A friend and colleague at World Vision has just returned from Iraq where he served as part of an independant assessment team.
They held a press conference on Thursday to release their findings.
A Canadian-led team of health experts is warning of a "grave humanitarian disaster" among Iraqi children if the country is attacked.
As well as the inevitable casualties from bombs, the team predicts disease, starvation and psychological trauma would affect more than 100,000 of Iraq's 13 million children if there were a war.
"No one is prepared for this war, at least on the humanitarian side of the conflict. Not the government of Iraq, not the United Nations organizations, not the civilian population," said team leader Dr. Eric Hoskins, a Toronto physician.
"We're facing a grave humanitarian disaster."
The report itself is a fairly technical read, but very educational.
The main findings of the report are presented in sections divided into Physical Well-Being, Mental Well-Being and Emergency Preparedness. The first section, Physical Well-Being concludes that despite some improvements in the health and nutritional status of children from their post-1991 Gulf War state, Iraqi children are still in a significantly worse state than they were before the 1991 Gulf War. Similarly, because most of the 13 million Iraqi children are dependent on food distributed by the Government of Iraq, the disruption of this system by war would have a devastating impact on children who already have a high rate of malnutrition. The state of the physical well-being of Iraqi children thus makes them much more vulnerable to war today than they were in 1991.
Perhaps the most startling findings are based on field data collected by two of the world's foremost child psychologists who are leading experts on the psychological impact of war on children. They found that Iraqi children suffer significant psychological harm from the threat of war that is hanging over their head. This finding, based on the first ever pre-war psychological field research with children, is powerful evidence that the concern for children's well-being needs to be considered in the decision making process about to take place in the United Nations Security Council.
Finally, a review of the available data on emergency preparedness indicates that the international community has at present little capacity to respond to the harm that children will suffer by a new war in Iraq.
This is heartbreaking. In all the commentary about the threat of war in Iraq, I don't remember hearing about the impact on Iraqi children. I certainly don't recall hearing George talk about it.
God help us.
Forget that. God help them. We don't seem to care.
In 1999 Gladys Staines became a widow and a single parent after Hindu radicals torched the jeep in which her missionary husband and sons were sleeping. Four years later, she is becoming one of India's most celebrated peacemakers.
I know I've been harping on about this Mel Gibson-directed movie for a while, but for those of you who are interested this New York Daily News article is the most extensive I've seen so far.
Why would Mel Gibson make a movie about Jesus in languages few can understand or read? "It will lend even more authenticity and realism to the film," he says. "Subtitles would somehow spoil the effect that I want to achieve. It would alienate you and you'd be very aware that you were watching a film if you saw lettering coming up on the bottom of it. Hopefully, I'll be able to transcend the language barriers with my visual storytelling. If I fail, I fail, but at least it'll be a monumental failure."
Once again, great PR for Christ-following...
Consequences be damned! Calculation be discarded! God's on our side, and the devil take the hindmost. Thus does he invite the rapt enlistment of the American population singing 'Onward Christian soldiers'.
Have a look at With God on our Side: reading the State of the Union, from the folks at openDemocracy. (I'm not promoting their politics, but they have some good material.)
Have a look at what Iphy had to say last night.
i haven't gone to church in years. i don't know the lingo, the language, the buzz words. i know what i've researched and what i've been exposed to, and i know what rings true in me; i know what resonates in my soul and makes me say, out loud: "I could do that! I could go to a church like that!"
For me, this is the miracle of the emergent church, that i can even conceive of going to church again, that i can even fathom it.
me, broken and wounded and still seeking. me, full of flame and water, hope and despair, belief and disbelief.
me, broken and bruised, but desiring desperately to be whole.
isn't it something that somebody like me can begin to come to life again, dare to believe again, hope for redemption again?
isn't it something that the stories matter? that my story and your story intertwine and meet, and that God makes something lovely and beautiful and meaningful out of our wretched, halting words?
... to do what we should be doing.
Don't get me wrong - the government has a huge responsibility to do exactly what he's proposing. In responding to a comment from Laura on an earlier post, though, I just had a sudden bad feeling.
My fear is that people may think that George has just singlehandedly solved the AIDS crisis, and therefore there's no need for me to kick in.
First of all, the money's not in the bank yet. (Fighting back waves of cynicism... make it stop!!) Secondly, it doesn't matter if the U.S. gives $100 billion. That in no way relieves us of our responsibility.
"Take care of the widow and the orphan".
But in reality, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and a small band of conservative ideologues had begun making the case for an American invasion of Iraq as early as 1997 - nearly four years before the Sept. 11 attacks and three years before President Bush took office.
(Thanks to the Slacktivist for the link)
Great interview with Brennan Manning over at the ooze.
Check this out:
As a man, I love the Jersey shore, Handel's Messiah, hot fudge sundaes, and my wife, Roslyn. I love what I find congenial or appealing. I love someone for what I find in him or her. But God is not like that.
The God and Father of Jesus loves men and women not for what He finds in them, but for what He finds in them of Himself. It is not because men and women are good that He loves them, nor only good men and women whom He loves. It's because He is so unspeakably, unimaginably good that He loves men and women, even in their sin.
It's not that He detects what is congenial and appealing and He responds to us with His favor. He is the source of love. He acts; He does not react. He is love without motive. That's why Augustine could write those incredible lines: "In loving me, you made me lovable."
Does God love me because I spend time with AIDS victims and alcoholics, or because I spend an hour in prayer every day? Or, because I'm rigorously faithful to my wife, Roslyn? If I believe that, I am a Pharisee who feels entitled to be comfortably close to Christ because of my good works.
The gospel of grace says I am loved for one reason only and that is because God loves me... period. Every page of Christian Scripture declares that He loves us in a way that defies human comprehension and escapes human limitation. That is why I can say with theological certainty: God loves you unconditionally as you are and not as you should be, because you are never going to be as you should be. God loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain, without caution or regret. If God ceased to be love, God would cease to be God.
When we experience ourselves as someone deeply loved by God, it comes as such a surprise because the love of God is so radically different from our natural way of loving. In the church we tend to produce amateur theologians rather than witnesses of Jesus who have really experienced Him.
I want to be a witness of Jesus...
Here's hoping that for once my cynicism proves unfounded. OK, maybe it's happened once or twice already... BUT NOT OFTEN!
Paul O'Neill stood in a hospital in South Africa one day in June, surrounded by wasting AIDS patients who could not afford the simple drugs that would keep them alive, and he changed his mind.
Looking at the ravaged bodies, the then-U.S. treasury secretary announced that treatment for AIDS would have to be a part of future U.S. strategy, that there was no reason to be sending people home to die for want of drugs easily available in the developed world.
He took that message home to the White House, and his road-to-Damascus moment became one of a series of factors that resulted in U.S. President George W. Bush's stunning announcement Tuesday night of a new funding initiative to fight HIV-AIDS in the world's poorest countries.
Read the rest of how Bush got wise to the world's AIDS crisis.
