Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Remembering instruction in turmoil

Eph 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 "In your anger do not sin"[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I can't count how many times I've read through the passage above and thought, "Duh." In my mind, I didn't struggle with all of this. I didn't live or work in a world of confrontation, forced to work out difficult situations in difficult relationships, or even expected to make a challenging decision without being the sole spokesperson for myself. As a single person who worked in a profession of black and white ethics, I suppose I was blind to the real challenge of keeping "the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Since then I've been married, been challenged by obstacles I could not clear on my own, and generally had my life turned upside down. I'm in a new career where performance is not measured in talent or effort. Abstract thought has no value until it becomes something marketable. Performance is now measured in results, achieved by some of my competitors by dubious means. In this industry, mistakes are not there for learning experiences because each mistake has a dollar value, and the cost of error is too great to be a slow learner.

Where I once saw maturity I can now see a lack of experience. I can now appreciate the real imposition of these verses for someone who's never really been confronted with having to please difficult people.

I'm not so cocky anymore.

Taking Christ to your cellphone

I'm waiting for the day when Christians stop going to church, stop reading the Bible, stop even looking for that kind of spiritual food on TV. It will all be delivered to the cellphone/PDA. Perhaps it will be wet wired. And it will be written in a foreign tongue called TML (Text Message Lingo):

4 God so luvD D wrld dat he gave hs 1 n 1ly Son, dat whoever Blevz n him shll nt perish bt av eternal lyf.

Actually, this is already being done.

In case you're wondering, my favorite Flavor Aid flavor is grape.

Is the Bible Difficult?

This post is for Dan, who must think I'm stealing his theological thunder by focusing on his well-featured favorites. The truth is I've just been having fun finding writings of some old wise guys.

That's wise as in spiritually and Biblically insightful. We're not talking about cotton-ball cheeks and horse heads here.

Today I offer up Chapter 6 from A.W. Tozer's Man: The Dwelling Place of God, entitled "Why People Find the Bible Difficult." Tozer writes:

The notion that the Bible is addressed to everybody has wrought confusion within and without the church. The effort to apply the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount to the unregenerate nations of the world is one example of this. Courts of law and the military powers of the earth are urged to follow the teachings of Christ, an obviously impossible thing for them to do. To quote the words of Christ as guides for policemen, judges and generals is to misunderstand those words completely and to reveal a total lack of understanding of the purposes of divine revelation. The gracious words of Christ are for the sons and daughters of grace, not for the Gentile nations whose chosen symbols are the lion, the eagle, the dragon and the bear.

Mr. Big Shot

A lapse in judgment from the web editor of the Wittenburg Door has allowed my bio to be placed on their website. I now share space in the credits with true publishing titans such as Ole Anthony, Joe Bob Briggs, Becky Garrison and the great John Carney.

Someone will surely be sacked for this.

I was under the impression inclusion meant some kind of tenured professorship at an esteemed seminary (this is the readership demographic after all). Instead, I guess it means I'll be teaching Humor 101 in heaven. Graduation is mandatory. Don't forget your whoopee cushions.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ravenhill en fuego

I often see GodBloggers criticizing others about things that don't matter while calling for revival. I cannot think of another preacher who taught the Church how to seek the Lord for revival better than Leonard Ravenhill.

In this old article entitled Pentecost At Any Cost, I dare you to read it and try and not be either convicted and/or inspired:

Let us remind ourselves again that the early church "moved." In moving, something or somebody must be left behind. The modern Ananias and Sapphira will find the pace too hot and the price too high. To keep the fire of revival burning, we would have to meet together
- daily for prayer and praise. This is what the church in Acts did (Acts 2:42-46).
- daily for breaking of bread. This the early church did.
- daily for prayer. This was their pattern in the early church.
- in the harmony of the Spirit. This was the glow of the first church.

This stringent schedule would be the death of many of our flimsy and unproductive patterns of life. How easily we Christians move along in the light of the lostness of men and their gambling with the certainty of eternal destruction unless they hear and believe. Sloth has seeped into our endeavors. The mesmerism of materialism has almost completely clogged the channel of blessing. We stand condemned.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder

Some of you know I have an affinity for the Jesus Movement. My father was a pastor in a northern Arizona college town in the early 70s. My first conscious moments were right smack dab in the middle of that whole thing.

So when Mark Driscoll, whom I recently deemed as a capable spokesman of my generation, wrote about the Lonnie Frisbee documentary being shown at his church, my curiosity was piqued.

At the bottom of the post Driscoll mentions concerns about Larry Norman showing up and raising ... um ... heck. They had security guards at the door. Allegedly -- and I still don't understand why -- Norman is upset with some of the content with the film.

First, I suspect rumors of Norman showing up to overturn the tables were greatly exaggerated. The man who invented CCM -- not to mention the terms "One Way" and "Left behind" -- has serious health issues these days. One of his arteries was damaged during an angiogram last year, and it's leaking. His insurance won't cover it, and his family is desperately seeking financial assistance from Solid Rock fans to allow Norman to receive the medical treatment he needs.

Norman is a featured person in the Frisbee documentary, about perhaps the single-most visible evangelist in the Jesus Freak movement. Frisbee's moral shortcomings provide a challenging contrast to his otherwise successful ministry. Norman not only speaks of Frisbee's passion in the movie, his music is prominently featured throughout. Norman recently released a CD called Frisbee, a tribute to those heady days of the new movement and the man who was at the center of it.

So speculation of any angst Norman might have about the late Frisbee, as a person, is the worst kind of conjecture.

The film, on the other hand, might be something of a challenge for someone who actually lived through it. However, Norman was an active participant in the film, gave his music to the film, knows director David DiSabatino, and has never publicly objected to the film (to my knowledge) or how he or Frisbee were portrayed.

So I'm at a loss why Norman showed up or what his objections were (or why he has a lawyer). Then again, those JFM leaders who have outlived the era seem to be magnets for weirdness. Who knows.

Best "best week ever"

Maybe you're like me and decided if you're going to waste time with television, you don't want to mess around. And if you're like me, you like it when people talk about pop culture in a condescending way, to sort of offset the cooties you get from looking at the covers of magazines like People and Us.

If you're like me, you probably watch VH1's Best Week Ever, which now has a blog.

The thing I like about this show -- and its cousins, We Love the 70s, 80s, and 90s -- is it's filled with the Kurt Rambis Factor. By this, I mean the commentators are C- and D-list actors just collecting a paycheck.

If you're not familiar with NBA history, Kurt Rambis was a white guy in "Clark Kent" glasses who played for the great 80s Lakers teams. He wasn't a great player, but he was effective and he worked real hard. Fans loved him because, as he believed, most of them felt they could take him in a game of one-on-one.

I watch the Best Week Ever and think, "How can I get this job? I can do this! I can take these guys!" To prove it, I'm now going to steal topics from the Best Week Ever and offer up my own sarcastic observations compared to their sarcastic observations.

Um, don't try this at home.

The set up Jake Gyllenhaal swapped numbers with Mischa Barton at a recent party.
Their quip Strangely, they both share the number 555-5555.
My better quip It's not that Jake was trying to be seen, but he was wearing an "I'm not really a gay cowboy" t-shirt.

The set up The Killers are being sued for $16 million
Their quip Surprisingly however not by the Cure.
My better quip Jenny wanted to make sure they knew they were never friends.

The set up Roger Moore is standing up for new 007 Daniel Craig.
Their quip But who will stand up for Roger Moore?
My better quip He also stood up for three more martinis.

The set up Nicole Richie was seen holding hands with her ex-fiance, Adam Goldstein aka DJ AM.
Their quip This better work, because I'm still reeling from the failed Charlie Sheen/Denise Richards reconciliation.
My better quip They weren't really holding hands. Goldstein was propping Richie up so people could see she's still a three-dimensional figure.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Abridged Gaddabout: Cam Girls can, and do

  • Mark Frauenfelder illuminates on Cam Girls -- teenage e-whores who know how to get what they want.

    The scary thing is, knowing Southern Culture as I do, the girls mentioned are probably involed in a church youth group somewhere. This is not a matter of not teaching the right things; it's a matter of not reaching those whose parents can't or won't reach them.

