earthed

 

Drayton Naybers has watched a lot of young guys win the Heisman trophy.

And he says you can tell a lot about a guy’s character by his acceptance speech.

Sometimes they will just credit their hard work and weightlifting, or natural talent. But Naybers will ask, who taught you to work hard? Or bought the equipment? Who built the university, or recruited your teammates?

Who gave you the DNA in the first place?

“If this player has humility, he will express nothing but over-flowing gratitude when he wins-to his parents, to his teachers and coachers, to all the players on his team, and to everyone who helped him along the way…Humility actually is a form of wisdom. It is thinking clearly. It is simply being realistic. It is knowing who really deserves the credit and the glory for what we do

I like that, it’s not humility, it’s actually just being realistic.

The Church That Raised Me2012_04_26_11_04_19.pdf000

For every sermon I write, this picture is the background of the computer desktop. It’s a picture of my friend, Brian leading singing at the little 10 member church I grew up in. I write with this picture in mind, because this is who I write for, most of the people in this picture are dead, but it is when the saints gather for church that I feel they are the most present.

They say that preachers help form churches, but the reverse is true as well. Churches form preachers.

On an average Sunday morning, our congregation consisted of Bro. Foy, the patriarch of the church, who was more than a little mentally unstable. I’m not joking, and he is the reason I’m a preacher, because mentally unstable makes very interesting sermons, and passionate preaching. There aren’t many memories from my church childhood that don’t involve Bro. Foy.

The first funeral I ever did (I was 14), he wrote for me. I remember sitting up behind the pulpit with him, and him telling me that I was going to do just fine.

Words like liberal and conservative couldn’t be used to describe us, and we never used them ourselves. We argued, like any human community, and there were tense times (like when Foy started preaching against women wearing pants), but we apologized and forgave quickly.

We had too, after all we took communion together.

I saw the beautiful thing that is a community of reconciliation, and you’ll never convince me that this is not something worth giving my life for. But this kind of experience is rarely the case anymore. The common assumption is that for a church to grow they must specialize in one slice of the human pie.

From Generation to Generation

Over the past few years, I’ve read and heard some church consultants giving the advice that, in order to grow numerically, a church needs to pick between targeting people of under 40, or over 40. I hate that suggestion. I think it works against the very nature of Church, I think it helps us lean into our own selfishness and away from the people who we need to be frustrated by.

So next week, I’m going to talk about it. If you’re in Abilene, I’d like to invite you to come to the ACU Summit (Lectureships). For three days next week I want to talk about the biggest crisis I think the Church is facing. I want to talk about the ways we are trying to address it, and I’d also like to find out how other churches are dealing with it.

Again, this is not a crisis of morality or lack of fidelity to the gospel, or anything that stirs up controversy. The problem is that it is really hard to be a church of five different generations.  More to the point, we are not able to get older people and younger people to hang out together anymore. 

So much of the Scriptures are trying to create ways for one generation to pass on faith from one generation to the other., worked into the first five books of the Bible is the idea that this is the story that you tell your kids, for them to tell their kids. Paul even dedicates major portions of his pastoral letters giving practical ideas for how the churches he planted could do this.

And since we no longer live in the age of potlucks and bunko…how do we prioritize this at the local church level? How do we emphasize generational generosity and create atmospheres conducive for our senior saints to rub shoulders with our younger adults? How do we help each generation see how much they need the wisdom and perspective of the people around them?

These aren’t just rhetorical teasing questions…I’d love to hear your ideas, especially if you won’t be able to make it to Abilene. I hope to get some new ideas on how to implement this, and I may share some of your ideas in the class.

I’ve been greatly blessed in my life with godly mentors who have been willing to sacrifice to pass on the Gospel to some chump kid who they decided to invest their life in. I’m convinced the best thing I can do with my life, is to try and stand on the people’s shoulder who have gone before me, and leave something for the person who are coming after me.

In a world that tries to get me to believe that the universe spins on a top with me at the center, it’s good to be reminded that I am a tree in a story about a forest.

And the story of the forest is way better than the story about the tree

That’s what being part of a church is, we’re not doing that, that’s our crisis, and it’s time to talk about it.

(The class is meeting in Hart Auditorium 1:15-2:05)

“On the day of judgment, God will ask only one question: ‘Did you enjoy my world?'” -Ancient Jewish saying

“Like all truly mystical things, love is rooted deeply and rightfully in this world and this flesh.” -Katherine Anne Porter

In the Flesh Blog

 

 

It’s interesting to me that Passion is a marketing buzz word these days for everything from TV shows to cologne. Most of us want passion in our lives, and more of it, but few of us make the kinds of decisions that lead to passion.

Passion after all is first defined (by the dictionary!) as the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life. It is to care about something more than yourself and to find that this care might require all of yourself…including your body.

Sex for Dummies

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran a fascinating front page article about a new development in the entertainment industry…the development is people watching video games. At first, you might not think that this is a big deal, because video games have been around for years, but the Times was covering a conference where thousands of people were gathering, not to play, but to watch professionals play video games. 

