Head First: August 2005

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lose Control

While I was moaning about the fraud that is organized religion, Jeff mentioned the inevitability of organization when any degree of "missional" success is achieved among believers. He brought up the emergent movement's need to band together, "otherwise they'll run amok." Any time someone comes up with a way to "do it right," it grows to a point where it has to organize, or it will become unmanageable.

This begs the question, "Why does the work of the gospel have to be managed at all?" It occurs to me that our need to organize, to create structure for, to institutionalize good works (or any of the functions of the Church [the true Church, not the organizational church]) stems from a craving to control (and a willingness to be controlled, I suppose).

To be sure, we need to believe true things. We need to be instructed and even corrected. Scripture establishes itself in conjunction with relationships and the gifts of ministry for that purpose, I believe. But of course, it never seems to stop there. Pride is always ready to corrupt the gifted, planting spurious notions and the seeds of ambition. Next thing you know...well, you know. Just look around.

I've spoken before of the plaque that is said to have sat on Ronald Reagan's desk. It said, "Imagine how much could be accomplished if no one were concerned with who got the credit." I think of John, the baptizer. In the minds of his followers, he was the guy who got this whole repent-and-be-baptized thing started. Now it appeared to John's friends that Jesus was going to steal his thunder, possibly even take over "the movement." What if leaders today offered John's response? He told them, You don't get it, guys. Jesus IS the movement. Remember I told you that I was just paving the way for Him? The authority I had has served its purpose. Now I don't need it anymore. HE MUST INCREASE, and I MUST DECREASE. Today, that response would likely be met with, "What? You mean we're closing up shop? This is going to destroy your book sales! And what are we going to do with all these t-shirts? We just ordered 20 cases of 'Repent and be baptized' keychains!!!"

Most of our visible efforts at goodness are ultimately self-serving. Our programs and organizations, while often well-intentioned, don't really solve anything. Even here on the blogs, we like to pick apart everyone else's ideas, question motives, point out each other's inconsistencies, all the while failing to observe that because there is no "perfect" course of action, we have stopped acting altogether.

I think the people who will truly please God are the people who manifest love and grace in relative obscurity. They follow the great commandments (Love God, Love your neighbor.) without trying to read too much into them. These people will never be recognized (until "that day," of course). They quietly minister to the needs they see around them. They don't shout for a cause, nor uselessly obsess over political hypocrisy. They understand that their part is to do their part. I think these will be the greatest in the Kingdom.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Could You Repeat the Question?

There's an interesting discussion on my brother's site about Universalism and the reality of hell. Our friend, Dan made some interesting arguments, and at one point, cautioned Jeff against "reinventing the wheel," saying, in effect, that plenty of great thinkers and theologians have already wrestled with some of these ideas and that we're not likely to come to any better conclusions than they did.

It occurs to me that much of the current "conversation" among postmodern/nonmodern/emergent/spiritualist types is, of course, the re-questioning of things for which someone somewhere has found answers in the near to ancient past. Is this necessary? Why not read Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Augustine, Schaeffer, Lewis etc. and be satisfied with, or better yet, build upon the foundations they labored for lifetimes to construct? Many would argue that this is the best use of available knowledge and will lead to advanced doctrinal enlightenment.

It seems that a new generation of believers/pre-believers/seekers wants to start from scratch. They don't reject the truth, per se. But they are understandably suspicious of someone else's truth wrapped up in a bow and just handed to them. When that truth is handled and handed through successive generations, the biases and idiosyncrasies of the handlers works it's way in, and flaws become compounded with each handling. It's like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Each generation away from the copy master becomes more and more distorted until your copy is unrecognizable.

So it is with Christianity. Look at the modern institutional church (small c). I grew up in it. My worldview developed there. But once I began to recognize the interloping human element in my "religion," I began to learn to hold up that copy to the original. The distortions became readily evident, and I knew my trust had been misplaced. So I question.

