Monday, February 28, 2011

What Church Should Look Like: A Community Where Different Races Can Come Together

            The L. B. J. Library contains an oral collection of an event that took place in the early 1960s. Politicians and true believers in the segregated South decided to pursue their agenda in a non-confrontational way.
            Somehow, they persuaded themselves to believe that the vast majority of their fellow African-American citizens were pleased with their second–class status. In their minds, since most of their black friends went about each day working as tenant farmers, day laborers, or domestic workers, quietly and without complaint, they were happy with their place in society. Hence, the mission of these politicians was to convey to the rest of the country this great truth.
            The leaders of this group found an older black man, who had been living by the Southern traditions for decades. They asked him if he would tell his story on a national television broadcast. He agreed to do so.
            A professional director was hired to film the testimony of the elderly gentleman. However, he insisted that the testimonial must be spontaneous to be authentic. Consequently, the old man “was duly positioned on the porch of his ramshackle cabin, seated in his rocking chair, attired in his tattered work clothes.”
            All was made ready and the director said, “Now when we get ready we’re going to give you the signal to go, and just start talking and tell people in your own words just how you feel.”
            The red light on the camera lit up in the director gave the old man the signal to talk. The old man asked, “Is it time to talk now?” He was assured that it was indeed, time.
            The gentleman asked, “Now can I say anything I want to?” Again he was assured, this time with more urgency, that he could indeed speak.
            At that point, the older black gentleman turned to the camera, raised his voice, and shouted, “Help!”
            This story summarizes in a grandiose way the struggle races have of bridging the gap of understanding. This is nothing new. My ancestors faced these challenges two millennia ago with the people of God.           
            As a Gentile, I am acutely aware of the implications of what Jesus was saying in the parable of the great banquet in Luke:
             15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
             16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’
             21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet’” (Luke 14:15-24).
            Jesus was talking about my ancestors. Jesus was talking about me.
            To the Israelites, we Gentiles were the folks on the other side of the track. Luke relates in his gospel, and in his follow-up work, Acts, God’s heart for the Gentiles—God’s heart for the world.
            The Apostle Paul was one of the first Jewish Christians to understand God’s heart for the Gentiles. He traversed many rough passages to bring us into God’s community. He lost his life over this effort. Gratitude demands that I seek to extend to others the same blessings I received.
            The cross of Jesus accomplished many things. One was this: it broke down the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Expanding that thought, the cross broke down the barrier between races.
            I once heard Tony Evans say that the church is Heaven’s Embassy on Earth. I agree. The church should be the community, where people of different races can rally around the cross. We share a common identity in Jesus.
            Several years ago, an Anglo friend of mine attended a family reunion. In his family, some of the members had married people from different races. For example, one cousin married a Korean, another cousin married a Hispanic, and—well, you get the idea.
            However, the family did not sit around at the reunion saying, "She's Hispanic..." or "She's Korean..." The reason was simple. Each individual carried the same last name. Consequently, everyone was treated like family.
            That's the way it should be in the church. We all come together and we all wear the name, "Christ." And that's all that should matter. I wish it were always that way.
            It bothers me that athletic teams have historically done a better job of this than churches. Seems like they have demonstrated more unity as “Red Sox,” or “Cowboys,” or “Lakers,” than we do as Christians.
            I feel much of this has to with the common goal they share. Most players allow the goal of winning a championship to transcend their own personal desires.
            The community of faith encompasses so many areas of life, and so many of these areas seem to root deeper into the human heart. There seems something so deep and so personal about worship in a public assembly. I have lived in Papua, New Guinea (for a very short period of time), South America, and Texas. I find that people of the same race have trouble finding unity in a worship assembly. Consequently, I am not shocked that I often read that “the hour of worship is the most segregated time in America.”
            I suspect we will not overcome this barrier, until the common goal of demonstrating the Kingdom of God overcoming the racial divisions of people, surpasses that of fulfilling personal preferences. If we can achieve this, though, we just might inspire more people turn to Jesus.

