Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Is "Gen-X" really rising?

Andrew Thompson has a bone to pick with the megachurches that cancelled services on Christmas Day this year. To be fair to Rev. Thompson, he is not alone. Much of the mainline media and many in the mainline denominations have really stressed over this phenomenon.

I admit I, too, was at first upset with said churches. I seem to have pretty much gotten over it.

Since we "gen-xers" cringe so quickly at the "We've never done it that way before" attitude portrayed by the established; I have been practicing catching myself with the same attitude. Isn't hypocrisy fun?

Disdain for "megachurches" doing things differently seems to cut across generational boundaries. Here the lines are more fairly drawn at one's connection with the established church.

Under the title of "Gen-X Rising" Rev. Thompson takes an establishment angle of attack on a decided non-traditional method of dealing with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday.

Is Gen-X really rising, or is it falling into the same habits and patterns of the generations gone before it?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Fire

We had some ice here a couple of weeks ago. Driving home in it, my windshield wipers froze to the glass. Feeling rather resourceful, I warmed a handtowel in the oven to melt the ice. Sadly, my resourcefulness did not include remembering to remove the towel from the oven.

We had just begun to open presents today when someone said, I think something is burning. I explained that I had just turned on the oven, and that was probably the smell.

When we saw smoke rising from the oven, we realized something else must be going on. I grabbed some tongs and removed the barely burning towel, and dropped it in the sink, and the crisis was averted.

Can someone lend me some nueron-connectors?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Blessings

I realize my last post (written between Christmas Eve services) wasn’t very Christmasy. So here we go.

Merry Christmas to you all! May you truly experience God’s gift of Jesus as a gift to you, receiving Him in his fullness – even if you don’t fully grasp what you’re getting yourself into.

Bobbitt (Market State) & Galston (Liberal Pluralist State)

Since I have a short attention span, I tend to read several books at the same time. I just finished William A. Galston’s Liberal Pluralism. The liberalism he defends is the classical liberalism that lies behind both the “conservative” and “liberal” political movements in the contemporary US. The key features of Galston’s liberal state are:
1. A recognition of a plurality of goods, many incommensurable with each other. In plain English, that means that Joe and Mary think each other nuts for counting as good what they count as good.
2. A move beyond modern reductive individualism. Thus the plurality of goods are not merely pursued by individuals, but by families and groups.
3. A development of Isaiah Berlin’s concept of negative liberty (freedom from restraint) combined with what Galston calls “expressive liberty,” the freedom to do what is most fulfilling (as defined by the individual or the group. The liberal state seeks to maximize its accommodation of the number of goods sought by its citizens, requiring a fairly minimal account of the common good.
4. One of the liberal state’s main jobs is to provide the space for individuals and groups to pursue their vision of the good. Necessarily there will be some restraint put on those pursuits, particularly keeping open what Galston calls the “possibility of exit.” While the state will allow groups (including families), to order their own lives, even in controversial and apparently unfree ways, there will be occasions when a person will want to leave that way of life. The group may not provide a way out, but the liberal state will.

As to providing space, Galston notes that the current situation of the US is for the sate to grow in so many areas that an increasing number of associations find themselves entangled in its operations, and hence less free.

That’s the gist of the first book in today’s post. Read the whole thing.

The second book is Philip Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles. It’s a long, difficult book, so I’m just going to mention one point. Bobbitt traces the transitions in the nature of the State (in the West) since the 15th century. Since 1990, we’re seeing the transition from the Nation State (defined by its pursuit of the welfare of its citizens, thus also known as the Welfare State) to the Market State (defined by a goal of maximizing opportunities for its citizens).

If we bring Galston and Bobbitt together, we see that the Nation State (tended) to proclaim a set of goods – a maximal conception of the common good, while the Market State (which we do not yet fully have) recognizes a plurality of goods. Galston’s political vision, therefore, is a vision for the Market State, not the Nation State.

