Thursday, December 07, 2006

Even More about the Church...

Wow, has it been almost two months since my last post??? If anyone is still reading, I'm sorry about that. My boss resigned a few weeks back, and life has been hectic ever since. No excuse, but maybe you understand...

At the risk of really getting myself in trouble (even with myself) let me post a paper that I wrote for one of our professors. He is a history guy, and sees the history of the Church as a series of reforms since Constantine's ruining of the church in the 4th century (I like this approach). He asked a few people to write their thoughts on the next needed reform. So here you go. Critique away!

The Next Reform?
Arnie Adkison

The church’s next needed reform (at least in the Western communities that I am familiar with) can be summed up with the words deconstruction and desystemization. The church should be a community of believers living together in close proximity to others and to their neighbors, but instead we have become large organizations formed around accomplishing certain purposes. Many of these purposes are good and godly things, like worship, evangelism, Bible study, etc. However, these things are not ends unto themselves, but actions that a community of Christians should practice in the normal flows and contexts of life, not in engineered events in private facilities. What does this deconstruction and desystemization look like?

  • The church should begin divesting itself of owning property and move the center of activity back into homes and neighborhoods. In our isolation-of-the-individual culture where people build McMansion castles that protect them from the bad elements in society but also insulate them from real relationships, churches need to become mobile communities that meet in close proximity to all kinds of people so that we can focus on building relationships of love with each other and our neighbors. Our busy programs fill our church buildings with activity but do not accomplish the building of very many real communities of love and faith in our society.
  • Totally eliminate the dichotomy between so-called clergy and laity, restoring the true principle of the priesthood of every believer. Some have called the Reformation a 2/3 reform, because it restored sola scriptura and salvation by grace, but did not complete the necessary reform of returning the church to a community of equal followers of the Way. Every believer has a role to play in the church community, and they must not be allowed to not fulfill that role. Small neighborhood communities allow for everyone to participate in worship, evangelism, Bible study, etc.
  • Create (re-create, really) a new theological education model for educating not just potential leaders but all followers of the Way. If all believers are responsible in the new communities, then all believers are required to enter into a process of apprenticeship to learn both theology and practice of the Way.

The true New Testament local church needs to deconstruct the buildings and unsystematize the programs that have become the focus of the past few centuries since the Protestant Reformation and return to communities living and functioning as the body of Christ in the midst of neighborhoods around the world.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What is the Church?

So what the heck was I trying to say with my little epic in the last post? My hope was to begin laying a foundation that helps us understand where the church began, and where it has come from those beginnings.

For three centuries, these bands of brothers and sisters flocked in informal communities, sharing in common their love, their lives, and their worship of God. For some, the patterns of their lives changed drastically. Paul, for example, went from the up-and-coming Sandhedrin leader (the Sanhedrin was the ruling council of Jewish leaders) helping expose and eliminate "followers of the Way" to one who travelled the known world to share the message. But there were many others, perhaps even the majority, whose normal patterns, their daily comings and goings, didn't change so much, because God didn't call everyone to be like Paul and travel the world for the gospel. For those folks, what changed was how they saw God in those daily patterns, and how the eternal kind of life, the life that is experienced only in obedience to God (note that Jesus' early followers were not followers of a theology, or even followers of Jesus, but followers of the Way--it was a way of life) became their normal experiences as they went to work, raised their kids, and loved their neighbors.

So, for our discussion here, I'm saying that the church is a group of people who are committed to one another in their relationships and are together trying to follow the Way of Jesus in the world.

What else is required to be a church? What is the church's mission; why are we here? Check out future posts!

Monday, October 09, 2006

My Ecclesiology

At the risk of getting myself into trouble here, I want to spend a few posts talking about ecclesiology, or views of the church. As I set this up, keep in mind that I believe every follower of the way of Jesus, when confronted with what s/he believes are the shortcomings of his/her tradition, has two broad choices: leave for something more aligned with your beliefs or stay and play the prophetic role in your tradition. God calls people to do both at various times, I think, depending on his purposes at that time. The truth is that all of our traditions have shortcomings, and while some may be worse than others, all communities of Christ-followers can reflect that which is best and worst about mankind. For the time being, I believe God has called me to stay in my tradition.

