Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Xmas wars

I just can't resist getting myself in trouble. So why stop now.

I'm confessing that I'm tired of the Christmas wars. Or Xmas wars. Or happy holidays wars. You pick whichever you want.

There's a great article from Crosswalk on this here. I won't repeat most of what Warren Cole Smith said, but it's worth reading.

I just want to say that the Bible does not ask or command us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It does not preclude having happy holidays (Smith analyzes this well in the article--happy holidays is much more biblical than merry Christmas). Santa did not bring gifts along with the magi. December 25 is not a date in the Bible. And most likely not even that close to the date of Jesus' actual birth.

I say that there are really 2 Christmases--the American Christmas of "commercial debauchery" that has virtually no connection to Scripture (other than perhaps the coveting passages) and a commemoration of the Advent of Emanuel--God come to earth as a man. As believers, we cannot get the 2 confused. They are not the same. So I would encourage you to not be offended by Xmas ("X", the first letter in "Christ" in Greek, has been used to represent Jesus since early church history), or Happy Holidays (God knows we could use some holy-days), or that people from other religious traditions do not want to celebrate Christmas.

Jesus cannot be removed from any day, unless those who bear his mark and his Spirit cease to live out incarnational lives.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Book Review - 5 Cities that Ruled the World by Douglas Wilson OOO of OOOOO

Wilson's "5 Cities that Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London & New York Shaped Global History" (Thomas Nelson Publishers) is my kind of history book. In a similar vein as Mark Noll's "Turning Point", one of my favorite history reads, Wilson does a snapshot look at how various aspects of each of these 5 cities have come to influence our world today. Woven around the metanarrative of "freedom," I learned enough history to make the book worth the time.

Jerusalem, that city that struggles to birth peace today, is shown as the birthplace of religious freedom. God has done amazing things in and around Jerusalem, from Abraham and Melchizedek to David and Solomon to Jesus and Paul. Athens is presented as the birthplace of democracy, where men first saw fit to rule themselves. Rome is the birthplace of freedom under a law, the pax romana. Rome took the fledgling ideals of democracy and encapsulated them in the empire. London was the birthplace of artistic freedom, particularly literature. And New York became the place of financial freedom, the pinnacle of American capitalism.

The history in the book is impeccable, just the kind of overview that many Americans in particular will find entertaining enough to read (God knows Americans need to read more history!). Snapshots is the right way to describe it--it never feels like Wilson is trying to cram too much history into his pictures. And his notes offer plenty of follow up reading if one chooses to do so.

Probably the most challenging thing Wilson attempts is the recurring comparison of the Roman Empire to the American one. Are there corollaries, are there parallels? Wilson make an attempt at that answer, and without giving too much away, it's a decent attempt, albeit one that can get a little preachy about American freedom being more tied to biblical Christianity than I would be comfortable with. It's not quite as deep on this subject as say Claiborne and Haw's "Jesus for President" but that's because it's more of an emerging theme for Wilson than the reason he wrote the book.

One shortcoming--most of the thought and history is Western. I think I understand why Wilson would work this way--he's writing to Westerners and helping them understand their own history and how it has evolved them into who they are and why they think as they do. One chapter on a non-Western city (Jerusalem is non-Western in the time of Abraham and David, but I didn't feel Wilson dealt with it in that way) contrasting Eastern and Western thought might have added a good deal to the book.

All in all worth the read. Phatter Book Club gives it 3 bellybuttons out of 5.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Matt Chandler's take on this turn in life...

Most of you know that my pastor, Matt Chandler, is in the hospital recovering from brain surgery. Thanksgiving day he had a seizure, and was found to have a brain tumor.

But Matt sees this as an opportunity for the glorification of God. Here's a video he recorded last Thursday evening before Friday's surgery. Check it out.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The trouble with life...

I read Roy Williams' Monday Morning Memo and have often shared his writing here. Today is especially worth reading. Here's a snippet:

Tom Hennen has a line in his poem, The Life of a Day, that says,

“We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, ‘no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for,’ and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when we are convinced, our lives will start for real.”

That line is a little bit frightening because you read it and realize you’re guilty. You’ve been waiting for that day when your life will start “for real.”

The trouble with life is that it’s just so daily.

I love that last line--the trouble with life is that it's just so daily. How often are you waiting for some sense of higher purpose, some feeling that God is doing something great in you? To quote an old Steven Curtis Chapman song, "Are you waiting for lightning? A sign that it's time for a change...Are you listening for thunder, as He quietly whispers your name?"

May the monotony of today's tasks become the whisper of God, and may your today be "for real."

You can read the whole Memo here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's your elite status with God?

A couple of weeks ago I accomplished something new. I received an elite status with American Airlines.

Now it's just gold (which in ad-speak is always the lowest form of reward) but still--faster boarding, quicker access to first class seats or exit rows. I have always been a big Southwest guy, but living 15 minutes from DFW airport has forced a change. We'll see how that works.

But it made me think about how we approach God. Most of us--espesh those of us who grew up in church--have a hard time understanding that there is NO elite status with God. God doesn't give bonus upgrades to us to reward behavior he likes. How many times have I expected to be bumped into first class with God because I've been particularly good lately? Read my Bible every day, giving generously, sharing the kingdom message, voting Republican, attending church, etc, etc.

God has a first class, but it seems to be reserved for orphans, widows, prostitutes, tax-collectors and especially for martyrs. His first class is given out solely on the basis of what brings him glory.

So the next time I think my relative goodness gets me up to the front of the line in answered prayer, I should remember that there are 143,000,000 orphans in the world who just might be ahead of me.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Quick thought on patriotism

Over the past decade or so, as I've struggled with applying the teachings of Jesus to societal structures and not just on my own individual faith, I've thought a lot about national pride. I come from a wonderful family with many who served in the military, and who love this country. My wife, who is Argentine but became a US citizen in the 90s, has commented many times over the years at my patriotism, usually because she has seen how much I love the national anthem (and get really bothered when people start cheering at a sporting event before the song is actually over--it's very somber for me).

I've also spent time with many people from other countries and cultures, and think really about how much "God so loved the world", and wonder about the proper sense of national pride for one who lives in two worlds, one whose ultimate loyalty belongs to the King of kings, not to any man, woman, creed or ideology. I'm reading 5 Cities that Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and New York Shaped Global History, and came across this quote, which I wanted to share:

When patriotism goes to seed, becoming a jingoistic nationalism, it gives patriotism a bad name. It is the difference between gratitude and arrogant pride. Patriotism stifles the spirit of war, nationalism breeds wars. Patriotism is catholic, nationalism is sectarian. Patriotism understands and enters into the affection that others have for their place.

What do you think? How does a lover of Jesus loyal to the kingdom of God live a patriotic life in the US? What about those believers who live in Argentina, or Spain? Or Iraq or Palestine?

I thank God for the freedom I've been able to enjoy in this life. May I never take for granted political and economic freedom, or the spiritual freedom that comes only from Jesus.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A short book review: Chasing Francis by Ian Cron OOOOO

Yes, 5 out of 5 bellybuttons. For only the 2nd time ever (the first being Dallas Willard's The Diving Conspiracy) I give all 5 bellybuttons up. The book is that good.

I've always thought that I didn't get enough out of my books. There are 20 or 30 that I think I should just read over and over, instead of buying new books. So last week I picked up Chasing Francis off my shelf and read it through for a 2nd time. And it's still just as good.

Cron writes one of those semi-fictional accounts like Brian McLaren's New Kind of Christian. And the topic is similar--a New England pastor named Chase Falson blows a fuse about his misgivings concerning Evangelicalism and has a total meltdown in front of his congregation. Chase has been a successful pastor, growing a massive church and doing great things, but has increasingly become cynical about the whole USAmerican evangelical culture. (Sound familiar?)

So the elders give him some time off, and he travels to Italy and with the guidance of his Uncle Kenny, gets to know the little saint from Assisi, Francis. No matter how familiar you are with the story of Saint Francis, this book is worth the read. The newer versions even come with a study guide for individual or group digestion.

But here's the quote that convicted me this time around:

It was the communal example of Francis and his followers, rather than rhetoric, which offered the critique and provided the challenge...For the past few years I've been a self-righteous critic of the church and all of Christendom, and I need to give that up...Maybe I should try to live the gospel without gloss and keep my mouth shut? Chase Falson

I guess I need to say and pray those words myself. A lot. I think I've said it before; one of the most challenging things about Rich Mullins was that while he lived Jesus he loved the church, no matter her shortcomings. I need to give that up myself, and simply live the gospel without gloss.

Like Francis. I hope you read the book.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review - The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah OOOO (4 of 5 bellybuttons)

I do a book review every so often here, but lately have been wanting to revive the olden days. A decade or so ago I would do a book review for all the youth pastors in El Paso. It was called the Phatter than Oprah book club, and books got 1 to 5 bellybuttons based on my preference. Not wanting to be too insensitive, we're just gonna shorten it to Phatter than O, but the bellybuttons are back.

