Wednesday, May 27, 2009


—I'd get bored listening to a lecture on nuclear fission. The words (at least some of them) might be English, but I really have no concept of the concept.
—I'd be bored in a Grade 2 spelling class. No challenge, nothing to catch my interest.
—I'd be bored listening to a debate over which beer tastes the best—personally, I don't plan on ever caring!
—I'd be bored if I took courses on classic literature, grammar and creative writing, but never was given any opportunities to actually write.
—I'd be bored if I attended the regular meetings of a club, but was ignored by all the other members as they chatted with each other.

I think there are common threads why many people (even Christians) don't want to have anything to do with the religious systems often called the church.
—The church doesn't speak my language, they use big words, or use ordinary words that seem to have some coded meaning, or refer to theological concepts I don't understand.
—I don't hear anything new, up-to-date or relevant in church, only old, tired diatribes, the same old harping about a particular sin.
—I don't care what your particular church teaches about the rapture—pre, mid, post, or whatever; how you baptize—dunk or sprinkle; or what style of music you use. Figure out what is really important, and then I might be interested!
—If the church really believed all they preached about love and compassion, they would be out there making a difference, not just spending money on their fancy buildings, and never stepping out of them into the real world.
—If the church truly represents God, why don't they seem to care about me? Why are they so busy talking with their friends, and ignoring me?

If you or I would be bored in a similar situation, why are we surprised so many people are bored with church?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A conversation...

We look around and realize that things aren't what they should be.
A light bulb goes off. I know what I will do! I will pray!!

God, things are pretty bad out there.
Yes, they are.
There's crime and injustice. There's fear and messed up relationships. Lots of problems. God, please fix everything. Amen. Good night! Over and out.

Time passes.

God, why didn't you fix things?
Ahhh! Well, ...
Yes, I'm listening!
Good! You want things to be made better?
You want my kingdom to be expressed on earth like it is in heaven?
Yes! Yes!
You want my will to be done on earth?
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Good! That's what you are there for!
Did you think everything would just 'appear' so your life could be perfect, so everything would be a utopia?
Well, I knew I should pray, and then I just thought that would solve everything.
Remember when Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth”?
Yes, but...
And that “You are the light of the world”?
Salt works when it gets out where it is needed. Light works when it shines in darkness.
Hmmm. So praying isn't the answer?
Well, no that's not what I said.
OK, so fill me in. How is prayer useful if I have to be salt and light? That sounds like it all depends on me!
Remember where James says that “You don't have because you don't ask, or because you ask wrongly”?
Well, your prayers can be very useful IF...
If what?
If you pray with the right purpose and understanding.
Huh? Sorry Lord, I don't think I get it.
OK. If you are the one to cause my kingdom to come and my will to be done ...
Then pray for wisdom in how to bring that about. Remember, James also said, “If you need wisdom, ask God, and He will give it to you.” So, ask me for wisdom.
Wisdom is good.
And discernment.
Discernment? What about?
Discernment to see what part of the job is yours.
You mean, it isn't all up to me?
No, of course not. That's what the rest of the family is for! That's why you all have different abilities.
And different interests.
And different people around you that you can influence.
So, if you were a steel worker, building a bridge, I'd expect you to do your job well, setting a good example, building the best bridge possible.
But I wouldn't expect you to find a cure for poverty.
Or, if you were a school teacher ...
Oh, that one's easy. You'd want me to teach all the kids to love you.
Well, ultimately that is true. But you'd need to start by loving the kids the way I do, even the obnoxious ones. I'd want you to instill a sense of honesty and fairplay, a thirst for both knowledge, and the wisdom to use it, and the ability to be great citizens of my kingdom. You see, this kingdom takes time to build, as the generations march on.
Hmmm. In some ways it sounds easy, and yet it looks like it won't come over night.
No, it won't. Reread the stories about my kingdom that Jesus told. Several of them compare the kingdom to seeds which take time to grow. One time He talked about the kingdom being like yeast which takes time to permeate the whole loaf. I kind of like the word 'infiltrate' because it infers a gradual penetration. Do you see my point?
Good! Now back to you. If you were a musician, ..
I could write beautiful songs of worship.
Yes, you could, and I would be blessed.
But ...
Worship songs have a somewhat limited audience.
You mean ...
It's kind of like when the salt stays in the shaker, or the light stays under a basket. It enjoys being in its safe, familiar environment, ...
But it doesn't bring much saltiness or light into the places where the need is.
You're getting it! So, you could write songs that encourage people to make a difference. To feed the hungry, to be humble with each other, to give instead of just take in their relationships. You know, infiltrate people's minds and hearts with the principles of the kingdom.

I think I get the idea of praying for discernment bit. Is there anything else I should be praying for?
Sure! Remember the early church? The book of Acts mentions a few things they prayed for.
Things like boldness, and opportunities, and even power, right?
Yes. Remember when Jesus told his disciples to wait for my Spirit?
He said wait until, right?
And then what? Were they to remain in the upper room forever, praying, worshiping, hearing good sermons?
Well, no. I suppose when the promised power came, they were allowed to leave.
Not just allowed, but encouraged! This brings us back to your mission! Go! Cause my kingdom to come. Make a difference. Multiply yourself, so that there are even more people helping bring my kingdom.
Oh, and since you seem to like writing ...