    Think about this Cam Girl quote if you still think it's harmless for your teenager to consume pop culture unabated:

    "Britney and Christina are doing their own thing, and I think that's great. If they feel the need to show off their body to get somewhere, then so be it."
  • Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    The fulfilling life

    I've been thinking lately about expectations and how they are more often than not a hindrance to God's rule and reign in our lives. If ever there was a challenge to God's Lordship over us, it is the earthly expectations we place in the path of believers.

    I'm talking about those things which are fine if they are hopeful -- happy marriage, healthy children, long life, moderate abundance. But we, as a Church, don't leave these as hopes. We endorse them to the point they are implied mandates.

    Not everyone is called to be married, have children, have perfect health, or live upper middle class lives. Frankly, these are the kinds of pursuits the NT authors often saw as distractions, and it's possibly why they spent so much time explaining the ground rules for these four things. Paul seemed to think of marriage as a concession to fleshly weakness, not an absolute path to virtue.

    For those of you picking up your John Piper references, you can put them down. This is not an opus to depressed or morose living. If God has blessed you with those things, by all means, live in the blessing and be thankful.

    But for those who may feel outcast from the Christian template, there we have a different kind of challenge. We are challenged to not allow bitterness in our hearts. For some, it's a minute-by-minute exercise in conscious submission to Christ.

    These kinds of expectations are nothing more than discontent in its earliest stages: I must have three children to live a full life; I won't be complete until I am married; I couldn't go on living if I wasn't physically able to walk; I am a failure if I don't at least equal the lifestyle of my parents.

    These are common thoughts, common expectations of life, particularly in the success-driven church. And they put the focus of contentment squarely on some kind of earthly achievement where it is nowhere promised in the Gospel.

    This is why I am liking John Piper more and more:

    God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.

    To many who have already allowed bitter roots to grow in their hearts, this kind of word burns. At best, the bitter rumble about its trite nature. But it is truth, as simple as the Sermon on the Mount.

    Putting down expectations is not easy because time creates emotional attachment, and pride stamps them with necessity. As those closest to us reinforce them, it is impossible to not take them for granted -- until something happens outside of our plans. That's often when faith is challenged the most, when we put down God's justice for our own, and those three famous words come out of our previously pious mouths:

    It's not fair.

    I can't think of anything more unBiblical than that phrase. No doubt, it's probably one of the most instinctive phrases we could utter, the flesh being so reliant on self-preservation, but it is nothing more than a reflection of our sinful nature.

    Of course, it's much easier to reflect on all of this if you haven't been challenged. You can prepare your heart all you want, but until faith is required to be exercised, no confidence should be established about moving mountains any time soon. On the other hand, if we have put all of our hope in Christ, then these types of spiritual hurdles are never going to block us from finishing the race.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Roadside ministry

    I was thrilled to discover a feature on old friends, Helen and Emil Liko, this evening. Emil parks his bike on a busy road in the SE Valley (East Valley in greater Phoenix) and holds up a sign: "Free prayer."

    Emil says he gets all kinds of people who pull over and don't even know why.

    If you know anything about the area he ministers to, you'd realize the genius of this approach. Queen Creek used to be entirely agriculture, but they've built about 20,000 new homes since 2002. The place is a parking lot each morning and each evening because there are only two access roads out of town, and they're both one-lane rural roads that are under construction for miles and miles.

    So it's not just inspired, it's tactical. And actually, it's inspiring.

    I got to watch Emil and Helen grow together and fall in love in my church years ago. If I recall correctly, Helen was a nurse in war-ravaged Africa. She has a heart the size of Texas.

    Anyway, just good to see people get some recognition. It was really cool to see a picture of their ministry site on the front page of azcentral.com, my old occupational haunt.

    Great talk radio quote

    I was listening to some local AM talk show this morning. A Democrat and a Republican were accusing each other of partisan politics.

    Both the pot and the kettle paused to admire two shameless hypocrites share in one single case of bromism.

    I love AM radio for the news. Political chatter usually makes me run for my CD collection. However, I was stopped in my tracks by a call from a Northern Arizona University political science professor who cut through the swagger for a rare moment of AM radio clarity. To paraphrase:

    I don't mean to end the discussion, gentlemen, because polarized idiocy is a gridlock designed by the Framers to keep America from jumping into every political fad. It's hard to change the law, and it should be. However, we have probably passed on some of the best solutions to some of our most complicated problems because they didn't fit in a 10-second sound byte or a 2-inch pull quote. Meanwhile, our leaders are happy to exchange clichés and platitudes as long as it discourages fresh thought and new ideas from challenging their political power base.


    Populism is a horrible political philosophy, but it's at its best when it challenges the right and the left to move to a more reasonable center.

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    Gaddabout Report: Sell!

    Phillip Johnson updates his Spurgeon Sermon post with an ominous forecast:

    And I have a lot of updating that needs to be done to my controversial bookmarks. Bear with me.

    The timing of this post runs concurrently with my little jab at Calvinistas. Instinct tells me The Gad(d)about is about to be jarred from the "entertaining" category, possibly removed entirely.

    Oh well. It was fun while it lasted, but being a preacher's kid, y'all had to know this run of respectability had to end at some point. Back to obscurity with me!

    Smells like new car

    I haven't bought a new car off the lot in 16 years, so I was a little rusty when I went to the dealer yesterday.

    My first thought was to do what my grandfather used to do: Stuff a few $100 in my shirt pocket and do business with the first salesman who licked the heel of my shoe. I was short a few items.

    No $100 bills. No shirt pocket.

    All the same, car salesmen are as obsequious as another profession which I shant mention here. I just happened to run into Big Al, who puts Chuck Swindoll quotes on prominent display above his cubicle and happens to be looking for a church.

    I gave him my short sales pitch, and plan on closing the deal on a new tithing church member tomorrow night. Turns out we were both selling something yesterday.

    Big Al -- a name by his own choice -- was with two other customers who he had been babysitting in financing when he broke away to help me. He ran between them and delivering keys to me as I drove a few different models of PT Cruisers. Big Al was well onto sweating his way into becoming Medium Al in the hot Arizona sun.

    I've never been a vocal fan of the PT Cruisers, but the Touring Signature model I drove yesterday seemed like a sweet ride for the price. Or maybe I just haven't driven a car that wasn't somehow broken for the last umpteen years that a boat with the Dodge Neon drivetrain seems like a Cadillac. Just getting in that car and driving it around the block made me feel like a better man, legitimate, not unworthy -- not unlike the way men feel when their wives put their arms around them in any social situation.

    Take my Nissan. Please. I mean, take it for example. This 2002 model 4-door Sentra came to me under the best of condition, and in three years we've put 50,000 miles on it. It shakes like a heroin addict on a week-long dry run. The acrid smell of burnt oil pours through the air vents. I'm sure it knows its owner has not been a very helpful partner. It's treated like the crazy uncle grandma keeps locked up in the basement. We're too embarassed to park it up front. We're too embarassed to take it to nice places. It sullies us somehow just getting inside of it, although it's our fault it's in its current condition.

    I've often mentioned my father's old church and how the same people needed to be "saved" from the same sin every so often. They'd backslide every 6 to 8 weeks, disappear for a month, then come back to church for that salvation experience once they'd overcome their shame. I don't get that mentality as a Christian. As a degenerate car owner, it makes perfect sense.

    There is something about a new car that makes every mechanically disinclined schmo like me want to become a better car owner: weekly scrubs, regular oil changes, regular maintenance. If you've ever been stuck on the side of the highway looking in despair as other people who take care of their cars drive by at warp speeds, you realize this is a brief moment of automotive salvation. You want to be regenerated, redeemed, renewed as a car owner. You're going to be a better driver and owner this time around. No more late-night trists to the drive thru for a messy burger on the way home. No more orange slushees in the back seat.

    I've already started making the promises, taking the steps to walk the straight and narrow again. I'm even thinking of joining Triple AAA, and getting insurance beyond the state requirements.

    I can only hope and pray, by the Blue Book, I do not stray. I do not want to be hiding in the garage in my shame three years from now because I did not keep my promise.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    A culture of secrets

    I'm going to violate my own policy by linking to something I find wholly objectional. I'm linking to it because the notion of what I'm writing about is so perverse, I doubt anyone would believe me if I didn't.

    Maybe I'm way late to get a clue on this, but capitalist ventures in Europe have expanded their quickly growing business in America: They're selling alibis so you can cheat on your spouse with more efficiency.

    For a nominal fee you can buy a forged fax, fake e-mail, or even pay $90 a month for a permanent alibi with live operator assistance.

