Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Religious heretics

Yesterday I posted this thought on Facebook:

Taking the Bible at face value & obeying it will almost always make you a heretic to religious people.

I wanted to unpack a little bit what I was thinking when I wrote it.

First, we're a very religious society. While I totally oppose the concept that we in the United States have every been, are now, or should be in the future a "Christian" nation, there is little debate that we're one of the most religious societies on earth.

Second, religion has its ups and downs. We all have religious practices, to one degree or another, and those practices can have deep meaning and impact on our lives. They can also become places of pride, contention, and downright violence in proving who is right.

Third, religion has tended throughout history to be user and usee when it comes to political clout, power and influence. Religion, once it becomes the accepted practice, does not want to lose its influence, so it seeks to maintain the status quo and hold on to a position of power.

When the early church has no clout, no social capital, it lived on the margins of society and had its most incredible growth and impact EVER. The rise of the church in the first 300 years is nothing short of amazing. But in the 4th century, as the church became the institution of the social norm, it moved away from the margins and into the center. It became sluggish and dull, fat on the feeling of stability and power.

And so has it been for nearly 1700 years since.

Those who rise up and challenge the established religion, often by a humble return and obedience to the core passages of the Scriptures, are labelled as heretics because they challenge the position of power that the religious structures and leaders have long held.

I believe God opposes these positions of power, and challenges us instead to live on the margins, influencing society through acts of service to the quartet of the vulnerable, speaking prophetically to the thrones of power that seek only to maintain their place of favor, even at the cost of those most vulnerable. To love God and neighbor with such reckless abandon that it cannot be dismissed nor bought nor bribed.

That's the kind of heretic I want to be.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Christmas Wars

I tried last holiday season to write a thought or two about the supposed "war on Christmas" going on in the US. Yes, I think it's a supposed war.

But this year, Jim Wallis makes the case much better than me. You can read his entire blog about this here, but I wanted to share a few quotes and thoughts from his post.

Making sure that shopping malls and stores greet their customers with “Merry
Christmas” is entirely irrelevant to the meaning of the Incarnation. In reality
it is the consumer frenzy of Christmas shopping that is the real affront and
threat to the season.

Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on
Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the
planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A
material blasphemy of the Christmas season.

Yes, yes, and yes! We cannot take a symbol, whether that's a tree, a gift, a slogan, a greeting, whatever, and then compare it somehow to being "the meaning of the season." As Wallis goes on to say, is Jesus humbled when he walks into a store and sees how the "merry Christmas" sign in the window points people to him? Who has ever come to Christ from a "merry Christmas" sign? From a public nativity?

Holiday means holy that really that bad?

Why do we spend so much time on the symbols of Christmas, and neglect imitating the incarnational presence of Jesus in our world? I have rarely (I don't remember ever) trying to speak on behalf of Jesus in this blog, but can I say that I don't think he cares one bit about whether my Best Buy has "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" in the window?

The true reality is that Jesus came to earth and lived among a poor and oppressed people, in order to redeem their lives to the fullness God originally intended. As Wallis says, to restore right relationship between God and between each other. Let's focus some energy on that goal this Christmas. Let's really seek to have "peace on earth and goodwill among men."

I hope you'll click the link and read Wallis' post. And you'll go to and make a meaningful gift this Christmas. Or holiday season.

I'm okay with either one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Immigration issues

Here's a link to a PBS article about Alabama's immigration law and the impact it's having on people there. I especially like the interviews with people on the street, in particular the guy who said:

MAN: Oh, I'm all for it. I feel like what's taking place in America right now is a slow-moving invasion. Our country is being taken advantage of and being exploited.

Slow-moving invasion. So unless this guy is a native American, he or his forebears are guilty of perpetuating one of those slow-moving invasions themselves.

This is crazy to me that people are so self-centered. Since my ancestors from Europe won a war, I have a God-given right to say who belongs here or who doesn't.

No you don't, not if you're going to follow that God in the Bible, the one who loves the "quartet of the vulnerable"--orphans, widows, the poor and the aliens.

If your family was part of the "founding" of this country, they were illegal immigrants.

If your family came to this country between 1776 and 1950, they came under laws that favored west Europeans, often to the exclusion of other nations.

There are families of "illegal immigrants" along the border with Mexico whose ancestors lived in that land hundreds of years before anyone of European descent even came looking for a passage to the Indies.

It is time to fix the immigration system here in the US. It's time for real decisions and leadership on this issue, not the broken-down rhetoric of political expediency. Families are suffering, children separated from parents, people are having their basic rights stripped.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: "Why God Won't Go Away" by Alister McGrath

In the past 10 or 15 years, a new breed of atheist has sprung onto the scene. With Christopher Hitchens somewhat at the front of the pack, this group of atheist thinkers seem to be more about anti-religion thought than they are truly atheistic in nature. It reminds me of the phrase that I once heard someone say about these neo-atheists (I think about Richard Dawkins, but I could be wrong): "There is not a god, and I hate him."

