Thursday, January 28, 2010

Every Gift Is From Above... Except The iPad Of Course

As soon as Steve Jobs came on stage and the iPad was announced, the criticism came. I'm not talking about those who wanted more features on Apple's newest innovation (multitasking, flash-support, etc.). I will get to these folks later.

No, I am talking about those whose first public reaction was to slam those who were excited or even interested in the announcement. Now I am sure there was some serious coveting going on and certainly some idolatry but is that all? Is there any good going on at all? Must we be indifferent and point out the dangers to these kinds of cultural happenings to be righteous? Of course, we all know how much easier it is to see things wrongly. But if the Spirit is at work in the people of God - the Church - must we only assume the worst and then blog and tweet our judgement? Should we not assume that there are things worth celebrating that are not done by the Church? Can we not be very interested in technology and also be wary about how it will affect us? Must we only assume evil hearts that have not been changed so things are seen rightly?

I tend to think all the initial criticism should fall on those who are already mad about a product yet to be sold. Not one unit has sold and already there are people tweeting and blogging their frustrations about the iPad's limitations. Really, you're mad? These are the people who are seriously having idolatry issues. Being mad about the limitations of something you do not need is the height of arrogance. We should be much less apt to criticize those who stand in wonder at the beauty of a technological advance. There is a childlikeness in the excitement I enjoy seeing. And there is an adult pseudo-maturity that stands aloof and frowns upon those who are enjoying the moment. Or rolls its eyes in contempt. Give me the idolater any and every day.

Children? My son, Knox turned 4 a couple of days ago. His heart is an idol factory, as John Calvin said. These objects of worship manifest themselves in the form of helicopters, planes and rockets. Take one away? Crushed! But what kind of a Father would I be if I did not rejoice in his enjoyment of the gifts, made by unbelievers (in other countries) and get excited with him...knowing I will have to have some serious discussions with him about how he feels about his new toys? I don't want to be aloof and above his excitement. I want to play with him, with his toys.

When the Gutenberg Printing Press came on the scene in the middle of the 15th century I am sure there were detractors. But let's face it. Movable type?! Books will no longer be handwritten? Certainly this was a reason to get wildly excited and interested. Right?

The men I spend my time with love books. We are pastors ergo we love books. Of course no one is challenging my love of books and the idolatry that lies nasecent in my heart over a new book or set thereof. Why? We romanticize that which was once not so common. Books were once less common household items than iPhones. And the Gutenberg Printing Press is credited with changing the western world with its innovative technology. Reformed theologians get excited about this (and rightly so) because it meant the gospel spread quickly through the printing of Bibles and Christian literature that were then distributed everywhere. But it also ushered in the printing of books that were not always beneficial. And this continues today. The difference? No one is upset about what Gutenberg did, we are still glad he did it.

So can we not just relax a little. Actually no, don't relax...we should be very uncomfortable with our knee-jerk judgmentalism so devastating to the church and the cultures/communities we find ourselves in. The gospel will not be served by our cultural naval gazing. It will serve to confirm the suspicions of a post-christian populace that we really have no interest in grace, we really are moralists to the core, sniffing out the filth in everyone's lives.

Besides, if an iPad showed up on your door...would you be glad or would you roll your eyes?

Monday, January 25, 2010

"I Will Build Jesus' Church"

I have a theory that I hope is wrong.

There is a lot of talk at conferences, on blogs and in books about how pastors need to take care of their marriages and families. This is a good subject and I am glad people are talking about it. But I am wondering why we are talking about this so much nowadays. Why the need to talk about this so much now? I do not think the answer is simple and flat. It is possibly multilayered and very complex but I have a sneaky suspicion about one reason in particular.

Today's pastor is expected to be almost anything but a pastor. He is leader and CEO par excellance. He is not only the man charged with steering the boat - keeping it afloat but he is also the program director in charge of drawing people onto the ship. He is a manager with a winsome personality. Therefore pastor search committees best be looking for Type A types.