    In a radio interview yesterday in Phoenix, a spokeswoman for The Alibi Network reported half of their business consists of cheating spouses. The other half, to broadly paraphrase her statement, is for moral justification.

    Pardon me for casting judgment on the unbelieving world for behaving like ... unbelievers. I shouldn't be surprised, and I'm usually graceful about this in public. I know I should have no moral expectations of a world that cannot see truth beyond their own selfish pursuits. We are, after all, consumers of Internet porn and e-affairs.

    And far be it from me to place myself on a moral pedestal. My heart and my flesh are as capable of sinning as anyone's. I'm not deceived that I've achieved some moral highground that I can now cast aspersions on a world and mindset that, honestly, I'm not far removed myself.

    There is just an audaciousness to this kind of industry that signals to me we're entering a new age of complicity. We're at a point now where we not only close our eyes to lying, manipulation, and deceit, we're going to empower those who do.

    I'm sure someone bright will show me how there's nothing new under the sun, how this is no different than something in the past. For sure, that is true in the element of sin. However, I can't think of any time where society has embraced this kind of behavior as a part of culture. Technology hasn't made us more wordly, it's just allowed wordliness to become a commodity that is easily acquired for pocket change.

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    The Terrorism Two-Step

    Somewhere between 7th and 8th grade I decided I wanted to participate in my youth, not cower in the corner waiting for the popular kids to leave.

    Being the son of a fundamentalist preacher/authoritarian father, I did not enter junior high with a lot of self confidence. I was one of the few remaining kids of my generation in the early 80s whose parents firmly believed in the corrective power of the belt. I was raised to be deferent, to my peers as well as my superiors, and in junior high that is a posture that is like honey to bully bears.

    In my meekness I was berated into submission by my fellow junior high classmates, and I spent much of 7th grade as an outcast. There's nothing wrong with being an outcast if for the right reasons, but I chose to be an outcast because I had neither the confidence in myself or what I believed in to walk with assurance. By repetition, I had learned if I walked with assurance without the threat of physical power, that was the recipe by which I would be pounded into ground.

    There's an interesting psychology in humans who are terrorized: Every person eventually has a breaking point. For me, it was the desire to play team sports. I figured I was going be bullied no matter what, so it didn't make a difference what I did. At least I should pursue some kind of happiness ... even if there would likely be days I would be afraid to go to school.

    My sudden change of mind led to the inevitable. Two bullies in a school populated by them (1,200 7th, 8th, and 9th grade suburbanites) were on my 8th grade team. They taunted me mercilessly until, all logic lost in my anger, I turned as pushed one of them to the ground.

    To use the vernacular of the day, it was "on." After practice. Behind one of portable classrooms.

    To this day I have no idea where I found the courage to show up to that fight. I think I was probably more afraid of what would happen if I didn't show up. To my surprise, my opponent was no stronger than me. Turns out all his posturing was just that. We rolled on the ground for an eternity, and I landed several body blows that seemed to take the edge of his cockiness.

    By reputation, I didn't win that fight. Blood flowed from my nose, but only because of the heat and the physical exertion, not because of any haymaker that landed on my face. Truth is, he never landed a punch, and if it were a fairly judged wrestling match, I would have been declared the winner.

    My personal bully walked off with several of his friends proudly claiming victory. But we both knew there wouldn't be another fight, and all he had left was weak verbal jabs that had much less punch than they once did. I had no interest to fight him and he had learned I was not a weakling -- he couldn't afford a rematch in which he might lose face (and a few teeth). I was no longer afraid of him.

    I abhor violence. I regret the kind of vile rage I experienced that day, and the kind of bitterness that simmered in my heart for years after that incident. Even as a young adult, thinking about the experience, I wanted to reach back in time and really throw punches with the self-confidence that comes from experience.

    But I put that down. I know now why he did what he did. I know he was as threatened by my presence as I was his. He had no trust of the world and could only posture as a bully to ensure his safety. Yet, if I hadn't stood up for myself, the bullying would have endured throughout my school days. It would have been endless, and maybe worse. One of my friends was put in the hospital by high school bullies like these guys.

    This is what I think of when I hear people question our military presence in the Middle East. Sure, we can question the mode of operation, and critics are right to condemn inhumane treatment of prisoners. But that is not an argument against military action.

    Terrorism is nothing more than bullying on a grand scale. There is an element of Islam that intends to strike fear in the world. They cannot do a full-frontal attack because they are, in fact, weak by comparison, but they can posture by steering two jumbo jets full of fuel into the World Trade Center. They expected us to cower. They expected us to crumble. They expected us to be weak. And they expected to encourage others of like mind to do the same.

    Military response, which we hope was directed at the right target with enough good intel, was the proper response. When these international bullies threaten the assurance of safety in our country, we cannot back down. No response is a guarantee of future terrorism. It's an invitation to people with an 8th-grade worldview to posture some more with cowardice acts of wanton violence.

    At last, the confession you've been waiting for

    In an article on the growing focus on Hinduism in America (and how the media confounds Hindu theology), a USA Today feature writer offers this bit at the end:

    So what else is new? Hollywood has been mocking Christian culture for years.

    (HT: Doc Andy)

    Somewhere, Richard Belzer is shrugging his shoulders.

    The article mentions two of my favorite shows, The Simpsons and the charming My Name Is Earl, as skewing the Hindu message of one god, one bazillion persons (I've lost count).

    While the author barely bothers mentions the theological "blending" that goes on in Hollywood, that is exactly what goes on everyday in media. It's how media-saturated Christians can take on confused theology that combines the OT theology of "an eye for an eye" with karmic justice. Reformed Christianity clearly reserves that kind of OT justice for the Lord's day of judgment in this age of mercy, while Hinduism's karma doesn't even have a concept of justice. Karma is neutral. But blending fits nicely into our fast-food theology when TV writers have more input into our daily life than the Word.

    What I like about The Simpsons is its writers are Ivy Leaguers with a clue about theology, and but for a few irritating moments of universalism, one can almost imagine these guys having reverence for authentic Christianity. Their commentaries on dead faith and phony Christian culture are usually dead-on.

    Their criticism sometimes go the other way. In one episode, when Homer obliges himself to a several-million-dollar donation to PBS to get the telethon hounds off the tube, he is chased by Big Bird (among other notable mobbing PBS characters) into the church, where he is forced into requesting asylum. Rev. Lovejoy sneaks him out in the back of his car, buried underneath sacks of letters.

    When the mob outside the church questions Lovejoy on the contents of his car, Lovejoy replies, "I'm just taking these children's letters to God down to the city dump." The PBS mob, which we are to presume hostile to real Christian faith, is suddenly supportive.


    My Name Is Earl is another story. The idea of karma is prevalent as its main character, played brilliantly by Jason Lee, seeks to redeem himself by attempting to undo 200+ previous malicious acts, some of which landed him in prison. These wrongdoings are haphazardly scribbled on a makeshift napkin or small sheet of paper, and each week his intention is to cross off one of them as a wrong that's been made right.

    However, I find the Earl character not very informed of his adopted belief system, and his sincere hope for spiritual redemption as refreshing. The notion that Earl's redemption quest is misguided is implied, but we are to go along for this journey out of respect for one man's desire to not be ashamed. As he fumbles through his own motivations, he somehow ends up doing God's good work. One gets the sense he will eventually conclude he can't undo his wrongs, but the transformation inside has more value than he can currently appreciate.

    It's not Christianity, but I'll take 30 minutes of a charitable and just heart for my television viewing any day. It is definitely entertaining as Earl attempts to live out his simple understanding and new spiritual values in a highly cynical world.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Christians on parade

    My good friend Brad at Broken Messenger takes aim at political pundits who have risen to fame (if not fortune) under the guise of GodBlogging.

    What Brad doesn't know is I've been savoring the juiciness of this topic since I began blogging and I kicked around ideas so long I forgot to write my tome. He captured my sentiment perfectly.

    One of my great irritations in life is being stereotyped as a RIGHTWINGFUNDAMENTALISTZEALOT (trademarked by Mother Jones) as soon as I let people in on the secret that I'm one of those people. Whatever these people thought of me before, they now, by way of culture, have new assumptions about me like:

  • I watch TBN and Pat Robertson -- and not because I need a good laugh.
  • I got married by clubbing my (future) wife over the head and dragging her by the hair to the altar
  • I lounge around the house in a three-piece aqua blue polyester leisure suit (OK, this is a little out-dated, but we've never been known for our fashion sense)
  • I drive a mini-van. (This might be the most irritating).

