Sermon Visuals from March 30th

This was the second Sunday worship gathering in a multi-week focus on “Practicing Resurrection” as we celebrate Easter (which is a season of the church year, not one Sunday). Last Sunday, I mentioned that the deepest meaning of the resurrection was not that Jesus rose from the dead. A deep understanding of the Bible shows that God did that to more than a few people (among them, Lazarus, and later, a guy who fell out of a window while listening to what must have been a terribly boring message from the apostle Paul). And the deepest meaning of the resurrection was not even that Jesus didn’t die, because two others in the pages of the Bible never died a natural death. Of course, this may sound shocking for me to say this, but I’m no Jesus Seminar-follower with their belief that the resurrection was merely metaphorical and their confident assertions that the disciples knew this too *cough* BS *cough* (sorry, something in my throat).

Of course Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.

But that wasn’t the deepest meaning. Take a gander at 1 Corinthians 15, and look for three red-flag themes; futility, hope, and firstfruits. The link to the sermon is here. It’s just a raw copy and paste job right now. I’ll shape it up to follow the flow of thoughts here in a bit, but I’ve got schoolwork.

My basic contention is that Jesus in his resurrection placed the rebellious power of death under his feet, scoffed at peoples’ attempt to thwart his purposes, and in so doing, freed us from the fear and finality of death by giving us the hope of resurrection. In order to carry that hope, we must invest all of who we are in his kingdom, and freedom from the fear of death enables us to live with hope now; that no situation is too dark for God’s light and life to enter, even if our lives are snuffed out in the process.

So this Sunday we talked about my friend at seminary Robert Russo, his organization Christians for the Mountains, and their battle against the disgusting practice of Mountain Top Removal (driven mainly by the corporation Massey Energy and others). These folks are followers of Jesus, and heroes in my book (maybe even “latter-day saints”? haha!)

As for the pictures, the first is of Robert, the second shows the enormity of the “dragline” that is employed in MTR, the third shows a “valley fill” (where the company dumps the mountain as they grade it, thus clogging up watersheds, altering streams, shredding the ecosystem, and creating a place where when it rains, flash floods rip through the area), the fourth, fifth, and sixth show Kayford Mountain, WV, and the desecration of the land over a three year time-span (this is being done over hundreds of thousands of acreage in WV, KT, NV, and VA), and the seventh and eighth show an area of WV on Google Earth with satellite photos taken before and after MTR operations. I’d encourage you to download the Kayford pictures and flip through them on your computer back and forth quickly. It’s a shocking difference.

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Evidently McCain has “work to do” to gain evangelical vote…

The statement in the title line above isn’t a revolutionary one by any means, but I just read an article with a quote by Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council President, that made me laugh out loud/get angry.  It’s a quote that captures the sheer stupidity and narrow-mindedness of evangelicals who drool over the Republican Party, never questioning or critically examining how certain stances line up with a lifestyle of following Jesus.  Perkins said McCain has injured his relationship with evangelicals and social conservatives.  How?  Check out the quote;

“Perkins said McCain has injured his relationship with evangelicals and social conservatives by joining Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) in sponsoring campaign finance legislation. He also mentioned McCain’s membership in the so-called bipartisan “Gang of 14” senators who worked to accommodate one another on judicial appointments, and his refusal to endorse a constitutional amendment on gay marriage. 

Now, I can see the constitutional amendment for gay marriage being an issue evangelical Christians should care about, but the other two are flat-out laughable and show how evangelical Christians have been co-opted by American conservatism and the Republican Party.  Evidently if one acts in a bipartisan way or accommodates the opinions and visions of Democrats for even a second, it injures their relationship with evangelicals…according to Perkins.

Can someone please explain to me how this makes any sense at all?

Did Perkins consider the simple reality that the McCain-Feingold bill was a campaign finance reform (one of the best legislative pieces to come down the pipe in awhile), and not McCain working with Feingold for gay marriage to be legalized along with all heterosexuals to be expelled from the city limits in San Fran?

This is just ridiculous is what this is.

