Friday, December 31, 2004

Essence of Essential 2

I do not like the question, "What is essential for salvation?"

#1 Problem: It is reductionistic. It's kind of like saying, "it's the least I could do," and meaning it. An intentional effort to reduce something into the very least one could do does not exactly jive with being in love with someone. I rememeber guys in college complaining about always having to pay for dates. OK, I was one of them. OK, I didn't date very much, but let's not talk about that. Anyway, if a guy approaches a girl and says, "so, what is the least I could do for you such that you will commit the rest of your life to bless me?" what do you think will happen? Alone forever is a long time.

#2 Problem: It is selfish. It smacks of what I can do for me. Brian Mclaren in his book A New Kind of Christian, talks about evangeliscals being too concerned wth getting the butts into Heaven. It's like this: You know the Tsunami is coming and you pass by 100 people who don't know anything about it just so you can get to safety. Then you either laugh at, condemn or feel sorry for these sorry souls who were too dumb to know about the oncoming tsunami. What you don't do serve them, talk with them, tell them about what is coming. Or you just yell at them for not getting to higher ground when they don't even know what you are talking about.

#3 Problem: It assumes the meaning of salvation. What this assumes is that salvation is a salvation from Hell. OK, yes, I'm not into going to Hell. But the way I don't get into Hell is to be saved from my sin. What's the difference? Hell is later and sin is now. I can be saved from my sin right now when I could just keep sinning and not experience Hell. Also, I am saved, at least in part, from the immediate consequences of sin. Not completely, but some what.

Anyway, I do not like the question, even though it seems to be a pivotal question from my family of faith and evangelicals in general.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Essence of Essential 1

Most evangelical groups have essentials for salvation - the things that must be there in order for one to be saved.

Baptism, communion, speaking in tongues, praying Jesus into your heart...etc. It all too often turns into a list - a list with with bullet point scriptures following each point.

It becomes the dogma that answers the question, "what must I do to be saved?" before it is even asked. Answers are fine, but not when the question is not even asked.

So, what is essential to salvation?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Happy Holidays

December Holidays

I’m not sure why so many holidays get log-jammed right here at the end of the year. Let’s see, we’ve got Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. And oh yeah, there is Ramadan too, although I never really know when it’s going to show up. I think it operates on the lunar calendar, which is a few days shorter than the “normal” calendar.

This December, I decided that I would learn a little bit more about these holidays so I could figure out which was the right December holiday to celebrate. Now, my lifelong practice has been Christmas. I’m a fan of the Christ-child. I like Mary a bunch, too. The star, the shepherds, the wise men – all good. I love Christmas, so it is going to be difficult for any other holiday to knock it off the top of the heap.

But in the spirit of exploration, let’s try out Hanukkah first. About one and a half centuries before Christ, Greek Syrians tried to take over the Jewish Temple. In fact, they tried to get the Jews to bow down to an idol and eat pig flesh. If you know anything about the Jewish people, worshiping idols and eating pork products are not high on their religious to do list. A Jewish revolt was unleashed on the Greeks. This revolt was lead by Mattathias and then carried on by his son Judah Macabbee. After three years of fighting, they reclaimed their Temple and went to rededicate it. Many Jews martyred themselves for the cause. Part of their rededication was lighting the menorah. They had only enough oil for one night, but it burned for eight nights. A miracle.

Hey, not a bad holiday. Heroes of faith. A miracle. You know, I wonder if Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. He would have known the story. He was Jewish. Hmmm.

Moving along, let’s try out Kwanzaa. This one is touted as a non-religious, African-American holiday. Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966 after the Watt’s Riots. Kwanzaa means “first fruits,” in Swahili. Hey, that almost sounds religious since I first heard of the term “first fruits” in the Old Testament. Any way, there are seven principles that serve as the foundation of Kwanzaa: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. I understand the origins of Kwanzaa being rooted in African-American culture, but I do not see anything about the seven principles that are exclusively African-American. When my marriage, family, church, community, nation, world follow these principles, each of these is better off for it.