I've expressed my profound admiration for the work of Stephen Lewis before (although I've never voted NDP - sorry Richard!) He's repeated my assertion that the funds are better managed by the U.N. - not the U.S.
Canadian political veteran Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy on HIV-AIDS in Africa, led a chorus of voices that expressed consternation at how the United States intends to channel the funds.
Most of the new money will be managed by the U.S. government and U.S. charities rather than the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which has been fighting a losing battle for more money.
"The fund has got to have major money from the U.S. or it becomes just another minor donor making countries jump through hoops," Mr. Lewis said yesterday.
Never the less, you can read how AIDS activists are cautiously optimistic.
The world's biggest, best-loved search engine owes its success to supreme technology and a simple rule: Don't be evil. Now the geek icon is finding that moral compromise is just the cost of doing big business.
I'm not sure what Mark Riddle is saying in his Random Thoughts on Postmodernism, but it made me laugh.
"Just because you are tired of youth ministry doesn't mean you should be a pastor of a postmodern church. Come on people! You gave up NASCAR, 2 dozen Jeff Burton T-shirts, your Mullet and tighty whities for Black leather pants, silk boxers, aviator sunglasses, a shaved head and one thrift store shirt so you could "relate to people in an authentic way"????? Try being yourself."
GWB has promised big bucks to fight HIV/AIDS.
We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.
This comprehensive plan will prevent 7 million new AIDS infections, treat at least 2 million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS.
I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.
I try not to be cynical, I really do. However, of the $10 billion that the developed world has already promised the U.N., only about $1 billion has been delivered - and it's not in American currency. George, I'll believe it when I see it. Secondly, the U.N., in conjunction with the NGO community is better positioned to battle this pandemic than the U.S. Government. This mentality of "We'll only give you the money if you do it our way" isn't going to help.
As an employee of World Vision I get to see the statistics, and they are sickening. I've talked about this issue before, but there's one point that really needs to be highlighted. That's the fact that HIV/AIDS is biased - it's targeting the women of Africa.
Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the U.N. has recently written about this phenomenon:
Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of communities and, eventually, of whole countries.
But today, millions of African women are threatened by two simultaneous catastrophes: famine and AIDS. More than 30 million people are now at risk of starvation in southern Africa and the Horn of Africa. All of these predominantly agricultural societies are also battling serious AIDS epidemics. This is no coincidence: AIDS and famine are directly linked.
Because of AIDS, farming skills are being lost, agricultural development efforts are declining, rural livelihoods are disintegrating, productive capacity to work the land is dropping and household earnings are shrinking -- all while the cost of caring for the ill is rising exponentially. At the same time, H.I.V. infection and AIDS are spreading dramatically and disproportionately among women. A United Nations report released last month shows that women now make up 50 percent of those infected with H.I.V. worldwide -- and in Africa that figure is now 58 percent. Today, AIDS has a woman's face.
Over at his place Jordon is compiling a list of AIDS charities. Stop by and see where you can help.
After the November 21 murder in Lebanon of American missionary Bonnie Penner Witherall, one would have been justified in expecting some sort of backlash. After all, officials are still trying to figure out whether she was killed out of general anti-American sentiment or if she was specifically targeted as a missionary—but in either case, the culprit is almost certainly a Muslim. As it turns out, the backlash continues to be not against extremist Muslims but evangelical Christians...
...But it wasn't only Lebanese Muslims who condemned Witherall's missionary work. Bishop George Kwaiter, acting archbishop for the local Roman Catholic diocese, complained, "She was in the habit of gathering the Muslim children of the quarter and preaching Christianity to them while dispensing food and toys and social assistance." He likened Witherall and her fellow missionaries to terrorists, saying they operate in "cells" under the guise of Christianity. "Even we wonder who is behind them, who brought them, and in whose name they operate," he told the Associated Press.
I don't know what to think, but this Christianity Today editorial once again demonstrates that the enemy can relax - we're doing a good enough job of destroying the church ourselves.
45 minutes to the State of the Union address, and I'm sitting here wondering what's in store for the world. Here's something I've been meaning to post on for a few days. Maybe the time is right now.
Through the miracle of modern (or should I say postmodern!) technology I watched Brian McLaren deliver a sermon on the web a few days ago. It was from January 12, and he called it "How's Your Backbone?"
Here's a couple of bullets I wrote down as I listened...
+ There is a strong and dangerous temptation to remake Jesus in the image of your political party, to use Christianity as an adornment for your political views.
+ Instead of letting your politics form or mold your Christian belief, let your commitment to Christ form your political stance.
+ Stand tall and strong. Not as a proud Democrat or Republican or even a proud American, but first and foremost as a humble and sincere follower of Christ.
That really resonated with me (not the American part, but you know what I mean). Those of you who only know me through this blog will probably assume that I'm a bit of a liberal pacifist. The reality is I have been a fairly right wing conservative "hawk" up until recently. As I listened to that sermon it occured to me that I am undergoing a transformation from "bending" Christ to fit my political views, to bending my political views to fit Christ. That's how I know it is Christ working in me - trust me, the views I now find myself holding are very new to me, and I did not set out to rethink my politics. It happened, I believe, as a bi-product of something else, some other transformation.
I encourage you to listen to the whole talk.
"Seeing as you close your comment with the concept of conscripts and volunteers, I have to ask about your Salvation Army experience (which I think you alluded somewhere in an earlier post).
How is that model of service and ministry relevant to your current thinking? How has it shaped the changing view of your personal theology?"
I have no doubt that my Salvation Army upbringing has influenced my personal theology... in both a positive and negative way.
Positively, I saw many great examples of commitment and discipline. I believe service is a spiritual discipline, and can enhance our relationship with God. However, the downside is that the service (or any discpline, for that matter) can become the end in itself, and not the means to the end - loving and obeying God. I saw lots of service for service's sake. Some of the "hardest working Christian's" I know would have a tough time articulating their relationship with Christ to you. More time serving Christ than learning/listening/worshipping Christ makes for hard working spiritual infants. I have no problem saying that because for many years I was one. (Still am, really, only now I know it and I'm trying to do something about it.)
I suppose my "quest" for discipleship comes out of this background. When you combine a very strong service ethic with the unspoken focus on "conversion" being the end of the process instead of the beginning, you get an environment that does not foster spiritual growth. Having decided one day that there must be more to being a Christ-follower than working hard while I "wait for my flight", I'm feeling driven to know Him better and better everyday.
This is not a blanket condemnation, by the way. I'm very grateful for that upbringing, for good Christian parents, and for the spiritual giants I came across in the Army. We (Sue and I) just needed to broaden our horizons in order to broaden our own relationship with Christ.
That's probably not what Ron was getting at, but I think it was worth getting it off my chest.
Facing fierce competition, they have set up shop in this country of squalid poverty and dismal infrastructure. Witnessing the sight of limbless beggars on the streets of the capital when they first visited in 2000, they set out to recruit the most disadvantaged and disabled people they could find — from former prostitutes to land-mine victims.
Now, this eclectic combination of Canadians and Cambodians is wired to the world. And wondering whether they can tweak globalization to spread the riches from affluent North America to the poorest pockets of Asia.
