Well, She’s Got a Point
Our middle daughter, Abby, does not like to play volleyball. She has got talent in volleyball and I think she could develop into a fine player. However, the last thing I want to do is put pressure on her to play.
Judy and I have offered several times to send Abby to volleyball camp this summer. While, not wanting to pressure her, we did want to encourage her. This week I told her, “Abby, you have a talent for volleyball.”
Abby’s reply, “Well, if I am so talented, why do I need to go to volleyball camp?” I laughed and conceded the logic of her position. Of course, were she to have an interest, she would allow volleyball camp to help her improve on her talent. Still, I recognize the signs of disinterest. I’ll choose my battles and concede on this one.
The Million Dollar Moment
ETCA graduation was last Saturday. As I mentioned last week, all of the faculty marched in the ceremony in their graduation gowns. I had to buy my last one; at least once a year I know I’ll use it!
I had the privilege of participating in last Saturday’s ceremony. Secondary faculty is asked to write letters to different Seniors. My senior was Collin Danforth.
I enjoyed reading his letter. The only tough part was the logistics. Deb Newman, former president of ETCA, was the main speaker. Deb, one of my favorite people, is, how should I say this? Diminutive. So the podium was hidden behind flowers, while all speakers stood on the next level of the stage, probably two feet higher than the part of the stage where the podium was located. That may work for Deb, but I felt like Abraham Lincoln. I almost needed a telescope to see my letter. Normally when I speak, I’ll pop out my right contact and leave my left in. My contacts are designed to compensate for my nearsightedness and help me see great distances—such as the distance from my eyes to the letter on the podium.
I found myself feeling terribly emotional and sentimental during the ceremony. My oldest daughter, Haleigh, will graduate in two years. Two years! It will be here so quickly. I so wanted to protest the march of time during the ceremony. It was all I could do to refrain from standing up and shouting, “Stop the insanity!” Followed, of course, by sobs and incoherent mutterings. Instead, I’ll save those for Haleigh’s actual graduation.
One bit of compensation for the weekend, though. Friday night, Judy, Haleigh, Abby, and I were going to sit down and watch “The Fugitive” together. Haleigh insisted that I sit on the couch with her saying, she will be gone in two years and that I had to sit by her. So she leaned up against me the entire movie as we watched together.
I wouldn’t trade that moment for a million dollars.
UnChristianI am late following up on the book UnChristian, which I completed recently. Written by two young men on staff with the Barna Institute, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, it’s basic premise is that those who fall in the 16-29 age group view evangelical Christians, and by extension probably most Christians, as behaving in a distinctly unchristian manner.
The Apostle Paul wrote two statements that have impacted me greatly:
"Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also." (II Cor. 5:18 TEV)
"We have been sent to speak for Christ." (II Cor. 5:20 NCV)
Representing Christ, whether it is speaking for him or living for him, is an awesome responsibility. One we should take seriously. With that in mind, I think we do well to learn more about those who are not Christians. UnChristian helps us in this endeavor.
One of the accomplishments of the book is it quantifies some of the challenges we face as Christians. With each generation, the percentage of the generation who choose not to become Christians (in the loose sense of the word) grows. 23 % of those over the age of 61 are unchurched. 27 % of the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1965) are unchurched. However, 40 % of those between the ages of 16-29 are unchurched.
I found other statistics equally interesting. Of all the outsiders who are between the ages of 16 to 29, 91% thought that Christians were anti-homosexual a lot of the time, or at least some of the time. 85% thought that Christians were a lot or somewhat hypocritical.
There were many reasons for the hypocrisy viewpoint. I was shocked by a study that was done where the authors analyzed the behavior of born-again Christians and compared it with the behavior of the unchurched.
In statistical terms, much of the moral behavior of the two groups was identical. When asked to identify their activities over the past 30 days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to use an illegal or non-prescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person's back. For those between the ages of 23 to 41 who claimed to be born-again, 59% believe cohabitation is morally acceptable.
Perhaps this study reflects one reason why so many unchurched people are skeptical when it comes to Christianity. And remember, we are identified with this group. As the authors phrased it, “born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives.”
The authors also analyze the world view of born-again Christians. They provided eight categories of a biblical world view. The authors write that a person with a biblical world view is one who believes:
1. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life
2. God is the all powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and he still rules of today
3. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned
4. Satan is real
5. A Christian has a responsibility to share his faith or her faith in Christ with other people
6. The Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches
7. Unchanging moral truth exists
8. Such moral truth is defined by the Bible
Guess how many born-again believers between the ages of 18 to 41 believe those eight doctrines? Three out of every 100.
I have found much of UnChristian to be thought provoking. I would even say that I agree with most of the book’s findings and interpretations. I do disagree with some areas and I will highlight one.
The authors’ study found that 75 % of those unchurched between the ages of 16-29 believe that Christians are too political. I have heard this argument over the past few years from Christians as well. I have no problem with that view as long as it is held with integrity. Unfortunately, I believe that typically “being too political” is code for voting for the Republican Party.
Now, the Republican Party is no friend of mine. Neither is the Democratic Party. If you like, I can entertain you for hours with problems I find in both. However, too many folks who are making these charges are being unfair at best and hypocritical at worst.
One typical example: Christian author Brian McLaren is quoted extensively in the book lamenting the political involvement of the “Religious Right.” Brian McClaren has actively campaigned for candidates for the Democratic Party, including his heavy participation in the candidacy of Barak Obama. I think Jesus referred to this attitude as preoccupation with the speck in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the log in your own.
I see McClaren’s behavior as typical and consistent with the tone of this book. Moreover, I understand that many Christians today agree with McClaren.