It’s ironic that the Times ran this front page story, because just a few pages later, on the same day, Philosophy professor Richard Kearney wrote an op-ed piece about what our obsession with technology is doing to us.

Dr. Kearney noted that in his classes when he talks about the body and touch, sex will inevitably come up, but unlike generations in the past, today’s students aren’t having sex to be with a person, they are having sex with an anatomically correct husk.

I was a Singles minister for many years, and I grieve the hook-up culture that we’ve created. I know the kind of damage that it does to a person’s soul. But the real twist in Dr. Kearney’s observation is that he thinks it’s only a symptom of a greater problem. Today’s hook-up culture exists in large part because online dating and mating services like Match.com and Tinder allow people to share messages that signal their level of willingness to have sex, and under what conditions…all almost purely anonymously.

Sex, connecting with a real human being, in the most intimate of ways, is now mediated digitally, replacing the ancient community or the priest, Tinder doesn’t require you to pledge your life in submission to the good of the other and to fight for that person’s soul. It’s just asks you to swipe left.

But, and here is Dr. Kearney’s big observation:

What is often thought of as a “materialist” culture is arguably the most “immaterialist” culture imaginable — vicarious, by proxy, and often voyeuristic…[We] see everything at a distance but [it's] touched by nothing. Are we perhaps entering an age of “excarnation,” where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways? For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it.

It’s not that we are a materialistic culture, we are anything but that. Materialism is the idea that this world is all there is, but we’re not even paying attention to this world that much anymore.

Dr. Kearney goes on to state that in all actuality, pornography is, the flip side of [his interpretation of] Puritanism. Both require an alienation from flesh — one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body.

I think he’s right about the pornography and wrong about the Puritans.Puritan Valentines

Hot and Holy

Because contrary to popular belief, the Christian faith doesn’t discount this world or our bodies, in fact, it takes it all the more seriously because we believe that God entered into it.

In fact, and I can’t believe I’m about to write this sentence, Puritans were incredibly sexual, passionate people who did the hard work of channelling that energy toward only one person in their life.

 One unfortunately named Puritan, Thomas Hooker wrote, “The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parlies with her in each place where he comes.” He adds: 

“She lies in his Bosom, and his heart trusts in her, which forceth all to confess, that the stream of his affection, like a mighty current, runs with full tide and strength.”

Hallmark eat your heart out.

The problem with our society is that we can’t imagine sex like the Puritans. We can’t imagine a world where sexuality doesn’t produce something, where it’s not useful to be turned into a commodity for our self-esteem or money like prostitution or pornography and then sold to the highest bidder. (Today’s pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, and Netflix).

The biggest problem with pornography is that it divorces sex from the act of giving. Sex becomes all about experiencing, receiving, trying to understand the mystery…in a word, sex becomes a commodity to consume.  But the Puritans talked about sex as benevolence to the other.

"Sexology" book by Puritan Press for a Happy Marriage

“Sexology” book by Puritan Press for a Happy Marriage

The Puritans took sex so seriously that if either spouse didn’t give “due benevolence” it could be grounds for church discipline! There is actually an example on record, where a husband was kicked out of fellowship with the church for “neglecting his wife” by not making love with her for a long period of time!  

Because the Puritans knew that sex is a gift that you give and are given.

In her memoir Grace, the preacher Mary Cartledgehayes recounts her final year with her husband as he was dying of cancer. She writes about how they decided to savor every moment of life they had left together, and ultimately how they decided to make love every day until he died. Here’s how she talks about it:

To breathe, to laugh, to curse, to praise, to weep, to sit in the midst of perfect order, to stand in the center of perfect chaos, to bread bread, to eat three strawberries, to touch a piano’s keys, to kiss a lover’s skin, to birth, to baptize, to bless, to bury, to live , to die – either it is all holy or not of it is holy”

And then she closes her book with these words:

“And this is what I know. It is all holy.

On September 4, 2014

In the Flesh: TMZ

In the Flesh Blog

So maybe you’ve heard of the famous gossip website/tv show TMZ, they take all the trashy pictures and news from Hollywood celebrities and make or break the stars. But did you know that TMZ just stands for Thirty Mile Zone? It’s the 30 miles around Hollywood where famous people are known to hang out.

I think that’s ironic that the whole world knows about these 30 miles of land. I’ve been in huts in Africa and seen posters of celebrities pictures taken within this 30 miles tract of land. We stare at our cell phones while on dates with our spouse to read about the latest news from these 30 miles, we don’t have to be anywhere,  We’ve developed a world where we are everywhere and nowhere all at once.

A World We Can’t Touch

Did you know that 41% of teens describe themselves as addicted to their cell phones? 43% of teen say that they don’t know how to unplug from the digital world. The majority of teens feel frustrated that their friends are on their mobile devices while they are trying to hang out, and a third feel that their parents pay more attention to their iPads than them.

We are, for all intents and purposes, addicted to the devices that were supposed to bring us together. A new development is that young adults often have something called “Nomophobia” which is a fear of being without our cell phones, and a majority of students surveyed repotted felling anxiety when they didn’t have their mobile device with them (some are even taking it into the shower with them)

And yet, nearly half of teens wish they could go back to a world before Facebook.