People doing something for the "least of these". Check out the complete article.
In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk - better yet, run! - on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline - not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourself out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
You were called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,
He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.
It's true, is it not, that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the one who climbed back up, up to the highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for imposters. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and to tell it in love - like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
I've been getting inside my head a little lately. As long as the door is open you can have a peek too, if you have the stomach for it.
For some reason my Site Meter account blew up today. I have to admit, I'm pretty obsessive about checking who's on, etc., so it's mildly irritating that I can't see that stuff.
And then there's the error message...
(Thanks to Andrew Careaga for the link)
God bless you - you're fired.
(Link from Sarge... which strikes me as sort of ironic.)
I know I've written before about The Passion, the Mel Gibson directed movie about the last 12 hours of Christ's earthy life.
I continue to be fascinated by this story. Here's an article from Time that gives a little more insight.
I spent some time last night wading through the big pro life conversation spreading across the blogosphere. I went from disgust to encouragement, and all points in between.
And that was just on the "Christian" sites.
I hesitate to move on because I don't want to put an end to the comments on the others. The reality is, however, that these are not really separate questions at all. They're all connected, and are extensions of each other.
In commenting on the first question, Dan has articulated the 3rd for me. Listen to what he had to say:
"There's a consistency in the interactions Jesus had with individuals."
i don't think that there is a consistency if by that you mean (as you seem to) that he uniformly told people to leave everything to follow him.
the majority of people that Jesus encountered were never asked to be his disciple. conversing with them was enough. teaching them was enough. healing them was enough. loving them was enough. cursing them was enough. whipping them was enough... etc. etc.
disciples were made, but discipleship was not the base unit of spiritual interaction in Jesus' life; human encounter was.
So here's the question...
How much is enough?
Dan's hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what I've been thinking about as I've contemplated this and read through the comments. I have to admit right up front that I have become more and more radical in my thinking, so those are the lenses I'm looking through. I also think Jesus was a radical, so I figure it can't be all bad.
It's true that not everyone Jesus bumped into was called to leave-it-all-behind discipleship like the twelve were. But I'm not satisfied with that - I'm not sure that's the end of the story. I've been thinking today about Jesus preaching to the thousands on the hillside, and not for the usual reasons. I'm not talking about some kid's lunch feeding the whole lot of them. I find myself wondering what Jesus wanted for each of them as they sat there listening to Him speak.
What if, after He had finished, a thousand of them stayed? What if they told Him they wanted more, to know Him better, to serve? Would he have said "No, No. That's not for you. Just go home and be good farmers, fishermen and shepherds." Or was He longing (as only God can long?) for a thousand, for a hundred, for ten... for even one to stay behind "after the service" and talk.
Rather than reaching out and grabbing us, is He waiting for us to exercise our faith, commit to Him completely, and step out of the crowd? Would He rather conscripts or volunteers?
How much is enough?
Even as I wrote my question last night, I already had the next one lined up. The joke is on me, because in commenting on the question, my friend Leslie totally stole my thunder on the next one. Have a look at some of what she said:
In a nutshell, I believe discipleship to be DEATH! Discipleship means DEATH! Death to self: Self-interest, self-will, self-reliance, self-motivation etc.
With that in mind, you can understand why it is so hard to find a true disciple. For who wants to die? We are generally afraid of death, aren't we? Or, we are so busy living it up that we have no interest in death.
The cat's out of the bag, but I'll pose the question anyway:
What does it mean to die to self?
At the risk of pre-empting your comments, I'll tell you that I think Leslie is right. Becoming a true disciple of Christ (I also like the word "apprentice") means dying to self.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Price of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown
Oh the wonderful cross
Oh the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find
That I may truly live
Oh the wonderful cross
Oh the wonderful cross
All who gather here
By grace draw near
And bless your name
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an off'ring far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all
(Chris Tomlin, Isaac Watts)
Tell us what that means to you.
I know this article has been making the rounds of the blogosphere for the last few days, but I think it deserves one more push.
Check out 'Emerging churches' drawing young flock if you haven't seen it yet.
You can't think about Africa without thinking about AIDS. If you can, you're deluding yourself, because the two are synonynous.
Makes me think of an earlier post I did on World AIDS Day.
I've decided to take a break from complaining for a while. I want to be part of the solution... not the problem. I'm going to take a break from badmouthing the church, and think about Jesus for a while.
I've got some thoughts and questions I've been struggling with for some time. And I need some input. I know I can count on the usual suspects to give me their opinions, but I want more than that. If you have read this far, you're committed - you MUST tell me something. If you don't want to leave a comment for the world to see, then send me an eMail.
What does discipleship mean to you? I mean real right-out-of-the-Bible-type discipleship. There's a consistency in the interactions Jesus had with individuals.
Come follow Me.
Leave your nets.
Leave your families.
Sell everything you own.
You know, that type of thing. I can't see where He sent new followers home with the instructions to be good farmers, shepherds, fishermen, rich young rulers, etc. He seemed to be calling people to something much more radical than that. Is that discipleship? And if so, what happened to it?
I have a theory. It may not be good theology, but I'm on a roll. I submit to you that God has never, ever, ever called anyone to be a good doctor, lawyer, bus driver, construction worker, accountant, parent, etc. Nobody. I think He calls all believers to be missionaries. He calls us all to carry out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. All of us.
Before you get too excited, listen to what else I have to say. I believe He calls some to so-called full time service. Leave your life behind and serve Me. I also think He calls some of us to be missionaries disguised as doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, construction workers, accountants, parents, etc.
What's the difference? It's a question of what my priorities are. What's the first thing I think of in the morning? Do I work in order to show others that there is a better way, to influence them for the Kingdom? Or, do I work in order to get that promotion, buy that bigger house, the better car, and wrap it all in holy justification?
Does that scare you? It terrifies me.
Somebody say something.
Pray today for all those impacted by the fires in Australia.
This is my desire
To honour You
Lord, with all my heart
I worship You
All I have within me
I give You praise
All that I adore is in You
Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I'm awake
Lord, have Your way in me
Reuben Morgan/Hillsong Publishing
I've been struggling of late with the whole issue of "The Church"
Wait a minute. In reading that last sentence, I'm struck by the stupidity of it. We've all been struggling with this issue. If you weren't you wouldn't be sitting there staring at this screen right now. I found this bit of encouragement from Dan McAlpine at NextReformation.
In the midst of our continued wrestling with "what is Church?" every now and then I hear some truly encouraging news about what God is still doing in more traditional settings. For example, last Sunday, in a rural northern Manitoba town, a good friend of ours, together with several other disenfranchised friends who'd stopped going to church services, decided to actually attend a service.
These friends are all in their late fifties and early sixties -- not at all new or immature believers. Just another group of people who tired of the politics and lack of love they were seeing in their local church.
Anyway, last Sunday they decided to visit a different church. They literally flipped a coin to decide between two possibilities (it's a VERY rural location), and with the results of the coin, off they went.
