Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
- That the angel Moroni appeared to 17-year-old Joseph Smith in 1823 and told him of golden plates that would contain "the fullness of the everlasting gospel."
- That Smith dug the plates up four years later, translated their "Reformed Egyptian" into English with the help of two special stones called "Urim" and "Thurim" and the result of that translation is the Book Of Mormon.
- That the Book of Mormon, along with Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl Of Great Price, forms a trinity of inspired Scripture for the LDS Church.
- That "as man is, God once was; as God is, man may be."
As a bulwark of conservative Christianity, Liberty University believes:
- None of the above.
- That Mormonism is a cult -- using the trappings of Christianity to proclaim a decidedly unChristian message.
And yet Liberty -- a strongly confessional institution -- invited Beck to be its commencement speaker earlier this month. You can read some of the controversy this choice has stirred in the Baptist blogosphere here and here.
What to make of this? To be fair, Liberty states on its own web site that previous commencement speakers have run a wider gamut of theological beliefs that one would expect.
Yet as a graduate of a proudly confessional school myself, I would be alarmed if not outraged if my alma mater gave a Mormon -- or Jehovah's Witness or Christian Scientist -- such a high profile platform to deliver a prominent and influential address.
You'll note that I've shared where Liberty and Beck differ. I suppose for the purposes of the commencement selection, what they share is more important: an expressly conservative political viewpoint and opposition to all things Obama.
In this instance it seems that Liberty allowed political ideology to trump doctrinal integrity.
And whether your politics lean right or veer left, that is a slippery slope indeed.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
It's always a great honor as hundreds of Methodists converge there every summer for a week of worship, renewal, and reunion.
I posted on last year's experiece here.
But do you know what is the most frequent comment I have heard from the people there over the years?
Their surprise -- and delight -- that I routinely lift up the bible before speaking and then keep it open to refer to it during the message.
Yeah, apparently those two practices -- thanking God for his Word and then actually using it during a sermon -- are rare in some circles of Methodism.
If find that sad. And hard to believe.
What greater "tool of the trade" do we have? At Good Shepherd we can augment messages with videos, lighting cues, and tactile experiences, but all of that is null and void if the spoken word isn't coming from the written Word.
So I'll keep lifting it up and keeping it open.
Who knows? Maybe such a radical concept will catch on.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
1. Studying for, preparing, and delivering Sunday morning messages.
2. Conceiving and then carrying out an entire series in which we take a fresh look at an ancient subject. By working with a team on such projects, the end result is far beyond the initial concept. The ones I feel best about are There's An App For That (the book of Proverbs), Rubber, Meet Road (the book of James), and Oddballs (a series on holiness).
3. Making videos like the one posted yesterday.
4. Walking with people in times of grief. I don't like it as in, "hey, this is fun!" but as in "this is what the church is all about."
5. Old-fashioned pastoral visits. There is still nothing quite like sitting in someone's family room, finding out about their life and what brought them to this church, and then praying together. It's the kind of treat that is increasingly rare as the church grows and life speeds up.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Leonardo DaVinci had his Mona Lisa.
Orson Welles had his "Citizen Kane."
Mark Twain had "Huckleberry Finn."
Mr. Holland had his opus.
And here's ours. "Haters & Sycophants." We played it in church yesterday.
Friday, May 21, 2010
If you have a trip, cancel it.
If you have an operation, re-schedule it.
If you have an emergency, ignore it.
If you want to sleep in, wake up instead.
You don't want to miss Week Four of The Office: "It's A Jungle Out There."
That's all I can tell you now. You'll see what I mean.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Sometimes I do it well. Other times I don't.
But someone said something a few months ago that has stuck with me: People don't fear change. They fear what they'll lose in change.
When you change a church's structure, some people might lose a ministry they enjoyed.
When you change a music style, others might lose selections that made them feel comfortable.
When you change pastoral leaders, still others lose a person around whom they had grown to feel safe.
When you change a facility, still others lose that sense of "coming home" each Sunday to the familiar and the predictable.