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

1. My daughter, Haleigh’s, basketball career is over. Saturday, she and the ETCA Lady Panthers played the defending state champion, Geneva Christian (out of Boerne), in an epic game.
            Geneva broke out to a 9-0 lead. ETCA plugged away, and plugged away, until they closed the gap at half time, 25-20.
            The third quarter, each team played savage defense. ETCA held Geneva to only seven points. Meanwhile, the Panthers scored only six themselves.
            The fourth quarter was magnificent. With a minute left, Samantha Phillips put the Panthers ahead for the first time in the game: 47-46. Geneva immediately went down the court and hit a three. ETCA had to foul, and Abby Leeder hit clutch free throws for Boerne Geneva. Ultimately, they won 51-49. Here is the link to TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH STORY of the game…
            Geneva deserved the victory. They played like champions.
            I harbor no complaints. Our girls’ two best games were their two last games. (Tuesday, ETCA defeated Wichita Falls’ Notre Dame 55-42.)

            Geneva heads to the Final Four. However, ETCA has reached new heights. I am so proud of these girls. For the ones who remain—next year!

2. My son’s baseball team has already started practice. When I was a kid, we played baseball in the summers.

3. I haven’t seen THE KING’S SPEECH. Evidently, I need to.

4. I don’t know why, but ever since I saw ENCHANTED, I have liked Amy Adams.

5. I started reading LBJ, ARCHITECT OF AMERICAN AMBITION doing some research (this blog’s opening account came from the book, p. 467) and I had a hard time putting it down. Out since 2006, Randall B. Woods has written a fascinating book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Church Should Look Like: A Place Where “Sinners” Can Come

             Several years ago, a movie was released called VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED. It was based on a true story. In 1939, several hundred German-Jewish refugees were fleeing Nazi Germany. They boarded a ship bound for Cuba and asylum. Before reaching Cuba, the ship was refused permission to dock and all visas were revoked.
            After being told they could not dock anywhere else, the ship was forced to turn around and head back to Germany. To many on board, that was tantamount to death.
            No one wanted to receive those Jews. Likewise, there are people today, who the church does not want to receive.
            Jesus cuts at the heart of this mindset when he says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
            “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12b-14).
            Jesus knows that the human instinct is to invite friends, invite folks like you. Too many times, Christians don’t want to invite people they perceive as being much more sinful.
            Of course, the irony here is that Jesus was putting most of us in the category of the “crippled, the lame…,” because most of us are Gentiles. Jesus’ Jewish audience placed us in this category.
            To be like Jesus, we Gentiles, who were extended grace long ago, must welcome the sinner. Granted, this is easier to say than to practice.
            I will never forget in January of 2007, a young man in his 20s visited our worship service. Another guest had brought him. I found out, the young man was from a halfway house. Having recently been released from federal prison, he was staying in that residence, until he could more fully integrate into society.
            Getting to know him, I found out that he had been convicted by the federal government for transporting child photography, on his computer, across state lines. This crime had placed him on the sexual offenders list maintained by the state of Texas.
            I also found out that this young man had been converted to Christ, while in federal prison in North Carolina. Thankfully, the Shiloh Church, where I preach, had loved him sufficiently that he wanted to become part of our church–but only if we would have him.
            What I want you to know is this: our elders almost immediately concluded that, unequivocally, Jesus would have us welcome this young man. That would be a given. Our job was to offer him reconciliation, community, and discipleship. We were to offer forgiveness AND accountability.
            What followed was a process of trying to implement the will of God. (I blogged about that story a couple of years ago, if you desire to know the details:
            I am pleased to say that through our elders’ wisdom and leadership, Shiloh did not lose a single family or member. Moreover, we were blessed later to baptize the young man’s future wife into Christ; she has a marvelous testimony as well. Today, both of them serve on my sermon advisory group.
            I tell this story because it illustrates the challenge churches face today in living out Luke 14. I know of no other member of society more marginalized than one who carries the label “sex offender.” (Our Shiloh family member has had a TV station film the outside of his and his young wife’s apartment—a random act given as background for a news story on sex offenders’ in Tyler.)
            On the other hand, the blessings our church has received for this leap of faith have been incalculable.
            I hold no illusions. Tension will always be present. I suspect the act of offering welcome to those who feel genetically predisposed toward homosexuality will provide the tensest test for churches. Churches will experience a fluctuating “comfort zone.” (“Is he dating him, or are they just friends?”)
         Still, we must find a way to navigate this. We must offer a call for healing and holiness.
            I know we, at Shiloh, must leap out in faith even more. We must pursue, with deep intention, the creation of this type of atmosphere, where one who has strayed from God can come and feel welcomed. After all, all of us were there once. If you don’t believe me, just ask a first-century Jew. Better yet, ask the first-century Jesus. 

