Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Texas Conference UMC Katrina Response

Here's the letter I just received from Bishop Huie:

Dear United Methodist Friends,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am grateful already for your prayers and acts of compassion for all those affected by Hurricane Katrina. United Methodists throughout the Texas Annual Conference are eager to respond. We are receiving many calls in our office. This letter is your first update from me. Others will follow.
Our Conference United Methodist efforts are being coordinated by our Partners in Mission office, Disaster Response leaders and several large United Methodist congregations. National efforts are being coordinated by UMCOR.
Katrina is the largest natural disaster we have ever experienced in the United States. Rescue efforts are under the supervision of the public officials and National Guard, and we have been urged not to send anyone into the area unless it is specifically coordinated with persons in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Our first mission will be to assist refugees in our areas. East Texas and Houston is filling up with refugees. There are more people on the way. Several UM congregations are being opened up as shelters. A list of those churches appears elsewhere. Please feel free to contribute food, bedding and volunteer your time by calling them.
Refugees in the New Orleans Superdome are being transferred to the Astrodome. St. Luke UMC in Houston has been asked to coordinate volunteers to staff the Astrodome. They expect to need hundreds of volunteers willing to work 12 hour shifts for at least a month. Two people can team to work six hours each, but those persons need to volunteer as a pair. If pastors will send lists of volunteers to Susan Silvus ( via email, they will try to coordinate. Volunteers can come directly to the Astrodome. However, please be prepared to be flexible.
We are encouraging people to volunteer at their nearest Red Cross shelter if there is one near you. Every relief organization will be asked to stretch deeper and wider than it ever has done before. They need our help.
This disaster truly invites extravagant generosity. I want to encourage you to give generously through your local church. There are two primary ways to give. If you will mark your check "Katrina," these funds will first be used locally to assist refugees within the bounds of the Annual Conference. They will be used for food, supplies, bedding, gasoline, etc., as they are needed here. Remaining funds will be sent to UMCOR. The second way to give is to mark your check UMCOR Hurricane Response. Those funds will be used for rebuilding. Finally, you can give directly to Red Cross.
Pastors, we need a quick turn-around on "Katrina" funds to the conference office. Area food banks are already running low on food. They need to purchase in large quantities. We want to be able to disperse funds quickly to local churches and to agencies working directly with refugees.
Once the clean-up process begins, there will be a tremendous need for flood buckets, health kits, bedding and other supplies. You can learn how to create those kits by looking elsewhere on our Web site. Churches can begin collecting supplies and taking them to drop sites for later distribution.
A tremendous rebuilding process lies ahead. As the waters recede, and sites are available, you will hear from Kathie Mann, who leads our Partner in Mission teams.
Please pray for all those people who have been affected by Katrina. They need for us to hold them in the presence of God hourly. They need for us pray for their safety, health, future and much, much more. Through the grace of God, we will help them put their lives back together again, and re-build their homes and cities.
This situation is changing hourly. We will give you the best information we have. Kindly keep checking your email and the Web site for updates.
God bless all of us as we seek to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Grace and peace,
Janice Riggle Huie

Disaster Relief Kits

UMCOR has a page with information on how to make a variety of disaster relif kits.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Unimaginable Destruction

By now you've seen pictures and heard reports of the destruction in Louisiana and Mississipi (and beyond). WWL reports that "Residents will probably be allowed back in town in a week, with identification only, but only to get essentials and clothing. You will then be asked to leave and not come back for one month." The monetary cost of being out of your (likely destroyed) home for a month, is high enough. The emotional cost of living in total uncertainty will likely be even greater. What about school? Will the schools where the homeless are staying be able to temporarily absorb the displaced children? What will adults who are used to filling their days with work going to do?

Time to pray and keep on praying.

To me the unimaginable thing is that things like this happen in places like Bangladesh every year. Hundreds killed by Katrina - absolutely horrible. But how often do we hear of a storm or flood somewhere else that kills tens of thousands?

UMCOR & Relief from Hurricane Katrina

UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) is always ready to jump in when disaster strikes. Hurricane Katrina is no exception. If you'd like to support their relief effort you can check in at their Website.

Update: Here are a couple UM news items on Katrina:
UMCOR Goes Into Action
UMs Begin Response to Katrina

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another Political Observation

I crossed the narrow narthex from exterior door toward the sanctuary. That there were people other than myself in the narthex registered, but I took no notice. Then my hand made contact with the handle of the door to the sanctuary. At that point I heard a voice say, “You can’t go in there.” With that voice I suddenly became aware that the narthex was, in fact, full of people. All of them besides myself were armed, uniformed police.

I briefly considered entering the sanctuary anyway. Who are the police of Caesar to tell me I cannot enter a Christian house of worship? After all, I am not only an ordained United Methodist Elder, but am also ABD in a PhD in Church-State Studies, so I knew better than that officers of the State ought to restrict admittance to a church.

I very quickly weighed my options and decided making my flight home that afternoon was more important than getting involved in my own First Amendment case. I was escorted through the metal detectors into the hallway to wait with the others who had gotten there early.

The church was The Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. The occasion was a possible visit that Sunday morning by the President and First Lady. It was January 1999.

I understand there are security measures that must be taken before the President goes anywhere. Especially post September 11. But there is no excuse for allowing armed, uniformed agents of the state to control admittance into a place of worship.

Political Observations

I attended a city council meeting tonight. It opened with a public forum time during which interested citizens were invited to voice their opinions about the proposed property tax rate increase. I don’t recall the mayor also inviting questions, though he and the rest of the city council did their best to answer all questions that were asked.

I’d like to share some observations from that public forum session.
  1. It was clear that one citizen’s questions were focused on making sure everyone in attendance recognized his intelligence and experience. In doing so, he was also questioning and challenging the experience and intelligence of the city council and mayor. I wouldn’t expect this to be an effective method or persuasion. In his case, it was not.
  2. Another citizen repeatedly accused the council of not having made their budget recommendations available to the public. Though he was told repeatedly that he was welcome to a copy of the proposed budget, as was any citizen, he continued to ask questions based on presumptions about the budget he hadn’t seen in direct contradiction to how the council had explained the budget.
  3. Among several citizens there was a penchant for questioning the character of the city councilmen because they were not in agreement with those asking the questions. This is common at higher levels of politics, but I would have thought it foreign to small town local politics where we know each other outside the council chambers.

While I have to admit that several on the city council, including the mayor and city manager are personal friends of mine, I believe my assessment is fair. They did answer questions, many times the same question over and over again. The trouble was they didn’t give the answers those asking wanted to hear.

