story angles based on the interviews I've collected or write better transitions. I've had to suffer the embarrassment of far too many one- and two-source stories because of my own inability to make contact or ask the right question that causes a difficult source to cough up the information I need.

The desire to put words into people's mouth is a strong temptation -- to put in print what they implied or told me off the record they wished they could say -- but that's only going to get a denial and make me look bad as a journalist. I am in the credibility business, and if I have to print only half the story because I could not verify the rest, while professionally unsatisfactory, that's something I have to live with. It's better to be considered having poor reporting skills than to have your credibility questioned.

But to make up a source? That's beyond my scope of understanding. To do it over and over again is such a brazen act in the face of such wide-reaching technology that I can only assume Griego, if indeed she is guilty, is a compulsive liar and cannot help herself. That's no excuse for bad journalism, but it helps me not want to burn her at a stake for somewhat sullying my own reputation.

This brings me back to the thing that got me onto this topic to begin with: Journalists need to get back into this business of credibility, and I'm not just talking about in our copy. We need to be accountable and known for telling the truth in everything we do, in all of our relationships -- especially with those in the public.

Someone is always watching, always listening. Act accordingly and speak plainly. I suggest be audaciously truthful and act with transparency, regardless of the truth. These are our hedges against spurious claims of fraud.

More than once my career has suffered because I could not lie about my failure to graduate from college. I probably have more college hours than many graduates, and I've probably read more books than some with masters, but I never met the specific graduation requirements so my resume reflects that. People who I know do lie about their degrees have surpassed me in my own departments. That might make some bitter, but I know it lends credibility to me, even if I'm the only one who knows about it right now. If the question comes up and HR directors start checking resumes, I won't be worried about my job or reputation.

In my first year in journalism I took a personal day off from my daily newspaper clerking job to work on a college newspaper project. My editor, sensing my previous exhaustion and knowing the likely reason I took the day off, interrogated me on it the next morning. I told him straight up what I did. He was stunned, not because of why I took the day off, but because I told him the truth. I'm not sure if he was not used to being told the truth by his employees, or if he just expected a stupid cub reporter to lie about it, but he paused for at least 30 seconds before picking his jaw up off the floor and giving me a lecture about keeping my priorities straight.

I gained a much longer rope with my boss that day. I had gained credibility because I was naive to the false benefits of lying. It was a much greater reward as a journalist. I don't have a college degree to list on my resume, but I have a distinguished reference who's willing to vouch for my personal honesty and integrity.

In today's journalism, I'm beginning to believe a provable history of telling the truth is worth more than that degree.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Redesign done for now

Attempts at something different were not acceptable, so I went with something basic for now. I hope this sets this blog apart. I realize the white space is blinding, but at least I have some play area as I begin to incorporate photos in this area. I'm working on something unusual, so this may get dumped again. We'll see.

You'll notice all the blog links are gone in favor of a permalink. The reason is I'm about to grow the links beyond reasonable length. I felt I wasn't going to do anyone justice, and everyone's link was going to get list. I wanted a way to distinguish my select links and why I read them.

Thanks for your tips and opinions. I hope this grows into a place where discussion is welcome for many points of view and people are comfortable with their words. I want the design to reflect that. For now, let's just hope it's presentable.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Friday's blogger challenge: What are good works?

I've been thinking lately about my confession of evidence of good works, and it carried me down a stream of thought.

Upon reflection, some of my "good works" are really good works. By that, I mean they weren't my works at all, but people who were obviously changed or renewed in favor of the Spirit in some way. On the other hand, some of my other "good works" weren't works at all. They were selfish, immature, and probably a hinderance to the work of God. Dare I say that most of what I considered satisfactory fails a new litmus test.

I have an essay in mind I will probably unfold sometime between now and Sunday, but I wanted to solicit comments first, maybe getting other bloggers involved on their own site. If we Christians who are sola fide, and we Christians who also believe in works as evidence of salvation, it's probably important to know what the evidence is supposed to look like before we call it evidence. I've never seen much writing or heard much preaching on this subject. I'm coming to realize that man's view of good works has little to do with God's view of good works, and I don't think any Christian should be left to guess at the definition.

So get to it. I'll be out of town on Saturday most of the day, but I'll get to this post no later than Sunday evening. If I have time tonight, I'll try and get it up then.

UPDATE: A couple have e-mailed me to point me to the Heidelberg Confession. Although it is a thoroughly wonderful statement (that I agree with), I'm asking for an expansion of thought on the subject.

Redesign underway

I've been tinkering, borrowing, stealing some things to improve the look around here. You can see the basic new look here. Tell me what you think. I'd hate to end up on Tim Challies' Demerit list.

More on Christians at work

Brad at Broken Messenger and Mike at Eternal Perspectives were kind enough to shed some light on the dilemma I posed yesterday. Brad's words were encouraging and Mike's analogy was helpful.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The challenge of Christians in the workplace

I've always been a guy who loves to work, but the past year I've had some unique challenges outside of work that have reflected poorly on me as an employee. The past three months have been especially challenging. I have responsibilities I consider more pressing on my scale of importance that have put a great stress on The Gad(d)about, somewhat gainfully employed journalist.

The Gad(d)about Importance Rankings
  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Work
  4. College football

What I struggle with is how this makes me look as an employee. It's important that my employer knows I intend to exceed expectations and that I do not make excuses for poor work. It's not that I've missed assignments, but I've had to do a lot of explaining why I don't keep a "normal" schedule. Also, my stories have been missing the "pop" they once did. I'm not enterprising or breaking stories as much as I'm following up on the work of other papers.

The question I ask myself lately is if I have been putting too much emphasis on the physical and emotional needs of my family. My heart remains firmly entrenched here. If my family needs my blood, my body, I would give it to them. I have sacrificed a good deal so far, including leaving behind a stable and rewarding job to relocate for what has become a greatly reduced quality of life, but how far am I willing to go before I decide I am neglecting the very thing that keeps us afloat?

Am I doing a disservice to family by putting so much strain on my employers? Am I setting a poor witness for my employers, and can they honestly understand the needs of my family?

I don't have any great answers to these questions other than I refuse to reorder my basic priorities.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Christian Carnival LXXIV

The 74th Christian Carnival has been posted at In the Spirit of grace. The Christian Carnival is a volunteered collection of posts aggregated each week by a regular member. It's a great way to get around the blog and find new Christian writers who may not be familiar to you. For submission information, check out this site here.

Some of the works that have interested me:

Sven from World of Sven has been working through the book of Mark, which must be the official blogger's choice. I've seen a lot of web preaching out of Mark lately. Sven looks at Mark 2:18-21. His emphasis on the Kingdom of God as part of Jesus' ministry suits me.

David at All Kinds of Time posted some thoughts on being single and content. These are the kinds of things I taught my college and career group years ago. We called it Purposeful Singleness. For whatever reason, men buy into this position of the heart much quicker than women.

Brad at Broken Messenger talks about the separation of sheeps and goats in Matt 25:31-46. It's an excellent look at who God considers righteous, and how those who think they are righteous can miss the message of the ministry of Jesus.

Stupid People (Serial No. 1)

I've noticed bloggers have taken to writing in topical series format to fight off running out of material. I'm not bright enough to write a series of columns on anything of substance, but I have plenty of insight into stupidity. Not only am I very experienced myself, I know many others -- not all of them blood-related -- whose habits they consider quirky and interesting actually illuminate the vast realm of human stupidity. Consider this the first in a running theme.