If were to ask which president best characterized the Market State ethos who comes to mind? Perhaps George W. Bush with his “ownership society?” Certainly. But it is also enlightening to consider that Galston worked on domestic policy for the Clinton administration – the very administration that pursued NAFTA and many societal reforms sometimes associated with Republicans. The evidence (admittedly my presentation is pretty scanty) indicates that Bobbitt’s “Market State” or the “Liberal State” as envisioned by Galston – is something beyond the mere Democrat – Republican divide.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Confidence Games

“Now don’t tell anyone. Keep it confidential.” In my business I hear that all the time. In many cases my gift of absentmindedness helps me keep things confidential. But there are other occasions – perhaps even the majority – where keeping information confidential is downright unhealthy.

As a pastor I sometimes hear – second or third hand – that something is going on in congregation. Group X is unhappy with Y, Joe & Mary Blow are fixing to have a divorce, the John & Suzy Doe are having financial problems, etc. But don’t say a word. We want to keep it confidential.

Now when it comes to youth ministry, this stuff is easier since youth are often more teachable than their elders. When a youth comes and offers to tell me something if I’ll “keep it confidential” the best response is, “I’ll use my wisdom to decide if I can keep it confidential or not.” In many cases, what they need is someone to stand beside them as they open up to their parents or someone else. Usually they need help and my just getting the information won’t do them any good. I need to connect them with a source of help. In such situations I never go behind their backs but always try to be up front about the healthfulness of opening up.

Of course, sharing information with parents isn’t always wise. In my years of ministry I’ve seen too many instances of an informed parent thinking the solution is to beat the child. In those cases keeping the information confidential is essential – but it’s still helpful to find places for them to be non-confidential.

So what about the adults who are suffering from confidence games?

The Bible says two things that directly apply to this. First, “Bear one another’s burdens.” If we’re to bear these burdens we must know what they are. Second, “Speak the truth in love.” It’s not easy to get to the place where we can dispense with confidence games. We’ve all been hurt by people blabbing about our sufferings in ways that were anything but loving. We need to build up love within the body so that we can have trusting relationships where it becomes safe to speak the truth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


As I walked into my office this morning, I heard what sounded like opening chords of a Christmas carol. I didn't remember having left music playing, so I quickly began to wonder where the music might be coming from.

It didn't take me long to realize that what I had heard as chords was, in fact, a tune played by the brakes of a truck the next road over.

Though I laughed out loud at myself for the misunderstanding, I am rather glad I am enough in the Christmas spirit to have heard a carol in the brakes of a truck!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Watching our Words

Global warming, yea or nay? While politicians seem to argue about its reality more than any other group, we common folk have been known to joke about it. When we have exceptionally cold weather (like at one of Al Gore’s conferences a couple years ago) we point at it and say, “Hey look! More global warming!” Just recently I saw an article that global warming would cause the (north) polar ice caps to melt, which would release more fresh water into the Atlantic, which in turn would affect the Gulf Stream in such a way, that Europe would become much colder. Have you ever seen a study more ready-made for jokes: “Global warming leads to global cooling.”

Personally, I think it’s a language problem.

Instead of talking about “global warming” we should talk about “human induced climate change.” Although I must confess that I’m not a scientist and have taken no courses in meteorology, I do know enough to recognize our atmosphere (the place weather happens) as a complex system. A small tweak in one place can produce large (unpredictable) changes elsewhere in the system. That’s known as the “Butterfly Effect.”

If we change the discussion from “global warming” to “human induced climate change” then a much broader amount of data comes into the picture for us ordinary folks.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Sanity

One of the reasons I’ve heard offered by some of the mega-churches not having worship services is so the staff can have some family time. I understand the desire for family time. During my years of pastoring I have often wondered about our talk about Christmas as a time for family when I had to spend most of Christmas Eve working. (For that matter, I jokingly wish for more secular holidays celebrated at the end of the week rather than on Mondays. I’m jealous of those folks that get 3 day weekends.) I see a few things in tension here that may be worth looking at more closely.

First, Christianity is less about family than we tend to make it out to be. If Christianity was all about family, it would have never moved beyond the bounds of Judaism. The early Christian community – especially in the ministry of Paul – was all about going beyond bloodlines, ethnicity and culture.

