Sunday, June 28, 2009

Death in the News


In the last 10 days, there have been some major stories in the news marking
the Deaths of 2 famous, and one suddenly (tragically) famous, people:

Michael Jackson died of (what is currently believed to be) "Sudden Cardiac Arrest",
this past Thursday. He was 50 years old. Perhaps no other entertainer had the
success and global impact that Michael Jackson did; despite his troubles in more
recent years, it seems obvious that for most of his life he enjoyed every bit of
the fame and fortune that this Life has to offer (and I personally liked almost all
of his music).

Farah Fawcett was the icon of "gorgeous" during the "Gen X" years when most
of us in that demographic were going through puberty. She too, though troubled in her
later years, surely enjoyed much fame and fortune during her stroll across the stage
of Life...

Neda was a beautiful college-aged Philsophy student who was gunned down last week
in the midst of the uprising in Iran. She was rather passively participating in
the tumult following the recent elections there, and is said to have only wanted
"freedom for all"... She had her whole life ahead of her, but a bullet pierced
her chest and she died right there where she fell, on a crowded Iranian street in
a pool of her own blood...

In all three of these cases, as in virtually every other Death the world has ever seen,
one moment a human being is Alive, the very next moment they are Dead, and what had been
the body of a person instantly becomes just a corpse, and the Person who
used to occupy that body is gone...

Life ends in the blink of an eye, suddenly, abruptly, often unexpectedly.

I myself, of course, could drop over Dead before I finish writing this paragraph; or before
I get to my son's baseball game later this morning; or as I'm driving to my Client engagement
tomorrow morning (it's sobering to picture myself having "sudden cardiac arrest", and I
slump over the wheel, and the car drifts to one side and careens to a halt in the ditch,
rocks and dust flying all over...)

To anyone who might respond by saying such imaginings are "morbid", I would reply with a
question and a comment: The question would be, "Are you a Christian?" If the answer is "No",
then we view this subject (and most others) very differently. If "Yes", then I would submit
that we Christians need to talk about Death openly, honestly, and frequently, for three
very poignant reasons:
    1. God never intended Death. Man's sin "broke" the world,
    and Death is our constant reminder that there is
    something wrong with the world as we know it...

    2. The Bible encourages us to live circumspectly, keeping in mind
    the frailty of human life and of our bodies, remembering that we
    enter into Eternity the moment we breathe our final breath...

    3. Perhaps most importantly, Death helps us ponder the idea
    that we are essentially spirit beings, merely encased, temporarily,
    in shells of muscle and bone, blood and water...
    When we interact with one another, we are spirits interacting;
    the real ME is the person, the spirit, having these
    thoughts and merely using my fingers to type and my eyeballs to
    view this screen... Someday (maybe today), those fingers and eyeballs
    will cease to function, and the REAL ME will be gone...

No wonder, then, that the Bible says "Man looks on the outward appearance, but
God looks on the heart"
... Quite literally, this verse is talking about PERSPECTIVE:
We humans are so geared toward This World, the physical, temporary, tumultous
world, and toward the drives and desires we have as physical, animal creatures;
but God's world -- the REAL "Reality" -- is a Spirit world that is eternal.

So let us live, every day, with the realization that we may very well be only one
short breath away from stepping through that portal; we need to have Death on our
minds constantly, in order that we might LIVE as we ought to before we pass into

Sunday, June 21, 2009

100 Years of Fathers Day

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the creation of what has
come to be celebrated as "Fathers Day" in this country. Read this
interesting, short article to learn how it all began...

I remember how stunned Sharon and I were when our first child
was born - Sarah - in 1998; we kept saying aloud to each other, "Wow
man, we're PARENTS now!!" We realized then that we had crossed one of
the major mile-markers in Life, and we were thrilled at the thought of
what was ahead for us (as well as duly concerned!)... Then we had our
second child - Sam - 16 months later, and we then had what a friend
of mine calls "a King's family" (one girl, one boy; a "complete set").

So I'm feeling a mixture of Joy and Sadness on this Fathers Day, a little
over 11 years after I became one: Joy because I believe I have two of
the greatest kids I could have ever possibly hoped for, and Sadness as
I think of how much I have done and said over these 11 years to fail them
as a father.

I've been too angry, too often; I've not spent as much time with them as
I probably should have; I've said things in front of them that I am
ashamed of; I've sometimes treated their mother disrespectfully and they
saw it; and I've not provided enough spiritual training for them, relying
instead on the church to do it for me. I could go on, of course; seems
like we're never where we ought to be...