Another not bad holiday. Healthy principles for living. A positive response to something negative. I wonder if Jesus would celebrate Kwanzaa if He were walking the planet today.

Let’s try one more holiday. According to (the first result when I Googled), Ramadan is a holy month of fasting wherein Muslims, who are physically able to refrain, do not eat, drink, smoke or engage in sexual activity, from the first sign of dawn until sunset. This month is a time for spiritual reflection and discipline. Pious adherents remember past sins. They express gratitude to God for his guidance. Many read through the entire Qur'an during this month. The traditional Arabic greeting for Ramadan is "Ramadan Mubarak," meaning “may God give you a blessed month". Response is "Ramadan Karim,” meaning "May God give you a generous month.”

Ramadan is a pretty decent holiday. Fasting is good…I’ve heard. Spiritual reflection and discipline can’t be all bad. Showing appreciation to God for guidance – again, not too shabby. This is not such a bad holiday. Now, I’m not likely to cuddle up with a copy of the Qur’an night after night for a month, but I might bust out my own sacred book for some reflection.

All of these holidays bunched up at the end of the years can be troublesome for people. I know of a lot of people who want just Christmas. I wonder if rather than doing the annual holiday bashing that I hear so much of, we can embrace the embraceable from any of the holidays that appear on our radar during December, or any other month.

Christmas is still on the top of my list. At the same time, these other holidays are not without merit. There is good to be drawn from each of them even if you are not African-American, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The problem that reveals the problem

Problem Posted by Hello

What if a couple had the problem of not being able to solve a problem, but was never confronted with a problem? Do they have a problem?

Well, this is a common reality for couples, more specifically, newly married couples. They are awash in feelings of happiness and excitement. It is beyond their imagination that anything could ever go wrong.

However, when money gets tight, when holiday plans don't mesh, when the first baby shows up, when _____________ happens, the problem solving deficit is exposed. Then there is a double-crisis.

Not only is there a problem, but there is no clear process to follow in order to solve it. The problem-solving deficit is the biggest problem, but it is not typically addressed because the crisis of "the problem" gets all of the attention.

So, the attempted solutions to the problem only serve to make the problem worse. The couple seeks to solve the problem as two distinct individuals, not one couple. This distinction is not merely semantics. Two individuals can pull a rope, but it will be a tug-o-war. A couple can pull a rope and move a huge object.

Although it isn't sexy and it doesn't have racing stripes, couples should figure out how they are going to solve problems before they have problems. It is their only chance for problems to pull them together rather than pull them apart.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Dads don't babysit

Scared of the baby Posted by Hello

When a mother takes care of her children, she is referred to as being a mother. But when a dad takes care of his children, he is all to often spoken of as babysitting (and let's be honest, women are just a guilty of this language as men are).

NO! The dad spending time with his children is being a father. Dads of the world unite! This babysitting thing has got to come to an end - the sooner the better.

You are babysitting if, and only if, you are taking care of somebody else's children. You can't babysit your own children anymore than your wife can.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Expansion of Ignorance

I believe it wise to prepare for the expansion of my ignorance. In anticipating this inevitability, I hope to starve disappointment.

The difference between overwhelming and mysterious is measured by the amount of control I insist on exercising over the situation.

Seeking to eliminate risk is a boogie-man factory.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wal-Mart Makes Me Stupid

Posted by Hello Posted by Hello
Here is a short-list of things I do not have to know because of Wal-Mart.
Feel free to add to it.

1. Where food comes from.
2. How to churn butter.
3. Sewing.
4. Woodworking.
5. Where other stores are located.
6. Where to go to buy Christmas gifts.
7. How to bargain hunt.
8. How many days there are until Christmas.
9. What season or holiday it will be in two months.
10. How to change my oil.
11. How to cook.
12. What to buy my children for school.

