Monday, January 28, 2013

The Road Ahead for Mark Edge

            Last week I talked about how I had mistakenly spent my years in the Shiloh pulpit trying to think of strategies to reach the unchurched. After I stepped down from the pulpit, it occurred to me that Tyler was mainly comprised of overchurched people, not unchurched people. “Now what?” I thought.
            About two months ago, a friend mentioned to me that Interstate Batteries had a corporate chaplain located at their headquarters in downtown Dallas. I had never heard of a corporate chaplain and was curious. I could not find any information on their website, so three weeks ago last Thursday, I decided to drop by their offices while in Dallas. The receptionist could not have been nicer, but the chaplain was in meetings all morning, so she promised to have him call me.
            He did and we had a good visit by phone. He later sent me their corporate policy on chaplaincy. However, in that moment I was still curious, so I went to the largest bookstore I knew of in downtown Dallas. I searched for information about corporate chaplaincy or chaplaincy in the workplace, but the store had nothing in print on the subject. I went to the coffee shop, fired up my laptop, and began researching online. I discovered that a movement of chaplaincy in the United States had been at work for quite a while.
            Business Weekly, Fortune, The New York Times, and other media sources have all reported on the concept of offering spiritual care to employees in the workplace–and occasionally outside the workplace.
            Some people interviewed spoke of facing a crisis such as the death of a loved one, and not having a church home. They needed someone to help them with their grief and to conduct the funeral. Who better to turn to than a chaplain?
            My mind spun back to my days living in West Texas. I had officiated a number of funerals there for people who had no church affiliation and I found it a wonderful opportunity to minister to hurting people. Many of those people had been overchurched. Occasionally, these opportunities opened the door for people who wanted to hear about the Lord or to return to him.
            Returning to the present, I began to ponder the possibilities regarding workplace chaplaincy. The concept definitely appeared to reflect the scriptures. For example:
1. Work is important to God. The second commandment God gave to Adam and Eve involved a job–take care of the earth. He told them again to work in Genesis 2:15. He further commanded Adam to work in Genesis 3; only it was after the fall. Consequently, God told him the work would prove much harder.
2. God often provides images of workers to describe him in Scripture i.e. “builder” (Proverbs 8:27-31, “metal worker” Isaiah 1:24–26…)
3. Paul tells Christians they ultimately work for Jesus (Colossians 3:22–23.)
            The biblical ideal sees work as a sacred endeavor. This is good news, for we spend approximately ¼ of our adult lives (before retirement) working.
            In previous decades, Christians and non-Christians have harbored a view that work was a compartmentalize task, separated from the spiritual part of the Christian life. In early 2000s, Princeton University established a think tank dedicated to uncovering the connection between spirituality in the workplace.
            I believe a chaplain entering the workplace can bring the presence of Christ and assist workers in the spiritual pursuit of serving God through work. Indeed, by reconnecting the workplace with the spiritual, workers can further maximize their potential. This will in turn assist employees in reaching their potential. All of this affords the bosses and owners of businesses and corporations their best chance to earn profits for themselves and their shareholders.
            I am commencing today with the chaplaincy service to the East Texas area. I am assuming that I will be addressing overchurched employers and employees, who don’t want to be sued by the ACLU or any other special interest group. My approach will be holistic—I am addressing the spirit while others address the needs of the mind and body. I think I am going to call my service:

WorkEdge as in:

Maximizing Lives
Maximizing Productivity

            (Quick! If this is a bad idea—tell me… before I print up my cards!)
            As I mentioned, I have been researching for over three weeks this subject. I have related a few of the reasons why I'm excited about serving in this manner in the Kingdom of God.
            All things considered, I see this as the best way yet for me to witness to the power of the gospel to an overchurched community. Let me emphasize, the mission of workplace chaplaincy is not evangelism. It is to provide spiritual care to the employees. However, a byproduct of that relationship could very well be evangelism. In addition, I would certainly welcome that opportunity. It would have to be at the employees’ request—not mine. Yet, it is inevitable, if I minister to enough people, some will want to know the Lord better.
            I think this is an opportunity from God, and I will find out soon. I don't plan to borrow money. If God is not behind this, I will have to do something else before too long.
            I pray God blesses this ministry so much that I have to ask others who are qualified to assist me. I would be pleased pay good money to these Christians gifted by God for this ministry–men serving men and women serving women—in the marketplace.
            I have been reading recently H. W. Brands’ new biography of Ulysses S. Grant. During the early part of the Civil War, various Northern generals squandered opportunities to win the war. Grant on the other hand, was dealt the tougher challenge from the beginning. Yet, he established a pattern of winning through persistence. If one strategy did not work in Vicksburg, he would attempt another… and another… until he won the victory. He used the same strategy of perseverance in Virginia in the later stages of the war. 
            Grant to this day is known as a great general. His genius lay mostly in his relentlessness, a quality few generals had.
            I think we Christians, especially those of us in overchurched locales, need the courage to remain relentlessness. We try a strategy; if it does not work, we try another.
            We try relentlessly.
            That is my aim when it comes to reaching out to the overchurched.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Road Ahead

