Thursday, April 23, 2009

So Much for Kings

Well that didn't take long. Only a few episodes in NBC has thrown in the towel on its series Kings, a loosely modernized adaptation of 1 and 2 Samuel. No, they haven't cancelled it, instead putting it off until this summer when no one is sitting at home watching TV. Then again, no one was sitting at home Sunday nights when it first aired or Saturday evenings either after NBC moved it the first time.

Add this show to the likes of Jericho and SportsNight (and I'm sure you can list your favorites) as shows that were critically acclaimed, well written and acted, and not pushed by their networks before dying an inevitable death. It's too bad too, I think the story was just beginning to pick up steam. Though the plot so far seems more like Frank Herbert's Dune than the story of David from the Bible.

I was thinking about this the other day while watching the latest episode. David doesn't yet seem like a "man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22) and Jack is nothing like the Biblical description of Jonathan. But King Silas rocks as an ego-maniacal version of Saul. If you're looking for a better adaptation of David's story I'd recommend instead A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. Or if a book written as a three act play isn't your thing, check out either Kyle Baker's King David one-shot comic or David: Shepherd's Song originally published by Alias Comics.

(And yes, this is just a shameless post since "Review of NBC's Kings" seems to be the only Google search that hits this site.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Purpose

Purpose. It's become a loaded word in my fellowship of churches. Some of you may recall the debate (still ongoing in my heart) between our "purpose" as Christians and our "mission." I won't get into that debate here other than comment that my heart has recently been challenged with a recent run of sermons on this topic. I want to stand up and shout, "our purpose is not to bring people to church!" The topic of evangelism always makes me queasy, because I relate that to "numbers" and "accountability" that were used as abusive, manipulative, incorrect means to the correct end. To me, evangelism isn't about church invites, or "visitors", or "cranking." Instead it is literally about "sharing my faith" with someone else. If they respond, amen! If not, that seed is planted and I trust God to do with it what He pleases.

Sadly, whenever I hear "purpose" or "share your faith" in a sermon, my ears tune out the message and my ego turns on with defensiveness. So it took an outside source to shake this from me. I was listening to a radio sermon last week (if you haven't read my last post, let me sum it up: if you listen to a radio ministry, support it financially!) and the topic was Purpose. Right away I wanted to listen thinking that this lesson would validate all my feelings on the subject. It didn't. Instead it reaffirmed the Christian purpose to "seek and save the lost."

This lesson referenced Philippians 1:12-30 where Paul is referring to being imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel... The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice...I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death...If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me...Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." (Phil 1:12,18ff,20,22ff,27 emphasis added)

While the context was Paul's sufferings, his encouragement to the Christians in Philippi was that this suffering can be used to advance the Gospel and therefore to not be discouraged by any hardship. With that in mind, I want to focus on how Paul was evangelistic here. Obviously he couldn't invite his captors to church, where would they go? Instead he used his circumstance to explain his conviction. This is something we all can do, and is more literally sharing our faith than a simple invite to church.

Something else he points out here that is very important to me. He talks about "Christ being exalted in [his] body," and, "conducting [our]selves in a manner worthy of the gospel." Our lives should reflect the gospel of Jesus. Our very lives should be our evangelism. In my wallet I have a business card that reads, "How have I been Christ's presence today?" I keep it in front of my driver's license because I consider this my real ID. In this context, evangelism to advance the gospel of Christ is very much my purpose.

Purpose or mission, it's all really just semantics anyway. The real question is how have you been Christ's presence today?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Christian Payola

Today is the final day of the "Air 1 Revolution," a drive to raise money to cover the station's operating expenses. Listening to the radio the last couple of days made me feel like Homer Simpson in Missionary: Impossible, who pledges thousands of dollars to PBS to stop the pledge drive so he can get back to his favorite show. When he welshes, he has to flee to a South Pacific island and become a Christian missionary. (Save me Jeebus!) But I digress. I'm not meaning to knock Air 1, it is their choice to be ad-free. I only want to bring to light the challenges faced by Christian radio.

To give perspective, as of this morning they were 68% funded, increasing about a half a percent an hour. Over this hour, they marked off between 30 and 50 supporters committing a dollar a day. Extrapolating gives a total need on the order of $2 Million a year. Where does all this money go?

The obvious answer is advertising and promotions, but these more or less pay for themselves. The less obvious answer is licensing their stations. Back when radio first started to be broadcast in this country, the decision was made to offer this service free to consumers (notice all the "free music" ads on the radio to counter the popularity of outlets like Pandora or iTunes). But that service still costs. The provider has to pay for the license ($2900), the station frequency (auctioned up to tens of thousands), the tower and equipment (hope one exists, otherwise it's another $600,000) and this is before labor costs, licenses and fees for the music you're playing, and you can see how this adds up quick! To hammer the point even more, this is for a single station- imagine a nationwide network. (For more information than you would probably ever want, go here.)

