Monday, June 29, 2009

B-I-B-L-E

My daughter and niece fought a battle over the Bible this morning. While my wife prepared breakfast and I poured coffee, the two little girls raised their voices at one another vying for spiritual ascendancy. James and John wanted the seats closest to Jesus; Claire and Mahlia wanted the title for Best Version of The B-I-B-L-E. Interrupting and increasing volume, each girl tried to out-Bible the other.

We learn at a young age the importance of fighting for the Bible. Unfortunately, both children sang errant versions of the tune. They dropped words and missed notes. They were probably influenced by liberal scholars and moralistic teachers. Fortunately they have an evangelical dad/uncle to correct them. And their mother/aunt has a lovely singing voice.

As the scene unfolded, I couldn't help but wonder if this childish scene wasn't reflective of evangelicalism on the whole. Sometimes we fight others singing the same song because we like our voices better. We like our versions better. We like our pitch better. We like us.

By the end of breakfast, instead of standing alone on the word of God, we simply stand alone. Our B-I-B-L-E-beaten cousin has dashed off crying with a soiled diaper and a runny nose.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

There Goes Everyone

For the second time this week I have experienced a major mental lapse. The first time my neighbor brought it to my attention. "I have something of yours," he said. It was a book I'd been reading. The title was The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. The book uses Old Testament characters as examples for the ways that Jesus is the Way (John 14:6). Peterson addresses many ways*, but he did not answer how my copy curiously arrived several blocks from my house.

This morning was the second lapse. Turning onto SR 15 and increasing my speed, I noticed a flash in my review mirror and heard a muted thump. Another book and two library DVDs flew from my trunk. (And I had just recently paid off a fifteen dollar fine!) This book was entitled Here Comes Everybody, which felt rather appropriate as I dodged traffic to pull it from the pavement.

As I reached for the items and fended for my life, I considered one of author Clay Shirky's comments: "Self-preservation of the institution becomes job number one, while its stated goal is relegated to number two or lower, no matter what the mission statement says" (pg. 30). As Darwinian as this sounds, I certainly did not want ensuing traffic to make me and my media a Times-Union headline. Moreover, this line gave me insight as to why churches tend to be anemic and Christians struggle with the first commandment. Our natural mantra is: Mememememememe.

All this commentary to say: Apparently I don't load my car anymore, so I'm glad I take books to work and not babies. And the fact that this has happened twice in a given week makes me think I have a lot on my mind. And my car.


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*Note that Peterson restricts himself to Old Testament figures (Abraham and the way of testing; Moses and the way of language; David and the way of stumbling; Elijah and the way of seclusion, etc.), not alternative religious figures. There are not many ways to Jesus, but different emphases in how people follow.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reproduction

A family in our church just delivered their second baby, Ann. On the same day, our church hosted a memorial service for a miscarried child, Xavier. The Lord gives, takes, and keeps a registry of names (Job 1:21; Psalm 139:16).

Likewise, God reproduces and reclaims churches. I talked to a pastor this morning who had five in attendance yesterday. I can hear doors closing. Contrarily, earlier I had listened to the podcast of a pastor who oversees 7 campuses and leads a church network (Acts 29) whose goal is 'to plant 1,000 new churches in the next 20 years.'

Mars Hill is a big church in a big city, and it would be a flippant understatement to describe the personality of its pastor, Mark Driscoll, as big. Elephant is a better metaphor. Of course, I am borrowing the term from a book I recently reviewed from Barna Publishing, entitled The Rabbit and the Elephant.

Barna's recent research has predicted a deathblow to traditional church life in North America. The pollster's numbers suggest that by 2025 of the two-thirds of adults who currently attend traditional churches, only half will remain committed. The Lord takes away.

The others will relocate, recant, or become rabbits, according to Tony and Fecily Dale, pioneers of the House2House movement of simple churches. "Somewhere between ten and fifteen million adults are estimated to visit a house church each month... The traditional resistance to these microchurches has dissolved rapidly in recent years... Rabbit (simple) churches are here to stay (pp. 28, 207). The Lord gives.

Of course, the premise that mass-reproduction is always good is not unanimous. Commentary surrounding the octuplet mother has been primarily critical. Many countries illustrate the evils of overpopulation by birthing children only to traffic them later. And Bob Barker daily calls for neutering and spading pets.

I understand that each example of reproduction is clouded by various ethical issues. That being said, reproducing churches as quick as rabbits promises its own subset of birth defects. Not all of them will survive. Just like the elephant-church of five down the street.

Fortunately, God peers through the clergy robes and ministry models and accepts the naked souls that inhabit them. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sure

I perspire toward the end of sermons where I feel like I missed it. The it is what homileticians variously call the main idea, big picture, core truth, or central theme. In his marquee work, Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson warns, "Those who hear you do not understand what you are saying unless they can answer the basic questions: What is the preacher talking about today? What is he saying about what he is talking about? Yet Sunday after Sunday men and women leave church unable to state the preacher's basic idea because the preacher has not bothered to state it himself" (pg. 43).

Yesterday my friend visited our church. A former youth pastor and disciple of Andy Stanley's Communicating for a Change, Rhett asked me if I stated my big idea. The beads of perspiration again swelled. I was unsure. My response was honest, "I didn't have one."

Robinson would call me lazy. Stanely would call me ineffective. Furgeson would call me unfocused. Rhett called me dude.

Naturally, a preacher does not feel sure after each message. I don't. I don't always know it. I'm not always confident, confident, dry and secure.



Last week I did my diligence at sermon preparation: I studied, parsed, cross-referenced, illustrated, discussed, outlined, (Power)pointed, and alliterated. But I sweated my sermon out with my hands in the air. Moses did the same as he led a battle against the Amalekites. And if Aaron and Hur remained committed to Moses after a full day of his battle-tested-desert-scented body odor, I'm sure people who attend church will accept perspiring pastors and shotgunned sermons.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Potty

Last year we attempted a toilet ministry with the local baseball league. I suggested using our bathrooms as an hygienic alternative to the port-a-potties across the street. My inspiration was the mother who demanded that her child 'Hold it!' because she dare not expose her son to a dirty outhouse. A stressed bladder and soiled underpants were preferable to the port-a-john.

I brought the idea before the board. The official board exists to filter ideas. We wrangle about with details. Some ideas we approve; the LGBC Toilet Ministry was flushed. Instead, we voted to provide a third port-a-john with a sign: Toilet provided by Leesburg Grace Brethren Church. I added the tag line: A Holy Place to Unload.

For the board, the septic stress and toilet paper consumption was not the determining factor. The broader topic was building usage. If we opened our doors every night to any bowel movement, our property might be endangered. Insurance might not cover poop stains; the pipes might not handle flushed baseball mitts.

"We could be vandalized." "We could be robbed." "We could be defaced." "We could be mistreated."

These are legitimate fears (cf. Mt. 5:11-12; 10:1ff). So we approved a tertiary toilet. Unfortunately, the plan did not completely work. One year later and a vandal was recently among us. For scratched into the wall, above the toilet paper dispenser, someone etched the word: F*#!

Herein lies the institutional rub. We want people to use our bathrooms and building, but we also demand that they respect our beliefs. "No potty-talk in our church," we say. "Not in the foyer, sanctuary, or stalls. If you want act filthy, go across to the outhouse. That's why we rented it for you."

Of course, with the filthy word scribbled on our wall, I cannot properly digest there. Fortunately, there are three outhouses across the street. Who knows, maybe I'll even make some spiritual connections over there.