Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A Good Read

Much has been said about our postmodern, pluralistic, relativistic society. We definitely are living in the midst of a seismic paradigm shift without any clear idea where our culture ultimately is heading. Deconstructionists loathe even the slightest idea of metanarratives, or some overarching story by which reality is interpreted. The deconstructionists' programme is to expose the hidden power structures within texts, demonstrating the writer's bias toward self-preservation and advancement. Since Christianity provides a metanarrative from creation to the fall to the consummation of the ages, it, especially, is subjected to rigorous desconstructionist investigation.

Christians must not retreat from our culture. We have been called to minister at this particular time in history for such a time as this. While we should not retreat, neither should we attempt to buttress an old modern epistemological paradigm that was in need of major renovation. The postmodernists, then, have made some legitiate points. At the same time, we should not buy wholesale into the emerging paradigm for it, too, must be critiqued.

Scripture does speak of universal, absolute truth. Strangley, the modernist considered the truth claims of Christianity simply to be innacurate while postmodernists tend to judge Christianity as false because it makes exclusive truth claims. In a world increasingly gripped by relativism, how are we to respond?

Art Lindsley has written a very good, balanced book addressing this very question. In True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World, Lindsley argues that we can hold to absolutes without being absolutists. While this might appear to be a Clintonian spin, it actually is a very important distinction. I like the way that Lindsley talks about this subject, admitting that Christians have been hypocritical in our dealings with others. At the same time, he gives good reasons, both intellectual and practical, for moral absolutes. For anyone looking for a good primer on this subject, you'll want to add this book to your reading list.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Great to be Home

This past Wednesday evening, I had the distinct privilege of speaking at the Campus Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Matt Elliot is the worship leader. I was so blessed to be among this community. I really enjoyed sitting down with Matt over a latte at a nearby Starbucks to reminisce about mutual friends and experiences. At one time, I served as the associate minister for the Prattville Church where Matt's dad preached for many years. While there, I became more acquainted with Matt as he'd periodically visit. You can see in Matt a passion for God, which is evident in his worship ministry.

I sure was glad to be back at CrossBridge yesterday. As Greg Miles already has mentioned in his blog, yesterday was a special day at CrossBridge. We hosted a variety of ministries from a variety of churches as we celebrated God's work in our world. It really is amazing to see first hand the number, quality, and scope of ministries taking place. Too many times we attempt to reinvent the wheel when God already has in place ministries with we we can partner.

Being back at CrossBridge yesterday helped take the sting out of leaving Allen, my son, in Oklahoma last week. Many people embraced me with the love of Jesus. Community is so important, not only to celebrate individual accomplishments, but to bear burdens as well. I'm glad to be at a place where even the preacher can be real.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Oklahoma, More Than A Musical

As I begin this blog, I'm sitting at gate C-7 in the Will Rogers International Airport near Oklahoma City, OK. Carol and I have just successfully navigated through the varioius layers of airport security--security for which I'm very appreciative. Carol has just stepped away, and I'm here in my seat, surrounded by our baggage, overlooking the tarmac. Actually, I'm straining to see the outline of Oklahoma City one last time before our flight leaves.

Before now, Oklahoma was just another state in the heartland of America. I'd spent a week in Sayer, Oklahoma several years ago delivering a series of lectures on Apologetics. Also, I, like every other American grieved in shock over the destruction of the Murrah building in 1994, snuffing out innocent human lives in the process. Other than that, Oklahoma was just one of my favorite musicals. It's much more than that now.

Yesterday, I left a piece of my heart there. And, I'm not sure that description is accurate. I have four children and each of them has my entire heart in their own unique way. However it should be said, I left my oldest son, Allen, in Edmond Oklahoma where he will begin school at Oklahoma Christian. And my heart hurts...and rejoices simultaneously. Don't ask me how, it just does.