Family was relativised even in the ministry of Jesus. One time when Jesus was teaching his family came to pick him up – and put him away. They thought he’d gone off the deep end. Jesus’ response? “Who is my mother, my brother and my sister? Whoever does the will of God.” Sure, there are the commands for husbands and wives to love each other, for children to obey their parents, etc. But the relationships with other believers appear to create new semi-familial structures in the early church.

Second, we too easily reduce “church” to what we do on Sunday morning. If “church,” from a biblical point of view, describes the people of God and their ongoing shared love relationship with God, then surely there are ways to do/be church other than what we traditionally do on Sunday mornings. Now if all we’re doing is sitting around our own living rooms celebrating materialism (even materialism “in Jesus’ name), I think we’re missing out. But if we join with other believers at Christmas, celebrate the birth of Jesus – and give Him gifts appropriate to his status as our Lord and Savior – that’s something different.

Third, the idea of taking Christmas Sunday off for family time hints at an important observation. As leaders we easily think that church is something we make happen. We not only aim to do the all important work of helping people get off the road to Hell and on to the road to Heaven, but we want to do all we do with “excellence.” (Just check how many church mission, vision and value statements mention that word – “excellence.”) I know by experience that “excellence” is tiring. It’s hard work. Too often it requires we sacrifice our families – and the people close to us – so the stranger can get our best. As I read scripture, however, I see a life better described as “sane” than “excellent.” Sanity is a way of talking about the health Jesus offers. Do you remember Acts 4:12? Those interested in arguing for soteriological exclusivism point to this text as claiming salvation is found only in Jesus. Certainly a biblical case can be made for that. But do we remember the context? Peter’s not talking to the San Hedrin about how people get saved: he’s talking about how people get healed. The point is this: We need to find saner ways to do church year-round, not just at Christmas (actually it’s even narrower – in the years Christmas falls on a Sunday).

Have yourselves a Merry, Sane, and Birthday of Jesus!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

O.M.G. (Oh My Galileo)

Don’t you hate it when people make all sorts of religious claims that they can’t back up? Do you wonder, even marvel on occasion about how many people have made radical change in their lives on the basis of some alleged “truth”?

It is the modern way, after all, to base our lives entirely on claims that can be proven. This is why we have learned to trust in science rather than God.
*(editorial adjustment - I am not intending to villify science or scientists here, but rather want to challenge the pulpit from whence American Culture would have science be the preacher)

Houston, we have a problem.

This week’s Journal of the American Medical Association reports a Harvard study that concluded that “a high intake of foods such as cereals, fruits and vegetables did not lower colon cancer risk.” Why, we have known for years that a diet high in fiber would reduce the risk of colon cancer! How did we know this? Scientists told us.

Oh My Galileo! What are we to do? Perhaps last year’s science did not have the last word on how we ought to live.

Neither did last year’s religion. In fact, there is a sense in which the last word on how we ought to live was uttered nearly 2000 years ago by Jesus when he said “Go thou and do likewise.”

Then again, there is a sense in which we have to keep on re wording that for other people to hear. Or, even better, perhaps if we were actually to “go and do likewise,” the debate between science and religion might actually become interesting rather than bitter.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Second Coming of Jesus

Here's my message for the second Sunday of Advant, What Next? I understood the end times pretty well when I was a teenager - when I read mostly dispensationalist literature: Lindsey, Walvoord, Pentecost, etc. Then I read the bible for myself - and in context. In this message I discuss the connection between the "First" and "Second" comings of Jesus and how we can be prepared.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

First Week of Advent

My old podcoast provider was situated in Florida and has been having problems since Hurricane Wilma. I've finally gotten my first advent message, Why Advent? online and available for you to enjoy in mp3 format.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Divvying People Up

A few days ago I argued that the need for church planting is greater than we usually think. A sub-section of that argument, was a claim that our common ways of grouping people "White folks," "Black folks," etc., are not very useful in our quest to understand people. Tell me someone's race - or ethnicity, and you don't tell me a whole lot.

But we still think this way - locally and globally.

The Lebanese Political Journal has a useful post on how we Americans think of the Middle East, particularly on our simplistic equation between "Middle Eastern" = "Muslim" = "Arab", and even more, how we seem to assume all Arabs are the same. Read the post at the Lebanese Political Journal for a full discussion. The short summary? They're not all alike - not even close. If we're ever going to understand the Middle East and its peoples and act wisely toward them, we'll need to learn about the differences.