But then how would we show our outrage?

In his book, Incarnate, Michael Frost points out that it’s not just our relationships that are suffering from our increasingly digitized world, we’re also losing the ability to live into our passions in the place we actually live. Here’s how Frost says it:

We drive our SUV’s across town to churches in neighborhoods we don’t actually live in (and don’t want to). We send SMSs and check Twitter during the sermon, and then we download our favorite celebrity preachers sermon as a podcast to listen to during the week. We engage in online discussions by posting smug and condescending remarks about those unseen, unknown folks with whom we disagree. We sign petitions and change our Facebook profile picture to show our support for various causes without any thought of getting involved personally. We are outraged by those who manipulate child soldiers or who traffic sex workers from Central Europe, but we don’t open our homes to our own neighbors, let alone those with no home at all.”

Thirty Mile Zone

One of the things that I never knew about having a book published is that I would get to talk to radio stations all over the country. Each week, I’ve been interviewed by Christian radio stations to talk about How to Start a Riot. I’ve run into a lot of different accents, and they all make fun of mine. It’s like a little tour across the nation, all while I’m sitting in my office. Most of those interviews have gone fine, but a few of them have taken some left turns and even gotten cut short.

And it’s always because of this:

The host will ask me questions about politics, or Ferguson (the book title leads to talking about riots), and I’ll tell them about the story of growing up in the 10 person church, and how once when I came home from college with a big group of friends, Brother Foy asked us all (in the middle of worship) “Where are the black people? Don’t you have any black friends at your school?”

That’s when the radio station tends to cut to commercial.

Church sign in Ferguson

Church sign in Ferguson

I know that’s an incredibly awkward story, trust me I was there, but in hindsight, I’m glad Brother Foy did that. I think it’s important that someone is asking that question, and that church is the most appropriate place to ask it.

I think the best thing we can do is to stop keeping this abstract. If you’re a Christian than remember the Word became flesh, it didn’t become more words or an idea. So if we really care about what’s happening in Ferguson, than let’s go through our cell phone and look and see how many contacts you have that are people of different races. If you really care about racial reconciliation than look at your calendar and find out when the last time you sat at a table with someone who wasn’t from the same background as you.

One more thing about the Thirty Mile Zone, I think it’s interesting that 30 miles is just about the exact amount of land that Jesus would have probably spent his life on. Jesus never travelled the world, he probably didn’t know much about what was happening in other parts of the world, He never wrote a book.

But book after book has been written about Him.

Because the one thing Jesus did was relentlessly love the person right in front of Him, and teach a group of people to do the same. He poured His life into where He was, and that has changed the entire world. It still can.

Because chances are what’s happening in Ferguson is also something that’s happening in our town, we just don’t know it because we don’t know “them”.

One of the things that grieves me the most about the American church is that we have divided ourselves into such homogenous groups that the Church is no longer an alternative society to the world. We often are just carbon copies of it with Jesus’ name slapped on it. And I get it. It’s a lot easier to like people who are like us. In the words of Christina Cleveland “If a community is really diverse, expect to be offended 100% of the time.”

Life seems to go easier when we spend time with people who see the world the way we do, who were raised with our values and background, there’s almost no reason to even consider challenging it…except for one: The Church is supposed to be doing the work of Jesus in the world.

When incendiary moments happen in our culture, we don’t assume the best about each other because we don’t spend time hearing each others stories, we haven’t had the opportunity to develop empathy for life in each other’s shoes, and so the Church is strangely silent or polarized when it could be, no, it must be, the place where healing happens.

An ancient Church father once said, “What the soul is for the body, the church is for the world.”

Like many white churches, like the world itself…

We need some soul.

And the only way to get that is to start reaching out in the flesh. Because when we don’t know real people, when we spend all our time in front of the screen, eventually we will be a parody of the Gospel…The story of God who came in the Flesh, and never failed to see and love the person who was right in front of Him.

gospel-of-mark-slider

So this past June I had the privilege of going to Israel and Jordan for a couple of weeks to see where Jesus lived and walked on this earth. In Israel, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Bible story, (actually you shouldn’t throw rocks because they could also be a Bible story).

For two weeks I got to travel around and see Israel, from Dan to Beersheba. I went to the places that Jesus would’ve seen and talked about, and got to see the landscape and visuals Jesus pulled from to teach about the Kingdom of God.

And since I couldn’t take everyone along with me, I took along some Google Glasses (a device that records everything a person is looking at).

Gospel of Mark Introduction from Highland Church on Vimeo.

Let me tell you, this was a labor of love, because wearing Google Glasses is like the 21st century version of traveling with a fanny pack. Every picture I have of me over there looks like I’m trying to be an honorary member of the Borg (see below picture), but looking over these videos I’m excited that I’m going to get to share with you some of the things that I saw, and in some sense take you along.

Looking like a nerd wearing Google Glasses on a camel in Jordan

Looking like a nerd wearing Google Glasses on a camel in Jordan

I can’t wait to show you the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, or the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus was said to have walked on his way to the Cross. I want you to see the mountains that really do surround Jerusalem, and let you experience what it’s like take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

There’s something powerful about realizing that these places really do exist, and that these are more than just “Bible stories.”