Which is kind of refreshing from elected officeholders.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sunday Sermon - John Wesley on Holiness

You can listen to this week's sermon, Learning From John Wesley: Holiness. I show from Scripture (main text: Colossians 3:1-17) why holiness is good for us and how it fits into the big picture of what God is doing in our lives. I also give some pointers on how to pursue the holy life.

Winning in Iraq

In today's New York Times columnist David Brooks summarizes Andy Krepinevich's approach to winning in Iraq. The basic idea is to build up areas of safety for civilians rather than going after the insurgents. Sound an awful lot like Lewis Sorley's description of Gen. Abram's strategy in Vietnam. If Sorley is to believed, the strategy worked in Vietnam - in the short term, but fell apart when America neglected its role in the peace (and the North ignored the treaty it had made). If the Vietnam war - which, it is claimed, we lost - was part of a larger war against communism - which we won, then surely when we look at Iraq we must see it in context of a larger war. We still live with the loss in Vietnam (which was more a political loss than a military loss); if Iraq is lost - whether in reality or in the perception of the people - it will be with us a long time also.

Small towns & High Speed Internet

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit reports on an email from Frank Martin:
The lesson to all small towns across America in regards to the internet is as clear as it was to small towns in the last century in regards to trains and highways, if you want people to come to your town, you need to have high speed internet. If you have it, you are part of the world, if not, your days are numbered.
Pittsburg, Texas is a small town - fewer than 5000 in the city, about 12,000 in the county. We have high speed internet available through CountryNet (radio), DSL (SBC) and Cable (Cox). So if you're a telecommuter looking for small town life, be sure and check Pittsburg & Camp County.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Co-Dependency, Self Assertion, etc.

Bishop Will Willimon waps the self-help movement upside the head with the Gospel, seeing altogether too much SELF in much of it. His final comment:
Hello, my name is Will and I am a preacher, addicted to the need to ask, "This is all well and good, but is it the gospel?"
Go Will!

Wondering about Academic Culture

Many surveys of late have shown that teachers in higher ed tend to be overwhelmingly liberal (a prominent methodology is to compare political registration, which usually seems to run at least 10 to 1 toward the Democrats). K.C. Johnson at Inside Higher Ed examines this phenomenon, identifying three elements of the apologetic strategy offered by those who want to maintain the status quo (I only summarize - check the link for the whole piece).
1. The cultural left is, simply, more intelligent than anyone else.
2. A left-leaning tilt in the faculty is a pedagogical necessity, because professors must expose gender, racial, and class bias while promoting peace, diversity” and cultural competence.
3. A left-leaning professoriate is a structural necessity, because the liberal arts faculty must balance business school faculty and/or the general conservative political culture.

Nice to see humility at work, isn't it?

All this is old news to any one of a conservative bent who has interacted with academia. What got me thinking was one of the comments under point 3:
"Professional schools reflect the mindset of their professions."
This may be true when looking at law and business schools (I have no experience with either), but I doubt that it is generally true for seminaries, at least in the United Methodist tradition. From what I've seen, teachers at official United Methodist seminaries tend to track not with the overall profession (pastors), but with academia. Surveys come out every General Conference year showing that pastors tend to be more liberal than laity. From what I see there is also a tendency for seminary teachers to be more liberal yet.

Does anyone else see this or am I missing something?

Now it could be that pastors are inherently smarter than lay people, and seminary profs smarter than pastors, but I think that is an ad hominem, not an argument.

Another possibility is that our language is failing us here. We throw the terms "liberal" and "conservative" about as if we always know what they mean, and as if they always mean the same thing. They don't. Considered theologically, United Methodist leaders tend to be more liberal than conservative (according to popular usage). Considered institutionally, however, our leaders sure look conservative to me - "we've always done it this way" is a pretty popular motto. So which is it? Are they liberal or conservative? I'm afraid our language is failing us here.

UPDATE: Here's The New York Times' latest on the subject. Also, Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy has a word or two.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Who are we reaching?

The next flight of Igniting Ministry ads are due out any time now. Here is the United Methodist News Service article.

The UMC has paid good money for quality ads to be put together. Serious demographic research was done at the start, and has been done throughout.

Flying in the face of all this research, though, is this statement at the end of the article: “The commercial will have the most airings, 264, on CNN and CNN Headline News, followed by 138 on The Weather Channel.”

Was CNN really the best choice for the largest chunk of our church’s $2 million dollar investment? By all accounts CNN’s ratings have been sliding fast. I am confident the ads could have been more wisely dispersed.

Rejecting Members?

One of the recent controversies in the UMC is over a Virginia pastor who has been removed from ministry for not allowing a homosexual man to become a member of the church. I'm not a member of the Virginia Annual Conference and am not familiar with the details of the case. I have not had the experience of not allowing someone to join the church but I can imagine how such an action might be thought out. Others, including Woody Woodrick of the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate, cannot.

Woodrick begins his piece:
Oh, how my heart hurts. One of my fears for The United Methodist Church appears to have come true. A pastor in the Virginia Conference has been suspended from his pastoral appointment because he would not accept into the membership of his church a man living in a homosexual relationship. Much to my dismay, conservative groups within the denomination have criticized Bishop Charlene Kammerer for her decision to suspend the pastor.
Members of the church quoted in news stories have supported the pastor. The defense for not accepting the man seems to center around his refusal to renounce his sexual orientation. So a group of Christians has turned him away. From the church!
I guess Woodrick knows more than he's letting on. I was under the impression that the pastor had not turned the man away from the church, but from becoming a member of the church. I realize that contemporary practice in many UM churches takes membership to be a privilege, but on my reading of the Discipline, our liturgy, and even the Bible, membership might better be described as a responsibility.

He continues:
As the debate within the church over homosexuality has raged, my fear has been that someone would draw a line in the dirt and say, “We don’t want homosexuals in our church.” Until now that statement might have been in folks’ minds, but it wasn’t said publicly. Now it has.
Again "in membership" is taken to be the same as "in the church." I know many UM pastors who support our Discipline's assertion that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian practice." I don't know any who because of that stand refuse to let homosexuals participate in the life of the church.
I am bewildered. How can a church that professes to love God and its neighbors reject anybody? Best as I can determine, no new member is required to state a sexual preference to join a United Methodist church, just profess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Last time Ilooked, lots of folks who believe that with all their hearts were committing sin and not repentant.
I know I have a lot of sinners in my congregation. I even have a few that are unrepentant. I don't know of any who declare that they are unrepentant. Again, I don't know the details of the Virginia situation, but I can imagine that perhaps this person who wanted to join thought his practice of homosexuality was perfectly compatible with Christian practice and thus in no need of repentance. I suppose one might argue that something can be "incompatible with Christian practice" and not be a sin - after all, the Discipline doesn't come right out and say that it's a sin. If someone comes to join my congregation and says, "I confess Jesus as my lord and savior, but I intend to keep practicing adultery/gossip/malice/etc. " I would have to think membership to be inappropriate and that they don't understand what the means by confessing Jesus as lord.
How can a church minister to alcoholics, drug addicts or the imprisoned but reject homosexuals? How can a church justify accepting one group of sins as acceptable,
or at least redeemable, but not another? How can we turn our backs on someone who seeks fellowship with other Christians?
I was taught that the church is the exact place where sinners should be; the church was the one place where we are accepted. When the church turns away sinners,
they find solace where ever they can. Where does that leave them? Where does that leave us?