It Takes Time, Start Now

At prayer meeting the other meeting a lady mentioned visiting her grandchildren in the Big City. One of the grandchildren is into hockey (not the biggest sport in Texas), so she went to watch one of his games. In the rink next to the one where he was playing, she saw 4 year olds out learning hockey. We start them mighty young, don’t we?

Have you heard of the Dads out there who want their sons to become the next great quarterback or pitcher? They start drilling them while they’re in preschool, never letting up. That’s how Tiger Woods got where he is, so we think that’s the way to go.

Study after study tells us it’s the same with education. If we want our kids to be well educated, we need to start while they’re young. We need to read to them, talk to them, and interact with them so they will become curious about the world around them and start picking up the tools to explore it. Educators lament that they don’t have the money to start the programs to pick up the kids whose parents have dropped the ball on this. Now education is different from hockey, quarterbacking and golf. Though many can become skilled in these sports, it seems much easier for the multitudes to become proficient in their educations.

What about our relationship with God? Are parents so determined for their kids to grow up living in and exhibiting the love of God that they start them early on the road of being a disciple of Jesus? What’s the difference?

One key difference is in the role of exemplars. Quarterbacks emulate Peyton Manning. Golfers want to be the next Tiger Woods. In education, we are surrounded (on TV) by doctors, lawyers, and scientists (not all mad), modeling a life of learning. But who do we look at for a model of discipleship?

Surely we have many local models – the experienced saints in our local congregations – who have been long-time followers of Jesus, who have learned much of the “obedience of the faith,” and whose lives are models of holiness. Or do we? I see at least three problems in this area: First, many modern Christians eschew the discipline that comes with following Jesus. We have many long tenured members, but they’re often more known for being crotchety than for being holy. Second, because of our misunderstanding of the nature of humility, we’re loath to lift up the didactic and attractive role of holiness. Third, out notion of holiness is too tame. Our athletic kids want to grow up to be like Peyton Manning & Roger Clemens – not a water boy or a bat girl. As long as our public example of the Christian life is nothing more than going to church on Sunday, attending meetings, and not being as bad as so and so, why would anyone want to do it?

In the bible the Christian life – the life of holiness – is a life of following Jesus. It’s dangerous – it’s not for nothing Jesus tells us to take up our cross. They’re conflict involved. Real loss – and real victory – awaits us. What we do in response to Jesus can make an eternal difference in the lives of the people around us.

Parents – keep your eyes open for the next Lydia, Paul, Phillip or Priscilla. Show them to your kids. Tell your children, “See what they’re doing? It takes a lifetime of discipleship to get to that level. Let’s start now!”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What do you make of this?

I'm at a meeting at a church in another town yesterday. At an appropriate break time, I find the nearest men's room. Being a pastor, I am curious about most aspects of other church facilities, so I "investigated" the layout of this restroom. For the age of the building, it was spacious. Very well laid out. Then I noticed, on the wall behind the sink area, this image.

Why does a men's rest room in a United Methodist Church have a framed picture of a gorilla in it? Which committee do you suppose decided this?

Yes, even more curious than I was before, we checked the women's restroom. It was adorned with a picture of flowers.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Chrismasization of Commercialism

One of the latest complaints I’ve heard from American Christians is that our culture is dropping “Christmas” in favor of “Holiday.” It’s said that stores like Walmart and Target won’t even use the word anymore. I confess that I’m not terribly observant and haven’t noticed it in my area. I did try a search of Walmart.com for the word “Christmas” and Google tells me it occurs about 57,100 times. That’s a bunch. Target appears a little more heathenish – “Christmas” only occurs there about 33,700 times.

But then it wasn’t too long ago Christians were complaining about the commercialization of Christmas. We used to say, “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, not a time to buy things.” If that’s our former complaint, would it be accurate to say that we’re now pining for the “Christmasization” of Commercialism?

Let’s face it. The world is the world. It’s not the church. Why ought we be surprised with they act like the world? If we finally note that they’re acting like the world, we’ll stop emulating them so frequently.