Monday, September 28, 2009

Musings

Just finished helping to teach a Divorce Recovery program. We gathered some folks in a fair amount of pain and gave them some hope. I think some of our content and guidance helped. Just being together probably helped more. Just the fact that these men and women took a step in the direction of getting help was huge for their life. They put their life in motion again. They quit being stuck.

I’ve noticed over the years that people like being stuck. People will argue that they don’t but most often the way they live belies the words coming out of their mouth. The truth is that it’s hard to get unstuck. It doesn’t happen by just willing our life out of a rut and onto a path that leads somewhere. It takes work.

We rely on those things that are habitual even if they’re not good for us. The habits of our life can become our worst enemy. And when we try to change a habit there’s always a tad bit of discomfort. Too many don’t want to deal with discomfort so they just keep doing what they’re doing even if it isn’t working for them.

So, kudos for those who take those baby steps in a ‘new direction’.

***
I’m still in the midst of my transition to Breakthrough Urban Ministries. I’m in phase 1 of a two part fund-raising effort. I know what I’m doing is the right thing (and a God thing) but raising money can be tiring. It’s also rewarding. And then tiring. Then rewarding.

***

Just read that the President is going to Copenhagen to help sell ‘Chicago’ to the Olympic Committee. Have a hunch he must think it’s a done deal. Would he be willing to risk, putting himself on the line for something that might fail?

I’d love to find out that he’s taking the ‘risk’ even though he might fall flat on his face. We need more examples of people doing the right thing even if it might make them look bad.

Of course, in the current climate of incivility, the failure of any public figure means a field day for the ‘punditainers’ (By the way I think 'punditainer' is a new word I just invented. For those who don't get my humor (more people than you think) it's a combination of pundit and entertainer. I'm sure it will start showing up nationwide within days. Just remember. You heard it here first.)

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Found out recently that my Chicago Cubs will not be going to the post season this year. Hmmmm. Next year for sure.

***

I was talking to some folks today about church attendance. (not ours specifically but on a more macro level). The comment was made that even those who are devout usually stay away two of the four weekends in a month. I wonder what that means for the future of the local church?

***

I recently had someone tell me that I was the most liberal person they knew. I think it was an insult but I'm still not sure. For sure, I think they've got to get out of the house more. But it’s interesting. Even if I was a ‘liberal’ why would anyone want to insult me? I know liberals who think I’m conservative. Maybe I am the proverbial ‘every man’ or worse just a chameleon. Hope not. Actually, I think we just like to label people and movements as a marginalization tool.

It reminds me, though, of the time when I was doing Young Life in Nevada. A handful of Baptists walked out of a meeting when I shared my conversion story and it contained some ‘thumbs up’ comments related to my Catholic education and upbringing. The following Sunday a Catholic priest urged his parishioners to stay away from Young Life because it was an ‘evangelical’ organization. Sometimes you can’t win.

We're all label slappers I guess. Another habit to get rid of. Labels keep us from knowing someone and finding out the rich textures and possibilities of a person's thinking. Of course, that's what many people want.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

At War

You gotta love Eugene Peterson and his take on familiar Scripture passages. He's talking about spiritual warfare. He's earthy and pithy. Here's a portion of Ephesian 6 from The Message.

So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet.

I remember the first time I encountered evil in an other worldly way.

I was visiting a friend up in northern Wisconsin. Older friends of his were also visiting. A married couple. An attorney and his wife. I knew the husband, not the wife.

During the course of the evening the couple started talking about the wife’s ability to communicate with the dead. She was a medium. Somewhere along the way she closed her eyes and started chanting and channeling. After a few minutes I felt this deep sense of foreboding, and instinctively knew that something was happening that was both unfamiliar and dangerous. And I remember going over to this stranger and shaking her –doing whatever I could to get her out of her trancelike state. I remember saying very firmly to her ‘stop’. I was truly shaken. I sensed something ‘evil’ in our midst. It was a very uneasy feeling.

A few weeks later I was back at that house. Alone. And I couldn’t stay. Something was different. To this day, I believe that wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. I wasn’t in any mind-altered state. There was something that frightened me. I felt I was in the presence of something that wanted to hurt me.

