Archive for March, 2008

Beware the Gnomes

GnomeCheck out this article.  FoxNews, your “fair and balanced” news source, found this information printed in the Sun of vital importance.

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I took this photo a couple of days ago here in De Soto.  I thought it was quite cool.

Rails on Fire

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Last week I picked up Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations.  You can find Dan Kimball’s blog here.  Dan Kimball is a pastor in Santa Cruz, California at Vintage Faith Church, and has published The Emerging Church and Emerging Worship.  He is also one of the contributors to Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches.  Another contributor to Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches is Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle.   Driscoll mentioned this book in a talk I was listening to on-line, and among the many things he said when talking about Kimball was that he is “a Christian.”  In context it was funny.  Anyway, I felt compelled to provide you with these links to Kimball’s corpus partly because I did not buy the book–I picked it up at the public library and read it in a couple days.  Sorry Dan.  Perhaps one of my readers will help you out and purchase a copy.  In my opinion, any church leader would be wise to pick up this book and listen to what Dan Kimball has to say.

There are three important emphases threaded throughout this book.  First, Kimball encourages his reader to be present in spaces where they can meet non-church people–to be in a position outside the church office where they can befriend non-Christians, develop relationships with them, and know what is going on in their lives so that they can be prayed for.  For example, Kimball has found ways to escape the “Christian bubble” by spending a couple of days during the week preparing his sermons at a local coffee shop.  Over time he has befriended other regulars and the employees there.  He doesn’t see these new friends as evangelistic targets, but human beings who need the ministry of the church.  Through developing relationships with people outside the church, he has found that emerging generations are extremely open to talking about Jesus and what Christians believe.  Most people Kimball spoke to dislike the church based on  their perceptions gained from news media presentations, street preachers, and televangelists.  Their impressions are from afar.  Kimball is challenging church leaders to present a compelling alternative within local contexts–many of the people Kimball spoke with couldn’t name Christian people they knew personally.

Second, Kimball identifies the following perceptions which emerging generations have of the church:

  • The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
  • The church is judgmental and negative.
  • The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
  • The church is homophobic.
  • The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
  • The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

Kimball is talking about perceptions that non-Christian people have of the church.  He is listening.  Kimball carefully explains the reasons why people outside the church have these perceptions.  In regard to homosexuality and women in pastoral leadership, Kimball challenges his readers (both liberal and conservative) to know the reasons behind their theological positions.  This portion of his work is incredibly helpful for Christian people who are trying to better understand the cultural landscape and engage as an effective witness for Jesus and his Kingdom.  This is an invaluable dialogue that could be recreated in any city.  Which brings me to Kimball’s final important contribution in this book.

In what could be a revolutionary idea, Kimball challenges us to listen to people in our city and respond in how we be the church.  Sounds like common sense.  He doesn’t recommend that we compromise our integrity as the people of God in responding to what we hear.  For example, one critique of the church that Kimball had heard is that it can become personality-driven–centered more on the pastor than on Jesus.  As a response, Kimball’s church has made the cross the centerpiece of their worship space, with the worship leaders and the pastor addressing the audience from a lower stage slightly off to the side of the cross.  Kimball challenges leaders to give a carefully thought out, biblical response to what is heard from those outside the church.

Kimball has reasons for hope in the future of the church.  I tend to agree with him.  He sees the emerging generation’s interest in Jesus as a great opportunity for Christian people to engage, share the gospel about Jesus, and invite people into a life of discipleship.  I think this is on point.

Pick up this book.  Read it.  Write in the margins (unless you pick it up from a library).  Agree.  Disagree.  This book will sharpen your thinking, broaden your understanding of the world we live in today, and challenge you to invite other people to follow Jesus.  It is a valuable contribution to the church that I pray more people will come to not only like, but love.

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LutherThis weekend I took the time to watch the 2003 film, Luther.  It was much better than I had anticipated.  During my undergraduate studies I read Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand as part of a church history course, have revisited that work since then, have read other items from this period in the past few years, and had a classmate at KU who focused on Luther for a course called, “Theories of Religious Experience.”

I’ll pass along the recommendation.  If you haven’t seen this film and have an interest in church history, check it out.

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Prayer is a discipline.

