Friday, September 30, 2011

Flashback Friday: Perfect Church?

***Originally posted a year ago when I was doing a book club on Michael Spencer's book, Mere Churchianity. I warn you in advance, this is a long one.***

I've been on board with Michael Spencer through eight chapters of Mere Churchianity and I've enjoyed every part of the ride. But I had to get off the train at chapter 9 (though I'm going to jump right back on at 10). In chapter 8, Accepting the Real Jesus, Michael drew a line in the sand delineating the Church consisting of disciples of Jesus and the institutional, religious church filled with Christians. But it seems as though in this chapter he forgot the line was there.

I agree with Michael that you cannot keep "church shopping" hoping to find the perfect church because you never will. I also agree that many people's spiritual journey to be Jesus Shaped will lead them "out of the church as they have known and experienced it." (pp 109) I can personally testify that this can be the case. In fact, I do believe there is a perfect church worth going after. But I do not believe everyone Michael describes in this chapter has found it.

Let's begin with the perfect church. What does it look like? Michael listed several flavors of church he experienced trying to find it. Someone commented yesterday that it would be great if we could combine each of these into one. I've always felt that the perfect church would have the reverence of the Catholic/Orthodox church, the worship of an AME church, the emphasis on Biblical survey of the Calvary Chapel, the outreach of a foreign mission, and the doctrine (personal bias) of the Restoration Movement. But I haven't found that yet, and I don't think I ever will. But that does not mean I cannot create it.

You can browse the titles of Christian books, search the themes of Christian bloggers, and find the most followed Christian tweeters and it won't take long to notice that many are on the same quest to find the elusive perfect church. There was a push not long ago to "restore the First Century Church" even though that is not described in the Bible. The best we have to go on are the sparse writings of the Early Church Fathers and the Didache. Right now we see the "Acts 29 Church", or as I like to say "the next chapter". Catchy name. I pray they are successful in creating authentic community and a Jesus Shaped church. I've also seen "the Acts 2:42 Church", but there is very little written in the New Testament, and even less in the book of Acts, for "what" this perfect church should look like outside of a few anecdotal examples.

But there is plenty written on "how" this perfect church should function. For the sake of our discussion, I'm going to stick with Ephesians 4. Here Paul gives an outline of how Christ's church should grow up in unity. (And remember that Jesus prayed for unity amongst His believers the night before he was betrayed.) First, the perfect church is up to us. "[L]ive a life worthy... be completely humble and gentle...bearing with one another... make every effort to keep the unity..." (v 1-3) And later, "to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it... It was he who gave some to be... to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (v 7, 11-13) In other words, the perfect church is up to us, doing our part, "From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (v 16, emphasis added)

Of course, we are all human. Our pride and selfish ambitions will get in the way of what Paul describes above. Over time religiosity, legalism, and false-doctrine will set in. And the church we thought we were a part of will become unrecognizable. But, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." (1 Peter 1:24-25) We can always turn back to the Word and return to what is right. I do believe that in this sense, the Church is undergoing constant revival as each generation comes to it seeking to be Jesus Shaped.

But the description above isn't the approach Michael Spencer takes. Instead he takes an ecumenical broad-brush and (practically) declares that everyone who is doing good work in Jesus' name is part of this true church. Yet Jesus himself said, "not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." And it continues, "only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21) This is consistent with what Michael wrote in chapter 8, but appears to abandon here. It is also interesting that when Michael declares "There are thousands of Christians where I live. They express their faith through how they serve…" (pp 111), he then lists off several brand-names of churches as if they are all equal. But he does not mention the Mormon Church. I would expect that many Christians, and most Evangelicals, would not consider the Mormon Church to be Christians, yet I challenge you to find any group as focused on their communities and on their families as this church. According to Michael's description of the "true church" in this chapter, they have to be included in the discussion. Unless he applies an unwritten doctrinal line.

There is a written line in Ephesians 4. "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (v 4-6) Which brings us to the "One Church".

This is a dangerous doctrine. Not because it is unbiblical, but because of our human nature to corrupt everything we are a part of. The Restoration Movement began when a Reformed Baptist and a Presbyterian got together, examined their doctrines in light of Scripture, and chose to go another way. They strived for One Church, unifying the divisive denominationalism that still exists today. Because of the emphasis on One True Church being defined solely on Scripture, the church they founded, the Churches of Christ, have been turbulent with division ever since. I think the Scripture says this, you think that, therefore we cannot agree and you are no longer part of "my" One True Church. Yet Paul said he doesn't care  so long as the Gospel is being preached and Jesus said no one can do a miracle in his name one minute and curse his name the next. You see the slippery slope?