Since I’m feeling generous today, here’s another quote on the subject from evangelical Zionist charismatic champion John Hagee in his 2000 book God’s Candidate. I’ll give you one guess on who he KNEW it was, and I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t Al Gore or Ralph Nader. Here’s the quote;

The Democratic Party, Hagee wrote, “is the home of those who advocate homosexuality, abortion, free-sex, unlimited handouts, maximum taxation, little freedom from government control, and toleration of drug use.” The GOP, in contrast, “is the home of social conservatives who believe in the sanctity of life, hard work, clean moral living, limited government interference in our lives, minimum taxation, and a return to Bible-based societal values.”

Love me some stereotypes. LOVE ME some stereotypes.

I love/can’t stand Mark Driscoll

mark driscoll Maybe this post will be the beginning of more than a few focusing on Mark Driscoll’s Christian MPD (multiple personality disorder), because I’ve been sitting on a few thoughts from his talk at the Convergence Conference at Southeastern Baptist Seminary back a little while ago too.

Right now, my pleasure reading is split between several books I’m picking up for twenty minutes at a time; sometimes bathroom reading (I know, too much information), sometimes work avoidance, and sometimes divine coincidence (a sense that I was meant to pick the book up at that time…don’t push me theologically on that because you’ll find my Christian MPD).  The main ones are Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, and Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev.  If that lineup doesn’t hold the potential to confuse me, I don’t know what will, but I digress.

I’ll just go ahead and say this;  Mark Driscoll holds the power to both deeply convict me and deeply disgust me; sometimes in the same sentence.  And I think I’ve been able to pinpoint the times he disgusts me from a wide range of exposure to him (the Convergence talk, videos on Youtube, his blogging on the Resurgence blog, and comments he’s left on other blogs).  Mark is brilliant.  Flat-out brilliant.  And his insights into discipleship and what it takes to be a church planter have changed my life and radically affected my thinking about human/God interaction.  This is why I’m excited to read his Confessions of a Reformission Rev. But Mark, in an attempt to be funny, especially in his freedom from a script (but not necessarily), says incredibly hurtful things about various groups and then in the same breath claims to have great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from his own.  I’m not the first one to say this (and I won’t be the last); Newsflash Mark, you can’t have both.

This twisted way of relating with others was shown perfectly in his Convergence talk where Mark in one breath gave a stunning repentance of the juvenile, un-Christlike ways he has interacted with others in the past, and about fifteen minutes later said “Brian McLaren has a new organization called ‘Deep Shift,’ and I think somebody inadvertently put an ‘F’ in there.”  Really Mark, really?  You’re really repenting?

I go out of my way (seriously, I do), to pay attention to Mark’s good thoughts, because he has so much that is wise and passionate and mentors me as a young man.  But I can easily see how others, either because they’re lazy or they’ve been so deeply wounded by inconsistent relationships in the past, shut Mark Driscoll out, never to give him a listen again.  And that’s unfortunate, both for them and Mark; and, I should say, for the gospel.

These thoughts have been spurred by a little section in Confessions where he says (my asides will be in italics),

“Since the movement (emerging church), if it can be called that, is young and is still defining its theological center, I do not want to portray the movement as ideologically unified because I myself swim in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church. (sounds ok so far)  I am particularly concerned, however, with some growing trends among some people; the rejection of Jesus’ death on the cross as a penal substitute for our sins (historically speaking, Mark, this as the only understanding of the atonement is only one thousand years old; half the life of the church), resistance to openly denouncing homosexual acts as sinful (with you); the questioning of a literal eternal torment in hell, which is a denial that holds up only until, in an ironic bummer, you die and find yourself in hell (funny, but oversimplifies a complex Biblical issue); the rejection of God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, as if God were a junior-college professor who knows only bits and pieces of trivia (sovereignty and knowledge are two completely different issues, and again, this is a complex Biblical issue); the rejection of biblically defined gender roles, thereby contributing to the “mantropy” epidemic among young guys now fretting over the best kind of loffah for their skin type and the number of women in the military dying to save their Bed, Bath, and Beyond from terrorist attacks (shut up Mark); and the rejection of Biblical names for God, such as Father, which is essentially apologizing before the unbelieving world for the prayer life of the flamboyantly heterosexual Jesus who uttered the horrendously politically incorrect “Our Father” without ever having the decency to apologize for being a misogynist patriarchal meanie (I get your point and agree with it, but the majority of the sentence is so juvenile that it completely obscures your point).  This is ultimately all the result of a diminished respect for the perfection, authority, and clarity of Scripture, all of which was written by patriarchal men (again, Mark, the Bible never claims perfection, it’s not all on the same level of authority, and you, as a teacher, should know that the Bible is the opposite of clear on the surface, and in some cases on a deeper level is intended to remain a mystery).