Some leaders discount the very real feelings of loss people feel when change happens. I've done that.
Healthy leaders acknowledge the loss inherent in change and become relentless in pointing out what new things will be gained. I'm learning that.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The "world" in that setting refers to the values and attitudes that shape culture. In our day, it applies equally to the values of Hollywood, California and of Washington DC.
Christ's followers find their shape not in their surroundings but in the Savior . . . who remains, as always, subversive to the powers that be.
So what does that mean churches and pastors do with all the influence of "the world"? I have had correspondence in recent months with someone (not from Good Shepherd) who encourages me to "hate the world and all it stands for."
The classic term for that approach to culture is separatist. The best way to avoid the influence of the world and its values is to separate from it; to establish Christ-centered enclaves unpolluted by modern culture. Many pastors, churches, and Christians adopt this mindset.
Yet other pastors, churches, and Christians see things differently. Instead of looking at the world as a place to avoid, they see multiple opportunities to engage. Believing that God leaves evidence of his grace in the lives and art of people who don't even know him, they see the world as pregnant with opportunities to connect the dots and point people to Christ.
It's why Acts 17 features Paul quoting prominent Greek poets as he witnesses for Christ in the midst of the Athenian elites.
It's why The Shawshanck Redemption is a compelling entree into a conversation about soul redemption.
It's why the music of U2, Switchfoot, and needtobreathe establishes a non-threatening common ground from which we can then share life in Christ.
As you can tell, we at Good Shepherd have opted to see the world not as a pollution to be avoided but as an opportunity to be mined.
I hope and trust it's what Jesus had in mind when he prayed this way: "My prayer is not that you take them (his disciples) out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." (John 17:15-16)
In it but not of it.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
In my never-ending quest to keep this blog fresh -- and to establish the sort of weekly routine which I crave -- today is the first edition of "Top Five Tuesday"
(Notice the alliteration there? Almost like I'm Baptist!)
I'll provide different personal "top fives" on subjects ranging from music to sports to books to theology.
I'll start with some of my most familiar ground: my Top Five Eagles Songs Ever.
1. Take It To The Limit. Not their best song by any means, just my personal favorite even when I was 15. There really is no moment quite like Randy Meisner's falsetto "Please!" as the song reaches its crescendo.
2. Hotel California. Yeah, I still like it.
3. The Last Resort. Long, slow, haunting, and thought provoking.
4. One Of These Nights. When I was a teenager I thought this one was, um, wimpy. Now I hear it as quite clever with impressively subtle guitar work and vocals.
5. On The Border. This one is the title song from their third album . . . but never made it as a hit. It marked a transition to a (slightly) more rock feel to their compositions.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Well, this past Saturday, Riley and teammates travelled to the Cary Academy near Raleigh for the state meet. Riley runs the opening leg of the 4 x 200 relay race -- an event full of football players turned sprinters.
Anyway, his team won the race. He started well, the second and third legs did their part, and the young man who runs the anchor is blazing fast, so they won the race.
The serendipity that my son who only a few years earlier had labelled himself "the slowest & clumsiest kid on the planet" was now state champion in a sprint event was pretty overwhelming.
But then when the announcer invited the three top finishing teams to the awards podium to receive their medals, Riley's team was not among them. With my eyes I'd just seen them win the race and heard the first announcement that they were in fact champions.
It turns out they'd been disqualified.
For what? Performance enhancing drugs? No.
A lane violation? No.
Super-fast yet illegal running shoes? No.
An infraction passing the baton? No.
They were disqualified because their jerseys didn't match.
Not that their jerseys were superior aerodynamically and gave them an advantage. Just that they didn't match exactly. Two of the guys wore jerseys from 2009 and two others from 2010.
Riley took it well because his emotional investment is heavier in football.
Me? Not so well. I know so little about the sport that I'm not familiar with the what and the why of the different rules.
But something in me feels like some large thing was taken for some small reason.
Friday, May 14, 2010
That's why we're calling this Sunday "When There's No Office Anymore."