So what does that mean for you and me and our quest for a Jesus Shaped church? First, we have to look to the Word of God to measure the state of our church, not our feelings, not the latest bestseller on church growth, and absolutely not traditions. Next, we have to examine ourselves by the same standard. Are we "doing are part" as Ephesians 4 instructs? Finally, and this goes back to the thrust of Mere Churchianity, we need to keep Jesus as our focus.

Is there a perfect church out there? With our sinful nature, sadly not until Jesus returns to claim His Kingdom. Is there a Jesus Shaped church out there? There are likely many and as Michael describes, there is no shortage of people striving towards it. Is there One True Church? Yes there is, and it is defined by God's own Word, not by the walls we construct. I pray one day we can worship there together.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not Just Lip Service

So I've been ranting and raving the last couple of weeks about how we define "church" and what a strong church looks like and should be doing. I'm not going to add anything today other than highlight a couple stories that got my attention this week.

First comes a story of a church giving back, literally. Last Sunday Liquid Church in New Jersey gave out $30,000 from their own coffers during their regular weekly contribution. Given current events and the economic climate, I struggle to ask for money at my own church. Yes, we need to pay the bills too (I'm the outgoing Board President so I watch this more closely than most others) but would it really be the end of the world if we couldn't pay for our luxurious (by some standards) building and had to meet, like the church in the article, in hotel conference rooms in order to instead give out from our reserves to meet the impoverished needs in our congregation and community? I've written about this before and how it reminds me of the ministry of Kingdom Assignment. I wrote in 2009 that I'd love for my own congregation to do something similar. Two years later I see little chance of that.

The second story is about the ongoing debate in the missional movement. I've argued in my own circle of influence that if Jesus isn't the center of community outreach then it is just community service. The argument goes that being "missional" is the latest trend, and many churches are jumping on the bandwagon in the name of social justice and leaving the Gospel behind. Here are some great blog posts the dig into this debate.

So that's them. What about you? What are you, or your church doing to share the Gospel uniquely? I am personally wrestling with this myself, so inspire me with your stories!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is This Really Church?

To continue a theme... actually watching this video a few months ago got my wheels turning on this whole thing. Here is Francis Chan, from 2009, asking his own congregation "is this really church?" The premise is that if you were stranded on a desert island with only the Bible and no other religious influence and you were inspired to start a church, would it look like the church you presently attend?

This is a long video so I recommend letting it load before watching. After the opening video spot, skip ahead to the 22 minute mark where the sermon really begins.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What is the Perfect Church

To continue my rants and raves from last week on the big-c Church, I want to follow up on Friday's post asking us to identify our strengths and weaknesses. What makes a perfect church? Do we need every attribute Ed Setzer describes in the Transformational Church? How about every characteristic in Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church? What if we modeled every feature in every book on how to do-it-yourself, fix-er-up church? It would be overwhelming. In fact, I bet if you went into your local Christian bookstore, or even to the faith & spirituality section of Barnes & Noble, you could close your eyes, throw a dart at the books, and likely hit a book either complaining about the state of the church or offering ways to make it better, bigger, more seeker-friendly, more missional, more somethingorother...

No, let's simplify. What does every church need? This is off the top of my head and isn't all-inclusive, but I think it's a good starting point for discussion:
  • Reverence of God the Father
  • Reliance on the Holy Spirit
  • Discipleship of Jesus the Son (sorry, I tried really hard to find another "R" but the only synonym I could find was "rooter" but I didn't like the ring of that)
That looks obvious, so let's get more specific:
  • Takes sin seriously (really, I'm serious)
  • Holy, set apart from the world (not the same as removing ourselves from the world in something like a commune, but separate from the world's values)
  • Evangelistic
  • Serving, both inside the church and out
  • So Missional and Benevolent
  • Worshipful (This could mean a lot of things to a lot of people, so I'll leave this open-ended)
  • Teaches ("For the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" Paraphrasing 1 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • Relational (your relationships in your church fellowship actually mean something)
  • Prayerful (any prayer warriors in your fellowship?)
  • Faithful (no duh, but how many of us actually are?)
  • Loving
  • United
  • Global (not just world missions, but with the attitude in your heart that we are to go make disciples of "all nations")
Again, this may be simplistic. But what I've found is that churches that excel in one or two of these neglect the others. There is an ongoing debate right now amongst missional churches remaining Christ-centered and not just "doing mission" because that's the latest fad. Churches that are strong in fellowship may be weak in calling one another to account for sin. I've seen churches that emphasize evangelism on the standard of the Great Commission, but neglect the rest of the command to "teach them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you". I've seen churches emphasize one another accountability, but lack love. I guess the bottom line is that I have yet to see a single church excell in every one of these.