Stupid People: Rush-Hour Ron

You've seen Ron before. He gets around. He's the guy commuting in the Ford Excursion doing 95 with just enough brake room between the next car to squeeze Kate Moss through the difference. Ron is an obsessive lane changer, even though he's more interested in looking for that Nine-Inch Nails CD among the thousands in his collection because he doesn't feel aggressive enough. There could be 50 cars stopped in front of him, but Ron is thoughtful enough to honk his horn, because it's really the car in front of him that's holding everybody up. Besides, horn-honking is a scientifically-proven method for clearing clogged freeways, just like pushing an elevator button multiple times actually makes the elevator doors close faster and the car move upwards and downwards more briskly.

What you don't know about Ron is that he's not actually late for anything, although his driving might suggest otherwise. He just can't stand people that drive slow, although he maintains justifiable anger at anyone who might dare play bumper cars with him. He has little tolerance for people who are so brazen to mimic his driving style. If you attempt to speed up and get in front of him, he will match your speed. If you are gracious enough to pull in behind him, he will get lost in thought and slow down -- and then curse at you for driving to close too his bumper.

Because Ron spent quite a bit extra on safety features for his Excursion, he feels he's contributed to road safety for the masses. Although a slight bump from his Excursion would mangle most smaller cars, at least Ron and his occasional passengers will be safe. He has also splurged on halogen lights, which have been known to temporarily blind on-coming drivers from a distance of 2,000 feet while on "low beams," but he finds it difficult to not appreciate their x-ray-like features. Although the side mirrors on Ron's SUV could power a large telescope, he has not yet found a good use for them; he considers them more a part of the styling than of any practical use. Our boy is proud of the advanced braking system; his Excursion can stop on a dime, even though that dime might be in the back of someone else's trunk. Ron is especially proud his Excursion comes with "four-wheel on the fly," even though the vehicle has never seen a non-paved road -- or so much as a steep incline.

We have found the only thing that can truly make Ron slow down is an accident on the other side of the road. Ron, of course, has no intention of helping, he is just fascinated by the bad driving habits of other people. Bad drivers, according to Ron, are people that get into accidents. Thankfully, Ron is usually out in front of the crowd, so he doesn't have to stick around for the accidents he causes. His impatience has inspired some witty sayings, such as, "Red light - optional." Once, out of fear, a passenger suggested to Ron that "STOP" on the abruptly approaching stop sign was an acronym for "Step Toe On Pedal." Ron jested that it actually meant "Skid Tires On Pavement." He was surprised to learn, however, it actually means "State Trooper On Patrol."

I would like to welcome Ron as a charter member of Stupid People. Such an honor merits a discount for public transportation. We would like to encourage Ron to use it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cal Thomas is a prophet

Cal Thomas hits another home run with his latest column, which tells the Church to fix its own house before attempting to fix the gov't:
The social ills confronting us have not produced our collective indifference to a moral code. They reflect that indifference. Fixing social ills does not begin in the halls of Congress or Supreme Court, but in individual human hearts.

Government can't go there. God can. But if God's servants prefer government to God, or seek to attach God to political parties and earthly agendas, they are doomed to futility.

I try to avoid getting on a political high horse around here, but I wish more Christian political bloggers would get their noises out of the latest MSM conspiracy theory and check out Cal.

PyroManiac and stupid blogger tricks

Phil Johnson at PyroManiac continues his roast and toast of bloggers who write about him. I previously compared him to Rush Limbaugh: brash, entertaining, and likely to draw a crowd to God bloggers who follow his lead. I'm thinking I was a bit off on that one.

Johnson has become more like a young David Letterman washed in eight shades of Calvinism. I've always considered Letterman to be the anti-TV host, regularly turning the camera on regular people who will do stupid things to, well, just get on TV. Regular people are more entertaining than the celebrities TV execs crave because regular people aren't bound by the behaviorial constraints of celebrity. Letterman recognized the irony of it. Johnson has, in turn, become the anti-blogger, regularly turning his pulpit the other way around for the masses before pulling it back to wryly point out their silliness. It's all wink-wink stuff and very funny to those he's not picking out of the crowd.

What I see on Letterman's "stupid human tricks" is the same phenomenon I'm seeing among Johnson's pet bloggers. Excluding IMonk, who might be headed for the Wellbutrin as we speak (and I really do feel badly for the man), everyone else seems to enjoy this post-postmodern (neopostmodern?) repartee. As the audience, we're not supposed to be able to discern if people are really this hungry for attention or if they all are in on the joke together. It's not so ironic as it is ... morosely entertaining. Whose pride is he going to gracefully shred next with their own words?

I say this fully recognizing he might discover Technorati and target me in his next "Blogspotting" post. But then you'll be left to wonder if I'm the butt of the joke or in on it. I guess that's the fun of it all. Besides, I wouldn't be the dumbest celebrity out there, so I have that going for me.

Surprised by the challenge of experience

I blog today with great reservation. I do not write to validate anyone else's experience or even suggest a physical experience is needed for any Christian. I am only writing to testify an experience I had in 1995 appears to continue to bear good fruit. I am writing because I see much criticism of the experiential today that reduces all experience in Christian practice as of the flesh, at best, and demonic activity at worst. What worries me is this criticism is not coming from the mouths of cessationists, rather, from people who otherwise agree the Spirit is capable of operating in great power today. These are people who quote Jonathan Edwards as reason for hope of a pouring out of God's spirit, while backing away from or ignoring the unusual "affections" in people Edwards witnessed in his lifetime.

My experience is related to the "Laughing Revival" or "Holy Laughter" or "Toronto Blessing" or whatever you want to call it. For those not familiar with it, this movement took hold first through charismatic circles and then to some mainline Evangelical denominations. While it was called revival by some, my denonimation insisted on referring to it as "renewal," a move of the Spirit that refreshes Christians and brings the life of the Spirit to Body of Christ. Contrary to some criticisms that people were encouraged to have this experience, in the circles in which I ran it was typically transferred by people who had experienced it and then delivered while preaching their regularly scheduled sermons. While primarily characterized by spats of uncontrollable laughter, signs of the movement were sometimes manifested in other awkward (and often disturbing) bodily responses, audible sounds, and ... sometimes animal noises and barnyard imitiations.

If you are sighing in disappointment right now, allow me to join you. Much of what I believe I saw in the later stages was the flesh reacting to expectations put on the crowd after word got around. However, my experience, a singular moment I have difficult time describing, was not prefaced with expectations. I didn't know anything about it, hadn't heard anything about it, and no one told me something was going to happen. It just did. To better tell it, though, I need to begin this narrative with background and lead up to the story. Trust me, it helps to have perspective to understand why I view it as a work of God, not a work of the flesh or the enemy.

In 1989, at the age of 19, I joined a small church plant of about 25 people. It was sponsored by a very (very!) large non-denominational traditional charismatic church my father helped build years ago. Our sect was not far removed from other Third Wave churches that grew up out of the 70s charismatic scene. Think Calvary Chapel with a more conservative worship methodology.

My pastor, still a young 30-something, returned from a Vineyard leader's conference (as a guest, not a member) in January 1995, and the next Sunday morning could not preach his message about his new vision for our church without breaking down into tears. He was passionate about our call to share the Gospel, to minister in love, and to equip and build the Body. His arm would begin to shake and tremble, but he never would explain what that was about. Realize my pastor was one of the most analytical, well-read, anti-emotional people I knew. His charm was always in his humility, not his charisma. We had become close friends at this point, and it was disturbing to me to see him ... so undone. Yet his message had an authority behind it, a power, that had been missing from his previous scholarly and edifying work.