I miss my boy desperately. For, Allen wasn't just my son; he was my buddy. He's turned into a fine, godly young man and I've enjoyed our lives together. That has forever changed. Watching him walk away from our car before Carol and I left for the airport was the hardest thing I've ever done. Carol's sobs filled the small confines of our rental car as the tall figure of our son faded into the distance. I just wanted to run after him and give him one more hug, look him in the eyes again, and tell him of my love.

The Heartland of America now has new meaning for me. I'll watch much closer at news from this midsection of our country. I'll be more interested in Oklahoma's weather, as notorious for its tornados as is our portion of Alabama. As the western sun dips beneath the horizon, I'll know its rays are touching Allen as well.

This kind of love hurts...and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thanks so much to CrossBridge for loving my family and me. In Alabama awaits my three other children, and a wonderful church home. My heart is also there. And, CrossBridge will allow me to grieve, and rejoice, during this stage of our lives.

Thanks to Wes McCannell for preaching in my absence. Thanks also to Johnny and Jinny for staying with Zach and Miranda while we took Allen to OC. Thank you, God, for loving me with a Father's heart. There's no greater love.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I Hope He Loses His Grip

As far back as I can remember, the summer Olympics have always captivated me. I thoroughly enjoy watching these world class atheletes go head to head. Monday evening was no different.

I was really into the men's team gymnastics finals Monday night, especially when only .128 points separated third place from first place going into the final rotation. That the United States team was in the running for the gold raised the excitement level even higher for me.

The last rotation was the high bar. The Romanian team, which had just performed brilliantly on the vault, was the first team on this apparatus. One of their members lost his grip during one of those whirling release moves and hit the mat. I must admit, while I outwardly winced, I inwardly rejoiced (this is confessional). Our team did well. No one lost his grip, and all turned in a respectable score.

The Japanese were the only ones that could take the gold medal, leaving us the silver. My wife, Carol, was watching the competition with me. What I said before the first Japanese gymnast grabbed onto the bar was something like: "I don't want him to get hurt, but I hope he loses his grip." In typical motherly (and biblically-loving) fashion, Carol said: "Now that's somebody's little boy, and they feel the same about him as we would one of our own sons." Undeterred, I responded: "I realize that...that's why I don't want him to hurt himself when he falls!"

The Japanese gymnasts performed with such power and grace that I eventually clapped at their skill. They really did deserve the gold medal.

Back to my confession, however. I didn't want others to lose so much as I wanted the U.S. to win. I found myself, then, disappointed when "others" did well and equally disappointed when "we" goofed. Now, I don't want to make too much of this. I think it's perfectly fine for us in such situations to cheer for our particular teams. On the other hand, there is an important lesson here.

As C.S. Lewis states in his compelling "Screwtape Letters," God wants to destroy the fleshly self-love that traps humans' minds into an endless "revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible." In this fleshly frame of mind, we are so biased in our own favor that we simply cannot rejoice in the successes of others without some sting of envy. C.S. Lewis correctly goes on to point out that God (the "Enemy" in the Screwtape Letters) "wants each [person], in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even oneself) as glorious and excellent things." God desires for all of us to be "so free from any bias in [our] own favor that [we] can rejoice in [our] own talents as frankly and gratefully as in [our] neighbor's talents." While He "wants to kill [our] animal self-love as soon as possible, God ultimately wants to "restore to to [us] a new kind of self-love--a charity and gratitude for all selves, including [our] own. For "when [we] have really learned to love [our] neighbors as [ourselves], [we] will be allowed to love [ourselves] as [our] neighbors."

I wonder what would happen in our world if we actually viewed everyone, regardless of their situation, as "glorious and excellent?" How would we respond if we saw all people in our world through the eyes of Jesus? For, through His eyes, everyone is His little child for whom He chose to suffer and die. I really wonder if the church, particulary in the U.S., has become so self-absorbed that we've forgotten this primal truth.