    Part of these stereotypes are based on the fact we favor political people to speak for our spiritual concerns. We, as a church, best organize when something we agree on politically is at stake. For example, the vast majority of pro life leadership is Catholic, but it is best buoyed at the ballot booth by people who identify themselves as Evangelicals.

    So in the U.S., those who otherwise bear the cross of the Gospel message are best know by their ... politics.

    I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say Brad and I agree on fundamental political issues. We are both fairly conservative and probably agree with much of those conservative political bloggers he lists. I probably separate myself from the tone of the message without disagreeing with the content.

    Where I think we're both discouraged is the lack of the centrality of some alleged GodBloggers in the things that they write. The wrong message that the Christian Church is about politics is reinforced in silence, and it's something that needs to be addressed by the GodBlogging community. A challenge is needed for those who are at the pinnacle of traffic and who benefit from those of us who link to them because of our shared faith. They need to express their faith more -- not for us, but for the many who read them and have no faith.

    On the other hand, I think there are GodBlogs that suffer because there is barely the hint of a real person in their extensive writings on theology. I don't mean to downgrade the power of God's Word, but before I want to know what you believe, I'd like to know who you are. This plays out regularly in the real world. You have to gain my trust before you gain my ear.

    Christians do all sorts of interesting things besides organizing the next GOP election and starting wars in faraway countries. It would be nice to read more about the personal lives of Christians, and dare I say it might actually be beneficial to discuss challenges, difficulties, and other areas of life. There's a demand for intellectual honesty in blogs, and I think it starts with the personal disclosure that we are real people with real problems -- but who still engage the world with a message of hope.
  • Calvinism's dark secret

    Very few Calvinists are born the moment they give their lives to the Lord. The reason is there are so many hoops one must jump through, rationally, before one can arrive at a reasonable theology. And that's just getting person set up to wrap their minds around the very broad sovereignty of God.

    Calvinism is a system, and I've never met an unbeliever who embraces a system. What they do embrace is the simple Gospel which tells them of God's love for them and of their sin, and of their need for Christ to redeem them.

    Saving faith does not require passing a TULIP test, at least it's not spelled out that way in my Bible. Your mileage -- and your patience with me -- may vary.

    I would have a difficult time with any Calvinist who would tell me otherwise, because so many Calvinists were first saved under Arminian pastors. Where would the world of Calvinism be today if not for the encouragement of free will Arminians who dared to hold an altar call? How many Calvinists would we have today if they were required to explain limited atonement before someone prayed with them to receive the grace and mercy of God?

    This is not an argument for Arminianism. Not at all. However, there have been plenty of non-Calvinists such as Wesley whose earnest preaching of the simple Gospel should be accredited to them as great faith. You don't have to endorse their theology. You just have to admit that there is a benefit to having a few Arminians for the building of the Kingdom.

    My pastor has a saying I think he borrowed from his seminar professor: "I don't care how much of a Calvinist you are, you're still going to preach the Gospel like you're an Arminian." The point is regardless of your theology, there's no alternative to the zeal of preaching the Gospel.

    Just something to keep in mind the next time you unsheathe your sword to do battle with a semi-pelagian poopyhead.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    One banner year of wasting bandwidth

    One lapse in judgement 365 days ago led to a year of hundreds of lost work hours and more than a few dirty looks from my wife.

    One year ago today I started blogging.

    It seems to be tradition to link to "best of" posts on blog anniversaries, but I'm going to resist. I don't have a "best of." Over 10,000 of you have tortured yourselves with visits to this site this past year. The damage has been done. I'm giving you a day a rest today. I'll be back tomorrow to challenge all good sense with my wit and wisdom.

    God bless and thanks for dropping by!

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Happy Arizona statehood day!

    Ninety-four years ago today Arizona became the 48th state of America. The history of this state is as expansive and unusually boring as the Sonoran Desert:

  • Nobody knows how Arizona got its name. Some suggest in comes from the Uto-Aztecan O'odham language, spoken by the Pima and Papago natives who spread out across the southern portion of the region. It may have been "alĭ son" or even "alĭ sona,"with the 'l' sounding like an 'r' to European invaders. The name may have also been a mistake. A town south of the Mexican border was called Arizonac. Then the Spaniards messed up Father Keno's maps and dropped the 'c.' Some insist, wrongly, the name comes from the Spanish words arida zona -- "arid zone." However, if correctly spoken, the Spanish would have called it zona arida. A lesser known myth is perpetuated by our favorite local bald man, Charles Barkley, the Paradise Valley homeowner who proclaimed it to be "Hairyzona," for the great number of hairy-back guys who run around town without shirts on. Barkley is also the same person who, when asked if he would play for a team in a state that does not honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a paid holiday, replied: "For $3 million a year I'd play for the KKK." Shame is not a useful commodity around here.

  • Arizona has always been the new home for the unloved. Who settled Arizona? Native tribes probably driven out of more green geography to the north and the south. Gold prospectors who failed in California and returned to Arizona where they ran out of money. Mormons looking for safety. Civil War expatriates, particularly from the South. Hordes of immigrants during Westward expansion. People from the East and the Midwest looking for work and cheap land. Illegals from Mexico. Basically, if you can't make it any place else, there's always room in Arizona.

  • Less than half of Arizona is desert climate. That's right, nearly 60 percent of Arizona land is some kind of mountain, ridge, or federally-protected forest. About 90 miles north of blazing hot Phoenix (and practically straight up into heaven) is the mountain town of Flagstaff. Not far from Flagstaff is Humphrey's Peak, which reaches over 12,000 feet high. Phoenix itself is a high elevation desert plateau, with downtown Phoenix resting at about 1,100 feet above sea level, and outlying north and eastern portions of the metropolis rolling upwards. Rejected state slogan: "Arizona. We're higher than you think."

  • Arizona is a "cowboy" state, but we're not talking about guys with six-shooters. Arizona is sort of like the American version of France. We appear to love politics only to the point that it allows us to disagree with everyone else. The state controlling party has been the GOP since 1950, but even then our heroes are usually libertarian wing nuts like Barry Goldwater and John McCain. We might be the only state that could put someone like J.D. Hayworth, a former sportscaster, into office. Hayworth is known locally as "Foghorn Leghorn." Our state sport is recalling our governors; we've had three successful recalls, and two others that ended in resignation since we achieved statehood. Most famous was Gov. Evan Mecham, who was so unpopular in the late 80s that political cartoonist Steve Benson -- grandson of then Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson -- drew a cartoon of Gov. Mecham holding the "Book of Moron." Mecham resigned. Benson left the church, then was excommunicated. Fun stuff.

  • Arizona is still largely unpopulated, but not for long. The state is the sixth largest in acreage in the U.S., but remains one of the least in terms of people living here. It's surprising to many, given this knowledge, that Arizona ranks among the top 20 state economies in the country, with more circulated annual money than Norway, Denmark, Ireland or New Zealand. Where large commercial agrobusinesses once harvested large orange and cotton crops, we now have rows and rows of red-tile roofs and three-car garages. Desert land is and will always be cheap (since you have to do few improvements), so growth industries are king in this state. Arizona has been ranked among the top 5 fastest growing states in the U.S. since WWII ended, and should remain there for at least the next century. If you don't live here yet, Census numbers suggest you will eventually. Maybe we'll give Southern California back to the Mexicans since they're all moving here, and they can keep Hollywood at no extra charge. We just want to be able to visit San Diego 10 times each summer.

  • We are well-churched. Four out of 5 Arizonans classify themselves as Christians, over 40 percent of those declaring themselves as Protestant. Another 1/3 of that group are Catholics, with about 5 percent declared as Mormons. However, I've discovered a growing group among us, and I expect to soon see a monument built to their god: the almighty real estate developer.

  • We don't really stray too far. Four of the state's five biggest cities are in the Phoenix Metro area. Phoenix is tops at about 2 million, with Tucson 90 miles to the south pushing 1 million. However, Phoenix's neighbors to the east include Mesa (~ 400,000), Gilbert (~ 200,000), and Chandler (~ 200,000). They are all connected by freeways with no open spaces between. It's just one big sprawling master-planned community, and they're still growing. What's scary is the fastest growing portion of greater Phoenix is to the west, where we're expected to see an additional three million people over the next 20 years. Someday someone's going to figure out it's really, really hot here.
  • Monday, February 13, 2006

    Radio ruined music

    A long time ago my J-school professor explained to me that most people who subscribe to the Wall Street Journal do so for the sake of appearances. They have the WSJ delivered to the lawn to cover up the fact they're really reading the commuter rag or the big state paper.