I like Alister McGrath. He thinks well and deeply, and has a great way of taking that deep thinking and making accessible to the public at large. In this book, McGrath dissects the writings of the 4 leaders of the new atheist group: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. And instead of the same old apologetic critiques of atheism, he puts out some great initial thoughts on counteracting the new atheist arguments against God and religion.

If you're looking for a book that dives deeply into the arguments for theism, with all the nitty gritty details, this probably isn't it. But for the average church-goer, this is a great primer on the basics of new atheism and the arguments to counter that teaching.

Probably the most important thing I can say about McGrath's book is that it is full of love. Not wishy-washy stuff, but genuine love and concern for these 4 men and the others who follow them. He knows them personally in some cases, prays for them with what appears to me to be sincerity, and truly wants to get to the truth. That alone makes the book unique and worthwhile in our vitriolic era.

The book is in 3 sections: a description of "new atheism", a discussion of 3 core themes to engage new atheism about, and a little look at what he sees as the future of new atheism. As I already said, the first section is not an in-depth philosophical examination, but meant for the average church goer, and as such does a great job introducing us to the common themes, elements and players on the new atheism stage.

The real value of the book is in section 2, where McGrath explores what the new atheists say about the Christian religion's history in 3 areas: violence, reason, and science. McGrath is honest--truly much idiocy has been done in the name of religion, and even in the name of Jesus. But he also looks at the things done in support of atheism, which certainly isn't any better of a track record. In fact, both of these support the biblical truth of innate depravity within human beings. We are bound by evil in many cases, regardless of how religious or irreligious we might be. One quote: "Maybe it's not that religion corrupts humanity but that a corrupt humanity creates a look-alike religion." (p. 92)

One great quote from the science chapter: "If science is hijacked by fundamentalists, whether religious or antireligious, its intellectual integrity is subverted and its cultural authority compromised." (p. 108) And in praise of science, McGrath says "science is about giving us reasons for believing that certain things are true, while at the same time insisting that we realize that future generations my rightly want to challenge those beliefs. That's why science is so successful: it's willing to change its mind in response to new evidence." (p. 115)

We all must be looking to how new evidence changes what we believe. We believe in an unchanging God, but not in an unchanging understanding of him. May he enlighten us with all truth because of our hope in him (Ep 1.17-18).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 08, 2011

What makes an American?

What are the core aspects of being an American? What are American values?

A friend asked me these questions recently. He asked me to blog about makes me feel small just thinking about it. I mean, who am I to try an answer such questions? Yet here I am, sitting at my laptop, unable to escape an attempt at a response.

First (as always), my disclaimers.

As I said already, I feel inadequate for this. There is an incredible diversity to being American. First of all, I'm only including the United States of America. Yes, I know that's what most people mean by "American", but as I've learned from many people (including my South American wife) America involves 2 continents and multiple countries. But just within the US, there is diversity in culture (southern hospitality vs the speed of the metropolis) and language (what is the plural of "you"?) and timing (what defines "American" today? how is that different from 1911? 1811? 1411?) and I'm sure hundreds of other categories. To try and identify definitively the core things that make us Americans seems inherently arrogant. So I'm humbly offering my list in hopes that a dialogue might emerge where we can learn from each other. I declare my list to be faulty and biased before I even start it, because I know that I am faulty and biased.

Second caveat: American values and biblical values are not the same thing. Oddly, I'm much more comfortable talking about what I believe the Bible says that what I think an American values. But they are clearly not the same set of values. There are times when they will agree, there are times when they can be complementary and there are times when they will clash. And perhaps clash hard, harder than any American who is following Jesus is comfortable with, if we really engage the teachings of Jesus and scripture as a whole. Which leads to my third disclaimer;

Every American follower of Jesus will at some point be confronted with the choice of which "kingdom" comes first, which sets of values will be more influential on our families, our work, our choices, our beliefs. Honestly, we are probably confronted with that choice at least daily, we just don't realize it. And my fourth disclaimer? Following on the heels of #3;

Too many Americans who self-identify as Christians are living as though the "kingdom" of America and her values are at least as important as biblical values, if not more so. Yes, I am admitting that I believe many of us (yes, us, as in "me too") are failing miserably at "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."