Once upon a time a holy man came and showed his followers how to live as God intended, in the pattern of the alive life. He told those followers to stay bonded together in communities of close-knit, sacrificial love and service for each other. "When you are going about your daily lives," he said, "invite others whose path you cross to join us in the pattern of the holy life."

So these people, who had been taught and were still learning about the alive life, went about their living. And in their living life they loved people. They loved each other, they loved those outside their communities, and they especially loved those who were the not-loved of their societies. These incredible little life-communities would grow, then regroup into new communities, then grow. In a short 3 centuries they went from a few hundred people to more than 10% of the world-conquering empire of that time, always in these alive communities.

Then one day the king of the empire saw the possibilities of the alive life. He also saw that the people of the alive life communities could be valuable allies in the rules of the empire. So the king declared the alive life communities to be the true religion. And the people rejoiced.

Now some of the alive life communities began to be run by the by the bureaucrats, the king's leaders in the empire. The bureaucrats knew that there had to be a way--a more efficient way--to teach others about the alive life. So they created standardized curricula and standardized buildings and standardized sermons. And the people rejoiced.

Some bureaucrats became very good at the standardized sermons. They were given special places as kinglets of the alive life communities. And some of them began to institutionalize the standardized rules. Spiritual guides were now kinglets, and the gentle ways of the first holy man were turned into institutionally protected and enforced laws. And the people...well, they didn't rejoice.

Over the centuries the institutionalized, standardized communities have tried to find and teach the alive life. The institutions have been destroyed and rebuilt, better than they were, better, stronger, faster. The standards have been enforced, debated, deleted, bought, sold, split over and ignored. Pockets of the alive life communities are still found, but the institution has become, well, institutionalized. Sterilized. Anesthetized. Deadetized. And the people have forgotten.

But not all the people. No, the alive life communities are still there. They are harder to find, tougher to nail down. But they are there. The destruction of death and hell can not--will not--fully keep down the ones who follow the way of the first holy man.

Where are those alive life communities today?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Urban Revolution

I preached at CrossBridge Community Church in San Antonio on October's a link to the audio file if you're interested. The basic story was that Jesus came to create a revolution--a new way of thinking and living. He called it the kingdom of God. I like Dallas Willard's definition: "the effectual reign of God." Evangelism, an overused, misunderstood Christianese word, is really an invitation into the life you always wanted (borrowing from John Ortberg, whose book by the title "The Life You've Always Wanted" says that it is "Dallas for Dummies", since Dallas Willard is so deeply philosophical--but I digress), not asking the question "if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?" There may be a time for that tired question, but there is at least one better--"If you were to live for another hundred years, how would you want to live?" That's the kind of question Jesus asked, I think.

Anyway, here's a link to the sermon as an mp3 file. Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Team Moroni

Last night my brother and I were at the TCU/BYU football game. Because an old friend and teammate of ours is an assistant coach for BYU, we sat with their fans during the game and mingled with them waiting for him after the game. (As a side note, this was really hard for me, having played football at UTEP in the old WAC with BYU!). I happened to notice a guy wearing a shirt with a similar pattern as the Nike Swoosh with the phrase "Team Moroni". I have to say, my initial reaction was one of "that's funny!" But then I realized, and even said to my brother, "that's probably what non-Christians think of our goofy t-shirts."

Have we sold out to merchandising theology or what? So called "christian" gear is a huge industry now (think "WWJD", "Prayer of Jabez" stuff, t-shirts and so on--googling these brought up millions of websites hawking the gear, everything from shirts, hats, beanies, backpacks, hacky sacks, flip-flops, bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, nose rings, and on and on, ad nauseam). Of course my favorite is the WWJD offering at Landover Baptist, a parody website.

We deserve to be parodied! I cannot imagine any scenario by which Jesus would be happy about us hawking wares with pithy slogans of shallow theology.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Christians and War recently posted an article from Salim Munayer called "Is There a Christian Attitude Toward War?" that I thought did a wonderful job of tackling this difficult issue. Munayer outlines three broad attitudes that can describe Christian thought. The first is to adopt an "in war as in war" approach, which means that "the reality of war necessitates a change in our moral understanding and behavior." Honestly, I can't believe how many Christians I know who take this tack. Believing that the end justifies the means, Christians promote war as a necessary good for God to accomplish his purposes in the world.