Freddy Krueger and the Emergent Church

Freddy Posted by Hello

I am reading a lot about the emergent church (and the people leading the charge) these days and I like what I read. These people are radical, unafraid, and determined. Mainly what I see are evangelical from various backgrounds trying deeply to de-evangelicalize themselves in church form and advance the Kingdom of God. Not a bad plan. What I also see are people struggling with that task because it is not like changing your shirt. I tend to think many of them thought it would be that easy. Rather, it takes a change of heart.

I know this from personal experience. I have been trying to quit being a Pharisee for just over a decade and I can't quite pull it off.

My faith walk began in a conservative (rigid) evangelical church. Right and wrong were the sum of spiritual formation and when you got the "right" answers, then you were good to go.

When I was about 17, I was introduced to grace. I mean more than a word with a definition. I learned it as a reality for my life. It applied...Abundantly. It took several years to believe it, but I now believe it to the extent I believe I am capable - which leaves lots more room for growth on that front, but at the same time, I am lightyears away from where I was.

I was 24 or so when I began to really believe that not only can God move in mysterious supernatural ways, but that he does. That was really exciting.

I later learned that he does not just whip up a miracle at my command. That was a little less exciting.

In 1996, I found the perfect church, free from all of the baggage of my church past.

In 1997, that church spilt in a bitter and disgusting abuse of power and is no longer in existence. I had to learn forgiveness on the giving end this time. It was hard work, especially when the people who need forgiveness think you are the one who needs it. Yeeeeeeouch!

Over the course of these years, I found myself becoming less and less of a Pharisee with my judgments, addiction to being right, condescending attitude, and all of the great traits that bundle together to make a terrific Pharisee. I came to detest the Pharisees. I learned how to detect a Pharisee from a mile a way.

Then I looked in the mirror and realized that I was using the same old tricks. The only difference was my target. Instead of judging sinners, I was judging Pharisees.

I was disgusted and humiliated because I just knew I had killed that Pharisee in me. Nope. Just like Freddy Krueger, he looked dead, but then haunted me again.

Friends, I can't kill that stupid Freddy Krueger Pharisee in me. He keeps reinventing himself.

When I hear this exciting conversation about the emergent church turning into a movement of church planting new kinds of churches that younger people (and some older) would see as genuine and authentic, it stirs up something good inside me. However, it also stirs up some caution. I have been guilty of churcholatry in the past. I know I still have a staggering and stammering Freddy in me that just won't die. I wonder if there are Freddy's in this movement as well.

I hope these emergent people take it really fast and really slow at the same time. Fast to seek change for the better; slow to believe they have it. In fact, I hope they never find what they are looking for. I fear that when they do, Freddy will show up and wreak all kinds of havoc. When they arrive, they will risk losing all of the humility it took to get them there.

I have a feeling the 1st century church never had the idea that they "had it." The ones that did usually got a letter from Paul taking them to task for it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Divorce & Remarriage: Watch Your Step

Did you know that the divorce rate in America is 45%? Yes, of course you did.
Did you know that the remarriage (with children) divorce rate has been reported to be nearly 60%? Maybe you did. Did you know that stat is wrong? Aha, got you there.

Here is the low down. Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington is one of the most respected scholars in the study of divroce (which frankly sounds like a very depressing topic to study, but someone has to do it). Hetherington states that when 1 person brings a child into a remarriage (a "simple" stepfamily), the divorce rate is about 65%. When both bring in children into the remarriage (a "complex" stepfamily) the divorce rate is over 70%.

You got about a 3 in 10 shot of staying married. You have even less of a chance of being happily married.

Now before you get all cranky about what I am saying, I am the child of divorce and I know what it is like. My mother remarried a terrific man and they are one of the very few happily married. I like that when it happens. At the same time, it took her about a decade to be ready to marry again, and she waited until there were no more kids in her home or his. Most divorced people say they want to wait it out, but they do not.

Actually, they do, but they get married while waiting it out. Huh? Although on a legal level, sexual level, and sometimes on a financial level they remarry, on an emotional level, they do not remarry. They protect themselves from getting burned again. They do not trust first and then get married, they get married and hope trust comes. Or they do a surface trust just so they can get married and then the real mistrust surfaces later.