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I started watching the movie INCEPTION Saturday night. Couldn’t finish it because I got sleepy. I will see the rest soon. All I could think of was, “This proves you don’t have to understand all of the REVELATION to get something out of it.

2. I’m pulling for TRUE GRIT and its stars in Sunday’s Academy Awards.

3. Spring training had started. I pay little attention to baseball until the season begins. Between spring training and baseball season, we have the Final Four for NCAA college basketball.

4. According to TIME, we are on the verge of being able to leave our wallets at home in favor of our smart phones.

5. Congratulations ETCA girls basketball team. Your beat Hill Country Christian 65-30, last week. Good luck tomorrow in your Area game vs. Wichita Falls Notre Dame.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Wonderful Mr. Roosevelt

In my mind, Theodore Roosevelt was, without question, the most amazing American this nation has ever produced. He was a genetic freak, who encompassed strengths normally found on the opposite end of the spectrum:
            He was an intellectual, who was people person.
            In his lifetime, Roosevelt wrote over thirty-five books and well over 100, 000 letters. During the course of his life, he read thousands of books, which included complex works on German warfare-in German and ancient Greek classics-in the original Greek.
            Yet, TR cultivated friendships with people, which transcended economic and social strata and lasted a lifetime. Because of his family’s social position and travels, Roosevelt formed friendships with members of Europe’s upper class, dating from his youth. He was equally at home in the old west, having lived in the Dakota badlands during the DEADWOOD era. Cowboys from that time remained his friends until death.
            He was a brilliant natural scientist, who loved poetry and literature.
            Beginning in boyhood, Roosevelt engaged in the complex analysis of animals in the natural world. His area of advanced expertise was ornithology—birds. During his presidency, the Smithsonian Institution’s museum of natural history would send specimens over for his identification. After his presidency, Roosevelt lectured on natural science in some of the finest universities in Europe.
            Roosevelt read virtually every classic work of literature in the English language. He also read some of the great works in other languages including French, German, Latin, and Greek. His love of poetry was so great; he could recite, decades later, complete poems, including those in foreign languages, which he had only read once.
            TR freely engaged in the world of the complex—working through slow, methodical analysis. Yet, he was equally in his heart, a romantic.            
            He was a warrior, who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
            Roosevelt was famous for leading the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American war. For this, he became a war hero and legend.
            As president, Roosevelt brokered a settlement ending the war in 1905 between Japan and Russia. His work precluded an event that, though not as catastrophic as World War I, would have wreaked havoc on Europe and Asia, had it continued.
            He was an astounding success in various careers—political, military, writing…--yet, he was a marvelous family man.
            By any standard, Roosevelt was a success in his work: President, military leader, and writer of what is still today the definitive work on the naval war of 1812 (at age 23!).
            However, Roosevelt enjoyed a rapturous marriage with his wife, Edith. By every account, his six children adored him and he spent much time with them.
            One can see why his children loved him so much in the published work, THEODORE ROOSEVELT’S LETTERS TO HIS CHILDREN. I own this work on my iPhone’s Kindle App. These letters are replete with Roosevelt’s love, affection, and personality. What amazes me, though, are the details he would include in his letters, describing his experiences. Some go on for pages.
            The only other president I have seen even remotely close to the giftedness of Roosevelt was Bill Clinton. The difference, as one would suspect, was the moral center. The only way a man can survive this level of talent and giftedness and avoid self-destruction is to cultivate and maintain a strong moral center.
            I finished Edmund Morris’ COLONEL ROOSEVELT last week. In doing so, I could not help but feel a twinge of sadness. For over thirty years now, I have had a new work to anticipate, with eagerness, from the pen of Edmund Morris. That part of my life is now over.
            I rank the three volumes of Morris’ trilogy in the following order:
            1) THE RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT. This volume captured the pouring of the foundation for what would be a colossal career. Morris captures the spirit and energy of young Roosevelt. The narrative flows like an adventure series—a true page-turner. This is the greatest biographical volume I have ever read.
            2) COLONEL ROOSEVELT. This was a close call with volume two, THEODORE REX. I concede the edge to the final volume because Morris captures better than any other biographer I read of this period (including Kathleen Dalton, H. W. Brands, and Patricia O’Toole—all produced good work) Roosevelt’s slow, yet perceptible descent into an early old age. Due to injuries, exotic fevers, and heart disease, the apostle of the strenuous life is an old man by age 55. Morris particularly captures well the descent of Roosevelt’s spirit. It is sad for the reader to observe Roosevelt’s slow, emotional surrender, culminating with the tragic death of his youngest son, Quentin, in World War I. At the end of his life, Roosevelt knew the presidency was likely his in 1920. Yet, the honor held no meaning for him. His energy, vitality, and joy were depleted.
            3) THEODORE REX. I completed this second volume for the third time last week—via an audio work. Morris, in this volume, produced the most compelling narrative of a president’s years in office I have ever read—and I have read some good ones. Roosevelt single-handedly changed the presidency at just the right time in our nation’s history. Only forty-two when he assumed office, Roosevelt became our youngest president. Reading this volume, the reader has fun joining Roosevelt on his journey. The unique item Morris brings to the table in his work is the nuance that lies in Roosevelt’s character. He is far from the “shoot-from-the-hip” caricature. Rather, he is shown as a circumspect leader always aware of the importance of balance. Having become a great fan of Aristotle’s concept of virtue over the past few years, I cannot help but note Roosevelt’s innate wisdom in judging that virtue lies within the middle of two extremes. For example, charity is that virtue found between enabling a person, in need, too much, and destroying him by offering too little. Morris does the best work of any biographer in relating Roosevelt’s endless pursuit of balance.