During the (very) traditional (very) conservative evangelical service, a man approached the pastor to ask if he might share something with the congregation. After getting the go-ahead from the pastor, he then proceeded to break down in tears and confess to a long-standing extra-marital affair. In a small town, where everybody knows everybody else's business, this didn't come as a complete shock, but it was his repeated, tearful question "can you forgive me?", directed to the leaders and the congregation, that was the most gripping part of the drama.
The pastor didn't hesitate for a second. Loudly shouting "I forgive you!," he raced to the man at the front of the church, embracing him, and was immediately followed by over half of the congregation, all saying "we forgive you," hugging the man, and praying for him.
Our friends came home with this summation, which they called us later that day to relate, "maybe there's hope for the church, after all."
And I'm glad they went there, and that they called us to pass the story along. Because, in the midst of our continuing to explore, question, react, pro-act, regarding how to be "the Body" in a truly healthy and inclusive way -- it was really refreshing, even exciting, to realize that God hasn't given up on "church," and that in at least one small church in northern Manitoba, people are postively responding to the opportunities He's placing before them.
Maybe God hasn't left the building yet, at least not all of them.
Darren reflects on the appropriateness of Sunday being "church day". Who has it right - us or the "unchurched"?
Rachel referenced an article by Paul in the Ooze, in which he was quoting Kierkegaard, which he got from Jason. (All the copyright/licensing talk over at Jordon's (not Jordan's) has me worried about revealing my sources. Anybody know where Kierkegaard got his stuff?)
Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him. Similarly we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless. The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.
What a contrast! The three kings had only a rumour to go by. But it spurred them to set out on a long, hard journey. The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed. They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons. But it didn't make any difference. Who had the more truth? Those who followed a rumour, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with all their knowledge?
I wonder what my Three Kings Ratio is? (That is, the ratio of the amount of knowledge I have regarding the incredible love of the Absolute Authority and Creator of the Universe versus what difference it makes in my life when I roll my sorry butt out of bed in the morning.)
The current Administration likes its initiatives faith-based, and there has never been much secret about which faith constitutes the base. "Christ," Governor George W. Bush replied during a 1999 primary debate, when asked to name his favorite political philosopher. In the ambit of Bush the President, piety is next to godliness. According to a former Bush staffer, Evangelical Christianity is the "predominant creed" at the White House, and a tardy arrival is apt to be greeted with the reproach "Missed you at Bible study."
After the unveiling last Tuesday of Bush's "economic stimulus package," though, one has to wonder, and not for the first time, just which Bible these good people have been studying. It must be some sort of Heavily Revised Nonstandard Version, whose verses are familiar yet subtly different:
He that hath pity upon the rich lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will pay him again. (Proverbs 19:17)
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the rich, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. (Matthew 19:21)
For the love of money is the root of all good. (I Timothy 6:10)
And I'm not sighing because of the politics (so don't bother blasting me), but I'm sighing because every pre-believer on the planet sees GWB as a "Christian".
Hooray for our side.
For those of you who need a time-out from the raging What is an American inferno, I thought you'd appreciate this tidbit. I posted it as a comment on Rachel's Journal, but I figure it deserves mention here. Compliments of the Slacktivist.
Deep Thoughts from Dr. Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
Sen. Frist, who reportedly covets George W. Bush's job, already has a good handle on the president's syntax. (All quotations courtesy of "Meet the Press".)
On his civil-rights record:
I go to Africa once a year or twice a year to work with the African-American community.
Sorry - I couldn't resist.
The following excerpts are from the last Sunday sermon Martin Luther King Jr. preached, which was at the Washington National Cathedral on March 31, 1968. (From the latest SojoMail)
One other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late. ... It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. ... This is why I felt the need of raising my voice against that war and working wherever I can to arouse the conscience of our nation. ...
On Eradicating Poverty and Racism
We are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. ... It is an unhappy truth that...spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle - the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for Americans to work passionately and unrelentingly to get rid of the disease of racism. ...
We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. They are ill-housed, they are ill-nourished, they are shabbily clad. I have seen it in Latin America; I have seen it in Africa; I have seen this poverty in Asia. ... Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. ... I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. ... There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
For the World
We are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood... Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet... we have not had the ethical commitment to make it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers. Or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly... That is the way God's universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
There's a lot of rage in the air these days. Have you noticed it?
The title of the article was enough to get my attention.
We're so dependent on things being exciting. Even as I listen to people giving announcements in church - especially for the youth - everything has got to be really exciting to grab their attention. There's a danger in our worship services when we try to become entertaining.
It's of course good to use illustrations, variety, visual aids, and so on, but one can go over the top so that it just becomes another theatrical production to give people a good feeling, which they then may mistake for an experience of God. But really it's just generated by the sort of entertainment.
God occasionally does amazing, wonderful, and miraculous things. But most of the time, it is the ordinary things of life that he works through. I think our dependence on this sort of hyperstimulation and busyness makes it very hard for us to be content with the small things, with the quieter moments.
Read the entire piece and see what you think.
UPDATE: I wanted to draw your attention to part of a comment that Irene left on this post:
It's also true that people expecting to be entertained in church. We sometimes walk out after the service complaining that the sermon was boring. When we say that it was a good sermon, we usually mean "good points and good delivery". Good points - but in what way? Not in the sense that they challenged us to a deeper commitment or deeper faith, but in the sense that they tickled our brain cells. "Intellectual masturbation", a friend calls it. So in the end I end up knowing a lot but not quite living it. Ouch.
So in the end I end up knowing a lot but not quite living it.
Ouch is right.
I thought this article was very profound when I first read it a couple of months ago. I came across it again today in my regular eMail from The Ooze, so here you go.
Click here to see the Top Ten Reasons Why Your Church Sucks.
You may have missed my earlier post on the movie Mel Gibson is working on. In short, it's about the last 12 hours of Christ's life (the human one), and it will be entirely in Aramaic and Latin.
I think it sounds fascinating. Apparently others don't necessarily feel the same way.
"I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But, when you look at the reasons behind why Christ came, why he was crucified, he died for all mankind and he suffered for all mankind, so that, really, anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability.
It's time to sort of get back to a basic message, the message that was given. At this time, the world has gone nuts, I think. Christ spoke of faith, hope, love and forgiveness. And these are things I think we need to be reminded of again. He forgave as he was tortured and killed. And we could do with a little of that behavior.
I mentioned what I was going to do to Night Shyamalan. And he thought: "Oh, great. You have the ultimate opportunity to make the perfect anti-date movie."
And I said: "No, no, that's not true at all. I think I refer to it as the career-killer film." And I was only half joking at the time. But it's interesting that, when you do touch this subject, it does have a lot of enemies. And there are people sent. I've seen it happening. Since I've been in Rome here, for example, I know that there are people sent from reputable publications -- they go about, while you're busy over here, they start digging into your private life and sort of getting into your banking affairs and any charities you might be involved in.
And then they start bothering your friends and your business associates and harassing your family, including my 85-year-old father. I find it a little spooky."
Check out the interview with Mel here.