Sadly, when mistakes are made and their expectations are not met...when they see one familiar thing from the past, their temptation is to say, "I have seen this before and I'm not going to let it happen again." The rush to divorce court in a second marriage is triggered far more easily than in a first marriage.

Strange as it might sound, the things remarried people do to prevent another failed marriage is the very thing one might do if they wanted to end the marriage. Mistrust, split loyalties, fear, and all kinds of things muddle remarriages.

My advice, if you are divorced, marriage is not the answer to you question. I'm not saying don't remarry, but I am saying it is not the answer to your question. And my further advice is WAIT!!!! I don't care how many books you've read, YOU DON"T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING INTO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let wisdom guide you rather than excitement, denial, fear or desperation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Grabbing Oil

You can't grab oil. To touch it is to lose it. Posted by Hello

Grabbing Oil

I am a marriage and family therapist. I work at the Better Life Counseling Center. I love my job. I get to listen to people share their deepest pain, their most intimate knowledge, their struggles...and I get to try to help them. Sometimes I am helpful and sometimes I am not. Either way, I see what happens from an extremely close view because I have the best seats in the house.The most common question I hear about my job is, "How do you do that? How do you sit and listen to people's problems all day long?"I guess I am a chronically hopeful person. I believe something good can happen. And if a person is hurting so bad that they need to see a counselor, I very much respect that they are experiencing pain I do not know of. I try to learn of their pain the best I can. I seek to enter their world. Sometimes I get close and sometimes I get lost.I do get to see a lot of good, a lot of healing, a lot of reconciliation happen right before my eyes. I applaud my clients who do this. They are the heros - not me. I can speak, but only they can do. I can make metaphors, but the make changes. I can console, but they can heal.What is hardest about my job is not that I listen to people's problems. No, problems are ripe with potential for good to happen. I am all for listening to problems. What is hardest is a day like today, when I received a letter from a former client. It ended in dovrce. It breaks my heart when healing to marriages and individuals does not comes. When they come to me for help and all I seem to be able to do assist in things getting worse. All of efforts, experience, training, time are not enough to help.I understand when they want to blame me for their marriage falling apart. I want to save them all. I would if I could. Sometimes I feel like I'm grabbing oil. It just keeps slipping through my fingers and make a big mess.My prayer is that I will serve the people who come to me for help with authenticity, skill, and compassion.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I Hate Satan!

When I see good people get hit with knock out blows, it drives me mad. When I say good people, I mean humble, honest, sincere, genuine people. I know a few of them. They are not out for gain of their own, they give out of their poverty, they believe not just in God, but they believe God. So, when people like this are ambushed with evil, I get mad!!!

I hate Satan, especially when it seems he/she/it (whatever Satan is) is winning. Isn't there anything that can protect people from the rage and viciousness of the Evil One? Just when all the ducks are in a row, Satan shows up in camoflauge and blows them away with a shotgun. Evil enters from a surprise trap door and starts mowing down everything good.
Where is the justice!!!!? Yes, all have sinned and fallen short, but the Comforter has come. The justice that grace provides is the justice I am talking about. Why does Satan have any say so in a person's life who has given himself of herself to God? It makes me want to draw my sword!!!

The only thing I find that is acceptable about these situations is that though these people are beaten, bruised, and burned, they are not buried (at least their spirit is not buried). There is something inside them that, through the tears, fear, pain, and anxiety, they get back up. How do they do it?

I have to believe that God looks in their hearts and knows something that even they do not know. Or maybe God is not so much looking into their heart as much as He is looking out from it, since He's taken up a steady residence there.

I believe that God takes everything Satan does and stands on top of it, ending in God being exalted all the more. I like it when God is exalted. My problem comes before the exalted part. Perhaps my faith is so small that I get swept up in the moment, feeling helpless at the carnage to really have the confidence that something good is going to happen.

