Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Church-o-ween: Would Jesus Go To Fall Festival?

Well it is October 30, the day before Halloween. Tomorrow my church and churches all over our great nation will host events such as Fall Festival, Harvest Festival or something closely akin to that. The purpose behind this is to offer an alternative to the "evil celebrations" of Halloween. Millions of dollars will be spent in an effort to draw children and families to our churches so that we can treat them to some wholesome family fun. In years past, I have even been given the responsibility to plan said event for our community.

Let me begin by saying that I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with them. However, in light of the dialogue (albeit, one-sided) that we have been having about churches and, more specifically, Christ-followers, adopting more missional approaches to reaching the not-yet Christian, I present to you an opinion that I came across on one of the blogs that I frequent. This may make more sense to you if you take time to read some of my series of blogs on this subject. Go ahead, I will wait right here.

Author: Anthony Bradley
Source: World Magazine On The Web

Every year on October 31st many churches celebrate Halloween alternatives, what some call “Halloween in disguise,” with “Harvest” or “Fall” festivals. I read about this over at About.com. Candy, costumes, games, and everything Halloween except for the “evil stuff.” Why do churches do this?

Isn’t Halloween one of the best opportunities Jesus followers have to love their neighbors and build relationships for the Gospel with them? Jesus tended to not escape his context for “the shire” but brought the Kingdom to it. Isn’t following Jesus is a call to mission and live all of life for the Kingdom? A missional church sees itself as a local missionary and takes every opportunity to be incarnational, indigenous, and intentional.

Every Christian is a local missionary and avoiding non-Christians on Halloween seems odd to some of us. Isn’t it an evangelisitic dream come true to have such an easy opportunity to have non-Christians come to your home in your own neighborhood? If we want non-Christian families in our neighborhoods to meet Jesus shouldn’t we at least be home when they come knocking on our doors?

Since most American non-religious observances celebrate evil —Thanksgiving (gluttony), Valentines Day (lust), St. Patrick’s Day (drunkenness) — why create an alternative religious counterfeit on Halloween? ( NOTE: Okay, I'll have to admit I disagree with this particular line of reasoning as Thanksgiving is really not primarily about gluttony- although you probably could construe that from the size of my plate. But I think the author's point is well taken.) After all, what message is the church sending to the world by ‘circling the wagons’ and avoiding our neighborhoods?

Given the fact that Jesus and the apostles did not retreat from evil (Mark 2:13-14; Acts 14:8-20; Acts 17:16-34), I’m not so sure they would go to a church “harvest festival” on Halloween. It seems like Jesus followers, following the Kingdom-oriented mission of Christ, would see October 31st as a strategic missional opportunity to build relationships in their neighborhoods to later reveal where evil comes from and God’s solution for it. Why isn’t Halloween about being “salt and light?” What am I missing?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

Have you ever formed an opinion or held to a perception of a thing only to have that opinion or perception shattered once you actually experienced or encountered the thing? For example, I used to think there was some mystical or deeply spiritual reason why many Asian cultures remove their shoes before entering a residence. That was until I made friends with a Korean in seminary. One day over lunch, I remembered to ask him why it was that they always removed their shoes prior to going in a house. I asked it with all the reverence and respect that I could muster while eating my chicken and he sensed that I was ready for an answer that delved into ancient traditions and mysticism. He smiled, bowed his head and said, "So we can keep the rugs clean."

As a kid raised in an area and culture that was 96% Caucasian, I had some preconceived notions about what African-American culture was like. Even though I had some black friends and played sports with many others, I really had not been "close enough" to experience black culture. That was until I was a freshman in college at the University of Tennessee. My assigned roommate was a black guy from Memphis. Allen and I could not have hit it off any better. We spent a year and a half together before I transferred back to East Tennessee, but I cannot have imagined spending that time with a better friend or roommate. We spent hours over the course of those sixteen months talking about family, friends, faith, food and many other things. I learned things about black culture from him and his friends and had a deeper appreciation for the things that make us different and the ways in which we are similar. I miss Allen.