            Shortly after I stepped down from the pulpit last August, I realized I had made a mistake. No, not stepping down from the pulpit. Rather, I had preached for over 20 years about reaching the unchurched. That worked in some cultural contexts. For example, I spent almost 5 1/2 years living in Argentina in a city of half a million people, most of whom were definitely unchurched. That has not been the case in my ministry experience in the United States.
            A month or so after I left the pulpit, it occurred to me that most of the 80% of the people in Tyler who were not part of a church were not unchurched–they were overchurched. There is a big difference.
            Unchurched people have little knowledge of God, Jesus, or Scripture. They are truly secular.
            Overchurched people know a lot of information about God, Jesus, and the Bible. They have simply chosen to not allow it to impact their lives. Overchurched people, for various reasons, have been vaccinated against Christianity. It is as if they have received a tiny injection of Christianity, and they have built within themselves a spiritual immunity to Jesus and his church.
            I spent almost seven years asking the same question every day–how do we at Shiloh reach the unchurched people of Tyler? I was asking the wrong question. We are a generation away from Tyler comprising itself primarily of unchurched people. All along, I should have been asking–how do we reach the overchurched people of Tyler?
            That question raises an entirely different set of questions, yet they are equally important. Neither the unchurched nor the overchurched know the Lord. However, each group is strategically approached in different ways.
            I am still raising questions about how to reach the overchurched. I have some ideas, though. More on that to come.

Monday, January 14, 2013

If God were King # 10... We Would Treat Government His Way

            Last week we talked about family.
            Today, we will look at government.
            Bear in mind: neither earthly families nor government will exist in heaven. So what we are discussing concerns bringing heaven’s values into a fallen creation. Whenever creation is ultimately redeemed, government and family will not ascend into heaven.

            Regarding government, there are tensions here on earth:

1. The tension between l iberty versus societal discipline.
            None of us like it when government imposes something on us. That is one reason that churches often thrive when Christians are truly aliens—government intrusion unites people against the government.
            I am all for prayer in schools; I'm just not for organized prayer in schools. The issue is who does the organizing. I've been there when it has been people with whom I have disagreed.
            Nevertheless, a free society requires a moral, virtuous, and I would argue, spiritual people. As John Adams wrote in 1798, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” Without the discipline of spirituality, democracy downgrades into anarchy.

2. The tension between compassion versus Accountability
            I certainly do not have the answer on this. Where does allowing someone to starve end and allowing someone to sink into despair… in order to find God… begin? I am not sure.
            Having said this, I wrestle with government bureaucracy. A compassionate society as expressed by a people through its government can be good… unless the good will gets bogged by bureaucracy. It is hard to have a relationship with a bureaucracy. You cannot offer compassion without relationship.
            Disclaimer: I’ve adopted a son and daughter through the good work of CPS. Clearly, I am not anti-government.
3. The tension between the world we live in versus the world to come.
            The struggle here is I want to create as much of a utopia as I can while on earth, but this does not always correspond with the purposes of God.
            Sir Thomas More… describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean, called it “Utopia.” The idea we take from that is a place of perfection. Some have pointed out the irony of Moore’s title: “u” or “no” + “topos” or “place” = “no place.” I have not verified this, but I like the idea. We will not find the redemption of the world to come here in this one.

4. The tension between Jesus’ choices for his Kingdom and the reality of government.
            Jesus had the power to overthrow Rome, but he chose not to. Most of Christian history sees the Christian population dealing with governments that are not Christian.            
            The time in history when Jesus came means that we have a template for the way we view government—if societal opportunities are beyond our control.
            On the other hand, the roots of the United States cannot be found in a people who said, “We are going to take over this country.” Rather, it was with a group of pilgrims who were escaping religious persecution, and were allowed the chance to go to an area that was basically remote. They did not try to destroy the Indians.             Fundamentally, they attempted to form their little community and to live in a way that was godly. And as much as anything else, these were the roots of our national government. They happened to have laid the foundation… the ground floor. What happens when you have godly Christian people creating a system of self-rule under the leadership of Jesus as King? You have the roots of democracy.