Then, four sentences later, Mark says, “I assure you that I speak as one within the Emerging Church Movement who has great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from my own.”  Oh.  My.  Word. How could he even write that after all that had come before, writing it off as “poking fun”? And is Mark willing at all to step back from what he has inherited as “true” to ask some serious questions about whether it’s something clearly expressed in the Bible or whether it’s a way of thinking relatively recent in history? This is a wisdom question. If he admits that he is changing continually (which we all are), shouldn’t that lead to stifling knee-jerk reactions he has for those who would challenge what he thinks is “true”?

The willingness to question what we’ve inherited is an important (and I’d say necessary) element of the best that the emerging church has to offer; because much of the questioning is helping us all to read the Bible in a deeper and more wise way. Do people go too far? Yes. But is my opinion on whether they go to far inherently truthful and wise? Of course not. So I suggest we all get off our theological high horses and take a strong dose of a humility pill before we throw folks under the bus (wherever on the spectrum of belief we are). I’ll go ahead and say this; there are plenty of ways to stand for what we believe is true in a passionate way that respects the perspective of others. Slapping the label of “heretic” on folks who disagree with you (which Mark does three times in the Convergent talk) benefits no one.

That wraps up my extended thought on Mark.  A horribly inconsistent, repenting yet wounding, wise yet juvenile, relational yet relationally-destructive follower of Jesus.  Sounds a lot like me, but I do try to be careful about how I word my skewering of others’ sacred cows.

Evangelicals Behaving Badly…

Christian Smith has written a tremendous article regarding the misuse of statistics by the church spun a certain way to get people alarmed and off their tushes…

“American evangelicals, who profess to be committed to Truth, are among the worst abusers of simple descriptive statistics, which claim to represent the truth about reality, of any group I have ever seen. At stake in this misuse are evangelicals’ own integrity, credibility with outsiders, and effectiveness in the world. It is an issue worth making a fuss over. And so I write…”

Check this article out. It’s entirely worth it. Seriously.

Some thoughts (maybe some interaction with others?)

My friend Matt Murphy is a prolific blogger over on Myspace; I wish I had the work ethic to be as disciplined on mine (blogging helps me sort out my scattered thoughts). Matt about a half a month or so ago posted a blog I found interesting. I’ll attach both his thoughts and mine, but before doing that, I’ve got a bit of a preface that’s been rolling through my head recently (most directly related to Matt’s approach).

Matt is not your typical evangelical American Christian. How do I define typical evangelical American Christian? Most often, I find them to be hypocritical in belief and lifestyle and logically incoherent. Keep in mind I’m saying this as a Christian too (and that I, from time to time, am both hypocritical and logically incoherent, but work with me). I continually find myself intrigued that Christians can in one breath talk about love, forgiveness, and God’s grace and in the next talk of folks next-door or across the globe as if their lives are nothing more than dirt. It seems to me the prevailing message we get in our churches is typically something that leads to a split in us; as if you or I could “love” someone in our hearts but beat to a different drum in our actions. As a simple example, somehow we’ve been taught that we can “love” God and others and “forgive” others while simultaneously serving in the military and killing those who disagree with us (using the most obvious case) in the name of “justice.” This logic goes further for those who don’t serve directly in the military but engage in the cult worship of military “heroes” or our American governmental leaders that usually takes place the Sunday closest to every Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, or Independence Day where we celebrate their sacrifice to maintain our “freedom.” Acknowledging that reality could spawn some more writing here on that subject, but I think it’s important to focus here on the false presumption that we can “believe” certain things while our lives and primary motivations completely contradict what we say we believe in. It’s wickedly humorous to me how supposedly mature Christians in times of relative peace and comfort say all the right things, yet when things happen that destabilize the norm, they line up with all the other good American citizens and toe the line of uncritically accepting the decisions of G.W. because he’s a “praying man” or the nation at large as if we’re the pure, perfect light of freedom and justice in the world or some other such nonsense. This applies to any modern nation-state (especially in the West) where fealty to the state usurps faithfulness to Christ as Lord.

