Friday, May 27, 2005

Austin - What a Town

Well, I just got back from Austin. I attended the Sermon Seminar hosted by the Graduate School of Theology from Monday to Thursday. It was an intellectual feast. We just hung out with the Word, trying to be better, more relevant preachers in tune with the demands of the culture. We discussed preaching from Kings and Isaiah, the church vs the culture in Acts, and shaping the church so as to oppose the "principalities and powers" today. Marva Dawn was especially great. Oh yes my friends, things certainly have changed - a female Lutheran preacher lecturing at a gathering of 150 Church of Christ preachers! Nevertheless, I learned so much from this remarkably giften and spiritual woman. I also got to hang out with my best friend James - we ate at some cool local joints and got caught up. I also got to spend some "alone time" at the Barnes & Noble - a rare pleasure. Yeah, I live in a town with no Barnes & Noble!!! Oh, and if you're ever in Austin, you've got to try Amy's Ice-Cream - it's the best I've had in the world!

Only 26 days till we leave for the Zambia mission trip. I'm so excited!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Disrespect for the "Holy Koran"

Secretary of State Condi Rice had something "interesting" to say about those false reports of desecration of the Koran. Rice said "Disrespect for the holy Koran is something the United States will never tolerate." Sorry, Madame Secretary, but there is something a bit unnerving about your statement. If the violence spawned by the "religion of peace" is, in fact, based on the words of the Koran, then disrespect has been duly earned. We enjoy freedoms in this country, and that includes the freedom to "disrespect," as you put it, the Islamic religion and it's holy book. As an American I get to burn, flush, or tear up the Koran with impunity, and there isn't a thing you can do!

Oh, and on this issue of disrespect for the Koran. Here's something I lifted from James Taranto's Wall Street Journal Best of the Web column from Tuesday:

In fairness to Rice, she presumably was referring to government policy, not the actions or opinions of private individuals. Still, by way of comparison, recall that three years ago Palestinian Arab terrorists occupied the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Priests reported that "gunmen tore up Bibles for toilet paper." The Chicago Tribune noted after the siege that "altars had been turned into cooking and eating tables, a sacrilege to the religious faithful." Christians responded by declining to riot and refraining from killing anyone. They had the same response 15 or so years ago when the National Endowment for the Arts was subsidizing the desecration of a crucifix and other Christian symbols. This should also put to rest the oft-heard misnomer that America's "religious right" is somehow a Christian equivalent of our jihadi enemies.

Well said!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thoughts on VE Day

Before I voice my grievances and challenge conventional thinking on this, let me make the disclaimer that I believe Hitler was evil, and he deserved to be crushed. Also, my family fought WW2. I had a grandfather in the Royal Navy and a grandfather in the RAF. I have even alienated friends by arguing that we were right to drop “the bomb” on Japan, and should have used it on Germany.

However, as the world has celebrated VE Day this week, some things have really bothered me. (If you’re wondering “what’s VE Day”, you won’t get this blog.) Firstly, the image of George Bush standing shoulder to shoulder with Putin in Red Square reviewing troops carrying Soviet flags, and giving defacto praise to unrepentant Stalinists is disheartening. I swear, if I ever hear Mr. Bush say, “freedom is on the march” again, I’ll scream! I wonder, when he looked into “Vladimir’s eyes, and saw the man’s soul,” were Putin’s eyes saying, “you’re no Reagan”? You can’t fight a war to liberate Iraqis from a Stalinist (Saddam), while claiming Putin as your “buddy.” Defending Russia's record in the "Great Patriotic War," Putin declared, “Our people not only defended their homeland, they liberated 11 European countries.” Those countries were Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Finland.

The true story of WW2, east of the Elbe, was not freedom; it was Stalin, the most odious tyrant of the century. Where Hitler killed his millions, Stalin murdered his tens of millions. The summit at Yalta was a betrayal of small nations as immoral as the Munich Pact. So why do we venerate Churchill and FDR? At Yalta, this pair secretly ceded those small nations to Stalin, co-signing a “Declaration on Liberated Europe” that was a monstrous lie. As FDR and Churchill consigned these peoples to a Stalinist hell run by a monster whom FDR affectionately called “Uncle Joe” why are they not in the history books alongside Neville Chamberlain, who sold out the Czechs at Munich by handing their country over to Germany?