So, at the risk of opening a big can of worms...Soong-Chan Rah's book "The Next Evangelicalism" is worth the price. It's an intentionally provocative book (as shown by the quote from it that I put as my Facebook status a couple of days ago; you might want to stop reading now if you felt that was divisive and unnecessary), and for many people it will feel harsh to read. But I recommend you pick it up.

There are two ways to consider the interplay between gospel and culture. The common assumption is that the gospel is somehow supra-cultural. The other idea is that the gospel doesn't exist in a vacuum, but takes root in a culture and begins to redeem it, becoming something beautiful without losing any truth. The closest metaphor I can think of is an peach tree. The gospel is represented in the seed--all the DNA of the tree is there. But what the tree looks like as it grows is determined also by the climate, the soil, the food, etc. The gospel is pure and true, but it grows within the contexts of the environment (culture) of the people being redeemed. So the problem with the supra-cultural view is that we can become ignorant of how our own culture shapes and interprets the gospel for us, and we begin to equate the way the gospel redeems our culture with the way the gospel always works. This can lead to an elitism that is a hindrance to the community of believers, where we think all peach trees should look exactly the same.

Rah's main point is that the USAmerican church is by and large captive to a western, white culture. I cannot do justice to his defining this here (and I'm sure that just the way Rah says it offends some, for which I apologize, but hope you will push through), but a short definition would be that several centuries of consumerism, materialism, and individualism combined with the less than stellar record we have on treatment of racial minorities have led to a church that at times displays unredeemed or unbiblical values but equates them with redemptive living. His chapter on racism being inherent in the system is particularly challenging.

After discussions of the church growth movement, the emerging church, and other examples of what he terms the "cultural imperialism" of the USAmerican evangelical movement, Rah makes 3 challenges. First, we need to learn from African American and Native American Christian communities. The value of suffering in the scriptures is clear. The suffering of these two communities over the past 400 years has shaped their belief and practice in ways from which white Christians can learn much. Second, Rah challenges us to embrace the alien and stranger among us and learn from the immigrant church. Finally, Ray pushes us to a multicultural understanding of the gospel by learning from the second generation immigrants, who live in two or more cultures--something that from experience I know to open incredible insight into God and the gospel.

The main negative I would suggest about the book is that I wanted a few more practical applications for the lofty principles Rah discusses; for instance what does it look like for a church today to ask forgiveness for racism? What is the best way for churches to embrace a multicultural environment? But if you like to read a book that will challenge your thinking, this is a good one.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hypocrites in the Church? Sproul says overplayed...

R. C. Sproul is a good Christian thinker. Along with John Piper and my own pastor Matt Chandler, Sproul is perhaps the top USAmerican reformed thinker and teacher.

But I'm not sure I agree with his article here. Basically he says that the charge from outsiders that the church is full of hypocrites is patently false. He does a great job of outlining where the word "hypocrite" actually comes from (ancient Greek acting term for wearing a mask). But he then states that Christians are sinners and that doesn't make them hypocrites so the outsiders are wrong.

Really, what makes Christians hypocrites is their hypocrisy, not their sinfulness.

Sproul is correct in a couple of ways. First, those outside the church will often use any excuse to avoid dealing with their own sinfulness, and pointing to Christian hypocrisy is one such way. We should not give them such easy outs. Second, probably the vast majority of believers are not hypocrites, just as Sproul says. However, too many well-known believers (and by "well-known" I'm not just referring to famous ones, but ones well-known in their own communities too) pretend that their sin is not as bad as those outside the church. They pretend that the sin they struggle with isn't really there, or doesn't really ever win.

This is what the world sees and calls hypocrisy, the hiding of our dirty laundry. So what are we to do? Shout our sins in public? Stand on the corner and confess our darkest lusts and fears? Probably not, although that might be better than sweeping it under the rug. But there should not be a hint of "betterness" in us. The whole "one beggar showing other beggars where he found something to eat" has much truth in it for us. We did nothing and have done nothing to impress God. Honesty with him, with ourselves, and even with the world is the best policy, even when it comes to our showing our sin. After all, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. I've read that somewhere.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bible quoting cheerleaders

One of the recent flaps in US religious circles has been the recent ruling that cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorp High School can no longer use Bible verses on the banners that the football team breaks through before games. There has been much discussion about whether or not uniform-wearing cheerleaders represent the school (in which case the verses constitute school support for religion) or only themselves (in which case it's a matter of freedom of religious expression.

Choosing between the two might prove a conundrum.

Unless more spiritually mature heads prevail. I have 2 questions, and neither of them is about the constitutionality of the case:

1. Why would believers consider it profitable to write verses on banners that will be broken through? I would think the symbolism alone would be enough to put us off, not to mention the silly misapplication of Bible verses. [As a former athlete, I am amazed at the misuse--including my own once or twice--of verses like quoting "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" before a bench press.]

2. How would verses on banners advance the kingdom of heaven?

We continue to promote a civil American religion that does not resemble worship of the God revealed in Jesus.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle

It's probably no surprise to the 2.3 of you that I really enjoy reading books that I disagree with the premise. As long as they are well written and well thought out I like opposing points of view.

It may be a surprise that I really, really like reading books that say what I've tried to say, anticipate questions that I've had, and lay out a reasoned point of view that codifies my own thoughts. The Great Emergence is definitely the latter.

I've read books before that point out the appearance of radical change in church and surrounding culture about every 500 years. (Note, the first time I remember reading it was in a Pat Robertson book--please don't hold that against me.) You can look back through history, really even before the greatest of all upheavals--the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth--and find that just about every half millennium the underpinnings of society, so often reflected in the dominant religious system, are undermined, examined, rethought and reformed. Tickle refers to this as a "rummage sale", where the church and society at large take a look at the "stuff", the accouterments, of worldview and purpose, and "sell off" pieces that don't seem to fit anymore. Here is an overview of the major rummage sales as we refer to them today--keep in mind that these are broad generalizations:

  • The exodus of the Jews from Egypt
  • The anointing of a human king over Israel
  • Return from exile and eventual Maccabean revolt
  • The life of Jesus Christ
  • The papacy of Gregory the Great and the monastic movement he helped perpetuate
  • The Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches
  • The Great Reformation
  • The Great Emergence
These rummage sales are not just religious, but the intertwining of the dominant religious structures and the culture in which they reside make them broad events, impacting millions of people. Tickle describes each of these as unraveling the cord that tethers us to shore.

The unraveling happens really in response to one question: where now is our authority? In her words:

The question of "where now is our authority?" is the fundamental or foundational question of all human existence and/or endeavor, be it individual or that of a larger, social unit. Without an answer to it, the individual personality or the personality of the group at large alike fall into disarray and ultimate chaos. It is Hell where there is no answer to that question.

In our time, the Great Emergence is questioning the worldview that emerged in the Great Reformation, namely sola scriptura. That is not to say that the Bible is unimportant to emergents, but that the way we approach the Bible will be redefined. The rules we use to obey God's authority are changing.

Tickle takes some shots at defining what that emerging thing looks like, and I'll try to get to that in my next post. Until then, what do you think about this idea of where authority comes from? In my own tradition, there was in the past decade heated debate about whether the Bible is our authority or whether Jesus was our authority. Is there a difference?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The places God lives

I'm in Amarillo tonight.

When I was a kid, Amarillo was the biggest city in the world. At least to me. And as I flew in from the southeast, and saw Palo Duro Canyon out my window (it's the 2nd largest canyon in the country; do you know which is first?), I thought about the places I had lived, and the differences between them.

The Texas Panhandle, where I was born and lived until I was 14, is the flattest land you can imagine, with only mostly dry riverbeds interrupting the plains. Two trees together constitutes a forest.

The south central part of Oklahoma, where I sojourned like Jesus in Egypt as a baby, is a beautiful piece of hill country. Hills and bottoms, with a little town on the top of every hill. And I loved how those little towns consolidated their school districts--Velma, Alma, Loco, Weed, etc all towns that went to my school. And I still only had 25 classmates.

The Permian Basin is like half desert, half plains. And flatter than the panhandle. Okay, so I lived in Hobbs, NM, but let's be honest--it's really Texas. We would run to Texas and back during off-season football; it was only 2 miles to the border.

The El Paso desert and Franklin Mountains remain one of the most beautiful places in my mind. The city wrapping around the mountains, the twinkling night-lights that Marty saw from the sky--El Paso's beauty must be looked for, but when you do find it--wow, it's awesome!

San Antonio and the hill country are perfect in October, when leaves start to turn (as much as they can in Texas), and we're still working on learning the north Texas tastes.

But the greatest thing about every one of those places is that God lives there. David said you can't escape from his presence--and he was right.

One of the greatest books of the 20th century was "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard. In it he discusses the kingdom of heaven. We have this bad tendency to think of heaven as "way out there." God lives way out there in heaven. But truthfully, heaven is like atmosphere, it is the air we breath, it is all around us.