The danger lies in where we draw the line. What is the benchmark of truth? What is the absolute measure against which we stand our ideas? As Pilate asked Christ, "What IS truth?" I guess because I'm more modern than I want to admit, the standard is scripture. But what about those who even question that? Truth has to be arbitrated by something more substantial than that it feels about right, or that it fits the way we want the world to be. If the standard is that subjective, then we have supplanted the Almighty and put ourselves in His place.

Seems like that's already been tried. Anybody hear how that turned out?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What's Your Sleep Number?

I have a real topic on deck, but I got a mailing from my good friends at Select Comfort, and they're having a closeout sale on the Sleep Number 5000. "Hurry! Supplies are limited!" they tell me.

This is a big decision. I've been sleeping on my current mattress for over 16 years. And, while it's been one high quality piece of bedding (hmmm... I used to refer to myself that way), I'm thinking it's time to move forward. Several months ago, I called for the informative DVD, starring Lindsay Wagner (the Bionic Woman! haminahamina). Since then, my good friends at Select Comfort have called me at least five times each week to remind me that their store is conveniently located at my nearby mall, and that they'd be happy to set up an appointment for me to come and experience the luxury of the Sleep Number bed. I'm thinking that if I buy the mattress, they might stop calling me. Pricewise, it's about the same as a very good quality conventional mattress, so I'm leaning this way.

Psalm 12:15 says, "Fools think they need no advice, but the wise listen to others." I've heard our little circle of friends here referred to as "community," so I'm listening. What have you heard? Anybody have one of these beds? What about all the extras (THAT'S where they get ya!)? Can I get by without 'em?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Feels Like the First Time

Thanks to all for the comments on the last post. Whether, you "get it" or not, I profit from hearing your thoughts.

I was over at godevenlovesidiotslikeme.blogspot.com, and there's a good post about how God so often answers prayer in a different way than we expect.

In my 42 years, God has distinctly responded many times to my spoken desires. Sometimes, He's met a great need. At other times, He's been gracious to bless me with something I really wanted. I can't think about this without recalling the first prayer I ever remember praying. I don't mean saying grace, or bedtime prayer. I mean the first time I came to the Lord with a request.

I was about 5, kneeling at the altar at Glad Tiding Assembly of God in Pocomoke City, MD on a Sunday night. That week had been hot, and the Stevensons up the street had a 2-ft. deep above-ground swimming pool in their yard. I was invited to swim one day, and decided that having a pool in your yard was just about the most awesome thing in the world. You could just get in and cool off whenever you wanted!

I didn't even bother asking my parents about it. The Stevensons owned the big John Deere dealership out on the highway and we...well, didn't. But we were called to the front to "seek God" that Sunday evening, and I remember kneeling at the end of the altar, on the far right side, next to my dad. It wasn't a long prayer, it wasn't a covetuous prayer, it wasn't greedy. It was a simple, "Lord, can we get a pool?"

I didn't really think about it after that. It's not that I didn't think the Lord had heard me. I guess I just didn't have much in the way of expectation. That is, until that Tuesday, when my dad came home from work a few minutes late. I saw him pull up in front of the house, and I could see that something was taking up most of the back seat of our car. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground when he reached into the back an pulled out one of those flexible molded plastic wading pools like you get at Newberry's (that was before Kmart). It was blue with little fish all over it.

I didn't notice that it wasn't as big as the Stevenson's pool. As my dad dropped my new gift near the back steps and grabbed the hose, I stood, mesmerized. All I could think was that God had heard me. He heard me, and He loved me enough to answer.

Before some of you complain about the frivolity of my request, let me say that's not the point. Yes, I know we could have sent that six bucks to feed the hungry or buy bibles for the Gideons. But the result of the experience was that a 5-year old boy's faith took root that day. For all my accumulated cynicism and worldly-wisdom, I've felt that same sense of wonder every time a prayer has been answered since.