Now it can clearly be argued that God often directed the Hebrews to attack cultures and civilizations around them, even commanding that they be destroyed and punishing the Jews when they didn't destroy them. But it is a big leap to say that we should be promoting any kind of "war as a solution to evil" in our world today, declaring God to be on our side. I would suggest two reasons for this, one of which Munayer make a great case for; namely that Israel was under the theocratic rule of God, and no nation today can claim that status. To quote Munayer: "the particularity of our context makes it difficult and extremely dangerous to abstractly apply the principles of Joshua to the present conflict." My second reason would be that it seems to me to violate the way that Jesus taught us to live in the New Testament. He made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world, i.e. not obtained through normal political or military processes. Yes, he said that he came to bring not peace, but a sword (see Matthew 10.34), but he was talking specifically about the interpersonal relationships that we sometimes value over truly following his way of life. He's here talking about priorities, not war. He later in Matthew tells Peter not to use his sword trying to protect Jesus from arrest, because "all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Mt. 26.52).

I am especially concerned with certain dispensationalist leaders who promote some version of the "Left Behind" eschatology that re-promotes modern day Israel to covenant-nation status with God and teaches that anyone who disagrees with them--or by default agrees with their "enemies" --sets themselves up against God himself. I believe this to be bad hermeneutics; there is no geo-political nation-state that can today claim status as God's chosen nation (see Romans 9-11). Certainly not all dispensationalist leaders teach this, but several prominent ones have so bought into the end times scenario of the position that they see Israel and the US as God's arm of destruction on evil. This is a dangerous position for anyone to take--acting on God's behalf--especially when it involves the taking of another human life!

A second approach is pacifism: the idea that all war is unjust by definition, and that killing of another human is wrong in any context. I have to admit, this position seems to more closely fit the teachings of Jesus and of the early church. It has looked more palatable to me in that past few years. But I have come to believe that it looks that way because I don't believe that the war in Iraq met the demands what Christians have long called "just war" theory.

Munayer calls this third position a "selectivist" approach. This approach argues that it is dangerous to make any absolute decisions about the morality of war. Some should be fought. Others should not. Just war theory, as stated by Constantine and then expanded by others through the centuries, promotes the idea that there are certain inalienable criteria that must exist before a war is considered just. See for an overview of the idea from philosophical standpoint.

I hope that the key component in any Christian's view of war--and any other issue--is critical biblical and prayerful thinking.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Like most other Americans, I have not been able to escape the reflections on that day 5 years ago. Has it really been 5 years? As I watched the President speak, and then the special docudrama on ABC, several thoughts overwhelmed me:

Life is fragile.

People are capable of extreme heroism.

People are capable of horrific evil.

There is a fine line between pride and arrogance.

Evil must be overcome with good.

Can there ever be peace on earth?

Have Americans learned anything?

Is the war on terror really happening because some people don't like democracy? Don't like us?

God of peace, Father of the Prince of Peace, may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Prescribed Plagiarism

MacKenzie ends "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" with a little section on the artistry of life. God hands every person a blank canvas and asks us to create a masterpiece.

But then in steps people.

People aren't sure that you have what it takes for the masterpiece creation. People will tell you that you can't quite get it right. They want to draw the lines on your canvas within which you "have" to paint. And your masterpiece moves from work of art to "paint by numbers".

Gordon calls this "prescribed plagiarism." I love this phrase. Way too many of us have caved in to the public hairball and decided that we have to follow the rules, paint inside the blue lines with only the color that the number represents. We become copies, following the prescriptions of others.

Orbits and Hairballs

I just finished Gordon MacKenzie's jewel, "Orbiting the Giant Hairball." Gordon worked for 30 years at Hallmark Cards, retiring with the title "Creative Paradox". As a writer and illustrator, he leaned toward the creative side of life, and struggled with all things corporate and bureaucratic, i.e. the hairball. The hairball represents all the stuff of an organization--policies, processes, rules, etc.

As the hairball grows, it creates mass. That mass has gravitational pull. People in the organization--especially creative people--have two options that they should avoid. First, they can give in and collapse into the hairball. I know I've seen (and been) the creative person who suddenly gets a whiff of corporate power then becomes a hair in the hairball. Before I know it, I'm the bureaucrat that I hated! It is so easy to do this. We see it in not just in organizations, but in churches, parachurch organizations, and denominational groups. Someone moves into a position where creativity is downplayed, where following the rules and making others follow them becomes your job, and it's so easy to play it safe.

