Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life Imitates the Onion

Sometimes I come across a news article that is so bizarre, I think I’m reading The Onion – which is the greatest piece of satire and parody ever written! But no, I am soon jarred back to my battered senses by the sheer inanity that this is real! Today’s Wall Street Journal carried an article on how the Democrats are planning their August Convention in Denver to be the “greenest” ever! Yeah, whatever!!

Here’s how absurd this is. The volunteers need caps and fanny packs – but they have to be made from organic cotton, by unionized, U.S. workers. The only problem – such a product does not exist! They intend to use biodegradable balloons – and to prove they are biodegradable; organizers have buried balloons in a steaming compost heap. Plates and utensils must be biodegradable as well. Volunteers, decked out in green shirts, will watch to make sure that every scrap of trash is put in the “proper” trash bin. 70 Percent of all food must be locally grown to cut down on fuel usage hauling in food. Fried foods will not be permitted. And to make sure it’s all “green,” they have hired a “carbon advisor.” (If preaching doesn’t work out for me this will be my lucrative new career.) My first suggestion – don’t run the air conditioner. Sweat it out! We’ll soon see how “cool” Obama is. Maybe they’ll have afternoon naptime? This does sound like a giant day care after all!

And to think that these hysterical, foolish, immature, clowns will be spending millions of dollars between now and November begging me to let them run the country! My response will be to mercilessly parody and make fun of them until the election! Who’s with me?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nemesis Required!

Thanks to Wade Hodges for this really great idea off Craigslist. Someone posted this last month:

"Nemesis required. 6 month project with possibility to extend:
I’ve been trying to think of ways to spice up my life. I’m 35 years old, happily married with two kids and I have a good job in insurance. But somethings missing. I feel like I’m old before my time. I need to inject some excitement into my daily routine through my arm before its too late. I need a challenge, something to get the adrenaline pumping again. An addiction would be nice, but, in short, I need a nemesis. I’m willing to pay $350 up front for you services as an arch enemy over the next six months. Nothing crazy. Steal my parking space, knock my coffee over, trip me when Im running to catch the BART and occasionaly whisper in my ear, “Ahha, we meet again”. That kind of thing. Just keep me on my toes. Complacency will be the death of me. You need to have an evil streak and be blessed with innate guile and cunning. You should also be adept at inconsicuous pursuit. Evil laugh preferred. Send me a photo and a brief explanation why you would be a good nemesis. British accent preferred."

Isn't that great? I wonder if I have any nemeses? I wonder if I am someone's nemesis? Mmmm? Who is your nemesis?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Take a Look in the Mirror America

Here are some observations that are troubling me this Juneteenth. I heard on the radio that a pet store in Dallas was selling all BLACK cats and dogs at half-price today! At last weekend's Texas state Republican convention, buttons were being sold that said, "If Obama is President ... will we still call it the White House?" The same group also sold buttons with Hillary Clinton's picture that said, "Life's a bitch. Don't vote for one." Exit polls in southern states have many white voters admitting that they did not vote for Obama because he is black. At a recent Obama rally a Muslim woman was removed because she was wearing a headscarf, and that wouldn't look good on TV. And let's not forget New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin's "chocolate city" remarks from a few years ago.

This election is going to show America and the world what we are, and what we are NOT in terms of racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance. And so far . . . it does not look good for us!!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Food and Drink Prohibited

I have been scanning various church's facility guidelines. Many churches make this statement, and I have even seen this sign posted in a few church foyers, banning food and drink from the "auditorium." So, what is the problem with this? What strikes you as odd?

Monday, June 09, 2008

What is the Object of Your Worship?

From time to time I level some harsh criticism against Churches of Christ on this blog. I can do this because I am the ultimate insider - I "grew up in the church," I never missed Sunday School, we went every Wednesday night and Sunday night, I was part of the youth group, I worked VBS every year, I was baptized as a teenager, I have been educated in Church of Christ schools, and I have preached for 10 years in 3 congregations. The Church of Christ is in my DNA. There are things I love dearly about Churches of Christ, and there are also flaws and inconsistencies that I cannot ignore. To do so would be evidence of brainwashing. I want all my readers who have been critical of me recently to remember that this blog is a protest against brainwashing and blind acceptance of things that ought to be smashed to pieces with a rhetorical sledgehammer! So, if you care to stick with me, I want to take a sledgehammer to your most basic assumptions with a simple question: WHAT IS THE OBJECT OF YOUR WORSHIP? And yes, there is only ONE correct answer!

The Church (any church)?
The Church of Christ?
The Bible?
A political party?
The United States?
The military of the United States?
Certain cultural values and expressions (eg: "southern hospitality")?

The answer is GOD. Only God is to be worshipped. Anything other than God is idolatry. The reason why I am so harsh in my criticism of traditional and inflexible churches and Christians is because I see people WORSHIPPING the institution of the church, the Bible, traditions, and even the U.S. The extreme defensiveness and sometimes harsh reactions of people who feel threatened by my criticisms is evidence of this. So, please, worship God, but have the maturity of thought and attitude to CHILL OUT about everything else!