But like my own father has said to me, "Failure is an event, never
a person, so I'm contemplating some "improvements" this Fathers Day
and I hope I have the discipline and endurance to carry through on them...

To encourage myself -- and perhaps you, if you're a father too -- along
these lines, check out these resources, here... All three take only about
10 minutes, total, and they're enjoyable... So put on your headphones, click
the links, and ponder with me these ideas on Fatherhood:
    A Father's Love for his son: Watch the VIDEO

    A "father figure" Coaches his Boys: Watch the VIDEO

    Fathers are Models: Watch the VIDEO

So on this Fathers Day, I'm asking God to forgive me for my failures as a
father; and I'm going to forgive myself for past mistakes, and to encourage myself
to do better -- for my KIDS' sake -- starting today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Congregation-Driven Church

OK so it's kind of a play on the popular "Purpose-Driven Life"
(a great read... I highly recommend it), but I've been thinking
lately more about this idea that the pastoral staff (the "Session",
in our case) should perhaps be more like facilitators rather
than "leaders" per se... Allow me explain:

Seems to me like a more negative spin on "sheep" (the congregation)
and the "Shepherds" (the pastors) is that THEY basically dictate
everything and WE just follow along... Oh now they're not "dictatorial",
to be sure; our Session is comprised of some very wise and very kind
men, and their leadership is comparatively sound and certainly biblical.

But here's what the "typical" approach to pastoring a church looks like:
They set the budget, determining (pretty much on their own) whom to
support, what programs to fund, who gets paid what salary and benfits,
etc.; they determine what Sermon Series gets preached; they decide
how worship will go, how Community Groups will be conducted, what material
will be covered in Sunday School, who will speak at the Men's Retreat,
etc. etc... In sum, pretty much every detail that is of any real concern
to the life of the church as a whole...

Perhaps a better approach would be a Community-driven approach,
that might look something like this:

The CONGREGATION tells the Session its will in the following:
    What topics they would like to hear preached on
    What subjects they'd like to study in Sunday School
    How often, and where, they'd like to meet
    Whom to support (i.e., missionaries and so forth)
    What Salaries -- if any! -- to pay the Staff
    What the Budget LIMIT will be (e.g., whatever gets collected and no more)
    Whom to invite to speak at retreats, breakfast meetings, etc.
    What gets studied in the Men's bible study and who will lead it
    What Community Groups will look like and how they will function
    What music is done during worship, and how worship is conducted

You get the idea. Now of course some will object, saying that such an
approach will quickly descend into chaos as everyone puts their two cents
in; but surely part of what should be imparted to the members is a sense
of Order, and surely a system of "getting your voice heard" in some
organized fashion could be constructed...

Others will object by saying that "if you want to get active in your
church, then DO it! Find a place to serve and go serve". There is definitely
a great deal of validity in that idea, but serve how? In what capacity?
In the programs and duties that the STAFF has set up? That seems to beg
the question, to me...

Instead, wouldn't it be refreshing to have a Session that continually and
regularly stresses, at every opportunity, the idea that "this is YOUR church,
folks; things are set in motion here because YOU have said that is what you'd
like to see in your church and because YOU make those things happen"?

Wouldn't it be good to hear the Staff routinely ASK the Congregation for its
input, its feedback, its ideas, its suggestions and constructive criticism?
Would you get some nasty notes, some complaints, some whining? Well certainly,
and yet those TOO would be opportunities for members to learn lessons in
Charity, and Humility, and Deference, and Patience...

These ideas are not directed at any particular church, but at what seems to
be the "norm" in MOST churches. Imagine a church where most members are
learning and practicing their Gifts, full of JOY in so doing, and where everyone
is routinely encouraged by the Staff to do so, where the Staff LISTENS to
the membership and guides them responsively?
    They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them,
    "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because
    on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down,
    Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first,
    he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
    -- Mark 9:33-35


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lewis on Prayer

As I've noted here before, sometimes what's already been written
on a particular topic is all that needs to be said...

Download and read this article prayerfully, quietly, contemplatively...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christ's Church, Then and Now

There have been, in recent years, several "grass roots" movements that have been
encouraging Christians to look at "church" in new ways; among their agendas are
things like leaving behind "organized religion (for dis-organized religion?),
focusing more on social issues, laying aside the great old hymns of the faith in
favor of more "modern" music, and de-emphasizing "restrictive" and "negative"
theological themes like damnation and sin in order to project more "positive" themes
like love and compassion and freedom-in-Christ... They call themselves things like
"Acts29" churches, "the Emerging Church", etc., and they promote a new vision of
Church with catch-phrases like "freedom living", "Church outside the walls", and
"a new kind of Christian" (which is also a book I've read and wouldn't recommend)...