Throughout my life I’ve also been in the presence of people that I believe are unduly influenced by evil. They, too, frighten me. I always have a deep sense that these folks are being guided by something that's truly malignant.

So, I believe that there is something evil that tempts people to do evil. It's real. It's dangerous. I believe we have an enemy who wants to attack our heart leaving it scarred, lonely and rendering us ineffective in our work for the kingdom of God.

Anything that is important to God is an enemy of the devil. And we are really, realy important to God. So, if you ever feel stymied in your attempts to reflect the glory of God you can bet you're in the midst of a battle. It's a battle against God and for your heart. And even though the devil is defeated, because of the cross, he is still allowed to have some freedom in this world of ours until Jesus deals with his reign of terror once and for all. Until that time comes he wrecks havoc in order to damage the Lord’s reputation.

We’ve often been told that the problems in our spiritual life will come from the flesh, the world and the devil. In a nutshell that means that we all have spiritual Achilles heels. For some it’s sexual issues, for others gossip, for some it’s how we deal with finances, for others it’s anger, or unresolved guilt or a sense of shame, or an unwillingness to accept or grant forgiveness. The devil will use whatever is our weakness and offer us an alternative from the world. He’ll distort what's meant for good and use it to drive us up, down or sideways and away from God. It’s a battle. Truly a war. The enemy want to attack our heart, discourage our heart, break our heart, and leave us truly heart broken and angry at God. And in the shadow of our discontent the devil stands arms folded, a wicked smile on his lips, a 'gotcha God' expression on his face.

I was reading a book recently called God Goes to Starbucks. In it, the author talks about a Nigerian seminarian who was asked to comment on the differences between Christianity in his native land and what he experiences here in the states. He said that the church is the U.S. is relatively prayerless and that we're unaware of spiritual warfare.

I think he hit the nail on the head. We don't know much about prayer and we too quickly dismiss any notion that a war is being waged for our heart.

The consistent message of the Bible is that there is an Enemy eager to destroy your heart. And this enemy wants to leave your heart homeless, haunted by fears, and feeling completely abandoned.

John Elderedge writes ... “To live in ignorance of spiritual warfare is the most na├»ve and dangerous thing a person can do. It’s like skipping through the worst part of town, late at night, waving your wallet above your head. It’s like walking into an al-Quaeda training camp, wearing and “I love the United States’ t-sirt. It’s like swimming with great white sharks dressed as a wounded sea lion and smeared in blood. You don’t escape spiritual warfare simply because you choose not to believe it exisits."

The bottom line is, you are going to have to fight for your heart. It’s getting shot at all the time. Are you up for it? Are you up for a ongoing assault against you and yours?

A brand new friend on Facebook wrote to me recently about this topic. She's had some experience with these kind of things and offers some ways to deal with these ongoing assaults. So, I'll close the post with her words. Real wisdom.

I’ve learned to anticipate some of his attacks. I’m speaking next week to a group of women who were sexually abused in the church. I know for a fact that God wants to heal and restore these women. The enemy hates this.

So, I’m on alert this week …not afraid, but on guard…putting on the full armor …and then prepared to watch God do what He does best. Go God.

I used to let the devil intimidate me and would back off from whatever I was doing that brought opposition. Now I tell my husband so he knows and he can pray. I tell at least one good friend who understands spiritual warfare, and I try to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ …the mind seems to be his primary target and playground. I press through in prayer …


Good stuff. Anticipate attacks. Understand the tactics of the enemy. Don't be afraid. Don't back off but put on the armor of God. Pray and enlist the prayer of others. Don't believe the lies that go through our head. Trust God to do His thing, letting Him do what He does best. Go God.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers



Mary Travers died.

I saw her sing a few years ago at Ravinia. She was on tour with Peter and Paul. Big crowd. Lots of memories. She couldn't hit the high notes anymore but the three of them together ...Peter, Paul, and Mary ...well, it didn't matter.

I first saw the trio perform many years ago in Minneapolis. They were singing at a political rally for someone who, for sure, was an anti-war candidate. I think it was either Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern. Peter, Paul, and Mary were deeply convicted about matters of peace and justice. They were folk singers in the Peter Seeger tradition, troubadors who had a message. And it was hard to resist singing along.