Because even if you still have an office -- or warehouse or school or factory or a construction site -- you probably know someone who doesn't.
This Sunday takes a look at God's take on loss of all kinds, including job loss.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I believe being "available" for that type of ministry is exceedingly important.
In some sessions, I feel more than capable to do what I'm doing. On other occasions, frankly, I feel over my head & out of my league.
But it has put me to thinking recently: what do I or any pastor offer that is in any way unique from the type of therapy for which people can and often do pay good money?
Aside from the obvious answer that there is no fee for what we do.
So the answer emerged rather quickly. It's Scripture.
Now be sure of this: I do not simply believe that there is a magic verse for every problem and once you apply that verse the problem is solved. Life is more complex than that, and most of the books of the bible are not designed to be used in that way.
Yet if I can direct people towards the lifelong task of having their identities, values, and decisions shaped by an engagement with the living word of God, then they will experience the preventative medicine that much of Scripture contains.
So in counseling I can do a passable job of exploring the role of someone's past in explaining their problems in the present. And I can also help a person realize that their subconscious plays a much larger role in determining behavior than they realize.
But by virtue of my training and vocation, I can do a much better job of leading them into an interaction with Scripture that will mold their character from the inside out.
I suspect that's at the heart of what it means to be a pastoral counselor in the first place.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
If you've looked at the "Books I Like" sidebar on this blog, you'll notice that I've read Hannah's Child, a memoir by Duke Divinity School's Stanley Hauerwas.
Hauerwas, a native Texan who taught at Notre Dame before landing at Duke, is the kind of theologian who defies the usual categories.
He's a bundle of paradoxes, actually: a conservative liberal, an iconoclastic traditionalist, and a famously profane pacifist.
In other words, like a lot of us.
And the book was a compelling read. If you're interested in theology, Methodism, university politics or you are a fan of memoirs, I highly recommend it.
Yet reading Hauerwas' story takes me back to the time he spoke at Asbury Seminary while I was a student there. I think it was 1989.
Now you need to know a little bit about inter-seminary rivalries for this to make sense. Asbury has always been a bit of a renegade school in its relation to Methodism: more conservative in its theology, more focused on the grooming pastors rather than scholars, and more interested in its independence than its connection to a major university.
In sum, pretty different from Methodist divinity schools on the campuses of Emory, SMU, and, especially, Duke.
So when Hauerwas came to address our student body, I wanted to make sure that we made a good impression.
As part of the chapel service that morning, Asbury installed a number of new professors. For that piece, each professor had to affirm his or her support of the Statement Of Faith of the school -- to teach at Asbury, you have to affirm what Asbury believes. Not in a legalistic sense, but to ensure that all in leadership at the school are on essentially the same page. You can read that Statement Of Faith here.
And that's when Hauerwas blew me away. He took the platform immediately following the installation / affirmation and said something along these lines to the people of Asbury:
You don't know how lucky you are to have a community with a common tie like that Statement Of Faith. Agreeing to the same truths is at the heart of what it means to be a community of faith. I long for something like that.
Wow. A guy from Duke -- a place which, like many other university-based schools of theology, would regard a Statement Of Faith as too "narrow" or "limiting" -- lauding our common standard at Asbury?
It helped me realize that when it comes to theology, real academic rigor stems from taking a coherent stand on significant issues.
It awakened me to the privilege I had to study in a community of people with like minds and open hearts.
It's good to name and declare what you believe. Whether you are a seminary, theologian, or congregation.
Here's our summary at Good Shepherd:
God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. He has eternally existed in three personalities: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Love constitutes the essential being of God.
(Genesis 1:1, 26, 27, 3:22; Psalm 90:2; Matthew 28:19; I Peter 1:2; II Corinthians 13:14)
ABOUT JESUS CHRIST
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus lived a sinless human life and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all people by dying on a cross. He arose from the dead after three days to demonstrate his power over sin and death. He ascended into heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead, and to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
(Matthew 1:22,23; Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1-5; 14:10-30; Hebrews 4:14,15;
I Corinthians 15:3,4; Romans 1:3,4; Acts 1:9-11; I Timothy 6:14,15; Titus 2:13)
ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father, and the Son. He is present in the world to make people aware of their need for Jesus Christ. He also lives in every Christian from the moment of salvation providing power for living, understanding of spiritual truth, and guidance in doing what is right.