    He further explained this is not just a newspaper statistic, it's the mentality of the average American for nearly every media purchase they make. This is especially true of music, where payola and pay-for-play schemes have controlled the mass radio market since the advent of the rock-and-roll era.

    "But payola scandals ended with Alan Freed!" you might protest. Not so. Distributors have been telling radio stations what to play, thus telling you what's "good" and "popular" right up until right now. And it will continue in the future. As a matter of fact, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group recently settled third-party payola (paying contractors to pay radio DJs to play their music) just last year.

    So the truth is you haven't decided what's popular.

    Not only that, but a recent study at Columbia University suggests the average person's listening habits are not always based on objective listening. They're just as likely -- and probably more likely -- to be influenced by social pressures.

    Furthermore, listening habits broken down into genres are greatly influenced when you are young -- and most likely to be influenced by both repetitive radio play and social influences.

    So the American music industry is controlled by the distributors, create an atmosphere of "cool" for the young, and manipulate an entire generation with very little objectivity.

    My personal experience is a very small number of Americans have the capability to objectively listen to music. How could they? They've been exposed to a very tiny portion of what's out there, and you can lump everything as diverse as drum-n-bass to Jessica Simpson to college radio all into one big pile -- it's still a small fraction of the diversity of music being produced.

    Americans don't grow up with an arts education unless they are pursuing an arts education. By and large, their music education is filtered through the radio, and if it's not a "whitebread" 4/4 danceable song, it's not on their music agenda. Even the rap I hear that is often put in the "funk" genre is so not funky, so far removed from the improvisational New Orleans second-line riffs that first inspired them, the artists don't even realize their heritage has been stripped down to appeal to white audiences who buy the bulk of their music.

    Musicians have their own tastes. They may play in an alternative punk band, then run back to the bus to listen to Miles or Chick Corea or some world musician. What's sad is their influences are not often allowed by their heavy-handed corporate producers, because it doesn't fit into a tiny little box called "popular music."

    I write this with a grievance against the music industry because I'm a musician who is fed up with accounting-based music programming. I don't expect Americans to ever embrace the complications of jazz or the intricacy of classical, but they deserve a chance to be exposed to it. Americans own the airwaves, and they don't even know their rights have been limited by the financial pressures of a music industry that lost its way 60 years ago.

    My bigger concern is the art form of American instrumentation -- guitars, bass, drums, keyboards -- will eventually be lost with another century of this kind of programming. More and more, kids are being exposed to cheaper, technological driven music. That's fine. I think there's a place for that. But I also think we have a responsibility to pass on some kind of instrumental heritage, otherwise in 100 years kids will be playing sampled instruments without the most rudimentary knowledge of the instruments from which the sounds came.

    For my nieces and nephews, that's a frightening future.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    When plot holes attack

    Shrode at The Thinklings offers up three excerpts of reviews from Roger Ebert and asks what the job of a reviewer is.

    In the reviews, Ebert basically challenges the notion of critics and wanna-be critics who feel it is their job to shred every single plot hole "as if they have therefore demolished the movie."

    I think what Ebert is really saying here is, "If I wanted to, I could ruin every single movie you'd ever want to see, because all movies come with plot holes."

    I am an Ebert fan because he's a good writer who offers insight and never prejudges a movie. He's actually written and directed a film before, and his strong grasp of theater gives him a better clue about why some movies work and some don't. He doesn't want to tell people whether they should or should not go to movie. He does want to help people decide if its a movie that might entertain them.

    I also think his point is salient. To some, the enjoyment of going to movies is all about discovering every inconsistency and boasting of their findings to the crowd with whom they attended the movie. I can think of few people who are more irritating.

    If a movie has done its job, it's provided you just enough credibility to suspend your disbelief. Most stories get made into movies because they are about something out of the ordinary, set apart from what usually happens. The hero is going to defeat evil and get the girl most times because for many that represents a best hope not often found in reality. That's entertaining to the average person. We are provided catharsis in the unwilling hero who stumbles his way into becoming a universal champion of our best hopes and dreams.

    In this format of movie, it is unimportant how the hero found the gun at the right moment, how the heroine was strong enough to escape three giant brutes, or what 10-year-old is smart enough to crack PGP encryption in 10 seconds. (Or any other human, for that matter). If you're an American, hopefully you've developed the skill of saying to yourself, "This is no ordinary 10-year-old," and move on in rhythm as the plot unfolds. Without that skill, it's unlikely you will ever be provided escape in cinema unless you've discovered the treacherously hopeless plots of French film.

    The pyschology of of the person who blows up the credibility of every plot seems pretty obvious to me: They're afraid of looking foolish. The problem, however, is most people are exceedingly willing to be fools to step into another dimension where the rules of reality are bent and the things we've come to expect -- good people suffer, evil is prevalent and often triumphant, the innocent die -- exist only long enough to dissipate into a more satisfying result. Movies give us what we aren't getting from real life, at least for about 85 minutes. This majority can barely suffer the know-it-all who can't shut up about the unlikelihood a street cop would be able to disarm a nuclear warhead, even with help from someone who might know.

    The obvious exception to this rule is a plot hole so big as to disallow suspension of disbelief. For me, that was the quantum leap of skills for Neo from the end of Matrix Reloaded into Revolutions. The shift from a genetic and technological explanation of his skills to a spiritual one that went beyond mere technology -- without even providing an ounce of explanation about the spiritual rules of that universe -- ripped me out of my suspense and back into the reality of the total implausibility of the trilogy. It was disheartening, because I had found a lot of merit in the movies up until that point. There was also a more philosophical point of the inherent weakness of the human flesh -- even in our heroes -- I felt was being violated, but I don't want to belabor my point.

    One other belief buster for me is when a movie character sits down behind the drums. I can rationalize in my head that directors and actors don't know much about the instrument, but they pay advisors thousands of dollars to provide expertise. Why, then, drummers' strokes are rarely matched to the sounds, or how what is considered impressive in film is usually something that could be played by any teenager with a kit, is beyond me. These are moments that turn me into a raving lunatic and I have to either walk out of the theater or turn off the TV. I imagine it's a similar experience for computer programmers who see Hackers or astrophysicists who catch any modern science fiction.

    So I guess the first rule of movie watching is this: Short of the limits of our own expertise, shut up and give the movie a chance to entertain you.

    And Ebert sort of established the second rule: There's no such thing as the perfectly, airtight plot.

    Friday, February 10, 2006

    Frondeur Friday: All music is a fine expression of worship

    Earlier today I criticized my organization's wrong emphasis on worship as being about lifestyle and not a life of substance.

    The other side of the coin to worship is the silliness with which people argue over methodology. If worship is about the heart's cry, the heart's service, the heart's acknowledgment of God, why do we spend so much time criticizing each other over superficial things?

    We previously stated God doesn't care about your singing, but it's very clear in the Word that music is a divine instrument of worship, and a practice that took place in heaven before God breathed into us our first breath as a race of people. Music helps express the yearnings of our spirit in ways where words alone fail. Music forces us to stop in our tracks, and its lyrics -- if properly composed -- impose upon us the right way to approach God while taking the focus off ourselves and reprioritizing our worries as temporary.

    I know of no Christian that disagrees with this. Music has been central to the worship of God ... since perhaps at the first creation of angels.

    The issue that divides so many today is the kind of music acceptable in worship of God, an issue I find so petty as to speculate ulterior motives behind the criticism:

  • On one side we have traditionalists, people who cling to hymns, some of those songs hundreds of years old. The lyrics tend to reflect the strong theological arguments of the Reformers, primarily words about God, and not always words to God.

  • On the other side we have mostly Third Wavers using modern stage instruments such as the electric guitar, electric bass, and drum set, playing very contemporary-style arrangement. These songs tend to focus more on praise and worship to God in typically simple words. While most of these songs can be founded on strong theological justification, they tend to not emblazon theological doctrines like the hymns.