So with those caveats, if you're still interested, here's what I think are the core American values, not necessarily in a particular order (although you might see a pattern in a few of them if you're familiar with our Declaration of Independence and Constitution):
  • freedom
  • human rights and opposition to tyranny
  • equality
  • consent of the governed
  • justice
  • capitalism
  • individualism and e pluribus unum
I'm sure there are a number of others, but this is my list. But I can't just leave it there, because people pour lots of meanings into such complex words and thoughts. So we'll pick it up there in the next day or two and expound on the concepts.

In the meantime, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. Looking forward to the dialogue!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Then why?

Conundrum: why do so many people who believe in smaller government still want to be president? Just wondering...

From Relevant Dude to Spiritual Father

This was a great article for any man (or woman) who wants to have influence in their world, particularly on today's younger followers of Jesus.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Evangelical Mind

I have long liked Mark Noll. This is an excellent interview about his new book.

Political Leaders with Religious Views

I've been thinking for a couple of weeks about the prayer rally in Houston a few weeks back. The rally featured the now leading Republican candidate and current Texas governor Rick Perry, among others. It was sponsored by the American Family Association.

But really this blog isn't about Rick Perry (I'm still formulating opinions on whether or not the event was primarily politically motivated) or AFA (whose organizational practices and techniques I usually do not care for). It's about this question: what should be okay and what should be out of bounds for a political leader when it comes to expressing their faith?

There are several levels to this conversation.

First, at the level of USAmerican politics, there is virtually no way to separate a candidate's political and religious views, particularly a presidential candidate. His or her religious practices are going to be interpreted by media and by the public as having political implications. This is a given, and right or wrong we're not going to change it. And the biases of those media or people determines how they view the religious expression. President Clinton attended church far more frequently than President Reagan, but that didn't help him with religious conservatives. Political opponents seem to always interpret their adversary's words and deeds in the worst light possible. So a rally calling Christians to prayer is seen as a ploy to win the vote of the religious conservative. But just because this happens does not mean that candidates should not express their faith in ways they see fit.

Second, at the level of USAmerican religious expression, the vast majority of the religious expressions of public leaders are not the same as biblical Christianity. There is, I'm not the first to point out, an American religion. It sounds like biblical language, but the god of that religion is always on the side of the US. I've written about that in previous posts, and I confess my own bias here, because I do not believe any Christian should be equating the USAmerican public religion with biblical Christianity. The US is not nor has it ever been a Christian nation, chosen by God, in the way the the Hebrews of the Old Testament were. I want to passionately follow the God of the Bible, the God revealed in human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That God, in my opinion, is not impressed with statements of "God bless America" or overt references to biblical themes in political speeches (or in athletes scoring touchdowns, but that's a different soapbox of mine). I don't believe he cares for statements in support of "traditional marriage" from people who have been divorced multiple times, unless they're confessing their own sin. And I am convinced he does not call us to demonize those with whom we disagree, calling them or their actions disparaging names solely on the basis of our disagreement. The followers of Jesus who will impact the world in the most significant ways in the 21st century will be those who (1) understand the US and the world are pluralistic places where people should respect each other regardless of their differences, understanding that true faith can't be faked or coerced, and (2) who live out in word and action the countercultural lifestyle we are called to by Jesus himself.

Finally, I want to look at the level of the body of Christ itself, at life among those who live in the kingdom of heaven here on earth. There is a serious need for prophetic leadership today. The average believer is looking for someone who can--with all their flaws--authentically live out the teachings of Jesus. We need pastors and institutional leaders who do this. But we also need political leaders who do this. Just like we need plumbers and builders and bankers and [fill in the blank with any job here] who do this. Political candidates should not check their faith when they enter a race. A candidate who says their faith (whether Mormon, Buddhist, B'hai or atheistic humanism, or anything in between) does not inform their politics is not worth voting for. What we believe is a large determiner of who we are and how we live.

Did Rick Perry participate in the prayer rally primarily for prayer or primarily for political gain? I have no idea. But I do know that we are in desperate need of leaders in all facets of life who are passionately seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and calling us to do the same.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Immigration the legal way?

Okay, summer is winding down, and I'm going to start writing more again (thanks for the cheers, faithful 3.5 readers!). In fact, I want to write some thoughts about last weekend's prayer rally at Reliant Stadium in Houston, but I don't have the time at the moment.

What I did want to do is give you a link to a short but well-written piece about immigration, and why those in the country without documentation today don't hop in the lines to legal immigration. Let me know what you think.

Here's the link...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Book Review: Tea With Hezbollah

I have a new favorite Ted Dekker book.

The 3.5 faithful readers will know that Ted is pretty much my favorite fiction writer. Okay, so he's pretty much the only fiction writer I have read in the past 10 years. His writing, while fiction, is so stimulating theologically that I suck it dry when I read it.

But this new book is not fiction. Far from it. It's all too real.