What followed defies explanation. Some people began to laugh. Some people began to cry. Most of us looked around curiously trying to figure out what we were missing, like some joke had been told in secret, or there was something either hysterically ironic or deeply moving in the message that was escaping our own emotional response. The pastor said nothing about what we were witnessing, had not told anyone what he had experienced, and word of this "renewal" had not reached our doors. Instead, it just unfolded as the pastor spoke, as if the Spirit was being released as the great burden on our pastor's heart left his lips.

We had always been very careful about the experiential in our church leading up to this moment, as was our church's tradition. We had been accused of quenching the Spirit more than once, a charge our pastor would often wear as a badge of honor as he carried out what he believed to be his responsibility to protect us from spiritual harm. While other churches were immersed in the chaos of spiritual warfare trends (an offshoot, I think, of Frank Peretti's fictional novels), we stated we did not look for "demons under every rock." We focused on the practical. "Practical" was literally our charismatic dogma, so intent were we on avoiding the excesses of charismatic practices. We had a theology for the miraculous, but a praxis that did not leave much room for our theology. Experiencing the power of God had always been viewed in the theoretical, not something we expected to ever witness -- or something we honestly hoped to experience -- ourselves. So watching this roll out was a stunning revelation, an affront to the practicality I had been taught.

My first (and second and third) instinct: RUN!

I didn't run. Instead, I practiced passive observance. Who wouldn't be curious at this phenomena at first glance, even if it was a morbid curiosity? As ministry time came, I watched as otherwise respectable, reserved people came unglued as they were prayed for. I never saw anything so extreme as described by witnesses of the Toronto church, but I saw a lot of people doubled over in laughter, and I saw just as many doubled over in tears. In one, I saw what I believe was my first ever sight of deliverance.

Charismatic experience had avoided me up until that point. My father was a charismatic preacher, and my earliest memories from childhood were of people being affected by God. I was both terrified of the thought and craving it at the same time. For a long time I assumed all that experiential stuff was fake, but I came to accept some of it had been real as I saw lives dramatically changed. I didn't want to look like a fool, but whatever magnificent thing God was doing inside those people, that's what I wanted. I wanted God, nothing else. While watching this, though, I was more than satisifed sitting on the sidelines. While I craved a tangible experience with God, I was not going to get involved with this ... weirdness.

As a member of the worship team, I was obligated to play during worship during a special meeting haphazardly scheduled that night. Another church, a Vineyard down the street, would be joining us. An extended time of ministry was promised. Nothing else was said about it.

I had been playing Vineyard songs for over a year by then, so I had become accustomed to the sweetness of intimate worship. Maybe we didn't "get up and go" during praise songs, but the deepness of the lyrics, the heartfelt confessions and prayers extrapolated from Scripture, were a welcome departure from my traditional upbringing. Worship that night was a 10-fold increase in the deepness of our worship of God. The people that came brought with them a willingness to surrender, to exalt God, that was reflected by the presence of the Spirit. The physical sensation of the power of the Spirit was palpable. I am unable to express the depth of humility ... a supernatural recognition of how unworthy I was ... that I experienced during that worship time. It was both a burden to have one's own wretchedness revealed and a relief to recognize the power of God to redeem -- to recognize God's desire to redeem. My heart expressed a real thankfulness, maybe for the first time.

That did not melt away my skepticism, though, and I sat down in the back of church with my arms folded. I did not know what to expect. A short sermon was given, although I can't remember what it was about. I hope you will excuse me in light of what I'm about to reveal.

I watched for over 90 minutes as people came forward and got "blasted." These were people I respected, thinkers, people of reputation -- people who were not prone to turn off their brains and act silly in church. Yet there they were, laughing like hyenas, first receiving from others, then turning the "blessing" back on those giving prayers. I watched as all at the front of the church fell as if they'd been shot in the legs. I'd seen enough. I gathered my things to leave, uncertain where I fit in with this congregation.

My pastor was walking down the aisle towards the back of the church as I gathered my things. He seemed to have his emotions together again, and my love and respect for the man superceded my desire to get out of the building. I stopped and smiled at him. He asked me what I thought of all this. I shrugged my shoulders. He asked me if he could pray for me. I shook my head with all the uncertainty of a child whose father had just asked them to jump in the pool for the first time. He asked me again while closing some ground. I turned my back as if to walk away -- to be honest, I wasn't sure what I was doing, I was just reacting.

The first 10 seconds he prayed for me I was frigid, a friend suffering a fool's offering. Then it hit me. I began to hear my close friend's prayer for me, and it was the very longings of my soul. As well as he knew me, he could not have known how deeply this expression in prayer was something I hungered to release. Inside I thought I was going to cry, because his prayer was so powerfully touching me. Instead the laughter came forth. This was not the laughter of hearing a good joke. This was not the laughter of ironic observation. This was a welling up from my soul, as if the whole burden of my whole life was now being brought up in a bellowing howl. It was not mere release of burden, it was total relief of it. Imagine God reaching down into the pit of your stomach and violently pulling up all the junk you'd be carrying around. It's the best I can do to describe what it felt like. I had a difficult time breathing afterwhile, because I could not stop laughing, although all my analytical faculties were intact. I tried to rationalize it away to ease it back, but the more my thoughts drifted towards what God might be doing, the longer it continued.

I hate to cut off the experience here because there were other, lighter, less dramatic experiences that followed. Twice, after being prayed for, I had lightning bolts surge throughout my body. I had a vision that I've learned not to share with anyone -- it was for me, not for the world. My spirit was awakened by His Spirit.

In the proceeding months our church taught those who experienced such things to not attempt to justify them. By that, we were told such experiences are extrabiblical, and if they were from God they would bear God's fruit. We shouldn't look for prooftexts proving they were from God. We should look for evidence in our life for spiritual renewal and transformation. If it was from God, it would show in our increased hunger for the things of God. The experience was a reaction of the flesh, and it was neither here nor there. What was important was the change in us God began and continued to work in us.

By that litmus test, I can affirm it over and over again. I've never been the same since that experience. The fruit of the experience has been an exponential growth in my walk with Christ -- an explosion of growth. Not only did I find more grace for others, more love for others, more of all the things of the fruit of the Spirit, I found a new love for the Word of God. Before, reading the Bible was a task. After, it became a joy, a revelation, a recognized benefit.

Those of you who read this blog don't know me well enough to affirm these things. You don't know where I came from or the road I've traveled to get here. You don't know of my works or my sin. I'm not asking you to accept my experience nor am I asking you to affirm it for me. I'm certainly not suggesting anyone should seek an experience, because I saw many fall into that trap. Instead of reaping the fruit of the Spirit, I saw some people becoming addicted, worshiping the experience rather than God. I can only say I had a powerful experience 10 years ago, and it's a day I can mark a renewal that has benefitted myself, my family, my friends, my church, and (as of over two years ago) my wife. Where I once took from these people, I became a giver of the love of God He poured into me. Where I once benefitted from their ministry, I began to minister to them in big and small ways. I desired to give and give, and there was no burden in it. Take that for whatever it might be worth to you, if it all.