It's hard to lose people who influenced you. In high school we sang Peter, Paul, and Mary songs. I used their songs at retreats back in the day. They were articulate and passionate voices for the things they believed in. Noel Paul Stookey met and still walks with Christ. That conversion created some tension within the group that I don't think was ever completely resolved.

I don't know where Mary Travers was at spiritually. My prayer, of course, is that she found peace in Christ as she neared the end of her life. I know she was dearly loved by God, as we all are whether we be saint or sinner or some curious mix of both.

Peter, Paul, and Mary helped shape a generation. Helped shape me. I was saddened when I heard of her death. Mary Travers was someone who made an impact for good. She and her singing partners got me thinking, singing, wishing, and praying. She made an impact. I thank God for her life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Worried

I’m worried. It’s not the first time. Not the last. Worry is my 'go to' life strategy. It's not served me particularly well but it's familiar.

A few weeks ago I gave up my security blanket. I left the best paying job of my life. In its place I began a journey into ‘what’s next’. And I’m a little worried.

Some mornings I look in the mirror and I say “What the heck have you just done? (that’s the g-rated version anyway) Why, in this economy, would you give up a sure thing to chase something that’s a little vague, that you have to raise money for?”

Because I had to. I didn’t feel I had a choice. Not really. It was one of those ‘God’ things you read about but just know it won’t happen to you. And then it does. You're both grateful and uncertain.

It's in the uncertainty that 'worry' finds its home. And it takes the form of anxious questions.

Will I be able to raise my salary?
How will friends react when they get that e-mail asking for help? Am I being too presumptious?
What if I don’t have what it takes?
Am I hoping to find a greener pasture, not blooming where I was already planted?
Have I put our future in jeopardy?

So, what do I do? When I try not to worry I worry all the more. I could pray. Should pray. Will pray. But …

And the sad truth is that I’d rather be secure than faithful. That’s the most bottom line I can find.

But I set my life in motion...away from what I think is security and landing on the more narrow path of faithfulness and trust. And in all honesty, it’s truly not a well traveled road. It is, however, the road I need to be on.

So I can lament my sad truth about my need for security but I can’t escape it, only lean into it and go through it.

Because the real truth is that God wants to teach me about faithfulness in the midst of my insecurity and worry.

When I talk about these things with my spiritual director he looks at me and says something pithy like: “So, God called you. Why do you think he won’t take care of you?”

And I don’t have a good answer to that. Never have. Because God has always been there even when I've been absent.

It’s hard, sometimes, being 59 years old and realizing you don’t have it all together. And it’s equally hard realizing that no one else thinks you have it all together either. It’s humbling actually.

It doesn’t surprise me, this melancholy mood. I’m preaching this week on spiritual warfare and I can sense a battle brewing. In some ways, that’s a good thing because something of God must be alive and well in these old bones of mine. The enemy of the heart doesn’t attack what’s already dead and in his possession.

But it’s a vulnerable place. Admitting fears and inadequacy. Second guessing decisions (even though you know they lead to something quite fulfilling). Leaning into fear and worry.

When you know your heart’s being attacked, worry doesn’t provide an adequate defense. Nor does fear. Nor does a pat answer or a cure-all Scripture quote.

The defense comes from the God who meets you in the midst of it all. Personal, yet mysterious. Real, but surprising. For you not against you.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Miscellaneous

Had a facebook friend echo her sentiments about the 'socialist society' some believe we're trying to create. Thought it was an interesting perspective.

She wants the protesters to know that she is...

"a proud supporter of big government. I love driving on public streets, using public libraries, flushing the toilet instead of using an outhouse, dropping my kids off at public school, knowing my parents and in-laws have socialistic health insurance--Medicare--to meet their medical needs, having my garbage removed by the city, taking trains, feeling pretty safe when I fly...And I especially appreciate our government workers in uniform--police, fire, military, beach lifeguards, TSA-who serve, protect, and risk their lives for my family and me everyday."

