Archive for the ‘church’ Category

 

Christians have become quite prolific at naming their enemies. We know well, and talk regularly in our churches and with our friends about the issues we face and struggle with. Ironically though, one of the greatest challenges that the church in the information age faces is staring at us every time we discuss our challenges with each other without ever being named. We may be our own greatest barrier to discovering unity and truth.

Although feeling this struggle subconsciously for some time, I couldn’t name it and work against it until I found insight in one of the least likely of places: a book about fantasy football. Fantasy sports have been a hobby since I was a little boy picking Paul Coffey in front of my parents’ fire place in our four person Kramer family hockey pool. I was looking for beach reading, and instead was stuck with the profound insight that is “confirmatory bias”. “We believe what we believe, and now more than ever, those beliefs are easy to cement. In the age of information, ignoring the other side is the easiest thing we do all day”, wrote C.D. Carter[1]. It was a chapter meant to help fantasy football players better think about how they read and process information about players and games. Instead I was floored by the implications of confirmation bias for the believer.

The lifestyles of many believers are insular. Our friends are church people. We read Christian living books and novels. We listen to Christian music. Our pastors are careful to read the right commentaries and make sure not to rock the boat too much. Our conferences feature speakers from our own particular flavour of faith. We follow the right voices in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. Never has the ability to interact with the breadth of opinion and information existed, and never have we so purposefully worked to make sure we hear almost exclusively the ones that agree with what we already believe to be true.

We have a great deal to learn from those with whom we disagree most. If we are truly right, we have nothing to fear from interacting honestly with those we differ with. If there’s any chance at all we could be wrong, then we have that much more reason to seek out those with different perspectives from our own as we seek after truth. If we take Jesus at his word that he is indeed “the truth” than the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of God. Rather than circling the wagons when faced with a contrary opinion, we need to open our arms to the possibility of being drawn more closely to God: whether through the confirmation of our current beliefs or the beginning of finding something better.

David McRaney in a blog post about confirmatory bias wrote, “You seek out safe havens for your ideology, friends and coworkers of like mind and attitude, media outlets guaranteed to play nice. Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations which may cause harm to those beliefs.”[2] This wasn’t written with people of faith as its subject, but if we have any measure of self-awareness this should hit us in the gut with a solid “oof”. When we hold so tightly to our beliefs as they are that we can’t change our minds without an identity crisis we have ceased to find our identity in Christ, and rather find it in our dogma.

We need to make space in our lives – personally and corporately – for contrarian thought. I’ve come to live by the general rule, “If I already agree with it, it’s not worth my time exploring.” After all, what is learning, other than the process of discovering where we are currently wrong? So let’s read books that are not in the church library, let’s listen to speakers other than from Christian conferences, let’s talk to people openly and vulnerably from outside of our churches – not as the people with all the answers, but rather, the one’s who are boldly seeking them out where they may be found through the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Just because we listen to an idea, doesn’t mean we have to accept it as true. Our minds, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, are best used as sieves not sponges. We do not have to, nor should we ever desire to, embrace all ideas as equally true and valuable. There is such thing as a dumb idea. If we are to have a voice in our culture of diversity though, we must be people who seek out truth wherever it may be found, interacting honestly with a multitude of voices, rather than being seen as people who are sheltered from it. We do a disservice to ourselves and our young people in the information age to try to learn and play only where things are seemingly safe while we constantly tread in deep waters.

We need to listen to hear and learn, not just rebut. It is healthy for us to hear divergent opinions in our study conferences. It is healthy for us to study books in our care groups that we may not agree with. It is healthy for us to listen to other perspectives, not with the aim of learning how to apologetically debate the issues, but rather humbly learning to understand things well from other perspectives so that we may continue to learn and grow.

Humans do not have to be sponges by nature – just mindlessly sucking up and incorporating everything they encounter. God has blessed us with amazing minds with the ability to think and reason. God has blessed his people with the gift of the Holy Spirit, “to guide you into all truth”, as the gospel of John puts it. Let’s live in faith, holding to God’s promise, and listen and learn so we can continually grow into the faith we profess.

[1] Carter, C.D. (2014-05-29). How To Think Like A Daily Fantasy Football Winner: Applying psychological lessons from the poker table and Wall Street to capture a competitive edge in the daily fantasy sports marketplace (Kindle Locations 892-894).