And God lives there.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The caricature debate--a soapbox plea to Christians

Caricature: a picture, description, etc., ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of persons or things. (HT:

I'm going to get on a soapbox. Leave now if you want.

Those who know me well know I love a good debate. I was having dinner with a member of my team and mentioned that when I was in college I loved debating just about any topic, and he commented that I had not stopped that in college. Yes, the very name of this blog (stimulation) invokes the thought of irritating in order to stimulate good thinking. I appreciate good thinking, whether or not I agree with the conclusion.

But there is a complete lack of good thinking going on these days. I am sick and tired of the caricature debate.

As says above, caricature is defined as "ludicrously exaggerating" a person or something about them. I'm not opposed to caricature--in fact it can be an important point of stimulating thought. In private conversations, good caricatures can be funny and witty. But even when used this way, it's obviously caricature. The dark side is when caricature is used to shout down an opponent and shut down a conversation. And honestly, even if those in the world want to use caricature in this way, it's not going to bother me too much.

No, the problem that makes me sick is that followers of Jesus are using caricature not as a ludicrous exaggeration, but as a point of factual argument. From my soapbox I'm going to call this like I see it--lying.

We have a horrible tendency to see someone who disagrees with us and "extremify" their positions, ludicrously exaggerating, or worse, mocking them. And when we do this, when we caricature or exaggerate, we are not portraying truth. We lie, either ignorant of the truth because we no longer think well, or promoting doomsday because we know fear-mongering might cause a knee-jerk reaction in our favor.

I say that this has no place among believers.

Are you a fiscal conservative who believes the current government is overstepping bounds and indebting our children and grandchildren to pay for current programs? Great, argue those points without caricaturizing the president or Democrats.

Are you a progressive who believes that we somehow need to have universal health coverage and take of those who cannot care for themselves? Great, argue those points without labeling all Republicans as greedy, uncaring rich white people.

I could go on and on (war, sexuality, abortion, etc. etc.)--but let me end my rant with these thoughts:

1. Diversify your source of news. Stop getting all your information from one source or one viewpoint.

2. Think. Boy, I wish I didn't have to say more about this, but much of this rant boils down to people who just regurgitate what they hear without checking facts or thinking about consequences.

3. Do not mock. This is inappropriate for followers of Jesus to mock as a form of argument. If you're mocking because you think something funny, then portray it as such. Don't use it to bolster a discussion.

4. Discuss. Discuss passionately if you need to, but discuss. Discuss spiritedly. But discuss. Discussion requires relationship, and it's no secret that I believe we need relationship even (especially?) with those we disagree with.

And so I step down, knowing that I fall short of my own standards. But lets hope that caricature debating gives way to well thought and reasoned debating.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

America's Past Time...

Inning by inning commentary:

Pregame: Men come together and formulate rules of the game, including equality before THE Head Umpire.

1st Inning: Red team shows up. Umpires show up. No opponent for Red team found. Unopposed, the Red team scores 15 runs. Score: 15-0

2nd Inning: Red team needs another team on the field, so procures Blue team from across the field. While Blue team is trying to learn the rules, Red team scores 9 runs. Red team considers giving bats to Blue team but decides against it. Score 24-0

3rd Inning: Red team continues to dominate, scores 12 more runs. Umps force Red team to let Blue team use bats instead of sticks. Score 36-0

4th Inning: Umpires confer. Home plate ump announces that it is unfair that Red team gets 6 outs each inning while Blue team gets 1. 3rd base ump disagrees and continues to call all Red team base runners safe. Blue team shows a little defiance, still only gets 1 out. Score 43-0

5th Inning: Umps confer again. This time umps agree--the 3rd base ump reluctantly--that out situation is unfair, implement "3 outs each team each inning" rules supposedly guaranteed in original rules developed in pre-game. Red team refuses to share aluminum bats technology with Blue team. Score 46-1

6th Inning: Umps force Red team to share bat and ball technology. Also decide that in order to rectify past unfairness, Blue team will get 4 outs for 1 inning. Score 47-7

7th Inning: Several Red team members complain to umps about extra out. Cry "reverse unfairness." 3rd base ump suggests Blue team goes back to 2 outs as penalty. Score 49-8

8th Inning: Many Blue team members give up on the game as hopeless to win. Red team doesn't understand and calls Blue team "lazy."

It's now the top of the 9th. What happens from here?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

My response to Brandon's question...

For my Facebook friends who will read this, my friend Brandon asked me to clarify my last note about what it means for Baptists--really all followers of Jesus--to be prophetically living in grace, love and liberty. My response was too long as a comment, so I had to do a separate post.

Brandon, I would love to clarify. First a disclaimer or two: I am not a member at Broadway Baptist in Ft. Worth, so none of my information is firsthand account. I do have several friends there, and of course most of us have access to the news from both sides of the discussion.

Here are the facts as I know them:

1. Last year (or perhaps the year before--can't remember how long this has been going on) the church was working on a pictorial directory.

2. At least one same-gender couple wanted to appear as a family in the directory.

3. As a church, Broadway struggled with how to respond in both grace and holiness. In the end their decision was to not have individual or family pictures, but pictures of the church folks engaged in various ministries and fellowships.

4. During the church's wrestling with the decision, at last year's SBC, someone from South Carolina who had no direct relationship with Broadway, nor to my knowledge ever sought one, moved that the Convention disfellowship Broadway. The motion was sent to the SBC Executive Board for further study.

5. During the past year, the church has been in dialogue with leaders of the SBC, and many on both sides hoped any disfellowshipping would be averted. Much scrutiny was given to Broadway, and more conservative Baptists pushed for some sort of open declaration that Broadway opposed homosexuality. During that time, it was discovered that the church had homosexuals on some committees or involved in some ministries.

6. At the SBC in June, the Convention voted to disfellowship Broadway.

7. After the SBC's decision, the University of Cumberland, a SBC-related institution, contacted the youth minister of Broadway and informed them that they would not be welcome to stay on campus and serve in a ministry to the poor in the Appalachian region as they had originally planned to do.

Now, these are the facts as best as I can tell. Here is why I take issue with this. The issue is not over the church supporting or condemning homosexual behavior. The church, who does care what homosexuals think about them and their reflection of Jesus, decided that a high road choice was to change their pattern on the directory layout. I happen to think that was a good option. They were able to maintain relational status with the members of the gay community they were connected to without being supportive of homosexual behavior or being used by strongly activist members of the gay community. In other words, they decided, in my opinion, that prophetically bearing witness to grace and love and liberty and yes, holiness is done in relationship, not from a distance. I have written extensively on that in other blogs, so I won't go into much more detail here.

Let me bring it to a personal place. I struggle with one of the most obvious and accepted sinful behaviors in American Christianity, gluttony. I can almost hear you laughing right now my friend. But gluttony is a sin, and it is the sin I most struggle with. I'm often encouraged by friends and family to be more gluttonous, a challenging place to be to say the least.

So let's say I as a person struggling with gluttony was either unaware or rebellious about it, and had not repented of my gluttonous behavior. Should my church not allow me in the directory? Should they only show my face and not my too large gut? Should they avoid pics of me pigging out at the potluck?

And suppose they choose to put in the directory--should the SBC then decide that because my church allowed a picture of a known sinner into the directory that they should be disfellowshipped? Should my church be uninvited to attend a mission trip and serve impoverished people because they posted my fat picture in the directory?

I say no. I say that those who wish for churches to be 100% squeaky cleaned and scrubbed of sin before other churches can work with them are more like the religious Pharisees of Jesus' day than they are like Jesus. Should church communities want to be holy? Of course. But Jesus didn't say to the woman caught in adultery "I condemn your sin until you stop." He said "neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more."

I hope to not be condemned for my gluttony (fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not sure which, I don't think anyone's ever condemned me for this). I think it would be silly for my church to be disfellowshipped for having me serve on a committee or in some ministry because I'm a glutton. Perhaps if they called me as pastor that would be a different story (somehow I think if I could preach and teach and lead and raise money my gluttony wouldn't matter to most Baptists).

But Broadway does not have a gay pastor. They have not publicly supported any kind of statement that says homosexual behavior is not sinful. In my opinion they have tried to find a prophetic Jesus-like way.

To disfellowship them was scandalous, as was uninviting their youth group to do mission work among the poor.

Just my opinion. Thanks for asking the question. Looking forward to Friday morning in Amarillo!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Those rare moments when I think "I am a Baptist..."

Let's be honest. I've often not been proud of my Baptist heritage.

I grew up in Texas Southern Baptist (SBC) churches. Multiple generations of SBC members and ministers in my family. But in the past couple of decades as an adult, I've shied away from self-identifying as a Baptist.

Part of it is my postmodern bent, I guess, or the times in which we live. Brand loyalty is gone, especially in religious communal choices. Our pro-choice, consumeristic church world has left us skeptical of any labels. Especially labels that come with the baggage of Southern Baptists.