Sounds like she's had enough doesn't it? You can sense real frustration. Like so many others I've talked with she's trying to articulate the weariness that comes from having to listen over and over again to 'labels' being thrown around like frisbees but carrying the weight of a manhole cover. This is especially true if these labels are meant to wound, hurt and cause division.

And it's just not the conservatives throwing them around. Got an e-mail from the liberal camp recently that made me wince and stomp my feet in disgust. Same tone, divisive accusations, different labels. Ugly and unnecessary.

Yada Yada Yada. Off my soapbox.

***

Brenda Salter McNeil has written a book called A Credible Witness. It's reflections on power, evangelism and race using John 4 as the backdrop. Good stuff. Challenging. Forces you to think about your existing paradigms of faith an practice. For anyone interested in how we live out our life as a believer in a pluralistic culture ...well, I hope you're interested and if so, read this book.

Tony Campolo says that "this book will guide us on a journey to becoming a countercultural people who truly live out the values of the kingdom of God."

***

Donald Miller has a new book. It's called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I've chuckled more than a few times. Underlined more than a few lines. I don't know how to describe Donald Miller. Just love his writing style. Blue like Jazz and In Search of God Knows What were terrific reads.

Rob Bell says that "Don is into provocative territory here, wrestling with The Story and the role each of our stories play in it ...this is very convicting, powerful, unsettling writing. I felt like the book read me more than I read it."

Annie Lamott says that Miller is a "man after her own heart."

***

Our friend Buddy Greene has a new project. If you don't know Buddy ...well, he's an interesting guy. He's a songwriter and musician. He's best known for a song called "Mary Did You Know?" Mark Lowry wrote the words and Buddy wrote the music. Buddy is a singer, guitar player and is one of the best harmonica players on the planet. He's been doing a lot of touring with Bill Gaither during this past year. He's also widely known for singing at the Anita and Mike wedding. Well anyway Buddy has a new cd called A Few More Years. Listen closely and you'll hear some nice Vince Gill harmonies and some of that fabulous piano is another friend by the name of Jeff Taylor. Check it out at www.buddygreene.com

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Scouting the Divine


Three years ago Anita and I were on an Alaskan cruise. Anita had arranged for us to meet one of her Midday guests when we docked in Juneau, That's where I met Margaret Feinberg and her husband Leif Oines. They gave us an 'insiders' tour of Juneau and beyond. They took us to the Mendenhall Glacier, gave us the scoop on how one survives and thrives in Alaska and then brought us to their home where we ate fresh crab and steak and all the fixins'. We talked. Got to know each other. It beat anything the cruise line was offering.

After meeting Margaret I started to read her books. First, Organic God and then Sacred Echo. Loved them both. I know, for sure, I've give away over 25 copies of Organic God to people. So, I'm a fan. I think Margaret is an important voice in today's world.

One of the perks of being married to Anita is that we get advance copies of books. Recently, she threw me a copy of Margaret's newest called Scouting the Divine. As I recall she warned me not to lose it or give it away because she definitely wanted to read it.

I highly recommend this book. Here's why. Margaret loves God. She's real. She understands people. She writes really well. Her stuff helps grow a mature Christian and is accessible to those who are just 'looking around'. Scouting the Divine has Margaret and Leif traveling to visit people who do all those interesting things people in the Bible did. Margaret met a shepherdess in Oregon, walked the fields with a Nebraska farmer, picked grapes in the wine country of California, and hung up with a Colorado bee keeper. Margaret calls Scouting the Divine "an intentional search for spiritual things that can be touched, tasted, heard, seen, smelled and savored." She's hoping that we'll be inspired to 'scout for the divine' in our own lives.

Now here's what's cool about this book. After reading it the Bible comes alive in fresh ways. That's always good. But you also walk away with a deeper appreciation for the lives of those who do ordinary things well and with deep heart conviction. You end up with this intense appreciation for the people Margaret and Leif met and a sense of thankfulness for the work they do. There were some real 'God moments' for me in every chapter.

I'll read this book again. Probably use it with a small group.

Pick it up. Buy a few extra copies. You'll want to give them away to friends.

You can find Scouting the Divine at www.amazon.com or www.margaretfeinberg.com

Great Divides

I’m sitting trying to be quiet this morning. It’s hard. Lots going through my mind these days. I’ve been thinking, particularly, about what I call the ‘great divides’. And there are many of them.