See what I mean? There are many things in life that look different on the outside than they are when you finally get inside. Some things have a certain allure. Maybe it is an exclusive club or a really hot company, but when you join that institution you discover that there is really nothing to them. Other times you encounter things that appear to have nothing going for them on the outside, but once you peek inside you are exposed to one of the most enriching and moving experiences of your life.

For many, the outside of faith, or a church, or a relationship with Jesus Christ looks like something completely different than what they really are on the inside. As followers of Christ, we need to recognize that fact. If you are someone with only a passing knowledge or notion of what faith in Christ is all about, please understand that things are not always as they appear. Some things are infinitely better!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"And now for something completely different..."

I'm a football nut. When I saw this last night, I knew I wanted to share it. Call it a lesson in perseverance. I can safely say you have probably never seen this on a football field before...outside a movie theater.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Living The Life...One Story Of Joy (Part 3 in a series)

Getting a haircut should not be a source of stress. Over the years, however, I have found it difficult at times to find just the right person to trust. I can count on one hand the number of people who fall into my Haircut Hall of Fame. Everyone else was just auditioning to be the next ONE.

The young lady I have been going to for about a year and a half is named Crystal. I just happened to amble into the new (at that time) salon that had opened up in the new shopping development. It was new, nice, and they had a coupon in the paper. You know the drill: walk in, sign in, wait for your name to be called, and step forward. Crystal was the luck of the draw. Right off the bat, she had a lot going for her. I call them the 3-C's: Cute, Clean and Cigarette-free (seemingly)- just the qualities you want from someone who stands 4 inches away from you and constantly runs their fingers through your hair.

I got a great haircut at a great price in close proximity to where I live and work and a nice, decent, down-home, fun, yet, talented hair stylist. I was hooked. So every four, five, seven weeks, I would make the call ("Is Crystal in?"), then make the drive and get the haircut. Last November when my youth group kids shaved my head in preparation for my trip to Sudan, I did not show up for a haircut for 2 months. In January, when I showed back up, she wondered where I had been, laughed at my ragged hair and cut away.

During the course of my visits, I made it a point to be intentional about my relationship with Crystal. The first day, I talked about my wife and daughter so that there would be absolutely no question that this was anything other than a haircut. Each time I would try to find out a little more about her in order to gauge her spiritual life. My vocation did not come up until the time when members of my church were there and it just naturally came out in the conversation. When the conversation from surrounding stylists and their clients strayed into PG-13 areas (or worse), I did not judge or jump out of my chair and storm out.

Gradually, Crystal began to share things of a more personal nature. Young cousins who were having children out of wedlock, trouble with boyfriend, trouble with parents and trouble with siblings were among the topics. I just sat, listened and counseled only when she specifically asked me to.

Finally, at the beginning of this month, she informed me that she would be leaving that salon and opening her own. Since she was telling me in hushed tones, I gathered that she did not want to let the cat out of the bag. I gave her my number and told her to call me later on and let me know where she would be. Last Tuesday, I received that call.

Why share this? The last thing I want to do is puff myself up or pat myself on the back. That is NOT what this is about. After all, I had really done nothing other than live the life... the life of a Christ-follower. The reason I share this is because in my conversation about being a Christ-follower, it serves as a decent example of what I am talking about. It is not about trying to bring a person to Christ in church. It is all about taking Christ to them as He lives in you (Colossians 1:27) and you in Him. It could be in the workplace, at your favorite coffeehouse, at school, or wherever life takes you...even the local barber shop.

I once heard sharing your faith described in terms of a flowing river (the river of life???). You do not want to over do it like a river that overflows its banks and boundaries causing an uncontrollable flood, nor do you want to be too subdued like the river that dries up for lack of water flow. You want to maintain a steady faith-flow within the boundaries (banks) of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Church Of The 21st Century (Part 2 in a series)

Okay, so that video may have been a little harsh, or over the top, but it gets the conversation started. I have been doing quite a bit of study in recent years about the effectiveness of how we do church and much of what has begun to shape my opinions comes from a few principal books I have read on the subject.