            I possess in my library a READER'S DIGEST condensed novel on the life of Theodore Roosevelt called TR. The author, Noel B. Gerson, was inspired by his father. In the preface, the author wrote there was only one time he ever saw his father cry.
            Gerson's father was the city editor of a Chicago daily paper, and the toughest man his son ever knew. When the author was a boy, his father returned home from work one day--and burst into tears.
            Why? Why would this tough, dependable man break into tears? Before the boy could ask, his father blurted out the answer.
            "Theodore Roosevelt is dead."

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I got to share with my two oldest, one of the great scary movies, on Saturday night—THE CHANGLING. With a marvelous cast headed by George C. Scott and Melvyn Douglas, this was a classy movie—something you do not always see in this genre. Classic scary movie moment: Scott’s character, living alone in the huge, historic old house, being awakened every morning at 6:00 by the pounding sound that literally causes the house to vibrate. This movie was made in 1979, and I have seen it through the years at least 6 or 7 times.
2. Yes, I did enjoy the football season. Now, I am enjoying the beginning of a six-month break.
3. I’ve got to admit, I have a hankering to watch Matthew Perry’s new series, MR. SUNSHINE. For some reason, the previews strike me as funny. I’m going to hold off, though. The nice thing about this day and age, I can always watch it on HULU or something if the urge strikes later.
4. Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope your wishes were fulfilled. I’m grateful mine were.
5. I hope Judy thinks her wishes were. I subscribe to the Tommy Nelson theory—I attempt to supply romance long before Valentine’s Day. I do write her a poem or love letter—delivered on Valentine’s Day. She always seems to appreciate those.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What To Do About Evil