Last week I read Christine Wicker's book from last year called "The Fall of the Evangelical Nation." I thought I was cynical. Wicker, who I heard speak at last year's Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) general assembly, was for more than a decade the religion editor at the Dallas Morning News. My guess is you learn enough in a job like that about the human frailties of supposed holy men and women that cynicism almost sounds optimistic.

The book by and large was good, written primarily to introduce a non-evangelical-church-going world to the realm of Evangelicalism. She makes the case that the conservative Christian movement is not what it has claimed to be, not a powerful force of maybe 50% of the population, but in reality something more like 7% at best. But that's not really the point of this little thought. Just wanted to note that I read that back and was reminded again of my shame at my traditionally Baptist brethren, or at least at some of them.

But tonight, back at this year's CBF assembly, I heard a man speak that always makes me think "I AM a Baptist." His name is Bill Leonard, and he's the founding dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest.

Bill Leonard is a historian, maybe the premier Baptist historian of our time. Okay, not maybe. I say he is. The first time I heard Dr. Leonard speak at Baylor University a few years ago, it was at a conference discussing among other things, how the Baptist influence has waned and the Christian light has dimmed at several traditionally Baptist schools, and Wake Forest was listed among them. This physically small man in a bowtie stood before the crowd and challenged the supposition that because a university no longer touts a certain line, it means that God has departed and the light has left. He basically said that he would wait right there for a few moments for an apology, and if one was not forthcoming he would return to North Carolina without delivering anything further of his speech. An apology was offered, and he continued, showing only grace and wisdom in the rest of his speech.

As a Baptist historian, he understands about the last 400 years since the first self-identified Baptists returned to England and opposed the state church there. (NOTE: Happy Birthday, Baptists.) Baptists have from the beginning been dissidents, who believe that religious liberty is not true of anyone if it's not true of everyone. Baptists were kicked out of most of the colonies, tried and often killed as heretics. My forbears believed that the church was a local community of believers who were called to prophetically bear witness to the grace and love and liberty found in Jesus Christ.

When I hear Bill speak, I think that perhaps I am a Baptist.

Perhaps. But then I think of stuff like this, and I think perhaps not. At least not in today's vernacular.

True this...

I have to admit, as a former collegiate athlete who has been around the sports world for decades, the amount of illegal activity and behavior that famous athletes (and really all famous people) get away with disgusts me. This guy at CT Online writes a great open letter to Dante Stallworth in light of Dante's alcohol/marijuana induced DUI killing of a man with his car.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

That getting old feeling...

I turned 43 on Wednesday.

I was kinda okay with that, until my middle son and I were going to for Chick fil A and he made a comment about how old I was. I got to thinking:

My mom was 43 when I got married.

I'm getting old.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Life on the border in Texas

I don't blog too much about my job. This blog has usually been much more about the random thoughts I find stimulating or funny. Hopefully both.

But today I wanted to share this with you. Buckner International, where I work as the Chief Relationships Officer (wish you had a title like that, don't ya?) is an incredible ministry. Born 130 years ago in East Dallas as the Buckner Children's Home, we now work all over Texas, in 6 other states, and 12 countries.

Many Americans and Texans are unaware of the poverty that exists on the US side of the border with Mexico. But up and down the border are colonias, where a landowner has leased land to families to build on, but often without water or power access (in spite of then-Governor Bush's efforts to change that, although certainly it has improved since then) and without any sense of ownership. And usually without any resources for building. No kidding, these people live in places that are worse conditions than the animal barns I grew up with.

But Buckner and our border staff--led by Dexton Shores--work unbelievably hard at changing all that. In partnership with churches, we provide all kinds of holistic ministry in Jesus' name to these struggling families. In fact, thousands of folks from scores of churches will descend on the border regions in a partnership with CBF called KidsHeart for this kind of work.

Recently Valley Ranch Baptist Church went to the border and built a few houses, conducted some VBS gatherings, and really made a difference working with us. I thought I would post a link to their video montage of their work. It's about 9 1/2 minutes but it's worth it.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Boiling young goats...

A couple of weeks ago I was on a plane. I was flying Southwest, something I haven't done as much since moving to Dallas. It's great to only be 15 minutes from DFW. But I was A1, first on the plane, and firmly ensconced in the exit row aisle seat.

The flight was fairly full, and about 3/4 of the way through boarding, a man sat in the middle seat next to me. He wasn't a big guy, so I didn't think too much of it. But he had a big Bible. One of those big King James versions, well worn leather. Lot's of study notes in the margin.

I'm about 95% sure he was from an independent Baptist, KJV-only, premillenial, extremely conservative tradition. I myself spent some time in that tradition. About 6 months. For a girl. Then I got run off for my views on Christian rock music. But that's another story, one I have told here...

As we started to take off, I commented to him, nodding at the Bible, "good reading?" "The best," he said, and then made several platitudes about the inspiration of every word, and how God speaks to us in all of it.

It's not that I disagree with that statement. I don't. I very much agree that God speaks to us through the Bible. But the platitudenal way he said it struck me as odd. Not odd as in an unusual thing that I wasn't familiar with, but odd as in the "my system requires me to jump through all the hoops necessary to make the Bible fit my belief system" odd. There is a form of inerrancy that mandates a manipulation of texts to fit a man-made system of belief about the Bible. I've written about it before. I think it's bibliolatry.

So instead of just letting it go at this point, I threw out one of my favorite statements--"tough to find some good stuff in Leviticus where God speaks to us today..." and before I could go on he had already jumped in with the (dare I say very-looking-down-on-the-poor-soul-next-to-him) attitudenal "if you know what you're looking for, God can speak to you through every word in Leviticus."

Hmm. Another good opp to let the conversation subside. But I just couldn't.

"So why do you think that it commands us to 'not boil a young goat in its mother's milk'? And, since every Bible teach I know of says that when a command appears multiple times, what should we make of the fact that this command is so important as to warrant not one but two appearances?"

"Interesting" was his only reply. Little did I know the worms that were festering. But honestly I started working on something else, and he started thumbing through the very large concordance at the back of his larger Bible, looking up various passages. I kinda stopped paying attention.

But as we touched down in San Antonio, he turns my way and says, "I think I've got your answers for you." Honestly, I was dumbstruck. Had I asked any questions? But answers he had, two to be exact. And quite frankly, I can't remember exactly what they were. Right now I wished I had paid better attention. All I remember is that they were some vague things that evangelicals generally believe, like one had something to do with the importance of family relationships, that he was now using these verses as pretexts for.

Now again, before you get your stakes out for heretic-burning, let me restate that I love the Bible. I believe it is God's story shared with us. Leviticus has many things that are deep and abiding truths that still speak to us today. But quite frankly, someone's man-made system of biblical interpretation that cannot allow that many commands in that part of the book were meant only for a group of nomad/shepherds, who for generations had lived as slaves in another culture, but who now were moving into new areas both urban and rural, has no choice but to develop a bunch of off-the-wall explanations to make verses still be relevant in some way today. So don't boil a young goat in its mother's milk has to do with honoring family relations.

As I told Sandra this story, she asked a great question: what do you think that guy is telling his friends about this encounter? Hmm, that made me think. Hard. Was I any better at moving him toward a deeper faith and understanding of God and the Bible than he was me? Does he tell his friends about this poor liberal almost-Christian he met on a plane, who didn't believe in "inerrant inspiration of the Bible"?

I hope...well, I'm not sure what I hope. I hope that the God who motivates us both to be passionate about understanding and obeying him reveals himself to us both.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Subversive Power

A quote from Rock, Paper Scissors:

"But the truth, which screams at you from any newspaper, is that authority needs power, and those with power almost invariably use it to pursue their own interests. Benevolence, however much the powerful might preach it, is the last thing on their minds."

Touche. May those who follow Jesus prove him wrong.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

I started reading this interesting book by Len Fisher a few weeks ago. It is subtitled "Game Theory in Everyday Life." It takes different facets of game theory (Nash's equilibrium, the prisoners' dilemma, etc) and shows how every day we make decisions that show game theory to be true.

What I really find interesting though, is that--even though Fisher makes it a point to say that religious authority hasn't been sufficient for changing behavior--I find it interesting that applying the teachings of Jesus would throw game theory "win-lose" or "lose-lose" situations out the window. This is the subversive teachings of Jesus--make yourself a servant. Take care of others first. Do what's best for your neighbor. We too much make these out to be not doing the negative version, e.g. when we say we love our neighbor what we really usually mean is that we don't hate our neighbor. Instead of looking out for others good, we try not to have a negative impact on others while looking out for our own good.

But following Jesus demands the positive, proactive version of actually loving and serving.

Back to the book though, it's worth the read. I thought it had some challenging mathematical concepts, and was taking the time to read it well to hopefully understand it.

Then my 14 year old genius son read it in 2 days and we had some great conversations.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Worlds colliding

It's no secret I love Seinfeld.