Because unlike other world religions of it’s day, the Jewish/Christian faith is actually something grounded in history, it’s the history of a people who believe God has acted in the world, and is acting in this world.

Mark was the first to write down the story of the loved, hated, revered, despised and often misunderstood first century rabbi: Jesus of Nazareth. Mark wrote his Gospel in an attempt to answer the one question that Jesus himself asks throughout the book, “Who do you think I am?”

In a world where everyone seems to think they know who Jesus was and what His movement is about, but strangely seem to have lives similar to people who have no intention of following him, maybe it’s time to look again at the man who turned the world upside down.

In a world where everyone seems to be a Christians the Gospel of Mark calls us to more than a polite religion. The Gospel of Mark calls us to re-imagine what being a follower of Jesus means, to re-look at the story of Jesus.

Because In the words of another Mark (Twain)  “You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

Join us this Fall at Highland as we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark…on location.

Our service times for assembly are:

8:30 A.M. A Capella Worship

11:00 A.M. Instrumental Worship

If you’d like directions, or more information about getting involved at Highland, or are planning on coming as a first time guest, click here, or email us at emailus@highlandchurch.org

On August 12, 2014

The Adventure Of Life

Tinkerbell: “So… your adventures are over?”

“Oh, no. To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.” -Peter Pan/Robin Williams from the movie “Hook”

Williams in Good Morning Vietnam

 

Almost everything I needed to know in life I learned in a Robin Williams movie.

Every role he played carried a certain kind of pathos with it that made you think that this person was really alive, and somehow the world was better for it. Williams gave me a glimpse into what it meant to be a good husband (Good Will Hunting) and showed me what it looked like to be a good dad (Mrs. Doubtfire/Hook) He showed us what it looked like to love our neighbor (Patch Adams) and how to love our life. (Dead Poet’s Society)

And so it was a bit like being kicked in the gut when I heard the news last night that Robin Williams had died….presumably by taking his own life.

I know from personal experience, that often comedy originates from a place of pain. After all, those who know death are often the best at really knowing the value of life. But so much of Williams work actually dealt with the very tragic kind of story that his own ended with. I’m thinking of the Dead Poets Society, and those scenes in the movie when Williams helps his students deal with the tragic suicide of one of their friends. Or the scenes in the movie, What Things May Come, watching Williams deal with his wife committing suicide and him going to Hell and back to save her.

If you’re looking for a parable for the human condition, Robin Williams has given us more than his share.

Throughout his personal life, Williams struggled with his own relationships and demons, addicted to cocaine (which he said was God’s way of saying “You’re making too much money”) He checked himself into rehab more than once for alcoholism. All of this was public knowledge, and maybe it was what made us relate to his characters so well. Robin Williams brought all of his humanity into his work.

But why am I writing about this?

We’re Not Alone

A few months ago, we had a prayer and response time at Highland (the church I serve) where we invited people to go to the tables that were placed around the worship space and write down different things that they were dealing with as a way of prayer and confession. Later that week, I heard something from a friend of mine that broke my heart. My friend is a recovering alcoholic and to say he has lead a difficult life would be an understatement. He was in the worship service on that day we all wrote prayers down and he told me that later he snuck back in our auditorium to read the cards…he wanted to see what people had written down.

Because he said, “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t alone.”

In my experience, most of the people who come to church are “fine.” Williams himself was a member of the Episcopal church (he called it “Catholic Lite: All the rites, half the guilt”) And as someone who has done the funerals of friends who have taken their own lives, I happen to know that suicide is not something that religious people are exempt from.

The love of God will not keep us from mental illness or depression.

But that’s not to say nothing can help.

Did you know that Robin Williams and Christopher Reeves were old friends from college? And while it’s easy to be friends with Superman, it’s another story to be friends with a quadriplegic washed-up actor. Williams was both. After Reeve’s tragic horse-riding accident, Robin went to visit him several times, pretending to be a zanier version of Patch Adams just to cheer him up.

For my money, one of the best scenes of any movie that’s ever been made, is in Good Will Hunting. Will Hunting is this abused, orphan genius, who’s good at everything but apparently good for nothing. He pushes people away before they can get too close and when the psychologist played by Robin Williams starts to get at the source of the real pain in Will’s life, Will begins to push back. Literally. He becomes violent, yelling swear words at Williams character, and finally Robin Williams just says “It’s not your fault”Good Will Hunting

All the abuse, all the pain, all the secrets…”It’s not your fault” He just says that over and over and over.

When I heard the news last night about Robin Williams, one of the first thoughts to come to me was I wish he would have had someone like that to hug him and hold onto him, and just keep saying “It’s not your fault”

Sick With Secrets

My alcoholic friends in recovery often tell me that “We’re only as sick as our secrets” and Jesus keeps persisting to me throughout the Gospel that it’s possible to have all our junk in order on the outside and still just be a shell of a person. The word Jesus uses for this is “Hypocrite” or actor. And it’s a word that’s so captivated the world’s imagination that even people who don’t believe in Jesus use it as a critique of those who follow him (and those who don’t).