Rich and poor.

Conservative and liberal.

East and West

Black and White

English speaking and non-English speaking

Developed world and Developing World

Protestant and Catholic

Evangelical and Mainline

Citizen and immigrant

Christian and Jew and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist

Secularism and Faith

Many have firm opinions about all of this. They’ve constructed a version of the truth about these things that allows them to live with a sense of surety. Others just flat out don’t care about any of it. Their world is narrow, focused on the kingdom of ‘me’.

I find myself living in the midst of the divide much of the time. I try to make sense out of what appears to be a myriad of logical and even faith inspired choices. And so I feel like I’m slogging at times. At times, I even find myself spinning around unsure of what I should be feeling or thinking.

And while I slog and spin the divides don’t seem to close but they seem to get wider and wider. As a result, we move further apart. There’s danger in our isolation. We end up listening to voices we agree with and who rile us up but don’t cause us to think and to pray.

I think it’s important to know what we believe and why. I think we fall short of that in our culture. We don’t know a lot.

One of the issues in the church is that our people are biblically illiterate and unaware of the movements of the Spirit in days past.

In our country too few have a deep understanding of the history and philosophy of our great democratic movement. And our understanding of the greater history of the world is next to nothing.

When we travel we often stay close to ‘tourism’ and never encounter the heartbeat of a country.

When we read we only grab what we agree with and often never venture into the interesting world of the other viewpoint.

We make comments about the immigrant but never strike up a conversation with the worker we suspect might be ‘illegal’.

And when our neighborhoods become too integrated the tendency is to move.

We claim to love God but don’t show it when tensions are high and opinions are mixed.

In other words, we’re becoming soft, less interesting, lacking depth and perspective. We have opinion but lack engagement. And it’s killing us. The divides become wider and become a no-man’s land filled with verbal battles, threats, rumor and innuendo. And in some places it goes beyond a war of words and into a world that’s filled with real bullets, landmines, and oppression.

And so I’m asking myself. What would God have me do? Is it enough to blog and post pithy things on my Facebook page? Or is there more?

I think there is more.

How can I become better read, more thoughtful, more prayerful, and more engaged? Maybe that’s something you can ask yourself. You see, these divides are becoming problems. Polarization is occurring. People are getting angry. Anger leads to all kind of ugly things.

By the way, none of this means that someone doesn’t have an opinion, or fights for their point of view. Not at all. But I have a hunch we could do a better job of listening to, learning from, and engaging each other. We’ve got to. There’s a lot at stake.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Perspective

Three years ago Anita, John, and I spent some time with New Zealanders Kevin and Helen Honore. They let us travel with them on a leg or two of their missionary journey. They work for Bright Hope, a missionary group, that empowers and resources native people. I subscribe to their blog. This morning I read some details fo their recent trip to Africa. Their team has been sick for a week. Hard enough here in the west. Extra degree of difficulty out in the bush. In the midst of all that this is what they had to say. I read all this and wonder why I've been so blessed and how difficult life is for so many in the world. I remain grateful for Kevin and Helen for opening my eyes and helping change my perspective.

Sick isn’t just a state of body, we met a lot of mind sickness on this trip. By the time we got back we were sick of hearing stories of people making dumb decisions:

1) sick - two 16 year old girls with 1 ½ year of school left got pregnant and their parents “married” them off to the guys that got them that way. I reckon they have about 11 years of misery left!

2) sick - a Christian girl who has been through Bible School and who was engaged to a guy she met there decided to have a fling with a non Christian guy. Pregnant and afraid she tried to commit suicide amongst a number of other options she thought she would try. But Grace was born healthy and placid.

3) amazing – her parents have adopted her daughter Grace so she can continue to follow her dream to become a teacher.

4) sick - two years ago we met a family: mum, dad and 6 month old daughter, all HIV+. A year ago the dad died and guess what? The woman has just had another baby to some random guy and guess what? Another child is born into sickness, death and poverty.