As Eugene Peterson writes, "If we all get caught up in running the store, who will be the pastor?" Well, my guess is the guy running the store will do his best to be. He will sacrifice his "off days" and time with his family to do all this. Thus the need for all the talks about family health.

He has bought into a subtle new and improved version of the first lie. "You shall as be as God for your people. You will save them. You are responsible so you better be responsible. It is up to you and that is why attendance has been down. Work harder. You are the Messiah for this congregation. Save them with your works." Of course just like the first lie this one contains a significant amount of truth. That is why it is so hard to counter.

No one really believes what should be the hope-building words of Jesus when he says, "I will build my church." "No, no, no Jesus. We got that. At the expense of our families and marriages and friendships we do the ministry."

I suppose one issue making a pastor's marriage and family are so important a subject is because they are an example to the rest of the congregation and the larger community. Yep, maybe. But even more is the example of the pastor's belief that God is the one who saves and Jesus will build the Church. But is it any wonder our people struggle with grace? When we are willing to sacrifice our families on the altar of ministry, should we wonder?

No one says it outright and most of the time all this is so subtle and so harmless looking, we never really see it happening. But let's stop and think. It seems like nothing is happening at your church. It needs a boost, right? New program! New event! More work. (By the way, no one ever suggests more prayer...unless praying about a new event or program.)

We are like bloggers who want more readers so we start doing giveaways. Why should our people buy into grace if the pastor and the leadership of their church cannot stop working and planning at the expense of their wife and kids? We tell them to stop working for their salvation. Why? Because Jesus did all that was necessary for us to be saved. We just relax in his love and grace and believe the the good news. We then tell them Jesus will build his church but we need a new program so people will be excited and more people will come in.

And lets face it, not so far deep down we want to look really, really busy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Really Should Apologize to My Professor Jerram Barrs

I remember taking a class in Seminary class called "Pastoral Theology." Actually I remember very little about it. A number of fellow students were into it. They loved the class. Me? Not so much. It was taught by Jerram Barrs and everyone sat in awe. I wanted REAL theology. This seemed sorta truncated and secondary. In that class he assigned a Eugene Peterson book.

I remember sitting outside of Edwards Hall on a bench facing in the direction of the bookstore and the upper parking lot. The library was on my left and I remember some traffic of students in front of me. It was after lunch and I was most likely waiting for a class to begin. This Peterson book was in my hands. I was reading it...kinda. Not really. My heart was not in it. The stories were compelling but I was not into it at all. It did not feel "Reformed" to me.

Stupid Feelings.

So here I am 8, 9 years later and I am wishing I had had a whole course simply mining that one book. Eugene Peterson is refreshing; a poet and a pastor...a pastor's poet. A poet's pastor. And Jerram Barrs is a genius for assigning the book. Although we should have been made to read the book. Eugene Peterson's books for pastors are saving my vocational life right now. I just wished they would have done so sooner.

Everything that young pastors are so geeked up about these days, Peterson was talking about 20 years ago.

Peterson was talking about God-centeredness before anyone.

Peterson was talking about 'story' before anyone.

Peterson was talking about the glory in the ordinariness of ministry before anyone.

Peterson was talking about the trend towards silliness in our spiritual lives before anyone.

Peterson was decrying the programmed nature of contemporary churches before anyone.

Peterson beat the drum of fighting against the commercialism of spirituality before anyone.

The whole time I am reading his books -- my plan is to read through them all this year -- I am laughing at how refreshingly original they were but no longer are. My wife is probably getting tired of me talking about them. I keep interrupting her own reading. You are probably wondering which book it is I should have read. He has at least 4 books for pastors. Actually it just doesn't matter. You should read all of them. And I should apologize to Professor Barrs for not reading the book like I should have.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cultural Engagement Double Standard

Last night a conservative Republican won a Senate seat that was long held by the poster Child for Liberal Politics. As soon as it happened, I knew - because of my cynicism - that there would soon be a slough of tweets and status updates from pastors and other Christians decrying people's happiness regarding this event.