However, before criticizing the experiential, I suggest you reconsider what room your are leaving for the Spirit in your life. If you believe in the power of God active in today's world, how big and powerful does your theology allow for God to be? God rocked my world, my theology, and while I'm still slow to accept experience, there's a lot more room in my theology to accept God is much bigger than I can conceive Him to be.

An experience can do that to a man.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

From meme to you

meme (mm) n. A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.

Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons channeled his inner evil grade school teacher and "tagged" me for the book meme. He did this in spite of my peaceful protests (a preemptive measure in case anyone was thinking of me). Asking me about my book collection and reading habits is a little like asking an actor about their politics. I don't want to offend those who honor an otherwise fruitful blog practice, so I relent and comply.

Total number of books I've owned ever:
I have four or five large, unpacked boxes of books, and a medium-sized bookshelf with about 200 hundred books stacked like so much litter. How many books is that? I'm living proof that reading inspires more questions than answers.

Last book I bought: Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allender. I bought it for a friend.

Last book I read: The First Epistle to the Corinthians by Dr. Gordon Fee. I've owned this book for quite some time, but decided to revisit it as I work through the chapter. I didn't realize Fee wrote it, because I recently asked a friend to recommend some of Fee's better work. I'm not one to collect commentaries, but this is an outstanding help. My only warning is Fee's insights are hard to escape once you've entertained them. I think that's a good thing, but I'm sure there are some that would be challenged by his work here. His treatment of 1 Cor 14:34 has given me many hours of contemplation that I've yet to resolve.

Five books that mean a lot to me:
1. Galations. This is a rudimentary book to some, but it unchained me when I was still young in the Lord and prone to enslavement to the Law. It has remained helpful when discussing God's word with members of various cults.
2. Classic Christianity by Bob George. I pulled this off my father's shelf one day and kept it. Like Galations, it helped me return to my evangelical roots. It is written in a simple language a teenager could understand, and relates the very Gospel message I had heard but not received as a child.
3. Life After God by Douglas Coupland. I suspect this novel written in the form of journal letters from a father to his young daughter would be a hit with many bloggers. Coupland's insight falls short of true Christian expression, but Christians should appreciate the conclusions Coupland draws about man's sinful state. It's also helpful to understand the heart of the Emergent Church movement -- the protagonist is exactly the kind of person they state a mission to reach.
4. Empowered Evangelicals by Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson. This book, I think, highlights all the strengths of what used to be the Vineyard movement. We'll call it "Vineyard DNA." The book in a nutshell: You don't have to divide the Word from the Spirit.
5. Gospel of the Kingdomby George Eldon Ladd. I consider this the basis of my own theology. I don't swallow it and digest it whole; I take it in pieces and measure each bite. While I am quite different in view than a few of the extremes of Ladd, this book remains the inspiration for my own theological pursuit.

Tribute to my father

Like most of the men I know, I haven't spent enough time telling my father how much I love him and appreciate his commitment to me throughout my life. Like most of the men I know, my mother is the recipient of praise, and my father ... well, he does a good job supporting my mother.

My father, however, is unusual from most other fathers. A former preacher, our faith wasn't something we practiced inside a church building. It wasn't something we discussed in a detached, distant manner. It was real, tangible, meant to be lived and shared like others take pride in their cars or material goods. We didn't have riches -- we were quite poor most of my life as a child -- but we had the wealth that comes with God's blessing of love. With my father taking lead, our faith was something we wore on our shirt sleeve.

I spent much of my teenage years raging against the machinery of my father, the Church, and everything else I perceived to be holding me back from freedom. It's a part of my life I've lived long enough to regret.

My father spent much of his energy during my formative years between ages 12 and 21 scrambling to understand my rebellion. He fought desperately to corral me from dangers I didn't understand while I fought back to loosen his grip on me. He had the courage to discipline -- he did not spare the rod.

When I outgrew the belt, he did not stop being my father. He didn't back away and give me over to the world. When I was 19, a high school dropout on the loser track, he gave me an ultimatum: stay in the comfort of home and go to church ... or leave.

I would be a liar if I said I wasn't tempted to leave, to just roll on and live a less-than-noble life. People talk about needing discipline, but nobody wants a taskmaster, even when we need it the most. It would've been easy to walk away because I desired to be master of my heart and mind, even if it meant sacrificing the luxuries I'd become accustomed to. Somehow, though, instinct told me there was a reward for sticking around. Maybe it was the instinct to eat three daily meals and have a roof over my head. I made the "difficult" choice to stay and follow the rules. However, I can reflect now how difficult my father's job was. Nobody seeks to be a taskmaster. In my father's case, he was compelled to be one out of his love for me. Even then, he had to fight through doubts about my ability to benefit, and the benefit of expending energy that could be spent on helping my two little brothers avoid my poor choices in life.

I am thankful for his persistence.

I "asked Jesus into my heart" at the behest of a Sunday school teacher when I was 7 years old. I even sang a solo in front of the church in honor of my salvation. Somehow, though, the fire never burned in my heart. As the son of a preacher, I knew the language of Christianity, but I was not familiar with the renewal of the heart, the grace and mercy of God. My life as a teenager was marked by rejection of God's word, not a life walking with it, in it.

Some time before my 20th birthday a fire was lit. Despite my best efforts to work around my father's insistence I attend some church -- any church -- I walked into a small church plant led by an old friend. The message was revolutionary to my ears, even though I may have heard it dozens of times before. It was so new and exciting -- a story about a loving God that came to save me, not judge me -- I couldn't get enough of it. It was a chain-reaction explosion that forever changed my path for the better. I am not any wealthier or healthier than I was before the Spirit blew up inside of me. What I've been given is contentment, faith to endure, a joy that conquers my soul's angst, an unconditional love that betrays my flesh's best efforts to take offense.

Many people can talk about the irresistible will of God in academic terms, but understanding it in practical terms may elude some of the smartest men. I have a physical example in my earthly father. My faith was at the forefront of his concerns, and he pursued me, rattled me, disciplined me, until my heart was prepared to receive Him. I'm not one to judge the works of men, but from my point of view, my life in God is my father's crown jewel of his work here in this life. I live my life for God, but my very faith is a tribute to my father's efforts to be the father God calls all fathers to be.

I breathe in the Spirit today because a man was willing to allow God to work through him, to endure the pain and untold struggles of fatherhood to see God's work completed in my life. It was not a thankless job, although it certainly appeared to be one to him at the time. I am thankful today and I will be thankful for eternity.

Thanks, Pops. I love you, too.

Friday, June 17, 2005

To him who sits on the (drummer's) throne

Work is hectic and web design is giving me a headache, but I had to weigh in for Dan at Cerulean Sanctum, with whom I keep finding similarities. It's too bad Dan doesn't live in Sacramento, because I think we could have a lot of fun planting a church together.

See, Dan and I are drummers. We also appear to be among the "New Breed" drummers, as defined by Gary Chester. We not only see eye-to-eye on much of our theology, we likely agree on things like fulcrum points, that good drumming doesn't venture far from bass/snare/hi-hat/ride, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with "giving the drummer some" from time to time. You might find that not very important, but churches have been divided over less.

Apologies if I've jumped to too many conclusions, Dan, but I want to move this forward. In response to your request, I present my Top 5 All-Time Drummer Performances:

5. "Bring On the Night," Sting, dr. Omar Hakim. I still don't understand how Hakim hasn't taken his place among modern drumming royalty. Best pocket in the biz, and he can stretch with the best. Check out his stuff on "I Burn For You." Then compare it to his solo over a vamp on John Scofield's "Still Warm." Similar, but this guy can flat blow when he wants to. I wish he'd ditch the pop gigs and go back to stretching himself.