Earth has 7.5 billion years left: scientists
New book says planet will be consumed by sun
That's it. No more green bananas.
The conversation continues on Rachel's Journal. (Do you say "Down Under" when it's New Zealand? I'm not sure.)
It seems like I'm feeling the need to use the disclaimer a lot these days. But to repeat myself... I am NOT anti-American. There - everyone take a deep breath.
As I've suggested to Rachel, my post below could put a slightly different spin on that question.
Wade in, if you have the courage.
(Thanks to Darren for pointing to the conversation. Sort of like that kid in the school yard when you were growing up yelling "Fight! Fight! Fight!"
My good friend and colleague Marilyn Friedmann was responsible for leading the time of Intercession at her church (Anglican) on Sunday. Here's a portion...
We pray for the hope of peace in our world.
We pray especially for the conflict in the Middle East and for all nations torn by war; for all victims of violence, injustice and hatred and for all those who harm and hurt.
I ask you to reflect and pray today for a more profound awareness and response to Global Responsibility, especially for the needs of African nations and for increased funding for the United Nations Global Fund, which will run out of money at the end of this month.
If the six billion people of the world were represented by a community of just one hundred people:
5 of them would be American Citizens; the other ninety-five would be citizens of all the other countries.
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North,
But one great fellowship of love,
Throughout the whole wide earth.
The 5 Americans would possess 50% of all the wealth in the world; of the the other ninety-five, seventy-five would own virtually nothing.
The first commandment is this:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The five Americans would have fifteen times more material possessions than the other ninety-five put together.
And the second is this:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.
The five Americans would have seventy-two percent more than the average daily food requirement; two-thirds of the remainder would be below minimum food standards, and many of them would be on a starvation diet.
Then He will say to those at his left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink... Truly I say to you, as you did not serve one of the least of these, you did not serve me. And they will go away into eternal punishment."
A Latin American Cardinal asks: "Do rich Christians know there are seven hundred million illiterates in the Third World, and two hundred million jobless, or that there are three hundred-ninety million near starvation and another one hundred-thirty million undernourished? The rich fail even to suspect the frustrations, resentments, hatred and finally violence engendered by the stark contrast between those who have so much and the have-nots, the increasing gap between the rich who get richer and the poor who get poorer."
And Jesus said to the rich young man, "There is still one thing you lack. Sell all you have and give the money to the poor. It will become treasure for you in Heaven, and come, follow me."
Marilyn told me this had a profound impact on the congregation. As the church, what do we do with this?
Darren has a tragic story of the horrible injustices some can suffer... at the hands of the church.
You should read Who's In?
You won't like it.
I try not to be offensive to anyone - I really do. However, I'm willing to take the risk because I can't let this one go by. There's an report in today's Globe and Mail about baptisms that were done incorrectly in a Quebec town.
Here's some clips:
"We've always been told that if you're not baptized, you're not a Catholic, so it meant our kids didn't have a religion. If the kids weren't baptized, they'd be in limbo if they die," said Ms. Morin, a freelance video technician...
Starting in 1991, the lay person who officiated mistakenly let the parents pour holy water on their children's forehead while she pronounced blessings.
Now the families have been told that this was an erroneous procedure and that the same person should have performed both acts. The Catholic church does not require that person to be a priest...
Don't get me wrong. I think any of sacraments can be a beautiful addition to worship, and in the case of child baptisms, certainly a symbolic act for the parents. But it's the "limbo" statement that got to me. To suggest that someone is not going to Heaven because Aunt Ruthie did the splashing while someone else did the blessing is too much for me.
I'm starting to sound a lot like a pacifist. I'm not sure I'm ready to label myself that, but who knows? Either way, here's a powerful quote I came across today:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967
MLK Online is a great resource for all things related to Martin Luther King. Speeches, quotes, resources, etc. Take a look - there's a lot of good material there.
Here's the Quote of the Day from my New York Times daily email:
"You do it with love, even if you think war is stupid."
JANICE MANN, sewing name tags on uniforms for soldiers headed to the Mideast from Fort Stewart, Ga.
On the flight home yesterday I got through several more chapters of Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2. As God has a sense of humour (and incredible timing) a lot of what I read was germane to the conversation I had just had with Brian McLaren, and also to what I have been spending a lot of time thinking about.
Look at this Bono quote from a 1997 Daily Telegraph article by Neil McCormick, as quoted on page 150:
"Belief and confusion are not mutually exclusive; I believe that belief gives you a direction in the confusion. But you don't see the full picture. That's the point. That's what faith is. You can't see it. It comes back to instinct. Faith is just up the street. Faith and instinct, you can't just rely on them. You have to beat them up. You have to pummel them to make sure they can withstand it, to make sure they can be trusted."
It sounds almost paradoxical to me, but I love the language and the sentiment. When you want to believe so badly you could hit something, then "faith is just up the street".
On one occasion a self-proclaimed expert in foreign affairs and international diplomacy stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to sustain and protect the American Way of Life?"
You know you just have to read the rest.
John has been going through his archives and picking out the posts that really spoke to him. Those of us who weren't around when these were new are the better for it. Thanks!
Here's one called God's Celebrities that really hit me where I live.
OK friends, time to help a blogging rookie out.
Now that my eMail address is "out there" in the ether, how do I get rid of finehorneywives, their friends, and the other 5 or 6 pieces of garbage I get in my InBox every day?
My wife is starting to look at me suspiciously. Any recommendations would be appreciated.
"Freedom Alliance and National Rifle Association invite you to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Liberation of Grenada. Sail aboard Princess Cruise's Sea Princess..."
I wonder if I book early I can get a spot in Charlton Heston's landing craft?!
Here's something else I have written in my "pre-meeting" notes from yesterday...
We've institutionalized infancy in the church.
I was a spiritual baby far too long. Now as I realize this and strive to grow and mature, I'm looking for new definitions of my faith. As I search, I'm coming up with new questions, and also "new" realities. At this stage an inventory is in order: Of all the spiritual baggage I've carried with me to this point in my journey I need to decide what to keep and what to chuck. Kind of like cleaning out the garage of your soul. And let me tell you, the pile by the curb is growing.
Instead of staying over and attending Cedar Ridge tomorrow, I changed my flight and came home this morning. I wanted some time to reflect.
I've come home with the realization that I'm still looking at a postmodern world through modern lenses. They're definitely fading. The prescription is weakening, and soon I don't think they'll be there, but for now they are still impacting my vision.
As I reviewed my notes I made on the flight down to Baltimore there was a clear theme emerging. The overarching question I had to discuss with Brian was this: Are we simply talking about new packaging for the same product, or has the product changed. (Or, alternatively, a new route to the same destination, or has the destination changed. You decide which analogy you like better.)
Here are some of the questions I had written down:
1. Why are so many churches just "warehousing" ticket holders until they die?
2. Why has church turned into a Sunday school feel-good experience?
3. What happened to the idea of discipleship (or apprenticeship)?
Surely if there is any validity to these questions we can't simply be looking for a new way to bring people into this environment.