Maybe it's not realistic to expect. We are all sinners saved by grace after all. And churches are man-made institutions that will always be imperfect by their very nature. Then again, isn't the Church Christ's bride? And doesn't Paul instruct husbands to imitate Christ "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her [the Church] to himself [Christ] as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless"? (Ephesians 5:26-27) Aren't we to present Christ's bride perfect?

So we fall short. We identify a weakness and have a "campaign" to correct it, meanwhile neglecting what made our church strong to begin with. No one single church program can cover all of these bases. But only a church culture, where "every part does its work" (Ephesians 4:16) and every person strives to be Christlike in every area of their lives (prayer, worship, service...) can truly capture the fullness of Christ. Christ's bride is not a church defined by walls, staff, or programs. But rather by people, each striving to apply their unique spiritual gifts passionately for the Glory of God in the Name of Jesus. Then, when they come together in unity, can we finally see a "church" as described above.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Flashback Friday: What Are Your Church's Strengths?

***Originally posted 8/30/10. Reposted to fit in my present series on the church.***

I'm reading Transformational Church by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer as a compliment to my reading of Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity. Chapter two introduces the "Transformational Loop" of properties present in Transformational Churches. It is a loop because each area feeds into another and no one property can stand alone in a strong, transformational church. The areas are Discern, Embrace, and Engage and the properties present are a Missionary Mentality, Vibrant Leadership, Relational Intensity, Prayerful Dependence, Worship, Community, and Mission.

Reading through the description of each of these, it quickly became clear where my fellowship is strong and where it falls short. The recommendation for a stagnant church to become a transformational church is to identify your strengths and use them to build the other properties. For example, if your strength is worship, use that to build community, and so on.

I've been wrestling for some time with why things don't seem to be clicking in my fellowship. We have our strengths and weaknesses just like any other congregation. And I don't expect us to be perfect. But I just get the feeling that a piece is (or pieces are) missing. This loop helps me to identify what we need to build on and grow in.

My fellowship's strengths are mission and community. We have a strong evangelistic focus, taking on the mission of Jesus to "seek and save the lost." We build community through small groups for accountability, personal growth, and to facilitate evangelistic activities. These communities forge life-long relationships.

However these strengths ebb and flow. We take our strengths for granted and grow complacent. I believe this is because our strengths do not have deep roots and this loop bares that out. We are strong in mission, but lack a missionary mentality. We are strong in community but lack relational intensity. So our strengths are what we do, not who we are.

I am also convicted personally because I lack in prayerful dependence. I'm not a prayer warrior, though I need to grow in my prayer life. But I look around and I don't see many prayer warriors around me either. I admired an Elder we had who would pray "without ceasing." Ask him a question and he would pause, consider it, and then pray about it. Without fail, every question. But I don't see that as my church's culture.

I also admire one of my best friends who is strong in worship. He lives it, studies it, and teaches it but being worshipful has only rubbed off on a few. And our Sunday services are better for it!

So the pieces are there to build, despite my negativity. I'm sure if I looked around I could find individuals who are strong in one or more of these properties. The trick however is spreading those strengths through the congregation until it becomes part of its culture.

Given that background, what would you say are your church's strengths?

What are your strengths and do they feed into your church's?

Would you describe your church as "transformational"?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shallow Bubbles

These videos were shared recently in church and I want to share them here. We need to be on guard that our church culture doesn't slip into either of these extremes- either shallow and superficial relationships, or closed off and hyper-religious. Videos (c)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Parable of the Boathouse

This can be Googled as "the Parable of the Lighthouse" or the "Parable of the Lifesaving Station". Some attribute it to Theodore Wedel dating back to 1953, others attribute it to "author unknown" but adapted by Steve Rudd. And it also is a sample sermon in several guides and even published by Youth Specialties periodical Ideas. I heard this in a sermon years ago and have adapted it as I recall it being told- hence the change from Life-Saving Station to Boathouse. Either way, it is just as relevant today as it was when I heard it and as it was whenever it was written.