The first and most profound is entitled "The Shaping Of Things To Come: Innovation and Mission For The Church Of The 21st Century," by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Now some of you, friends, family and colleagues, may not find anything new here. Others of you may be rather challenged. The width and breadth of what is covered in that book is far more than you would want to read in this blog, but I will try to hit the high spots.

Three factors are key to understanding how churches are, and how they should be. Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches are attractional, dualistic and hierarchical, but that they need to be missional, messianic and apostolic.

Attractional versus Missional

Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches create sacred spaces that are fundamentally uncomfortable for not-yet-Christians (their term for lost folks). Then they try to draw not-yet-Christians into those spaces. They say that in the attractional church evangelism becomes about inviting people to meetings and this limits our vision for what God can do both in time and in space. But Jesus didn't say, sit in your church and wait for people to come to you.

Even when traditional churches set out to be evangelistic, Frost and Hirsch suggest that church planting generally involves planting Sunday services rather than real Christian communities.

The Missional church, on the other hand does not seek to attract people to it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don't know him yet. It does this through proximity spaces, shared projects, and commercial enterprises. Proximity spaces are places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other.

They are definitely not churches. Examples of proximity spaces include art workshops, pubs and cafes where Christians form part of the regular clientele. Shared projects are activities of genuine interest to the wider community, which meet a need and provide an opportunity for Christians and not-yet-Christians to meet in a natural situation. Commercial enterprises are real businesses, run by Christians for the wider community, but which are not overtly evangelistic. Examples included a shoe shop in San Francisco and a pub in Barnsley. The point of all of these activities is to find neutral ground where the Church can intentionally meet with the wider world.

This does not mean that the Church merely becomes a social club. Bible teaching and worship are still very much part of the life of the church (though perhaps not done in traditional ways), as is mutual commitment and accountability.

Dualistic versus Messianic

Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches are dualistic. That is, they believe that there is a separation between the secular and the sacred. This idea is rooted in Greek philosophy, not the Bible. Most churches and Christians in the West have bought into this idea, so that they do not even question it. This distinction impacts all aspects of life. We have sacred and secular people (clergy and laity), sacred and secular places (church buildings and the rest of the world), and sacred and secular activities (church services and the rest). And don't get me started on our sacred versus secular music! This separation of the sacred and the secular infects our thoughts to a great extent. It allows us to contract out spiritual duties such as evangelism to the professional Christians of the clergy. And it leads us to think that only activities which take place in our church buildings are truly spiritual.

Frost and Hirsch encourage the Church to abandon this distinction between secular and sacred, and to adopt the attitude of Jesus, who saw all activity as part of his ministry. We need to adopt an attitude which sees all of our activity, work, relaxation and specifically Christian service as a sacrament. All of our life must be sacred, and we must take Jesus with us wherever we go.

The church in the West must adopt a missionary stance in relation to its cultural context or die.

Hierarchical versus Apostolic

Frost and Hirsch say that all traditional churches have a hierarchical leadership system, though some are more overtly hierarchical than others. Think of it this way: you have the senior pastor, maybe some staff pastors, then the deacons or elders and then the "laity," or the "regular folks." This can create an atmosphere where the regular folks feel that they are unqualified to do certain aspects of ministry. They argue that this is neither Biblical nor efficient, and the Church needs to adopt the "APEPT" system of leadership taken from Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastor Teachers). This plurality of leadership based on spiritual gifting meets all of the needs of the Church, whereas a traditional hierarchical model often leaves gaping holes.

In Summation...

Many times our churches trade members. I refer to these folks as church nomads who roam to and fro in search of the church that "meets their needs" or "feeds them, spiritually." We fight over the same folks and all the while the not-yet-Christian sits back totally disinterested because for all of the reasons mentioned above and many others, she can't make heads or tails of our church speak, our church practices or our church life. It is about being a Christ-follower, not conforming to some Christian-ideal that was established long ago by tradition. We should conform to a Biblical lifestyle and no other.

