Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The American Church Government

So I'm off to Atlanta to participate in the New Baptist Covenant. They are estimating at least 10,000 people will gather as an informal alliance of more than 30 different Baptist organizations, that claims 20 million members.

My classmates and I are getting credit for the conference and are reading some Baptist books, one in particular, Bill Leonard's Baptist River.

Leonard writes “Baptist denominations expanded their organization systems, with structures that mirrored those of American corporations.” I find this issue fascinating because it alludes to the way our the American church is similar to our government. In America there is high regard for individual freedom and liberty. This freedom is obvious in the Baptist life that has often times produced fragment groups and sub-denominations.

In maintaining our Baptist identity how much of our current life is shaped by “American values?” (Like capitalist ventures, consumerism, and freedom of the individual.) We must be aware that often times the strongest voice in our church is not God but the society. Instead of the church transforming society the church is transformed by society. The business models and organization structures of America have their negative and positive facets. The problem begins when we organize the church from American principles, not Godly principles.

I believe there needs to be proper engagement with our surrounding world. Obviously Baptist in America will be influenced by America, but what is the appropriate way to enter this land? To be the church requires cultural aptitude but we must look beyond the culture and find God bearing qualities in being the church in that specific context.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Death of Celebrity

It's good to have friends. This post is compliments of my roomate Adam. He is an editor so you might notice a significant upgrade! Anywho, I'm a fan and so should you!

In the wake of Heath Ledger’s death, I found myself thinking something like “What a pity! What a waste!” He’s not the first nor the last to suffer an ultimate end like that. I found myself, given my convictions, wanting to make an example of him: an example of how success, celebrity, money, and fame are worthless in the cold light of death. I think many Christians will want to as well. His life, that apparent emptiness, are easy prey for Christians with conviction that there’s more to life than accomplishments, that there’s emptiness even at the top, that meaning is not necessarily found in obtaining all your dreams.

Certainly those conclusions could be reached and preached, but to my mind, Christians, myself included, are wrong to descend like vultures on the corpses of broken lives and squawk, “See! See! We’re right! Material success isn’t what life is about!” To tear the flesh from their limbs and cannibalize it as evidence for what we believe is disgusting. To moralize on the carcasses of men seems quite irreverent to the lives God graciously breathed into them.

To bolster our claims on the death of a young celebrity in fact only undermines our perspective. Who would trust a man who uses another’s death as an opportunity? But who would not trust the man who grieves? What credibility have Christians, who are intent upon proliferating Jesus’ eternal life, when they prey upon death rather than mourning life? Compassion cannot be sacrificed for the sake of conviction. We should not make a mockery of a celebrity’s hopeless end. We should be grieving the end of a life that God saw fit to bear his image

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Poor Suburbs

In December of 2006 AP released this report:

The suburban poor outnumbered their inner-city counterparts for the first time last year, with more than 12 million suburban residents living in poverty, according to a study of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas released Thursday.

Where I live, suburbs of Chicago, I don't see a lot of poverty. There are few visible homeless people but, as this report shows, poverty runs deeper than not having a home.

I mentioned this to a friend and he told me about several people in the suburbs who have an immaculate house on the outside while the inside is complete bare! Imagine the beautiful lawn and suburban-perfect design. On the outside they belong to the neighborhood and meet all the cultural codes. But you walk inside the house and it is a mess. It's like the line from a Denison Witmer song

"Outside the homes line up straight
But inside they aren’t that way"

I imagine this is what the poverty in the suburbs looks like. Pleasant on the outside but empty on the inside. We are so clever with hiding our needs and dressing up the things that don’t really matter. It reminds me of what Jesus told the Pharisees,

Luke 11:40, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness."

It’s sad but as I drive by the suburban houses I pray for them. I don’t know how many of those houses are bare on the inside. But I’m not praying for IKEA furniture, I’m praying for a heart that releases it’s fa├žade of self-sufficiency. The real poverty of our nation, in the suburbs and the city, is our denial of a need for God.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Got to get 3...

I promised 3 posts this week so I feel a little obligated to write.

All I have is an insight to offer from today. After having some car issues I realized that problems in life are opportunities for other people to intercede. If somebody is struggling that is a chance for me to bless them and vice versa. I'm grateful for the blessings in my life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Derek Webb and Prophecy

One great part about living near Chicago is the music scene. I was happily overwhelmed with a bevy of live music this past fall and winter. Rosie Thomas, Over the Rhine and Anathallo to name a few. More recently I've had a chance to check out some lesser known more local bands and am looking forward to some more live shows.

Another show I went to with some friends was Derek Webb. He has garnered a lot of attention for speaking out against the church. As Christianity Today writes,

"He has taught us about the church, expounded on the paradoxes of the faith life and written about freedom in Christ, all in a way that's provocative, sobering and, most of all, necessary."
(An Unfiltered Webb by Andree Farias)

After watching him perform live, with his wife Sandra McCracken, I walked away from the show feeling troubled. I agree that we need a "prophetic" voice that calls the church into repentance and reform. But Webb's message just doesn't harmonize with me. Don't get me wrong I completely agree with his critique, for example in one song,

"there are two great lies that ive heard: the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him”

Where I find myself frustrated with Webb is the lack of care spoken alongside the truth. Many of his songs end with a clear denouncement of Christian/church behavior. There is no hope or encouragement for reform.

The prophets spoke the truth, just like I think Webb does, but they always did it with the intention of bringing people back to God. In many ways, when I listen to Mockingbird (Webb's latest release) the lyrics come off as abrasive condemnation, not truth spoken in love.