I will watch it every time it's on tv, even though I've seen every episode probably hundreds of times. It has to be one of the cleverest sitcoms in history (albeit sitcoms have a short history in the overall scheme of things).

One of my favorite episodes is when Elaine starts hanging out with George's fiancee Susan, and Susan looks to be entering the circle of relationships that is the core of Seinfeld. George is extremely anxious about this. Like many men feel, he knows there is a difference between "relationship George"--the George that has to be a certain way when he's with Susan--and "regular George"--the fun-loving, conniving, partying guy he normally is. And he knows that when these worlds collide...

"Jerry, if relationship George walks through that door, he will kill regular George."

And then, in perhaps the greatest paraphrase of Scripture in sitcom history: "A George divided against himself, cannot stand."

I know the feeling of worlds colliding. We all do who attempt to follow Jesus. This morning I was tempted to post some heresy on my Facebook status, something like "Arnie is celebrating the best holiday this weekend...the Masters. Is something else going on?" But alas, in deference to "relationship Arnie", I chickened out. But truly, I would much rather watch the Masters coverage all weekend that watch "The Passion" again. Forgive my heresy.

The truth, though, is that worlds collide for those who want to follow Jesus. Our attempt to follow him collides with life--family life, work life, and in many cases, even religious life. Maybe especially religious life.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Anne Rice's "Christ the Lord"

Anne Rice is best known, at least by me, for "The Vampire Chronicles." But apparently a few years ago, she became a Christian, and wanted to write something about Jesus. The result is "Christ the Lord", a novel that describes the year before Jesus publicly announced his ministry.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It's a pretty easy read (I read it all yesterday in 4 hours of airplane travel). The plot involves Jesus' interaction with his family and kinsmen and the difficulties of being "Yeshua the Sinless", the name they (often derogatorily) call him. The absolute best thing about the book is the portrayal of Jesus' humanity without compromising on the deity. Jesus really struggles with the temptations of life--anger over people's treating each other poorly, desire for marriage and family, responding to untrue accusations, and the like. When the writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus being tempted in every way as a man but still without sin--Rice describes that in a real and understandable way.

I have always wondered what was on Jesus' mind as he grew up--what did he know and when did he know it? When he was 6 or 12 or 20, did he know everything about his calling and nature? If not, how did he learn it? Does having to learn it somehow deny his deity? The book approaches this from the standpoint of "choosing not to know" certain things, which I think is pretty good theology, and the story works well.

On the downside, I thought there were too many characters, none of which is developed as well as they could be. This is especially true as she introduces the first disciples of Jesus. For example, she talks about Jesus' renaming of Simon to Peter, and calling James and John the Sons of Thunder, but it's like he just made it up on the spot and there wasn't any meaning to it. I picture those nicknames being come up with in circumstances where everyone there understands why Jesus calls them that. But she apparently wanted to get them in, so that's all crammed into one short chapter at the end of the book.

Again, overall I really enjoyed it. It's definitely within Roman Catholic theological realms as it deals with Jesus, Mary, and their family situation, but non Catholics shouldn't find anything that makes the book disagreeable on foundational issues.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Christian End Zone Celebrations

This is one of the funniest things I've read recently. As someone who scored 9 touchdowns in college, and who had the reputation of being the good Christian guy on the team, I could have used some of these. [Side story: Sean Kugler, a teammate, had nicknames for everyone on the team. Mine was "Arnie, Jesus Loves Fat People Too, Adkison."]

How cool would it be to score a touchdown then heal a teammate's torn ACL...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Best April Fools media joke...

Rush Limbaugh agreeing to speak at Sojourner's "Mobilization to End Poverty" conference. Here's the story they sent:

Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Sojourners' Mobilization to End Poverty
Get a free issue of SojournersIn an inspiring display of bipartisan bridge-building, talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh has accepted Jim Wallis' invitation to deliver a keynote address at Sojourners' Mobilization to End Poverty conference in April.
"I've always said the monologue of the extreme right is over, and a new dialogue has begun," said Wallis. "Well, that dialogue is about to get a whole lot louder."
Limbaugh, longtime champion of conservative media, announced his acceptance of the invitation on his daily radio show. Interrupted occasionally by call-ins of incredulous listeners, Limbaugh detailed months of off-the-record conversations with Wallis during which the two forged a deep friendship despite political, theological, philosophical, ideological, ecological, anthropological, eschatological, and soteriological differences. That dialogue came to a head one night when an anguished and sleepless Limbaugh called Wallis after 3:00 a.m., seeking spiritual solace.
"I responded like any good evangelical would," said Wallis. "I told him he should read his Bible. And then I hung up and went back to sleep."
Vexed but desperate, Limbaugh grabbed his trusty KJV, fanned it open at random, closed his eyes, and thrust his index finger upon whatever page it might find, landing upon this passage from James 5:
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
"I admit, of all the verses for him to read, this passage sounds a bit harsh—especially in the King James," said Wallis. "But with 2,000 verses on poverty in the Bible, Rush was bound to hit one of them."
Limbaugh's response to the Word was swift and dramatic: "Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
As part of Limbaugh's dramatic change of heart, he has reciprocated Wallis' speaking invitation by naming him the new co-host for his daily radio show, giving it a more faith-based focus.
"The way Kathy Lee needed Regis, that's the way y'all need Jesus," said Limbaugh. "That's what Jim will bring to the show on a daily basis—that good ole’ Red Letter Christian gospel!"
Limbaugh further detailed his plans to team up with Sojourners and others to fight domestic and global poverty, issuing this challenge to all Dittoheads in a recent broadcast: "I want everyone within the sound of my voice to call upon their members of Congress to cut the number of Americans living in poverty in half in the next 10 years, and to support America's commitment to the Millennium Devleopment Goals. ... And always remember to recycle. ... Oh, and one last thing: fur is murder."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who is to blame for more non-church-going pagans?

Skye Jethani had this editorial on the Out of Ur blog today...apparently it seems that Al Mohler believes that liberal government is to blame. Read the article here...

A new friend's blog

Okay, I had heard about Pastor Glen from many different folks, but last week I got to meet him. And I must say I enjoyed the experience immensely!

I have discovered his blog, and wanted to share it was all 3.5 of you too. You especially need to read about the farts. One of the best blogs ever. Check it out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A request for prophetic civility

My how our views taint our responses.

I was opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning. But George W. Bush was still my president. I wrote that we shouldn't have gone into the war. But he was my president. I challenged my friends about the war. But I don't think I ever denigrated President Bush or called for his impeachment. I didn't call for President Clinton's either.

I am opposed to abortion. But Barack Obama is my president. I will write about being pro-life, in all it's facets. Given the chance, I would discuss a pro-life stance with the president, and even if he disagreed with me, he would still be my president.

Today I'm thinking that for each of us as followers of Jesus, our politics are not of this world, or at least shouldn't be. They are different, they are upside-down (or rightside-up, as the case may be).

So speak prophetically. And respect every human being. Even--no, especially--the ones you disagree with.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Evangelicalism is dead, long live Evangelicals

So twice today I've been sucked into this story, summed up here on Out of Ur:

Evangelicalism is dead.

I say "yeah!"

The first conversation started with my friend Becki on Facebook. She linked to the Christian Science Monitor article mentioned on the Out of Ur blog. To be fair, it's a good article, but as the 3.5 of you who read this blog know, I've called myself post-evangelical for several years now. The death of Evangelicalism happened awhile back, so that's what I said in reply to her post.

I would suggest that Evangelicalism is already dead. Mostly because of #1 on this guy's list. And I think it needs to lay down in the casket, personally. What remains will be precisely those who truly follow Jesus. Me

She responded well: Merriam Webster defines Evangelical: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels, emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual.By the definition above, it could also be said it is a sad day that it is dead and I would say that #2 played more of a roll in it. Had it stayed true to it's definition and remained about the authority of Scripture and Apostolic preaching of the Gospel that confronted people with what the the death of Jesus on the Cross represents and confronted with what their sin caused and its significance then there would be far less people dying and going to hell. Congregations big/small, church building/home churches, it doesn't matter, they are full of people are unconverted believers (of what they have been told and its not the gospel).

This is somewhat true, but not totally in my opinion. Here's my last entry on her comment page:

The word Evangelical is dead, what ole Merriam says (was she Daniel's wife?) is the definition of Evangelical was really a follower of Jesus, and those have been around for awhile now, and will continue to be around until he comes back. I guess they'll be around after that too, come to think of it. This is the problem with much of our vocabulary and even our ideas as followers of Jesus. We have words to describe something that is complex, but eventually if we're not careful we end up fighting for the word and not for the concept. Words like Trinity, incarnation, atonement, and Evangelical (and some day, the phrase "follower of Jesus") are used to describe complex theological thoughts and truths, but we begin to believe more in the use of the word than the truth it reflects. Words become litmus tests of who is in or out.Evangelicalism is dead. Long live the evangelical.