    What I find in the polarized among the two camps is a lot of pride and not much discernment. Theology is important, but so is intimacy between worshipper and Deity. Arguing against one or the other is to impose methodological arguments based on forced interpretations of Scripture, and to me, this violates the very intent of Christ's establishment of the Church.

    Peter and Paul never led anyone in a Vineyard and Maranatha chorus, but they never sang "How Great Thou Art," either. They both seemed much more concerned with the application and practice of worship than song style and form.

    New worship music is not destroying the church anymore than Rev. Carl Boberg did when he wrote O Store Gud in 1886, or when John Newton was inspired to write Amazing Grace aboard an 18th Century slave ship. That was the new worship music of its day, and it was greeted with equal suspicion by those who did not want to be pulled in by a cultural challenge. There was a time when Christians would not have been able to sing How Great Thou Art because its time signature is in twos (halftime). Up until the 17th Century, sacred music was to be written only in threes to reflect the Trinity doctrine.

    Our nearly 2,000-year tradition of Christianity is not one of static worship style, but one of imposing extraBiblical restraints on song methodology to stave off cultural influence. This seems to be a strictly Christian practice, since our Jewish forefathers had no such sensibility. They borrowed from everyone in ways that did not impose upon or offend their doctrine. David, the greatest psalmist in history, borrowed heavily from the styles and instrumentation of the unbelieving tribes around him. David felt God could be worshipped with any tool, as long as the heart and mind were focused in the right direction.

    And that's what it comes down to, once again. We place far too much emphasis on methodology to the point of turning it into an idol, either as traditionalists or new worship music advocates. Music is what it is, and it has zero spiritual value until our heart gives it an application.
  • Frondeur Friday: God does not care about your singing

    In case you're wondering, a frondeur was a member of the Fronde party in France which led to civil war in the 17th Century. Sometimes I look at my own organization and want to dare someone to dare me to eat cake.

    (That's generally a bad idea, because I can eat a lot of cake.)

    As a member of a Christian denomination association community of churches on the leading cusp of new worship music, I have a bone to pick with us.

    For the last time, worship does not begin and end with an acoustic guitar or cool melody hook or goose bumps and raised hands.

    Worship is about a life of service. It's a defended position of the heart. Like Gatorade, it's what inside of you -- and, as the Bible says, what produces what comes out of you.

    While you're singing words like "we praise You" and "we exalt You" and "we adore You" consider how often you actually have fallen on your face and done those things. At least outside of church service.

    The point of worship is to live a life of worship, not just a life of uptempo songs, because God doesn't want our tools of worship, he wants our hearts of worship. God should be the object of our worship, because he is deserving of our adoration, and we must worship him in spirit and truth.

    John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

    Does this sound like God is organizing an earthly worship band with killer horn licks? God is not a Holy Blues Brother. He really doesn't care that your latest diddy borrows from Psalms and sounds like Coldplay. God is God, and we are not, and that distinction demands to be recognized every moment of our lives.

    God is seeking people with hearts of worship, circumcised in the heart, willingly to sacrifice even their bodies to the cause of the Kingdom. That is worship, and I don't care if it's expressed with an Ibanez, a Hammond B3, or a lyre.

    Or by housing the homeless, or feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked, or healing the sick, or proclaiming the Kingdom has arrived in Christ.

    Worship with our mouths without the worship with our hands and feet is empty worship, and God rejects that.

    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    The hardest part of church planting

    Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill fame notes, on the verge of his organization's church planting boot camp, the trials of planting a new church:

    One of the toughest parts of planting a church is coming up with a good name. In hindsight, my choice was not very good since for most people it conjures up images of lots of people in matching white sneakers drinking Kool Aid. So, in an effort to help young church planters find the perfect name for their church I have composed the simple chart below.

    Meanwhile, Brian @ Sycamore seems like he'd be happy if he could steal the name of Driscoll's blog, Resurgence.

    I can think of a lot worse blog names, Brian. Most GodBlogs should be called Regurgitation or My Brain Is Ginormous or I Threw Grace Out With The Baptismal Water or something like that ... but so much for truth in advertising. The image of a Resurgent Sycamore is an interesting one.

    Back to church names ...

    This reminds me of the time my father was (re)planting his last church for the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) in 1978. We were moving away from the impoverished area of south Phoenix, so everyone felt it was vital we change the name from South Phoenix COG to something else. You should've seen some of the suggestions:

  • Holy Fire From Heaven COG (Probably wouldn't get by the building inspector)
  • Baseline Revival Center (A little too close to the Baseline Massage Center, 2 blocks down the street)
  • Blood of the Lamb COG (Yes, it's Biblical, but we didn't want to be confused with Santeria, either)
  • The Good Music Church COG (Not kidding, unfortunately)
  • Does Someone Smell Sulfur? COG

    OK, I was kidding about that last one, but that's a good summary of the kind of church name suggestions you get from 150 charismatic revivalists.

    I remember my father complaining about not finding a church name when I, all of 9-years-old, asked him why it was so hard. I said, "Just make the name to match what we're all about."

    He rolled his eyes or something, I can't remember, but there was a pregnant pause while the tiny little wheels in my head (and they're still fairly tiny) spun until smoke came out of my ears. An idea popped into my head right before a brain fire started.

    "Why don't we call it Risen Savior COG?"

    You'd think I'd just given a prophetic word that Jesus was coming later that evening, because the issue was settled there in my father's car.

    So there you go. My life's legacy. As you can see, I haven't had much to live for the last 27 years, having accomplished so much at an early age.

    Update: I just checked and some joker changed the name to Desert Valley COG. So, Brian, it looks like Risen Savior is up for grabs if you ever rename your church. Don't ever forget who sends you at least three visitors a month in blog traffic.
  • Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    The new Christian epidemic: Poor sense of humor

    One of the great problems in the Church for the past 2,000 years is a very poor sense of humor among those who consider themselves Christians.

    Unfortunately, I have no remedy for this, but I do think it's essential that those people who are undeniably unfunny need to be informed of their sickness. It's important so the unfunny will stop telling me bad jokes and forwarding me "cute" e-mail. Here's a simple guidline ...

    You might be an unfunny doofus irritating friends, family, and co-workers if ...

  • You've ever put your amateur Photoshop skills to the test by insetting the faces of respectable people in vaguely ironic bodies and poses.

  • You've ever prefaced a joke with, "I know something that will turn that frown upside down."

  • You've ever quoted anything from Reader's Digest or Highlights and expected innocent laughter in return.

  • You "get" prop comedy.

  • You don't understand why grown men can entertain themselves for hours with noisy bodily functions or the mention of the word "booger."

  • You think that little Billy from Family Circus "is a stitch."

  • You've ever been compelled to read out loud the dialogue in a comic strip found in your Bazooka Joe wrapper

  • You anxiously tune in to Jay Leno's monologue each night.

  • You've ever started a joke off with a "You might be" if/then statement.

    If you could measure your words and consider the pain and agony of those not afflicted, I would appreciate it. At the very least, please take me off your forwarding list.
  • The downside of Christian counseling

    I've defended Christian counselors in the past because I know many good ones, and I've borrowed from them on the occasion I've worked with people one-on-one.

    The primary objective in Christian counseling is to get the one receiving counsel to hear the Word -- in their minds and hearts. It's amazing to me how many people sit in church every Sunday and their pastor's words go right by them. It's like they checked their brains at the door, or maybe they spend Sunday morning sermon time to balance their checkbook, or perhaps they're still thinking about Saturday's football game.

    So I do believe in Christian counseling because it's like the pulpit backstop. When it's done right, it reinforces what's being said from the pulpit, although it's usually applied in a more personal way.

    I say this with great reservation because what sometimes passes for Christian counseling is nothing more than secular psychology with a few keywords. I've been listening to a counseling group on a Christian radio station in the afternoons, and I find myself becoming more and more irritated.

    People call in with what they consider spiritual and theological dilemmas, when in fact they are usually looking for someone to justify their wrong decisions: Christians who've taken up cohabitation with unbelievers; people who've wrongly left their spouses and want to remarry with other Christians; authoritarian parents with unruly teenagers looking for a Biblical excuse to give up; etc.

    I hear these calls and I know the first thing that needs to be addressed is their sin. It's not about judgment! It's about establishing the authority of God's word with the person. There is a graceful way of saying it without casting down condemnation on the person.