But the second option is not any better. Many creative people so resist the gravitiational pull of the hairball that they float off into space, totally free to be their creative self, but totally irrelevant and ineffective in changing the world at any significant level. If I can't do it my own way, I'm going to take my creative ball and go home.

The third option is the best: allow just enough of the hairball's influence on you to balance your own trajectory and enter into orbit around the hairball. Maintain a loyalty to the organization, utilizing the resources there to at once harness, channel and then unleash your creativity with the power of the organization behind it. What a balance, but when it is achieved, it makes success so much easier.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Postmodern Attractions

I'm really a little too old to be Gen X.

I turned 40 this summer, meaning I was born in 1966, the "tween" years between Boomers and Gen X. But throw in the fact that all of my formative childhood years were spent in tiny Texas towns in a pre-internet age, and you could probably peg most of my life in the Boomer or even pre-Boomer worldviews.

So why have I been attracted to the theological implications of postmodernity?

I don't want to pretend I'm an expert theologian or philosopher, but as I understand some of the ideas in the emerging "postmodern" worldview, what I like is the idea of deconstruction. As an introductory caveat, I'm not a total deconstructionist--I do think that words can have meaning as they truly represent truth and ideas (yes, one of my many paradoxes is that I tend to think in terms of both truth and postmodernity). But I believe that Christianity's dominant position in Western society has made it weak in terms of evaluating our contructs that explain everything from church to politics to relationships to morality and pretty much everything else you can imagine.

Humans like constructs. They give us something tangible to "see" mentally and spiritually. But trouble brews when the construct becomes equal with the intangible truth they were built to represent. When our form of church government or policital position or moral stance (assuming these are not clearly dilileated in the Bible, but even that is very challenging, since we all use the Bible to prove our constructs) becomes equal to God's truth in our own minds, it becomes a sacred cow. We tend to protect it at all costs. Eventually we even lose sight of the actual truth that the contruct was built to represent, and our lives and worldviews become powerless shells, devoid of life and spirit.

That's where the part of deconstruction that I like comes in. It is good and healthy for growing followers of Jesus to deconstruct our constructs. We should take a look at the points of view we hold, boil it down, look at it from different angles, read others' thoughts about it, and most importantly, check to make sure it flows from the Scriptures. So many of our beliefs come from what someone other than a biblical author originally penned, but we have to look at those beliefs very closely and authentically to recognize where we have allowed our constructs to add to or push out the actual truth.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Middle East Madness

Boy did I pick the wrong time to be planning and promoting a donor trip to Israel...

The middle east has flared up again, as it seems everyone knew it would and no one can do anything about. I wish I knew some great answer, some incredible piece of wisdom that would promote a lasting peace in that region. God knows that He wants peace!

Today's Christianity Today online piece had a story from Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. The CT editors preface the article with a disclaimer about their disagreements with some of Accad's points, and I wonder why. Are we so convinced of the "need" for "wars and rumors of wars" because of the prevailing eschatological madness in the US that we don't condemn atrocity, even (especially!) when our friends are committing it? Check out the article, whether you agree or not it will help you see a different point of view from another follower of Jesus--always a good thing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I got to preach at my church, Grace Point in San Antonio, a couple of weeks ago and wanted to post my sermon. Hope you like it!