So does Woodrick agree with the Discipline that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian practice"? He certainly seems to take the position that it's sinful. I suppose Woodrick's practice of taking in members contains something like, "Today we welcome X into church membership. He/She is a practicing drunkard/liar/usurer/homosexual and is currently unrepentant. We will therefore do all in our power to help him/her discover the destructiveness of this practice and lead him/her to repentance."
My take on the main fault lines in the church are that they are different than what Woodrick identifies. On one side are those who think homosexual practice is sinful and to be repented of. On the other are those who think homosexual practice is perfectly acceptable, needing no repentance. Although, as I've said, I know many who take each position, I don't know anyone (till now) who thinks the best way to pursue the first position is to treat the second as perfectly acceptable. I teach that one of the signs of a healthy church is to have obvious sinners in attendance. I also teach, however, that the transition to membership is a change that indicates repentance and faith. Perfection? By no means. That comes later. I also teach my people that we need to be in ministry with all people - whether thy're easy or hard to work with, whether their sins are social acceptable (each community seems to have its pet sins that it rationalizes) or not. But I also tell people that we will love them and minister grace to them even if they never become members.
I suppose it's possible this Virginia pastor had been teaching that membership in his church was necessary either for salvation or to be a recipient of ministry, leading the rejected man to think he could receive either no other way. In such a case I can understand why he was relieved from duty, though the issue should have been heresy, not mere insubordination.
Understand, I’m not condoning this man’s lifestyle. However, I know I’m not worthy of Christ’s saving grace. I’ve seen the evil in my soul. I wrestle with it every, single
day. I rationalize my behavior every, single day. I’m sure there are things in my life I don’t consider sin, but God does. I dread the day when the section in the Book
of Life devoted to me stands open. I am dropping my rock and silently slipping away.
Yet, despite how sorry I am, Christ accepts me. He longs for me, and He never rejects me. If Christ accepts my sorry soul, how can He not accept this man in
Virginia? How can I not accept him? If God can accept this man as he is, with all his imperfections and shortcomings, how can we not accept him? He’s good enough
for God, but not good enough for us?
If membership were coterminous with salvation or grace, I might side with Woodrick here, but I don't imagine that people have to be members of the church to receive or experience grace or to be saved. Whether Christ "accepts" the man in Virginia, I don't know. Since I'm not a universalist, I don't believe everyone will be saved. Some people - even church members (even pastors!) - may persist in sin in such a way that it constitutes a rejection of Christ.
Why does Woodrick need to "drop his rock?" Why is he even carrying a rock? Or does he assume that the identification of sin as sin - and that in a particular life - is an evil to be repented of? Are all membership standards to be rejected? Are United Methodists no longer a disciplined people? (Or does being "disciplined" simply mean we have a large book full of instructions and rules for the way we do things?)
Not long ago, our Sunday school class discussed the
“worst” sin. Have we just committed it?
Which sin is that? Having standards for membership? Being disciplined? Identifying sin as sin? Thinking that church membership is necessary for receiving God's grace and being saved? Though there are likely some out there, I don't know any UM pastors who think homosexual practice is the worst sin. I have heard of some who think saying - and acting on the belief - that it is might be the worst sin.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer Mission Trip June 2005

I was honored to be invited to preach for the closing worship of the CTCYM (Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission) Senior High trip again this summer. Here is a downloadable version of the message:
Audio version


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Words and meaning

Since I have been blogging, I have been trying in a variety of ways to get the word out. I tell people I think might be interested, and encourage them to tell others.

Something very interesting happened. When I told youth, almost all of the were very surprised I had a blog. In fact, their reactions were beyond surprise; they were shocked, as though there were something inappropriate about an adult guy, and a pastor, blogging. I had to know what their concern was.

This was news to me, but apparently for youth, blogging is basically online diary writing. As they explained this, I quickly began to understand their reaction to my being a blogger. Once I explained my bloggin to them they understood me, too.

Such misunderstandings pervade our society. We use common words and phrases and mean entirely different things by them.

One of the most problematic of these is the simple word "god." I enjoy asking people, when they've made some generic reference to god, "which god do you mean?" Some have worried I am a polytheist. I have actually had people explain to me that if we all use the word "god," and since there is only one god, we must all be referring to the same god.

I challenge Christians in such a case to describe our God in terms of what we know of God in scripture. Instead of just assuming "god" means the God of Abraham, Issaac, Moses, David, and Paul, Christians ought to clarify by the scriptures exactly who the god we claim is God is.

We don't all mean the same thing with the same words. We need to start having the necessary conversations to clarify what others mean by words we use. They don't know what we mean and we don't know what they mean unless we do.

How Shall They be Constituted?

Should we really be surprised that Iraq is having difficulty dealing with constitutional matters? Word has it two of the biggest issues of contention are the rights of women and the role of Islam in the government.

I suppose there are some liberals left (mostly in that category popularly referred to as Conservatives, though they are political Liberals) who may have thought that freeing the Iraqi people from suppression would ipso facto create a yearning in them not just for freedom and democracy, but exactly the same kind of modern western democracy we have in the United States.

During my coursework in the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, I occasioned to peruse the constitutions of many of the world’s democracies. I quickly noticed that most of those that followed the founding of the United Nations were nearly identical. Apparently some good natured liberal thought that what was important was that each nation has a constitution; not that it be drafted by and out of the lives, traditions, and philosophies of the people of that nation.

I have no doubt the Iraqis will come up with a constitution. Will it satisfy the U.S. more if it looks more like ours, or if it fits the people charged with developing it?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Cost of Family

Scott Burns writes today about the high cost of raising a family. He only goes as high as two children, demonstrating how much people need to increase their earnings just to stay even (clue: it takes more than just staying up with inflation). From a financial point of view I seem to have gotten myself with a double whammy. Not only do I have three children, but I'm also in a profession where I don't have much power to increase my income each year (though sometimes I'm able to keep up with inflation). But children are worth it, and we need more people who value children over financial comfort.

