Monday, October 25, 2010

Speed Read the Bible!

Five years ago, the publishing company, Broadman and Holman, released the LIGHT SPEED STUDY BIBLE. Who needed the ONE-YEAR STUDY BIBLE? With the LIGHT SPEED STUDY BIBLE, anyone with a seventh grade reading level could read through every word of the Bible, “with good comprehension”! Something tells me this might not be a good idea.

I may not be a born multi-tasker, but I became one pretty early in life. Family members used to get irritated with me on vacations because I would play card games with them—cards in one hand—while reading a book held by the other (and engaging in the conversation.)
Sometimes multi-tasking has been helpful to me. Other times, I think it has proven harmful.
I know more and more people are wrestling with this. Ever have that woman behind you at the stop light during early morning traffic, staring at her rear view mirror, putting on makeup with one hand and talking on the cell phone held by the other? Not good.
The fifty-plus verses in the Bible, talking about meditation, scream out to me the need for us to slow down when it comes to Scripture. Instead of being in such a hurry, God’s Word is calling for us to R-E-L-A-X. Breathe. Chill.
I am all for goal setting. I want to join the many, who want to squeeze everything out of the experience we call life. But we can go too far.
We, adrenaline junkies, probably need to be reminded that the important thing is not getting into the Scriptures; the important thing is allowing the Scriptures to get into us.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Friday night was magical; the Rangers, the Rangers!, are going to the World Series.

2. I told my church Sunday morning that I now understand why Diann Preston, the ETCA volleyball coach, let’s me film the matches from the rafters.
         During Saturday’s match, my daughter, Haleigh, hit a fantastic backcourt spike to gain the point at a critical juncture during the second game. The referee called it out. OUT!
         I knew this ref was ripping off my baby girl. Deep inside, my emotions welled up and I felt a deep desire to boo.
         Of course, this was appropriate, as I long as I booed to the glory of God and with the love of Christ.

3. We lost a heartbreaker Saturday to a team from Amarillo. This was after winning our playoff match Tuesday night against Dallas Westwood. Admittedly, Westwood was a young team and very green. Still, we won one game by a score of 25-1—that would be hard to do without anybody on the other side of the net. (Through the years, just observing teams passing the ball around or serving, I often see a lot of unforced errors. These, of course, are points for the other team.)
         The volleyball season is over. The great thing about sports, though, is it is a lot like life. You’ve got to move on. Now, we move on to basketball and hopefully, a great season.
4. Halloween comes up this weekend. I’ve got to confess, I’ve got a desire to have a family night, where all of us watch the old Don Knott’s movie, THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN.

5. On the Rangers TBS telecasts, I kept seeing the same Volkswagen commercial over and over again. Have you seen it? The guy takes all of these odd jobs to earn money to buy a Volkswagen—all to the tune of Wynn Stewart’s song, “Another Day, Another Dollar.” (Hilarious commercial by the way.) That song grew on me so much, I downloaded it to my iPhone. Incidentally, that song was not a hit for Stewart. He died in 1985 of a heart attack at the age of 51. Interesting, the power of the media—a quarter century after a man’s death, an Ad firm selects a song and makes him more well known than he was during his lifetime.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Rule of 150

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book, TIPPING POINT, human beings are limited in the amount of information their brains can contain. Once humans “pass a certain boundary, we become overwhelmed.”

Maintaining a relationship with a best friend requires a minimum investment of time. Any more time spent requires drawing from a reservoir containing emotional energy. It is exhausting to care for someone deeply. Most people can handle deep, close, personal relationships with 10 to 15 others. After that, overload begins.

The amount of people with whom we can maintain a simple social relationship expands. Most humans can socially interact with approximately 150 people. As Gladwell says, these would be the people that you and they would feel comfortable getting together in a restaurant, should you accidentally run into them.

This number has held true in various cultures throughout the last several decades. This reality has social implications. Studies have indicated repeatedly that is hard to get more than 150 people “sufficiently familiar with each other so they can work together as a functional unit.”

Corporations exist that recognize the reality of the rule of 150, and organize their corporate culture around this principle. Gore Associates is a privately held, multimillion dollar high-tech firm based in Newark Delaware.

A major portion of their strategy has been this: in organizational planning and structure, observe the rule of 150. No single entity within the corporation grows past this point. If one plant approaches 150 employees, a new plant is built. When it approaches 150 employees, another plant is built. By doing so, Gore assures itself that each employee works well relationally with the other employees in each plant. Output is at maximum capacity.