Making Spaces
Opening Up Authentic Community
Grace Point Church
July 9, 2006

Who Am I?
Really, who am I to be preaching a sermon on community? If community means a group of people in close proximity that are growing in their knowledge of each other and in their love for each other, then I’m really not sure what credentials I have to be standing here. I’m on staff at a theological university, but I’m certainly no expert theologian. I raise money for the school, so I understand the importance of relationships, but really I’m just as selfish with my own time and energy as the next person (maybe more so). I used to be a pastor. People ask me today if I would ever be a pastor again, and my response is usually “I loved being a pastor, except for all the people.” I’m a husband and a dad. In fact, I can be so bad at relationships that Sandra’s family scared me to death when I first met them. I mean, they did everything together. As a teenager I came from the typical American family, where we ate in front of the TV (when I was home for dinner), mom did all the cooking and cleaning (except for grilling of course, that’s a man’s job), and we each had our own TV in our bedrooms. The first time I was around Sandra’s parents, I noticed that they were different. They worked together. They cooked together. They cleaned up together. They cleaned the house together. If one wants to read, they usually both sat down with a book. About three months before we got married I went over to their house and told them that I was scared that they were too close, that they were going to smother me in my starting a new family with their daughter. I actually asked them to give us our space. So clearly, I am not the ideal candidate to teach about relational community.
I will tell you where I learned the most about community. I wish I could say it was in a church somewhere, but the truth is, the closest thing to real community I’ve ever seen and personally been a part of was my college football team. Think of the diversity that was there: rich kids, poor kids, middle class kids (economic); urban kids, suburban kids, country bumpkins (geographic); white, African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Islanders, Asian (ethnic)—there were 110 or so of the most diverse group of guys you have ever seen. (No women though, maybe that helps. Or hurts.) Yet by the time that I finished in 1988, the group of us that had played together for several years, experiencing the winning and losing of sports life, we were the best picture of community I have known in my 40 years. An odd group of guys working as one to win football games.
So here I am, an admitted selfish person, one who likes his own space, a confessed “situational extrovert”, to borrow a phrase from Wesley, about to talk through what the Bible challenges us with in the area of the church making the space to become a community. I’m no expert challenging others to do something tough, I’m a fellow struggler trying to figure it all out myself!
Let’s start with unpacking the word “community” again. I gave you a little of my definition earlier, but here it is again: a community is a group of people in close proximity to each other that are growing in their knowledge of and love for the others in the group. If you’re bilingual, I think an even better word is the Spanish pueblo. It’s people whose paths cross each other all the time, with some common interests and passions, learning to live and grow together. People with problems and dreams and issues and phobias needs and successes. And while my best experience with community was not in a church, I do know where there is a great picture of a church doing this.
In Acts chapter 4, verses 32-36, we get a little glimpse of how Jesus’ good news changed the lives of these early followers. We tend to think that Jesus’ good news is that you can go to heaven when you die. But really that’s just a piece of the story. The real good news is that you don’t have to do things in the old, stupid, self-serving ways anymore. You can do what is right and just, you can love your neighbor the way you love yourself. And these early guys got it. Check out what it says:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was brought upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Now that’s an amazing community. Being on the Jesus’ team in those early days meant that you were taken care of, regardless of your situation in life. The wealthy (in whatever area—this case is about money, but there’s all kinds of wealth) shared with the needy. This becomes then one of the markers of making space for community: those who have something sharing with those who don’t. Regardless of what you have or don’t have, you have something that the community needs from you, and you have something that you need from the community. And as the story of Ananias and Sapphira shows in the verses right after this, the sharing can’t be coerced, and it doesn’t create a system of power and subservience. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to shortcut community and look like they cared, while still keeping some of their “space” for themselves, and it cost them their lives. What do you have in life? Share it! Bring it to the table in the community and share it! Is it money? Shelter? Encouragement? Food? Faith? Don’t store it up in places where it can be stolen or destroyed. Preserve it forever by sharing with the community. And let the community share with you.
Flip over now to Ephesians chapter two, and let’s get a little of the theology behind community. In verse 11 it says:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Note the words in the early part: separate, excluded, foreigners, without hope, without God, hostility, barrier. These are words of division, words of war. But the good news of Jesus brings an end to these things. Instead of two separate people, one holy (circumcised) and the other evil (uncircumcised) Jesus make us one. Instead of two nations, where one is a citizen and others are foreigners and (illegal) aliens, we are all citizens in God’s nation. We’re in the same “pueblo”, the same household building, no longer without God but with God living in our community.