Oh well, enough theological reflection. The Romanian women's team just won the gold (it's Tuesday now), leaving our women's team with the silver. Those Romanian women just had to be so irritatingly good :-). At least our men's swim team finally beat the Austrialians in the free style, 400 meter relay. YES! It's about time we put those Australians in their place! Oops, there I go again. This love of neighbor as self is really tough.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Blogged Down...I Thought

Yesterday (Sunday, August 15) was one of those days that I will never forget. As usual, LifeSong, led by Greg Miles, ushered me into the transforming presence of God. Lynn Gurganus, Dustin Marchan, and Clark Ogle contributed to this holy experience by their words.

Several folks asked prayers from their brothers and sisters, and Victoria Gargiulo was baptized by her dad, Richard. My heart was full...and God wasn't finished.

My oldest son, Allen, walked down front and threw his arms around me. Intuitively, I knew why he came. Yesterday was his last Sunday at CrossBridge before we take him to Oklahoma Christian University to begin his studies there this fall. It's as if we couldn't let go of one another. In his ear, I asked if he wanted to say something to the church. "If it's o.k.," he replied. "Of course, it is," I said with a broken voice.

He walked to the podium with me, motioned to Carol and his brothers and sisters to join him, and he began to speak. He thanked this community for loving him through the years. He thanked Carol and me for our love. That's about all I heard. It's as if my ears filled with the tears streaming down my cheeks.

These tears were not of disappointment, but of tremendous love for a young man whom I have had the privilege of watching grow in the Lord these past 18 years. I will miss him, therefore, I cried. At the same time, however, I am so very proud of this young man and anticipate seeing what God will do through him. So, yesterday was indeed a holy moment in the Lord.

After yesterday, I just didn't think I had anything to say. I seemed all dried out. I felt "blogged down," and didn't expect to write anything today. I thought wrong.

I love you, Allen, and pray for God's blessings on you as you begin this wonderful time of your life. Your dad is proud of you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Theodicy and Saving Private Ryan

Believers have struggled with the centuries-long problem of theodicy--the question of how to harmonize the simulaneous existence of a benevolent, sovereign God and gratuitious evil, pain and suffering. Since 9/11, this question has tragically forced its way to the forefront of conversations once again. And, in typical fashion, a variety of competing responses have emerged.

I just read Gordon Dalbey's newsletter that takes a refreshing look at this question. He begins by appropriately challenging the assumption behind this question: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" The following are a few excerpts from Gordon's thoughtful analysis.

Some years ago, a best-selling book titled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People attempted lamely to explain why a good, all-powerful God allows suffering. Its popularity was based on a cherished but false assumption about human nature--one that in fact underlies the political debate over the upcoming election. The book’s title begs the old joke in which a city slicker gets lost on his way to town and asks a farmer for directions. “You can’t get there from here,” the farmer shrugs.
From a Christian perspective, that is, there simply are no good people.
“Good teacher,” a rich man asked Jesus, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” (Mark 10:18ff)
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replied. “No one is good except God alone.”
Jesus’ self-deprecation here is startling, but we soon see why He’s quick to make such a radical distinction. When He instructs the man to keep the basic biblical Law, the man declares, “Ever since I was young, I have obeyed all these commandments.”
Jesus knows that someone so convinced that he’s good needs to be jarred into humility before he can be saved. Otherwise, he thinks he doesn’t need God. And so Jesus instructs the rich man to give away his riches to the poor. Here, at last, is a commandment he cannot obey, and he’s broken. “At this, the man’s face fell, and he went away sad.”
“There is no difference at all,” the Apostle Paul echoes; “everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence” (Rom. 3:22-23).