Are we going to keep doing the same things and expect different results or are we going to meet people where they are? It is a radical and revolutionary idea that Jesus demonstrated 2000 years ago.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Christ-follower, huh? (Part One)

Some have asked why I have adopted the usage of Christ-follower as opposed to saying that I am a Christian. I found a video that can help explain that. Keep coming back to this blog in the days ahead for more explanations.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The B-I-B-L-E, Yes That's The Book For Me...

Most Christ-followers like to have a good, strong dose of Christian in their preferred media. We like our songs to have a few Gods or Jesus' thrown in for good measure. We want our Christian movies or books to have a plenty of Bible. When the artists that create these art forms don't play ball the right way and get the vernacular up to speed, most Christ-followers take their toys and go play in someone else's yard.

Last evening, I had to be in a couple of different places at once. We had a Sunday school teachers banquet at church, while WCQR held a special VIP screening of the new animated motion picture "The 10 Commandments" at Marquee Cinema (props to them). While hastily scarfing down my fried chicken (hey, we are Baptists!) so that we could make it to the screening, someone at our table commented that they heard that the movie supposedly did not mention God. While I found it difficult to believe that could have been pulled off successfully (it wasn't...I stopped counting at about 37), my mind raced to all those conversations I had had regarding artists who "didn't sing about Jesus enough."

The archetype for said conversations in Christian music circles back in the day centered on the one and only, Amy Grant. When "Heart In Motion" hit the shelves in 1991, churches, Christian schools, Christian radio and the frozen food section of Kroger were all abuzz with incredulity at the thought of Amy going from "El Shaddai" to "Baby, Baby."
"She has left her roots."
"Not one 'Jesus' in the whole song."
"She says it is supposed to be about her daughter, but don't you believe it."
"Yada, yada, yada."

I bristle just thinking about those conversations. Now, 16 years later, no one wants to look back to consider how many more millions of people Amy was able to dialogue with through her music because of a few songs that were sung from a larger stage.

This blog entry was inspired by an article I read in The Christian Post with the following lead:

The Gospel Music Association (GMA) and the American Bible Society (ABS) have agreed to a long-term ministry partnership that celebrates songwriters who incorporate the Bible’s life-changing message into their music.

GMA president and CEO, John Styll, goes on to say: “Music has the power to inspire, while the Bible has the power to transform...With the Bible Society’s support as our ministry partner and their guidance as the administrator of the ABS Scripture Song category, the GMA is very excited about the prospect of raising up new generations of biblically-informed songwriters who will create music that both inspires and transforms lives.”

I have absolutely no problem with this. I think that it is wonderful to encourage artists to glean lyrics from the awesome, inspired word of God. It is, without a doubt, transformational. My problem is with those who would disparage other artists who happen to be Christ-followers simply because they write a few songs that don't meet the Holy word count standard, whatever that may be. In so doing they are merely taking cues from Jesus Christ, Himself.

There were times when Jesus chose to communicate using quotations from the law and the prophets. There were other times when Jesus told culturally relevant stories about life in order to make a point. We call these parables. Why can artists of today not do the same thing? In everything He did, Jesus modeled for His disciples (us included) how to best get the message across because He would soon be leaving it up to them to get it done.

Now it is our turn. Thank you to all the artists who continue to follow the path Christ lights.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Classic...

A little levity for you on a Monday afternoon. It just doesn't get much better than Tim Conway in sketch comedy. I grew up on this.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Convenient Lie

I don't won't to get political in this blog. Any time you start to get political, you run the risk of alienating the very people to whom you wish to communicate the love, grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, the real reason for this blog.

However, over the past several years I think we have been saturated with misinformation related to the environment. Al Gore and an army of agenda-driven pseudo-scientists want to go far beyond conservation and preservation to attack the economic structures that have built and maintain the United States of America.

