More proof that she is the Anti-Christ

How can earning a spot in heaven compare with a place in prime time?

Anyone old-fashioned enough to believe in keeping acts of righteousness private should give a wide berth to Oprah’s Big Give (ABC, Sunday, 9 ET/PT), Queen for a Day as reinterpreted by the Queen of All Media. An Apprentice-type game that turns charity into a competitive sport, Give will strike you as immensely uplifting or horrifyingly vulgar, or an odd combo of both.  Good works clash with bad behavior, altruism
shares space with publicity-masked-as-charity, all wrapped in the
familiar reality-genre clichés. And at the stomach-churning center is
that old American TV belief that every problem can be solved with a
take-home prize, without any consideration for underlying difficulties.  Sunday we meet
Give’s 10 big givers, who
are broken into five teams and given a picture of a person in need.
Their task: Figure out what the person needs and raise the money to
provide it. At the end they face three celebrity judges (Jamie Oliver,
Malaak Compton-Rock, Tony Gonzalez), even though they’d be better
served by advice from people with hands-on experience in raising money
without the benefit of celebrity.
  Extreme Makeover: Home Edition treads
much of this same maudlin, TV-knows-best territory. But at least that
show doesn’t turn the people it’s making over into pawns in a game — a
game that inevitably elevates the players’ problems to the level of the
people they’re supposed to be helping.  It’s bad enough that what the people get has no
necessary connection to what they need or deserve. What’s worse is it’s
completely cut off from what they want, because the "prize" is decided
by people who barely know them. For all its new-age trappings,
Give is a throwback to a time when the poor were expected to be grateful for whatever they were given.  Seldom has the drive to do good works been as
alarmingly, offensively presumptuous. When a homeless woman says she
had hoped to be trained for a job, you can’t help thinking she may have
had the best idea of what was best for her. Might there not be some
widows who don’t want to be surprised with a block party or toy-buying
spree, or who don’t like strangers telling their children how to best
mourn their father?  There’s no doubt everyone involved means well,
but then you do know where that road paved with good intentions leads,
right? And it isn’t heaven.

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From one of my students…

Wondering

I’m a online bible prof at Azusa Pacific University…one of my classes this Spring is a Nursing Extension full of students who have a wide-variety of religious backgrounds.  Many of them would not be seen by strong Evangelical types as those that fill up the ranks of the "saved" but are, nonetheless, in the midst of fascinating spiritual journeys.  One of those students, a woman who has grown up Buddist, wrote the following…this is definitely worth the read:

After watching the video (the week’s assignment), I remembered a Vietnamese spiritual article that I liked. This article gave me idea to write the journal entry this week.

“I seek God in beautiful wealthy countries; God seeks me in unattractive poor countries.
I seek God in noisy downtown cities; God seeks me in quiet old forests.
I seek God in big famous cathedrals; God seeks me in small unknown churches.
I seek God in rich families; God seeks me in penniless families.
I seek God in genius persons; God seeks me in humble persons.
I seek God in attractive young persons; God seeks me in neglected old adults.
I seek God in potentate adult; God seeks me in powerless babies.
Days after days; months after months; years after years;
Seeking God all my life, I am getting extremely tired without meeting Him.
God and I have kept seeking each other for ever if I kept seeking Him as I did.
Wait a minute … If I seek Him where He seeks me, I will meet Him soon.
Where???
In poor countries, penniless families, humble persons, neglected old adults, powerless babies, etc.
O God! I must live sacrifice to be with them.
Jesus said, “Whatsoever U do to the least of my people, you do it to me.”

Just when you think you’ve heard everything…

30day_webnew
Just like I noted above, I thought I have "been around the block".  I think I’m pretty "wise" in what to expect from life, the world, the church, Christ-followers…I’m not saying anything about being omniscient…that isn’t it.  It is simply that I have seen and heard a lot over the years.  There are few things that really surprise me.  Until today…I was waiting for the class that I am teaching at Pacific Life Bible College in Vancouver BC to begin…during a chapel time for the school, a guest speaker (someone who the school takes NO responsibility for in terms of theological, biblical or practical content) mentioned a church that he had heard of where the pastor gave a challenge to the church called, "The 30 day Sex Challenge".  Apparently, he is challenging the married couples in the church to have sex for 30 days in a row…now…now…now, er…I don’t know what to say.  There are some things that I don’t like about "mega-church" and there are some things I do…THIS would be one of those things that would be so easy to fully comment on.  But, frankly, I just can’t.  I’m still a bit taken back by the audacity of the challenge.  Here’s the information from the church’s website (Relevant Church in Florida):