4. "Live and Living in Colour," Tower of Power, dr. David Garibaldi. This is quintessential Tower of Power, and Garibaldi is on top of his game. Garibaldi drives a horn section like nobody else, and he takes the Zig Modeliste/Meters stuff in directions I think many are still trying to decipher today. Garibaldi and bassist Rocco Prestia form the best R&B rythm section ever, and I don't care what anybody in Detroit thinks. These guys aren't the original greasy Oakland pork chop, but they are the greasiest!

3. "Document," Karizma, dr. Vinnie Colaiuta. There have been so many Vinnie personal highs, I can't count all of them. His work with John Patitucci, John Scofield and Chick Corea remains at the pinnacle of "crazy drum stuff" in my estimation. I'm told he kills on Ron Kenoly's live album -- my heart was bursting with joy upon hearing of Colaiuta's salvation. However, if you're looking for the one-stop CD for glimpses of Vinnie, this is it. His interaction with the piano on "Nothing Personal" is absurd. Vinnie remains my favorite drummer today. I don't think there's any doubt he's doing what he was born to do.

2. "The Leprechaun," Chick Corea, dr. Steve Gadd. I grew up a drum corps geek, so Gadd's linear approach to funk/fusion on this album immediately appealed to me. Once past the obvious, I have grown to appreciate the depth of this performance, the subtle nuance of Gadd's musicality. This remains, I think, the very definition of what a modern drummer is supposed to sound like, even if the mini-Moogs of Corea's music in that era were outdated the moment the music went to press.

1. "A Love Supreme," John Coltrane, dr. Elvin Jones. I once sat down with an instructor and asked him to show me how to play loose like Elvin on the verses of the second track, Resolution. He laid down a hi-hat with it's hard 2&4 chick and told me to go for it. I played a little and he said, "You seem to have the right idea already." He didn't understand what I was asking. I wasn't wanting to know how to play the notes, I was wanting to know how to interpret the lazy space in between. With great frustration I tried to explain this. My instructor told me bluntly, "What you're asking me is to give you something God only endows." I gave up trying to be Elvin Jones after that day.

On a side note, there are many performances that have influenced, but perhaps none more than Bill Maxwell's drumming on the original recording Andre Crouch's "Soon and Very Soon." Maxwell is not the drummer if the guys above, but I can't help but think he just "gets it" when it comes to playing drums for God. Yes, Maxwell is capable of more, but he lays down his pride and really focuses on exalting God in the music. Honestly, I strive to be more like Bill and not so much like those above mentioned chopmeisters when I sit behind in the drums in worship.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Update notice, request for help

I'm still not happy with the new design so I may be making some small and some big changes in the coming days. One of the ideas I'm fixated on right now is removing links in favor of a dedicated page of links. I don't currently link to all the blogs I read, and there are some good ones out there I feel obligated to link to. Also, I really want to expand the link section as I expand on the topics I blog about. If any of the regular readers have an objection to that idea, now's the the time to log it.

If any of you have an custom tips and experience customizing Blogger templates, I'd appreciate your input. I want to widen the "play area" in this template, but right now it appears I'm locked into their table widths. Is it possible to totally customize a template without paying for an upgrade? What's total number of pixels I have to play with? How do I post photos in the play area without Blogger adding those funky thick table borders? Your advice is very welcome.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

You get what you ask for -- sort of

I'm a little proud upon discovering this search produced a click-through for this blog entry. Makes me wonder how popular this blog might become if I start blogging on Songs of Solomon.

Quick thoughts for Tuesday

First, Brad at Broken Messenger has put together a host of essays, responses, and personal revelations the past three or four days that speak from the heart. Instead of picking one and highlighting it, I encourage you to go to his site and fish around. Some of it can be heavy lifting, but all of his writing is based in renewal of the heart. It's worth the visit.

I hate to sully this with a political post, but I am astounded by the guts of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is calling for a ballot initiative that would force unions to seek written permission from union members before fees are donated (carte blanche) to political groups (which would be almost exclusively Democrats). The governor is basically saying he has so much faith in his clout with the public, he doesn't care national unions will likely pour tens of millions of dollars into oppugnant advertising aimed squarely at his head. He is either a bold leader or green politician. I say both.

Q&A with The Gad(d)about

The Gad(d)about, the author of this blog, took some time out of his hectic globe-trotting schedule to sit down with us for an exclusive interview:

So what's with the goofy name?

Interview over.

No, seriously, the name doesn't offer much of a clue to the Christian content for this site. Why'd you choose it?

Orginally the name of the blog was the Young Curmudgeon, which is the title under which my column runs in the newspaper. Apparently there are about 50 Curmudgeon-titled bloggers out there. I know, because readers of all 50 of those blogs sent me e-mails about it. There's even a Knitting Curmdgeon. I don't think any curmudgeon should be allowed access to sharp objects. I decided I wasn't very young anymore, anyway, so I changed the name to a moniker hundreds -- perhaps several hundreds -- of vacant-brained posters knew me as the previous 10 years on AOL and on various Internet message boards.

I took the name in 1995 on AOL as an homage to my favorite drummer, Steve Gadd. I also like the term "gadabout." It properly identifies my gregarious and unassuming personality. I want people to know I'm intently looking for things to agree on, not disagree, unless it crosses my core faith. For the purposes of this blog, it refers to the broad nature of intended content -- I literally intend to "get about" many topics. While I've been blogging a lot about theology as of late, I refuse to limit myself to theology. I'm not of this world, but I still live in it. I should be allowed to pick it apart without pause, just like any other crank with access to his own publishing tools.

Should drummers be allowed to blog about theology?

Christians have been helping elect actors to high political office for years. They helped put Schwarzenegger, who is not a Christian and not even born under the American flag, to become Governor of the wealthiest state in the Union. If Hollywood actors can speak the language of Christian politics, some without expressing a faith, I see no reason why a drummer can't write about the Bible and his faith.

What kinds of things might draw your ire?

Hypocrisy. Christians who are mediocre about the plain things of the Gospel. Any distortion of the traditional Gospel message. Journalists who seek visibility over credibility. Phil Collins. Men who cheat/beat their wives/children. People who get their political science education on talk radio and then blog about politics like they're George Bleepin' Will. People who think there's a leftist conspiracy among the mainstream media. People who affirm the norm without an ounce of critical thinking. A lack of love, grace, and/or charity.

Um ... Phil Collins? Where's the love, grace, and/or charity in that comment?

Drummers are just fine to blog about theology, but in no way should they have solo careers. Except Dave Grohl. He doesn't take himself seriously, so he's fine. Other than Grohl, I can't think of another drummer dating back to a century of the modern drum set who put acceptable music on the market. OK, Tony Williams' Lifetime was technically amazing, but he stopped swinging in that era. We lost many years of great swing for an experiment that was about 10 years before its time. Phil Collins ... he should've stuck with Genesis. Instead, he gave us the single iconic image for the bad music decade that was the 80s. Now he's the face of boring 30-something radio everywhere. His music gives me gas. It's that age-old question: What's the last thing a drummer says in a band?

We give up. What's the last thing a drummer says in a band?

"Hey guys, let's try one of my songs."

What's the last thing a drummer says in an interview?

We'll never know as long as there are lead singers and lead guitarists hogging all the press and attention.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Would Wesley approve of me?

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.







Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
93%
Reformed Evangelical
82%
Charismatic/Pentecostal
68%
Neo orthodox
64%
Fundamentalist
64%
Emergent/Postmodern
57%
Classical Liberal
43%
Roman Catholic
43%
Modern Liberal
25%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Big Blogdoms

Adrian Warnock's got some kind of big news stashed away and he wants us "God Bloggers" to refer to it so everyone gets the pre-announcement from the source. It has something to do with the convergence of aggregators. So before reading the rest of my innane and pointless banter, point your browsers here and get the pre-announcement from the mouth of the UK's leading Christian blogger.

I can't honestly tell you what an aggregator is. I think I belong to one of those Adrian mentions, but I joined on my first day in the blogdomverse and stumbled through a variety of applications that, to this day, I still don't have an idea their purpose. I could've applied for several credit cards, dual citizenship in Bolivia, and ordainment in the First Church of the Holy Cow (scene of a great moo-vement of God) for all I know. I imagine there's some guy named El NĂ³mada wandering South America, preaching a false Gospel, suffering from my bad credit.

Maybe I'm confusing aggregation with aggravation.

Whatever. If Adrian's involved, I'm sure it's going to be a really cool thing, so stay alert. My hope: Adrian announces the formation of the Council of God Bloggers, and the inclusion of light sabers for members of the council. That way they can go around slicing up comment spammers and mediating theology wars.

At the altar of the Culture Current church

Acts 16:1 He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Baby Boomers won the Church culture war years ago. Denying it is to blind one self to what our churches have become today.

There was a time in church history not long ago, children, when men wore three-piece suits, hair cuts were fresh, short, and clean-cut, the congregation only sang songs twice as old as your grandparents, and nothing on stage was electric (not even the organ, in many cases). Women wore long, not-so-form-fitting dresses, had long hair respectfully managed, and kept their make-up to a bare minimum. A dress above the knees or a face with too much make-up would've been met with scorn. Woman (or even a teenage girl) wearing pants would've been scandalous. Sermons were delivered with gravity, not with a series of witty anecdotes. The whole service was as sober as a funeral.

Then the hippies came along, with their long hair and bare feet, and "ruined it all." The Church, they said, had become exclusive to bankers and lawyers, but Jesus was for everybody. The Church looked nothing like the communal, come-as-you-are organizations the first Church built, they said. Jesus had long hair and wore sandals -- He looked more like those dirty kids on the street, not the uptight joy-kills inside the church building, they said.

And they were right.

Today, churches from the most reserved evangelical mainline to the most independent charismatic are looking a lot like each other. The sights and sounds of up-to-date culture have been sucked into our methodology. Some pastors go out of their way to look casual, to avoid the perception of self-importance or religiosity. Their sermons are topical and often emphasize the easy things of the Spirit, in contrast to past emphasis to the burdens of the Spirit.

If you come out of one of those old-time churches and are currently a t-shirts-and-shorts wearing church member like me, the notion that church is about God and not about us is a welcome one. Deemphasizing the glorification of appearance, the nature of religious practice, is right down my ally. It's not about us. It's always -- always -- about God. I go to worship to share with others my explicit need to give to God. Most of the time I come away feeling as if I have received something -- such is the loving nature of God to those who choose to worship Him-- but it's always about my giving to God. I don't want anything to take our focus off that.

However, recently I've run into young people who are having a hard time with the heavy emphasis on the casual nature of Church today. They didn't grow up in the stodgy church. Some of them have never entered the door of a church. To them, these non-Christians with a misplaced sense of spirituality, the casual nature of the modern Church is an affront to the seriousness of a faith. Some even question the existence of God, but if there is a God, surely we would take Him with more sobriety than we do.

Now you might be thinking this might be an open door to discuss the loving and good nature of God, that God wants thankful hearts of praises, not the flesh mustered into a fake solemnity. You would be right, too. Those were the pitfalls of the early 20th Century church. On the other hand, I wonder how many of these that are new to the Church might not ever come around because they crave the very serious life-changing aspects of God. Not being sealed with the Spirit, they are looking with their flesh, and we can’t fault a non-Christian for that.

I say all this to more or less repent of my own worship of a false idol called the culture-current Church. There is nothing wrong with being casual. I still strongly advocate deemphasizing things of the flesh. However, when we become proud about casual nature and it becomes an important part of our identity, then we have become just as hypocritical as those we accused of making the Church into something else. We can inadvertently make the Gospel exclusive to those who are only comfortable in the things in which we are comfortable.

Paul was adamantly opposed to the emphasis of circumcision for the new believers, but he was prepared to sacrifice that to advance the Gospel. To Paul, whether you were circumcized or uncircumsized, in which ever condition you came to know Jesus was just fine. Just as Paul circumsized Timothy so the Gospel would be elevated above his own creed, I believe we must be prepared to sacrifice the pride we have in our anti-religiosity so the Gospel rises above the ways in which we prefer to present it. I'm not saying we should all return to the old ways. However, we should not turn into dogma, rather we should better focus on the work we've been called to do.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Pyromania

(The wife is still asleep, so I am rewarded with another opportunity to waste more bandwidth)

I don't do awards, but I hereby proclaim gadfly Calvinist Phillip Johnson as the Rush Limbaugh of the theoblogosphere: I think he's going to really put "God blogging" on the map.

Johnson, a.k.a PyroManiac, is much more qualified to speak on issues of theology than Limbaugh is on politics (or the NFL - gasp), but Johnson shares a curmudgeonly verve that I find appealing. To his credit and to the credit of Calvinists everywhere, he seems as graceful as he is knowledgeable.

I'll probably end up as PyroManiac flambe' one of these days for being a little more patient with the "appalling" Emergent Church than I should, or for my appreciation of Michael Spencer at IMonk (who is among those "irritating" Johnson at the Boar's Head Tavern), but I won't hold a grudge. It's hard to be bitter at a man with such fine taste in fashion.

And just a warning to those wayward RCC apologists who might get caught-up in a tag-team debate with Johnson and James R. White: Beware. We're talking Fabulous Kangaroos scary.

Friday, June 10, 2005

3 Practical Suggestions for the Emergent Church

UPDATE: Of course, in my haste I forgot to post the reason for my statements. Take a look at this and judge for yourself whether the Emergent Church is both/either capable of dialogue and/or acceptable to be in dialogue with Evangelicals. I think the affirmation in No. 6 is noteworthy (and what inspired my call to listen to the EC the other day), although they admit they do not yet have an academic response. The respectful and charitable language should offer some hope for more fruitful dialogue in the future.




(The wife was called away for a few minutes, so I'm sneaking in this quick post before I call it a weekend)

I continue to watch by the sidelines on the battle between the Emergent Church and the Reformers who are quick to poke holes. I am at least listening to the EC camp, although I remain in agreement with Reformed criticism of the movement. What I read and hear from EC'ers is a theology based on abstracts, an inability to speak in the persuasive language of modernism (often by choice), and occasionally a theology based solely on the dislike of the modern Church. If the EC'ers wish to start a dialogue with the rest of the Church I make these three practical suggestions. It should be noted these are made with the hope the would-be reformers understand the need to draw a distinction between post-modern philosophy and post-modern Christianity:

1. Speak our language first. In attempting to speak the language of the post-modern world, many have lost sight of the need to offer some kind of translation to the rest of us who don't speak PMese. Find the best modernistic expression for the post-modern Christian concept on the table, and maybe people won't be so quick to jump to conclusions. At the very least, find historical examples the might create a bridge over the chasm between modern and post-modern Christianity. Perhaps some might take a step towards you and attempt to learn your language.