So if this is part of the good news of Jesus, how do we do it? How do we make space for authentic community in our lives, the way my daughter makes space for herself between her mom and I on the couch? Individually, we make space for community by changing the way we work and think about our daily lives. I have to decide that the experiences that lead to community—being in “close proximity” with people, knowing and loving them—are valuable in my family, in my work, in my friendships. I have to pop the bubble of self-interest that I tend to walk around in all day, wondering how I’m going to get my job done, how I am going to relax, how I need my space. I heard an interesting report on NPR the other day about the size of houses and how they’ve grown over the past 50 years. In that previous generation, people had no choice but to interact with each other, they lived and worked in close proximity. Bedrooms were shared by multiple kids, houses only had one living room, and everyone shared the same bathroom (or outhouse, as the case may be). Today we can each have our own space right in the comfort of our own homes, just by closing the door or putting on the mp3. I have to decide I’m going to get out, be with people, talk, live, learn, love. We should stop building castles and instead create coffee shops. I think the ideal model for what our homes should become is Starbucks. Do you really think it costs $4 for coffee? We’re paying for ambience, for atmosphere. Starbucks goes out of its way to create a place where community happens. Dialogue, authenticity, play, work—it all happens there.
But I also think we as the church need to do something to make space for community. Community relies on what has been known recently as fellowship. If you’ve read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life you know that there are 5 basic purposes for followers of Jesus: worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry and fellowship. In recent years there has been something of a backlash against “fellowship” events or programs in our churches for two reasons: it doesn’t seem as important as evangelism and, unfortunately, many of the churches we grew up in were known for “fellowships” but never really did evangelism. We have rightly swung the pendulum away from a country club mentality for churches, but I think we have swung it too far away from the need for people to be together in authentic relationships, knowing and loving each other in the midst of all the stuff of life and humanity. Authentic fellowship with God and other people in joint pursuit of the kingdom of God is THE goal of joining team Jesus (think great commandment). You don’t recruit someone to a football team and tell them that their main job is to go recruit other players. You recruit them and train them and work them out and teach them how to use their skills to win the game. Grace Point has to make sure that some of the things that we do well—worship, evangelism, etc—are not seen as more important or more of a sign of maturity than building community. They are not. We need each other, we need to be in communal relationships with each other, and GP needs to make sure that it is programmed into the church’s DNA.
Finally, let me say that this is counter-cultural to the world we live in. It is revolutionary. Our world needs open/authentic believers to reverse the isolation and individualization of our lives. In fact, this is exactly how Jesus says they will see the good news. Look at John 17. This is the real Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus himself offered before getting arrested later in the evening. He prays for himself, he prays for his disciples, then he prays through time for you and me. Look in verse 20:
My prayer is not for them [his band of followers then] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in my. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus says that the world will know about God’s love for them by our unity, our community.
1 Corinthians 13 has often been a passage used in wedding ceremonies for its poetic and lofty description of love being patient and kind and selfless and all of those things. But the poem is not about husbands and wives, it’s about churches, about communities of Jesus’ followers. When I was in college, I would often hang out with a group of Christian friends. Several of us were a little edgy, a little different; okay, a little weird. One of our little games was to be in a restaurant, at the mall, or some other public place and I would start singing “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love…and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Somewhere in the middle of the verse my friends would join in and start singing, and I would stop and yell, “Hey, shutup! I’m singing here!” Then we’d all pretend to yell and fight and be mad at each other, then I would finish singing the song. Okay, a stupid thing to do, but it’s often exactly what the world sees when they look at a church—a group of people who sing about loving each other and God for 30 minutes a week and then are fighting, gossiping and just downright ignoring each other the rest of the time.
At the risk of being overly provocative, let me offer a modern paraphrase of the first few verses in that chapter of 1 Corinthians:
If we sing and worship with passion and energy, led by a band with musical harmony extraordinaire but have not love, we are only resounding gongs or clanging symbols. If our preaching and teaching is theologically accurate and totally applicable to our lives, but we don’t love each other, we are nothing. If we have the greatest children’s ministry and the most exciting youth ministry and dynamic 360s that draw hundreds and thousands to our services but don’t have love, we have gained nothing. If we plant 100 churches in 10 years but reproduce only the shells of church programs and not loving communities, we have done nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious or boastful of what it has done compared to others. Love doesn’t treat people rudely either through speaking poorly to them or speaking to them not at all. Love puts others first and encourages them, draws them in, knocks down their barriers and includes them. Love never fails.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Always surprises