There was once a bay that was very popular amongst sailors. But it had dangerous, rocky shores. Yet because of its captivating beauty, many would sail in, only to meet their fate at the jagged rocks.

The most experienced sailors were saddened by this regular occurrence, but then boasted how they were able to navigate the treacherous waters. But then a young sailor came to the bay and asked to be taught how to sail through the dangerous bay. Teaching someone else their secrets never occurred to the old sailors, but one wise old sailor invested his time and his knowledge into this young seafarer.

As the young sailor learned, the wise old sailor also learned that he liked to teach. So he invited others to come learn the secrets of the rocky bay. Now this wasn't popular with the other old sailors who wanted to protect the knowledge they learned the hard way, but it was very popular with younger sailors who had always wanted to visit this bay but were afraid to.

What once was measured by numerous tragedies was now measured by the number of lives saved. As the number of students grew, more and more people started to sail in and out of this bay. So the wise old sailor decided to build a boathouse, from which he could teach other sailors how to navigate these waters and also teach them how to save the lives of other sailors who were less fortunate. The boathouse became a popular gathering place for the sailors. And as its popularity grew, amenities were added. Big-screen TVs. Pool tables. A fully stocked bar. And it became such a popular place that many came to the boathouse not to sail or to save lives at all, but simply to hang out.

Eventually, the wise old sailor passed away and left the boathouse to the first, now not so young, sailor he taught. But the young sailor didn't sail anymore. He was busy managing the boathouse making sure all his clientele were happy and well-fed and the boathouse continued to make money. Yet even though most who came to the boathouse didn't sail, the bay was still a popular attraction, as was the boathouse, so many still attempted to sail in.

When once the number of casualties from the rocky shore was almost zero, the sailors in the boathouse stopped noticing that number creep back up to where it used to be. More, in fact, because now people were sailing in just to visit the boathouse.

But as more and more sailors died in the treacherous bay, fewer and fewer people frequented the boathouse because some of these casualties were from their own number. As the casualties increased even further, people soon began to avoid the boathouse altogether because they were sad over so many lost friends. It wasn't long before no one came to the boathouse any more.

Today, people still sail in to the bay. Not for the boathouse, but for its natural beauty. Sadly, many of these sailors die in their attempt. More sad is the fact that there is no one left to teach them the secrets of the bay; the old sailors have all passed away and the young sailor had forgotten how to sail.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Strong Enough

"I can do all things through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13)

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (1 Corinthians 1:25)

"For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10b)

"You are my strength, I watch for you;
you, God, are my fortress
my God on whom I can rely...

I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
you, God, are my fortress
my God on whom I can rely." (Psalm 59:9-10, 16-17)

And for backstory...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flashback Friday: When is it OK to Walk Away?

***Originally posted a year ago while doing a group book discussion on Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity. It is my most spammed post (still today) so I figured I'd clean it up, update it some and repost. Plus it's a good lead-in to some posts I'm hoping to get up next week.***

[A year ago] Pope Benedict XVI visited Great Britain for the first Papal visit in centuries and in the face of the ongoing child abuse scandal. Some demonstrators were so bold as to say that the Catholic Church "murdered" their souls. Despite this, they still identified themselves as Catholic: "I am a Catholic, but my faith is in God, not in those church officials who have covered this up," one of the demonstrators said. Valid point, but why stay committed to that church?

At the same time, we have the audience Michael Spencer is writing to in Mere Churchianity; those who have left their churches and in some cases Christianity altogether because of abuse, hypocrisy, luke-warmness, and countless other reasons. Last week, I listed some specific examples. Each of these had valid reasons to leave, but I think just as importantly, each have a valid reason to return: the church is not Christ and Michael continues to hammer this point as we continue through his book. [Important distinction here. The big-c church is the Body of Christ. When we try and make it anything else- biggest, showiest, best-selling, most entertaining, most seeker-friendly, most missional, most... it is no longer Christ, but a group of like-minded people. It might as well be a fraternity.]