In his documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore and his ilk try to convince us that the human race is responsible for global warming and that we need to park our cars, unplug from the grid and party like it's 1899. For his efforts, Gore and his posse just hauled in the hardware. They were recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Please don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that we should take care of God's creation. I believe that we should continue research into alternative fuels, but for economic and national security reasons more so than environmental ones. I abhor littering. I recycle occasionally. When we moved into our new house, I replaced every single bulb in the house with environmentally-friendly, compact fluorescent bulbs. I'm all about being "green," even though, as Kermit sang, it ain't easy. Just don't ask me to park my truck and drop untold thousands on a hybrid.

When it comes right down to it, I have a fundamental problem with the hypotheses posited by Gore and Gore-apologists. I simply don't think (and never have thought) mankind has the capacity to have the type of impact on our planet for which we are getting credit.

In my daily perusal of various and sundry websites, I ran across an article that I found to be quite insightful. So for your reading pleasure, here it is in its entirety:

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney, Australia
Writer: Steve Lytte
October 14, 2007

Gore Gets Cold Shoulder

ONE of the world's foremost meteorologists has called the theory that helped Al Gore share the Nobel Peace Prize "ridiculous" and the product of "people who don't understand how the atmosphere works".

Dr William Gray, a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts, told a packed lecture hall at the University of North Carolina that humans were not responsible for the warming of the earth.

His comments came on the same day that the Nobel committee honoured Mr Gore for his work in support of the link between humans and global warming. "We're brainwashing our children," said Dr Gray, 78, a long-time professor at Colorado State University. "They're going to the Gore movie [An Inconvenient Truth] and being fed all this. It's ridiculous."

At his first appearance since the award was announced in Oslo, Mr Gore said: "We have to quickly find a way to change the world's consciousness about exactly what we're facing." Mr Gore shared the Nobel prize with the United Nations climate panel for their work in helping to galvanise international action against global warming.

But Dr Gray, whose annual forecasts of the number of tropical storms and hurricanes are widely publicised, said a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures - related to the amount of salt in ocean water - was responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place.

However, he said, that same cycle meant a period of cooling would begin soon and last for several years.
"We'll look back on all of this in 10 or 15 years and realise how foolish it was," Dr Gray said.
During his speech to a crowd of about 300 that included meteorology students and a host of professional meteorologists, Dr Gray also said those who had linked global warming to the increased number of hurricanes in recent years were in error.

He cited statistics showing there were 101 hurricanes from 1900 to 1949, in a period of cooler global temperatures, compared to 83 from 1957 to 2006 when the earth warmed. "The human impact on the atmosphere is simply too small to have a major effect on global temperatures," Dr Gray said.

He said his beliefs had made him an outsider in popular science. "It bothers me that my fellow scientists are not speaking out against something they know is wrong," he said. "But they also know that they'd never get any grants if they spoke out. I don't care about grants."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wen R U Thru W/ Jss?

As a youth pastor, text messaging (texting) is becoming the bane of my existence. I have nothing against the idea of texting. I do it all the time. It is a cheap, efficient, and often necessary form of communication. But for those same reasons, I also despise it.

Sunday nights are my primary youth ministry nights at my church. This is the night we gather together for ministry team rehearsals, food, fellowship and Bible study. During the food and fellowship times the idea is for the students to build community with one another, get to know each other a little better every week, talk, chat and have fun. BUT NOOOOOOOO! I usually have at least 5 or 6 of the little angels sitting around a table texting with some other kids in some other place with very little interaction among the ones who are physically present. As I was sharing this problem with a friend, he related to me a story he had heard.

A mother and her daughter were sitting in the sanctuary of their church one day in the middle of worship service. The mother noticed that her daughter was doing something funny with her hand under her leg. Upon further investigation, she realized her daughter was texting her cell phone. After impounding the device, the mother saw the latest text on the screen which read, "Wen R U Thru W/ Jss?" -translation- "When are you through with Jesus?" or "When are you going to be done with church?"

