Monday, October 26, 2009

Random Readings and Reflections

Yesterday I read more of my sermon than I usually do. Frankly, I do not manuscript. The few attempts produced articulate literary documents that lacked pathos in their verbal execution. I don't like to read from the pulpit; yesterday was an exception because I was not reading my reflections, but God's revelation. I counted 127 verses spoken--a liturgical tour de force. By the end I was desperate for oxygen.

Paul told Timothy not to forsake the public reading of Scripture, as well as exhortation and teaching (1 Tim. 4:13). From the pulpit we often get more of the latter than the former.
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Christianity today editor, Mark Galli, explores the 'need [for] spiritual and moral renewal,' in his current article entitled, "In the Beginning, Grace" (Oct. 2009, pg. 24). His essay cites a book by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, whose research confirmed a belief system that synchronizes Christianity with Popular Psychology. They have coined this phenomenon "Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." In other words, God is a remote deity who informs my ethics and comforts my pain. Bowing to His sovereignty is optional.

Sadly, this circumcised faith is not limited to teenagers. "We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition..."
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In his 2009 publication, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them, Ed Stetzer and company conducted two-years' worth of polling. The research supports a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in many of the younger unchurched, but this finding does not bode well for the church. In fact, 90% of people surveyed agree to the following belief: I can have a good relationship with God without being involved in a church (pg. 54).

Admittedly, the word church carries with it more baggage than Indiana's elderly at the first sign of frost. But popular opinion (of the unchurched) raises the question: How does church involvement increase our intimacy with God?
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Self-proclaimed Geek par excellent of Wired Magazine, Scott Brown, laments our national obsession with 'imperialistic' science fiction overloaded with 'ever-shinier effects' (see "All Aboard!" Nov. 2009, pg. 083). The critique is founded. And I confess, I love dystopian stories. Give me Orwell. Give me Huxley. Give me Darth Vader chucking the Empower into the Death Star's reactor core.

But I digress: What intrigued me about Brown's article is the connection he made about imperialism and evangelicalism. He writes, "Like its not-so-distant cousin American religion, American sci-fi is fixated on final battles, ultimate judgment (particularly on questions of control and leadership), and an up-or-down vote on the whole good/evil issue." The following sentence curtly references the Book of Revelation.

So evangelicals are criticized for reading their Bible like science fiction. Or is it possible that Brown has the order reversed, perhaps science fiction authors are criticized for making their stories reflect God's.

Brown's point considered, it is possible we obsess over the Bible's flashy ending, and churches obsess about flashy services, and somewhere along the line, we lose the plot: A holy God invites people to worship Him because Jesus' life/death/resurrection secured the way. A stumbling block to the M.T.Diests. Foolishness to the Geeks.
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"Who is like You among the Gods, O LORD?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises, working wonders" (Ex. 15:11).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Illiteracy

"Why don't you read the Bible?" I asked my friend.

He provided an initial list of excuses: boredom, familiarity, lack of understanding. Like most Christians, his Bible reading is spotty, inconsistent, and marked by frustration. To his credit, he is a literate person. Piper, Claiborne, Oberbrunner, Lewis, and a pair of Stanleys (Andy and Hauerwas) line his shelves. Peter and Paul, Mark and John, Moses and Isaiah have been relegated to footnotes.

Avoidance of the Bible concerns me. While the Bible remains atop the bestsellers list, it receives as much play time as a Rick Astley songs on my iPod.



Being a good friend and motley pastor, I interrogated his reasons. "You like stories, right? (You are, indeed, postmodern.) Why not read the Bible as a story? It starts in a Garden and ends in a City. In between, there are several episodes of crisis and intervention, which culminate on the Cross. Now the church carries the crisis intervention story into a Brave New World."

"But I have trouble understanding the Bible. You need a pastor to explain it. That's their job," he replied.

As a pastor/teacher, I understand the sentiment. I am to labor in explaining the text, but I can no more read the Bible for someone than change his beliefs. So I countered, "Who taught you how to interpret Rob Bell, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Stanleys? Does everyone write clearly except for God (and Shakespeare)? I'd like to think the basic meaning of Scripture is evident. Moreover, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit who guides us in all truth."

He nodded. And as we continued the discussion, the fundamental reason surfaced. He does not read the Bible because he struggles to be intimate with God. So he settles for third-party affiliates. This is a tragic and all too common affair.

I felt sheepish and over-simplistic, but I encouraged him to read the Bible. Such literacy cultivates intimacy.

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NOTE: Inspired by a true story. I have changed names and modified dialogue to protect the innocent. Rick Astley never came up in the conversation with my friend. He never does.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Refreshments

At our Fall Festival we sold refreshments for fifty cents. Cold winds fueled hot chocolate sales. Cookies sold by the dozens. People will throw cash at a cheap insulin boost. Energy drink sales are a testimony to our national lust for carbohydrates and fructose. Our refreshment table profited more than one hundred and fifty dollars.

I'm a self-proclaimed cheapskate, so I waited until the 'For Sale' signed turned to 'Free.' In fact, I announced the sign change and took a gob. We had already paid out the prize money from the fund-raiser, so additional monies were unnecessary. I took, broke, blessed, and ate. But I was not refreshed.

After three weeks of phone calls, email confirmations, event planning, poster distribution, task management, weather forecasts, and worries, I was going to need more than cocoa and creme filling to refresh me.

My typical menu of nourishing activities includes: quality time with my wife and children, jogging, reading, writing, watching football, listening to music (and occasionally making it), and hiking. While some of these exercises are more spiritual than others, they are all important for me to maintain a healthy perspective, a guarded heart. Event planning and home improvement replaced these, leaving me malnourished. I don't thrive on fast food, gobs, and to do lists. Fortunately, God satisfies the thirsty soul (Psalm 63).