Why do bad things happen to good people (like me)? is therefore a self-satisfied civilian question. Only those who fancy themselves to be good would bother to ask it. It’s the narcissistic pouting of pampered flesh not yet surrendered to be crucified with the King of Kings (Rom. 12:1-2). Worse, it’s a cover-up for the powers of evil that war against God’s purposes—not just “out there” in others, but in our own hearts.
The warrior, on the other hand, sees life differently, because he experiences it within the larger reality of evil and death.
The wrenching WWII film Saving Private Ryan portrays this contrast graphically. Amid indiscriminate bloodshed and carnage, Private Ryan is indeed rescued by a platoon, most of whom die in the effort. Fifty years later we see him pudgy and gray, kneeling in a military cemetery as thousands of white crosses surround him in severe witness. No hero here, just a tormented survivor--humbled, but not humiliated; lost in the mystery, but found at last by its Author. One who has faced the awful reality of evil and death not only on the world’s battlefield, but also in his own unworthy heart.
“Why me?” he whimpers.
Here, at last, are the makings of a Kingdom warrior. One who’s been saved not by any virtue of his own, but by the sacrificial grace of another. He’s not demanding to know, Why did I suffer? He’s begging to know, Why was I spared? He seeks mercy, not vindication. He’s overwhelmed—and properly so--by the mystery of grace: Why do I still live, and even prosper, when so many braver men more worthy than me lie dead, even for saving me?”

The truth is, that from our genesis, we were indeed created good. But through the draw of evil we lost our innocence, and sin entered and infected our human nature unto death.
The grace is, that Jesus has come to bear the shame of our otherwise unbearable not-good-ness, and thereby restore our innocence. You can fall on your knees, cry out your unworthiness to Jesus, let His Spirit restore you daily to your created good-ness as God’s child—and thereby, become free at last to get on with your destiny, both now and forever
That’s why good things happen to bad people (like us): Because the Father whose love endures forever (Ps. 118:2) has a plan for our lives and the power to accomplish it (Ephes. 2:8-10). He wants us to come to Him so He can do that. As a Father, He won’t abide our being seduced away from His truth by universalistic tolerance, or blinded to His grace by religious judgment.
In this season, let’s not surrender to the world’s charade of “judgment vs. tolerance,” where truth and grace are portrayed as enemies. Instead, let’s get real and surrender to Jesus.
Let’s go to the Father. You can get there from here.

Yes. Before the blood-caked cross of Jesus, we are moved to ask "Why me?" This question has nothing to do with our suffering, but His. Why did you do that for one as unworthy as I? The answer? "My inexpressible love for you compelled me--for you are my child." Somehow, Calvary mysteriously answers the question of theodicy. While we may never be able to satisfactorally articulate the cross's nuanced response to theodicy, the shouts of unfairness, when brought into the shadow of the cross, morphs into a stunned whisper of gratitude for grace.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Things I Learned at the Beach

Carol, all four kids, and I enjoyed an unprecedented 7 nights stay in Seagrove Beach the last week of July. For some reason, I kept telling folks that we were going to stay at Seaside. Well it was Seagrove. Seaside was a whopping 5 miles away! Anyway, the trip really was relaxing. Sitting on the beach one evening around sunset made me miss my growing up days in Pensacola. I saw the sun plunge beneath the sea many a day. But I digress.

I just wanted to share with you some things I learned while on the beach.

(1) I hate sunscreen, but it's a necessary evil.
(2) Floats never remain completely inflated and it's terribly difficult to re-inflate them while fighting waves.
(3) A 43 year old man has no business skim boarding--my foot still hurts.
(4) A 43 year old man simply can't outrun an 18 year old--Allen beat me (just barely) in our annual, 50 yrd sprint on the beach.
(4) There's nothing like a shower after experiencing the beach.
(5) I have a beautiful wife and gorgeous kids...and I love them dearly.
(6) I'm deeply in love with Carol, my wife of nearly 22 years.
(7) God really is an awesome God.
(8) There really is no place like home.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Will You Jump?

I ran across an article while surfing various news-oriented websites. One title that caught my eye irresistibly tempted me to read its contents: "Skydiving: Question to Ask Before You Jump."

Rather than a singular interrogative, the article actually listed several questions to ponder before taking the plunge. I realize that the first president Bush celebrated his 80th birthday by barrelling out of a plane. It is pretty impressive that an octagenarian, and one of such importance, apparently answered all inward questions in the affirmative, and hurled himself to the ground. My hat's off to him. Don't know if I'd jump, though.

The final point of the article was, once you've decided to jump, you're at the point of no return. After reading this article, I wondered what our lives would look like if we actually contemplated our actions. Then, once we've made the decision, we proceeded with the mentality of "no return?" From one perspective, this goes against the gospel call to turn from our self-directed paths, and return to Jesus. So, that's really not what I'm talking about.