5) guts – Victoria, HIV+ and 1 of 11 siblings, is 1 of only 2 left alive. She hobbled those same 6 kms we walked to give her testimony to the church that Jesus is alive and they have the responsibility to look after themselves. She, her 14 year old daughter and 80+ year old mother had grown enough food last year to send her daughter to school, to provide the medicine she needs and the food to sustain them. First time I met them, 2 years ago, she couldn’t walk and I thought this family would be gone in months.

6) health – awesome to interview 8 orphans who have been going to school now for a year since we started a new partnership. They talked of their dreams and visions and what could stop them fulfilling those dreams. Beautiful young people, full of life, energy and optimism. I hope they survive the pressures that Africa will pummel them with in the next few years. I hope they live a lot longer than 35 – 37 years life expectancy of a Zambian.

We’ll check out a community development partnership in Kaishe, a little rural village. We’ll visit our largest partnership ever in Samfya town. We’ll do budgets for a large beef farm that is developing in the North of Zambia. We’ll hear reports about a new initiative to train the guardians of around 170 vulnerable kids. We’ll check out a Bible School that has opened a clinic to support itself and an agriculture programme to develop self sustaining graduates. We’ll decide whether or not to put a rice mill into a village so the churches and community can assist the vulnerable to go to school.

So dear friends, we’re sick of bad news and long roads. But we’re doing OK. Thanks for being with us in this. Just a week left in Zambia and then its lots of farewells to our friends before we fly to Kenya.

Its been great staying at Maplehurst farm with Aaron and Suzy Boddy and their kids and Jerry and Hayley Field and Sophie. We really appreciate what they are doing here, and we can see how hard they have been working.

Yesterday Helen was visiting the Boddys and someone came into the house screaming that a spitting cobra was just outside their back door. By the time we arrived at the scene one of the workers was beating the snake with a piece of plastic pipe and it was no longer a threat......another day in Africa.


Please keep Kevin and Helen in your prayers. They're good people with big hearts. And Kev and Helen, if you're reading this, we're looking forward to seeing you in October.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Unplug




The words scream off the screen. Words like socialist and indoctrination sear into our consciousness. Questions confront us .. "How dare he? What's he up to now?" And they demand our vigilance, our time and attention. Hearing the words and looking at the questions make me shudder. What awful thing is now happening in our land? Who is deliberately undermining the democratic process, placing land mines in the midst of our precious freedom, and plotting evil against all citizens of the republic?

The answer, of course, is the President of the United States who has the audacity to want to speak to school children. Who knows what will happen to the children of the land once they’re exposed to the words of a popularly elected leader ? My guess is that they will all start tilting to the left about half way through the speech, walk like puppet children to their next class and throughout the rest of their life, tear the word Republican from their texts, become Godless pagans, and refuse ever again to think on their own. Instead, they will wait anxiously for day by day, minute by minute instructions from the White House and in secret meetings plot to eliminate any shred of contrary opinion in the United States of America.

So we do need to oppose this TV event. We need to exert enough pressure on school boards so that they do the right thing and unplug TV’s and computers in classrooms. After all our children need to be protected from anybody or anything that might try to influence them to stay in school and work hard.

We need to go further, however. It’s not just the President who’s trying to influence kids. I’ve heard rumors that some moms and dads have an agenda for their children. Get this. Some moms and dads are telling there kids that ‘freedom’ is important. What do we do with that?

Churches are suspect. Get this, some churches speak about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating for the oppressed. Some even love and care about illegal immigrants. Let’s close ‘em down.

And just the other night I had to listen to a TV program where I listened to someone who actually believed in something I didn’t believe in. Why are they on the air?

It’s just gone too far don’t you think? All this freedom of speech, and democratic process, and respecting the rights of others, and elections. Whew!!! There’s got to be a better way.

So, let’s start right now. Spread the news in every nook and cranny of America. Shout it out in every village and hamlet suburb and city center. Let’s vow to not listen to someone who believes differently from us. Let’s work hard to smear them. Let’s plant seeds of doubt wherever we can. And certainly let’s not let anyone elected to office anywhere close to school children.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Alive?

Notes from a sermon given on Labor Day. To listen to it go to itunes podcasts and type in 2HC.