Ted, and his friend Carl Medearis, travelled a few years ago to the Middle East, on one specific quest: to discover if the teaching of Jesus--that we are to love our neighbor as ourself--is being talked about, taught, or even followed. And specifically when that neighbor is your enemy, what then?

Ted & Carl sit down with many people that leaders here in the US (and can I say, most people who call themselves Christians) would clearly define as enemies. Muslim teachers and leaders. Hezbollah. Hamas. Regular people like cabbies and tour guides. And in between the great writing of Ted, they post verbatim what these "enemies" have to say about life, about what makes them laugh, and what they think about Jesus' teaching to love your enemy. And at the end they even get to meet some of the remaining 700 or so Samaritans still living in Israel.

This book is, as my friend Thom Wolfe said on the back cover, irreverent. But it is full of truth. And it point to Truth in the man from Nazareth.

Muslims, Jews and Christians have several things in common. A couple of them are (1) they claim to worship the God of Abraham; and (2) they by and large ignore the actual teachings of Jesus.

This book gets the coveted 5 bellybutton rating. 00000. Read it. And take another look at what Jesus calls us to.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Adkison boys' weekend

Okay, so there's a rule: what happens at B&A Ranch stays at B&A Ranch. And I'm not about to break that rule. But I do want to share something non-specific about a group of men.

The B is for Bryan, my cousin, and the A is for his wife Allison. At least that's what I've always assumed. Bryan has a ranch near Duster, Texas, which is near DeLeon, which is not too far from Stephenville. It's off the beaten path, to be sure.

Twice each year for the past probably 4 years now, many of the men and boys in the Adkison clan have gotten together at B&A Ranch, once in the spring and once in the fall. Generally speaking, we sit around a fire, we shoot guns, we eat food that men are supposed to eat. And we tell stories. Mostly I like to listen to the stories.

There are usually 3 of the men there from my dad's generation: my dad, and his twin younger brothers Harrel & Darrel. [Spare it, I'm sure they've heard every joke over the years.] These two uncles taught me at a very early age what the purpose of an uncle is: torment your nephews incessantly (Darrel, if you're reading this, that means over and over). It's still a part of their normal behavior. I took my friend Mike with me out there last year, and he accidentally threw one of his "kiddie" camp chairs in the truck instead of a larger one. My uncles got after him about his "big boy chair" that whole weekend.

They will be glad to know that I try to carry on that legacy with my own 3 nephews.

There's also usually several of my cousins. There's Bruce Lee (yep) whose dad, Robert E. Lee (yep) would have loved these weekends, but now Uncle R.E. is with the Lord. (Side note, Bruce tells a great story about trying to make a collect call from college back home). Bruce is one of those cousins that when I was a kid seemed a lot older than me, but now that I'm 45, we seem to be closer to the same age. Bruce's sons and son in law are usually there (I missed Nick this trip, who is usually in Alaska in the military). Of course there's Bryan, and sometimes his brother Micah (also in the military), and once my cousin Steven drove from New Mexico (he's border patrol). Bruce's brother Bobby also comes--he looks like G. Gordon Liddy, and he's a nurse. I'd hate to wake up in a hospital and have to see that face. (Just kidding, Bobby!)

My own two sons love going out there. They love getting pestered by these men. And since I missed this last one, I've been trying to figure out why. Why do I, so long tormented, have a broken spirit about missing the weekend? Why do my boys love to go and be harangued? (Darrel, that means bothered.) Why does my friend Mike want to go back even after all the big boy chair talk?

Yes, we have fun. Yes, we eat greasy food cooked over a fire. Yes, there's something great about shooting a gun. But there's more than that. I wish I knew the exact answer, but 2 words come to mind.

Wisdom. Every trip, we talk a little politics, we talk a little theology, we talk a lot of family. But these men, with all their experience, drip with wisdom. I think my dad may be the wisest person I've ever known. It's not about knowledge, although I'm sure there's plenty of that. But wisdom, experiential know-how. Street smart (although since they're all kinda country folk, maybe "trail-smart" is a better phrase). They have lived life. They have learned. And they share, usually (maybe mostly) when they're not trying to.

Love. For all their shenanigans (Darrel, that means doing stuff that bothers other people), there is genuine familial, brotherly love, the kind that you don't seem to see in public as much anymore. There's laughter. Sometimes tears. But there's the feeling that these men would do anything for each other.

And for me. Or my own boys.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends, Jesus said.

I have no doubt that any of my uncles, cousins, dad, brother, or any of those friends who have been to B&A Ranch, no doubt that they would sacrifice for each other. They miss each other when the weekends are over, always lingering to leave.

I miss them.