Let us consider these "sins" of the church: abuse, hypocrisy, luke-warmness. You could add neglecting its mission, being polluted by the world's values or even other religions. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself shouting, "preach it brother!" recognize that this isn't anything new. In fact, these are the same claims Jesus himself brought against the church in Revelation. In other words, the Church has been screwing up since it was founded. Not that that makes it ok. In fact, Jesus had some very harsh words to those churches. So today we continue to re-vector our programs, our polity, our preaching to make sure our eyes are "fix[ed] on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

[At the same time, we cannot practice Christianity by ourselves. We can focus on Jesus all we want, but if we don't include others in our lives, we're not really modeling Jesus' life or instructions. The arguments that "my faith is personal, between me an God" or "I believe in Jesus, I don't need a church for that" are bad theology.]
Keep in mind, there are 51 "one another" instructions (some are more strongly worded as commands) to the Church found in the New Testament. Many of these cannot be followed outside of an authentic church community. One specifically, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25) Yes, you could argue that you can still have an authentic Christian community and not call it "church". But then I'd just turn around and call you a "house church". I guess whatever form it takes, we need each other for encouragement, for sharpening, for instruction, and for worship.

And this still doesn't address the countless numbers who have walked away from the Church for any and every reason.

Keeping in mind Jesus' own words to forgive not seven times, but "seven times seventy" times (Matthew 18:22) and to leave any offering to the Lord and first "be reconciled to your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24) yet "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." (Luke 17:2) Add to that Paul's instructions to "submit to every authority" (Romans 13:1 and also Hebrews 13:17) and to "not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way" (Romans 14:13, but really the whole chapter applies). And finally going back to Hebrews 10:25 above and the example of abused Catholics at the beginning of this post, [we see that the state of the Church is each of our own responsibility.

The onus is on us to live peacefully, to forgive, and to serve. Then, "as each part does its work" the Body of Christ is "built up in love" (Eph 4:16). This cannot happen if people walk away just because they don't like the children's Sunday School program, don't like the style of preaching or worship music, or don't get along with someone in particular.(To list extreme examples. To be fair, serious abuses of authority, tolerance of sin, and departures from the Word of God as the standard of belief are all valid reasons to walk away. The line isn't the same for everyone, but if everyone put into practice the above scriptures- including those in leadership- then we shouldn't have those problems.)]

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Conflict Continues

I interrupt my rantings and ravings about the state of the American Church (TM) to bring you some real news. (Actually my Internet being down all day yesterday helped, but I digress)

I could never do justice to all the tributes, prayers, responses and reflections on September 11 online. But I do want to call your attention to a couple of articles that tie in to what I wrote on Monday. First, the compilation of reflections on 9/11 and faith from The Washington Post's blog, On Faith. Also check out The Gospel Coalition's blog post on how the number of evangelical churches in New York has steadily grown since 9/11. Kinda contradicts my point on Monday, but I would argue the context is different (New York definitely has a different lingering effect than the rest of the country's religious landscape).

I also want to call your attention to the fact that some things have changed in a dramatic way for the worse. Prejudice and profiling have become the norm. And if you're Muslim, or even look "foreign", then you don't want to fly on 9/11 as Shoshana Hebshi learned and later blogged about. (warning on the second link, it is getting an insane amount of traffic since being linked to from most mainstream media so expect it to lock up your browser while it loads).

But that's still not all I want to call your attention to. My favorite Facebook post from 9/11 was this from a friend of mine:

"Ten years ago, I began this darkest of days in federal courts class discussing the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, today, I leave for Kabul to assemble the largest gatherings to discuss the Afghan Constitution. God be with all those souls lost that day! May we never forget."

Pretty cool, eh? His next post (after posting that he landed safely):

"major explosions in Kabul...half dozen, we are in a bunker in our office"

Then, almost 24 hours later:

"After nearly 22 hours, the attacks against Kabul are over. There is no question, however, it was the most extensive attack on Kabul the Taliban's fall in 2001. While we are lucky that the death toll wasn't higher, the psychological toll will be far worse and no matter what is said by certain generals, we are not winning."

Close your eyes for a moment and picture who might be writing these posts. Do you picture a soldier in fatigues, a lawyer in a business suit, or a politician shaking hands? What race do you suppose he is? Would you believe that these posts come from a Muslim whose family emigrated to the US from Pakistan decades ago?

I was going to link to this article back in April when Florida Pastor Terry Jones decided it was a worthwhile political and religious statement to burn a Koran, but chose against it. But in the wake of the anniversary of 9/11, the racial profiling since, and the risks to Hamid's life, I'm going to post it today. This was written by my friend, Hamid, and I believe is a must-read to provide context to the conflict that we only hear about in the news.