(II Corinthians 3:17; John 16:7-13; 14:16,17; Acts 1:8; I Corinthians 2:12, 3:16;
Ephesians 1:13; Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 5:18)
ABOUT THE BIBLE
We believe that God inspired the composition and collection of the old and New Testaments. Therefore, the Bible has full truthfulness and authority. The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for the church. The Holy Spirit preserves and protects God's Word in the church today and by it speaks God's Word to peoples of every age.
(II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:20, 21; II Timothy 1:13;
Psalm 119:105; 160, 12:6; Proverbs 30:5)
We believe that apart from salvation in Jesus Christ, people are lost and their eternal souls are in peril. We believe that people receive salvation and reserve their places in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ not by good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Human beings have their sins forgiven through accepting Christ's sacrifice on the cross. We further believe that those who do not accept Christ are separated from God eternally after their death - another name for that separation is hell.
(Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 14:6, 1:12; Titus 3:5; Galatians 3:26; Romans 5:1)
ABOUT THE RETURN OF CHRIST
We believe that at some point in the future, Jesus Christ will return in full glory and triumph. There will be a bodily resurrection of all persons and final judgment to both eternal reward and eternal punishment. God will have ultimate victory over Satan and will establish a perfect kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth.
With our Methodist brothers and sisters around the world, we claim the historic distinctives of Wesleyan faith: prevenient grace, free will, personal & social holiness, and assurance of the believer, and a connected church.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
It's actually the place in Scripture I go whenever I am feeling spiritually malnourished.
Yet in all the times I've read that letter, I had never noticed 4:22 where Paul describes to the Ephesian Christians what kind of life they are lead as followers of Jesus:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires
The idea of "deceitful desires" sticks with me.
Because that's the way it is with many of our desires, isn't it? They deceive us into thinking that by meeting them we will achieve contentment.
But the reality is that many of our desires promise much more than they deliver.
It's a deception to think that the affair you desire will satisfy you sexually and emotionally.
It's a deception to think that the fame you long for will satisfy your ambition.
It's a deception to think that the larger, better, nicer house you desire will fix the problems your family is having in the house you're in now.
It's a deception to think that the next drink or next line of coke you desire really will be your last. Until you get serious about recovery, it won't.
So many of our desires are futile attempts to meet the needs for which God has already made provision in his Son.
What desires are deceiving you today?
Monday, May 10, 2010
As it was my first extended time at such a meet, I had some to reflect on the sport and the people in it:
1) It's no wonder track & field has never really caught on as a spectator sport. If you're watching, you wait . . . and wait . . . and wait. The action comes in short bursts that serve mostly to interrupt the waiting. Having learned my lesson on Thursday, I brought two books on Friday.
2) The difference in body-type between the sprinters and distance runners is striking. The sprinters are almost all football players trying to develop their speed for next fall. So they have crew cuts, barrel chests, and massive shoulders. The distance runners look like I did at 17: long, stringy hair that in a weird way mirrors their long, stringy bodies.
3) It's very difficult to figure out who is winning the high jump and long jump competitions. Watching it on TV helps to make sense of it.
4) I suppose I should find some theological meaning or parallel to all of this, but I can't without having to stretch the point just a little too far.
I have to admit, though, that watching Riley sprint brings a sense of both pride and wonder. It was only a few years ago that I overheard him describe himself as "the slowest, clumsiest kid in the world."
Well, not anymore.
And that's the kind of revelation that is well worth the wait.
Friday, May 7, 2010
We have several of these teaser billboards scattered around town.
This one is my favorite, especially the blogger's facial expression.
The billboard, microsite, and post cards have all helped to create a buzz around The Office series.
The buzz continues this Sunday as we tackle a theme custom-built for Mother's Day: balance.