Geez, it happened before I could even tweet about it.

It comes in many forms and typically looks like a "I'm more spiritual than you" posture. Here is sampling of what you might see...

1. "Don't look for Jesus on Capital Hill." Or there will be some variation of this theme. As if being glad someone of your political persuasion won an election is the same joy you have in Jesus.

2. "I am worried about how happy people are about this." Why? Because you know everyone's heart? Because you are certain this must needs be a nefarious desire by rednecks to get a good ol' boy in the White House? Or because you think there is no possible reason a Christian can be happy a conservative is elected? Perhaps they are glad because they do not like the health reform plans in motion now. Perhaps they do not like the fact we cannot as a nation pay for such a plan. Perhaps they are worried about how it will affect the poor.

3. "If you think this will make your life better, you might have too much trust in politics. You need to reevaluate your life." Well, that depends. I suppose I could have put too much emphasis on this and for a time think this fixes all my problems. But I know no one who thinks like this. I don't. However, I do think it is OK for a believer, who longs for heaven to see something happen and do something to make their life on earth better. If this is not the case, then we should not care about clean water and medical care in Haiti. Hell, we should not care about medical care for anyone, anywhere at anytime if we can't agree with this. Our desire for heaven and our contentment with what Jesus has bought us - namely adoption, justification and joy forevermore - should not cause us to buy into the idea he cannot bless through temporal means - even politics.

As a matter of fact, I am not nearly as concerned about those who are glad Scott Brown won in Massachusetts as I am about an emerging church culture that is too cool to care about these things, to aloof to understand why people are glad and too spiritual to care about what happens in this world. Wait. But they do care. They care about music and movies and art and french press coffee. They care about hip TV shows like Arrested Development and Dexter. They care about hip restaurants and cafe's everywhere. They read all the right books and they do it all in the name of cultural engagement.

All the while, we're not supposed to care about votes in Washington. We are to simply be as monks when good and bad laws are passed it seems. Never rejoicing when a good thing happens. Never upset when a bad scenario ensues.

How about this? Can we not be glad when something helpful takes place in our nation's capital and thank God for it? Can we not be sad and pray to God for help and intervention when legislation is passed we don't agree with?

Must we be stoic, go home and watch 24 (recorded on DVR) and pretend it never happened?

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Used To Feel Bad When I Did These Things. Now I Just Feel Accepted

A question has been brewing in my mind for a while now. It has stung me deep even though it arose as a result of seeing it others. I suppose that is the way of things. And to be honest, Twitter and facebook have helped me see this more than anything

Since when do we as pastors get to ridicule, heckle and make fun of people? A celebrity does something heinous, immoral, and unethical or ridiculous and we batter them on Twitter, facebook, our blogs and radio shows. If a TV preacher says something stupid we call them names and we ridicule them publicly. An athlete or coach does something we don’t like in the sport (read: game) they compete in and we make fun of them…unless they play for our team. Since when is this normal behavior for pastors? Or anyone?

I used to feel bad when I did these things. Now I just feel accepted.

Granted, we don’t do this if it is someone cool. We don’t do this even when heresy is flirted with or espoused outright. We are all fine with calling Pat Robertson an idiot in social media space. But if someone calls Rob Bell one, we make excuses and get all thoughtful. If it is Bono or Chris Martin, we genuflect. If it is the hackneyed preacher or pundit – we virtually curse them and insult them. And no one even blinks.

This is not about civility. This is not about being a gentleman or anything of the sort. This is the betrayal of our true belief in the gospel of grace. Our belief is virtually, “I was/am the worst of sinners saved by grace. Did you see what that guy did/said? That guy is a moron.”