The full article is here. Here's an excerpt:

"Few Muslims quibble with the notion that the Qur’an is the word of God. Moreover, it is generally accepted that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad some fourteen centuries ago. While the Qur’an is found in book form today, it began as an oral tradition and hence, even to this day, millions of Muslims follow that tradition by memorizing lines from the original Arabic. Coincidently, the content of the Qur’an (which is about the size of the New Testament) largely remains a mystery to most believers since the original version is in sixth-century Arabic and more than 85 percent of Muslims today are not Arabic speakers. Moreover, even if one could begin to grapple with the Arabic, the Qur’an is filled with allusions, allegories, puns, and an unmatched poetic style. Consequently, Muslims will often turn to religious leaders to understand its content, leaders who often know little more than their fellow believers."

You often hear the straw man argument, if Islam is a religion of peace, why don't more Muslims speak out against terrorism? This is your answer right here. Just as the Catholic Church consolidated political and religious power by controlling distribution of the Gospel message (how many peasants in the Middle Ages could really speak Latin?), the fear-mongering political power in the Middle East controls the message.

I post these things not to open up political or religious debate, but hopefully to open your eyes to "the rest of the story" so to speak. The conflicts that led to 9/11 are ongoing still today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where Were You?

It will go down in conversational history like the assassination of JFK, man first walking on the moon, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. If you don't know how to start a conversation with someone but want to break the ice, simply ask "where were you on 9/11"?

Most of us were at work or on our way. At the time, I was waiting tables and had a late night shift the night before, so I was still in bed. My mom called to wake me up. I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV. When I did try and go out to grab a bite to eat, I saw that everyplace was closed.

There was a lot of fear that day. Would there be more planes? Would there be a "dirty bomb"? What would happen next?

So we vividly remember where we were that day. But do you remember where you were the day after? Alan Jackson's song, Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning" talks about donating blood, kneeling to pray, helping in a soup kitchen, aiding relief efforts, and so on. But that was the day after. Do you remember where you were on 9/12?

I ask because it wasn't 9/11 that changed everything, though it was the catalyst. It was 9/12. The day after. The next day where we had to decide how the events the day before would change how we lived our lives. I remember the night of the 12th. It seemed everyone was having candlelight vigils. There were special prayer services. There were rallies. And at each, people attended with a sense of unease and uncertainty. Some felt that if this meant an all-out World War-level conflict in the Middle East then we could very well be ushering in the end of the world.

It's like the saying, "today is the first day of the rest of your life." The 12th was the first day of the post-9/11 world. People who had stopped going to church returned. Faith came front and center in our national politics. We waved our flags a little higher and prayed a little deeper. Then the 13th, the 14th... But one year later, had anything really changed? Those who recommitted their lives to Christ were back home Sunday morning watching football. The faith-driven political divide deepened and antagonized many. Two years later were we better off? How about 10 years later? Can you honestly say you are living your life differently because of what happened 10 years ago? For the families of victims, for those serving in the military and their loved ones, and for those persecuted based only on their nationality or religion, yes their lives are very different today. But how about you? What is different for you?

I know you remember where you were on the 11th. But do you remember where you were on the 12th? Are you still there?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A "New" Gospel

There was a recent article in Oprah Magazine (no, I"m not a subscriber) about Hilton Kelley, a restaurateur in Port Arthur, Texas, and environmental activist. The blog Get Religion, called my attention to this story and both of us got hung up on the same point.

Of course there's a religious angle, Kelley partners with a neighboring church. So the article calls Kelley's efforts to warn about the environmental dangers of the local pollution and the oil industry in general a "new gospel". Get Religion takes issue with this statement as there's no other context given, especially noting that there's no other comments, pro or con, from other local churches on this issue. In addition, is it really fair to compare environmental activism to the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? To me, calling it a "new gospel" is just the journalist's way of adding a religious spin to the article for the sake of the religious spin and shouldn't be taken more seriously.

Or should it? One of the push-backs to Christianity is the notion that we know it all, that it's our way or the highway (to hell), that we're right and everyone else is wrong. The counter usually goes something like this, suppose you saw that a highway led to an unfinished bridge yet all the signs are up assuming it is finished and cars start driving by at 65 mph. Would it be arrogant to try and get the drivers' attention to tell them that the signs are wrong and that they are headed to their death? Is it prideful to try and save someone's life when you have evidence of disaster ahead?