"People are not having enough sex. An epidemic of
breakups prove the needs that lead to a great sex life are being
overlooked. Dirty dishes, frumpy clothes, and a lack of authentic
connections are killing the romance. A great sex life is a challenge
and takes focus, determination, and planning. Some say it’s an
unrealistic goal, but we disagree. We believe you can have a great sex
life, in fact we believe God wants you to have a great sex life.  Relevant
Church is proposing a challenge encouraging married couples to
purposely engage in sexual activity for 30 days and singles to
intentionally forgo sexual activity for 30 days. We know, it sounds
crazy.
However, we believe this challenge will not only improve sex lives, but also strengthen relationships. In
this series married couples will review the obvious needs of him and
uncover the forgotten needs of her and singles will cut through the
illusions and consider the qualities that result in healthy
relationships. For far too long the
church has remained silent on the subject, leading many people to
believe that God is against sex, which is completely counter to what
the Bible teaches.
 Join us…"

At this point on the website, the church advertises the topics that the church is going to cover during the pastor’s "series" on Sundays at their worship experiences.  Now, like I said, I don’t know this church…first time I have ever heard about it.  But if you are going to "Relevant", this is definitely a challenge to issue.  I don’t know whether they are just blatant in trying to get attention, or whether the pastor is having sex addiction issues, or whether it is just another example of marketing tools in "local church" ministry, granted the only way to get people’s attention is to get more and more outrageous.  Those who track marketing in our culture have been telling us for sometime that the only way that you get people’s attention these days is to get more and more "over the top".  It’s happening on television, movies, ads, magazines, conversation…people only notice you if you push the envelope into the next realm of outrageousness.  I’m going to do this…I’m going to listen to the talks and read the materials with an open mind!  How about that!  I’m even going to send this blog post to my "Theo-praxis" email list…people who I email regularly and engage in debate and conversation about contemporary theology and Christ-praxis.  I can’t wait to read some of your comments as well as some of theirs.  THEN, I’m going to talk to my wife Vicky and possibly move to Florida.  More to come…

Talking to Students about M.T.D.

As I said in my last post, I’m in Vancouver BC this week…teaching a course on Adolescent Development and Family Systems.  It is all good…good class…good bunch of students.  I’m having a good time.  One of the snapshots of reality that we hang on for a while was noted in Christian Smith’s book, Soul Searching.  After a multi-year analysis of American (Western) teens (the National Study of Youth and Religion), Christian came to the conclusion that most students are in reality not "doctrinally" sound or even "orthodox" Christians.  Most are what he calls, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deists".  This is a very important study and a very provocative conclusion especially when one considers the fact that students LEARN this brand of theology from somewhere…in other words, this belief system doesn’t just "appear" out of a vacuum.  It is something that is "learned" from observation and participation in what most of them are exposed to in not only the culture at large but the Christian sub-culture in specific. 

Here is a sum of M.T.D. from the book:

Despite what the scriptures teach about God (for example, the  word “Lord” (adonia, YHWH in Hebrew , kurios in Greek – the word for Lord used 6604 times in entire bible, 186 times in gospels alone), that being that God is supreme in authority, beyond definition, so holy other that the Jews didn’t even say or write the name of God…God has become more of our mascot in our culture and less Lord – God has become domesticated, tamed, spiritualized and trivialized.  Most students would say that "Jesus is my best friend and buddy"…adults sometimes refer to God as superficial “the man upstairs”. 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – has become the “Operational Theology” of life:

  • Religion operates in the background of life
  • Religious living in a substantially socially weak position
  • Pragmatic view of spirituality – “if it makes me a better person”
  • Individualistic, instinctively autonomous and self-directed
  • Morality – very minimal – “just don’t be a jerk”
  • OK to be moderately religious as long as you are NOT a fanatic
  • One student was quoted to say, “I’ll get serious about religion before I die…now I’m just trying to get laid”
  • Most students are inarticulate about faith and are very “compartmentalized” in practicing their faith if they practice it at all
  • “God doesn’t require much of you…if you want to follow him, that’s OK…if you blow it, he’ll forgive you”
  • the MTD Creed – “God exists and watches over the world; he wants people to be good, nice and fair; the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself; God doesn’t need to be involved in your life unless you need him to solve a problem; good people go to heaven when they die”
  • Moralist – be a good person, nice, kind, respectful, responsible, successful, fulfill your potential, a person others like, take care of your health, don’t be disruptive, “just don’t be an a**ho**”
  • Therapeutic – feel good, happy, at peace, very subjective, don’t concentrate on sin or anything bad, get along with others
  • Deist – distant God, not involved in daily life, designs life and leaves us alone, cannot be demanding, Cosmic Butler, worst thing God can do is NOT provide his blessings to us, the reason things are going bad in the world is that God is not as famous as he once was…he’s on vacation, “he believes in forgiving people and what not”
  • Religion provides feelings of mental and psychological security, helps you with a positive attitude toward life, helps you through problems, helps you be more successful, “whatever makes you feel good about you”

I commend this book, the new dvd as well as this assessment to you…take it seriously.  It is something that every leader needs to take seriously…in other words, what is the net result of our teaching and leadership in the home and in local churches?  Are students understanding the truth about God or are they becoming, in reality, syncretists…blending religious systems for their own convenience?  There are great questions that surface from within Smith’s excellent work…I would start asking them and discussing them if I were you!  More to come…it’s getting late and I need to get some sleep!

Oh Canada!

Canada_flagI’m back in my second favorite place in the world…the great nation of Canada…I’m sitting in my hotel room watching SportCentre (ESPN in Canada) which runs hockey highlights and analysis 24/7.  Gotta love that!  Then, it is on to Timmy Ho’s for the great morning bagels and diet cokes…woa!  The wine in British Columbia is even good!  Go figure!  Anyway, I’m teaching a week intensive course on Adolescent Development and Family Systems at Pacific Life Bible College –  home of my bud Dennis Hixson and YLI alums Josh and Nate and Russell Hixon as well as new home to Christine Clark…yep, that Christine (T-Bay Drama Queen).  So, it is all good!  Hockey…good friends…teaching…students…fellowship…the beautiful Canadian landscape!  Just causes you to want to sing a few choruses of "O Canada". 

One of the best blog posts I’ve read in a long time – the paradox of Christ-following Praxis!

Blind Beggar posted this today…it is one of the best things I read in a while because it summarizes the "ancient-future" nature of Christian praxis (individually and corporately).  Actually, living in "tension" is the best way to live…it is grace-filled in a way in that it breaks down the pride in us that wants to say that what we do and think and say is "right" at the expense of everything and everyone else.  Enjoy this…comment at will!

I don’t know about you, but I find myself living in a world between.
Living in the tension between ubiquitous opposites. Sometimes this
tension is the result of seeing “what is” verses “what it should be.”
Other times it is the result of attempting to live with the paradox of
equally good opposites.

I see this world between as good. It is a place where God is able to
mold and form me. As one author wrote, this “tension is that space
between stability and change.”

Here is my short list of areas where I find myself living in the tension:

  • attractional vs. incarnational
  • community vs. buildings
  • decisions vs. disciples
  • demographics vs. discernment
  • dialogical vs. monological
  • egalitarian vs. hierarchical
  • faith vs. works
  • grace vs. truth
  • informal vs. formal
  • models vs. movements
  • ordained vs. the ordinary
  • organizations vs. organisms
  • participant vs. audience
  • postmodern vs. modern
  • producer vs. consumer
  • professional vs. passionate
  • programs vs. processes
  • seating vs. sending
  • services vs. service
  • settler vs. pioneer
  • structured vs. organic
  • uniformity vs. diversity
  • younger vs. older

What others can you think of?
How do you deal with living in the tension?
How can we leverage the opportunities inherent in this tension?

It is always a great Christian witness to see something like this!

Cover_3
Ok – I’m becoming an election cynic…but I always love seeing a bible on the cover of a national magazine along with the words, "blood" and "hate" next to them.  Isn’t that just wonderful!  No wonder the culture sees Christianity as irrelevant and bigoted.  The Kingdom’s public image in contemporary culture needs some fixing…the only way to do that is through lives filled more with love and life than blood and hate.  More to come…

Good thoughts on Missional Leadership

If you were my son Aaron, you would say, "hey this guy is a bitter tool".  But I’ve been fond of Dave Fitch’s writing since The Great Giveaway was published.  Below are some of Dave’s thought on Missional Leadership.  Interestingly enough, many of these thoughts are good summaries of the lifestyle that I am attempting to live these days in my life.  Take a look and see what YOU think!  If you agree with Aaron, email him!  If you don’t, still email him!