I am proud to be an Adkison. And while the Adkison Boys' Weekend might not be the place for everybody, it's a great place for me.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Book Review: "The Sacred Journey" by Charles Foster

I come from a church tradition that doesn't typically see pilgrimage as an organized discipline to pursue. But while I've never been to the Holy Land, I've been on many pilgrimages--and on one Pilgrimage--during my life. Life is most obviously a journey, a hike, and as a backpacker and camper I enjoyed the book. Foster's writing style is wonderful, intermixing his own personal journeys with biblical texts.

I have to admit, when I first started reading this book it biased me against itself early on in the reading. In "The Sacred Journey" Foster lays out that our God is a wandering God, a god of nomads, and in so doing he seems at times to disdain the city. As a country boy, cities were places that I have had to adjust to, but I've come to love the city to a certain degree. I hope to someday live in a totally urban context (although my wife thinks I romanticize the idea somewhat).

But as I read Foster more, I grew to like him. He's irreverant--a trait we share and which I admire. But at the same time he's open to ideas and thoughts and keenly aware of his own prejudices and shortcomings--again a trait that draws me in. In talking about his trip to Rome and seeing pilgrims climbing the Scala Sancta, he later read Spurgeon's rant against such Roman "fetish worship." Foster asks

"Fetish worship"? Because they climb a staircase of dubious historicity? Hardly. We all worship our own synthetic images of God. Growing Christian maturity simply means that the images become incrementally less inadequate. "[God] is the great iconoclast," C. S. Lewis truly wrote. He is constantly smashing up the images we have of him. And anyway, no one is in any danger of confusing God with a staircase or a saint's mummified head. There's a real and malignant danger of confusing God with the things that Scripture says about him.

I could go on, but this will suffice. While there is much in this book that will make evangelical toes curl up (a phrase Foster uses in the book) it is well worth the read, and then worth the figuring out how to practice. I give it 4 out of 5 bellybuttons.

The Danger of Cynicism

I used to call myself a cynic. Some might still call me that. But a few years ago I did some study on the original Greek philosophers called the Cynics, and decided that Diogenes was probably not a good role model for me. I'll let you look that up on your own.

This morning I read an article in the newest edition of Newsweek about the rampant cynicism affecting next year's presidential race. The truth is many of us have become jaded and cynical about anything "organized", and politics is near the top of that list. We no longer trust career politicians, we no longer believe the systems in DC or Austin (or whatever your state capitol is) are working for the people, but instead become self-perpetuating machines focused not on effective governance but on the next reelection campaign. A great case in point is President Obama's recent reelection announcement (ostensibly in order to start raising funds now) and this week's Republican presidential debate (really, 18 months before the election? and before all the candidates are even in the race?).

But cynicism does not necessarily breed good change, and I think that was--at least in part--the point of the article. Specifically the article was about Donald Trump running for president. If the 2008 elections show us anything, they show us that a cynical public will gravitate to the momentum of the perceived outsider, and fame, which should lead to more cynicism, ends up guiding us into choosing the very thing we were cynical about. The pigs get into the farmer's house in DC and begin to walk on their hind legs like the farmer. And somewhere around 2014, no matter who wins the election, we're going to be fighting with cynicism again.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Book Review: "This is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended" by Keith Giles

I struggle with the organized church.

I'm not sure where it all began, but somewhere after pastoring a traditional church myself, then being involved in a so-called parachurch ministry, I began to get quite a bit jaded about the organized systematic religious church in the US.

My friend Keith went through some similar experiences, I think. Today I read his new book "This is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended." And I highly recommend it, not just because he's my long-time friend, but because the book raises some great questions about the religious Christendom that I struggle with so much.

And I think we're not alone.

Keith too has been a senior pastor of a traditional church. In fact, our pastorates were just minutes from each other in El Paso. One time there was even talk of merging our two churches together (postponing the inevitable death of two churches struggling to maintain their very "southern anglo" culture in the midst of a nearly 100% Hispanic part of El Paso, but that's another story for another time). Keith takes you through the Old Testament processes of worship, then shows well how there are both similarities and distinct differences in the New Testament church. Most importantly, Keith hits the nail on the head about Jesus being the fulfillment of the OT shadows, and how that affects the methods of organization of Jesus' new "body", the fellowship of believers.

Keith digs into some of the core doctrines of New Testament faith. Probably my favorite discussion is on the priesthood of individual believers, something that shatters the current focus on the professional clergy of our modern churches. And his call for churches that spend millions and cumulatively billions on salaries and buildings and many other unnecessary accoutrements of "worship" instead of caring for the poor, the widows, the orphans, etc of the world, is a call that needs to be heard indeed.