I'm wondering if the rule of 150 has implications for church work. Perhaps, we in congregations would do well to organize ourselves in such a way that we assure that no member is expected to work with and relate well to more than 150 other people.

Perhaps it would be beneficial for leadership to emphasize community taking place within the context of small groups, Bible classes, shepherding groups, and other units of relationship. Maybe it is time we recognize that to expect our members to know more than150 other members is taxing. In doing so, we are placing a burden upon them they are not capable of bearing.

It could be for this reason the average church in the United States maintains a membership of less than 100. This is not to say congregations cannot grow larger than 150 members. Indeed, our church is larger than this, and I hope we grow to be even larger. There are many blessings a larger church can offer, unique to its size. I know, I have done foreign mission work with groups of less than twenty people. Believe me, there are limits to smallness!

Still, a church larger than 150 could be guilty of asking its members to offer more than they are capable of delivering. This is exasperating to them, and it reduces the ability of the church to minister. Ultimately, members typically express their frustration or pain by quietly leaving the church.

Maybe I should not be surprised to read about the rule of 150. After all, Jesus had huge crowds, but he did not pretend to know each crowd member on an individual basis. Instead, he sought to relate to people on a much more intimate level. He reduced the masses into a group of 120, then there were the 70, then there were the 12 apostles, then there were the three apostles closest to Jesus (Peter, James, and John), and then, finally, there was the disciple whom Jesus loved–John.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1.  TIPPING POINT came out a few years ago, but it is still extremely relevant. I found it a useful read and would recommend you skim it.

2.  Rangers win Game 5 against Tampa, lose Game 1 (heartbreaker!) against the Yankees, and then dominate Game 2. What’s next? Tonight, Cliff Lee vs. Andy Pettitte. It should be fun to watch.

3.  May a church never love me like the Dallas Cowboys love Wade Phillips.

4. Blessings to you, Lady Panthers, in your playoff game Tuesday night.

5. Thanks to John and Trish Eastland, I am in Dallas today listening to Troy Aikman, General Colin Powell, and more. This should be a good day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Ultimate Trump Card

“The Lord laid it on my heart…” How many times has a friend said these words to you? It puts things in a special category. “Who am I to go against the Lord?”

Randy Harris calls this statement the ultimate trump card. For this reason, Christians must approach, with extreme caution, the deployment of this phrase for the benefit of other people. I know; I am a preacher; I face this challenge every week.

The problem can be linked to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus said, 33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one (Matt. 5:33-37).

He was not simply saying keep your promises. As Dallas Willard writes, Jesus is also confronting the temptation to use our words, invoking the sacred to manipulate others. I know of no other phrase in the church today that manipulates more people than “The Lord laid it on my heart…”

Of course, I am not saying the Lord refuses to “lay” things on people’s hearts. Nor am I warning others to never approach someone with that phrase. What I am saying is be very, very careful.

You put people in a very difficult position when you approach them with those words. Good manners tug at them to be nice to you, listen to you, and maybe even try to do what you tell them—especially, if you invoke the Lord.

Here is what I recommend you do when you approach someone with this message:

1. Expect, yea, encourage, the individual you are approaching to not simply take your word for it. Ask them to search the Scriptures, pray, and contemplate what you are saying. After all, you, like them, are fallen. I try to remind myself to do this with the Bible in a Bible study or sermon. I will tell people, “Don’t simply take my word for it, read and study for yourself.”

2. Take a page out of Jesus’ book. Jesus let people decide for themselves. He did not manipulate them into doing His will.

3. Maintain a spirit of humility. I cannot tell you how many times, in all of my years of preaching, I have observed personal growth through this observation: thoughts I expressed in an earlier sermon (or even sermons!) were wrong. To me, Scripture is even easier to interpret than the Spirit’s prompting; yet, I have, on occasion, gotten that wrong. I would think that the mysterious prompting of the Spirit is even more difficult to interpret. When it comes to God telling you what other people should do, please remain humble.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1.    Wow! What a strange week for the Rangers. First, I was thrilled they won a game in Tampa. Then, I was thrilled they stole two. Next, I was disappointed they didn’t clinch in Arlington. Now, I’m wondering if they can pull it off in Game 5. Who knows?

2.    At least, we can always count on the Cowboys.

3.    I wish to share an opinion, I believe is not political because I know people in both parties who agree with me. Having lived in Latin America five years, I’m convinced there is a better way to help those countries.
Why spend billions each year maintaining the status quo, when we can empower people to reach their potential and help their countries become first world nations. Anything we in the U. S. and Texas, can do to encourage free trade will accomplish that end. Now, if ultimately we do not wish for Latin American nations to join the “First World”, it is time we own up to that.