What an Evangelical truly was, when the word was originally coined, is not dead. Just the hollow shell that it had become. Let's let that shell die. It deserves to die. What rises in it's place--really what has been there in the midst of it all along--is authentic regenerated followers of Jesus.

Pet Peeve #7

Okay, so I'm really not that picky about most things. But there are certain kinds of poor grammar that just irk me. And here's maybe the biggest--using "i.e." when you mean "e.g."

I mean, come on! "i.e." means "in other words." In Latin. Literally it's "id est" or "that is".

"e.g." is Latin for "exemplia gratia" or "for example".

But people insist on such sentences as this one that I saw today: "Misc/General Interns may be students or professionals; however, the internship is not in fulfillment of educational, professional or licensing requirements/goals, i.e. summer camp counselors."

If this sentence is taken literally, it means that THE ONLY kinds of Misc/General Interns are summer camp counselors, instead of what they meant to say, that summer camp counselors are AN EXAMPLE of these kinds of interns.

I wanted to be witty with this, but instead I'm just came out grumpy; e.g. I'm sorry.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The range of emotions...

So a few weeks back my mom was around, and a few of us got into this discussion about the differences between the emotions of men and women. And they told me I should blog my thoughts. Hopefully not to get shot down in cold blood on the street by women who disagree.

Disclaimer #1--I have no clue about women. I have little experience: no sisters, I think I was 11 when I realized my mom was a girl (she was a great basketball player, could shoot a gun, and was in a house full of guys).

So getting married was, to say the least, a little bit of a new experience for me. Living with the fairer sex was enlightening. Not educational, mind you, since I probably haven't learned much, but enlightening.

The first clue about this came years ago when San was quizzing me about something. I got a little offended and told her "stop questioning me!" Her response: "I'm not questioning, I'm just asking."


Um, aren't those the same thing?

See, I told you I haven't learned anything. Clearly there is a HUGE difference between questioning and asking. I just can't figure out what it is.

Then there was the time I had done something probably a little stupid, and said to San "Are you mad at me?" Her response: "I'm not mad, I'm just upset."


Um, aren't those...oh, never mind.

I have come to believe that men--or at least this one I'm most familiar with, the one I sleep with every night--only have about 5 basic emotions: anger, happy, sad, lust, and fear. Maybe there are one or two more, but that's about it.

Women on the other hand, have 45 different forms of anger. And happy. And sad. And so on.

I don't understand it. But I love it. And hate it. And love it.

"Outliers" part 2

As promised, let me finish up my thoughts on Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers." Last time I told you about how the book was divided into two broad sections. The first was about opportunity.

The second section was about culture. Culture is a high value to me. I should say, being cross-cultural and experiencing a variety of cultures is a high value to me. Coming into contact with folks from other cultures are some of the most vivid memories I have throughout my life--the first Hispanic family to move into my little small town in the Panhandle (the Gallegos--I invited Jimmy to Vacation Bible School and he rode next to me on the firetruck during the VBS parade in first grade); the first time I remember being in the same place as an African-American (8th grade basketball game against Shamrock; one of my friends and teammates used a perjorative term throughout the game), moving to Hobbs, NM, which in that time was about 1/3 white, 1/3 Hispanic and 1/3 African-American.

Yes, I grew up in small-town West Texas (even Hobbs is really West Texas--only 2 miles from the Texas/NM border). One of my friends and mentors who is Latino talks about taking his boys to Hispanic Baptist churches so that they get a feel for their roots. Should I take my kids to small-town redneck churches???

But the real cultural immersion happened when I went to college in El Paso. I fell in love with the border, the blending of cultures and Mexican food. And eventually an Argentine. Now I've been around the world in various cultures, and I love it every time.

But I digress. Gladwell's point is that cultural values strongly shape success. I would say that they do even more than opportunity does.

For example, cultures that are high power-distance cultures (meaning that they maintain a high respect for power and rarely if ever contradict it) have a whole slew of natural barriers to success in our modern world. His example is Korean Airlines from the 70s and 80s. The modern air-traffic system is meant to operate as a 2 or 3 man team in the cockpit. There are overlapping and shared responsibilities, redundant work processes, etc. because you have the lives of hundreds of people in your head and hands. However, Koreans have a natural high power-distance cultural value. So when a pilot starts making decisions that the co-pilot or flight engineer disagree with, they do not speak up. Nor do they communicate bluntly with air-traffic controllers when they are in trouble. To do so would be a disrespect to authority.

And it led directly to several crashes, and nearly put the airline under. Now, as Korean Air, they are a very safe and successful airline. What made the difference? They brought in a specialist from Boeing who basically said "Look, we love your cultural values. They are a big part of what defines you as a people. But when you step into that cockpit, you set aside that lack of challenging authority. You speak up. You say what you believe is wrong. The system depends on that.

Gladwell gives other examples. Probably my favorite is his discussion of the people who settled the Appalachian region of the US, and how their difficult shepherding-on-the-side-of-a-dangerous-mountain past brought certain values to the forefront, and how those values--even though they no longer live in such circumstances--still shape their worldview, their dealing with conflict, and how they are successful in our world.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. It should be must reading for anyone who wants to understand people and what makes them successes or failures in life.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A time for optimism?

It's no secret that I have long loved the writing and thinking of Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads, in Austin. I read his Monday Morning Memo virtually first thing every Monday. I've never met him, but he strikes me as my kind of guy: likes beagles, thinks highly of Jesus and the Bible in an irreligious sort of way, and loves to stimulate good thinking. If he plays golf, he might just be perfect...

Anway, his memo this morning is about the economy. Except that like most of his writing, it's not really about the economy, it's about more than that. It's about us. I've copied some of it here, but check out the whole thing at

WobbleThe Beagle Sings with Buble
My staff can hardly get any work done. It seems the whole world is calling to ask what I think will happen with our economy.The President of the United States made a primetime speech last week. The press is an interesting animal. The Chicago Tribune predicted the president’s speech would "live among the annals of man," while its competitor, the Chicago Times, editorialized that "the cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the president." Those papers were talking about Abraham Lincoln. The speech was the Gettysburg Address.Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that I’m aware of how dangerous it is to speak of politics or religion. No matter what I say on either subject, I’m going to get a firestorm of emails correcting me.Even so…All indications are that President Obama’s speech lifted the mood of the nation. When the mood of the nation is optimistic, our economy sings like Michael BublĂ© and money flows like water in the street.
More than one friend has told me that Obama’s plan will end in disaster. I choose to believe otherwise. I choose to believe. I choose.A jet is low over New York City. Both engines have failed. Any idiot can see that everyone on the plane is going to die. The pilot can fly into a building and kill all the people inside, or he can line up on a street and kill unsuspecting motorists instead. These are his only options. Well, I’m on that jet and I say this pilot is going to land on the Hudson River and the plane is going to float long enough for everyone to get out safely and then we’re all going to hop onto some big passenger ferries that will be exactly where we need them to be.Don’t laugh. It could happen. By the way, you’re on this jet, too.I bought a book at the airport the other day. Barack Obama wrote Dreams From My Father fifteen years ago. As a writer, I was deeply impressed. If a man can be judged by what he writes when he is young, we have an extremely intelligent president. A history book of ancient Israel tells of a starving city surrounded by an enemy army. “Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, "Why stay here until we die? If we say, 'We'll go into the city'-the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let's go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die."That story ends happily. Not just for the lepers, but for everyone in the city. Well, not quite everyone. There was one man who insisted that God himself couldn’t save the city. Interestingly, everyone made it safely onto the ferryboats except for that guy. He was the moron screaming hysterically ‘We’re all going to die!’ while the pilot was trying to land the plane on the Hudson.It’s really an interesting story. You ought to read it.Roy H. Williams

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Book Review - Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I probably enjoyed this book more than any other I've read recently. Gladwell has written a couple of other tomes I've read; The Tipping Point and Blink. But Outliers jumps to the top of my favorite list for him, and one of the best "aha" moment books for me.

The book's stated purpose is to identify what makes one person (or group) successful and one not. It examines two large ideas--opportunity and culture--and their impact on our success.

Now we USAmericans really like to believe that everyone has equal advantage. We believe in the concept that people (and their success) is by and large a factor of their work ethic and attitude. Sure, your natural ability may provide some limitation (if you're 5'4" playing in the NBA is probably unrealistic) but we can find ample anecdotal evidence of people who were told they were too short/stupid/poor/etc to succeed at a particular task but overcame all odds and succeeded anyway. And we like to think that is us.

Gladwell points out you might as well be planning to win the lottery, cuz the odds are against you.

In the first section, he deals with opportunity. Does everyone have the same opps for success? Again, we want to say yes, believe yes, but in our honest moments we have to answer no. Did you know that 14 of the 75 wealthiest people in the history of the world were Americans born between 1830 and 1835? Why would that be? Because they were just the right age to take advantage of the post-Civil War boom of economy in the US. How about that the 10 founders of the largest, most successful software firms in the US were born between 1950 and 1955? All of them. The world came together to give them opps that others simply did not have.