Ultimately, every believer has to make the call--can I find real community, can I be the NT body of Christ with other believers, within the organized church of the US. Not that long ago I was ready to give up trying. But the truth is Jesus died for the church, in all it's goofiness. Keith challenges us well to consider how the church needs to be in our culture, and I for one hope that many hear the Voice of the One who is speaking through Keith, and follows not into an organization, but into the very body of the One who made the universe. Great read on not throwing away the church just because it's been warped in our culture.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Real Hope

The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will come.

If I died with Christ, then I have also risen with him. And my life is now hidden with him.

I have been adopted, but I eagerly await--along with all creation--for my full adoption as co-heir with Jesus. We wait for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.

Pull back the curtain.

Tear down the curtain.

Sunday morning is almost here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

President Trump

This quote was from the WFAA website:

"I'm only interested in Libya if we get the oil," Trump said. He said Obama "doesn't have a doctrine (on foreign affairs.) Foreign affairs is, we take care of ourselves first"

Love the "golden rule" of the rich. Not.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

So they're shutting down the gov't tomorrow?

You might have heard about the Sojourners-led fast around the federal budget process. Today I read a great article (find the whole thing here) but I wanted to share a quote with you:

The message of the fast gets clearer each day -- fasting tends to focus you, and the message is that a budget is about the choices we make. This fast is not just about cutting spending, but about the values that will determine our priorities and decisions. Should we cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing, or $8.5 billion in mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes? Should we cut $11.2 billion in early childhood programs for poor kids, or $11.5 billion in tax cuts for millionaires' estates? Should we cut $2.5 billion in home heating assistance in winter months, or $2.5 billion in tax breaks for oil companies and off-shore drilling? This debate isn't about scarcity as much as it is about choices.

While it's more complex than this, these are some questions that every believer should wrestle with. How does a federal budget reflect the morals of a godly people?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I learned today...that may seem stupid tomorrow

"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

Unless he doesn't have access to the pond.

For the last couple of days some great learning facilitators from World Vision have been in DFW working with our team here on learning some of the basic foundations for our work in the US. Didn't know World Vision worked in the US? Check out more information here:

We all know the little ditty from above. But one of the things we've learned, is that teaching a man to fish has no value to him if he can't access the water where the fish are.

There is a natural progression to our growth in the area of biblical justice. First comes charity or relief, where we begin to learn about needs in the world and try to give to them. Maybe we begin to understand that we're stewards of our stuff and not owners. We give away the fish.

But then we realized that the people we gave to often became dependent on us, and on our charity. So we thought, let's develop some skill sets, let's teach them to fish. And so we did.

But where do they fish? What if the owner of the pond won't let them fish? How do we give them access? We advocate on their behalf, and teach them how to advocate for themselves.

Ultimately though, it's about that community owning the pond for themselves. How do they get there?

Each of these steps is a move toward biblical justice. None of them is having "arrived", but each of them leads us closer to what Jesus would have us do.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Theology in Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Disclaimer: This is a theology review of "The Adjustment Bureau" (TAB), starring Matt Damon & Emily Blunt. So I might give away parts of the movie if you haven't seen it, although I'm going to try not to.

There hasn't been a movie to fill me with thoughts of theology the way TAB did, probably since "The Matrix." The movie plot is about determinism vs free will, maybe the longest running, mostly-un-ultimately-decided debate within the Church throughout our history. It is rife with theological comment.

Like "The Matrix", there is some good theology there. The portrayal of the juxtaposition of making choices contrary to the plan of the Chairman is excellent, and as Greg Boyd says, it might be the most intelligent Hollywood version of that debate ever (which may not be saying much, but still). Greg has an awesome review of the movie, including 5 great points on the free will/determinism debate, which you can read here.Link
But, also like "The Matrix", while some of the theology is good, ultimately it becomes the skin of the truth around a lie. The original lie, in fact.

When my friends and family asked me after what I thought of the movie, I responded something like "great movie, but maybe the most evil theology I've ever seen in a movie."

Yep, I see it as evil, and here's why: it mirrors the lie told by the serpent in the garden. If you believe the plan revealed by the One to be somehow wrong, then you should act in your own self interest, and if you do it with enough gumption and sincerity and passion, then you can rewrite the plan. In other words, you can be like God.

The movie does leave you hanging about what the main characters' future was, although the implication seemed to me to be that they lived "happily ever after". But perhaps like Adam and Eve it all went bad for them, when the Chairman gave them what they thought they wanted. But we really don't know.