I was struck in some of my reading to hear of thriving churches that had launched a "postmodern ministry" to reach Gen X. That's just packaging, isn't it? If flirting with postmodernism doesn't cause them to reexamine what they are doing in their main (i.e. modern) service, then they're missing the point, aren't they?
This was the mindset I had as we met for lunch yesterday.
Brian confirmed for me that I'd hit on the big issues. But this is where my modern lenses kicked in. I wanted to know if I was right. And if I was right, then weren't the others wrong? I voiced that enough times that Brian challenged me on it. I suddenly realized that was the point. I wasn't going to get a yes/no, right/wrong, and logical answer.
I think I was looking for an apologetic for postmodernism. How's that for irony!
So that's it. No magic bullet. We'll all have to continue to grapple with these questions. I can't begin to tell you, though, what an awesome time of sharing it was. To be able to voice doubts, questions and weaknesses - I think that embodies the era that we find ourselves living out this story in.
Back from lunch with Brian McLaren. What a great guy, seeing this nut who flew down from Toronto just to meet with him for an hour or two.
Lots to think about before I can write anything sensible. The one thing that became clear to me is how the modern and postmodern are clashing in my head when it comes to thinking about my faith. It's not neat and clean on either side. I wonder if it ever will be? Still, there's no doubt that this is the path I want to be on.
Anyway, Canadians hate the banks. It's cultural. It's genetic. If you're not Canadian (yet) you just wouldn't understand. Basically, we have 5 large nationally chartered banks, with very little competition. Don't get me started.
Check out this flash story of one man's encounter with one of these behemoths.
(Makes me want to learn Flash, too!)
I booked tomorrow off as a vacation day. Get this - I'm jumping on a plane and flying down to Baltimore so I can have lunch with Brian McLaren. It would NOT be an overstatement to say that reading A New Kind of Christian got me started down the postmodern road.
For an introvert I can be aggressive when I want to be. Too many air miles and too many questions mean I'm going for a visit. I'm going to stay the weekend so I can check out Cedar Ridge Community Church on Sunday. I'm bringing the laptop, so I hope to do some blogging while I'm there.
But as I watched the climactic scene earlier tonight -- where nearly half of the women on the show were publicly rejected in front of one another and an audience of millions -- I couldn't help but wince.
At the risk of sounding pious I've always hated these shows. Life is for reality - TV is for make-believe. I guess as society starts to run out of ways of avoiding the fact that life without a relationship with God truly is pointless, we turn to more and more "drastic" diversions. Have a look at the piece. (Thanks to John for the link.)
I read something this morning that really hit me. As you may be able to tell from some of my posts lately I've had "faith issues". I've been chewing on the whole "will of God" thing. Is every step mapped out? If we ask hard enough will He simply point out the route? Or, has God given us common sense that He expects us to use in mapping out "our own" direction, under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit? If you think about it too much, you'll grind to a halt.
Check out to James 1:5...
If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you. God is generous and won't correct you for asking.
I have to admit I've asked God many times for direction. Should I take Door 1 or Door 2? Left or Right? Yes or No? Go or Stay? Then I read James and realize I'm asking for the wrong thing.
By asking for direction instead of wisdom I've robbing myself of the opportunity to learn more of the mind of God. When we ask for wisdom and not direction, we receive character and not information. When we ask for wisdom it is an ongoing process. Asking for direction is a one-time-only, fix-my-problem, which-way-should-I-go request.
"God's provision of His mind is often given in advance. It is more than instructions for a way to go; it is training for a way of life."
I love that about Him.
Proverbs 2:1-11 (NLT)
My child, listen to me and treasure my instructions.
Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight and understanding.
Search for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God.
For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of good sense to the godly. He is their shield, protecting those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of justice and protects those who are faithful to Him.
Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time.
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise planning will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.
Here's a great article I came across on my regular blog walk...
"Following is a try at describing conservative evangelicals, post-evangelicals, my take on Anabaptist theology and spirituality in the postmodern era, and why post-evangelicals and post-Anabaptists are converging at this point in history.
My post-evangelical friends have grown up in traditions in which they've found some significant things lacking - like about two-thirds of the gospel message that is actual good news to the poor and oppressed, and a way of sharing the good news that doesn't treat non-Christians like thick-headed, demonic lepers. This is a vastly oversimplified account of what is happening, but hopefully that gives you an idea of what I'm talking about."
For a (almost) life-long Salvationist, now worshipping at a Brethren in Christ church, it all can be very confusing. Anabaptist theology? Huh?
Life was simpler when I didn't know any of this stuff.
(Thanks to Jason for the link)
My friend Idelette has passed along a quote that is very appropriate, both for the subject at hand and my state of mind.
The man who will not act until he knows all will never act at all.
This Boston Globe article talks about the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien and it's "influences".
FROM THEIR MASTERY OF Middle-earth geography to their occasional fluency in Elvish, fans of the "Lord of the Rings'' books tend to be a pretty knowledgeable bunch. But many would be surprised to learn that J.R.R. Tolkien's great medievalist epic had a co-author: God. According to Peter Kreeft, a Catholic philosopher at Boston College, Tolkien was under the divine spell when he composed his sprawling trilogy. "Of course it's inspired; it's got His fingerprints all over it,'' wrote Kreeft in an article on Tolkien and evil that was reprinted this spring in a special all-Tolkien issue of the Catholic-leaning Chesterton Review.
OK, the last thing in the world I need is another book to read. (I may have to quit my job and read full time just to get through the pile of new books sitting here.)
Having said that, I borrowed Christian Life & Today's World from my father this afternoon. (It's from Scripture Union, and I could only find it on Amazon's UK site. I think he ordered it directly from Scripture Union.) It's a collection of essays by various London Bible College authors, and it looks like there's some good stuff in here.
I just had a quick read through The Challenge of Pluralism: Truth and Reality in A Postmodern World, by Peter Hicks. It's a series of letters back and forth between someone named Justin and the Apostle Paul.
I'm a Christian living in the twenty-first century, and I've got a problem.
Briefly, it's this. I want to persuade people that Christianity is true, just like you did in the first century. But people nowadays don't believe in truth like they used to - it's all subjective and relative. I tried it with a friend yesterday - told her about Jesus and the fact that he really lived and taught all sorts of fantastic things, and died, and rose again - just the sort of thing you'd do. And she listened and took it all in, and said it was very interesting.
So I said, "It's not just interesting; it's true. And if it's true, then surely you must do something about it."
She said, "Ah, that depends on what you mean by 'true', As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as fixed and final truth..."
You have thoroughly depressed me, on two counts.
First, you're living in the twenty-first century. I couldn't believe it when I read that...
But the second depressing thing is your bit about it being easy for me in the first century. I don't know where you got that from...
You can't have a more relativistic age than the first century. The place is awash with a huge range of religions and philosophies. You pays your money and you takes your choice. And why should that surprise us? If they haven't got the one Creator God as the basis of truth and meaning and everything else, of course they'll end up in relativism.
The letters continue, and Paul has some pretty good advice for Justin on "showing them Jesus".