2. Recognize the real concern of your critics. Are you taking a Biblical and historical message of Christ to the post-modern world, or are you reshaping God in a post-modern image? Does your theology drive your post-modernism, or does your post-modernism drive your theology? In the race to be relevant, are you moving in the relative, like the RCC? You should never tire of answering these questions because they're a vital defense.

3. Understand that criticism of the critic is not a defense. Stating the problems of the "modern" or Western church is not an apology for Emergent Church. It could be the beginning of one, but saying something is broken is not stating the absolute need to scratch it a start over. Stating a need is not the solution, but it can be the hopeful beginning to one.

Addressing these three items (over and over and over again) will go a long way to at least creating an audience of value (and potential support). Attempting to gain support outside of the Reformed will never offer you credibility to the Reformed.

Taking the weekend off

In attempting to get the hang of this marriage thing, I'm relenting for a couple days. Wife says if I blog this weekend, I can sleep on the couch with the laptop. Y'all are great, but the iBook doesn't make for a great cuddling partner (although it never complains about my snoring).

I may check in on other blogs, though, so keep them coming (for those of you who aren't married and/or with children). I'll need something to write about on Monday.

The Charismatic/Evangelical discussion

***deleted post***

Here I went and callled out Michael Spencer to define what he meant by Pentecostal and Charismatic and there it was at the end of his post. I'll decide later if I identify with his definitions and whether or not it would be of interest to him to join me in a discussion.

***UPDATE***

I've decided I'm not Charismatic enough to meet Michael's P/C definition.

*By P/C, I mean groups or individuals that teach:

1) Baptism or Filling in, with or by the Holy Spirit taught as a single, subsequent and significant event "completing" the Christian experience, evidenced by tongues.
2) Using Acts and the Gospels over the epistles to justify normal Christian experience and to interpret the Bible in general.
3) Endorsing all gifts, miracles, signs in the Bible as part of the normal and ordinary Christian life.
4) "Anointed" leadership, reflected in church and ministry structures that are leader centered.
5) Endorsing the role of the "prophet" as a continuing NT office.
6) Believing there is a special significance to the P/C movement in God's plan.

I do NOT mean:

1) Anyone with a P/C worship style.
2) Anyone who is expressive and emotive.
3) Anyone who is not a cessationist. (I'm not a cessationist in the sense that God is sovereign and can do as He pleases.)

I believe Biblical interpretation must go through the Gospels and I do not accept the offices of apostle (I think what he meant by "annointed" leadership) or prophet (I don't put today's prophecy on the level with Scripture) for today. I do not believe tongues to be neccesary as a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit, although I accept all of God's power being possible today as any day, and I believe there is special significance to any corporate move of the Holy Spirit (although I would never limit that to the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches).

I'll be very interested to see how Adrian identifies with Michael's definition.

IMonk on assurance

Michael Spencer, a.k.a. IMonk, posted a dazzling essay on assurance. No matter how assured you are on assurance, I encourage you to read the whole thing.

My first impression was recognizing how much I empathize with Spencer. It's not clear to me if Spencer was a preacher's kid or not, but we were spiritually formed in a similar environment. Growing up in church has given me a foundation God has built on, but it has also left me with a lot of unneccesary baggage that almost killed my faith. I'm thankful that God's grace carried me through those dark days of my youth.

I previously posted on my own struggles with assurance. Spencer's answer reflects my own current position, although I lack the capacity to write about it with such keen insight. Whenever I feel lost in assurance, I go back to one thing I've always understood: the Cross.

My friend Jack Moraine used to jest about those who wore crosses around their neck as a fashion statement. The cross was a tool of execution, he said, and wondered if people would feel as comfortable wearing a symbol of the electric chair on a chain. He wasn't being glib or morose in asking this question. He wondered if people truly understood what the Cross meant. There's no power in the wood or the nails, but all the power is in the Man who bore the brunt of our sin while nailed to it. Demons do not fear the symbol, they fear the reminder of Christ's sacrifice and ultimate expression of love that conquered them. If people wear the cross chains as a reminder of Christ's suffering and His ultimate victory over sin and death ... let's hope that number of people who "get it" is larger than I think it is.

But to those of us who are concerned with assurance -- and those of us who ought to "get it" -- we still miss the point. In being concerned with our salvation, we attempt to prove to ourselves and our peers that we are, indeed, among the elect. Some of us may even attempt to climb up on the cross ourselves, as if we are worthy! The point of the Cross is Christ went there because we were not fit to do it ourselves.

The fact the Bible tells us to look for the evidence of salvation does not appear to me to be a command to prove our faith. Instead, I believe it is a call to check our hearts to see if we are taking a license to sin -- in our hearts, in our acts, or even in our laziness. If we don't see the conflict with God in that -- if we are not humbled by the Cross and made more aware of our sinfulness -- then assurance should be called into question. The work, however, is in the heart, not in the hands, because the hands will only do the bidding of the heart. Do you desire to do God's will? Do you desire to be more like Christ? Do you desire to put away the things of this world and be transformed? Is not this desire evidence that God is working on our hearts? How could we even desire such a need if God has not redeemed us and put that desire there? The issue then becomes acting on this unearthly desire that God has put on the heart. In Philippians 3:12-16, this action is defined as a sign of maturity, not just a sign of salvation. It seems to me that a heart of struggle to conform to Christ will mature, and that is a process that requires time and patience.

I can point to many works of my hands that show signs of salvation, but I still see sin in my life and I still see a need for the transforming work of the Spirit. Am I regenerate or degenerate? I could become spiritually handicapped if I spent my life dwelling on this question. I will not let this knock at my faith that I know the Spirit first breathed in me to confess and believe. I cannot change on my own, not with all the desire in the world. I cannot produce works by myself that prove salvation. That is God's work, and God knows my desire for more of His change in my life. For now, anyway, that is all the assurance I need.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

More "You might be ..."

Mike at Eternal Perspectives has some heady fun at the expense of dispensationalism. The Truth In Dark Times takes on Pentecostal Holiness (and may have inspired several congregations to pray down the "strongman" of his humor). View from the Pew adds to the Baptist list.

More You might be a Vineyardite if ...

8. You've ever complained the worship drummer isn't loud enough.

9. You don't know anyone in your church who hasn't owned an acoustic guitar.

10. You've ever defended and apologized for your church history in the same breath.

11. You've ever ducked and moved to another pew because you didn't want to be spotted by another member of your traditional church down the street.

You might be a Vineyardite if ...

Common Grounds Online ran off a Jeff Foxworthy-type list earlier this week of "You might be an Evangelical if ..." jokes. JollyBlogger piped in with his own self-effacing take on Presbytarians and Baptists, and Adrian Warnock followed with a list on Charismatics. Refusing to be left out, I offer:

You might be a Vineyardite if ...

1. You think church planting begins with an acoustic guitar and a stool.

2. You've ever begun a prayer with the official, "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God ..."

3. When shaking someone's hand, the shaking is involuntary.

4. You don't have a problem serving the sacrament using grape Kool-Aid and Pop Tarts.

5. You don't know any Church songs or hymns written before 1982.

6. You own more khaki pants than a Gap clerk.

7. When quoting from Calvin, it's accompanied by cartoon slides of a stuffed tiger and a 5-year-old boy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The vows of marriage

JollyBlogger put up a stunningly honest post about marriage, including revelations of his own troubles and how he and his wife have learned from them.