I'm considering this "point of no return" from the post-repentance perspective. Assuming a turning to God, what would church look like if we adopted a "no return" posture? The consumerism of our culture has produced a "fickelness," it seems to me. Though rarely overtly articulated, commitments tend to be tempered by the "as long as I like it" philosophy. We wonder why marriages crumble, churches struggle, relationships are strained. Honestly, I become irritated by folk whose commitments are as long and deep as their fleeting feelings. But, enough of that. The content of this blog is beginning to bother me!

A refreshing wind seems to be blowing, however. Increasingly, the new generation is becoming disastisfied with a self-oriented gospel (isn't that an oxymoron?). The language of the "Emerging Church" philosophy speaks of kingdom, service, freedom from self. It critiques the "I want my needs met" attitude that has strangled the church for so long. It seems to strike a more kingdom-oriented posture, one that seeks God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This new breed of Christians dares to challenge the "mega- and consumer-church" mentality that might make many in our churches uncomfortable. Personally, I welome it.

With the current struggles of our world, we need to engage in the kind of self-examination Jesus asked of all. "If any one will come after me, let him [or her] deny himself [or herself] and take up one's cross and follow me." Now that's a plunge! Will you jump? I'm thinking about it myself.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Seeking His Face

Over the past several years, I’ve appreciated the change in nomenclature among folks in my Christian tribe. As a child, I don’t recall hearing phrases like, “Holy Spirit Reign” or “Praise Jesus,” or “We want to know You,” or “Guide us with Your Spirit.” Perhaps these were basic thoughts among the community, and I simply failed to grasp them. What I do recall is much talk about “Scriptural” things.

Whenever a question about methodology or a hypothetical situation was considered, the primary expressed concern was “Is it scriptural?” This concern actually exhibited a healthy appreciation for God’s written word, which I equally share. I’ve learned through experience and continued formal study, however, that “scriptural” can be an elastic term, having a diversity of meanings. One’s hermeneutical orientation typically determines its basic meaning. So, I’ve learned that we humans tend to navigate toward a “hermeneutic of hubris,” one that actually supports our understandings, rather than challenging them. As Richard Hughes, et.al., cogently wrote in The Worldy Church, the real challenge is not to stand “on the word,” but “under the word.” Sacred hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, then, is not so much about interpreting scripture as it is allowing scripture to interpret us. For me, this is more than a neat twist in phraseology; it is the real task of every reader of scripture.

What prompted me to take the preceding brief glance down a long, twisting path that literally spans centuries is the change in nomenclature that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. While formerly I would hear people wondering about the “Scripturality” of something, I now hear folk wondering if someone has been “guided by the Spirit” into a particular ministry, task, or move. I must say, that the latter moves closer to the real essence of Christianity, at least as far as language goes. But, I must wonder if the only real change has been linguistic, rather than attitudinal?

While some of us now understand that being “Scriptural” can be nothing more than one’s selfish (dare I say, Pharisaical) positions buttressed by a litany of passages that gives the appearance of biblical guidance, must we not bring our new lingo under equal scrutiny? Is it possible that “being guided by the Spirit” can shroud the same selfish (dare I say, Pharisaical) posture with a new linguistic cloak?

I’ve wondered lately about my own sense of “seeking God’s face.” Several years ago, Miranda, our youngest daughter (now 9 yrs. old) highlighted an often-overlooked dimension to this essential concept. She was still young enough to be in a car seat. While driving in our minivan with Carol, my wife, Miranda was talking to her mother. Being the conscientious mother—and driver—that she is, Carol kept her eyes straight on the road, occasionally glancing at Miranda in the rear view mirror. This simply did not satisfy our daughter. Miranda’s tone built into a near scream. “Mom! Mom!” Miranda yelled with frustration in her voice. “What sweetie?” Carol replied with equal frustration. “I’m listening!” Unsatisfied, Miranda responded, “But you’re not listening with your face!”