I have always thought that Christianity had been usurped by conservatives--extreme conservatives for the most part--until the past couple of years. What I've found is a large group of people who passionately love God but from a different point of view from my small town, Texas, Southern Baptist heritage. And finally I have found people that I can agree with!

A great resource I recently discovered is Sojourners ( Here is a group of believers who have not bought into the idea that, as I recently read in their newsletter, Jesus would want morality in the bedroom but not the boardroom.

How do we as followers of Jesus rise above the political fray and simply follow the lifestyle theology of Jesus, our rabbi?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Spurs loss

Since moving to San Antonio 3 years ago, I've been amazed at the passion of Spurs fans. And I've become one. It was tough to watch them lose to the Mavericks last week in game 7. Avery Johnson is a great guy, and I'm glad for him, but we works for a guy that at least publicly seems to be a little off his rocker. Don't know him personally, so maybe it's all for show, but he makes me not want to pull for a Texas team against Phoenix.

Who are we most like, we members of the community of Jesus-followers? Are we just fans, content to pull for our team, but never in the game? Are we players, ready to give it all on the court of life? Or are we spoiled "owners" who think that since our team used to be the major societal influence then everyone should just cow to us, regardless of the problems in our own camp, the alliances with hired consultants that take advantage of the disadvantaged for their own gain?

Who is really most like Jesus?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Border thoughts...

I have an idea.

I think that the city of San Antonio, where I live, should make it a law tomorrow that you have to live in the city to work in the city. Then Wednesday, when all those people who live in the suburbs "immigrate" into SA to work, they should arrested as illegals and deported back to their home community. If they don't have respect for our laws, regardless of how arbitrary they are in the overall scheme of things, they should not be allowed in to work.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The ghetto?

Boy, I'm sorry it's been a couple of weeks since I posted! Crazy times.

Recently someone anonymously posted a question relating to my choice of the word "ghetto" to describe the evangelical community in the US. She or he raises a good point--is this the right word? I went to to make sure I had a good handle on the word's origins and meanings, and here's what I found:

ghet·to ( P ) Pronunciation Key (gt)n. pl. ghet·tos or ghet·toes
1. A section of a city occupied by a minority group who live there especially because of social, economic, or legal pressure.
2. An often walled quarter in a European city to which Jews were restricted beginning in the Middle Ages.
3. Something that resembles the restriction or isolation of a city ghetto: “trapped in ethnic or pink-collar managerial job ghettoes” (Diane Weathers).

While I cringe a little at any connotative association with the evil ghettoizing of Jews or any other minority group, it's the third definition that I am working off of: something resembling (as in metaphorical) the restriction or isolation of a city ghetto. The interesting thing about this ghettoizing of evangelicals is that I believe we have done it to ourselves. We have thrown up the walls, we have built the barriers, that isolate us from the world at large. Maybe insulate is a better word than isolate, because I think we have mostly done this out of the fear of being sullied or compromised by contact with sinful humanity. Instead of being monkish individuals, we have cloistered in pseudo-communities that have the same outward practices to identify ourselves as members of the club, but who inwardly don't seem to have community with each other or anyone else.

It is time for believers to leave our self-imposed ghettos and move in the world as salt and light.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How does a journey begin?

They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Well, Christmas morning my first step ended up with both hands in a cactus! Needing to get a little jump on my 06 resolution to lose 50 pounds, I was up early that morning jogging near my suegro's home in El Paso. Deciding to cut across an empty desert lot was the wrong idea. I crossed an arroyo, and as I climbed up the other side, tripped and fell right into several prickly pear cacti. Still pulling thorns from my hands...

Journeys are tough and painful, and anyone who says otherwise (to paraphrase Wesley--no not John or Charles, Wesley in "A Princess Bride") is selling something. 21st century Jesus-followers need to give up trying to explain life as some simple, easy jaunt. While always being worth the effort, it is often tough. Unexplained detours (or even ones explained by our own choices), trips and falls, spikes in the hand--these don't always make sense. At least not from our point of view. And they certainly aren't fair.

The world needs us to stop selling success and start living life. Life with all its bumps and bruises, joys and celebrations. Life is a journey. Take that first step...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Why this blog?

Stimulation--the little piece of dust that irritates the crap out of an oyster until a pearl is produced. Working in athletics, churches, and now educational institutions (and I guess as the parent of 3 kids too!) is a lot about stimulating things: thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, beliefs. It is in these arenas that 21st century Jesus-followers live, loving people the way he did. Posted by Picasa