What has “love” become in our society? What about “justice” and “peacemaking” and “discipleship”? It’s manifestly obvious to me we value Jeremy Bentham, George W. Bush, or H. Richard Niebuhr’s opinions on these subjects more than Jesus or Paul. Is that a problem? (tongue planted firmly in cheek) I say all this because Matt (as a relatively “new” Christian) has a deeper awareness of the aforementioned concepts of love, discipleship, justice, etc than 99.9% of my friends or acquaintances that call themselves Christian. How has this hit Matt between the eyes and not them? My deeper question is: how can we recover a reading of the teachings of Jesus with a plain understanding that they are intended to be the center of what it means for you and I to be disciples? Call me crazy, but love doesn’t make sense if we don’t define it by Jesus’ example, teachings, and further (second-level) New Testament musings. The proper pursuit of justice doesn’t make sense if we don’t define it by Jesus’ example, teachings, and further (second-level) New Testament musings, etc etc. Matt seems to have this awareness (along with a willingness to be dynamic in dialogue about the secondary issues that stem from his pursuit of discipleship in the way of Christ). I think that should be applauded.

Anyways, here’s what he said on his blog (keep in mind my perception of Matt’s approach comes not from this post alone, but from reading multiple posts that seem to reflect a consistent motivation):

I have opinions that my friends don’t like.

Soldiers go door to door killing. For what? Are the citizens of Iraq suddenly going to come to my house and try to kill me or my family? Probably not. Its a good thing we have a constitution here that generally prevents the killing of malcontents. Have any weapons of mass distruction definitively been found? No. Did Iraq threaten us prior to our invasion of their country? Depends on who you talk to. Have we rooted out any Al Qaeda members in Iraq? Not definitively. When we did invade, for the purpose of human rights, did we assist refugees? Not really. Is the US Government moving to make more strict laws against torture of prisoners? Negative. Wait, isn’t torture of Americans one of the things we are upset about? How many innocent have died? A lot. How many American soldiers have died just from being over there (vehicular accidents, friendly fire, etc.)? A lot. In the first Iraq war, more Americans died from just being over there than in the war. Is Matt ever going to vote Republican? My sources say no.”

And my response:

“Some further questions I think are important:

How does a secular sense of justice match up with a Biblical sense of justice 1)in general and 2)specifically in the case of Iraq?

How do we as the church maintain a distance from the actions of the state and take action in our own unique way that provides an alternative witness in times where the actions of the state are clearly unjust?

In recognizing the ultimate futility of staking our complete interest in the actions of the state (empires rise and fall, right?), how do we move beyond secular political pigeonholing (liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican/Green/Libertarian) to recognize that the Politics of Jesus will make some label us as conservative in some areas and liberal in others?

In connection with another of your blogs, it seems to me we always have the temptation to make the easiest move towards the most comfort in our lives. I think that relates to:
1) our politics…its easier to toe the line of whatever party we agree most with and we end up defending their entire platform because we think they’re “right” and the other “wrong”, and
2) how we relate to the society as the church…we’ve passed off much of the responsibility of the church to impact the society for good (who started widespread education and the helping profession of medicine?) on the state; that way we don’t have to do much other than go to church on Sunday and sit on our hands the rest of the time.