Hmmm. Not listening with your face. Does God feel that way about those of us who now speak of “being guided by Him?” How often have I laid out strategic plans for my life, or ministry, and only paid lip service to “seeking his face?” Has God only seen my eyes in a rear view mirror as I drive my life’s minivan along a self-chosen highway? I wonder if God ever feels like we aren’t listening to Him with our faces. You see if we truly are seeking God’s face, He should see more than the backs of our heads as we go about our activities all the while pleading his blessings on them.

Oh Lord, give us the grace to come squarely face to face with you…and listen. Guide us, O God with your Spirit into realms yet unknown. And start with me!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

A Unique Guy

I missed two successive Sundays at CrossBridge, and I mean I really missed them. I know there are wonderful communities of faith all over the globe, both in and out of my particular tradition. For me, at least, there's no place like [my] home [church]. I haven't always been able to say that, eventhough I've been the preacher at "my home church" since 1985.

There are many reasons why I feel this way--and why others feel this way about their special community. One of the primary reasons is my good friend and ministerial colleague, Greg Miles. I've got to brag about my brother just a little.

Greg holds down a very responsible position at AmSouth bank. Most folk are amazed that Greg is not a paid staff member at CrossBridge, especially in light of all that he's involved in with LifeSong, the music ministry here. It was his leadership, inspired by the Zoe worship conference several years ago, that brought into existence LifeSong. Since LifeSong's debut in January 2000, CrossBridge has morphed into a community of sincere seekers of God. All glory is God's for this, of course. But, Greg has allowed God to use him.

Since the inception of LifeSong, Greg has led worship here on a weekly basis. He puts together astonishing ppt presentations for each weeks worship, keeps LifeSong's repertoire continually growing, insures that LifeSong is ready each week via a midweek practice and Sunday morning sound check (he usually beats me to the building each Sunday). On top of these--and other--weekly ministry responsibilities, LifeSong, under his capable leadership, has produced three CDs. Each of these has a professional quality to them that expresses Greg's commitment to excellence.

And, did I mention that LifeSong is "an aside" for Greg? Amazing!

Let me tell you a little about his heart. If there is a song that captures the essence of Greg's desire, it would be "The Heart of Worship" (I hope that's the actual title to this song.) For Greg, his ministry is "not about him," it's "all about God." In fact, he's probably going to be really embarassed by this blog. Sorry Greg.

Over the years he's been a great support to me. I really want him to know how much I love and appreciate him. I also hope that others in the kingdom will have the opportunity to be blessed by Greg and LifeSong.

BTW, this blog was inspired by my having a great lunch with Greg today. It's always an encouragement to eat a burger or some hot wings and fries with such a great friend.
In Need of Eyes to See

Political pundits these days are ubiquitous. It's a presidential election year and the rhetoric is heating up, not only from the particular candidates, but from the analysts as well. I've heard several talking heads make the apparently correct observation that partisan politics is at an all time high. That might be an overstatement. I'm sure there have been occasions in our country where passions surrounding an election ran at an equally--if not higher--emotional pitch.

It does appear, however, that lines are being sharply drawn. So much so that if someone from the opposing party speaks truth, somehow, due to its origin, it must be false. Not only is this true of the political world, it's historically been sadly true of religious folk. And, I'm not talking here of different religions primarily, but of the diversity within our own Christian fraternity. As our world become increasingly cynical, confused, and searching for some substance, the body of Christ needs to figure out how to appropriately respond. With questions of abortion, homosexuality, and many other social difficulties, the church must offer an alternative to the rancorous rhetoric. It must, it seems to me, express radical, redemptive love just as Jesus did to the broken of his culture. For this to occur, we need to see folks through the eyes of God. An old Hassidic tale summarizes much of what our churches need so desperately today.

The Rabbi asks his students, “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”

One student suggests, “When, from a distance, you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep?”
“No,” the Rabbi answers.

“Is it when you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?” asks a second student.
“No,” the Rabbi says.

“Please tell us the answer, then,” say the perplexed students.