There may be some value in these trends; few people would argue that "Church" as
we have traditionally understood the term has done a great deal of harm to the name
of Jesus, and at times has been about anything BUT Jesus, even perpetrating crimes
against humanity in His name (e.g., inquisitions, heresy trials, witch burning, etc.).
Even in more modern times, often the Church has turned a deaf ear to the pain and
suffering of the world around it, pronouncing judgement on "sinners" and condemning
the "cultural decay" it sees outside its doors.

But for all its mis-steps and failures through the centuries, the Church is still
the "Bride of Christ", and remains the central mechanism by which God works to make
Saints out of sinners. The New Testament Church was originally comprised of a
community of people who believed that Jesus Christ had recently lived among them,
was killed, and who bodily and literally rose from death and would return again some day.

That group -- this new "church" -- suffered tremendously for their faith in Jesus;
virtually all of the apostles were tortured and killed, and for hundreds of years after
that, the foundational growth of the church was soaked in the blood of martyrs
who also proclaimed this faith...

The Apostle's Creed includes the statement, "I believe in the holy catholic church";
Wikipedia comments on the word "catholic" like this:
    "Protestants sometimes use the term "catholic church" to refer to the entire body of
    believers in Jesus Christ across the world, and across the ages.

    Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and some Methodist Christians hold that
    their churches are catholic in the sense that they are in continuity with the
    original catholic (universal) church founded by the apostles."

So the universality of belief in Jesus Christ -- as the Risen Lord, as One
with God, and as the Sacrifical Lamb -- has been the defining characteristic of the
Church since the very beginning.

It is this belief, shared by this community, that binds us together
with those 1st-century Christians. And in this community we are to wash one another's
feet, partake of the Lord's Supper together, and worship God -- in reverence and awe --
even as we welcome other sinners to join us and be reborn and remade.

Fads and trends come and go; preferences in worship styles are sometimes important;
and Truth and sound doctrine must never be diluted or compromised, no matter how
distasteful or unpopular these may be to the world. But as we imagine ourselves reaching
across Time to grasp the hands of Christians in all ages, we can affirm -- quietly, with
bowed heads and humble hearts -- that we are HIS Church, remembering "the love the Father
has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" 1 John 3:1

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Three Big Words, One Very Big Gospel

I put a very high value on Clarity, and so I appreciate it when
I come across big concepts that can be compacted into a few choice words.
Accordingly, the entire Gospel of the Christian faith can be compacted
into these three big -- weighty, meaningful, profound -- words that the
theologians and seminary students often use with great dexterity:

This is the explosion in the carburetor of faith that puts the whole
engine in motion (if you'll pardon a forced metaphor); it was accomplished
by Christ's humility, obedience, and ultimate power over even Death, and
is freely given to anyone who will accept Him. A sunday-school rendering
says that Justification means "Just-as-if-I'd never sinned", which is a
very good utility for the concept; a more complete exposition is available
in this article...

This is the very long, arduous process of "working out one's salvation"
as God Himself is at work in us, and this is where Christians spend most
of their journey in this life. To force another metaphor, becoming a
world-class hockey player (such as Pavel Datsyuk, of the Red Wings) is
not something that happens over night; Pavel has spent YEARS in training
of all sorts, developing the physical and mental habits that have made him
a champion. God slowly changes us, over time, from the inside out, as we
practice obedience and the spiritual disciplines, to make us into the
Saints that He created each of us to become, for His glory. You can read
Ezekiel 36 to get an idea of God's perspective on Sanctification, and there
is a good summary of the concept here...

Sometimes I hear a preacher (or another Blogger) say something like,
"It's not about US, it's about HIM"... I know what they mean, but that
comes dangerously close to heresy, if you ask me: The most famous verse
in all the Bible tells the story of God's perspective on mankind (John 3:16);
apparently redeeming us IS such a high priority with God that He
sacrificed His own dear Son to win us back to Himself, to FILL us with
Himself the way a mirror is full of light. We will, someday, finally be
glorified; God's work will be perfected, finished, in us, and we will
spend eternity offering back to the Father the glory that is Himself.
If you've never read C.S. Lewis' sermon, "Weight of Glory", you absolutely
must download a copy, here, and read it over and over...
Peter Kreeft summarizes it pretty well, too, here...

I love a great movie, one that has a definite beginning, middle and end;
the Gospel of Jesus Christ is no mere movie, but the only thing in this life
that has any real eternal value.

What a great concept.