SOME OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING MISSIONAL LEADERS by David Fitch

1.  THEY WILL BE SURVIVORS

Enduring missional leaders learn how to survive financially and spiritually for the long term. They must be able to hold down a job that does not consume him/her, merely enable them to live simply for the long term. In Christendom, the denominations used to pay someone to go plant a church. This would usually be one person who was unusually gifted and (based upon the above premises) and could get a self-sufficient church going in three years. This person was in essence paid to extend an organization, open up a franchise, and set up a version of church with the distinctives of the denomination. In the new post-Christendom, this doesn’t make sense. In my opinion it takes at least 5 years of "seeding a community" before one even begins to see an ethos of community and new life develop that can be a cultural carrier-transmitter of the gospel. As a result, the new missional community leaders must have patience, steady faithfulness and the ability to live simply. They must be able to get jobs and not see the ministry as a privileged full time vocation. They must have a mental image of how they are going to sustain their lives financially, relationally, spiritually and personally. It all must take the shape of a sustainable rhythm. In my experience, these kinds of leaders are often found among the young and disenchanted evangelicals. I have learned they merely need a vision and a support network and they are willing to sacrifice in ways my generation never would.

2.  THEY WILL BE COMMUNAL SHEPHERDS

I have found that missional leaders are most often shepherds of an overall ethos of a community. They are not starting and managing an organization. They may not even be good at organization. Instead they are cultivating a communal sense of mission identity among a gathering people "for this time and place". It used to be every church planter had to be an extravert entrepreneur, someone who looked good and had the perfect family. Single people need not apply. This person had to be a good salesman (woman) and had to have endless energy. He or she had to set a vision, direct a course, motivate and sell. Now I certainly can see that many of these qualities are helpful in starting new things. Yet I have seen, in this new era, that the missional leader is most often someone who can take time and be with people. He or she will listen to people, discern the needs, articulate where we are going, knit the community together in a common struggle with gentleness, encouragement, listening. For we do not gather as we once did to hear a charismatic leader preach an entertaining piece of inspiration. We do not gather for a professional piece of programmed worship experience. In the new post-Christendom we are coming together to be formed and shaped, supported and edified for the Mission as a band of brothers and sisters. Yes we do gather on Sundays to hear the Word, to be nourished at the Table, and respond to what God is calling us to, but we do all this not as individual but as a community, a community "sent out" into mission.
These kinds of leaders do not grow on trees. I think they must be mentored in character for the patience and faithfulness such shepherding requires. That type A person who is always selling something or programming something has a role – don’t get me wrong. But missional communities will not grow unless there is a nurturing sustaining presence prodding for the long term. Leaders that can adapt, roll with the punches, and shepherd communally are more valuable than the high-powered "strong starters" who wish to be gone in two years. These leaders are mentored not through leadership conferences and books. Instead, we must have regular times together to practice together listening, mutual submission, responding with love and guiding instead of dictating. We look together for what God is doing in our lives and in and around our community.

3.  THEY WILL BE INTERPRETIVE LEADERS

Rarely do missional leaders lead their communities as a feature Bible teacher who dictates the a.’s and b’s of Biblical doctrine. Rather they are interpreters of what God is doing communally through the teaching and preaching of Scripture. They read Scripture in community and preach looking for what God is calling us to in the neighborhoods. It used to be that every church planter would be this high-towered charismatic gifted preacher. He (normally a man) would draw the crowds. Soon a crowd would be gathered to hear "the show." These days are past, not because you cannot attract dissatisfied or thrill seeking Christians from other churches with a great preacher, but because we have seen that true spiritual growth occurs communally only when the whole congregation is involved in times of praying, hearing, submitting and responding to the Word. Interpretive leaders(1) do not dictate from the pulpit a list of do’s and don’ts and solutions from God for every problem. They interpret the Scriptures to open our eyes to what God is doing and where He is taking us. In a different way then, we must mentor leaders who are more than great preachers. They must lead their communities in interpreting what God is doing via the eyeglass of Scripture. Where is God taking us, where is he calling us? His/her sermons therefore fund the corporate imagination of God’s Kingdom in our midst and where He is at work in our everyday lives. And when conflicts arise, we sit and pray, submit, pray for courage and humility and discern the Scriptures for the journey we are in called God’s mission. This kind of leader often does not come from our (all too often) modernist seminaries. They are grown in a community who gathers to worship the Triune God so as to discern Him at work in our midst.