Every once in awhile I like to page through the last book of the Bible. In the 3rd chapter there’s a descripton of the the church in Sardis. Basically, the bad news is that Sardis once was alive but is now dead. And God wants them to wake-up.

God isn’t pulling any punches. It reminds me of a story about Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life. Rayburn was a straight talker. He was asked after a speech why more Young Life kids weren’t finding their way into the church. In typical Rayburn fashion he said “that his staff didn't believe in putting live chicks under dead hens.”

Rayburn was speaking a hard truth to a group of church leaders. "You have a reputation of being alive, but you're dead." What Rayburn was responding to was a ritualism and an overall deadness that would stifle a new believer. He believed that God was about the business of life transformation. And the judgment call he was making that many in the business of doing church were about the business of maintaing the status quo. He was worried that the word that had become flesh and excited so many kids would, through the church, become merely words again.

It’s a valid concern.

Several years ago I was at a prominent church. I was speaking about family issues. In a church setting I felt it appropriate to talk about family within the context of faith. I asked the group about the theological leanings of their church - what they believed in. They squirmed a bit. I inquired further saying “I know you are a Christian denomination. Could we at least use the creed as a starting point in our discussion of faith?” They squirmed a bit more. I noticed that they were uncomfortable. When I inquired about that discomfort a spokesperson told me that the creed was awfully narrow and that it tended to exclude people. They did not believe in exclusion - only inclusion. She went on to tell me that their church had no creed so that everyone could feel comfortable under their umbrella. They didn't want to have anybody feel left out.

My judgement call was that they were a church that needed to wake-up.

William Barclay writes about Sardis of Revelation. “Sardis was wealthy, but Sardis was degenerate. There was no life, no spirit there. The once great Sardians were soft, and twice they had lost their city because they were too lazy too watch. And in that atmosphere of degeneration and decay the Christian Church too had lost its vitality and its power, and was a corpse instead of living thing."

God has a thing about dead faith. Jesus was always butting heads with the Pharisees who were fanatical about things that didn’t matter. In Matthew 23 Jesus says “But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and-polish veneer.”

Faith alive, on the other hand, has nothing to do with a spit and polish veneer or reputation. It has everything to do with submission, service, discipline, faith put into action, perseverance, trust, and integrity. Together they form a faith character that has deep roots. Dwight Moody once said that if you attend to your character your reputation will take care of itself. There must have been some character issues in the church of Sardis for their reputation in the Lord's eyes was only skin deep.

So, let me ask you. Could this passage of Scripture be describing us …as a church, and us as individuals?

Do we need to wake up? Are we asleep?

Periodically, I talk to people who are praying for a revival at Christ Church of Oak Brook. That might come as a surprise to anyone who sees a full parking lot and sees the dozens and dozens of activities we have here and the beauty of our facilities.

I think they’re praying for revival because of all that. We can be fooled into thinking that we’re doing OK. But the heart of the matter is that it’s easy to lose focus, and passion and your heart.

Questions of revival aren’t about numbers or programs, money in the bank or the beauty of facilities? Questions of revival are these:

Do you love God?
Do you want to be more and more like Jesus Christ?
Do you ache that your neighbors and co-workers are far from God?
Do you weep for those who have so little in the world?
Do you pray for the Lord to open up avenue for you to give redemptively of your time, talent, and treasure?

Wake-Up the Scripture tells Sardis. And if the Word of God is indeed alive still I wonder if it doesn't speak that same word to us? Are we really alive? I know this about myself. Sometimes I’m way too complacent, I go through the motions, get too content with the status quo, become self-satisfied …and then I know that I need to wake-up and get my act together. You see, I don’t want to become a caricature of what a man following Christ is supposed to be. I don’t want to have a reputation for being alive but know deep down in my heart that I’m not.

And I don’t want our church to have a reputation for things that don’t matter. When someone asks me about Christ Church I want to be able to tell them that it’s a good place, you’ll meet good people …but it’s a dangerous place, in some respects, because the living God is at work …and lives are being changed. And if you come you might never be the same again.

A church alive is the hope of the world.