4.    Had a friend tell me last week that Disney’s new movie, SECRETARIAT, is one for the entire family.

5. I’ve got to admit, there is something fun about taking Monday’s off.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hate Crimes

Likely, you have heard about the recent suicide of the Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi. Apparently, Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Ravi’s friend, Molly Wei, used their technological skills to broadcast to the world on the Internet, Clementi engaging in sex with another man.

Obviously, Ravi and Wei should face the greatest possible punishment by the Law. One does not have to agree with Clementi’s sexual activity to be repulsed by Ravi and Wei’s cruel act. Their work fails to pass any biblical, theological, or religious test.

Because of this case, the past few days, I have been hearing a renewed effort for hate crime prosecution and even stronger hate crime legislation. 

I have a concern about that. How do you determine motive? In Christianity, churches are often visited by people who desire to become a part. When the guest is a complete stranger, the question is sometimes raised–is this person truly a Christian?

Perhaps, one of the reasons the Bible offers as one of the blessings of baptism, entrance into the Church, is because baptism offers an external indication–given by God–that this person is truly committed to serving Jesus Christ as a disciple. After all, in baptism, in front of witnesses, the individual is confessing Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Yet, no one knows for sure what is in the person's heart. Only God truly knows. All we, in churches, have to go on is the external act.

To me, “hate crime” legislation smacks of “playing God.” It is rooted in the fundamental belief that humans are capable of seeing inside another person's heart.

What if people were punished (or rehabilitated) based upon their actions and not upon their motives? I remember years ago, a public official being castigated for not supporting hate crime legislation. As I recall, the case was brought up, in which three Caucasian men cruelly mistreated an African American man—and he died in the midst the brutal acts. And so one question was asked--would not this case be an excellent example of the need for hate crime legislation?

The official answered by saying that the state had prosecuted the three white men for murder. The men were convicted and received the full force of the law. How do you improve upon the justice of a murder conviction?

If everyone is made in the image of God, can we honestly say one crime is more evil than another simply because of the victim’s gender, sexual preference, nation of origin, or race? Is there a hierarchy of intents, each higher rung a motive more evil?

Pondering these things, I could not help but think about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you (Matt. 5:21-23)  NLT.

One could make the argument that Jesus establishes what is in one's heart before any crime—anger, hostility, and contempt. (Of course, Jesus is addressing the heart problems of all humans—something called sin.) This reduces another human being to an object. There can be no greater fundamental wrong.

Perhaps, by the standards of Jesus, every crime is a hate crime.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. I was surprised to see the third volume of Larry McMurtry’s autobiography on my public library’s shelf last week. It’s called HOLLYWOOD: A THIRD MEMOIR. It is a short book. A person can read it quickly, probably in an afternoon.             
             McMurtry recounts anecdotes about any interaction he had with Hollywood over the past fifty years. In some cases, he opened the curtain and offered me information I had not known. For example, he goes into detail about the numerous scripts he worked that have been filed away by producers—probably to never be made into films. No matter how you cut it, that adds up to a lot of failure. Without being intentional, McMurtry reminds us that even successful writers fail—probably much more often than unsuccessful writers. (Possibly because unsuccessful writers quit too soon and move into something else.)
            I often found eager to hear his behind the scenes story about a famous movie he worked on—only to be disappointed. I probably should not be. He early on bluntly writes, he had limited involvement in most movies he participated in. Furthermore, he rarely went to the set.
            Still, considering the investment of time, it is a worthy read.

2. I wrote off the Texas Longhorns, when Mack Brown announced last spring, UT was abandoning the spread for a more traditional running game. However, I completely agree with his decision.
            Mack is looking at the big picture. In today’s college world, rare is the time that can carry two big-time quarterbacks, who can run the spread. As we saw in January, qb’s sometimes get hurt.
            Alabama shows a team can win a national championship with an incredible defense, great special teams, an incredible offense line committed to running the ball, and a good, but not great, quarterback.
            Garrett Gilbert will be an excellent quarterback. Next year, should he get hurt, the Horns will be fine with his back up. Right now, Texas is in transition.

3. Want to see the Rangers beat the Rays? Watch this. Tampa Bay wins in four games. You’re welcome.

4. Every year I appreciate Columbus Day more. I stay home with the kids, and it provides a nice break.

5. We’re about to try the NETFLIX trial run, thanks to Patrick Leech. With what we pay each month in delayed REDBOX returns, I’m sure we would more than make up the difference going full-time with NETFLIX.