Maybe there really isn't anything new under the sun.
Meanwhile, over at his place Mark Riddle has dumped one whopper of a rant on the "machine" that church can become. Read it at your own peril... or not, at your greater peril. Thanks to Jordan for spreading the word.
From Down Under, Darren has written something we all need to read.
If this is what we desire - to be somewhere that we are currently not - surely we need to be willing to do some things that we've never done before. We need to be exploring new ways of being church.
(And it's just as true of our personal lives, a.k.a. faith, as it is in our corporate, or "church" experiences.)
Read the whole post.
Here's a bit of an addition to my thoughts on faith, compliments of my wife, Sue. She has the ability to cut through my verbal diarrhea and get to the point.
We can stand on the side and wait for the bridge to appear - so we can confidently step out onto it - all we want. But why would a bridge appear where I am not willing to first step? That's why they call it faith, stupid. (She didn't call me stupid - that was my own touch.)
It's a little like the tree-falling-in-the-forest argument. A bridge isn't needed where there's no traffic.
It's a little like the chicken-and-egg argument... and I'm the chicken.
Time for a little controversy/distraction. I've been doing some surfing this morning and I've been reading a bit about the Powerball winner in the US who thanked God for letting him pick the winning numbers and is going to tithe on the money, etc., etc.
Knock yourself out.
Here's 2 more that are due out in the next month or two:
The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, and Adventures in Missing the Point by McLaren and Tony Campolo (I've mentioned this one before).
When all 3 are out and available I may risk the divorce.
The snow is still coming down outside, so it looks like I'll be working from home today! A little work, a little blogging... a little work, a little blogging...
Yesterday I was hit with several different indications that '03 is going to be a year of faith for us. I'm not sure if that means it will be a year of stronger faith, or a year when we will need stronger faith. That's a little disconcerting!
Let me try and walk you through my "faith day" yesterday.
The day started with the opening devotional from the Jan/Feb issue of Indeed, from the Walk Thru The Bible people. The article is called The Beginning of Wisdom: Faith that Produces Understanding, by John Fischer. Listen to this:
"This is one of the hardest things to learn, even as a longtime Christian: You take the step, then you find there is something there. Ths is the way it is with faith; otherwise, it wouldn't be faith. And that step you take is taken with fear and trembling, because it's a step with your life on the line. It's like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when he had to pass a number of challenges that tested his faith, the hardest being to carry the Holy Grail across a chasm over a bottomless pit. At one crucial point he has to step out into nothing, before something solid appears. As he takes each step, something that didn't previously exist comes into being. A bridge is formed over something invisible, but it doesn't come until he takes the step, and even then, it's not just a matter of putting his foot out; it's the shifting of his weight onto nothing that makes something appear. This is one of the best visual representations of faith I have ever seen. This is the way faith works, and this is what makes it so hard for us to exercise it. You believe, then you get it, not the other way around; and you believe as an action, not just a bunch of ideas in your head. Belief is stepping out where nothing appears to exist but your faith itself."
Yeah - that's good. I can believe the bridge will appear all I want while I'm standing safely on the side. But, do I really believe it. Do I believe it enough to step out into nothing, and make it actually appear?
Then, I turned to my Christianity Today daily eMail. I know, I've been known to take shots at those people - after all, sometimes they make it so easy. But they occasionally interview some very interesting people. Yesterday they interviewed R.C. Sproul, who's the the founder and president of Ligonier Ministries. You can read the full interview here, but I want to draw your attention to where he is discussing the parallels between faith and his music lessons!
My teacher is this world-class performer from Russia. And she trained with some of the best teachers in Russia, so she tries to impose the same rigid Russian strictness on me that she went through. And so when I'm doing it wrong she smacks my hand and says, nyet, nyet, nyet. I'm learning more Russian than I am violin from this woman, but I am having an absolute ball. And when I have the opportunity, I'll practice three hours a day. I just love it. It is so hard. And I screech so much. But it is so beautiful and worth it when you do get it right, you know?
It is a discipline, and we are called to be disciples. Millions of people start on piano lessons. They play one note with one finger and then they go to two fingers, and then two hands. There are different plateaus. And at each plateau another percentage of people get off the boat and give it up.
That resonates too. Just about everybody can play Chopsticks, a lot of people can play Jingle Bells, and a lot fewer can play any of the classics. At what "plateau" am I at with my faith... and is it time to move higher?
Will You Go Out Without Knowing?
He went out, not knowing where he was going - Hebrews 11:8
Have you ever "gone out" in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, "What do you expect to do?" You don't know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to "go out" in every area of your life, trusting in God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don't know what God is going to do next. Each morning as you wake, there is a new opportunity to "go out," building your confidence in God. ". . . do not worry about your life . . . nor about the body . . ." ( Luke 12:22 ). In other words, don't worry about the things that concerned you before you did "go out."
Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do—He reveals to you who He is. Do you believe in a miracle-working God, and will you "go out" in complete surrender to Him until you are not surprised one iota by anything He does?
Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is! Let the attitude of your life be a continual willingness to "go out" in dependence upon God, and your life will have a sacred and inexpressible charm about it that is very satisfying to Jesus. You must learn to "go out" through your convictions, creeds, or experiences until you come to the point in your faith where there is nothing between yourself and God.
So there you have it. It's about faith. And not just plain old "Yes I have it but don't actually ask me to exercise it" faith, but faith that allows you to go without knowing where, and that allows you to take that step before there is actually anything under your feet.
That's the kind of piano player I want to be.
Earlier today Jordon posted on Fast Company's RealTime San Diego gathering. I love the magazine, and last year I attended RealTime Philadelphia. It was a creative overdose! I commented to Jordon's post that it was too bad the church couldn't get their act together and get innovative as well.
Then I remembered that in a few short weeks I'll be heading to The Emergent Convention 2003! (Oddly enough, it's in San Diego.)
I know, I know... I already posted on the What Would Jesus Drive thing... then I posted on it again. I can't help it. I found another column that I thought was profound. And of all places, I found it in Investment Executive! That's the trade journal of the Canadian investment industry, where I spent about 12 years of my previous life.
Anyway, I loved it, so here you go:
Jesus as a pitchman? Don't think so
By Paul Rush
Jesus. he's the perfect pitchman. The God-given endorser of products. When we know what His favourite brands are, we leap like lemmings to follow in His footsteps.
For God knows value.
Or, to put it another way, surely we all want to drive the same kind of car Jesus drives. A group of religious leaders went to Detroit recently to ask automakers to produce a kinder, gentler car. Quite simply, the kind of car Jesus would drive if He were out there kicking tires today.
A car that turns the other cheek.
Presumably, a stick shift, manual transmission with exhaust so pure it could be bottled as oxygen. Maybe a solar-powered car, a bit slow perhaps when it comes to acceleration, but then Jesus wouldn't speed, would He? (And He sure wouldn't block intersections or blast through on an amber light.)
Oh, joy. Oh, rapture.