In reality, the daughter was through with Jesus when she started texting. You see, while texting may be cheap and efficient, true relationships are quite the opposite. True, meaningful relationships come at a high cost and they are often rather messy. It takes effort and time to build them and it takes great effort, time, and patience to maintain them. But in the end the investment is well worth it. Because in the end , whether your relationship is with a dear earthly friend or with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, you will have obeyed Christ's greatest commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself."

Let's put the cell phones down once in a while and talk with the people right next to us. You may be surprised at the treasure you may find.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What Is It With These Temperatures?

Last Friday night, as I prowled the Dobyns-Bennett sidelines, I was struck by the fact that there was, at long last, a nip in the air. It felt like fall for the first time. Now as I write these words, my Weather Bug reports that it is 86 degrees and sunny.

After I got in late Friday night, I called the Atmos Energy 24-hour call center to set up an appointment to have the gas turned on at the house. When we moved into our house in May, we inherited gas logs. It is the first time we have ever had them. We cannot wait to use them. The appointment was set for Monday.

I finally get the call on Tuesday, mid-afternoon, that they are at the house. Now the gas is on, the pilot light is glowing... and it is 86 degrees with an extended forecast of mid to upper 80's through Tuesday.

Maybe we can have a Thanksgiving Luau!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

1, 2, 3, 4...Tell Me That You Love Me More!

Every once in a while there is a commercial that kind of gets a hold of you. The iPod Nano commercial featuring the following video is one of those. When that commercial comes on, Ellie, Paige and I have 30 seconds of comedic bliss no matter what is going on in the world around us. You ought to see Ellie swing her hips like the girl in the video.

So for your viewing pleasure, here is the video in its entirety. I have learned that the song, simply entitled 1234, is written and performed by the group known as Feist and can be found on the album The Reminder. Please do not take this as a ringing endorsement for the album or the group. I know nothing about them other than they wrote at least one catchy song and the video is a lot of fun.

This video reminds me of a production number you might have seen in the late 60's or early 70's.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Do You Have To... Or Want To?

As I previously indicated, I spent a lot of time at the hospital last week with my dad. I visit hospitals all the time. Part of my job is offering pastoral care to members of my faith community who find themselves in ill health or who are undergoing some type of surgical procedure. Hospitals are not fun places. Folks who find themselves there rarely ever want to remain there for very long. Visiting others in the hospital is also difficult for some people. Maybe it is the sight of blood or the smells that sometimes emanate from the rooms, whatever the case, most normal folks don't like hospitals.

Sometimes I wonder what it is like for the doctors and nurses. Are they just wired differently? I know that God gifts people differently to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in His kingdom and maybe that is the answer. For some, it is the allure of a higher pay scale. For others, it is a genuine desire to help other people. For some it is a job, a paycheck, and, yet, for others it is a calling.

One thing I noticed in the hours I spent with dad was the fact that some of the nurses did their jobs in such a way because that was the next thing on their list. It was obvious when they came in the room, Mr. Brooks was next on the list to receive (fill in the blank). They would come in, do what they needed to do, and were gone. If you asked anything else of them, it threw them off their game. "So and So will be in later to take care of that for you," was often the reply.

Then there was the rare instance when a nurse or doctor would come in because Mr. Brooks needed their assistance and expertise in his time of need. You could tell by their approach, they were there because they wanted to be.

There are many correlations between this example and the faith life. How do you approach Church? Do you go because that is what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night for you progressives)? Do you go because you have always gone and it seems like the right thing to do? Or do you go because you want to offer your gifts, praise, worship, glory and honor to God?

How do you approach a ministry or missions opportunity? How do you approach your stewardship or giving of time and money back to God? The scripture is very clear. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law, all of it. The things we give back to God- our stuff, our time, ourselves- we give purely and simply because we want to. It is our response in light of all we have received and are promised to receive.

Now I have to go because I have to eat... or do I want to eat?