“It is,” says the wise teacher, ”when you have enough light to look human beings in the face and recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Until then the darkness is still with us.”

If you think about it, this rabbinical saying is packed with insight into the human condition. Typically, how we see or perceive a situation or individual determines how we feel. Our feelings in turn heavily influence how we respond. In the end, if our vision is blurred by prejudices or self interests, our reaction to others will be influenced accordingly.

Jesus had eyes focused by divine lenses. This resulted, not in a pious attempt to insulate his holiness from sin, but a tender compassion to counter their sin with his holiness. Where some saw sinners to be avoided, Jesus saw potential children of God. Where some saw the need to shun disease, Jesus saw the opportunity to show deliverance. Where some saw trouble, Jesus saw triumph. Where most saw death, Jesus gave life. Where some saw unworthy lives, Jesus saw people worthy of His own death.

As Jesus engaged his broken world so we are to engage ours. Faces and times have changed, but the need remains the same. May God remove the darkness and grant us eyes to recognize all humans beings as his special creation in desperate need of God’s love. Again, O, Lord, begin with me!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Community of the Cross

This morning, I enjoyed an early breakfast with Wes McCannell, a relatively new member at CrossBridge. Over the past few months, my appreciation for Wes has grown in direct proportion to my increased knowledge of him. He's a reflective type who enjoys good conversation about theology and culture as much as I do.

After my conversation with Wes over grits, eggs, sausage and coffee, I was in a particularly contemplative mood. What does it mean to be the body of Christ in our current culture? Where is that frayed line between where it's appropriate to accomodate culture and where Christians must confront it? What does it mean to be worldly or to "live godly in the present age?" These are at least some of the questions with which Christians must struggle.

As I walked into my book-strewn office, I noticed a particular volume that I've read through on several occasions. It's one of those books that I periodically thumb through, and read particular sections. Written by Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn, The Body: Being Light in Darkness, was an award-wining, national bestseller in 1993. Although written over a decade ago, Colson's words ring with relevance.

In this book, Colson tells a story of the town of Nowa Huta, Poland, soon after World War II. "Constructed in the 1950s as a living monument to Communist utopianism, Nowa Huta, or 'New Town,' was originally designed as a center for the workers who would make up the backbone of the New Poland" (p. 195). The epitomy of modern design, Nowa Huta was an industrial center whose skyline consisted of "mammoth steel works" and "ugly chimneys" that belched out their sulfuric fumes into the skies of Southern Poland (p. 195).

Early in the town's construction, a vacant square caught the attention of all the workers. According to Colson, this empty space represented the vacuum left by the frenzied urban planning of the Communists--there was no church; no place for worship.

The workers aked for a church. The Communist authorities were irritated by this request. Their design provided everything a human possibly could need--hot and cold water, a place to sleep and eat. The Communists bought time by nodding in agreement; "Fine," they said, "No problem."

While awaiting the construction of a place of worship, several young Christians and a Polish priest erected a rough-hewn cross on the vacant sight, to mark the place where the chapel eventually would sit. Soon, however, the authorities refused to build the chapel, and finally attempted to thwart the people from gathering at the place by removing the cross.

Determined, the citizens restored the cross and assembled there to sing, receive communion and fellowship with fellow Christians. Despite the Communists' attempts to quash these assemblies (tearing down the cross repeatedly, dispersing the people with water canons), the unflenching Christians returned to the site for worship.

In conclusion to this historical event, Colson writes: "This went on for years--the authorities tearing down the cross and the people restoring it. And in the midst of the struggle the people came to a realization that would steel their faith in a way that Communism could never steal their souls. 'The church is not a building,' they said to one another. 'The church is us, celebrating the presence of our Lord among us! Praise be to God!'"