[2] David McRaney – http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias

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Much has been made in recent times of the church’s need to understand embrace the strengths and ministry directions needed to include introverts. Much of Western church culture has been formed on the ideal of the extroverted pastor and church member. As an openly recognized and admitted introvert this has felt like welcome acceptance and vindication. All this being said though, I’ve been thinking lately if just the ecclesiology of the church being readjusted to include space for the quiet and thoughtful goes far enough. What if our very understanding of the gospel itself has become so culturally bound to an extroverted relational way of understanding that we need to re-evaluate that as well? Is there room in our understanding and explanation of the gospel to make it meaningful for those who are introverted and task oriented rather than naturally relational?

The common way of explaining and understanding the gospel in Western Christianity often sounds something like this:

God is love and the parts of the trinity began in perfect relationship with each other. Out of love and God’s relational nature, he created humans in his image to be included in this love relationship with him. Humans at some point broke off this relationship through sin and God sought to reconcile that relationship through covenant relationships. Humans continually failed God and lacked the ability to  reconcile things through their works, and as such God reached out to humanity in Jesus – coming in person to live amongst us. He came and lived out love and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation for creation with their creator. The greatest love of all was shown in Jesus willing death at the hands of those created in his image to in some way reconcile them with God. We now have hope for healed relationships with God and the rest of creation in this life and a life to come after death or when Jesus returns.
Now given this may not explain every denomination ‘s particulars and I’ve attempted to leave the details as broad as possible to include as many in the thoughts as possible, but I think this is a fair portrayal of the story. Relationship is good, tasks are insufficient at best and evil at worst.

Some of my thoughts and struggle with this came to a head a few months ago as I sat in church listening to a friend preaching and heard the message of, “Stop doing and stop trying to do anything to get God’s love. Just let yourself fall in love with the person of Jesus. (loosely quoted)” At that moment instead of feeling at peace and full of joy as the message was intended to do, I felt sad and helpless. I don’t disagree with the message in principle, but I wonder if there isn’t more to it than that. You see, I’m introverted and task oriented: I have little idea what to do with that message. Even in my most loving and intimate relationships everything is processed in the form of lists of things to do, to not do, and to work on getting better at. For me love does. There is always a next step to take, a plan to be made, a thing to do. Love is an action plan made with passion. To not work or seek towards doing something is to not love. This is the filter that everything has been processed through for me for as long as I can remember. Trying to conceive of relating to someone outside the context of task is confusing and borderline terrifying. When the task is clear the anxiety fades and life works. This doesn’t make the love any less real, it’s just a different frame of reference.

So, how can the gospel be explained in a way that is meaningful, and full of life, hope and love in this context?

I hope this gives you some things to ponder as you follow Jesus and share his gospel, and maybe even as you talk and think along with me. I have a number of more thoughts I plan on sharing and getting your input on hopefully in the weeks to come. I believe deeply in community hermeneutics, not just me figuring out alone with a bible in a broom closet. Is there a gospel for the task oriented?

Green Apple on BooksI have not always been an avid reader of books. I’m generally hesitant to enjoy anything that is demanded or expected of me – maybe I’ve got unexplored authority issues to go along with the numerous issues I’ve already discovered about myself – so the western educational system naturally ingrained in me a hatred of literature. College didn’t help anything as I was so overburdened with reading that I had to do, that I never made time for any reading I would want to do. I told myself that after my institutional education was done I would read more and love it. Amazon and I are pleased to affirm that I do.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading a book called “Salt, light, and a City”, and truth be told, it’s been a good book. It’s a helpful look at the ecclesiology (beliefs about church function, structure, etc.) of a number of theologians across the broad spectrum of Christian belief. It’s been wonderful to read and be challenged by theologians of Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed and Evangelical perspectives. The broader our scope of influences the better the chance we’ll actually wind up with the truth as we allow God to give us wisdom and discernment.

I certainly didn’t agree with some of the perspectives that I read, but I could understand where they were coming from at least. The one thing that made me cringe time and time again was the Latin. I can’t count how many times I had to read about the “missio dei”. I haven’t done a scientific study, but I have not met a person to this point who lists Latin as their language of choice. I give the author a great deal of credit for at least being wise enough to include the English translation in brackets for the numerous Latin phrases. It’s more than can be said for many works of theology.

If theologians want to be helpful to the church, they have to stop writing in Latin.