I believe; help my unbelief.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Good Clean Fun

When those crazy members of the Indiana Pacers, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson jumped up into the stands and started knocking out those crazy fans, I just could not believe it. Sure, an elbow here and there is going to happen between players. And yes, an occasional shove in the lane is bound to occur. Okay, the bench clears every now and again for an I’m-gonna-get-all-up-in-your-face fracas that amounts to nothing but highlight clips. But all of that is between players.

The interaction between players and fans has always run off of a different set of rules. There is an invisible wall between the court and the stands.
Sure, there are always going to be hecklers in the crowd – it’s part of the game (not a pretty part, but a part nonetheless). In fact, I recall as a teenager heckling Jose Canseco from the left field seats. "My mom could play left field better than you." I’m sure that one got him a good one. And then when a fly ball came his way, there was, "you couldn’t catch a cold, Canseco." Again, piercing his ego, my words reduced him to a mound of warbling flesh. And then there was the ever popular (when I couldn’t think of anything else to say), "Canseco, you suck." I think it was on the fiftieth repeat of this mantra that I got his nonverbal that I was #1. Not bad on his part, it took seven innings of heckling and three strike-outs to get a rise out of him.

Looking back it is kind of embarrassing, but I figured it like this: He wasn’t a person, he was a baseball player. He wasn’t a human being with feelings, a family, and a life off the field; he was a player on the Oakland A’s. Truth is, besides his batting average and his ability hit homers, I knew nothing about him. He was a threat to my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, and that was all the reason I needed to unload all kinds of verbal poison onto him. He was a punching bag, not a person.
On the contrary, he knew that I was all talk. I wasn’t a person to him either, I was a fan. It was an unwritten rule that we were not people to each other. We were the roles we played, not the people we were. Although this kind of relationship was not healthy, with the protection of the invisible wall, it at least had the feel of being harmless.
The boys of the Indiana Pacers changed all of that last week. When they went up into the crowd, the relationship between fan and player went from harmless mutual dislike to criminal behavior. The invisible wall is gone.

I believe this outbreak of violence is the result of the confluence of several things. First, when a fan pays over one hundred dollars for a seat and twenty dollars for two dollars worth of food, he feels entitled to some say so about how to game is going to go. Second, when players "earn" millions of dollars per year to play basketball, it is easy for them to feel entitled to some r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Third, anyone who downs half a dozen beers in a public place is bound to degrade into an idiot. Fourth, professional sports (the NBA being the worst offender) has opted to tap into the hip-hop, gangsta rap, street tough, Snoop Doggy Dog image which promotes idol worship. Fifth, extremely gifted athletes get special treatment at a young age in order to "nurture their gift." Responsibility to help them achieve in their sport trumps responsibility in just about every other area of life. Sixth, culturally we have degraded such that being labeled unsportsmenlike is no big deal. It’s like being called grumpy – although it is not desired, it is no deterrent either. Seventh, when parents of school age children feel compelled to beat up referees and other parents when the game does not go in favor of their child, the children are taught that violence is the path to success. Eighth, winning is exalted and winners are worshipped.

Although I could go on and on, aren’t you glad I’m stopping there? What I want is an image of sports which reminds us of good, clean, fun. Where did that go? Competition is fine, a beautiful thing when it’s value is understood. Winning is not the point – it’s just something that happens. It is even acceptable to want to win and celebrate victories, but when winning becomes the point, everyone loses.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Mad as a Wet Hen

"Mad as a wet hen." My mother's terminology to describe someone's anger who was crazy mad. So mad, in fact, that there was no telling what that person would do any more than predicting the next move of hen who had been doused with a large abundance of water. Not that I could ever figure out what a dry hen was going to do next, but I think that the point was a wet hen was not merely unpredictable, but potentially violent.

Frankly, my experience with wet cats deserves a mention here. I remember trying to put my cat in the toilet as a kid. I tried it once. That cuddly, cute, purring, little sweet thing turned on me with an unmatchable viciousness.