In that context, maybe environmental activism is a new gospel, so to speak. No, it's not "Good News" to share that the air you're breathing is going to kill you. But neither is it good news to tell someone that their sinful lifestyle will lead to an eternity in Hell. The Good News is that it doesn't have to be this way.

This is where the Social Gospel walks a very fine line between political activism and genuinely spreading the Gospel. There are different types of activism under the Social Gospel umbrella- from Kelley, above, to the communal lifestyle of Shane Claiborne. Both can be looked at from a religious and politically conservative perspective with the simple reply, !@%# hippies. But it doesn't have to be so polarizing.

Activism can take many forms and many extremes. I've written before about the mission field right outside of our doors. Activism, the "social gospel", being "missional" can start right in front of you.

A couple events stick with me on this issue. Almost exactly one year ago, 14 year-old Dominique Peatry was shot and killed outside of a house party on Labor Day weekend. Normally, such a tragic event would be followed by rallies, maybe even a march on City Hall, usually led by local religious leaders. No such rally ever took place. The part that continues to grieve my soul is that the Wednesday prior we had a Midweek service at a park right around the corner from where she was killed and where she lived (two different places, same part of town) with the explicit purpose of spreading the Gospel in that part of the community that night. Instead, I heard most of my brothers and sisters complain about meeting on the "wrong side of town" and how they didn't feel safe letting their children play in the park because of the demographics present. The part that keeps me up at night is wondering if young Dominique was at the park that night and whether she either heard the Gospel, or was ignored because of our own prejudice.

The other event was a year before that during fire-season when a whole community was uprooted by fires surrounding their homes. They were relocated all around the area and one center was set up at a local high school two miles from our church building. They had to leave everything behind. It was late at night. They were tired and hungry in need of clothes, blankets, and food. What a great opportunity to serve! Instead we weren't prepared and were unable to rally any kind of support to a community in need just a couple of miles away.

You see, this new gospel doesn't have to be some liberal cause. It doesn't even have to be political. In fact, it isn't new at all. It is a very old Gospel. The only good news that really matters in the end.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Helicopter or Drone?

By now school is back in session for everyone. The last wave started either yesterday or today following the Labor Day holiday. My kids started last week. My wife, this week.

The first day of school is marked by parents taking extra pictures while frantically making sure their child has everything ready. A certain type of parent, the "helicopter parent", will even follow their child to school to make sure they get in the right classroom, get along with the right kids, and do all the "right" things. They watch to make sure Johnny isn't picked last when teams are drawn up for kickball and make sure Sally is called on first when she raises her hand in class.

The name, helicopter parent, comes from the image of these parents hovering over their children in every facet of their day. I want to add another type of parent to our nomenclature- the drone parent (more catchier than UAV parent, I think). This parent also hovers, but not as close. Like an un-piloted drone, they hover high up where they can't be seen, but are constantly on surveillance.

I admit, I'm a drone parent. We followed our children to school, took all the pictures, hugged each maybe just a little too long and watched as they went off to their class. But we didn't leave. We stood back and we watched. How would our son respond to his new teacher? Which of his best friends are back after the summer and will be in his class? Unlike helicopter parents, who have a reputation of control, drone parents simply stand back and watch and respond to the data they receive.

But even that is too much. Watching other parents drop their children off last week- some helicopter, some drone, some "bombers" (drop the kids off and fly away)- it occurred to us that it didn't matter how close we stayed or how much we watched. As other parents commented on which teacher was the best (and of course, their child had to be in that class) and which children were the worst, we realized that it all really doesn't matter. Yes, it is important that our children receive a quality education. Yes, there are certain kids and some demographics that are obstacles to learning. But we are not dropping off our children to never see them again. They may spend more of their waking hours at school, but it is ultimately at home where they will learn the most. One teacher or one bad apple child in the first grade will not change the ultimate fate of my child.

So the drone has to fly back to base. We have to let them go. We have to trust that God is in control.

Monday, September 05, 2011

All is Not Lost

I love videos from OK Go. This is their newest (not counting the recent Muppet video), a collaboration with the dance company Pilobolus. I admit to being a little creeped out by the body suits, but once they start as a kaleidoscope it becomes very cool.

And the theme of the song reminds me of David Crowder Band's video for their song SMS (Shine)- another labor-intensive video (see, I worked Labor Day in there somewhere!). Actually, I'd love to see a collaboration between the two bands. Unlikely, but the end-product would be worth it.