           Throughout History, people have wrestled with the problem of evil, especially when they have felt overwhelmed by it. A lot of our art, literature and movies reflect this struggle: SLEEPING BEAUTY, LORD OF THE RINGS, and THE BROTHERS KARAMOZOV to name of few.
            Symbols of evil have evolved: Darth Vader from STAR WARS, the swastika, and the Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. (Okay, the last one represents the view of die-hard Dallas Cowboy fans.)
            Nowhere in the Bible is there any attempt to answer the question, “Why does a good God permit evil?” Evil is a fact. It is real. It will be here until Jesus comes back. So now what?
            This issue lies at the heart of Revelation 6-7. In the first four seals, we see how evil has been wreaking havoc throughout history. Each of the four horsemen represents harm to humanity: conquest, war, famine, and death.
            By the time the fifth seal is opened, you want to join the martyrs around the altar crying out, “How long, oh Lord?” Where is this powerful, risen Christ of chapter one? Of course, he is present in chapter six—He is the Lamb.
            As one commentator has noted, the cry of the martyrs reminds us that we want God's work to get over with in a hurry, but God will not compromise. By the end of the first century, many Christians were asking the question, “If the Kingdom has been established by Jesus, and if I have been redeemed by Jesus, why are all the Roman armies still around? And why are there so many of them? And why are they so powerful? If the gospel declares God's love to the world, why do the Roman authorities put the people who believe in this love into prisons and upon crosses? Christ lived, died, and rose again, and yet the world is getting worse, not better.
            Still, power emanates from the lamb. Throughout history, He has judged evil, and He will continue to do so until He brings about the end of this world. Until then, we behave, as Eugene Peterson writes, like the angels.
            Evil does not dismay them. They carry out God’s commands. Evil exists, but God contains it. God’s work continues. The angels serve at His command—and we do too.
            It is staggering to consider what God could do through us, if we took evil more seriously. I don’t think we recognize the work of the Devil, as God does.
            Just this past week, a friend sent me an article from CNN about pornography. The one item in the article that screamed out to me: if members of churches ceased accessing porn, the destruction to the porn industry would be like an economic tsunami. It would survive, but it would be severely damaged. That is but one example of how the church has compromised itself in the mission of God in an evil world.
            Like the beings in heaven, we Christians press on in worship of our God. We don’t always comprehend the spiritual forces around us, but we join the battle.
            Earl Palmer, in his commentary on Revelation, calls attention a classic encounter in the C. S. Lewis novel, THE HORSE AND HIS BOY.
            A boy named Shasta is on a dangerous mission. He is seeking to warn the king of an impending attack.
            In the darkness, riding an unfamiliar, disobedient horse, Shasta becomes aware of a presence, and becomes very afraid. It is the great lion, Aslan, but Shasta does not know this.
            He calls out, “Who are you?”
            The being, Aslan, replies, “Tell me your sorrows.”
            Shasta does. He tells him how he lost his parents, how he was raised by a stern fisherman, how he has had terrible experiences with beasts, how he is cold, hungry and thirsty.
            Then Shasta is shocked by Aslan’s response—you are not unfortunate. As Palmer writes, “… Shasta learns many things about his own life and journey, and the path where even now he has a task to do. The danger is still real, Shasta is still tired and hungry, but he has been blessed, and he now knows where he is, dangerous as it really is, is still where he should be, and even where he wants to be. But best of all, he has met the great lion himself, Aslan.”
            We, too, have met the Lion... of Judah. We have met the Lamb. We travel with God in a world full of evil. We do so with gratitude, praise, and worship.

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

1. It is nice to be right for once. I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl, but I would have loved to see the game go into overtime. Incidentally, Ted Thompson, the Packers’ phenomenal general manager, grew up in Atlanta. That’s Atlanta, Texas.

2. I saw a nice article about Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy being recognized for their faith last week during Super Bowl festivities.

3. The internet with YouTube and everything else is challenging the copyright world. Tim Henderson passed along this quote the other day from Academy Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola:
            “Don't worry about whether it's appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that's only the first step and you have to take the first step...
            You have to remember that it's only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.
            “This idea of Metallica or some rock n' roll singer being rich, that's not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I'm going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?”
            I definitely do not agree, but I find it interesting that Coppola was willing to voice that opinion.

4. I am badly in need of mathematical redemption, so I started last week reading King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry by Siobhan Roberts. I am hoping this book will jumpstart my understanding of geometry like Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography—Einstein: His Life and Universe—jumpstarted my understanding of physics.

5. Congratulations ETCA girls’ basketball team. Not only were you undefeated in district play, you were never even behind in a game. Good luck this week in your pre-playoff warm-up with 3A public school Van Alstyne.