So here's what I would say:

  • An all-powerful God (the Chairman) and his plan for the world (the books the agents carried) do not have to be written in stone. An omnipotent being can allow for the free choices of humans. Or angels for that matter.
  • Neither the humans nor the angels involved in this world know the outcome of the plan, and our parts we play in it are often tests, designed to grow us into the creatures we were created to be.
  • Ultimately, the greatest exercise of our free will is to choose allegiance to the One who does rule the universe, and like him, to come serving and not to be served. It does not profit a man to gain the world and yet lose his soul. This movie says that if you go after the world with sincerity and passion, you will find it. With apologies to those who see the romanticism of his pursuit of the girl of his dreams as "all that," if we pursue our dreams with no regard of the One who made us, we will only find death at the end.

Great movie, definitely worth seeing multiple times, but watch out for the subtle untruths.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Book Review: "Trolls and Truth"

I had heard the name Jimmy Dorrell for years. The founder and leader of Mission Waco and Church Under the Bridge pastor was well-known as a friend of the marginalized in Central Texas. But recently I got the chance to spend some time with him, and now we're working together on a project. When we met the first time, he gave me a copy of his book "Trolls and Truth: 14 Realities About Today's Church That We Don't Want to See." The book was written in 2006, but remains as timely now as it was then.

Jimmy tells the story of several of the people he's met in ministry over the years, people that "regular" society might see as trolls. And in telling the story of these men and women, Jimmy prophetically exposes the truths that most of us in the US Church don't like to think about: our churches are not made for down-and-outers. They don't try to attract the marginalized. And in so doing, we're missing out on the kingdom, or at least a big part of it.

The chapters deal with practical topics, like looks, giving, blessing, worship and more, and cut to the quick of our idealized churches made up of people who only want the proverbial "$2 worth of God," not the whole enchilada. But Jimmy's friends are people who desperately need God, and nothing else will do.

My favorite chapter--the one that convicts me the most too--is on friendship. Society's "trolls" ultimately don't need just our help, they need our friendship. All too often, even for someone like me who tries to identify with (whatever that means) and work among under-resourced people and communities, our "service" to those in poverty is "in and out." We serve turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving. We deliver some gifts at Christmas. We go on a 5 day mission trip to south Dallas, or to Mexico. All of these can be effective, if a part of a greater strategy. And that strategy is to be genuine, authentic friends with people, regardless of their race, their socio-economic status, their mental capacity, whatever. This whole idea that Jesus ate with sinners is amazing, and life changing. He ate with them. He didn't just serve them food (although he did that) and he didn't just preach them a sermon (although he did that too), he ate with them. He walked with them. He lived life with them.

He was one of them.

May I be one of them too.

Great book for a devotional read, shortish chapters that you could read one a day in 15 or 20 minutes. I'm giving it 4 out of 5 bellybuttons.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Follow the rules

Those closest to me have noticed a dark and disturbing trend over the past few years. I don't know how it happened, how it snuck up on me and captured my soul. But it has happened.

I have become a rule follower.

I wasn't always. Freedom rang through my life as if William Wallace himself was screaming in my head. I was a notorious rebel, determined to break the rules placed on me.

But no longer. I finally came to grips with it this morning when, for the umpteenth time, I saw another parent dropping their child off at school without following the school's well-posted rules for safety. It's as if we think that the rules don't apply to us if we're in a hurry. And as I glared steely eyes at the other dad who was, it looked to me, dressed for a tee time (while tee times are extremely important, probably not worth endangering elementary children for), it hit me.

I have become a rule follower.

So in the few minute drive back to the house, I pondered what had changed me so deeply. And as I did, I began to realize I've not changed so much as I think I have. The problem is not that I'm any less rebellious than 15 or 20 years ago. The problem is that I think fewer rules are stupid than I did 15 or 20 years ago. You see, even in my highest rebellious phase, I was rebelling against what I perceived to be the idiocy of certain regulations. Many people in authority make rules to govern the least common denominator. Anyone who tries to control a group of people (coaches, teachers, pastors, etc.) makes a rule because a handful of people in the group need those rules. It keeps the group in line. It defines truth as black and white, alleviating (albeit temporarily) the mystery. But, having usually seen myself as more enlightened than the rest of the group, I pretty much always thought those rules weren't very smart for me.

Educational math was like this for me. Teachers always wanted me to "show my work." Made me list out my postulates and theories in geometry. Show my line by line work in long division. When I could do it all in my head and save me the time and energy of writing it out, why?

Most of my strongest rebellion was (and still is) pointed at religious regulations. And more specifically, the religious regulations that allow American Christians to look good on the outside, but be dead bones on the inside, and still be seen as "good" evangelicals. But the truth is, we as individuals and we the collect system of society have been tainted by sin, and against that sin we need to struggle. We need to fight. We need to declare our freedom. Often for USAmerican evangelicals, the pattern of sin in us in not the desire to do evil. It is the belief that in doing a little good we become good people. As Screwtape attested, that may be the greatest victory of our enemy.