So why reference "payola", the scam of pay-to-play on the radio, in the title of this post? I showed you how tough it is to be a station, now imagine you're a half-hour preaching ministry. Because of the costs above, oftentimes ministries have to pay these stations to be on the air. Here, the costs are daily, per station, costing hundreds of dollars a single day for a half a sermon to be broadcast nationwide on multiple stations. If it was illegal for music in the 60's, (and for third-party promoters more recently) why isn't it illegal on Christian radio? Because the stations mentioned above are non-profit. Worse, they generally operate, like Air 1, with little or no advertising. There's simply no other way to make up the costs.

You can decide for yourself whether this actually hurts spreading the Gospel. But to put it in real dollars for a listener like you or me, I recently purchased a lesson series from a particular ministry. I also bought the study guide to go along with it. By the time it was all said and done, including shipping, it cost me $90 for an 8 CD set. If I wanted to buy last Sunday's sermon at my local church, it would cost me a little over a buck.

***edit***
After hopping in my car and turning on the radio, I remembered a couple of points I left out. First off, I'm not against "listener supported radio". My "Homer Simpson" reaction above is just my human nature. Instead of being flippant, I simply wanted to bring attention to the nature of the business and pray that it would change to enable these ministries to thrive without the stress of wondering how to stay on the air.

Some numbers from Air 1 that I forgot to mention above: For every 100 people listening, only three financially support it. In other words, 97% listen without any personal investment. Also, to run enough ads to cover the cost, they would have to broadcast the equivalent of 78 days worth of advertisements a year. To the station, that's 78 days they're not pursuing their ministry.

***update***
Only a couple hours left for Air 1 and they're now almost at 80%.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Family Values

"You are what you do when no one is looking." This is one of my favorite sayings and is true whether you're talking about spirituality or not. What is interesting though, is that it is so hard to put into practice.

Christian or not, there are "rules" for acceptable behavior in the public square- cussing at work is generally frowned upon, you can be ticketed for road rage, there are laws against public indecency, and so on. But at home, anything goes.

I'm guilty of this myself. I was talking with a coworker about an ongoing problem that was increasingly frustrating and I totally went off. I didn't cuss, but by my tone, I might as well have. He commented that he's never seen me so upset about anything before (he should see me watch sports). But I don't apply that filter at home with my own family. I'm quick to raise my voice at my children and vent my frustrations to my wife. While I wouldn't cuss in front of my boss, I don't have a problem cussing in anger in front of my family.

What that tells me is that I value my boss, my job, and others outside of my home more than I value my very own family. I care more about what coworkers think of me than what my children think of me. Now deep down that's not true, but that's what my actions say.

This came to me the other night during a discussion with other brothers about the fights they have at home, and it convicted the tar out of me. Why should I treat my family worse than I treat my coworkers, or even strangers on the street?

While the title of this blog is "Public Christianity" with the emphasis being to live and express our faith in the public square, our faith needs to be deeply rooted in our homes as well. "... choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15) The Bible is ripe with instruction on how to live and manage our homes. If what only mattered was what people see of us in public, then why include instructions to women in Timothy and Titus?

Sin is sin, regardless of where we indulge in it. God sees us in the privacy of our homes, just as strangers see our deeds in public. Don't think you're hiding sin just because it's not public. Value your family more than that.

"Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." (John 3:20)

"For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret." (Eph 5:12)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

You've Come a Long Ways, Baby

Tonight my congregation is hosting a public showing of the movie Fireproof, complete with all the resources available afterword. The movie kicks off the 8-week Marriage Dynamics course that we've been offering twice a year the past few years. Meanwhile, we're a couple of weeks into the Financial Peace workshop done by Dave Ramsey.

Once upon a time, I'd hear criticism of the closed-mindedness of our fellowship of churches and the monopoly we thought we held on spiritual truths. A common statement would be something like, "I hear you guys are only allowed to read books written by other members of your church." While that was never literally true (at least since I've been faithful), there was a point. You didn't dare bring in another ministry, offer a different point of view, or even reference a pastor/bishop/deacon from another church. Though we isolated ourselves on a spiritual island, my best material as a first-time Bible Talk leader came from sermons I heard on the radio.

In the past few years however, we've begun to open ourselves up to the fact that maybe we aren't the only ones who might know a thing or two about spirituality and discipleship. Congregations have studied The Purpose Driven Life together while leaders studied Leading Life-Changing Small Groups from Willow Creek. The Los Angeles Church of Christ hosted a "Men in White" retreat that spawned men's purity groups based on Every Man's Battle. Many congregations have done financial courses through Crown Financial Ministries, and I already mentioned the Marriage Dynamics course that many churches have conducted.

Personally, I'm very encouraged by this despite the present undercurrent that seems to want to keep us on our own spiritual and doctrinal islands. (Cooperation does not have to equal conformity!) I'm a bibliophile, and I'll suck up any Christian resource I can get my hands on despite whatever theology is behind it. I hope we're mature enough to discern the truth based on our own Bible study ("Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11). And by the looks of these ministries, it appears our spiritual leadership agrees. Amen to that.