What about you? Do you remember your first time?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rubber Meets Road

I hate my church. I hate the mindlessness of our routine. I hate that we don't have any goals. I hate the way we have to act as if everything's always ok. I hate the shallowness of our fellowship. I hate the way Pastor still calls that building "God's House." I hate hearing the Lord addressed as "Thee" during prayer. I hate the consumer mentality that exists, even in a mediocre service like ours. I hate hearing the same freakin' sermon every Sunday. I hate that we piss away 90% of our income building more monuments to ourselves and making ourselves comfortable while missions giving is in the hole. I hate that the Youth Ministry has to fully fund itself. I hate the religious-ness that dwells there. I hate the suspicion and mistrust that's the product of our refusal to be open and honest.

Dorse, why don't you get the hell out of there?

"Community" is too trite a word. That's my family. I love the 88-year old lady who embraces me with tears and says "I pray for you every day." I love the other old gal who tells me I'm handsome and she loves me like a son. I love my good friend, who's caught in the middle of the same bullshit I am, but who still hasn't given up. I love the teens, who crowd around me, just to hang out, too cool to come right out and say "We love you," but I get the message. I love the people on the worship team, who didn't complain (much) when I pushed them to try new things. I love the adult Sunday School teacher, my mentor, a true scholar, a deep thinker who has nothing to gain by pouring himself into me. I love the guy from the men's group, who said to me, "Nobody develops perseverance by giving up. Be strong." I love the dozen people who give extra offerings to help the Youth Group. I love all the people who sent me cards and left messages of encouragement on my voicemail. Most of them don't know what's going on. Not all of them would agree with me, anyway. But they all love me.

And, oh God, I love them.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In the Sweet By and By...

NOTE: I know scripture is silent on some of this, so this is all speculative. No claim of revelation here, so don't get nervous.

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Heaven. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for it. I believe in it, and I want to go there. But I don't really dwell on what eternity will be like. I grew up in an A/G church (back when they were still hellfire and brimstone...well, sort of), and I learned more about Hell than I ever heard about Heaven. Quite frankly, after what they told me about Hell, Heaven could be Newark, New Jersey, and I'd still be eager to get there. My childhood church experience was pretty much STAY OUT OF HELL AT ALL COSTS. Well, that and THE RAPTURE WILL TAKE PLACE TWO SECONDS AFTER YOU'VE SAID "DAMN," AND YOU'RE GONNA MISS IT (but that's a topic for another post). At any rate, the goal was to BE SAVED FROM HELL. Heaven was almost secondary.

These days I hear a lot of people refer to the christian life as a walk, a journey, a pilgrimage, process, whatever, with the "prize" being eternal reward, life in Heaven, I've-got-a-mansion-just-over-the-hilltop. We do our thing here on earth, and death closes the door. Game over. Winners through this door, losers go stand over there...ignore the smoke...I'll be with you in a minute.

Today, there's a lot of talk about "the journey." Someone recently said that there are no destinations, that it's all journey. At first that sounded like postmodern gobbledygook, but it got me thinking. I believe that, at least in this life, there may be no destinations, but there are thresholds, and belief is the first. But what if Heaven is a threshold, too? It occurs to me that the "journey" aspect of existence may not end at death. I don't think I'm alone in that I've never considered that eternity will continue to be a dynamic (versus static) environment. Does scripture indicate anywhere that we will be all that we will ever be the moment we enter our reward? Will the concept of personal, intellectual, emotional growth be possible in eternity? The Bible says that we will rule and reign with Him--rule and reign over who? It is implied that we will have jobs to do in Eternity. That implies accomplishment. That implies progress.

I've always looked at this life as the job, and the end of life as payday. What if this is just the interview--the resume builder, and eternity is "You've got the job?" How does that affect the decisions I make today? What are the implications for life right now? Maybe none. Maybe that's why the Bible spends more time on "Love your neighbor."