4.  THEY WILL BE DIRECTORS OF SPIRITUAL FORMATION

I believe that missional leaders must know how to guide the community in a spiritual formation. Admittedly, this kind of leadership is not common among younger evangelicals at least. Yet I still believe that the development of communal worship liturgies that are historically thick yet still local and organic, is crucial for these times. For we now recognize that the consumerist forces of our post Christendom Canada (and even worse United States) cannot be resisted as an isolated individual. An individual alone cannot resist the forces of desire that tell us a five bedroom house, two new cars are more important than Mission, the life itself we share with the Triune God. Our communities therefore must be places of spiritual formation, of resistance to the forces of distraction, unsatiated desire and exploitation of those we choose not to know.  This means that our Sunday/Saturday? gatherings must be places of spiritual formation, encouragement and sending out for Mission. We must ever navigate against putting on a show that will attract, yet develop a liturgy that is simple, accessible and Scriptural that thereby guides our lives into Christ and keeps us from the distractions that would take us from Mission. I know that liturgy is a difficult pill to swallow these days for the newly arriving missional leaders. But there will be no missional community of people formed and shaped for mission if we just preach Mission as a legalistic requirement. Mission requires patience, a sense of vision and a self-denial that can only be trained in the simple organic disciplines/liturgies of the historic church.

5.  THEY WILL BE LEADERS WHO GIVE AWAY POWER

Missional leaders that have served for any length of time have learned how die to their ego’s and allow God to use every man and woman’s gifts in the community for the furtherance of His Kingdom. Hierarchy is the product of Christendom. It hails to a day when Christianity still held power in society, when, Jesus was still established as a given in Canada (even when the protestant liberal Jesus dominated Canada, there still remained an authority and respect for who Jesus was). Hierarchy made sense in a day when the preacher in the town was looked up to and held power. This world, when one man could wield influence and get things done in the name of Christ, is waning. As a result, no one man or woman can lead a community from the top down and expect the church to go on as a viable social reality. We cannot be the very Body of Christ if we do not empower the manifold gifts in the community to minister the kingdom as part of everyday life. If we even try to operate out of the old hierarchical ways, missional communities will flounder and their leaders will die from exhaustion. I have seen it happen over and over.  It is my belief therefore that missional leadership needs always to be multiple. Most missional pastors/leaders need to be bi-vocational (bi-ministerial) for their own survival. Such leaders must learn to mutually submit to the other leaders as they guide the journey of the community. They must mutually learn to mentor leaders and give away power. Different strengths should be recognized among leaders and then multiply that leadership (following the APEPT model of Frost and Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come). This model subverts the CEO pastorate style we have all become so used to for each pastor gives away power instead of consolidating it. This kind of pastoral leadership models a kind of community for the rest to see instead of dictating the rest of the church to just do it. In this way, all shall own the leadership of this community and the journey we are on in the Mission. This kind of leadership needs to be modeled and practiced and it does not come easy in our day.

6.  THE PROMISE OF CANADA’S NEW MISSIONAL LEADERS (Robin’s note – Dave is a Canadian – don’t hold that against him!)

All of the above paints a picture of a leader mentality drastically different from the church planter of the past. Yet most (not all) of the missional leaders I have met possess strains of this new mentality. I believe this bodes well for the future. For I believe this next generation of pastors (in my experience coming mostly out of evangelicalism) provides hope for a renewal of Christianity in Canada. Like a fermenting revolution evolving out of a tired and reified ancien regime, these tiny bands of Christians have come on the scene committed to live a life together of worship, spiritual formation, community, hospitality and service to the poor (of all kinds). In ways never imagined by the machinations of the mega church, many of these bands are already infecting their neighborhoods with an embodied gospel that cannot be denied, only responded to. Knowing Christendom is gone, they carry no pretension. Instead they embody the gospel in its most compelling, authentic, non-coercive form. This new wave of Christians is small in number and possesses little to no resources financially. Most do not impress with their grandiose visions. They do not hang in the halls of power. They do not make a show of their successes. Yet their vision of a simple Christian habitat as witness in the world reminds me of the Irish missional orders God used to effect a profound conversion of European society in the 4th century. We have seen the world changed like this once before (read How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill). Could we be in the early stages of seeing God move in a similar fashion once again? Let us pray it be so.