The goal of Jesus seems to be to get us all to realize that each of us have both an outside and an inside and what we do with our inside matters just as much, if not more, than what we show on the outside.

Which leads me, in a rambling kind of way, to say this. I’ve had to go through counseling several times throughout the past few years. Sometimes for my own addictions, sometimes to work through my own pain, and always to work through my own sin and idols. I  imagine I’ll always need counseling in some form, and I realize as I type this that I don’t talk about that piece of my life that much. I’ve never tried to hide it, but I haven’t been broadcasting it as much as other parts of my life.

But this is not the way of Jesus, and if each of us start trying to live out what’s going on inside of us with a bit more integrity, it might just be one last gift that Williams gives the world.

In a statement released yesterday, Robin’s wife said

On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

And so I hope we can. Because in the words of Peter Pan, “To die will be a great adventure, but to live…to live would be the greatest adventure of all.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and if you live in Abilene, or belong to the Highland Church we have a licensed counseling center that I highly recommend (from personal experience) that can be reached at 325-201-3030.

On July 27, 2014

The Good Samaritan

Picture from the NY Times of Dr. Brantly in Liberia

Picture from the NY Times of Dr. Brantly in Liberia

I don’t know Kent Brantly, but judging from my social media feeds most of my friends do. And from what they’re saying about him, I wish I did.

Kent and I are the same age, we both went to ACU, a Christian University in town, where he started working toward becoming a doctor.

A few months ago, Kent was working in a private medical practice in Texas, but he left that to be a medical missionary working with Samaritan’s Purse.  Just last week he was pictured in the New York times story on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia. When the outbreak occurred, his wife and two kids came back to Texas, but Kent didn’t. He stayed because he couldn’t abandon these people who needed him, in the moments that they needed him most.

And then Kent contracted Ebola.

All over my little world, I’m reading status’ shared and prayers offered for the Brantly family and specifically for Kent’s healing. It’s a heartbreaking story of a young father who gets the very disease he’s sacrificed so much to stop.

As a father, with children the same age, I’ve had a dull ache in the pit of stomach since I heard this story. I hope, along with lots of other people, for nothing less than a full recovery for them. I noticed last night, as I was reading through all the different prayer requests on Facebook for their family, it seems like most of us are reaching for the same language to pray for them.

We are asking for a miracle.

Miracle is an interesting word, because it’s actually not in the Bible that much…just a couple of dozen times, mostly in the New Testament. And it’s almost always referring to signs that point to the Kingdom of God, sometimes they were signs that involved things like impossible healings.

But when most of us American Christians think about a miracle what we are thinking about is really another word: “Super-natural”

We are wanting something that is outside of the natural realm of experience.

Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin’s great contribution to the world was his revelation about the way the world, and the species in it, have developed. His research helped to explain how death and survival were tied together, and helped us understand a little better how the universe worked.

This is a crude shorthand sketch of what Darwin taught us, but it basically was that the weakest, most vulnerable species, were the ones who death would eventually sort out of the gene pool.

You’ve heard of this as the survival of the fittest. It just means that death and disease force adaptation and change, sickness is something to be avoided or overcome, but ultimately (and hopefully later rather than sooner) each of us will die and our little experience of life will be a part of the grand thing that everything and everyone is progressing toward.

Some people like Nietzche saw the outworking of this theory very clearly. This is why Nietzche hailed the upcoming Uber-man that would develop because all the sick, weak, and poor people would be weeded out by natural selection.

That’s natural.

Dr. Brantly caring for patients in his Hazmat suit

Dr. Brantly caring for patients in his Hazmat suit

But throughout Christian history Jesus followers have chosen the most un-Darwinian like subjects to love. All because of the bizarre things that Jesus’ said 2000 years ago, Things like “Whatever you do for the sick, poor and needy, you’ve actually done for Me” To those of us in the Bible Belt, they are little phrases sound like they belong stitched and framed in a calligraphy font or on a porcelain commemorative plate.

But this is exactly what the earliest Christians were famous for.

In the mid 3rd century a plague broke out in the city of Rome that was so severe it killed 5,000 people in just one day. It wasn’t Ebola this time, but in it’s day it was just as deadly.

People responded, just like you’d imagine, with great panic. Everyone fled as quickly as possible, they abandoned the city in such a hurry that they actually left people dying in the streets and dead bodies unburied throughout the city. They had learned through thousands of years of experience that to touch these bodies would be risking the transfer of the disease.

But…

In that city, there was a small community who followed a man who would touch lepers while they were unclean; and who expected his disciples to take care of the sick.

One early church father, a guy named Dionysius wrote about what these early Christians did during moments like the great plagues:

“Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life seemingly happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”

Un-Natural Selection

Last night when I was praying over this little family and the turmoil they must be going through I wondered if they knew just what they were doing when they went over there, I wonder if we know what we’re doing when we’re praying for them.

I see all my friends asking for a miracle, and I want what we all want too, for this family to be restored and whole.