Sunday's Message - John Wesley on Salvation

Here's a link to today's sermon, Learning from John Wesley: Salvation. It's the first in a series on John Wesley.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Christian Prayer News from Gaza

What to think about the Israeli pull-out from Gaza? Is this a good thing for the Palestinians - or does it merely open the door for a war between the PLO and Hamas (and whoever else has a gun and strong opinions)? Is it a good thing for the Israelis (thinking the Palestinians will leave them alone and stop the constant bombings? I don't see any sure-fire good news for either party in this. Good news is still a long way off and will require lots of work.

In the mean time, here's a word from Brother Andrew (once upon a time known as God's Smuggler) who just returned from Gaza:

Brother Andrew just returned from Gaza on Wednesday, August 17. Having talked first hand with our brethren, here’s how they ask us to pray:

  • Pray for the Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical church in Gaza. It has received threats from Muslim fundamentalists and is currently being guarded by armed security.
  • Please pray for protection for Pastor Hanna Massad and his family. Many Christians fear that there will soon be a civil war between Hamas and the PLO. This would leave our Christian brethren in the crossfire of bullets, literally.
  • Please pray for the ministries that Open Doors supports, including the Gaza Baptist Church, the Bible bookstore in Gaza, as well as the only public library, where Christian literature is readily available.
  • Pray for the ongoing outreach to Palestinians living in refugee camps, that by showing them God’s mercy we will gain an influence in their spiritual hearts.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

And you thought we had gasoline problems....

We sometimes forget that we're only one piece of the international economy. The rise in oil and gas prices affect not only us, but also the rest of the world. The growing economies in India and China have been adding huge demand to the world oil markets, helping drive prices up (in other words, the rise in prices is more than a "terrorism premium"). Have you been wondering how the quick uptick in prices (Here in Pittsburg prices are up over thirty cents a gallon in about a week) has been affecting those countries? I have, and now Gateway Pundit has some news from China. Be sure and read the comments as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What kind of tree was he?

One of the latest offerings in reality tv will be "Tommy Lee Goes to College," on NBC. The show has Tommy Lee, famous mostly for his stint as Motley Crue's drummer and once-spouse of Pamela Anderson Lee, attending classes at the Unniversity of Nebraska.

The brief report in the Waco Tribune-Herald, as well as in the lin kabove, explains that the 42 year old connected with his botany class. "I think I was a tree or something in a past life," Lee said.

Do you suppose that, in botany classes at the University of Nebraska, they teach students to relate to or get in touch with nature on the basis of reincarnation?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Who Are You Talking To?

We like learning in school because what we learn there tends to be abstracted from our actual life situations. Math is clearly objective – not need for emotion or conflict there. History – we might argue over interpretation of various events, but whatever it was was way back when.

Some models of Christian education take this same tack and major on learning facts – what we might call head knowledge. We can learn tons about theology and the bible and still hold it at a distance, away form our lives. Unfortunately – so we think – that wasn’t Jesus’ style and isn’t what we followers of Jesus most need. Jesus spoke to people in the moment of their need. He provoked them and challenged them on what they were in the process of doing. No dry theory for him.

Jesus’ method provoked pain in his hearers – enough pain in some that they had him nailed to a cross and killed. His objective was not merely to fill their heads with knowledge but to change their lives. Since my calling to preach and teach came from Jesus, that ought to be my goal also.

But some times people don’t like it. “Have you been spying on me?” “Did so and so tell you what I said?” “How did you know that?” “I felt like you were preaching right at me this morning.” I’ve heard all these before. When I hear those kind of comments I know I’m doing something right. After all, isn’t it people I’m supposed to be talking to? Surely it’s a waste of time to address myself to pews & walls? What’s the point in saying things people don’t need to hear?

So how do I know what people need to hear? Three things:

  1. I pay attention to what’s going on around me. Some things aren’t that hard to figure out. Consider the loss of the feed store. Is any one shocked that I talk about comfort in times of loss – about our mission being larger than buildings? When the decisions about renovating the sanctuary were made a few years ago there was some conflict in the church. I wasn’t here during that time, but I’ve had wide enough experience in church to not be shocked. So if I talk about conflict now with the loss of the feed store am I exhibiting extraordinary knowledge? I think not.
  2. I creatively move from that I see out there to what I know of myself. Being a sinner, I know a bit about how sinners think – and act. I know what temptations I face. Sometimes you may here a sermon or teaching, or read something I write (this piece?) and think I’m talking to you. If so, give thanks someone loves you enough to talk to you. But many times from my own perspective, I’m addressing my own temptations, fears, and problems. I just happen to be enough of an ordinary human being that other people share some of my problems and insecurities. Surely you wouldn’t want any other kind of preacher.
  3. I pray a lot. Many times what I preach, teach or write on has no inspiration whatever in what I see. This is a good thing, since though I work at paying attention to what’s happening around me, I’m still oblivious to too much of it. God seems to figure that I don’t have any need to know who needs to hear a particular message – only that some do. I not only listen to God, I also ask God to let what I say and write speak to the needs of the people. Most of us don’t have needs for abstract knowledge and theories. We need a word spoken into our lives where we are right now.

So – if in my speaking and writing it seems that I’m speaking directly to you – give thanks for it. But chances are I don’t have a clue what’s happening unless you tell me.

Discipleship as Becoming Jesus' Apprentice

If you've read much of Dallas Willard (Spirit of the Disciplines, Divine Conspiracy, and The Renovation of the Heart are key texts) you know of his preference for the word "apprentice" over disciple. The latter has become so Christianized it has lost its original content. As followers of Jesus we are his apprentices: we spend time with him, watch what he does, and then do it ourselves. In a recent Leadership Journal Dallas Willard and Dieter Zander discuss how this works out in the church. Here's just a taste from Zander's final comment:
When we moved to San Francisco, we lived on a street where our neighbors included an atheist Jewish family, a Buddhist family, an Irish Catholic family, a gay family, and a Hindu family. There was no sense of community, so we decided to become conduits of the kingdom by practicing the discipline of hospitality. We learned people's names and used them. We introduced neighbors to each other. And something began to happen.

My atheist Jewish neighbor came into my kitchen once and said, "You know, something has happened since you all moved to this neighborhood. It's hard to describe, but it's like an enzyme has been added. Where once there was no life, now there's life. What is that?" And I said, "That's the gospel of Jesus being lived out in our lives."