Most people think cats don't like water because of how it makes them feel. Frankly, I believe it has to do with how it makes them look. Have you ever seen a totally drenched cat? I dare you to find something more pathetic. The vanity of cats will drive them to violence in order to avoid too much water.

Well, today, I am mad as a wet hen (cat). It's a long story and I won't get into it, but the main point is that I have been done wrong and will be "handcuffed" by the powers that be for a while. Grrr!!!!!!!!!!! By the way, if you are trying to guess why I am mad, just stop. You won't figure it out. I will give you this: It is not in any way family related, house related and I still work at my same job.

Monday, December 06, 2004

What if...

What if there were no church buildings? Boom, they all vanish in an instant! Gone!

What would happen to the church? I bet people would find a way to be together.

Better yet (better?), what would happen if all churches sold their assets - everything - and began renting only as needed?

300,000 churches times $250,000 in assets is what?

75 billion. I am certain to have underestimated this amount. I don't know how many churches there are or what they own.

How many poor could be served with that kind of money? How many houses built? How many missionaries sent? How many churches planted? How many ______________? Yeah, you get the point.

For 300 years, the church did pretty well without buildings. Since buildings were introduced, the money of the church has been absorbed into them far more than money has gone to help the poor.

I'm not a militant anti-church building guy, but looking at the numbers (whatever they really are) is almost obscene.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Perpetual Clay

Is there anything in life that sits outside the realm of spiritual formation? Sure, reading my Bible or praying are included, spiritual expereicnes are a part as well. Church meetings? Sure, when my head and heart are in it. Service to the poor? Yeah. Probably should do some more of that.

But what about when I am driving? Oh yeah, K-LOVE...Chrisitan radio. Whew. Still got some spiritual formation there. But what about if I am listening to Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh or National Public Radio? What about when I am going to the bathroom, shopping, reading a novel, wathcing TV? How can spiritual formation be happening then if I am not intentionally and overtly doing something Christian?

Here is an axiom of spiritual formation: You cannot avoid spiritual formation. So much is said about spiritual formation from the side of positive spiritual formation that negative spiritual formation gets lost in the shuffle. Every experience is an exercise in spiritual formation. I am influenced by everything I experience.

Now, the same stimulus may be a different experience for different people. For example, when my wife and I watched the movie, "Runaway Bride," she was watching a romantic comedy. I was watching a story which reveals the systemic nature of the interactional dynamics of a family and community on an individual which guide her choices and the second order change which was required for her to break free from the system. (And it was a cute movie). We had exact same stimulus, but very different experiences.

So, spiritual formation is not merely doing something, it is an interpretation of what is being done, witnessed, or experienced. Some people read the bible to gain knowledge while others read it to see themselves, while others read it to pass the test...and on and on and on. Yes, it is what you do or experience, but it is also how you experience it.

Some people have never seen a trace of God anywhere while others cannot go anywhere without finding him there. Both people are being spiritually formed. The question is: In direction are they spiritually formed? Toward God or away from God?

So when one person sees "The Matrix" as a brilliant allegory to the spiritual walk, it means something altogether different than the person who watches because he thinks Trinity is a hottie decked out in leather.

Our spiritual formation is in perpetual motion and we cannot avoid it. We cannot avoid being clay either. We are shapable, moldable, and influencible (I think I made that last one up, but you get my point).

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dallas Willard Bends My Mind Straight

I am plodding, and I mean really plodding through "The Divine Conspiracy," by Dallas Willard.

The church (more pointedly, me) in large measure practices the gospel of sin management. It seems that no matter which direction I try to take myself, I am merely managing sin rather see, I can't even finish the sentence. Churches are structures set up seemingly to create systems by which sin (or consequences thereof) are managed.

Is this what we are called to in the Christian life? Is this a life of abundance - manage sin until we die? Good grief. No wonder so many people take a peek at the church, shrug, and walk away (disappear out the back door, church hop, or turn bitter against it).

I want a way of life that is free, pure, healthy, and good. I want to be transformed into something better than I am, not just appear better becasue I have acces to some really slick spiritual cosmetics.