Aside from the Holocaust, there are other questions, relating to the actual reasons the war was fought. If Britain endured six years of war and hundreds of thousands of dead in a war she declared to defend Polish freedom, and Polish freedom was lost to communism, how can we say Britain won the war? If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny many times worse, did the West really win the war? It is true that Allied troops liberated France, Holland and Belgium from Nazi occupation. But before Britain declared war on Germany, those countries did not need to be liberated. They were free. They were only invaded and occupied after Britain and France declared war on Germany – on behalf of Poland, whose freedom was lost at the end of the war! Again, why go to war to defend Polish freedom, just to give Poland to Stalin?

The war Britain and France declared to defend Polish freedom ended up making Poland and all of Eastern and Central Europe safe for Stalinism. And at the festivities in Moscow, Americans and Russians were front and center, smiling – not the British and French. The legacy of WW2 is that the British and the French lost their empires, while the U.S. and the Russians emerged as Superpowers. Maybe that’s why we’re so nostalgic about the war. And, are there lessons we can learn relating to our current war of “liberation” ???

Monday, May 09, 2005

What is Truth? How to Explain What you Believe

Last sunday (May 1) I preached a sermon that I thought was my best effort ever. Many people have asked for the tape this past week, so here is the full transcript of that sermon. It's a little long, but the material is really good. (By the way, I should credit Jeff Walling's sermon at the Tulsa workshop in 2003 as the source for many of these ideas.)

1st Peter 3:13-16

When I grew up there were clothes you wore to church, and there were clothes you wore to school, and there were clothes you wore to play in – 3 kinds of clothes in the closet – church, school, and play.
Somewhere along the way at least 1 set of clothing, possibly 2, have been lost with this young generation.
Now let me be very clear – I do not believe that God looks at your clothing (cost, size, color) and judges you. God is concerned about your heart.

When I was your youth minister, I would go to youth conferences and youth minister lunches, and I both looked and felt like a middle school principal!
- Guess what the other youth ministers were wearing?
- Baggy pants, and tee shirts, and facial hair – little bits of it down here, and earrings, and studs – and some of them needed a comb badly!

- Now I want you to know that while I never quite fit in with those guys, I admire what they do – they are trying to connect with our kids so that this generation knows Jesus Christ is not someone fit only for the 1950’s, but no longer relevant in 2005.
- Our Lord is not an ancient artifact, but on occasion, the way you and I talk about him can make him sound that way.
- Which raises a big question: How will we pass on faith to the next generation and communicate what we believe to a generation and a world that looks and speaks so differently?

- Now I suppose every generation looks at the next one and asks this, but there is a much broader cultural shift that has taken place before our eyes.

- My parents were born in 1952. By the time these kids are adults, that world will have vanished. Never before in all of human history has culture, and technology, and politics, and communication, and travel, and religion changed as rapidly as what we have experienced! Never before!!
- The world we were born into has vanished forever, and it is not coming back!

- How many of you are familiar with the terms and the tension between modernism and postmodernism?
- When I think of “modern,” I think new and fancy, but what does “postmodern” mean? - Is it new mail? Is it that new, automated machine in the lobby of the PO?

- Think of it this way. Those of us who go to church in a suit and tie represent the moderns, and our kids and their youth ministers with their scruffy goatees represent the postmoderns. Oh, and those weird baggy shorts – I’ve seen kids wearing shorts with 50 pockets, and they don’t even carry a wallet, and if they do, they chain it to the outside of the pants – go figure!

- Modern thinking is the way you and I grew up. It recognizes that we no longer live in the Dark Ages. We no longer live in a time when magic and superstition make sense. We are a people of logic and reason. We believe that if there is a problem we can solve it through investigation, reason, and science.
- This is the foundation of American thought – progress toward a better life through science and technology, understanding and knowledge.

- And then the 20th century happened – WWI, WWII, communism, terrorism, genocide.
- Has the world gotten better through progress?
- Now that we understand so much about diseases, people don’t die anymore? But they do, don’t they?
- Now that we understand so much about psychology, we don’t have crime anymore? But we do, don’t we?
- Now that we have science and technology, and people are better educated, our world is more moral, right? No!

- And the postmoderns say, “Now you’re gettin it.”