And so, like others I pray for renewal and revival. First,in my own life. And then for you. For when God wakes us up …the church comes alive …we become a beacon of hope and life for our world. Don’t know about you but I want in on that action.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Return to Civility

I’ve decided I don’t want to be a conservative. Seriously. And being a liberal has decided disadvantages. Being stuck in the middle, though, is equally disturbing.

The more I think about it conservatives are a little grouchy and mean spirited. I think trying to preserve the public good and God’s reputation has made conservatives not all that fun to be around.

I want to be ‘for’ something. Not against everything.

When I listen to talk radio conservatives I find that they are against health care reform, presidents without a Rush approved version of a valid birth certificate, and they believe that liberals sit around all day trying to mess with both the Bible and the Constitution. How can somebody think like that all day, every day? What does that do to them?

Of course, I don’t know if I want to be a liberal. You see, I believe in something. I don’t believe in everything. Even though I like Barak I’m not sure he’s hitting the right notes right now. And I believe that too much government isn’t going to help us in the long run. Often I think liberals are pulling standards of right and wrong out of the air and not mining an authoritative source.

I’ve talked about all this before but honestly …aren’t you getting a little steamed about the polarized positions on both the left and the right?

Every once in awhile I listen to a radio show on WGN. It’s on about 9:00 every night. The host, a University of Chicago professor, is very bright. So are most of his guests. They have opinions but they do something very interesting. They actually listen to each other. They influence each other. They offer considered opinions. They exchange ideas. How novel.

The truth is that I’m almost afraid to speak my mind these days. Someone, somewhere is going to label me. And then I have to go on the defensive without being offensive. That’s harder than it looks.

You see, we don’t listen to each other anymore. Someone is reading this and is ticked that I mentioned Rush’s name in less than a positive manner. Will they ask me to express myself further? Nope. Probably not. They’ve got me labeled. Someone on the other side is furious that I insinuated that too many liberals believe in ‘not much’ or that Barak might be making some mistakes. So, he or she will get grumpy.

Seriously, I think we’ve lost the ‘art of curiosity’. We’re interested far more in our entrenched position than the truth. I honestly think that most people don’t know why they believe what they believe. And I'm not convinced most people are the least bit curious about why someone might actually believe something different than what they hold near and dear. They aren’t asking…“Could I learn something from someone on the other side of an argument or is there an articulate opinion on the other side of my stereotype? “ Nope. Let’s listen, instead, to any loudmouth that supports our position. Who cares about what others think? Let’s saddle up our horses and ride as fast as we can either to the left or to the right. Then, let’s lob verbal grenades at each other, stirring up hate. That’s the new American way I think.

Christians are sometimes the worst ideologues. In too many circles I dare not venture an opinion contrary to the opinion makers in the room. You all know why too. Who wants to be torn apart? Who wants someone doubting the authenticity of your faith just because you believe that ‘global warming’ might be true or that there is another way to look at a Scripture passage or you have an egalitarian view of women and ministry? In more liberal faith circles admitting you're pro-life or even admitting you believe that the Bible is God's word for today can possibly get you shunned.

It makes me wonder. Is it ever worth the trouble any more to cause trouble?

And the answer is ‘yes’. It's worth the trouble to cause trouble. We can’t stay quiet. But we don’t have to act like the insolent, entertainment and ratings driven drones on talk radio or cable TV. Let’s be honest. Enflaming the negative passions of just about anybody is as easy as 1,2,3. Cynicism and sarcasm come as easily as falling off a log. Utter a half-truth here, a half-truth there and before you know it there’s a forest fire filled with hearsay and innuendo.

To enter into a real dialogue, to really listen, to entertain a variety of opinions, to respect your opponent, and to even change one’s mind is the mark of true maturity.

I get the opinion at times that what we have is too many people on the immature right and too many on the immature left and we expect to come to rational conclusions about important issues. It isn’t going to happen. Won’t happen.

Let’s start a movement. Turn off the pundits who exist only to enflame passions. Start to read. Search the Scriptures and especially read any passage we don’t have underlined. Start to care about issues. Vote. Seek out different opinions. Be willing to be influenced. Write well reasoned letters. Agree to take a ‘time out’ if you start yelling. Let’s call our movement “A Return to Civility.” I wonder what would happen.