    John, as a parent I understand your frustration and anger with your son. It's good that you quote Colossians 3:20 to him, but please keep in mind the next verse for yourself: Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Your expression of anger to him is not likely helpful in the situation, and in fact it probably distorts the very message of faith and hope you wish to convey.

    What often happens, instead, is an emotional probing of the caller's past, which typically leads to a suggestion to seek psychotherapy or a support group or some other lesser form of help.

    Don't misunderstand me on this. There are people who need help from psychological professionals. Anyone who's ever tried to minister to someone suffering from a bi-polar disorder, MPD, or some kind reality detachment knows it's impossible to speak to someone's heart in that condition. Someone with a serious bi-polar disorder can be as sincere as possible, but often require a level of attention that's impossible to give. These are people that need professional help and why it's so critical for the Church to find and support Christian professionals in that industry who understand spiritual needs as much as they understand physical and emotional needs.

    But these are not typically the kind of people who call in to shows or find their way to my doorstep. The kind of people I'm writing about are those who are afflicted by their own sinful decisions, and now they want to know how to lessen the burden. I usually take this in just a few steps:

  • Identify the sin and make it a distinctively central issue.
  • Avoid tertiary issues such as the problems of others around the person receiving ministry. It's important to get the person focused on their own issues and the decisions they need to make in light of the Word.
  • Show them love and charity at all turns, and never allow them to either justify their sin or think of themselves as more sinful than any other. Sin is sin, and it needs to be defined in its proper position. It's the reality of our condition, but all are born into it, and it has no power over us when we relent to the work of the Cross.
  • Always express to them the freedom and joy in Christ.

    These particular radio hosts seem to lack the courage to speak boldly, as if the Word can somehow damage a person. I know the Word can be wrongfully used when maliciously separated from either God's judgment of sin or this era of mercy God has established, but so can partial truths and solutions that do not lead to feet of the throne.

    We are of no help to the world and we have no answers for the brokenhearted when we ignore the true source of healing.
  • Monday, February 06, 2006

    Not of this world

    This was taken before opening statements in a debate with the Romulans somewhere between the Alpha and Omega sectors.

    No bondage to sin

    My blogging buddy Brad at Broken Messenger wrote with strong condemnation of wishy washiness among Christians who put forgiveness on themselves and not Christ.

    While I was reading, I found myself agreeing while seeing a balancing opinion to his comments. This happens often. I agree with Brad, but see the other side of the same coin.

    Brad writes:

    This invasion of doctrine concerning self-forgiveness, that comes in more flavors than a Baskin & Robbins, has been growing over the last century and is now taking its toll. It is the perfect example of the marriage between narcissism and faith. How am I feeling? How am I doing? Is this faith in Jesus really taking hold within me? Do I have the strength to obey? The mantra is I, I, I, not Christ, Christ, Christ, and it's nothing less than a cover for self-exultation. Worse, we are asking advice from the very thing that is central to the problem at hand.

    Indeed, forgiveness does not belong to us, but I believe "forgiving yourself" began as a short-hand for pursuing God for restoration, but it has become a diversion from the fundamental tenets of the Gospel.

    We do not forgive ourselves, but God certainly intends to restore us with confidence. There is no greater example of this than Peter, who denied he knew Christ three times. By a strict examination of the Law, this is an unforgivable sin. It handicapped Peter, and his self-loathing kept him from the redeemed Christ until Christ restored him with a vote of confidence. Peter's restoration was critical to building the Church.

    Charles Spurgeon once spoke powerfully of the look Christ gave Peter from the cross. Spurgeon noted this both pierced Peter's heart while "opening up a spring" in it.

    And now, to conclude, it made Peter as long as he lived, ashamed to be ashamed. Peter was never ashamed after this. Who was it that stood up at Pentecost and preached? Was it not Peter? Was he not always foremost in testifying to his Lord and Master? I trust that if any of us have been falling back, and especially if we have wandered into sin, we may get such a restoration from the Lord himself, that we may become better Christians ever afterwards. I do not want you to break a bone, I pray God you never may; but if you ever do, may the heavenly Surgeon so set it that it may become thicker and stronger than before. Courage was the bone in Peter which snapped; but when it was set, it became the strongest bone in his nature, and never broke again. When the Lord sets the bones of his people, they never break any more —he does his work so effectually. The man who has erred by anger becomes meek and gentle. The man who has erred by drink quits the deadly cup, and loathes it. The man who has sinned by shame becomes the bravest of the company.

    I know many in the Church who live with the weight of their sins and they maintain that burden as a way of spiritual flagellation. It's a notion not unlike we find in Catholicism, where there is a penance to pay for God's forgiveness, as if it is earned. This philosophy is so Satanic, I have no qualms in calling it a lie from hell.

    While we must seek Christ for forgiveness, we must also seek Christ for healing and restoration. As Brad points out, we have no authority over our sin, and to attempt to redeem ourselves is to ignore our own sinful heart. It's not only pointless and powerless, it heals nothing and restores nothing. But in Christ, we have that "heavenly Surgeon" who restores with awesome power to erase all power of brokenness.

    I think Brad was speaking to those who think we are awarded freedom from the Law. I want to remind Christians we have freedom within the Law, and Christ's perfect good work for all time is both a redemption from the consequences of violating the Law and a restoration of the Law within us. That means when He forgives us, we are returned to good standing, like a felony that has been wiped from the records.

    I remember my sin, and I know the enemy, who serves as our eternal prosecuting attorney, has kept long records on my sin for the day of judgment. And during that proceeding he will bring up each and every sin, and Christ will say, "No, my blood covers that. His slate is clean."

    While the Word instructs to be suspect of my heart, I know I can live with confidence in Christ that I can move forward in Him, that I cannot let past transgressions keep me from seeking Him, serving His kingdom, or allowing them to keep me ashamed and living as if I am condemned.

    Big bear of a Christian

    Danny Daniels was at my church yesterday. It was one of many regular visits that began about 10 years ago. It seems like he's a part of our church.

    I've had the unique opportunity to play with Danny, who flogged me as he does most drummers. Once during a quiet lunch while he was in town, I got an earful about my previous chosen profession, journalism. The man's not shy with his opinions, and he believes worship requires a certain amount of professionalism as much as it requires musicians who are also worshippers. He also believes all journalists should be shot. Or most of them, I suppose, because he didn't shoot me.

    I love the guy.

    The thing about Danny is he is so endearing almost in spite of himself, and he never stops talking about the Gospel or ministry. If you get him going on politics, he can get off on a tangent, but he'll pull right back into some other point he wants to make about being a missional Christian. It's infectious. He can get anyone excited about working for the Kingdom.

    Danny is a fine musician and songwriter. His raspy, dulcet baritone voice is a perfect companion to his bluesy stylings. He also plays the harmonica like he grew up in an Alabama cottonfield. I don't know where in Southern California he learned how to play like that, but it's not on my map.

    With so many musicians -- even Christian musicians -- making decisions based on what's good for their bank accounts, Danny remains a man of the earth. I'm sure the man would love to have a three-record deal with some Nashville distributor and lots of marketing beef behind him, but even if he did, I'm not sure Danny would be capable of changing his man-of-the-people behavior patterns. He was put on this Earth to challenge authority. There's an element of an OT prophet in him.

    Those of us in the Vineyard have come to look to Danny for what he rightly terms "Vineyard DNA," which is much simpler than the confounded theology we often hear about. It's about being real and letting God work through us in simple ways. It's about being available to talk about Jesus, and not getting wrapped up in ourselves.

    Danny often kids about not being able to repeat the prayer he said when he was saved -- too many cuss words. But you get around him, with his earnest words and sincere desire to serve, and you doubt he has ever lost that newbie Christian fervor. I know I am envious of that.

    If you ever meet him, though, don't ever let him make you think he's some sort of an anti-intellectual. He may use small words (by choice) and appeal to the average man, but he has plenty of insight into the Word. Once you get beyond the biker bar bluesman look and feel, you will discover Danny's a talented expositor of the Word. He can really dig into stuff and preach.

    Check out Danny's schedule on his website. He's worth a visit when comes to your town.

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    Question for the GodBlogosphere

    Has anyone noticed you never see Adrian Warnock and Gary Oldman in the same room at the same time?

    Eddie Haskell Christians

    One of the all time great modern villains is Eddie Haskell from the 50s TV show Leave It To Beaver.