People Business, part 2

In the last newsletter I started recounting some of the things we heard at the evangelism workshop led by Dr. George Hunter. Here are some more things we can learn from the story of Ruth’s conversion to the true God.

When we claim to be followers of Jesus, people look at us to see if we’re credible. They ask of us – as Ruth likely asked of Naomi: 1. Do we really believe what we say? 2. Do we live by it? 3. Does it make a difference? Since being in business of attracting people to Jesus and helping them become devoted to him does not presuppose our own perfection – if it did, we’d never get started – we must constantly ask ourselves these questions.

Ruth also found people – namely Naomi and family – who wanted to understand her, valued her, and loved her. She could then judge that if the people of Yahweh (the OT name of God) were like that, God might be like that also. God usually works through people. Thus people judge God on the basis of what they see in us. If we want to influence people toward Jesus, we must put on the character of Jesus so we faithfully represent him.

In the context of loving relationships, Ruth acquired knowledge. Remember she lived more than 2500 years before Johann Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press. She was likely illiterate. Yet through her relationships – and conversations – with Naomi and family, she was able to learn the basics of the faith: the Shema (Deut. 6:5-6), Abraham, the Exodus, etc. In the same way, as we internalize the basics of the faith – who Jesus is, what he’s done for us, etc., we can then share those stories and realities with others.

Even though Naomi didn’t have the Great Commission (“Go and make disciples of all nations” – Mat. 28:19-20), she likely knew the Hebrew tradition well enough to know God’s intention was not only to bless Israel, but also to make them a blessing to all nations. In her relationship with Ruth, she knew that she didn’t have to do it all, but could depend on the community. Like Ruth, it will often be the case in our ministry that people belong before they believe. For many it will only be through the life of Jesus experienced in community that they come to faith and become Jesus’ follower.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sunday Message

Here's the MP3 of today's sermon. The Blessings of Living Under Authority is based on Matthew 8:5-13, 2 Kings 5 and Matthew 20:20ff. A centurion came to Jesus seeking the healing of his servant. Jesus offered to drop everything and come, but the centurion said that he understood authority and Jesus' word would be sufficient. He - and his servant - were blessed for livign under authority. That's not how we usually repond, though. More likely we're like Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5 who chafed under authority or like James & John in Matthew 20 who yearn to be in authority. To live under authority we need to look to Jesus, follow Jesus' example and learn to practice discernment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Validating Windows

About a month ago my computer was going haywire. I'd scanned for viruses and hadn't found anything, so I decided to try Microsoft's tool for spyware detection and removal. When I went to the MS site, I discovered I would have to have my installation of Windows "validated." Seemed pretty simple & straightforward. I'd bought my Compaq machine at Best Buy and it had the little MS Windows sticker on the case. But it wasn't so simple. The validation test came out negative. The site then suggested I do manual validation, which required entering the multi digit code on my sticker. Again - failure. So I called Best Buy. They couldn't help me. I called MS. They couldn't do anything for me - other than send out vibes they thought I was a software pirate.

Today I tried validating again. No problem at all.

So what did I learn? Sometimes the validation doesn't work and it's due to no fault of the machine or the operator. MS and its systems are imperfect (no, I already knew that - it's just a statement of fact). If you try validating your installation and it doesn't work - and should - try again another day and see what happens.

People Business, part 1

This past Saturday several of us went to Tyler for a workshop led by Dr. George Hunter, professor of evangelism at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. Since we’re in the people business – attracting people to Jesus and helping them become his devoted followers – we thought this would be helpful. It was. His first session took us to the book of Ruth, an important conversion story in the Old Testament. In that book we see Ruth, a woman from Moab, attach herself to the people of Israel and claim their God as her own. Dr. Hunter identified ten factors that influenced Ruth in her action. I’ll share the first three in this piece and save the rest for the next newsletter.

First, Ruth’s action took place as a process over time. Ruth didn’t just meet Naomi and instantly decided that, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Naomi was her mother in law. She’d been part of the family system for a few years. In the same way, when we seek to influence people toward Jesus, we must remember that it is a process. Although I was raised in church, when I look back at my life and how I became a follower of Jesus, I see not just a significant moment, but a period of time (in my case the events of approximately 2 years were most significant).

Hunter’s second point is closely related. Ruth’s conversion resulted from many experiences. Just like people today, Ruth was influenced by the direct action of God, answered prayer, discerning the truth of the scriptures, friendships with believers, and a host of other events. There is no one thing that tends to bring people to Jesus – but many things working together.

Third, as you already know, the change happens through relationships. Just as Ruth experienced the grace of God through mother in law Naomi and family, people today experience God through us. Our actions are tremendously important. Since we’re in the people business, we must work to ensure that our relationships are modeled on the character of Jesus – full of grace, love and kindness.

Reclaiming Theology II

Our Book of Discipline says that “The underlying energy of the Wesleyan theological heritage stems from an emphasis upon practical divinity, the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.” (Paragraph 101 under the heading “Our Distinctive Heritage as United Methodists) In other words, our heritage is to make Christianity real in people’s lives! We don’t want to get caught up in debates and arguments and endless philosophical discussions; we want to make Christianity real in the lives of people.

Young adults want real. It seems like every day there are three new reality television shows rolled out. A few years ago Nickelodeon ran an ad for “actual reality” where they recommended getting off the couch, turning off the tv, and experiencing life in person. The generation that watched those ads as kids and youth are now young adults. They would prefer real reality to reality tv.

Our theological heritage is real. Wesley’s theology was so real it wouldn’t allow the walls of a church building to contain his message. For over 200 years the people called Methodist have lived a life grounded in real theology. It is time to let all the young adults out there know it.

Our theological heritage is scriptural. At this point, many of you life-long United Methodists will be inclined to go to the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” We want to recommend against that. Here is why. As we showed above; 91% of young adults (and other unchurched people) say that what the church believed was important in their decision to come to that church. To the unchurched, beginning a discussion of “what United Methodists believe” with a digression into the Wesleyan Quadrilateral will sound like we are avoiding the topic.

After all, the quadrilateral was not the creation of Wesley, but a 1970’s model for interpreting how Wesley did theology. It was intended as a framework for guiding us as a broad and diverse denomination in theological conversation and exploration. Wesley himself never referred to a quadrilateral, nor did he leave us discourses on tradition, reason, and experience.

As United Methodists we, like John Wesley and all other committed Christian leaders before and since, start with scripture. Wesley described himself as a “man of one book,” though he read constantly. He even had a bookmount built onto his saddle so he could read while riding from place to place!