Balance Is A Myth.
To see what it's about, Sunday.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
This past Sunday was just such a case.
I had a nice riff that went along these lines:
Some of you have issues at work. Some of you have issues with your boss and you can't imagine ever being good enough for him or her. Others of you have issues with your co-workers and the thought of getting up tomorrow morning and having to interact with those people already has your stomach in knots. And then others of you have issues with the people who report to you and you can't figure out how to hold them accountable in such a way that they still like you -- or even if such a thing is possible.
Like I said, a pretty nice riff there. Not like Keith Richards on Satisfaction but I could tell people were saying, "yep, got that. That's me."
So what should I have said? That I only realized at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon?
I should have finished the section with: And some of you ARE the issue.
Whew. Because a lot of us are the issue. Especially at work. The common denominator in most of our work struggles is . . . us.
Are you the issue?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
1. I shave twice a day. Once in the a.m. and then again sometime between 3 and 5 p.m. It's like starting the day all over.
2. If there is a college sporting event between a public school (like the University of Texas) and a private school (like SMU), I'm always for the privates. I trace it back to this borderline-obsessive loyalty all the Davises had for SMU sports. So I root for schools like Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, TCU, and Rice. Notre Dame is the exception to the rule.
3. I am allergic to cats and dogs.
4. After a lifetime of Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, I developed allergies to gluten. Few things are more loaded with gluten than FMWs and bread. For two years, I couldn't figure out why I felt sick every afternoon. Now my diet is radically changed . . . but, Lord, do I feel better. Did you know a Chick Fil-A chicken sandwich still tastes good without the bun? Why? Because you still get the pickle!
5. I really like John Mellancamp.
6. If there is a tennis match between a player with a one-handed backhand and one with a two-handed backhand, I invariably root for the one-hander. That's why I like Roger Federer over Rafael Nadal and, back in the day, Martina Navratilova over Chris Evert.
7. I am taking a sabbatical from reading other preacher's blogs or looking at other church's websites. Those activities play into my already hyper-competitive nature.
8. I don't have an iPod because I don't like listening to music on headphones. My kids think it's because I couldn't figure out the technology, but what do they know?
9. The most satisfying moment of my week during the summer is when the front yard is mowed, edged, and swept.
10. Sometimes I time it so that I am in the car when Colin Cowherd is on the radio.
11. My most prized possession is a collection of 40 or so World Tennis magazines spanning the years from 1970-1975. If you were into tennis back then, the most exciting day of the month was when you found that magazine in your mailbox. It was even moreso if you saw your own name in the "tournament results" section at the back.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
So I checked it out.
You should check it out, too.
What in the world do you get someone like that for their 95th birthday?
Monday, May 3, 2010
So naturally, our band opened up the worship time with a cover of the Bachman Turner Overdrive song straight out of 1973. It's a rock anthem with real staying power, and it was pretty remarkable to see all the people (even at 8:30!) sing along with it.
Then the message itself featured a clip from The Office, an often cringe-worthy sitcom that has something of a cult following.
Why would we use pop culture in that way during a worship service? Isn't that somehow compromising the gospel?
We don't believe so.
Instead, here's what we try to do: leverage the language of the culture that surrounds us to teach counter-cultural truths.
As we speak cultural language, people are better primed to hear what we have to say. And what we have to say is decidedly counter-cultural. Meaning, it's gospel. For example, yesterday's thrust was that we are not made to work; we are instead made to work. Work is not a punishment; it's instead a central part of what it means to be made in the image of God. It's stamped into our DNA by the creator of that DNA.
That's not a conclusion either Bachman Turner Overdrive or The Office will reach.
The whole strategy is analagous to foreign missions. We would never send a missionary to, say, Russia without first teaching them the Russian alphabet and language. You can't minister to Russian people without speaking their native tongue.
21st Century America is a mission field as well. So we try to learn the language people are speaking, whether it's irreverent television comedies or enduring rock anthems.
All so that we can leverage cultural language to teach counter-cultural truths.
And that's why we do what we do.
You can listen to the message here.