But don’t get so caught up asking for a miracle that you fail to see the one that’s right in front of you. Someone who didn’t have to, left a life of privilege to bear in the suffering of the world. Someone who’s very education depended on learning about natural selection, said something wildly unnatural like “I’m not going to leave these dying people when they need me the most.”

Our wounded world needs some good Samaritans, and it turns out she’s still got a few.

That a family who didn’t have to, would have a heart so un-naturally attuned to bearing in the suffering of the world, and even daring to draw some of it to themselves…That’s more than just humanitarian aid.

It’s a miracle.

On July 10, 2014

Translation: Getting Closer

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” -Nelson Mandela

The people stood at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” -Exodus 19

Translation Picture

Did you ever wonder why Paul in 1st Corinthians makes such a big deal about speaking in tongues? The rest of the New Testament mentions tongues about 6 times, in just 2 chapters of 1st Corinthians Paul talks about “tongues” over a dozen times.

Why does Paul, this early Church planter, care so much about what people in the church say and how they say it?

Our Moral Tongue

A couple of weeks ago I read a fascinating article in the New York Times about an unusual thing scientist have recently discovered in researching ethics. That is, how people decide what is right and wrong.

Turns out people don’t just decide what is right and wrong in a vacuum, and so what they decide is based on who they are, how they’ve been taught and in what language they think in. 

The classic example used to introduce people to the world of Ethics is a story that goes like this. Imagine you are a railroad conductor and you see a train coming fast down the tracks that has five people on it. The five people will be killed, but you happen to be standing next to a lever that will divert the track in another direction.

The problem is that there is one person on the other track and by saving the five, you will now have made yourself responsible for the death of one. What do you do?

If you say you’ll pull the lever, the line of questioning goes on, finally it winds up not being a lever, but a fat man who’s hanging over the tracks, and if you just give him a push it will save the five and kill the one.This is called the “Utilitarian Ethics” argument (sacrificing the one for the many) and it’s a great ice-breaker for parties.

Or so I’ve been told, for some reason I don’t get invited to very many parties.

The interesting thing about this question, is that the closer people get to the consequences of their decision the more it changes what their decision is. Turns out that people are more likely to pull the lever than actually push a person, even though both bring out the exact same consequences, because pushing a person makes it less abstract.

But what was interesting about this Times article is that apparently research has recently uncovered that when you pose this question to people who are bi-lingual, their answer changes based on what language you ask them in.

If you ask people from Mexico whether or not they would push the fat man onto the tracks, they say “yes” if you ask them in English, and “No” if you ask them in Spanish.

Speaking in Tongues

I had the privilege of spending the better part of last month traveling around Israel and Jordan, It’s an incredible experience that I highly recommend.* You can’t throw a rock in Israel without hitting a Bible story…also you’re not supposed to throw rocks, they could be a part of a Bible story.

But, for me, one of the best parts of the trip came when we worshipped with a small church in Nazareth. Because they are a church that often have tourists come through, and such a high percentage of the church comes from different backgrounds and has different first languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) they often will try to speak and worship throughout the service in several different languages.The Garden Tomb

During this same trip our group took a trip to the Garden Tomb and we heard a Korean group singing “Rock of Ages” in Korean, and I immediately knew that this was an indication of shoddy mission work. Not to critique the Korean group, but I was taught to think like a missionary, and I knew that someone, somewhere had planted a church that shared the Gospel as an idea, instead of sharing the Gospel the way the Gospel shares itself. 

Worshipping with that church in Nazareth, passages in 1st Corinthians started making so much more sense. Remember, most of the time when the New Testament talks about speaking in Tongues, it’s not referring to a personal prayer language (sometimes it is), it’s referring to the actual language people spoke.

This might be hard for us, chances are if you live in America, you probably are only fluent in one language and rarely are put in situations where you can’t communicate with people around you, but in that world it was incredibly common, and actually language was a good way to reinforce the socio-economic systems of the day. (Poor people didn’t have the access to education that wealthier people did, this is also why Paul, a highly educated world-travelling male is able to say “I speak in tongues more than all of you”).

But what do you do when the Gospel creates a new humanity, and you find yourself in a church with people who you would previously not be caught dead with? Before you called them an enemy or foreigner or beneath you, and now you call them brother.

This is what I think Paul is getting at in 1st Corinthians, he’s trying to deal with this incredibly complex situation where all these different cultures/backgrounds are coming together, he’s trying to speak into the spirit of elitism and condescension and his biggest request is just this:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.

Chances are, most of these people could’ve picked up on what was going on. Corinth was a metropolitan city, and they would’ve grown up hearing different languages spoken, but Paul knows what we don’t, it’s not enough to talk about the Gospel, we’ve got to talk like the Gospel. 

When most Christians talk about Orthodox Christian doctrine, we talk about abstract ideas, but if the Gospel is that God entered the world, in a specific time, culture and place, and then told his disciples to go all over the world doing the same, then is it really orthodox Christian theology if it doesn’t look like the culture it’s in?

This is what that Times article is getting at, it’s what drives Paul in 1st Corinthians, each of us have a heart language, a “moral tongue” and the closer we get to that, the closer we reach the heart.