But why stop at cars? Once you have worked your way into the mind of Jesus to find out what He wants in automobiles, it is but a short step - a leap of faith? - to ascertain what He likes in other fields.
I mean, what kind of blue jeans would Jesus buy? What brand of frozen pizza would be His favourite? What about His taste in beer and hard liquor? Would He have a favourite grocery store? Surely His choice of computers would be foolproof, and surely He would get the best deal on cellphones.
And surely His teeth would be white and His drinking glasses never spotted when He pulls them out of the dishwasher.
And, best of all, He could finally sort out all those banks and we would follow - for, after all, no one saves like Jesus saves.
Ah, blessed group of church leaders, innocently looking for less-polluting transportation, happily wondering what kind of car Jesus would drive were He in the market today.
What kind of car would Jesus drive?
No kind. He wouldn't have a place in the suburbs with a barbecue and a lawn tractor and a basketball net in front of a double garage. He wouldn't have a trendy loft apartment with a giant TV to which he could invite Peter and Barnabas and the boys over to drink Bud Lite and watch 1,000 hockey games.
You see, He wouldn't have a home. If He was lucky, He might have a thick cardboard box under a bridge or maybe a squat in a boarded-up building.
And what kind of car would Jesus drive? No kind at all. When you are the bottom layer of society, you don't have to make those difficult choices about how much you want to pollute. You tend to focus a bit more on your next meal.
Or whether you can keep riding that old bike you pulled out of the ravine. Or how to keep the wheels on the shopping cart that holds all your worldly possessions.
And you wonder why no one listens to you.
Jesus wouldn't have my problems or your problems, and we wouldn't have His solutions. He'd be a hard man to recognize and even harder to accept, although we might throw Him a toonie from time to time. Especially around Christmas.
We might pass Him on a street corner as He talked about the meek inheriting the earth, and we might think, "Jesus, what a loser."
Then we would scurry along with our parcels and our last-minute shopping on our way home to a warm house with a log fire and a Christmas tree. And perhaps we would remember the strange, ragged guy ranting on the street corner and we would laugh at the bit about "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
God, how weird.
That one spoke to me just like Joe Bob's bit.
Sue and I saw About Schmidt on the weekend, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Nicholson is already being talked about for an Oscar, and I'm not surprised.
The critics are fairly united on this one - except for the various "Christian" critics who, as usual, can't agree on anything. Some guy even called it "a Christian movie with a Lutheran flavor." What?
I think the different views of the mainstream media really capture the feelings I came away with. Stephen Holden (The New York Times) says, "Nicholson brings to his role...a sorrowful awareness of human complexity whose emotional depth matches anything he has done in the movies before." But Charles Taylor (Salon.com), while praising Nicholson, attacks the film itself: "How can critics fall for this movie's rank sentimentality? How can they fail to notice its hypocrisy? Payne's specialty, only three movies into his career, has become making the audience feel superior to his characters. How can critics laud About Schmidt with phrases like 'profoundly moving' without noticing that the sense of humanity they claim the movie celebrates doesn't extend to 95 percent of the people on-screen?"
Mike LaSalle (San Fransisco Chronicle) focuses on the film's spiritual emptiness: "The movie... dares to say it's all a lie, that the truisms that movies and mass culture live by are reassuring myths but lead nowhere. Here, old age is a time not of insight but of confusion. Love doesn't grow but grows stale, evolving into a vague contempt. Having a child is no comfort, and even taking off down the road—the great American standby—offers nothing in the way of self-discovery. It's all empty. About Schmidt is a spiritually lost film about a man who's spiritually lost."
Talk about an accurate reflection of a man of a man who has lost his heart, and who is (unknowingly perhaps) searching for it. I think Taylor's review above has hit on the paradox this movie produces. Audiences are moved by an entire cast that seems spiritually lost. How can that be? Because we are a race of people trying to rediscover life as God intended - in The Garden - prior to The Fall. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, read anything by Eldredge.) Something in our spiritual DNA remembers a time when life had meaning, and we've been looking to regain that feeling ever since.
I could ramble on about this forever, but I'd make even less sense than I do now. All I can say is the movie captured for me the utter futility of life without Christ. Why bother? I think audiences are picking up on that futility - on the screen in front of them, and perhaps in their own lives - without even understanding what it is they are feeling.
Movies like this set the table for the dance of evangelism to begin.
OK - I know the paradies of Apple's Switch ads are old news.
If that was it, I would probably have left well enough alone. But this John Bender guy is great!
Disclaimer: I'm sure some of you are starting to wonder. I am NOT anti-American. It's just that sometimes it's like taking candy from a baby. Sorry.
I want to give the t-shirt people a plug.
Yes, it's partly out of guilt. There are numerous ways to bring the Gospel to the world, and maybe the t-shirt is one of them. Admittedly evangelism is not my gift (beyond the responsibility that every Christ-follower has to carry out The Great Commission, I mean.) And as you can tell from my thoughts here, my hang-up is more with what happens to those poor seekers when they wander into a church.
We can be sure about one thing. There are over 36,000 Christian denominations. What if we showed unity in Jesus Christ? What a message it would send to the world. And hopefully, it will create opportunities for evangelism, one on one, on the front lines where ever you are on that day. I hope you all will join us. Thank you for your comments, the posting, and may Jesus Christ our Lord and saviour be glorified.
In his grip,
Lets come to Jesus
Thanks for "stopping by", and for your comment.
36,000 denominations? It's worse than I thought. I like the fact that your initiative doesn't appear to be denominationally focused. I feel fairly confident in saying that there will never be unity between that many "factions". (Personally I believe God is "denomination-blind", but that's a whole other story).
One question - why April 11th?
Thanks for writing me. You are right in that we are not denominationally focused.
It seems appropriate to send the message to the world that Christians have one common thread, Jesus Christ. How many seekers are confused by all the denominations? Our mission is simple, show them Jesus and let Him do the rest. (while this is simple, I am amazed at the resources it took for this whole infrastructure) We chose April 11 through prayer and its proximity to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Prayerfully, seekers will attend a church and find our Lord.
The shirt is just a vehicle for Christians to identify themselves. Otherwise, seekers won't be able to find them. The funds raised are just a natural after effect of our main mission. We believe that Jesus would use the funds to reach out to others. We tried to make the whole event a support mechanism for all Christian Ministries. This is why after expenses, 100% of the money goes to ministry.
May God bless your ministry and your walk in 2003! If you would like to join us as a participant to support your ministry and spread the word, We would consider it an honor to have you join us.
In his grip,
I don't know where I'll be on April 11 and if a t-shirt will be appropriate attire, but I'd like to show some support for this project. I'm going to get a shirt, and you should too.
Ah, the all-important first post of the year. You don't get this opportunity very often.
What to say... what to say...
May this be a year when we each hear God's voice a little clearer, which implies that we ourselves are a little closer to Him.
May this be a year when we move a little closer to the centre of God's will, which implies we are a little closer to seeing Christ again.
May this be a year when we discover more of our God-given Mission, which implies we move further from the "part of the problem" side of the ledger to the "part of the solution" column.