In these, may we all be rebels.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life is a Journey

After jury duty yesterday, I watched a little of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" while scarfing some lunch. The trilogy is my favorite movie--I love the sense of journey that provides.

Over the past few years my boys have gotten into a series on the web called "How it should have ended." They take movies and tell a new ending, a new story. And it's much shorter. For instance, how "The Lord of the Rings" should have ended involves the 9 members of the "fellowship" leaving Rivendell on the eagles, flying into Mordor to the Mount of Doom, and dropping the ring in. Takes all of a few minutes, instead of the ordeal that the book and movie draw out.

Funny, maybe. But not reflective of reality.

Life is a journey. Full of ups and downs. Successes and failures. Good and evil. And lots of things in between all those extremes that can feel mundane. Why didn't God want them to just climb on the eagles and drop it in? Why doesn't life have those kinds of shortcuts?

I think it's because we become better people only by walking in the journey. Frodo and Sam learned about life beyond the Shire, and became better hobbits for it. Aragorn remembered he was the heir to a king. Gandalf died but was resurrected to something better, something more.

The journey of life can crush us. But it can also be redemptive for us. It can be used by God to shape us and mold us and make us more like our brother Jesus.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

I am a hypocrite, but...

Last week I tweeted about hating when you make a judgment about someone else's behavior then the Holy Spirit gently but firmly smacks you upside your head and says, "You do that too!" It's frustrating to be a hypocrite.

The truth is I can be a monster. I have anger issues, pride issues, and downright prejudice issues.

I am, after all, a recovering sinner.

Since then I've been wondering if online confession is as good for the soul as is confession in person. I come from a tradition that, quite frankly, does not openly value public confession. I have however as an adult come to see the value of communal confession. Both James and Peter speak of confession, not just in the context of a private relationship with God, but in communal fellowship with other believers. But that's still not necessarily the same as blogging your confession, or tweeting it, or sharing on some other social media outlet. (Hmm, a Facebook confession page, anyone?)

Even as I write these words, I'm not sure if it would be healthy or perverse to add a list of my sins, to confess the thoughts, words and deeds of my life that miss the mark of holiness. A part of me wants to do it, another part of me wants to resist the titillation that already stenches up the internet. And another part of me wants to just point to the grace that is offered to all of us in Jesus, the marvelous, matchless, infinite grace that is greater than all our sins, as the hymn put it.

So where do I land this plane?

It's very freudian to say that whatever sin I judge the most in others is likely the sin I struggle with the most. I see in someone what I hate about myself and pass judgment on it.

But Freud wasn't God.

I think every believer in our honest moments admits that we have met the enemy, and he is me. The line between good and evil does run through the middle of the human heart. My heart. Until redemption fully arrives, my flesh keeps crawling off the sacrificial altar to wreak havoc on me, to slap me. Or worse, to subtly retake a piece of my life where I don't see it coming. This makes it all the more challenging for God's clay-footed people to speak prophetically. I will fail to follow what I profess.

Should I stop professing it?

No. My shortcomings do not negate the truth. My failings do not validate evil.

My gluttony does not mean we can ignore the hungry.

My greed does not give us license to ignore the poor.

My silence does not allow us to ignore those who need to hear good news.

My laziness does not mean we can give up on changing the world.

My sin points only to my own need for a savior. My hypocrisy does not justify others' evil, but certainly demands my humility. And while I hope and strive and pray to overcome my own sin, it is "not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." Every day I am "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Php 3.12-14 ESV

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review: "God Took His Coffee Black"

Happy New Year, to the 3.5 of you who read my blog. I would say I've resolved to blog more in 2011, but I don't make resolutions. I do make goals, but I have a hard time following them. Maybe I'll share them with you for some accountability this year.

Or maybe I'll just adopt the theology of G. W. Drum's book "God Took His Coffee Black." Because since it's just your basic new age drivel, it's okay that I don't reach my goals, because God is not judgmental. We only judge ourselves too harshly. When bad people die, they go to a part of heaven where they are "schooled" in how their "sin" affected others, then sent back to the "earth-plane" to see if they can get it better the next time around.

Uh huh.

I was asked to review this book by the publisher, so I'm reviewing it. It gets zero bellybuttons, something I've never done before. It's terrible theology, and not much better writing, to be honest. The author admits early in the book to one of his many visitors (which include God, played by George Burns, Elvis, Karen Carpenter, Adam & Eve, Marilyn Monroe, and several others) that he wouldn't be good at writing a book, then just so you know he's serious he proves it.

I'm sure the author will feel like I'm being too harsh and judgmental, but I'm just exercising my free will, and if he's correct I'll learn later what I did wrong.

But with all the free will I can muster, I cannot recommend anything about this book.