When the little church in Nazareth would sing in English for us visiting tourists, our group would light up, and when we sang the songs in Aramaic they would come alive, and even though we had no idea what we were singing, but we tried to sing along because we learned our worship was helping them worship in their native heart language.

Because the Gospel means God is not abstract, He’s getting closer.

*If you’re interested in going to Israel, I highly recommend Dr. Evrett Huffard’s annual tour. Dr. Huffard grew up in Nazareth as a missionary kid, and was an archeologist there for several years.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” -St. Paul

Screen-shot-2011-01-25-at-7.52.40-AMRecently I was having a conversation with Brad McCoy, he and his wife are members at Highland, and all around good people. He’s also the dad of Case and Colt McCoy, and if you live in Texas or care about football (those two things overlap significantly) you know that’s a big deal. Both of his sons have been the starting quarterbacks for the University of Texas, and in all those years Brad only missed one of their games. He loved to watch them play, but that’s not to say it was always fun.

Many of the games Brad went to, he was around fans for the opposing teams, and it turns out when you want a team to lose, you talk trash to their most visible player. So over the years, there has been a few times where Brad has had to turn around and say something like, “Hey, I know this is a game, and I’m fine with you booing, but that QB down there is a 19 year old boy who happens to be my son, could you please be a bit more respectful about how you route for your team?”

Turns out they can.

Everyone’s Got a Story

A couple of weeks ago, on The This American Life podcast, a reporter told the story about getting a phone call from the U.S. Senator Alan Simpson. It had nothing to do with the national debt, or anything else he was known for in politics. He wanted to talk to her about her ex-boyfriend.

Turns out she had broken up her boyfriend last month because she lived in New York, and he was a wildlife researcher for the state of Wyoming. The distance was too stressful for their relationship and they called it off. But her boyfriend couldn’t let her go, he was a mess, and he knew that he couldn’t convince her to give it another try…so he wrote a Hail Mary kind of letter to the Senator of Wyoming and asked him to give his girlfriend a call.

And he did.

If you’ve got a few minutes, I highly recommend you listen to this story, it’s poetic and sweet and romantic, and it does the one thing that I think the world could use a little more of. It made someone with a public persona a little more human.

I think that is the greatest problem facing our increasingly pluralistic society. We all have causes and concerns that we are willing to give our life for, but, if you are a Christian there is no cause that you are willing to dehumanize another person for.

Before every genocide in world history, the first thing that changes is the language. Nazi’s couldn’t kill a person, but they could kill a rat, or a pig. It’s hard to hate a person, but much easier to hate a politician, or an athlete, or a Republican, or any of the labels that we’ve invented that helps us create a gap between the person and the role they play in society.

This is what the church should do for the world, make everyone a little more human. One of the greatest gifts that the Jewish/Christian faith has given to the world is the idea that God made people in His own image.

What seems like common sense to us today, was revolutionary in the day it was written. Genesis 1 & 2 is a story about why life matters, and why humanity is something much too precious to be taken for granted.

Today this is seen as common sense. It’s commonly assumed that life matters, and the people who take it should be held responsible and punished. It’s commonly assumed that this is self-evident and only something that Captain Obvious would have to point out…That is, until we argue.

Watch Your Mouth

Whenever people in a pluralistic society argue, watch what happens, people begin to rationalize the other person’s humanity away. They aren’t just Muslims, they are terrorists, they aren’t just pro-life, they are anti-choice tyrants, they aren’t just Democrats, they are an anathema.

The strong language that we use to describe those we disagree is more than just rhetoric, it tells us what we really believe about who they really are.

When Jesus was here, he actually faced this quite a bit. People brought him “sinners” and “tax-collectors” and “prostitutes” but He always had this knack of being able to see more in them than their roles. From the religious leaders to the powerful politicians of the day, Jesus seems almost casual, dealing with them as comfortably as he does those who have no societal standing.

And at one point in the Gospel of Luke, we get a glimpse into how Jesus expects His followers to do the same.
Jesus has just sent out 72 disciples to do ministry and to serve people in the name of the Kingdom of God the way He had been doing, and when they get back Jesus tells them this:

 “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.”

And then the very next story in Luke is the story of the Good Samaritan. Probably the most humanizing story in the history of the world. It’s a story about racism and bigotry and what happens when a label becomes a human, and a “they” becomes an “us”

This is a story about the way Jesus saw the world, and how He wants His Church to as well.

Maybe you saw this video a few years ago, It’s a monologue that Craig Ferguson did on CBS “Late, Late Show” explaining why he wouldn’t be making fun at the expense of Brittany Spears, I’ve never seen anything quite like this on television before, but I’m lucky enough to work in a Church where I see it all the time.

That’s the beauty of the Church, it’s filled with Spirit giving power to see people. In fact, about 15 chapters later Luke tells us about Pentecost, the birth of the Church, about how God pours out His Spirit on all people.

And then Luke gives us the count. Before Pentecost the Bible counted crowds by how many men were there. After Pentecost were told how many women and children are there too.

In a pluralistic society, one of the greatest gifts the Church can give the world is to keep humanizing people and reminding the world that no one is exempt from being made in the image of God. From Donald Sterling to Jesse Jackson, from Rush Limbaugh to Hillary Clinton.