In our current cultural climate, I think we need to listen to these words of our Polish Christian brothers and sisters. As long as we are a community of the cross, celebrating the presence of our Lord among us, the church exists. No law, or the lack thereof, no constitutional ammendment or the lack thereof can steal this ultimate reality from us. And, only embracing that ultimate reality are we truly being light in the darkness, and inserting leven into the cultural lump. Start with me, O, Lord!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

All Linked Up

It probably matters very little to you veteren bloggers who have mastered html, but I figured out how to recreate my links! I'm pretty pumped about this. Also, if you've posted a comment and received an undeliverable email message, I've fixed that too...I hope. I can now rest a little easier knowing that I'm all linked up!
HTML and Christian Linguistics

I've been blogging for several months now, and have enjoyed this casual format for posting--and reading--rambling thoughts. Having become more relaxed with posting blogs, I ventured into the untested waters of html (which, I think, stands for hyper text markup language--or something like that). I set sail into this linguistic deep because I wanted to add additional links to my blogsite, and to post links to other blogsites on my sidebar menu. After several frustrating attempts, I finally was able to create a new heading for other blogs and provide a link to those sites.

Feeling pretty confident of my ability to manipulate templates, I succumbed to the temptation to change templates. After all, in our postmodern age, change is the name of the game. I just didn't feel like my previous template was striking enough. So, I chose this current template, republished the blog, and viola, I've got a new look.

I ignored the warning that changing blogs would remove all personalized items from my page. With my new understanding of html, I certainly would be able to recreate all of my links. That was Sunday. It's now Tuesday...and I don't have a clue how to recreate them. The html of the new template, while similar, has some peculiarities. The commands within the little <> and " or /= are slightly different. And, I'm frustrated. I want to go back to my old template where I was more comfortable in manipulating the html!

Change. I understand why we resist it. Like many folk, I like to be in familiar territory--it makes me feel a little more in charge. I don't have to consider new methods. I don't have to burn brain cells contemplating the implications of new insights. After all, I've already devoted much time and energy to learning the "old ways!"

In this frustration, however, I'm learning something about the call of the church to our current culture. I wonder to what extent our accepted Christian jargon seems like "Greek" or worse still "html" to our culture? We speak of grace, love, redemption, atonement, communion, baptism, etc., all of which means at least something to us. I wonder what these concepts communicate to our world? Without doubt, people--even Christian folk--need to be moved into this important language, Christian html, if you will. For, until we get there, our Christian walk will be superficial indeed. In our current cultural situation, however, the church needs to be the living interpretation of these underlying concepts. We need not first speak of grace, and redemptive love, but demonstrate them. When this happens, perhaps more folk will want to venture into the deeper waters of our language.

We'll, I've just talked myself into giving this new template another try. If it looks funny for a few days, just know this novice is tinkering with the template.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

I'm Back

My family and I just returned from a wonderful week at Seaside beach, an idyllic setting near Destin, Florida. Thanks to everyone at CrossBridge who made this trip a possibility. To Zane Tarence and Adam Ellis, who preached on July 25 and Aug. 1 respectively, I am eternally grateful. Thanks to H.C. Johnson, Jim Lovell, and Lynn Gurganus who covered my teaching responsibilities at CrossBridge while I was "soaking up the sun." Thanks also to Jamie Waugh, who served as a proctor for my sociology class at Faulkner University. Words cannot express my heartfelt appreciation to the CrossBridge staff (Johnny Brown, Richard Garguilo, Phyllis Jamison, Greg Miles, and Chris Smith) for "holding down the fort" while I was away. I am additionally grateful to the CrossBridge shepherds and their wives (Bruce and Susan Akin, H.C. and Bonnie Johnson, Gregg and Diana Waycaster, Ken and Chris Smith) for watching over the flock to faithfully--this gave me a tremendous peace of mind. Most of all, I'm gratefully to God for the beauty of His creation, and the special way a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico proclaims His enduring glory.

I am so glad to be back home with my family at CrossBridge. This is the first time in my preaching ministry that I've every been away from my church home for two consecutive Sundays. I simply cannot wait for Wednesday, and Sunday to see my brothers and sisters here. This church is truly a taste of heaven here on earth. I am so grateful that this church let's me minister among it! Be looking for blogs inspired by a week on the Florida coast.