5. The tension between Jesus God of peace and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I am kidnapped oversees, I want somebody to come save me. That means a police-like action from the military.
            So to say I want to eliminate the military and let America go and trust God and live under the rule of terrorism or of some other oppression… is the equivalent of saying I want to live without a local police force.

8 final thoughts of government from Deuteronomy:
1. God would transcend all.
            I do not see any way a nation can survive without an understanding of God transcending the country. No man is above the law, and the law comes from God.
            Ideally, citizens and government officials would understand that one of the basic and the fundamental reasons we have government is to restrain evil (see Genesis chapter nine and Romans chapter thirteen.)
            As I have mentioned, I do not believe in the church being connected to the state. However, I believe the famous letter that is cited from Thomas Jefferson is, in its context, reflecting Jefferson’s concern that the state would impede itself upon the church rather than the church having unnecessarily influenced on the state.
            However, it does not do the Kingdom of God good to be too closely aligned to the state. It waters down the message of the Gospel and the call to discipleship.
            If the Church marries the nation today, tomorrow she will be a widow. The same holds true for marriage to a political party. The Church transcends the state and the political party, not vice versa. The Church is the reflection of Christ—not culture.
            The state was instituted by God to restrain sin and promote a just social order.
            A theologian I have grown appreciate is actually a French one–Jacques Elluel, and he wrote this (to paraphrase): the Christian who is involved in the material history of this world is involved in it is representing another order, another master (than the “prince of this world”), another claim (than that of the natural heart of man)… Thus he must plunge into social and political problems in order to have an influence on the world, not in the hope of making it a paradise, but simply in order to make it tolerable–not in order to diminish the opposition between this world and the kingdom of God, but simply in order to modify the opposition between the disorder this world and the order preservation that God wills for it–not in order to “bring in” the kingdom of God, but in order that the gospel may be proclaimed, that all men may really hear the good news of salvation to the death and resurrection of Christ.
            Charles Colson said that while human politics is based on the premise that society must be changed or to change people, it is the people who must be changed in order to change society. On the other hand, William Wilberforce changed history in England through setting in motion a series of legislation the stopped slavery.

2. Justice would be a major concern.
            Look at Deuteronomy 16:19, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.”

            Everyone's property would be secure, every person would be treated as one made in the image of God, all wrongdoing would be punished but in a way that is consistent with humanity, not dehumanizing the one who is guilty, no false accusations would be allowed, a fair trial would be assured. Equally important, no one shall be above the law, not even the nations top leader.

3. Everyone is treated with the dignity God has given him or her (Deuteronomy 15:12–18, Deuteronomy 24:7, 27:18.) This means that women are to be treated as human beings. This means people will not be exploited. This includes the disabled and the alien (see Deuteronomy 23:19; 24:6, 12–15, 17; 27:18.)

4. Creation would be honored (Deuteronomy 22:4, 6–7, 25:4.)

5. Rest would be assured for each citizen (Deuteronomy 5:12–15.) Each citizen would have at least one day off. I think about the poor people and industrial England and the hours they worked. Seven days a week, sometimes, and twelve + hours a day. It was insane.

6. Government would be concerned for the poor and disenfranchised. Deuteronomy 14, Deuteronomy 15, and others emphasize God’s concern for the poor.

7. Government would hold people accountable. People will be held accountable for the sake of society, and people will be held accountable for their own sake. To not do so would be self-destructive.

8. Government would reinforce God-honoring sexuality. This would be not only for the sake of society, but for the individual as well. Nothing demoralizes society like immorality. There is no structure, people are hurt, and God is not honored by one's physical body. All of this sickens the soul.

            I am typing this quickly. I reserve the right to be wrong. Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 7, 2013

If God were King # 9 We Would Treat Family His Way

               I'll start with this: polygamy was not God's way. Sorry to disappoint you fans of HBO's “Big Love.” God's way was one man for one woman. I have several theories why. Some might even stand the test of time. I'll forego that route for now because you will probably acquire some hints when you look at passages in Deuteronomy. For example:  21: 15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.
            What is God addressing here? The natural insecurity daddy engenders in his children when he marries more than one woman. If you want a story illustrates this in exquisite detail, see that of Jacob and his wives in Genesis 29–30. In God's nation, stability and security were important. A stable nation consisted of stable homes.
            Even more fundamental to the stability of Israel was this–drum roll, please–the control of the national sex drive. One commentator caught my attention when he wrote this:

sex was a political matter, not just a private one. Purity belonged to the family–and to the nation.