Jesus has taught me that the whole world is filled with neighbors, and He’s showing me how to treat them, and then he said:
“Go and do likewise.”

On June 24, 2014

Orthodoxy: A Haunted World

“A sad saint is a sad sort of saint.” —St. Frances de Sales

“I don’t believe in God, but I sure do miss Him.” -Julian Barnes

g-k-chesterton-900x670

Last month I started trying to introduce readers to one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s by the often-quoted Chesterton, and it’s one of his best works. The book is called “Orthodoxy” and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I think Christians today are very guilty of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery, we assume that if anything was written earlier than last week it probably isn’t relevant to today, but reading this 80 year old book I found it was as if he was responding to the latest blogs.

I’ve already read 2 other Chesterton books, and have bought a few more, it’s hard for me to describe how deeply I resonate with Chesterton’s writing and specifically the way he sees the world as bathed in the glory and joy of God.

The Rush of Life

Remember Chesterton is writing in a time of great scientific revolution, and far from being anti-intellectual, Chesteton seems to embrace the pursuit of truth, but adamantly refuses one that tries to shut God out of the world He made and sustains. Chesterton prophetically looks ahead at trajectory that a secular society is leading toward and the dis-enchantment that comes when we reduce the stars to balls of gas and people to accidents.

His beef isn’t against the idea of evolution, his strongest disagreement is with the assumption that God isn’t involved in something because we think we can figure out how it works.

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.. It might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

Chesterton’s most important word to his day needs to be repeated constantly in this one. Just because we can understand something doesn’t mean we know what causes it and sustains it. In some of Chesterton’s most famous words:

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may Daisybe that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.

An Enchanted, Magical, Joy-Filled World

Do you see how different this way of seeing our universe is? So many of the stories and movies that we entertain ourselves with today our filled with a kind of modern malaise. God is dead, we killed him and now we are left to try and make meaning out of our lives all by ourselves.

From the movie Garden State to the great American Novelist David Foster Wallace to Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed book “Freedom” we are telling more and more stories about what it means to live a life without God, which is to live a life without magic.

And yet there is a sense that our world is haunted with the presence of a God who is still there, and who still holds the universe together with great joy.

Chesterton makes a point that is incredibly important to me as a preacher and pastor. He points out that for well over a thousand years humanity was miserable in the small bits of life like health and comfort, while insanely happy about their general position in relationship with the Universe. But today, humanity is entirely happy (or believes they should be) with the small bits of life, while mostly in despair about the bigger things.

Then Chesterton says this:

Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.

This is what Chesterton closes his book with, and what he says haunts him, and ever since I read it, it’s haunted me too.

He closes his great book, with a picture of what orthodox Jesus is like.

Great men throughout history have thought they needed to stand above others. Great leaders have always tried to build their name by diminishing others. But not Jesus. Unlike other would be great men Jesus doesn’t try to tower over people, his pathos was casual…yet he towers over all “great” men.

Throughout history, there was the idea that truly great men don’t cry. Stoics had this idea that one should fight to conceal their tears…don’t let the world see you bleed. Jesus weeps openly, over common things like the sight of a city, or a friend who’s sick.

Throughout history we’ve been told that great men conceal their negative emotions. Diplomats, after all, must restrain their anger. Jesus doesn’t do that either. He throws furniture around in the Temple filled with religious people and then asks them how they will escape the wrath of God.

But Chesterton says there was one thing that Jesus did restrain. It was something so hard to hold back that Jesus had to go spend time alone away from the crowds. It was what drove him to spend time isolated on mountains. It was the one thing that “was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth.”

It was His Joy.

Newsworthy

So I’m away for the next couple of weeks on study break, and wouldn’t have time to write for a few days. So this past week, I sat down with my friend Luke Norsworthy for his podcast to talk about this blog series. Luke is a great interviewer and I highly recommend subscribing to his podcast. He has interviewed Scot Mcknight,  Francis Spufford, John Ortberg, Barbara Brown Taylor, Ian Cron, and me (I obviously belong in such an elite list of authors).

Seriously, every week Luke has a great new podcast, and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, this last week Luke and I talked about my new book How to Start a Riot, along with several other things that are close to our heart, like why we think the local church matters so much and why.

In this podcast, you’ll hear the story about my friend with down syndrome leading singing and praying for communion. It’s the story that best summarizes why I care about the local Church so much.

We also talk about all the interviews I’ve been doing with Christian Radio stations and the one time I kind of got hung up on in an interview. You’ll have to listen to the podcast for the explanation to that one, it’s hard to describe. {fbbcdd6b-e396-4b47-a8fa-8b5d6e015ef3}Img400

And finally we talk about one of the things that both of us have been wrestling with lately (and something I plan to write more about). It’s just this question: Who is the church for? For churched people? For unchurched people? I’ve said repeatedly that I believe the Church is the only institution in the world that exists for the people who don’t belong to her, and while I still believe that, I’ve changed my mind on what I mean.

 

 

P.S. All the proceeds for How to Start a Riot go to the Highland Church of Christ and her vision for “A Restoration Movement”