Seriously. Stop it. It’s not helpful. Not even a little. Stop. Just stop.

I understand that Latin was the language of the church and the bible for centuries. It’s not anymore though. One of the major factors motivating the reformation was to get the word of God in the language of the people. It makes no sense for our scholars to decide to stay behind. If scholars want to help the church they should likely speak its language. Leaders in general need to learn how to speak the language and dialect of the people following them if they hope to take those people anywhere.

Pastors could need to learn to keep their Greek and Hebrew word studies in their studies and out of their sermons. Nothing kills a room quicker than starting to drop “parousia” on a Sunday morning. We need to let those deep studies inform what we preach, not be the preaching itself. If we haven’t understood things well enough to be able to explain a Greek participle in usable terms, than we probably haven’t understood it well enough to teach it.

The problem is I think is it’s good for the ego, so it continues. Everyone likes to think they know something that others don’t. There’s power in it. There’s no place for the ego in ministry though. The servant of all and least of these needs to be concerned with people and not prestige. Let’s work to keep our “sarkos” in seminary, and just worry about being Jesus in the flesh in the world.

The Special

Posted: May 20, 2013 in church, life
Tags: , , , ,

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Tonight I got to go to the birthday party of a ninety year old woman who is a part of my church family, who is the grandma of my close friend and who I consider a friend myself. I could try to wax eloquently here or say something profound, but reality is it was just kind of special to be included in the family and to have a chance to wish her a happy birthday. Birthday parties for ninety year old friends don’t come often.
The day in some other respects was a nuanced exercise in futility.
That birthday party though, that was something special.

The past couple weeks have been sick ones for the family, and not in a cool X-Games kind of way.  My personal battle with strep throat has taken me into seven different prescriptions now to try to get it under control, and thankfully it seems to finally be working.  I have been very thankful for a doctor that’s willing to work with me and prescribe things that will work to make me better.  This, along with my current reading of “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola, has had me thinking a lot about prescriptions.

I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but I think it is safe to say the author thinks the institutional church has gone completely off the rails in its practices and does not reflect the Christianity of the New Testament church in its worship and practices.  He regularly cites places and accounts of what New Testament churches functioned life and points out how the church incorporated “pagan” practices which now shape the majority of its worship practices.  I will not disagree with him on any of historical observations or even his observations of New Testament worship practices.  I think if anything I agree with a lot of the assertions he makes about it being unhealthy when only a few people lead worship services instead of the whole church being involved.  My question is more about prescriptions.  Should we really take what the New Testament Jesus followers did in their worship services as prescriptive or are they just descriptive?

It is quite obvious that many of our churches do not take everything in the New Testament as prescriptive.  If it were so we certainly would never eat meat anything other than well done … ugh.  We would all wear sandles like Paul.  Or maybe we should all eat locusts like John.  We do not do everything that the New Testament believers did and we should not feel compelled to.  Some things are descriptive of the realities of life, not prescriptive about how they should be.  When it comes to methods of worship and church organization I am far more of the mind that God did not say a lot about how they need to be to give people freedom to express worship through their own cultures, not just in one homogenous method.  In truth I really like the idea of organic house church.  It feels good to me.  I am certainly not willing to write off institutional churches as being unfaithful to God’s desires just because they take other cultural influences into their formation and not just first century Judaism.  I think it is more than possible to incorporate all the same important values into institutional churches as can be in organic house churches, although it may take some work.

In the end the I think the question is how prescriptive do you really think the New Testament really is about worship practices and church organization?

So all the theologizing, reading, discussing, and name calling (not on my part) lately have got me wondering about some of the questions that are at the heart of the matter.  All these matters of who is saved, who gets saved, how they are saved, and saved to what are all fair questions worth consideration but in the end it boils down to us all trying to determine who is with whom and who is on who’s “team”.  I also realize that over the last decade or more it has become far more popular to talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of an “open set” as opposed to a “bound set” when discussing who is or is not a part of the Kingdom (a matter of direction of your life as opposed to a one time decision), but the matter still comes down to who’s on Jesus side in the end.  So these are the questions I have been wrestling with:

– What does it mean to be with Jesus?

– What are the bare minimums to be a part of his kingdom?

– How off do you have to be in belief and action before you are no longer “with him”?

– What beliefs would get God to look at you and say “Ya, thanks but no”?