- The postmodern mindset says life is not about getting smarter, and being righter in this world of rational thinking that has not delivered what it has promised.
- These scruffy postmodern kids who don’t speak my language, and don’t appreciate my need for structure, are saying, “Man, there’s more to life than climbing the corporate ladder,” and we should say – “Amen.”
- They are looking for meaning b/c they have looked at this modern world, and have said, “Science won’t fix all our problems.” Oh Yeah!

- But on the flipside they say to us, “Quit trying to explain your beliefs to me.”
- When you try to show them scripture, they will say, “Well that’s cool for you. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you.”
- That drives me nuts, and I want to say, “I’m not talking to you b/c it works for me. I’m talking to you b/c it is true!”
And there we come to the crux of the matter.

- We moderns have a strong sense of truth. 2+2=4, and the postmodern says, “I’m glad that works for you, but everyone has to experience truth for themselves.”
- This is why a scientist like Kent will have students try and negotiate for a better grade on an exam where there are only right and wrong answers. They don’t define truth the way we do.

- The postmodern person is far more likely to volunteer to serve in some inner-city ministry, but less likely to have a deep faith reason why they’re doing it.
- They are far more likely to go out and get involved in doing Christ-like things, but less likely to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

- Okay, actions do speak louder than words, but look at:
Hebrews 11:6 (Read)

- In the NT “faith” is a loaded word – it encompasses belief, and a body of knowledge, and it is the motivation for action.

- Now, in good modern fashion I have an orderly diagram, and if you’re a postmodern, just enjoy the colors:

Actions – What I do.
Attitudes – If you want to change people’s actions, change their attitudes b/c actions are built on attitudes.
Beliefs – Whether I know it or not, my attitudes and my actions are motivated by something that I believe to be true.

- Beliefs are important b/c they reflect your understanding of truth, which brings us back to the original question – What is Truth?
- You can learn a lot about God by experiencing him on a mountaintop or a retreat, or a walk in the woods, but you cannot know Jesus Christ unless you use your God-given ability to decide what do you believe?

* Our challenge in evangelism is getting the postmodern world to bring together what they believe and what they want to do – faith and deeds go together.

- Here’s where we start:
2nd Corinthians 4:13-14
- There is a chain-reaction – “I believe, therefore.”
- “I believe, therefore” – I serve, and I give, and I witness, and I learn, and I love, and I grow.
- The danger of postmodern thought is that it seeks to sever the tie between “I believe, and therefore.”
- Satan’s latest attempt to undermine the church’s effectiveness in the world is to get people to say, “I just want to serve Jesus. Let’s not get into all that doctrine and belief. That stuff doesn’t matter.”

- Now we are partially to blame for this because admittedly we have made religious discussion miserable!
- We have turned dialogue about differences into some kind of holy Jerry Springer gathering where we fuss and fight and throw chairs about what we believe!

* If we are going to communicate truth to the younger generation and a world out there that doesn’t share our values and traditions and understandings, we cannot resurrect all the old arguments, and fuss and fight about things that are not important!

- The postmodern generation, and the unchurched, and the unsaved have no time for that - and we can invite them to all the gospel meetings we can hold, but if we don’t change, they aint gonna change!
- If the truth is presented in a sour, uptight, judgmental package, they’d rather sleep in on a Sunday or go to the lake.

- So what do we do?
- Firstly, we need to make sure that truth (which never changes) is a cross-generational, cross-cultural platform for communication, rather than a barrier. Truth should connect people.

- Now, here’s the meat of the lesson – where the rubber meets the road.
There are 6 different ways the world defines truth. Remember Pilate’s cynical, sarcastic question to Jesus: “What is Truth?”

1) Truth is Pragmatism:
- Truth is whatever works for you. As long as something has function and gets you what you want or where you want to be, it’s true.

2) Truth is Populism:
- Truth is whatever the majority of people agree on. When a consensus is reached, that decision is truth, and if you’re in the minority, you’re wrong. Truth and morality are whatever brings about the greatest good for the greatest number.