In fact, I expect you know where that interest and ability comes from, don't you?
Yes, although sometimes, it sure doesn't seem very, well, effective, or powerful, or ...
That's OK. That's another aspect of the prayers that you pray. I give you the ability, you pray for good ways to use that ability, ...
Ultimately, you leave the results up to me. Like you said earlier, the kingdom doesn't come over night. Your effectiveness may not be seen immediately. There are lots of examples in history. The abolition of slavery in Britain, for example. There were many years of prayer, work, and influence before it came about. But is the world a better place? Was it worth it?
Of course!
So it is with anything I lead you to do. Be faithful and patient. Salt works slowly; even the light of dawn takes time to dispel the darkness of night. So, keep thinking, praying, writing. Don't despise the day of small beginnings.
Yes, Lord!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Last week I ranted briefly on Facebook: "So, all of you who appear to care so much about your team winning (hockey, basketball, whatever), please tell me what difference it makes in the real world! A year (or month or week) from now, will it have made ANY difference in your life? Or the life of people you could care about?"
One of my friends responded: "To understand and embrace the culture of ordinary, average Canadians, in order to reach some...To the Jews, I become Jewish, to the Greeks, I am Greek, to a Canucks fan, I AM A VERY SAD CANUCK'S FAN!!!"
He is, of course, referring to 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 where Paul talks about adapting himself to the people around him, so he can better influence them.
Here is how The Message puts it:
"Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people:
religious, nonreligious,
meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists,
the defeated, the demoralized--whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life."

In 'Adventures in missing the point', by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, McLaren demonstrates how this principle would pertain to women in leadership. "Wouldn't the same strategy require him [Paul] to affirm women in leadership rather than restrict them?"
(Both Campolo and McLaren see many other New Testament references to women in leadership, so the principle is more than just for a particular culture or time.)
But this section from 1 Corinthians brings up some valid points.
--it is certainly easier to develop a rigid list of do's and don'ts than to learn how to recognize what is the underlying truth. (The way the church feels about women is a fine case-in-point.)
--you can go too far in endeavoring to be culturally relevant. (But most of the time, we probably err on the side of caution.)
--we would expect someone connecting with an aboriginal group in a foreign country to have to study the culture, language, customs, etc. in order to truly communicate with that people group. We need to recognize the same need when it comes to understanding the sub-cultures around us. It is easy to assume that because the punk anarchist 'looks' like a Caucasian and speaks English that he is on the same wavelength as yourself. The same would hold true for the young poli-sci student at your local university. Just because they appear to look and talk like you doesn't mean that they see things the way you do.

So, how chameleon-like are we to be?
Should we fit in so well as to be invisible?
What really is the principle?
As The Message puts it, "I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view."
That will involve a few things:
--leaving your own comfort zone,
--hanging around people who dress, talk, and think differently than you,
--asking questions (admitting you don't know everything) in order to gain understanding,
--being willing to be seen in 'questionable' places and situations,
--being a servant.

It's taken me quite a while to get on this journey, and I haven't traveled far--but I invite you to join me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who am I?

Labels can be useful, but difficult.
First of all, there is the tendency to identify someone by their job--You are a carpenter, you are a CEO. you are an accountant. The truth is, we are so much more than just what we do to make money. But that is for another time.

Then there is the changing connotation of words. The word that might have been perfect one day, now has colors and overtones that may or may not apply today. This has been happening with the words we might use to describe ourselves as followers of Christ.
Christian used to be a strong, powerful, positive label. It still might be, in some circles, but in others it has been colored by the negative examples people have seen.
Even a thesaurus shows some of the variations. gives the following four lists of synonyms for 'Christian'. Notice how they degenerate.
1. Definition: moral, righteous
Synonyms: Christian, clean, conscientious, correct, decent, elevated, equitable, fair, fitting, good, high-principled, honest, honorable, humane, just, kosher, moralistic, noble, principled, proper, respectable, right, right-minded, square, straight, true blue, upright, upstanding, virtuous
Antonyms: corrupt, dishonest, immoral, improper, unethical, unjust, unrighteous
2. Definition: In accordance with principles of right or good conduct.
Synonyms: moral, principled, proper, right, righteous, rightful, right-minded, virtuous
3. Definition: fundamentalist
Synonyms: Christian, apostolic, divine, evangelic, orthodox, pious, religious, scriptural
4. Definition: characterized by missionary zeal
Synonyms: evangelistic, fervent, proselytizing, religious, zealous
What starts out as a list of positive character qualities ends up as pushy, perhaps even brainwashing.
And that is the gamut of awareness people at large have about us. Thanks to TV preachers, politicos, and Academy Award speeches, the name 'Christian' is pretty much meaningless or worse.
'Born again' is another word for in-your-face proselytizer.
'Evangelical' equates to Conservative/Republican with enough baggage to sink an ocean liner.
'Believer' is still insider talk, and doesn't really say anything.

So what is left? How do we describe ourselves?
Perhaps it is time to get back to the basics.
I am tending use 'Christ-follower', hoping it leaves off most of the inferences of being an arrogant, pushy know-it-all. There's enough of that already attached to Christ.
I like the associations connected with 'Christ-follower'. To me, it says that I'm trying to be like Him, to do what He does, to represent Him. It's what I think being a disciple is all about. There's been too many words, and not enough quiet action.
'Christ-follower' leaves room for learning and individual expression. But it doesn't leave much space for unchristian attitudes and actions. And that's a good thing.

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