With young adults, you might begin with our Articles of Religion. There are two sets! When we became The United Methodist Church in 1968, we retained both the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. In fact, it would be a good exercise in familiarizing yourself with what we believe as United Methodists to compare the two sets of articles as a group. (That the Articles and Confession are a good place to start testifies to the purpose of the quadrilateral; these are the foundational documents of our tradition).

To summarize, theology is important to young adults who seeking a church or who we might reach. As United Methodists, we have too rich a theological heritage to ignore, yet we have for years.

Young adults will find our theological heritage and the primacy of scripture in our tradition a very welcome foundation on which they may begin their lives of faith. Remember that our theological heritage is “the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.” Because it isn’t just beliefs but the implementation of beliefs, it is real; the kind of real they are looking for.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Serious about Holiness

Two "bummer" words in one title! Who wants "serious" when we can have "fun?" And "holiness?" The other "H" word - "happiness" - is much preferred.

Yet in the Methodist tradition, holiness was a serious pursuit from the beginning. Holiness was pursued not solitarily but in community. In the Methodist community more thought was given to the question, "How can I help my brother/sister in Christ become holy?" than to "How can I help my sister/brother be happy?" It was this serious pursuit of holiness that led the early Methodists to ask a series of questions before they became members.
  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?

  2. Have you peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?

  3. Have you the witness of God's Spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God?

  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?

  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?

  6. Do you desire to be told of your faults?

  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?

  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?

  9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear concerning you?

  10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible; that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?

  11. Is it your desire and design to be, on this and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise and without reserve?
Can we ask these questions today? Do they even make sense to us? The only way we can do so is to find our identity and security in Christ rather than our own (pretended) goodness. But, like Wesley, I think it would be good for us.

Vision Leaks

Years ago I heard Charles Stanley on TV. I've heard him enough now that I recognize his voice when I hear it on the radio. He's ok - sounds like an ordinary Southern Baptist preacher to me. I first heard his son Andy Stanley when I went to Injoy's Catalyst Conference back in 2001. I like Andy. He doesn't sound like a generic Southern Baptist, but like a fired-up, creative, evangelistic, passionate pastoral leader. Since 2001 I've read some of this stuff and heard him a few more times. One of the things he said that sticks with me is, "Vision leaks." I think it sticks with me because it's a short way of summarizing what I've seen many times. I've seen it not only in the churches I pastor but also in my own life.

In a Leadership Journal article called "Vision Leaks," Stanley mentions three signs we can look for that will tell us vision is leaking.

1. Prayer requests. What people pray for will tell you more than anything else whether they are locked into the vision and priorities of the church. When you are in a leadership meeting, are the only prayer requests for sick people? When I'm in such a meeting, I say, "Whoa, is anybody in this group burdened for an unchurched or unsaved friend? Yes, let's pray for the sick people. Now, what else can we pray for?"

2. Stories of great things happening in people's lives. If there are no stories, then maybe the vision for life transformation has leaked.

3. What people complain about. If people are complaining about the wrong stuff, then vision is leaking. When they complain about the music, or the parking, or that the church is too big, or there are too many people they don't know, you can respond, "I know. God is blessing us." But it's a sign of vision leakage.

These are not merely the signs of vision leakage, but also of the lack of an evangelistic vision. Since most of the items on our prayer list are for healing, it may not be that our vision has leaked, but that our vision is for all people to be in perfect health forever. Now this sounds perfectly fine - I'd much rather be healthy not not, and I'd rather my good health last a long time than a short time. But is there anything particularly Christian about this vision? What about stories? Well, we certainly don't here many stories about life change - we still think faith is too personal to talk about. Complaining? We complain about noisy kids, mis-arranged class rooms, lack of ideal cleanliness. What vision do these complaints reflect? Anything particulary Christian about them?

What would it take to develop an evangelistic vision? I think it'll take two things. First, we need to get a passion for people. As we learn to see people from God's point of view - remember when God saw us in our sin his decision was to give his only Son Jesus to come and die for us. Serious stuff is going on here. God's passion for us and the people around us is infinite. As we spend time with God his passion for people will overcome our passion for cleanliness, order, and mere physical health.

Second, as we get God's passion for people, we'll start investing ourselves in actual people. We then won't only be passionate for people in general, we'll be passionate about helping our neighbors, family members, friends - even enemies - come to Know Jesus and experience life in him,

Some Thoughts on Church Finances

From most appearances, Mammon is our national god. Oh, we don’t use that name for him: we more often speak of Prosperity, or The Economy, but looking at our country both form the perspective of the Bible and from most of the rest of the world, the god we trust in looks more like Mammon than the Father of Jesus Christ. Even when we don’t claim Mammon as our god, he makes enough noise clamoring for our allegiance that we are usually uncomfortable talking about money in church. My perception is that it is in those areas we are most afraid to talk about (think of Mammon’s friend Eros) that we are most likely to be deceived or led astray. Reading the Gospels we see that Jesus talked about money quite a bit – so from a Christian point of view it must not be a bad idea. <>

Often when talk about money in church begins, the word tithe is not too far behind. Some preachers will tell you that tithing – giving ten percent of your income – is God’s standard for all people. While I practice tithing of this sort – and have for years – I haven’t been able to find the biblical support to make a strong case for it. That said, I can make a strong case for commitment and generosity – and tithing is likely a good starting point. In Luke 21 Jesus praises the example of a woman who can be described either as giving two cents (considering everything we want to buy we like that idea!) or as giving all she had (which goes way beyond tithing). Although both descriptions are factual, it is the latter that Jesus praised.

John Wesley considered that episode and other words of Jesus and said, “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” (Keith Drury has a much fuller discussion of Wesley on money.) Mammon might say something like this too – but the emphasis would be entirely different. Notice those two little words “you can.” These can imply great effort or mere ability. Mammon’s version would have us apply the great effort at the front end – “Work hard to gain.” Then after you’ve gained a lot, filled up your bank accounts (saving) – and bought all the stuff you want – then give something. It’ll make you feel good.

Wesley would put the emphasis the other way. Gain to the best of your ability, save through frugal living, and work hard at giving. That’s the way Wesley lived. In his early years he made 30 pounds a year, lived on 28 and gave away 2. In later years he gained something like 100 pounds a year, lived in 28, and gave away 72. Some of you have heard of R.G. LeTourneau, a Longview industrialist who lived similarly.

I don’t have to look too far to see that Mammon’s advice is more popular than Jesus’ (and Wesley’s). It’s not just out there in the world, it’s not just out there in the church, it’s even in me. I’ve heard Mammon’s voice saying things like, “If you didn’t tithe, you could …. “ You’ve heard that voice too, haven’t you?