I do not endorse all of Jim Wallis’ political positions, but he at least comes clean in this book. Wallis, a well-known author, preacher and activist, states, “Christians should be involved in politics. The question isn’t should we engage?” but “how?”
Wallis’ attitude is much more authentic, but he is the exception in this book. I think UnChristian would have been more genuine had the authors been more forthcoming. Inconsistency tends to irritate me.
I would not allow these exceptions to prevent you from reading the book. Just remember it is like eating the proverbial fish—plenty of meat, but pick out the bones.
Preaching in the 21st Century
Most of us have been created with five senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Do we ignore these in preaching? In his book, The Power of Multi-Sensory Preaching and Teaching, Rick Blackwood makes that powerful case that we do not.
I believe that Blackwood makes a strong case from scripture and religious teaching that God has historically sought to reach us with his message through the senses. For example, in I John 1:1, the apostle John states, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (NIV). Notice he lists three senses with which the incarnation of Jesus connected: “heard”, “seen”, and “touched”.
The sense of smell was emphasized in the tabernacle of the Old Testament through the burning of incense. Indeed, the Tabernacle itself was a visual aid to teach God’s people about the holiness of God and, I think, to help point toward the Messiah.
In my fellowship, every Sunday, we have the opportunity to be reminded of the presence of God through the vehicle of taste. The Bible calls it, The Lord’s Supper. The point is that God has always engaged people through the tools of his creation: the senses. His preachers have done the same, often at His command.
God directed Jeremiah to carry the yoke of an ox, he told Ezekiel to basically build a model city complete with armies laying siege, he told Hosea to marry a hooker—okay, I do not recommend going that far. The point is preaching and teaching in a way that connects with the multiple senses is imitating an imaginative and inventive God. It is a form of WWGD—what would God do.
Want WWJD? Think about the imagination of Jesus. He referred to vines, and branches. He used wheatfields and children. He took his disciples on site to observe people giving money, and, yes, he spoke occasionally to the thousands.
I would commend Rick Blackwood’s book to you for reading. I have purchased a copy for each member of our staff, three members of our worship ministry team, and for each of our elders. Blackwood quantifies and illustrates what I have been learning for myself from scripture and experience.
Preaching with a view to incorporate the senses is biblical and it is acting like God. I think it is also our greatest hope for inspiring our congregations to love scripture. More on that next week.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. Reading Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot, makes me want to see the movie Vertigo again.
2. I saw where Elizabeth Adeney is about to become the oldest mother in Great Britain. She is eight months pregnant and is 66 years old. Judy, do not get any ideas.
3. From the category of “What have you done for me lately?” I saw that Lee Iacocca will no longer be paid the pension that is owed him and his life-long company car is, well, no longer “life-long.” Because Chrysler recently filed for bankruptcy, that have reneged on their agreement with Iacocca. If you are old enough to remember, once-upon-a-time, Chrysler was on the verge of ruin. Lee Iacocca become the company’s president and CEO and not only rescued Chrysler, but he turned it into a thriving company once again. My guess is that Chrysler’s message, informing Iacocca of their decision, included a word of gratitude from the board of directors for all of his years of service.
4. I want to see “Night at the Museum II” this weekend. I hope it is as funny as the first one.
5. There is not a single TV program that I watch. Is it me or them?
It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming
I have been a part of organizations where I was disconnected. In the sixth grade, I was a Boy Scout—for one month. The troop had already formed. Tommy Cook had invited me to join and I did. I went to three meetings and a weekend campout at Dangerfield State Park. I never really invested myself. Advancing in scouting seemed like so much—work. You earned merit badges. That’s fine if you are about helping people and making your community a better place, but I certainly was not about things like that.
After the campout, my dad picked me up at the Scout Hut. He had purchased me a horse that happened to be with foal. I left for my scout campout without a pet; I returned as the owner one horse, almost two. I retired from scouting to devote myself to my horses. You might say I wanted to spend more time with my family.
Through the years, I have developed a formula for hanging around organizations without making a commitment. Stay at the back, observe but do not participate, say little, and commit to nothing. Then when you want to disengage yourself, it is easy.
I may have stolen my formula from Satan. I have noticed through the years, this has been a technique practiced by many Christians as well. I’ve noticed in Ephesians, one of the Apostle Paul’s methods to head off Christian drop-out. Paul encourages Christians to connect:
11Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, 12so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. 13This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him (Eph. 4:11-14--CEV).
Paul says that God wants the church leaders to cultivate a spirit and an ability to serve so that the congregation can grow strong and mature—like Jesus. Plugging into the congregation = a growing commitment, which = becoming more like Jesus: “Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head 16of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love” (Eph. 4:15b-16) [CEV].
When I lived in Winters, TX, I was preaching, working on a doctorate, and trying help raise a family. In Winters, all of the churches would pool their resources together to help the poor and the people who were hurting. The preachers and leaders from different churches worked together in the administration of this ministry.
I tried to be an “attender” to these meetings—no more. Gradually, members would talk me in to helping out. One month, it would be stuffing envelopes. Another month, it would be helping out at the food pantry. Little by little, I was becoming committed and feeling passionate about the work that we were doing. One day, I attended a meeting, and they voted me president! How did that happen?
Little by little, I had become more connected to the cause. The vision of the community became my vision. One day, the other members of the Relief Fund deemed I had “matured” to the point of being ready to serve as president.
I think Paul has a similar vision for Christians. All Christians are priests. All Christians are ministers. Whatever gift or gifts we have (see also Rom. 12:4-8 and I Cor. 12), we use them to serve the body. The byproduct of this service is an increased commitment to Christ through an increased commitment to His body—the church. Moreover, by letting us serve, the body of Christ helps us to grow to be more like Jesus.
Have a great weekend!