    What is truly evil about Haskell is his delusion that his faux concern, charity, and honor -- on constant display at the Beaver household -- actually works beyond the perfect discernment of the perfect TV mother. He wants to look good, but he doesn't actually want to put in the effort to be good.

    There are plenty of Eddie Haskell Christians, but I don't want to get hung up on simple religious hypocrisy. When I think of Eddie Haskell Christians, I think of the scheming, heavy-handed ministers who have designs to spiritually fix everyone around them.

    This is not to be confused with a sincere compassion you might have for those in your church, because compassion comes with a desire to assist, not control.

    I know an Eddie Haskell Christian. He's a pastor of a medium-sized church. The reason why it's not a large church is because, after spending five years there, people -- especially those in leadership -- tend to leave bruised and mangled. The pastor always has some new way to improve people, like forcing them into difficult leadership positions in which they are not gifted and he has made no effort to equip them.

    I can only assume this pastor is well meaning, but he thinks the ministry of God requires manipulation on his part. Manipulation defines Haskellism. He interprets his own sincerity as proof of God's authority. He attributes the immediate results of good works as proof of his divinely inspired leadership, and the ultimate undoing of these people as their personal failures, not his.

    I can't claim myself as an authority on ministry, but I know enough to know that God is the one that does the fixing. He might use me to facilitate a path, but my operational tools are the Word and a truckload of grace. It's my job to be patient with those whom God has called me to minister to, as He does the work. Lord knows he's been working on me for 36 years, and I'm still a work in progress.

    I don't really understand Haskellism except it appears to show a lack of faith in God, a mistrust that God isn't working fast enough or powerful enough to one's satisfaction. Furthermore, it is totally absent the fruits of the Spirit, and usually engenders bitter fruit in those who follow.

    Many of those who were in leadership just five years ago at this pastor's church are now living lives outside fellowship. Some are living far beyond God's will, returning to a life of sin.

    We serve a big and powerful God, and the fact He chooses to use us in His ministry should make us tremble. It's an awesome responsibility. On the other hand, He is a big and powerful God, and we would be well-served to trust that He's always on the job and it's His work alone.

    I think this is why Jesus gave us simple instructions: to love God and to love each other as we love ourselves. When we stick to that, we generally fall into His will and we don't get in the way of the One who's doing all the important stuff.

    Saturday, February 04, 2006

    Real American heroes in my backyard

    It's that time of year when my dad stops being a crazy busy real estate broker and goes out in his front yard to watch airplanes fly low over his house from dusk to dawn.

    We live about three miles from Mesa's historical Falcon Field, which was used as a training ground for British and American airmen during WWII and was the site of the unbelievably bad war propaganda movie Thunderbirds, Soldiers of the Air.

    Each January the air field puts on a WWII-era dance, and people who collect airplanes from that era fly them in from great distances. That means I usually run into these old-timers at the Wal Mart across the street or some other nearby market.

    A few years ago I ended up talking to an 86-year-old WWII bomber pilot in line at the grocery store. I thanked him for kicking the wazoo out of the Nazi's for me so I didn't grow up eating stuffed sausages, drinking dark beer, or speaking strange German words like Volkswagen.

    Oh. Wait.

    He laughed and said he only wished he'd had that opportunity to do some personal damage. He just flew the plane and tried not to get killed.

    "Hitler didn't scare me. He was a tiny little punk. I was confident, if God granted me that glorius moment to personally confront Hitler, I'd have kicked his [tookus] three ways from Sunday.

    "No, the munchkin didn't scare me. It was all those people he inspired that made my knuckles white."

    This man, whose name I do not remember, said he spent several years dodging bullets and flying over Hitler's backyard to drop several hundred "gifts."

    I don't think those gifts were returnable.

    I asked him about one of my favorite movies, Memphis Belle, and he cringed. He said the movie was too difficult to watch because the bombing scenes were a little too real for him. Bad memories. Not good for a dodgy ticker. And other than that, the movie was a bunch of malarkey. Nobody ever looked that good or that clean, he said, particularly the gunners, who were usually "uglier than sin. That's why we put them down in lower hell."

    I asked him why he volunteered and he said his father pushed him into it. But it was only after he had spent a few months in service when he fully understood why he needed to be there, and he was thankful for both the opportunity to serve and that God spared him to return in compelte health.

    I thanked him again, this time without the sarcasm. I admitted I had doubts my generation could have won that war, that I believed God had set aside special men and women like him for that era as a blessing to this country.

    He received it with grace, but said it was not the people who won the war, but the American ideals. They preserved honor, valor, duty. He said he had faith any American generation under the current flag would respond the same way when confronted with such great threat, because patriotism always trumps politics once our comfort zones have been erased. The ideals are suited to be defended well by anyone who enjoys them, he said.

    We had stood in the parking lot for seemingly hours and he had to go. We shook hands and he thanked me for taking an interest in a major part of his life.

    He walked away with my gratitude and a whole new appreciation for real heroes. It was not the great deed that made him a hero, but his sacrifice, the very real act of putting his life on the line for mine.

    And I am grateful.

    Funky Cerulean

    I can't tell you who dug up this old photo of Dan, but I'm pretty sure this was during worship at one of those out-of-control charismatic services.

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    God blogging supergroup

    If you've been out of town lately, then let me introduce you to the latest GodBlog making every pastor and wanna-be theologue squeal like a school girl at an Elvis concert: Together for the Gospel.

    TG4 is sort of like the Traveling Wilburys of the GodBlogosphere, a theological super group consisting of heavy hitters C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Lig Duncan.

    Or maybe it’s more like Kansas ... you know, with four lead guitarists.

    These men are fine writers and thinkers, but I must be one of the few who finds their mob blog not so fascinating. I think it's because these are also men with very high profiles, and we’re never going to read Mohler blogging to Mahaney, telling him to pull his head out of his backside. Instead, we'll probably get something like this:

    "With all due respect, I've read your work and I have great admiration for your position, but I must disagree."


    Where’s the tension? Where are the inside jokes that comes with a real mob blog?

    I'm being facetious and I'm not encouraging uncivil behavior among Christians. As a reader of many blogs, however, I'm not sure why this "discussion" can't be had on four separate blogs, where they’re not beholden to a single strain of thought.

    I also know how pastors talk to each other behind closed doors, and it's infinitely more entertaining than what I read on TG4.

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    I coulda been Mark Driscoll. Or not.

    I would like to welcome Mark Driscoll to blogging world. Driscoll is senior pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the few truly missional, Biblical emerging churches in existence. Driscoll's an Emergent outlaw, a Calvinist among liberals, and he shoots from the hip.

    I think we share a thought process.

    Driscoll, who has been one my heroes for a decade and is probably the best representative of the modern church for my generation, somehow has served as the Emerging spokesperson in a technically savvy Seattle church plant without a blog. I don't know how that has happened.

    I've never met the guy, but we come from similar backgrounds. Like Driscoll, I was nominated and, for a short term, participated in the Young Leader Network. My pastor nominated me, I guess at the insistence of then-AVC leader and emergent banner-waver Todd Hunter, to join. I was going to plant one of the first Vineyard emergent churches.

    Emergent wasn't the term back then, circa 1994/95/96. GenX was, although I understood the short-sightedness of that term long before it became part of the popular vernacular.

    So did Driscoll.

    He wasn't intending on reinventing church and certainly not theology. He's old school, and the power of his language is abrasive to many in his own movement. He's sort of like a modern day Spurgeon, with a flip sense of humor. He is prone to compare less desirables in the emergent movement to some sort of bowel movement. He has many unfavorable metaphors I won't repeat here.

    What he does do is place a sense of purpose right on his shirt sleeve and operates from it without deviation. He is missional, his church is missional, his church-planting organization is missional. His fervor for this kind of church is contagious. It influenced me and encouraged me to pursue church planting.

    I never did plant a church, but I always wanted to help someone else plant one like Mars Hill. I guess there's a shortage of Mark Driscoll's in my area. It's sad. I wish we had more like him.

    On his blog, Driscoll writes with the same kind of piercing clarity of his sermons, which have taken on a legendary status early in his life because of the Internet. They get passed around. Now, I'm told, they're available on iTunes for podcast.

    I encourage you to check out his blog. He's going to become the face of the Church in the coming years, and trust me, that is a very good thing. What he lacks in ... patience, he more than makes up for in the right kind of prophetic preaching necessary for a Church that needs to shore up its foundation.