Consider another money word we use in church sometimes: debt. Unless we’re independently wealthy, most of us have to use debt from time to time. In our culture we use debt to buy houses, cars, and educations. It’d be nice if we all had the money to buy these things without borrowing, but most of us don’t. If cash up front were required, we’d simply have to do without.

Debt does have dangers. United Methodist pastors are asked a series of questions before being ordained. One of these – which date from Wesley himself – is “Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your ministry?” This is always a curious time at Annual Conference. The supposed “right” answer is “NO.” But in this era when the UM system requires so much education to be a pastor – a bachelors degree plus a 90 hour masters – debt is pretty common. And with the cost of education these days, the debt can be large. I’ve known people who get out of seminary owing 50 – 60 thousand dollars. (I joke sometimes, “It’s a good thing pastors are so highly paid – like doctors and lawyers!” – That is a joke.) So sometimes those being questioned speak truthfully and say, "Yes.” I’ve even heard a bishop – the one who asks the questions – respond to a “No” answer with the quip, “I guess you don’t embarrass easily.”

Educational debt can be hard to carry, but it’s not the hardest. In our culture credit cards seem to cause the most trouble. The average American has over $8000 in credit card debt. Do you know the rates they charge on those balances? That kind of debt starts easy, builds fast – frequently at the insistence of Mammon – and is hard to dispel. So in spite of our reliance on debt to get us what we want – more electronics, furniture, boats, houses, vacations, food, etc. – sometimes we find ourselves in a pit of our own digging.

Looking at debt this way it’s easy to see why churches would want to avoid debt. Yet we continue to use it. Why? Because debt can not merely be a trap from getting what we want, it can also be a tool to expand our capacity. When FUMC Pittsburg went into debt to acquire the Rock and the Feed Store, we expanded our ministry capacity. The key questions we asked was, What’s our business? Some might see our actions and judge that we must be in the building business. But we’re not. We’re in the people business. Buildings are a resource that help us reach people, build them as disciples of Jesus, equip them for ministry, and deploy them to reach the world.

Knowing our business – our purpose in being a church – guides us in money decisions, not only in whether we go into debt, but also what we spend our money on. When North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia built their first buildings they had such a strong conviction that they needed the buildings to reach people for Jesus (They’re in the People Business, just like us) that many within the church went so far as to take out second mortgages on their own homes so they could give more to their church. Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Obviously their mission was more than just meeting on Sunday mornings. That’s the kind of step you usually only take when life and death issues are at stake.

That’s how our Model thought. Jesus didn’t give much in the way of money. He didn’t have any – for much of his ministry he appears not to even have a place to live. Like the widow in Luke 21, he gave what he had – his life. His motivation was love – for us. For us his gift meant life – instead of death.

Do we think like Jesus? Do we think that the mission of the church – which we can see in John 20 21 as an extension of Jesus’ mission – is a life or death thing? If we do – if we think this people business we’re in is so vitally important – we won’t have trouble meeting the budget. We’ll more easily discern the difference between good debt and bad debt. We – like Jesus – like John Wesley – like numerous others – will be generous with our lives and our possessions. Mammon will squeal for his share – he’ll argue that we’re unnecessarily denying ourselves the pleasures of life. Don’t listen. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His way leads to death. Jesus not only knows the way of life – the Bible tells us he himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

<>So – let’s follow Jesus. And frustrate Mammon.

Christians Committed to Modernity

For the past several days, Ramesh Ponnuru and John Podhoretz have been debating stem cell policy, abortion, humanity at the Corner at NRO. In today's (final?) post, Podhorezt says,
I am going to make one final point, and I mean final. What astonishes me in the course of this discussion (to judge from the blizzards of e-mails and other blog items done on this debate) is that I, a relatively secular person, am arguing the position that we cannot understand the mystery of life without faith -- and that a great many pro-llfers, whose commitment to life is religious in nature and whose religion plays a far more central role in their lives than it does in mine, are arguing with me on the grounds that the whole business can be discerned entirely through reason and science.
Podhoretz finds this apparent inversion - a secularist arguing for faith and religionists arguing for science and reason. I do not. What he does not recognize - or acknowledge - is the relative rhetorical force of each kind of argument in the last couple of generations. Because of the dominant epistemologies (theories of knowledge) in the past couple of centuries, science and reason - conceived monolithically - have been seen as the arbiters of truth, while religion and faith have been judged to represent opinion (at best) or illusion and delusion (at worst). The modern world has taught Christians that if they want to argue for something, they need to do so purely on the basis of reason - particulary a reason that is universal. Since the public either does not value or completely excludes arguments based on faith (people talk about a First Amendment?), Christians must argue on the basis of something else, and in this case, as in others, a secular and universal Reason is close to hand.

But it doesn't work. Why? The game is stacked against them. Reason masquerades as a single entity out there doing good to all of humanity. Reason isn't just one thing; there isn't just one system of rationality; it's not just the neutral application of clear thinking. Every system identified with Reason comes attached to certain substantive positions. Christians - and likely others who seek to live a life of faith - suffer when they try to play the games of modern Reason. The deck is stacked against them.

What's the alternative? A supposed "postmodern" retreat from Reason into irrationality? Some make take this route, but I think the better strategy is to tell the truth about Reason. Recognize that Reason always comes attached to substantive positions. Bring those substantive commitments and convictions to light. Talk about them. Let Reason confront Reason as their commitments (faiths) are laid bare. The price will be admitting there are no universal principles that "all right thinking, rational, moral people of courage" will admit to and stand for. But that's ok.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Restaurant Review - Applebees

We took Paul out to Applebees for his birthday today (my first visit to an Applebees since I got sick after eating at one a couple of years ago). I stil like Chilis much better, but Chilis hasn't gotten smart enough to put a location in our area yet.

Business was pretty slow for the lunch hour. With Pilgrim's Pride world headquarters down the road and a location right off I 30 I'd expected a bigger crowd. We were led quickly to out table, with no waiting. Soonthe servers came and started the order process.

I ordered the Cowboy Burger. It's distinguishing characteristics, according to the menu, included onion peels and BBQ sauce. When our food was delivered it had neither. Though it was soon corrected, I'd rather have my order right the first time. Th eburger itself was ok - though not exceptional. The quantity was more than enough - half a sandwich would have been plenty. The fries were also tasty.