That makes it a heck of a lot easier to sit in our armchairs and talk about why the poor just need to quit being lazy and do something about their lives when we don’t have any direct connection to those who are poverty stricken; or talk about why single mothers shouldn’t get abortions without actually working directly in their lives so they know not only their lives are important, but the lives of their unborn children, etc etc. I’m continually frustrated by how selfish I am in this respect (in a vacuum, I’d choose the armchair), and how much potential we have for grassroots change as the church that’s being wasted in front of televisions between the four walls of our residences.”

Penny for your thoughts (and willingness to read this longish post)

Boldness vs, Triumphalism: there’s a difference!

First things first. What’s triumphalism? Look it up. It’s a sweet word. Then maybe a couple of my random musings here will make sense. Second, why pics of Seabiscuit and Stephen Baldwin? Be patient, my child, be patient.

I was puttering around on the Next Wave e-zine just a little while ago, and happened to be intrigued by an open letter to Stephen Baldwin upon his conversion to following Christ: you can find it here. I’ve been torn between joy at Stephen’s life change stemming from his housekeeper having the guts to share out of the foundation of their relationship the reality of transformation in Christ and disenchantment with the people Stephen’s aligned himself with following.

The author of this open letter has much to say about effective evangelism all-around that any of us could apply in our daily lives. As I mentioned several days ago in a little glimpse at Walter Brueggemann’s book, evangelism for many of us has carried the image of standing up for the truth, and sharing that truth, and if others don’t accept our truth; well, we hope they enjoy roasting. The rigidity and triumphalism in this view is extremely distasteful to me, and I’d even suggest the people who participate in such “evangelism” carry that distaste however thinly veiled in their subconscious. One of my friends says straight-out, “I am who I am and I don’t change for people. I will not stray from my beliefs. I am thoroughly dogmatic. If you don’t like me or what I stand for, get behind me.” On the one hand, there’s something very appealing about that; that he’s making the claim to be the same person no matter who he’s around. On the other hand, this statement certainly doesn’t invite conversation on why he is who is, or give any room for dissenting opinion. I say all this because in the open letter up above, the writer, in talking about true boldness, makes what I consider to be an excellent point.

He says,
“I would hate to see you make the mistake that so many Christians make when they first become Christians. They become hot-heads; judging and trying to tell everyone in their path how wrong and sinful they are and how Jesus can save them. Always in somebody’s face trying to embarrass and corner them. That is not boldness; that is foolishness…It requires more boldness to be separate from the crowd than yelling at the crowd. True Boldness is seen in the young person at high school or college who, despite ostracization from friends, will choose a life of holiness. You are not bold by trying to corner and judge everybody you encounter. Be Bold through your lifestyle. Let your life be your message.”

I would add to that statement that true boldness is being able to live with friends who have dissenting opinions and truly listening to where they’re coming from. As Christians, we’re supposed to be claiming that our lives are defined by a journey; that we are in pursuit of the truth that is represented in Christ…we are not a complete story; we have not reached the finish line. Too many folks claim that because of their life transformation, they represent the truth. This is not at all the message Jesus conveyed to those who sought to follow Him.

So, an appeal from me.
1. Effective evangelism will involve a willingness to listen to others’ lives. They matter to God. Big time. They should matter to you and me.
2. View others as an end, instead of a means. Too many folks in today’s society know they are simply being used by everyone and everything as a means to an end, as opposed to being an end. Wal-mart doesn’t care about your life, and quite honestly, neither do most people. Christians should be defined by the high value we place on the lives of others. In order for them to know that, we need to be in a trustworthy relationship with them. In order for a relationship to exist that makes such opportunities possible, we need to lose the pride, cockiness, and “I have the truth, now knuckle under and listen to what I have to say” attitude.

If God values my life enough to let me screw up and rebel against him time and again, form my own opinions and maintain them for extended periods of time, and yet through life, relationships, and conversations shows a willingness to go one-on-one and never gives up on me; why should I treat others any differently?

Besides, me thinking I hold the absolute truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth should be called what it is. First word? Seabiscuit is a _______ . The second? What’s in the porta-potty sitting behind the ChatterBus in Waynesboro? I think you know what I’m saying. Yeah, you do.