PS: "Chill out" is the best theological phrase I've learned in over 10 years of graduate school! Feel free to quote me liberally on this.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Church That Flies

I started a new sermon series yesterday, that a lot of people have responded to very well. So, for those you who weren't there, here's the transcript of the sermon:

I want to begin by explaining a very important distinction that we have sometimes blurred. The largest bell ever cast is known as the emperor’s bell. It is the largest bell in the world. It weighs 440 000 pounds, it is 23 feet in diameter. It was cast in Russia to celebrate the coronation of Tsar Kolokol III. There was a problem, however. The bell could not be hoisted into position. They tried. It fell, and a 12-ton piece broke off the lip. The bell now stands as an ornament in a public park. It has never rang, not once.

Point: Sometimes the form of something (how it looks) can overwhelm its function (what it was intended to do). A bell, regardless of how big and beautiful it looks, is not a bell if it cannot ring. It is useless if it cannot make a sound.

If you drive out of town in any direction, you are likely to go by a junkyard. And you’ll see rows and rows of rusted out cars. Some still have their wheels on. They all pretty much look like cars. They have the form of cars. But the problem is that none of them can get me from point A to point B. They no longer function as cars - and it really doesn’t matter that they look like cars, if they can’t transport me, they don’t work like cars.

One more example: Holly used to work for a foundation that operated 4 house museums. They’re wonderful homes, full of furniture from the Civil War period. Now if I were to take a tour through one of those museums, and I got tired, and sat down on one of these antique chairs, the docent would throw a fit. They’d have me off that chair before I could take a breath! Why? Because what looks like a chair no longer serves the function of a chair. A chair is built, by design, to sit in - that is why it has a seat, a back, and 4 legs. And if you ever come across a piece of furniture that has a seat, a back, and 4 legs, and you may not, under any circumstances, sit in it - well, it’s useless.

So we have two concepts now:
Form (how something looks, its shape, its characteristics)
Function (what it does, and why - its purpose)

Baptism is a great example of form and function working together – the form of baptism is immersion in water b/c the function of baptism is a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, and a washing away of sin. The reason why you do something precedes the specifics of how you do it. How you do something is only important if you’re doing it for the right reasons. In other words, form (what something looks like, how you do something) is important, but it always follows after and serves function (why you do something, its purpose).

I have been conducting an informal poll – asking people to name the “marks” of the church. What the church looks like. And, predictably, they rattled off the usual list - acapella singing, weekly communion, giving, praying, preaching, local autonomy, plurality of elders, deacons, someone even said having the name “Church of Christ.” But then I asked them to define the function of the church. What is the work that God has called His people to accomplish? If we say that we are the body of Christ on earth, how is that body supposed to function? What is the church for? Why are we here? What is God trying to do through us? Now that is a tougher question. We know the form, but what’s the function? Or is our function to simply get the form right? Is our purpose to be a carbon copy of the 1st century church? Is that it? Surely there must be more? You can have all the forms and structures and language down just right – you can have acapella singing, weekly communion, local autonomy, plurality of elders, deacons – you can even have the “right” name on the sign outside: “Church of Christ” – and be of no use to God. You might as well be a chair in a museum!

So, what are the functions God wants us to perform? What are the goals God wants us to strive for? It has become fashionable to say that we have an “identity crisis” in the church. Well, we don’t. We know who we are. We have a functional crisis in the church. We don’t know what to do! We have wings, but we don’t know how to fly! Instead of asking “how did they do things in the NT?” let’s ask “what were they about? What was their business? And why? What functions did the church perform? What is the business of the Kingdom of God? What goals and ambitions should we embrace? What purposes are central to our very existence?

From our reading of Acts 2 (42-47) and the rest of the book of Acts, I believe there are 7 basic functions of the church: Worship, Holiness, Being a Community, Maturing each other (discipleship), Service, Witness, Influence. This is the work that God has entrusted to His church. These are purposes to pursue - these things transcend time, culture, circumstance. These things are important and necessary for the church to function and exist and bring glory to God. And in the time remaining today we’re going to briefly look at the first function of the church – next week we’ll talk about holiness, community, and discipleship, and the week after that we’ll talk about service, witness, and influence.

1) God’s People are Called to Worship.
Worship is the primary function of God’s people – b/c worship is the acknowledgement that God is in our presence, that He is holy, and we are not!

Isaiah 6:1-5

We must worship. We must let our praises ring out. It is something we cannot not do! Under Moses, the first 2 of the 10 commandments addressed worship. The entire book of Psalms is the record of the worship of the Israelites. The NT church was primarily a worshipping community. Worship is an attitude and lifestyle - it was, and still is, a way of glorifying God in all we do. Worship was the reason the early church came together, and it is the reason we come together.

But we need to remember that true worship must never be confused with assemblies and rituals - it is, rather, the experience of the presence of God in our lives. Worship is when we see our own brokenness, and we express our gratitude to God, with joy, and fear, and humility. The language of worship transcends words. God demands that our worship honor Him and change our lives. Worship is not just an event you attend, it is not merely a set of rules to follow. It is an experience you cannot live without!

And perhaps, the most important practical implication of worship is that it has to change my life. There has to be a consistency between what we do in here one hour on a Sunday, and what we do out there the rest of the week. Worship has to change my life. This inconsistency is what the Jews of old were condemned for:
Isaiah 1:11-17

Our final text is a description of what heaven will be like, and no surprise, it is endless worship in the presence of God forever. But it is worship based on the notion that God, out of His great love for us, actually did something that benefits us greatly!
Revelation 5:1-14