Maybe the most intriguing example is elite Canadian hockey. If you examine the birthdates of the best players in the late teen clubs, you will find that about half were born in January, February or March. Luck of the draw? Not a chance. January 1st is the cutoff date for age of being on one year's team vs the previous years. Kids born in the last quarter of the year are nearly a year younger than those born in the first quarter. Now at the age of 18, that's probably not a significant difference. But these kids started playing organized hockey when they were old enough to skate, and when you're 5 on Jan 2nd vs Dec 14th, it makes a HUGE difference. So in the younger years, those born in the first 3 months get identified as the best players. They get put on the best teams with the best coaches, and get more practice and game experience as they grow up. If you were born in the last quarter of the year, your odds of a successful hockey career are significantly reduced.

This has incredible implications for parenting, for education, for sports, for all kinds of leadership development issues. We are subconciously giving better opps to certain kids for no other reason than the month they were born in. Are there exceptions? Of course. But they are exceptions.

One implication I thought about a lot in reading this is how we at Buckner develop solutions for the 145 million orphans in the world. How do we really provide the right kinds of opportunities for these kids to succeed in the world?

In my next post, I'll deal with the second half of the book, the cultural factors of success.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Random Prayer Breakfast thoughts

Here's some quotes and thoughts from last week's National Prayer Breakfast:

"We do not need cheerleaders but partners." Tony Blair, speaking about promoting peace in the world

Greatest obvious truth: "If faith becomes the property of extremists, it creates discord." Tony Blair

Greatest not-so-obvious truth: "There are limits to humanism, and beyond those limits only God can work." Tony Blair

Most obvious statement that may not be true: "There is no religion whose central tenet is hate." President Obama.

Curse the darkness or light the candle or both or what?

Yesterday's "Breakpoint" by Chuck Colson (copied below) challenges President Obama on his statement that "no God condones taking the life of an innocent human being" at the National Prayer Breakfast. Colson rightly argues that for the President to make such a statement and only apply it to war and not to abortion is faulty logic. Just as faulty as the Christians who apply it only to abortion and not to war.

But this post is neither about abortion or about war. It's about some of the incessant whining we hear decrying our "postmodern" world.

I will be the first to admit I live in a postmodern world. Postmodernity has affected my worldview. It's hard for it not to. I also admit I have not jumped deeply into postmodern philosophy like my friend the 7-foot ninja. I have only skimmed the surface of those writers, and probably don't have a grasp of the nuances of postmodern thought.

But here's what I know: today's Christian leaders, like Colson below, bemoan our fall into a world where there is no absolute truth recognized in societal circles. There can be "your truth" and "my truth" and they may contradict each other and that's okay.

Now, is such a philosophy correct? No, of course not. Most 5th graders can point out the illogical nature of such statements at basic levels. Both Christianity and Hinduism cannot be true in their fullest forms.

But is a cultural belief of "no absolute truth" a bad thing for the kingdom of heaven? I say no.

We have moved away from a society that took certain pieces of Christianity (yes, only "certain" pieces, not the whole gospel) and favored a public, outward form of Christian religion as "the truth." The church typically enjoyed this public religion, because it made church attendance at times a given in our society. That's what good Americans did.

But I maintain that the real gospel--life lived in the kingdom of heaven under the effectual reign of God--is better served and promoted by postmodern thought than by the times of watered-down-Christianity-as-public-religion.

Much like the first two centuries after Jesus' life, in many circles the gospel now stands on equal footing (or yes, even looked down upon footing--oh the horror!) with other religious or irreligious beliefs. And like Colson below, we complain about what is, instead of using what is--tailoring our message and more importanly our lifestyle as followers of Jesus--using what is to move the gospel forward in our world.

Are there those who use postmodernity to say that God/religion is dead? Of course there are. Are there those who use postmodernity to say that morality has no place in our world? Yes. But instead of complaining about postmodernity's unabsolute influence on the world, let's start living lives and speaking words that reflect that "effectual reign of God" and embrace postmodernity as what is. The Spirit will help us make disciples that understand truth is not relative. But we have an opportunity for the kingdom of God to spread that we did not have in a "christian" America.

NO GOD CONDONES WHAT?The President and the Innocent Chuck Colson At the national prayer breakfast last week, President Obama seemed to signal that he has seen the light and is abandoning his radically pro-abortion agenda. At least, that's the only reasonable conclusion one could make after hearing the President, who says he's a Christian, also say: "There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know." So I could only surmise that the President now concludes that "no God" would condone the 1.6 million abortions performed each year in America: 1.6 million innocent lives destroyed. But I've checked the White House website, and it's very clear that God's disapproval hasn't changed the administration's agenda one bit. Here's what the White House website says: "President Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Administration." Well, in one way I'm glad I wasn't at the breakfast this year - I was speaking instead at Moody - because I'm not sure I would have been able to stay in my seat. How can a president of the United States say that "there is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being," when he himself favors a woman's right to have an abortion under virtually every circumstance? How can he say that when, as an Illinois state senator, he voted against the Illinois Induced Infant Liability Act, which would have protected the lives of babies who survived late-term abortions? When he even had the audacity to describe the act as "One more burden on a woman . . . I can't support." President Obama is a highly intelligent man with a huge job on his hands. I know what the White House is like, and I pray for him fervently every day. But how does such an intelligent man make a statement like this without understanding its implications for his own pro-abortion policies? The only way to explain it is to understand the intellectual environment, called postmodernism, in which President Obama and his peers have been raised. Generations of Americans have now been taught that truth is subjective. You have your truth, I have mine. And, even worse, I can't "inflict" my version of truth on you. The law of non-contradiction has been suspended. So politicians can tell us over and over that they can't allow their personal faith to affect their views on public policy. Or they can take two completely opposing positions at the same time: like believing that no God condones the taking of innocent life and at the same time, condoning-even promoting-the taking of an innocent life. The problem isn't simply President Obama and his views on life; the problem is a postmodern culture which believes that truth is merely a matter of opinion, and that therefore the sanctity of innocent human life is simply an expression of one viewpoint among many. I have argued for the last 20 years that postmodernism would lead to the unraveling or our society. The fact that so few noticed the contradiction in what the President said and the policies he pursues tells me that we're far along in the unraveling process.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

You have to read this

The funniest and best customer complaint letter ever. (HT:Texas in Africa)

The post-retreat break up

I have "Stuff Christians Like" on the blog list to the right, but this one was too good to not send you to directly. If you grew up in the church or where a youth minister, you have seen this all too much--laying down your boyfriend/girlfriend for God.

Check it out here.

Pet Peeve #6

I don't have very many pet peeves, but a couple of weeks ago I was at lunch with some friends and mentioned #6--combovers. I spotted a guy in the restaurant and wondered aloud "doesn't he have friends who love him enough to tell him what he looks like?"

One of the guys at lunch with me sent me this. Just thought I would share.

Praying in the name of Jesus

I've blogged about the National Prayer Breakfast before, so you'll have to search the archives for some background if you want it. It's an amazing event. This year was the 57th annual breakfast. The goal is prayer and fellowship in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now that's really interesting. Many of the capital "E" Evangelicals I have been around during my 42 years have a pretty narrow view of what it means to pray and fellowship in the name of Jesus. And it has something to do with the words you say at the end of your prayer.

Ultimately it has nothing to do with that. Really, as Mike Breaux says, "in the name of Jesus, amen" really means, "I'm done praying." So he ends his prayers in the voice of Forrest Gump: "that's all I got to say about that."

In the name and spirit of Jesus is more about how our lives reflect on the name of Jesus. Violating the command to not take the Lord's name in vain is less about a cuss word and more about our character reflecting on his character. When our lives are full of words but empty on love and grace, our words invoking God take his name in vain.

It is not about words. It is about loving God and loving neighbor. That is living in the name of Jesus.

More to come about the breakfast...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day

If you had to live the same day over and over, what day would you pick?

For years now my wife and I find a way to squeeze watching "Groundhog Day" into every February 2nd. It's a great movie, featuring former Ghostbusters buddies Bill Murray (playing the lead, Phil Conners) and Harold Ramis, who directs and has a cameo in the movie. You've seen it, I'm sure, so I won't go into too much detail. Phil Conners is a prima donna weatherman who is sent to Punxutawney, PA to see if Phil the groundhog sees his shadow. But every morning he wakes up and its groundhog day again (great choice of alarm clock music), and he has to relive the same day again.

Then begins the modern day version of Ecclesiastes. In that book, usually attributed to Solomon, you have the man who has it all--the girls, the money, the great job--but in the end nothing satisfies the itch inside (all is vanity). Phil Conners explores all these and more, but ends up trying to kill himself; more than trying, succeeds in killing himself but can't, still waking up to Sonny and Cher at 6am. He too finds that all is vanity, all this life has to offer is empty if the deeper itch isn't scratched.