Look at the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 3

20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband,so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel," declares the LORD. 21 A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the LORD their God. 22 "Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding." "Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God.

Jeremiah told it like it was but it was coupled with a call to "return" to God. In speaking difficult words there needs to be direction for where we need to return to. We can't just say, "this is wrong. This is bad." We need to provide a hope for reform that encourages people towards repentance.

I probably am being a little unfair but I figured it would be fun to share how his music has impacted me. All in all I like Derek Webb and his music. I hope he continues to challenge the status quo and does it in a way that uplifts people.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sports and Identity

I learned an important lesson. If you want a way to get people to not read your blog than don't write anything. It is very effective. So I'll write at least 3 times this week. Thanks Rachel :)

I have a hate/love relationship with professional sports. I "hate" how we idolize athletes, pay them a gross amount of money to play a game, and provide a different judicial system for their infringements. But I love sports. I love the competition, the way it brings people together, the challenge of pushing limits and the possibility of achievement.

In one moment I am enthralled and captured by sports. But then the next moment I roll my eyes because we have ESPNEWS and a bounty of shows (PTI, Around the Horn) that talk about the same issue over and over again. (Do I really have to hear about Tony Romo and his vacation with Jessica Simpson, again?)
Something I have noticed in my own life and with friends is that we become passionate about sports. Some people become "overly" passionate. I'm sure you know the type. Their day, week, month, or year is ruined when their team looses. They go from a mild-mannered-civilized human being to a cussing-rage-filled-gladiator.

I get embarrassed when I see people defend their sports team like it is a life or death matter. I don't recommend this but if you want to know what is important to somebody, insult something they connect with.

For instance, if you insult my shoes I really won't care. Some people might but for me, shoes are shoes. I don't invest a lot in my shoes. If you insult Denison Witmer I'll be a little more perturbed because he is a musician I really respect and like. If you insult my parents I will became angry because there is some obvious identity there!

A buddy in college was, and still is, a huge OSU fan. If you criticized the Ohio State University, he erupted. Now there is nothing wrong with defending your passion and loves but we need to hold in careful balance with what we identify with.

There is a place for becoming upset and angry. Jesus did this when he walked into the temple and saw people using the temple as a platform for selling their goods. He was righteously angry because something he identified with was being attacked.

When we become irate I think we need to dissect the validity and cause of our anger. I'll admit sometimes I become overly irate when people attack my likes and passions. But day after day I shrug off the ways people misuse the name of God, marginalize the poor, and neglect opportunities to speak words of love.
Above all of the things we identify with we need to identify with God.
I'm a child of God - He is my Father - 1 Jn 3:1,2
I am Christ's friend - Jn 15:15
I am a fellow citizen in God's kingdom - Eph 2:19
I am born of God - 1 Jn 4:7
I have been adopted by God - Rom 8:15

Sunday, January 06, 2008

On Call, for hope.

I'm on call right now. Working at the hospital means having my pager turned on during the 3rd shift. When I get a page I get 30 minutes to get to the paging unit.

I never sleep too well these nights. When I do get lulled to neverland there is the possibility, and a good one, the pager will wake me. It's odd but I do like the prospect of adventure and challenge that comes with the job. Of course, I don't delight in responding to traumas and deaths, but I do find appeal in having to triage and act in an unknown situation.

I'm reminded about the call to always be ready, to always be on call, in 1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

This make me wonder two things. First, are we really prepared to give an answer? I hear people quote this verse as a reason for Christians to study apologetics. So when we argue with atheist we can convince them of the existence of a Creator, etc, etc. There is value in that and it is important to understand what we believe. I find it troubling that most Christians are just illiterate in reading the Bible and understanding what and why we believe.

But in re-reading that verse I am more intrigued by the latter part of the verse that often goes unnoticed, "to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

I do not get many people asking me that question. Rarely do people ask me about the hope I have.

Why do we ask certain people questions? Well, simply put, because we think they have the answer. (If my car isn't running I'm not going to ask a heart surgeon, I'm going to go to a mechanic.) Perhaps the reason we don't get asked these questions is because we don't live in a way that radiates this hope.

I don't have any conclusions but I wonder what does it mean to live with this hope?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Here is a verbatim from a conversation two of my acquaintances had about a month ago. We'll call them Sue and Bob.

Bob, "So I went out the day after Thanksgiving and found some great deals!"
Sue, "Me too, what did you get?"
Bob, "Well there was this grill, marked for $2,500. I bought it for $950.00!"
Sue, "Wow! Good for you! Congratulations!" (All the others agree and applaud the buy!)

I couldn't help but laugh. Does anything seem weird about this conversation? Here my friends were congratulating and commending my other friend about his purchase. I wonder, what kind of world do we live in where we pride ourselves on our spending habits?

I don't have a problem with what he bought or how much he paid for it. But I find it funny that he was commended because of the "great buy" he found. Bob proceeded to justify the purchase based on the reason it was such a great "sale" and he couldn't pass it up! This is part of the problem, we don't need but we buy. We don't really need to spend but we justify it.

I don't know if Bob needed the grill and I probably am unfairly being cynical. But if we looked for opportunities to help others as much as we look for opportunities to save money I think the Kingdom would be closer.

So this is the New Year...

Brief Corny Personal Reflection: This was a year of change. I worked 5 different jobs, lost two close family members to death, gained two family members through birth, another gained through marriage. Finished my first year of Seminary and was so incredibly blessed with new relationships.

There are so many things God has taught me. Chief among them is that all this business does not equate fruifulness. We reap that harvest of God’s righteousness only in faithfulness. And even though my life might change God remains.