I also realize that it is not up to me to determine ultimately the matter of final judgment – that is up to God thank God – but I think it is pretty disingenuous for us to act like we should not think about who we are actually working alongside of in this life in the name of Jesus.  Different matters of contention have risen and fallen over the years, some being smoothed over and some causing splits all over who is with Jesus or not.

If someone believes women can/should be pastors is that okay?

What if someone prays to Mary?

What if someone believes in evolution?

What if someone thinks and endorses same-sex sexual relationships?

What if someone verbally believes in the work of the Holy Spirit, but denies his power by the way they live and worship?

What if someone holds a different view of heaven and hell?

What if they only believe one of these?

What if they believe all of these?

How far off can we be and still be followers of Jesus?  I ask these questions not necessarily to say each of these are wrong or right so much as to point out the issues we tend to divide ourselves over and openly wonder: How different from you does someone have to be before you believe you can no longer serve Jesus together even if you both claim to follow Jesus?  Do we let ourselves be more influenced by Jesus words from Luke when he said, “49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.””, or do we look at Paul’s many admonitions to rebuke false teachers and prophets?

I do not have an answer to it all yet obviously or I would not be asking the questions, but I think this is one of those things you cannot just leave as a mystery because it affects your life and ministry opportunities from moment to moment.  Oh the things we unearth when we begin to wonder.

In the interest of full disclosure I am a born and raised in the church type that is now a pastor.  I say this to let you know where I’m coming from before you view the videos below because honestly, if you haven’t been in the church long enough to get a little cynical these probably will not be funny to you and you can just move along.  If however you have ever had awkward conversations about your faith, tried awkwardly to invite someone to church – or been awkwardly invited for that matter – and if you know something, ANYTHING about Calvinism, this post may well kill your productivity make your week.

I was pointed to the following video by my body double, Leighton Penner, here in my church.  If I had no sense of humor or suffered with bouts of paranoia I probably would have just turtled in a corner and cried myself to sleep that he thought about me in sharing this video.  However, knowing that he is a guy that dresses in a blue full body stocking with a mop wig and dances like Beyonce and university volleyball games tells me he likely has a sense of humor.  I will admit fully that the similarities with the blue jeans and untucked shirt rings true for me, but the rest is a vast fabrication of my real life.  All that being said here is the video goodness:

Once you catch your breath from laughing after that one, or even if you have just put up with it enough to keep reading this I will point you to video number two below. I am now a happily married man with a couple of kids, so I no longer have a deep need for pickup lines. If however you are a single bible college student of some description as I want, get a pen and a notepad before you watch the video because the wisdom contained within its two minute span may well net you the prized woman of your dreams. I cannot guarantee success and in fact it may well instead result in public humiliation, but really to be known for taking a bold step like using one of these lines should be reward enough in itself. That being said, I give you the Calvinist pickup lines:

What would we ever do without the internets to teach us these things?

This past weekend much of the world’s chatter online and around town was about the Academy Awards and the seeming insanity of one Mr. Charlie Sheen as he seemed to appear on every major – and minor – media outlet in the world to spout nonsense and just generally get noticed again.  As I am a pretty regular talk radio listener I could not help but hear a fair bit of the discussion surrounding both those events and everyone’s uneducated opinions on both matters.  The major topic of discussion that interested me though over the past few days has nothing to do with either of these things, but has held interest and created discussion in Christian theological circles on a similar level: the as of yet unreleased new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell.  Rob Bell may not be adding Twitter followers at the rate of 500 per minute like @charliesheen is, but he certainly has pumped up discussion – and likely sales – for his upcoming work.

A lot of the opinion and tirades started here, then were rebutted here, and then finally found some balanced opinion and sanity here.  Just as quick reminder – this book has not even been released yet.  No matter where you wind up on the issue of the destination of people when they die – and there is a fair bit of leeway on that will let you be considered orthodox regardless of what some might say – I think the biggest story coming out of this issue is not even the issue itself but how it seems to be handled more and more often within the church and society as a whole.  People are quick to jump to quick and brutal opinions which they wield like a blunt object without ever feeling the need to fully explore a situation or contemplate the facts and what the best course of action is.

