Monday, January 28, 2008

Fill in the _____________

"I didn't get these," he said to me after the sermon. He was holding up my notes, the page smiled at me like a gap-toothed, five-year old.

Apparently, notes with gaps are a problem for people. A word in a blank is proof of listening, learning, effective communication; a standing blank is an information gap. A cause for doubt. A reason to suspect the pastor hasn't reviewed his notes well enough. (Or they weren't worth reviewing in the first place.)

Where did this need come from to fill in gaps? Certainly it is not a matter of social science, otherwise we'd be more inclined to sit next to each other in church and movie theaters. Nor is it a matter of evolutionary science, otherwise we'd have Lucy's third cousin twice removed. And I cannot pin it on the economy and education, for those institutions tend to widen gaps rather than bridge them.

So who can be credited for our neurological impulse to fill blanks and turn in our sermon crib sheets complete with endnotes, asides, and doodles?

I can't take credit. I may contribute to the weekly game of Homiletic Mad Libs, but the resolve predates me. And frankly, I'm convinced our complaint is more than unfinished sermons. We're bothered by unfinished lives.

Deep down, an unmet blank reflects our inborn longing for Shalom (i.e. wholeness). The church is called to fill blanks. To build bridges. To reconcile differences. To redeem time/space. The Spirit of God will take us further in this endeavor than sermon notes.

Monday, January 21, 2008


The church hasn't been cleaned in a few weeks. I took my trash out once, but ignored the other twelve receptacles in the building. I haven't seen any flies or smelled any decay, so I've been slow to respond.

I did look over my job description. None of the bullets said, "Proficiency in trash disposal." The document didn't list among my skills: vacuuming, dusting, and scrubbing. On paper I'm expected to know Greek and apologetics, curriculum and outreach events. Menial tasks are for servants; I'm too busy trying to lead.

Don't get me wrong, once upon a time, I thought leadership was about service. I recall a great man, a Son of Man, saying this to his followers.

"If you want to become the greatest, you must become the least."

"I didn't come to be served, but to serve and give my life a ransom for many."

But apparently this is nice, folk wisdom. According to the leadership book I'm currently reading, pastors merely need to harness the skills of communication, teamwork and vision-casting, wed it to a resilient, relevant, and redoubtable personality, and the church will experience change for good. Service is something on Sunday that starts at 8:00, 9:30 and again at 11:00.

The noted author doesn't take out the trash at his church, and it's running in the thousands. Perhaps it's good I've left my office a mess.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Used Books

My town has two used bookstores. I made appearances at both today in search of Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. I found another conspiracy at work: good books are hard to come by. Case and point: I'm currently looking at Joel Osteen's Become a Better You. His orange face and pearl teeth are inviting me to an improved life. It only costs twenty-five bucks and seven steps.

I open the book to its copyright page and check its listing. Self-actualization (Psychology) is the first category, followed by Religious Elements. Christianity is bracketed.

Osteen (coincidentally close to 'esteem') is not a new phenomenon. He is just a 2.0.1 version of writers to combine pop-psychology with religious terms; updated and revised editions are always more attractive. Norman Vincent Peale had a comb-over and lazy eye. Emmet Fox had a receding hairline. Robert Schuller encased himself in Crystal to effect a haloed appearance.

Osteen tells us that if we make someone else's day, "God will make [ours]" (pg 145). But on the seventh day, God might rest.

My dad once said "God helps those who help themselves." He should write a book.

The real issue with pop-psychology as a form of Christian living, is that it's bound... deflate as quickly as it raises the soul; dominate the Christian shelf at the local used bookstore less than a year after its printing;
...and to a cardboard spine, a papyrus skeletal system, and 12-point font ligaments.

So Osteen is not the issue. (Besides, by his own text he encourages me to be a giver, not a taker, a builder not a destroyer; pg. 144.) Eventually his cavities will show, and people will feel allured by a fresher therapy. People like their ears tickled.

The deeper 'reality' (a term Willard always puts in quotations) is our metaphysical longing to improve. To do this using To Do lists, Seven Steps, As Seen on TV products, and Positive Self-Talk is to accept a pedicure as a total makeover.

Putting a new dust jacket on an old book can't convince me to buy it. No matter how well it adorns my shelf.

[Jesus said]: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Why I Won't Marry Rob Bell

Rob Bell and I are both male, each with our own wives. This is the simple answer. But we diverge on other issues, as well.

I have two daughters; he has two sons. I produce my own videos; he has the professionals at NOOMA do his. I prefer the Dead Sea Scrolls; He prefers the Mishnah. I pastor a church of 80; he leads a church of 10,000. And I wasn't quoted in a the current Relevant Magazine calling America's idea of church "an absolute total failure" (pg. 67).

Nevertheless, I can't help but enjoy the man's repainting of the Christian faith. I just finished reading Velvet Elvis two days ago.

It reads quickly.

Like a blog.

In fragments and short paragraphs.

You'll be done in eight minutes.

Each chapter is called a movement. (I use the same word when I preach about the 'gospel' or 'kingdom of God.') Although the sections read like disparate essays, the whole book creates an engaging look at Christianity within our spiritually-sensitive-but-institutionally-adverse society.

The Movements:
  1. Theology is more like springs of a trampoline than bricks in a wall.
  2. The Word of God is alive today, calling us to unleash it creatively in our lives.
  3. The truth of God is everywhere, not preserved in 'sacred' spaces.
  4. God's healing must reach our hearts.
  5. Jesus calls us to himself because he can make us into something.
  6. God's re-creation should be more central than a Christian's depravity.
  7. The gospel is cosmic, social, spiritual, and good.

While I'm not on my knee right now, I do propose you read it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

An Advent Reading

I got invited to a party. Several folks invited me, actually. Word of mouth. Evited. Got a card in the mail, asking me for a RSVP.

I always respond.

But I am fairly particular about personal appearances. I've come to events before and people always act awkward. They say, "You need to come." Or, "I'm so glad you came." But then they act like I'd have done better by staying away, like the invite was a formality.

Part of the awkwardness is the scene: It's not exactly a birthday party for a two-year old. No streamers. No balloons. No Dora the Explorer plates and napkins.

This party is a romp. A rave. An unholy gathering that would make priests and prophets blush.

But they've asked me to come.

The adults drink too much. They say it's to loosen thick tongues and oil their social apprehensions. But as they open another bottle, pour another glass, I know it's to fill an empty spot in their souls.

They've asked me to come.

It starts after dark, and it's fashionable to show up late. Guests are wearing masks and dancing closely in the smoke of greed, gossip, pettiness and self doubt.

They've asked me to come.

The men are too sexual and the women too compliant. They say they're playing fore, just having fun. "Nobody gets hurt," they say, but I know that's because they already are...lonely.

I will come.

Some think I shouldn't; they think I should throw my own party. Why sit where the music is too loud, the drink too strong, the passion too thick, and love too thin? Why waste my time? Why would a holy man bother with such a scene?

Because my Father wanted me to come. To come and redeem it.
To come and give it real life. Eternal life.
My life.