We are shot through with a rapacious desire for mercy for ourselves and people like us and oh yeah, the anonymous poor. But we are drunk with the blood of lady justice for everyone else. We get up in the morning and paw at every crevice for the gospel of grace in that divine book. And then we crawl over to our computers and tweet judgment against sinners between sips of French Press. We are the parody of what we ridicule in fundamentalism.

We don’t burn to show grace and lovingkindness and mercy to people because it is not cool and that is the righteousness are after. That is what we pine for the most. We want to appear before other men and women as justifiably cool. We want to taste the rare flavors of being rock stars. Showing radical love and refusing to talk evil of people behind their back has no cash value in the mall where pastors shop for credibility and acceptance.

Instead of standing on the shoulders of giants we stand on the shoulders of Conan, Letterman and whoever else has good comedic timing. Funny wins smiles and laughter. Love - Jesus-type love for sinners, self-righteous and libertine gets your man card taken away.

Listen, they will not know we are Christians by our desire to help out in Haiti. We should, of course. But that would just make you part of the club called “everyone.” They will know we are Christians when we love each other as Christ loved us, when we love our enemies and show grace to those who do are not believers and yet are not our enemy.

But you know what we do? We say, “Yes, I will love other believers as Christ loved me. Yes, I will love my enemies (whoever they are). But I will make fun of celebrities, fundamentalists and whoever else will make other people laugh at my wit. And retweet me. And “like” my status on facebook.

Our conversation is either characterized by virulent anger or stinging humor. Rarely is it “gracious, seasoned with salt.” Rarely is it actually the overflow of our being marinated in the story of the gospel of grace in Jesus. And I think I am so used to it, I feel as if I am not being myself when I resist the urge. We are like fish, who have no idea what water is.

We have a savior who took on flesh and was held up to derision. How can we deride? He was born in the sticks and it caused people to wonder if he could actually be worth anything. How can we be snobs? We worship the one who wept and talked of the beauty of flowers. Why do we demand a machismo divorced from the Scriptures?

We, as evangelicals have traded in kindness – Christian Love for something else. It is accepted but it is truly something else.

Monday, January 04, 2010

A New Years Resolution for 2009

Yes. I did say 2009.

Most of the time, those who enter into that sacred rhythmic act of making and breaking resolutions do so with failures of the past year in their rearview mirror. Think about it – resolutions don’t come out of nowhere. They are the balm applied to a wounded conscience regarding the life lived in the past year. They are do-overs. We take a mulligan, pick up a different club and try again. Almost all resolutions are inextricably bound up in the misdeeds or the undone ones of the 12 months previous.

So here is a resolution for all of you who failed miserably last year. Resolve to believe the gospel of what God has done in Jesus to save you from all you screwed up last year. For some reason we have bought into the idea that God has forgiven all our sins we committed before we ever believed in this gospel of blood-bought forgiveness. But after we believe we must make some kind of penance for all we have left undone and ummm, done. That isn’t good news; it’s crappy news.

How about this for good news? Every sin you committed last year was dealt with on the cross. It has been forgiven. Gone like the wind. “…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” It is as if you have never sinned. You stand before God pure as the freshly-fallen and driven snow. Resolve to believe it.

Believe it even you if you committed what you think is a terribly sinful sin. Why? Because you do not stand in front of God naked as so many people lead you to believe. Resolve to believe that lie no more. You stand before God robed in the rich garments of Christ and his work on our behalf. You are in Christ.

Now no one else will treat you like this. Well, perhaps some friends and family will but do not expect the police to forgive you as God does. God forgives the gravest of crimes against humanity but you still may have to pay that fine or spend some time in the big house. But even as you sit in your cell you are the freest of me from all your sins.

Make no mistake. There aren’t any exceptions. Grace is free. Gratis. You don’t get to pay for this with new and better lives in 2010. You can’t even if you wanted to do such a foolish thing.

Can you hear them? You know, the voices and concerns of those who want to say “but…” and “well then…” There is grace for them even, grace bigger than the world –the world of earned righteousness they reside in so miserably. And the good news? The good news is they can resolve to do this in 2011.