All those passages–like Deuteronomy 22–that talk about the proof of purity (and protected a woman against slander) emphasized at least two points:
1) purity mattered
2) purity mattered–so much so a woman was to be pure when she married
3) purity mattered so much that a husband who married and suffered from “buyer’s remorse” could not divorce his new wife unless he had absolute proof she had come to him impure.
            God considered purity issues public issues in Israel. Case in point: Deuteronomy 22:22–22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
            Adultery merited capital punishment. A man sleeping with another man's wife committed a crime not only against the other husband, but also against the entire community, and against the entire nation. God decreed, consequently, that the nation purge itself of this evil.
            Adultery adulterated that which was to remain un-adulterated.
            Instability undermined society. Infidelity was considered the opposite of fidelity. Curiously, centuries ago people began referring to those who did not believe in God as “infidels.” Infidelity created infidels in a nation.
            Here is where 21st-century American culture diverges. The ideal in Israel assumed that what happened between consenting adults behind closed doors influenced the community at large. If the behavior reflected God standards, society was strengthen. If behavior deviated from God's standards, society was threatened.
            God instructed Israel to consider rape a crime of assault and violence–tantamount to murder. God's teaching on rape was so emphatic that if a man and woman were alone in the country, and no one was around to rescue the woman were to scream at an attack by the man, the rapist was still considered guilty.
            This reality encouraged men to form strategies that allowed them to stand above reproach. The bottom line was that God wanted the people of Israel to love one another in responsible ways. By showing respect for life and sexuality, by maintaining purity, they made themselves distinct from the culture around them. That is to say, they maintained holiness. The greatest demonstration of this was through the family.
            Disclaimer: I do not advocate today laws that call for the stoning of people who sin sexually. Nevertheless, remember that God did not offer these laws to show himself a “mean” God. He legislated in this way knowing that the sexual practices of society, especially a new society and nation, would impact people. Sexual unfaithfulness hurt the faithful. Sexual immorality undermined the morally innocent. Ultimately, everyone lost in sexual sin.
            Now, what about that famous passage out of Deuteronomy 24 concerning divorce? You and I need to understand that Moses’ purpose was not to state the reason about which one might legally obtain a divorce, rather it was to regulate the behavior of a man who had already determined to divorce his wife. Moses did not emphasize divorce; he emphasized what came afterward. Moses focused not on regulating the behavior of the wife; rather, he limited the right of a husband to treat the wife as disposable property. To set aside the former wife like “an ace” tucked away in one's hand to play if needed, was to disrespect the wife. The disrespect hurt a nation.
            Finally, an extraordinary verse: 5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.
            Family was supremely important. In a caring society, people recognized that the normal rules and responsibilities from time to time needed to be set aside to build and reinforce the family. Others would have to assume additional obligations because newly married man must be free to stay at home and bring happiness to his bride.
            Here is the principle–the health of marriage and the health of society are bound together; as one goes, so goes the other.
            Jay Gordon, founder of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, went for a walk many decades ago through a field. In the distance, he saw house. Beside the house, it seemed a man was energetically and frenetically pumping an old fashioned, hand-operated well pump. The man was like a machine. He never stopped, and he never tired. Incredible!
            Yet, as Gordon drew closer, he discovered what he thought was a man was no man at all. Instead, he had seen a wooden figure painted like a man. The owner had wired the pumping arm of this stick figure to the pump handle. Water poured out—not because of the wooden figure. The water was pumping the wooden figure. The water pushed and pulled the arm of the wooden man.
            A commentator has applied the story by noting the God does not desire the opinions of the world to push and pull his people. Rather, he wishes for people to be driven by the word of God.
            Now, returning to the subject of family, so what? Let me offer one application by going on a rant. (I could offer many.)
            I have taught at a private high school. I have taught in public universities and private universities. I have taught in language Institute's overseas. My wife teaches in a public school.
            I don't care if the federal government, if the state government, if the local municipality, if the local school board, if the conservative Republican president, the liberal Democratic president, were to issue proclamations of “No child left behind”, “Every Child left behind”, “Every child passes”, “No child passes”, “TAAKS tests”, “Star tests, ACT, SAT or any other kind of tests, you are not going to have satisfactory education of children—kindergarten through 12th grade—until single men quit sleeping with single or married women, and single women quit sleeping with single or married men.
            Until men marry one woman and stay with her until she dies, and each love the other unconditionally and serve each other unconditionally and raise their children to love unconditionally, serve unconditionally, and to be self-disciplined, optimal education is not going to happen.
            Until society has stability in the family, education will simply be a matter of damage control.
            There–I feel better.