Christi had their new Orange Glaze Chicken Bowl. She said it was ok, but the "variety of vegetables" claimed by the menu included only broccoli and red pepper. She also commented that it was more soupy than she expected, since they had drenched it with the orange sauce.

Paul and the girls ordered chicken strips and their food seems to have been just fine.

Service was ok, though we had to ask twice for carry out boxes.

O Chilis, where are you?

Bono on Target

It's hard to tell where celebrity Christians are coming from. Sometimes they seem to be all talk, no action. Sometimes all action, no (clearly Christian) talk. Biblically, one would expect both. In World Magazine (thanks to Locusts & Honey for the pointer!) we see that Bono of U2 fame seems to be a good role model.

Moral Revival in America?

Sometimes we're so deep in the forest, with so many individual trees up close and personal, that we can't discern the shape or condition of the whole. That's where statistics come in. New York Times columnist David Brooks points out a plethora of statistics that show distinct improvement in many areas in the past ten years. Family violence, death by drunk driving, teenage pregnancy, and children in poverty - even the divorce rate - all are down. What's going on? Brooks mentions four factors:
The first thing that has happened is that people have stopped believing in stupid ideas: that the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent's social duty to be a rebel.
The second thing that has happened is that many Americans have become better parents. Time diary studies reveal that parents now spend more time actively engaged with kids, even though both parents are more likely to work outside the home.
Third, many people in the younger generation, under age 30 or so, are reacting against the culture of divorce. They are trying to lead lives that are more stable than the ones their parents led. Post-boomers behave better than the baby boomers did.
Fourth, over the past few decades, neighborhood and charitable groups have emerged to help people lead more organized lives, even in the absence of cohesive families.
As Christians we can give thanks for these trends, pray that they continue, and apply ourselves to advancing them in our neck of the woods.

UPDATE: The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University publishes an annual report on the state of families. In the preface to this year's report, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead writes:
The divorce rate, one indicator of marital stability, continued to drop last year, continuing a downward trend that began around 1980 when the rate was 22.6 per 1000 married women. It fell to 17.7 in 2004 from 18.1 in the prior year. However, the marriage rate, the number of marriages per 1000 unmarried women, has also been dropping—by nearly 50 percent since 1970 when the rate was 76.5. It fell to 39.9 in 2004 from 40.8 the prior year. The number of unwed cohabitating couples continues to rise. Both the percentage of births to unwed mothers and the percentage of children living with a single parent increased slightly, reaching record highs. Overall, except for the drop in divorce, the latest indicators point to little improvement in marital health and wellbeing.

There are some small indications that attitudes among high school seniors are changing in a pro-marriage direction. The percentage of seniors who agreed or mostly agreed with the statement “it is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along” has shown a surprising decrease since the late 1990s. The empirical reality that cohabitation is not good for marriage may be becoming more widely known. And of those seniors who expected to marry or were married, the percentage who said that it is likely they will stay married to the same person for life has been increasing, especially among boys. On the other hand, more than 50 percent of both boys and girls now say that “having a child without being married is experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle and not affecting anyone else,” the percentage having increased sharply over the years, especially among girls.

From what I see it is too early to speak of a "moral revival" in America. A "moral change," perhaps, where some of the change is for the better, some for the worse, might better describe what we see.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Reclaiming Theology

As part of the Central Texas Conference's Young Adult Ministries Task Force, I was charged to write the chapter for our workbook on "reclaiming theology." It is our contention that young adults do not want a church that pretends not to have any theological stance. Following is the opening of this chapter:
“You know what frustrated me the most when I started visiting churches?” Susan asked. Susan was a lifelong unchurched person in the Cleveland area. A crisis in her life brought her to a search for God. “What really frustrated me was that I had a deep desire to understand the Bible, to hear in-depth preaching and teaching, but most of the preaching was so watered-down that it was insulting to my intelligence.” In fact, 91% of formerly unchurched people who have found their way into churches and become active say that the doctrine of the church was important to them.(Thom Rainer, Suprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, p. 45.)

People who don’t go to church want the church to care about theology and doctrine. Young adults are no different than any others in this regard. In fact, some say that the popularity of the “X-files” television series was the spiritual nature of the show. “The truth is out there,” the show proclaimed with every opening. Even those who watch television want to find the truth.

As United Methodists, we not only have access to truth and the Truth, but we have a heritage of living at the intersection of that Truth and the world around us. If we want to reach young adults who are currently not connected with any church, one of the things we must do is reclaim our theological heritage.

We contend that The United Methodist Church is well situated to do this! Our theological heritage is a rich, wonderful one full of people being touched by God and reaching others for God.

This chapter is to help your church claim or reclaim its theological heritage and not to be ashamed of it. For years the joke between folks of different denominations was “If you are a Methodist you can believe anything you want.” Young adults are not looking for a church that says all beliefs are equally valid any more than they are looking for a church all of whose depth could fit on a top ten list. Young adults want to find a church with faith and with a substance to their faith.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Dr. George Hunter on Spiritual Formation

Today I attended a workshop on evangelism and church growth sponsored by the Texas Annual Conference Division of Evangelism and committee on small churches. Dr. George Hunter, professor of Evangelism and Church Growth was the speaker. He's written piles of books, several of which I've read, and thought it beneficial to go and take some of my leaders with me.

In the midst of teaching mostly on evangelism, a question arose that allowed him to share some thoughts on spiritual formation. He warned that his opinions would likely be seen as heretical - I can see why, but still think they're worth sharing.

1. The "daily bible reading" model of spiritual formation is vastly over rated. Not only has it not produced the fruit we're looking for, but it presupposes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, high literacy rates, and the wealth and leisure necessary to owning and reading books - a modern and still localized possibility.

2. Memorization is more historic and works better to interiorize the Word and to incorporate it into all aspects of our lives.

3. Obedience precedes and leads to growth in faith. The "daily bible reading" model tends to value knowledge over obedience, and can even be a subsitute for obedience.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Can we please reverse this equality?

Sandra "Beth" Geisel is merely the latest in a growing line. Another woman, Dawn Reiser, was convicted today in Fort Worth of similar indiscretions. Female teachers caught, accused, and convicted of sexual misbehavior with their male students.

It has been happening for years with male teachers; not a lot of them, but enough that it was newsworthy when an incident would come to light.

It seems to me that most of the stories making the news lately are of indiscretions by female teachers. I am quite sure this is not because men have quite misbehaving. I am alarmed that women seem, in this remarkable sense, to be becoming more like men.

It has been said that the maintenance of a society's morality is dependent upon the women of that society. I offer this as no excuse whatsoever for the behavior of men.

Please, women, don't become us. Society cannot handle it in this case.