I'm relatively new to this marriage thing, too, but I'm finding I was probably right in my assertion it's better to embrace singleness and God's grace first and do some maturing before jumping into a lifetime partnership with someone else. I've made some horrible mistakes, but when I think back to how I was in my 20s, it's a dreadful feeling realizing how I would've compounded them with a pride that could blind and bind.

The one thing I've learned so far is it's important to remember what's important to fight for, and what is really meaningless. For example, it's important to fight for financial fidelity, but it's not important to gripe about every dollar expenditure on every receipt (especially when the one doing the griping sets a very poor example). It's much easier to recover from injured pride than to take back things said out of injured pride. I'm working hard to keep the defenses of my heart lowered so that God can be magnified. Easier said than done, because I'm finding I have a much higher opinion of myself than I should.

The Second Cold War?

Cal Thomas illuminates on China's stockpiling of weapons and how it defines what they're not telling us about their foreign policy.

No one fears India or Pakistan because they have nuclear weapons. Most of them are aimed at each other, and that should probably concern us most considering the acrimony between the two countries. Yet, the fact they are capable puts them among military powers of concern for those that desire peace.

Maybe it's our inability to perceive real aggression from the one truly ancient culture of China, but few outside of political wonks and pundits give much thought that China might be anxious to stretch their political clout beyond their hegemony or sphere of influence.

Maybe it's time to give China some more thought. The comments from Rumsfield, America's Chicken Little, might actually have some credence.

Manners Evangelism



I promise this is not my next submission to the Wittenburg Door, but it has the potential to become that. It's just an idea I've been rolling over in my head lately.

Steve Sjogren wrote "Servant Evangelism," an outstanding book on how to be an evangelist in a practical way. Sjogren has been practicing this much of his life and grew his church, Vineyard Christian Church of Cincinnati, by putting it to use in his congregation. It has individual and corporate application.

Based on the principles of Jesus' ministry, Sjogren and his church decided to deliver the Gospel in 1984 by first meeting the needs of the needy. It started as a Christmas charity project with some groceries and Christmas trees taken to people in north Cincy. Sjogren recognized by first meeting essential needs of people, we have fulfilled an important part of Jesus' ministry, and the people will be open to hearing God's word. It's literally the model of Jesus' ministry.

This process appeals to me because it's easy, it can be done by one or many, and serving the needs of people never goes out of style. Sjogren likes to tell the story of his own obsessive/compulsive disorder and his love for cleaning bathrooms (it takes all types in the Kingdom of God, I tell myself). He would go in once a week to one of his favorite restaurants and clean their bathroom. The manager at first thought he was weird -- rightfully so, in my opinion. But they came to accept him and recognize what Sjogren was really about.

Lately, I've been thinking about my own need for more service of men. My heart's there, but my body has not been very active lately. However, my job takes me all over the area.

Being a child of the American South, basic manners have been ingrained in my psyche all my life. I am a "yes, sir, no, sir," kind of person. I refer to women as "madame" or "miss." And I open lots and lots of doors for people. It dawned on me I have an opportunity to deliver the love of God in a very simple, very practical way.

Instead of saying, "You're welcome," when someone thanks me for opening the door, I could say something like, "God loves you," or, "I'm just a servant of God serving you in a practical way." It's a very (very!) small way to counteract the wrong message of greed and selfishness that people perceive of the Church today.

Or, maybe I'm just destined to end up on the "Truth is Stranger Than Fiction" page on the Door, someplace next to Carmen.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Church's role in the blogosphere

Adrian Warnock answered one of my questions about his series on the role of the Church in the blogosphere.

To briefly sum, Adrian believes there's an opportunity for the corporate Church in the blogosphere to advance God's kingdom by promoting our favorite preachers and teachers. There's more to it, but his idea is to use Christian blogs and cross-promotional devices to increase the influence of the bloggers who best represent Christianity.

I'm a sucker for corporate agendas and his "pyromarketing" idea was the right kind of practical application to inspire me. However, I didn't feel like I could have a role in his plan. I'm not a preacher or a teacher, and I certainly don't have a high-traffic blog. I'm not sure I ever want the latter.

JollyBlogger made a good point, too, in questioning whether or not every Christian should blog about theology. I think this is the real question I was asking of Adrian. If I haven't spent the years in diligent systematic study and prayer to acquire the credibility to speak with authority on such an important topic, should I risk grave error and blog about it? If I haven't taken on that cloak of responsibility in real life, should I take the chance of leading someone astray? And if that's not my job, what role do I have as a Christian to function in a world that offers no position for someone with, say, the gift of helps?

The first answer that comes to mind is I am a Christian no matter what I blog about, so even if I am not blogging about theology, I still have a responsibility to approach the world with the same sobriety of mind and foresight of God's word. Whether or not someone knows I'm a Christian, I'm still a representative of the Kingdom of God. My time is not my time. My time is God's time.

The better answer, I think, is no matter what I'm writing about, I'm called to honesty, humility, and charity. I would add I think that's especially important if I'm writing about theology, because too often theological discussions divide rather than unite.

My suggestion for Christians in my position would be this:

- Be honest. If you are attempting to work something out, if you are struggling with something, I think a blog or a journal is a great place to put it out there. There is a need for some discretion. We don't want to be revealing secrets of others who have not given us permission to share with the world. But there's always a way to write around that kind of identity, and there's no shortage of people who are capable of offering encouragement and support. You have to be open and not quick to take offense. I believe God rewards transparency in Christian fellowship.

- Be humble. There are cardinal truths Christians are not allowed to deviate from, and then there are things that we hold as vital to our faith that do not share the standing of cardinal truths. If you have a strong opinion on baptism, state it clearly, but realize there are others with some pretty good arguments. There's a difference between having a strong opinion and being dogmatic. It's perfectly OK to disagree with a brother or sister. Blogging is a good place to learn when to let someone else have the last word. In some cases, I find it a sign of great maturity. It's also a great place to be honest with oneself and allow for the possibility we are in error.

- Be charitable. Looking for the good in even the most misguided (but well-intentioned) Christian can often do more to lead someone to the right place than correction. That kind of exhortation can lead someone to look at your possibly better example and God can do great work in their heart.

- As Adrian said, promote those blogs you find consistently relevant. Don't hide God's blessing!

The first three are the kinds of safeguards appropriate for someone new or not well-versed in theology to write about it. If you've taken the above into account, I think you're safe. We're never going to be 100 percent right, not even the brightest among us, but an honest, humble, and charitable person has allowed the right space for God to operate even if we're in error.

I will probably continue to write about theology, but not in the way Adrian does. I'm not capable of advancing new thought on ideas hundreds (or thousands) of years older than me. However, I'm pretty good at asking questions. I began blogging to do that very thing, sometimes by coming out and asking them, other times by stating what's on my mind in hopes others might either affirm or offer alternatives. This may look like a monologue, but I come here in hopes of dialogue.

Above all, I think a Christian blog, whether it be about theology, politics, sports, or scrapbooking, should reflect the same God that redeems us, keeps us, and loves us. Even in my most droll or sarcastic moment, I hope it is universally understood the good nature and abounding love with which God continually fills my heart for the Church and the people of this world.

To paraphrase a Wimberism, even if we can't offer compelling theology, we can always offer love. That will always make a difference no matter the type of environment.