What ever happened to thoughtful meditation and consideration over a shock and awe approach to Christian discourse?  Digital media certainly enables a lot of great things to create and continue discourse among otherwise disconnected people, but I think this kind of infighting shows the dark side of what it can do and unfortunately emphasizes the things wrong with the church instead of what it can be when it is great.  I do not write this to express an opinion on the matter yet, I have not yet read the at this point still unreadable book, but I do right it as a call to grace and charity when any discussion of the things of God is to take place – especially if it is in regards to a topic held dear.

John 13:34-35 – 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This coming weekend marks my first foray into official MB Manitoba business.  After being a member of the Saskatchewan conference board for the previous two and a half years, meetings there felt pretty comfortable and I felt like I always had a handle on what was going on.  Going into my first meetings in a new province has a very different feel to it though as I do not have a board position, know few to none of the pastors attending the meetings, and generally feel like the new kid in class.

Beyond just the normal meetings and duties though this weekend, I have been asked to be a part of a panel presentation on sharing the story of Jesus in the context we live and minister in.  I’ll be one of three pastors from our conference that will have five minutes to share a story from this past year in which our faith community uniquely shared the message of Jesus.  I am glad to have the opportunity to share a little about my/our philosophy regarding sharing the message of Jesus with the world we live, and at the same time it is a pretty daunting task to think about sharing on that subject in five minutes or less.

I’m leaning towards sharing about how we handled advent this year and the great opportunities that came as a result of it, but even that will be hard to fit into five minutes.  This past year rather than do the traditional advent schtick (shepherds, magi, the star, and the Christ) we focused on laying out the biblical narrative over the course of four weeks in terms of The Problem, The Promise, The Waiting, and The Answer (creation/sin, covenants, exile, and the work of Christ and the Church).  I have not been a big believer in trusting Sunday morning monologue sermons as a great source of evangelism, but out of that advent season I know of a few people who were personally ministered to and decided to start following Jesus, and also a partnership was formed with a Spanish congregation in town looking for an established church to work with.

All this though I think raises a really important subject of how and what we share as the gospel.  When we share about God what is the content of what we share and what are the most effective means in your context to share it?  Many people would like to say the content of the gospel message should be never changing just the way in which it is presented should be tapered, but history shows us that this is never the case.  Our understandings of the message of Jesus seem to be a constantly growing and unfolding thing and every generation seems to focus to greater and lesser extents on different parts of Jesus message and what it means to be a follower of God.  What is the essential contents of the gospel to you and what are some of the most effective ways you have found to share it in your context?

I will admit that I have significant geek strains latent in my DNA that often unnoticed by the greater population.  I do not have a large comic book collection, do not frequent multiple message boards, and do not have an avatar on World of War Craft or Second Life.  I do however like to keep up to date on current nerd/geek news and read this post on io9.com today.

After reading the story about the p53 cancer assassin gene, I read their story/opinion piece on what causes superhero story lines to get bogged down in self-referencing and inside jokes.  While reading it I could not help but immediately starting to draw correlations between this story about comic book narratives and what churches often find themselves dealing with: going in the direction of insider language and references versus going in fresh new directions with regards to the gospel and church life.

To summarize the post the author, Charlie Jane Anders basically states that when it comes to the stories in comics authors have two basic directions they can go: to either reference old stories and characters that current fans love to keep them pacified and on-side or to start exploring new angles and story-arcs to expand upon the lore that already exists but at the risk of losing some old faithful fans that enjoy the stories and at the risk of just rolling out old ideas in a new barrel.  If a hero just keeps fighting the same enemies and rehashing old plot lines it keeps the faithful interested based on sentimentality, but after a while the old faithful are the only ones who can understand the story because it is expressed in so many layers of insider language.  There is a need for new areas of exploration to keep things fresh and interesting and to reach possible new fans, but the base is what keeps the hero interesting to its original fans and lets the comic creator in business.

I think our treatment of the scriptural narrative undergoes the same tension.  The narrative that plays itself out through creation, fall, covenant, exile, redemption and even through today has often been wrapped up in much insider language and story to keep us faithful Jesus followers happy that we often leave the continuing narrative of what God is doing and revealing in the world today out of the “original” narrative and instead relegate it to the realm of testimony instead of being integral parts of God’s story.  It is true we could likely keep rehashing the same story over and over with new coverings and keep the base happy, but what about exploring the new angles to bring the great story of God to new people?  What angles need to be explored?  How much self-referencing is healthy and appropriate?

After reading the article, what do you think?