3) Truth is Hedonism:
- Truth is whatever feels good – if it feels good or feels right, then it’s gotta be true.
- You know how this works – I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times.
- “Aren’t you guys gonna get married?” you say to Billy and Sally. “No,” they say, “We’re just gonna live together, we feel so good about our relationship.”
- And you want to say, “That’s not right!” And they say, “You don’t understand – it just feels so right.”
- Paul described that attitude in the Philippian letter as, “letting your stomach be your god . . . and their end is shame.”
- If you only do what feels good, you’ll end up looking like what you eat – Krispy Kreme donuts!
- If you only do what feels good, you won’t be a good husband or wife or child, b/c you won’t be faithful, you won’t be a servant, and you will never do the dishes b/c it doesn’t feel good.
- No one would ever do anything great if all we ever did was whatever felt good.
- Whether it be serving in Iraq, or getting up to go to work, or paying your taxes, or mowing your yard, none of that feels good.
- Truth has got to confront this idea people have that if it doesn’t feel good, can it really be God’s will?
- Absolutely! Ever heard of the cross?

4) Truth is Relativism:
- This says that truth is whatever makes sense to you. If it seems logical, then it must be true.
- Now here’s the danger b/c you and I can be sucked into relativism. Ever been in a Bible class where we read a text and then ask, “What does this mean to you?”
- Or relativism can be finding some survey out there to back up a biblical command b/c we want God’s commands to make sense.
- I’ve heard Christians trumpet a survey from the American Psychological Institute that says couples who do not live together before marriages have far healthier relationships.
- Now that’s great, but what about their survey that talks about the solidity and health of gay relationships? We don’t like that survey!
- If we only obey God when we understand it logically, we have also given in to relativism b/c we have left the control of God and come under the control of our own logic.
- If we only obey God when we understand why He does something, we are not obeying out of faith.
- If we are going to communicate truth to the world, we have got to teach them, by our example, to trust in God, by saying, “Okay, I don’t park my brain when I come to church, but, “I believe, therefore.”

5) Truth is Humanism:
- This says that truth is whatever serves humanity. Truth is whatever is good for the earth.
- It’s amazing that we have the audacity to talk about saving the planet – we can’t keep a goldfish alive in our house. I’ve killed more potted plants than I can count!
- Ecology is great, and environmental stewardship is biblically mandated, but we are not driven by what is good for humanity in a physical sense, we are driven by what God says is good for humanity in a spiritual sense.
- We serve and worship the Creator, not the creation.

6) Truth is Universalism:
- Universalism says that whatever you believe is true. It’s just, “Whatever.”
- Don’t you love that word? “Whatever.” It’s the one word that will make you wanna slap a teenager, and it’s not even a curse word – “Whatever.” It’s a zero-content word, like “maybe.” Are you going to do this for me? “Maybe.” “Well what do I know now that I didn’t know before you spoke?”
- That’s what universalism is – “Whatever maaan, whatever you think is cool with me.”
- And it sounds so tolerant and wonderful, but how quickly we find out that doesn’t work – just let your wife tell you she’s been with another man, yeah, I’ll bet you’ll say, “whatever.”
- Just let your teen wreck your car – “whatever.”

All those things are distortions of Truth, but it’s the way our world operates.
So how do we communicate truth today?

5 Things we have got to know:

1) Know who you believe in:
- Christianity is about Jesus.
- We do not approach people with a litany of facts, we tell them first and foremost about Jesus.
- Paul says in Philippians, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.”
- Our faith stands on Christ alone. If we hold him up God will draw all people to him.
- Paul says in 1st Corinthians that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are “of first importance.”
- Do not be ashamed of Jesus, and do not substitute knowing Christ for a set of facts about his church.

2) Know what you believe in:
- “Well, you said it, I believe in Jesus.”
- But you have to be more specific.

Illus: Japanese food.
- Have any of you ever eaten over here at the Fuji Steakhouse? You know, they cook the food on the grill right at your table, and flip the shrimp into pocket – I call it a “chop/chop, wam/wam” place.
- For me, that’s Japanese food.
- But, for John and Donna Hanson, Japanese food is sushi. Actually, the English translation is “yucky.”
- And if we took that sushi over to the Fuji, they could cook it, and it would be good.

- When we say to someone, “I believe in Jesus,” and they say, “Cool, I believe in Jesus too,” we have to say, “What do you mean?”
- Muslims believe in Jesus too, but they do not believe what Paul stresses in Colossians, that Jesus was bodily God. Fully God and fully human at the same time.
- You need to know that plenty people sing songs of praise to Jesus, but deny his humanity.
- They will talk about Jesus as a good force, as a spirit, like “the force” in Starwars, and you can find yourself talking with someone about Jesus, and while you may be using the same words, you’re not speaking the same language.