People today look to scratch that deeper itch the same way humans have for centuries now: money, sex, and power.

But the truth is that deeper itch is scratched only by authentic relationships. In the movie version, Phil tries hard to seduce Andy McDowell's character, but the manipulation fails. In the end, when he gives himself to serving others, getting to know them and their real dreams and passions and failures, he becomes the kind of man she can fall in love with.

You and I have the same opportunity today. We can seek satisfaction in money, sex and power and forever be disappointed the itch is still there.

Or we can pursue authentic relationships with God and people and find that in serving others out of our own sometimes successful/sometimes failure life, we find satisfaction. We find our itch gets scratched.

Anything else is vanity.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Apparently I missed this the first time around--like I said in my 25 random things on Facebook, I'm really not a huge sports fan. I'm rarely on ESPN, unless they are showing the golf tournament of the weekend.

But this video was posted by a friend on FB today, and I saw it, and I cried like crazy. It is unbelievable.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God

Once again my friend Keith has written something great. He so often writes what I think but don't take the time to write near as well, and I have to share his latest newsletter with you. Please go to and check out all his stuff.


"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." - 1 Peter 2:13-17

More and more I find that there is a blurred line in American Christianity between "The American Way" and "The Kingdom of God". The Kingdom of God and the American Dream are not the same thing, and in fact, they are two opposing viewpoints which are in conflict on many levels. The American Dream is founded on the concept of every person's right to the pursuit of happiness. Whatever you can imagine would make you happy you are free to pursue it with all your heart. That's your right. The Kingdom of God is founded on the concept of laying down your life, your idea of what will make you happy, in favor of receiving what Jesus knows will really make you happy. Following Jesus involves laying down your life and giving up your rights. It means full and complete submission to God because you recognize that His perfect will for your life is a million times better than anything you could ever dream up, or pursue, on your own. Jesus didn't ever instruct any of his disciples to fight for their God-given, "Inalienable Rights", and neither did Paul the Apostle. In fact, they both encouraged their disciples to live humble lives, serving others and not demanding more because they deserved more. Paul even specifically told those followers of Christ who were slaves to remain slaves, even if they were being mistreated. Historically, the early Christians didn't fight for their rights as citizens, they took it on the chin, and in the Lion's den, and in the arena. They literally would rather die than to take another person's life. Simply put, they followed their Lord and Savior, Jesus and they followed His example of non-violence and submissive service to those who hated and mistreated them. Does that sound like the American Dream to you?

STAY FOCUSED We cannot afford to become distracted by nationalism or led astray by politics. As followers of Jesus, He must be our one and only priority and influence. This is what it means to make Jesus our Lord. As Christian pastor and activist Jim Wallis has said, "God is not a Republican or a Democrat. God is not partisan. God is not ideologically committed to our Left or Right. God's politics challenges all of our politics. It includes the people our politics regularly leave out; the poor and the vulnerable. That's God's politics."

OUR WITNESS It would have been virtually impossible for an unbeliever living in those first three hundred years of Church History to ever reject Christianity on the grounds that it lacked compassionate people or failed to teach loving kindness. In fact, we have testimony from many of the most hostile pagans who lived during the first three hundred years of Christianity who were put to shame because of the overwhelming generosity of the Church. Julian, the Apostate wrote of this frustrating situation when he said, "..The godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also." Christian philosopher Aristides (125 AD) wrote about the radical charity of the early Church also, recording the fact that, "…if there is among them a man that is poor and needy and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food." For a Christian, killing our enemies is not acceptable. If being a good American citizen means you need to cheer on a war that kills innocent people then you must lay aside your Christianity. If being a faithful member of a political party trumps over 2,000 verses in the word of God about caring for the poor, then you need to make a choice. A few years ago I had an opportunity to speak to Jim Wallis on this very subject and his response has stayed with me ever since. He said, "The Church today is more American than Christian. The Kingdom of God is not the same as the American Empire. When we are more American than Christian we confuse the meaning of the Body of Christ with any nation state. This notion of the Church as a counter-cultural movement is Biblically obvious. There's no doubt about that. We're in the world to transform the world for the sake of this new order that has come in Jesus Christ. If Jesus' vision of the Kingdom was so threatening, why is our vision of the Kingdom so safe?" The Gospel of the Kingdom is not the American Dream. It saddens me to see Christians more passionate about their political party than they are about the Kingdom of God.

Conversatio Morem! (Death to the status quo/Constant Conversion)


Friday, January 16, 2009

Thanks for the atheists!

I found this new story in the Out of Ur newsletter done through Christianity Today online:

Bible Society Supports Atheist's Ads
British Christians fund atheist bus ads hoping they backfire.

The British Humanist Association, a group supported by best-selling author and atheist Richard Dawkins, has purchased ad space on buses that read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Shortly after the ad campaign was announced, a Christian group responded by making a £50 donation to the atheist group. Theos—a thinktank of the Bible Society—welcomed the ads because they believe the message will backfire. A spokesperson for Theos explains, "When competition arrives, it forces a re-evaluation of attitudes and creates an opportunity." Theos says the ads will make people reconsider what they really believe, and "in such circumstances, growth in the overall market is not uncommon. Thanks be, then, to the atheists."

I personally agree with the thinking of Theos. One of the real problems that American evangelicals seem to have is with Christianity being involved in a competitive milieu of ideas. We have enjoyed the dominant position for several hundred years, and now find ourselves at best as one idea among equals. But the truth is that Christianity has always done it's best work when it is not the dominant idea.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A brief ode to my granddad

Driving home today I saw one of those license plates a ham radio operator has. And even though I've seen them lots in the last 15 years, today was different. Today the memories came.

My granddaddy was a ham radio operator. I still remember his call sign: WA5YPA. As a kid, he had a "radio shack" in the backyard. It was just what it sounds like--a little shack where all the radio equipment was. Later they remodeled their house, and added a room where they didn't have to go outside to get on the radio. Grandaddy talked to people around the US. People came from all around to talk to friends in other parts of the world. I remember families coming over to talk to missionaries in South America.

My grandparents were (and still are--granddaddy's wife, my grandma, is still alive) people of incredible faith. Granddaddy was a lay leader in churches all his life. He often served as a music minister. He couldn't read music, but he would sit and chord on the piano. He wrote a song based on Psalm 40 that I can still remember and sing called "God Gave Me a Song." After spending most of his life as a Baptist, he had a filling experience with with the Holy Spirit, and spent quite a few years in a pentecostal church in the little town where they lived. When I was in college, and he was fighting cancer, we would have these deep theological discussions about God.

But it was the conversation we had 8 days before my 10th birthday that I can remember like it was yesterday. We were playing chess on the patio, and he started to talk about repentance (I must have been winning, since he changed the subject). He took one of the pawn and put it on the table, and said when we were born, we were put on earth by God. Because of our sin, we are naturally pointed away from God and toward hell. He pushed the piece across the table, talking about living and learning, but eventually, he said, if you keep living in the same direction, you end up dying and going to hell. At that point he pushed the piece off the table and fell to the floor. My nine year old psyche didn't want that to happen to me.

Then he took another piece, put it on the table, and started the same discussion. But he began to describe what repentance was, this turning your back on sin and hell and turning your face back toward God and life. It made sense to me, and we prayed right then that Jesus would rescue me, that I would follow life and God and good. There were tears and hugs, and a week later I was baptized at First Baptist Church, Skellytown, Texas, by Milton Thompson.

Today that journey continues. Today the heritage that is my family--honed by my grandfather--finds fruit in my life. And it's not just him, although he's the one I thought of today. Faith has been alive for generations. And when you add my wife's family and the generations of deep and abiding faith there, I am confident the heritage continues with my own kids.

I'm grateful for my grandaddy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Steelers Rock

I don't know why, but in the past decade or so I've gotten more into watching sports than I used to.

I didn't make the transition from player to fan very well 20 years ago. My little brother was still playing at UTEP, so I went to the games. During one of the first ones that season I nearly got into a fight in the stands with some moron (my pastor used the word "moron" twice in today's sermon; I'm taking that as meaning I can too) who was what we always refered to as "junior high all-american"--basically someone who once played in junior high or something and now thinks they know everything about the game.

I was pastoring at the time, and I think I somehow thought that I needed to develop some sort of compassionate empathy for people, and participating in competitive sports somehow seemed to not be developing those qualities in me. So I tried hard to stop being competitive. It was hard to do. I still very much remember walking in to a gym full of students and parents and hearing my brother yell, "introducing the fattest tight end in the history of UTEP..." As athletes we cut each other down like that all the time, but in my non-competitive desire to be sympathetic, I was a little sensitive.

And I somehow don't think it worked. I'm still not very compassionate. But I have regained some of my desire for watching and even playing sports. And certainly I'm competitive. So it was great to watch the Steelers today. And the game with Baltimore next Sunday should be awesome.