My experiences with prayer have varied.  When I was a young child I was instructed how to pray, both in form and posture.  Folding my hands, closing my eyes, bowing my head, I addressed God as Father, or spoke to Jesus, and acknowledged the goodness which I had experienced in my life.  I may have addressed the Holy Spirit, but that aspect of Trinitarian language was not central.  I would thank God for my family, my friends, the blue sky, the green grass.  I’ll never forget how my brother used to thank God for apple juice at the dinner table.  I would ask God to heal those I knew were sick, or be with those people whom I loved.  Prayer was described as a conversation with God, part listening, part speaking.  Along with Bible study and church attendance, prayer completed the tri-fecta of disciplines which made up the Christian life during my earliest years.

As I have grown older the number of disciplines with which I am familiar has expanded.  This is largely in part to Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines.  Even with this expanded set of practices, I cannot help but recognize the primacy of prayer.  This is largely because in a significant way I find it difficult to do–that is, to pray.  There are times when I just can’t find words to pray.  So I don’t.  Or I sit, and I listen.

Prayer has always been easier for me in community.  Why this is so I cannot say, but when I pray alongside other Christian people I am able to experience the presence of God.  I am also able to invoke the words of Scripture and words from song and liturgy, weaving together wonderful speech which I have been taught.  Thank God for both the words of Scripture and the words of poets, song writers, and liturgists who have provided truthful speech which I can employ in prayer.

I have engaged myself in much theological conversation, much reading, much Bible study, and much Christian service.  These are the things that keep us busy.  I confess that I have not been engaged enough in the practice of prayer.  Such a practice is important for many reasons.  Prayer is the place where we connect with God, are provided with vision, and deepen the nature of our understanding.  We are able to reflect on God as Trinity, on the church, and the state of our own souls.  We are able to engage in intercession, praying for others’ well-being, and that the conditions here would be “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Through prayer, it is hoped that we might also widen our ability to love in a manner consistent with the person of Jesus Christ.

This week I read Karl Barth’s Prayer.  Following Barth’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, the book includes a small sampling of pastoral prayers written by this great theologian.  Barth prays:

O Sovereign God, through Jesus Christ your Son you have humbled yourself in order to exalt us.  You became poor to make us rich.  You suffered and died, and in so doing gave us freedom and life.  And this eternal mercy and good news displays your might and majesty as our Creator and Lord, the glory in which we praise you and in the light of which we may live all the days you give us.  For this we thank you.

And in thanking you, we can come to you aright.  We are able to spread out before you all that to our understanding seems hard and perplexing and in need of your care.  In your mercy remember us all and be merciful to us, now and forever, for without you we can do nothing.

Have mercy on our church on earth in its division and dispersion, its weakness and its error.

Have mercy on the old and the young, on unbelievers far and near, on the godless and idolators who have not, or have not yet, heard your name in truth.  Have mercy on the governments and the peoples of this earth, on their perplexity as they search for peace and righteousness, and also on the confusion in our human endeavors in science, nurture, and education, and on all the difficulties in so many marriages and families.

Have mercy on the countless persons who today suffer starvation, the many who are persecuted and homeless, the sick in body and soul here and in other places, the lonely, prisoners, and all those who suffer punishment at the hands of others.

Have mercy on us all in the hour of trial and the hour of death.  Lord, because we believe with certainty that you have overcome, and that with you we too have already overcome, we call upon you now.  Show us but the first step of the road to freedom, won at such cost.  Amen. (69-70)

What great words.  Reading such words remind me that the work of the theologian must be immersed in prayer.  Because it is not only the scholar but also the laity and the clergy who are engaged in the practice of theology, Barth serves as a great example.  From the greatest to the least of us, we are all called to pray.  And through prayer we might come to think God-honoring thoughts and express them in ways that are truthful to God’s story.  Prayer also makes us aware of God’s reality as revealed through Jesus Christ and the practices of the church, as “Prayer takes place in liturgical time and thereby challenges the presumption that there exists no other time but the time of historical succession.  To pray means that there is another time known through liturgical repetition that is made possible and necessary by the reality of the Kingdom of God”(Hauerwas, The State of the University, 183).

It is my hope that Christians of all stripes, from laity, to pastors, to theologians, would engage regularly in the practice of prayer.  By doing so our witness is strengthened, the church is built up, and our vision is clarified.  Instead of declaring that the future of the church is bleak, remember that prayer is one of the many abundant resources which God has provided for us across time to nourish, equip, and strengthen us as the people of God who only need enough space in the world to witness to the fact that God so loved the world he gave his Son for it.

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