3) Know why you believe:
- The modern mindset likes to get into all the history of Christianity and textual evidence, but the postmodern mindset says, “Don’t bore me with all that stuff, just show me how this impacts my life – how is this relevant?”
- These are the roots and the fruits of Christianity.
- And both are important!
- We had better be able to talk on both sides of this fence b/c they’re both God’s back yard – He has given us a brain to read and understand scripture, but He expects it to change our lives!

4) Know how to verbalize why you believe:
- I believe that God exists b/c the evidence is overwhelming.

Illus: Campsite
- Image walking along in the woods, and you come across a clearing with a tent, and a clothesline, with some shirts hanging on it, and a fire, with a pot of coffee, and a pan of sizzling bacon – your natural reaction would be to say, “somebody was here. Somebody did this.”
- It would make no sense at all to say that that campsite just happened by accident.
- This watch just appeared one day, with the word SEIKO on it!

- And I also believe that Jesus is the Son of God b/c of the evidence: Hundreds of years before he was born several prophets accurately predicted where he would be born, how he would die, who would betray him, where the money would come from, what would happen to it.
- The chances of all this being a coincidence is zero!
- And I believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead b/c credible and believable eyewitnesses went to their death b/c of their conviction that it was true.

5) Know how to live what you believe:
- Last Sunday night I said that living consistent with what you believe is the heart of a life of truth and integrity.
- What is truth? It is walking the talk.
- The next generation and the world out there will never believe us if we do not live what we believe.
- The greatest challenge we have is walking out that door and saying:
I believe, therefore I trust
I believe, therefore I have confidence in God
I believe, therefore I will live a pure life

James 1:22-27

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Tiger Rocks

I installed the new Mac OS X on my Powerbook G4 yesterday, and Tiger rocks! I added the new iLife and iWork as well. They also rock! Oh, and I added an airport extreme card and got an airport express. This is my last week as a student, so I'm taking advantage of Apple's student discount. It all just works. I'm a Mac fanatic, but even I feel like a kid at Christmas time!

When I moved into my new office and set up my new HP last month, and ran through all the checks and install verifications and appropriate nasty disclaimers, it worked great - for about four minutes. Then, something happened. Something attacked. Something swarmed the computer the instant I tried to move around online and the computer slowed and bogged and cluttered and crashed, and multiple restarts and debuggings only brought up only a flood of pop-up windows and error messages and claims of infestation of this worm and that Trojan horse and did we want to buy McAfee antivirus protection for $39.95?

I’m not a computer expert, but here is my big obvious question: Why do people put up with this? Why is there not some massive revolt against Microsoft? Why is there not a huge contingent of furious users, demanding the Windows monster be sacrificed at the altar of decent functionality? There is nothing else like this phenomenon in the entire consumer culture. If anything else performed as horribly as Windows, and on such a global scale, consumers would scream bloody murder and demand their money back and there would be some sort of investigation, and class-action litigation. Imagine it: “Here is your brand new car, sir.” You drive it off the lot, and suddenly, the new car shuts off. The new car barely starts again and then only goes about 6 miles per hour and it belches smoke and every warning light on the dashboard is blinking on and off and the tires are screaming and the heater is blasting your feet and something smells like burned hair. You hobble back to the dealer, who only says, “Sorry, we thought you knew - that's the way they all run. Enjoy!” Would that not be the last time you buy a Ford?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I'm baaack!

Well folks, I have not gone away. It's been so long since I've updated this blog, but I'm going to be more disciplined from now on, oh, and not so politically motivated. I'm glad Bush won the election, but I'm also glad we have a two-term limit. When Bush clears out in 2009 I'll be very relieved. I'm a cautious Bush supporter, not a Bush boot licker (like Sean Hannity)!

I got the preaching job at Baker Heights. September to January was the hardest 5 months of my life - being the youth minister and preaching minister at the same time, going through the selection "process," and handling some severe criticism at the same time. Anyway, Mike Tackett and I are now the "co-evangelists." We really work well together, but more on this later.

Last week I did a sermon on the Lord's Supper. It was tough! Wrestling with the text (1st Cor.11) is something the congregation doesn't see. I lay awake on Saturday night trying to figure out a way to communicate the full measure of the term "incarnation" - that God became flesh in the person of Jesus, that Jesus lives in common bread and wine ("this is my body"), and that he still lives in common people - the church is the "body of Christ. It's so symmetrical. It blows the mind!