Monday, February 28, 2005

The Church as Prophetic Witness

Worldview - The Church as a Prophetic Witness and a People of His Presence

Gideon Strauss, in his post for Feb 28, 2005, articulates the relationship between a person's loves and their course of action. This reminds me of Jonathan Edwards' position that religion is primarily an issue of Affections. Edwards' position is that Grace changes the things we love and hate. Over the last month, I have been reviewing my life story and have more than ever come to realize that God has worked a work in my life, by grace, that has given me a profound love for the church. I have in many ways here at 21st Century Reformation argued for an extremely high view of the church and a vision of the church which I call morally beautiful community.

The Influence of Edwards on My Worldview
This term Morally Beautiful Community came to me while reading Edwards' "On Religious Affections" many years ago. Edwards speaks of the Spirit, through the Gospel, revealing to the heart the Moral Excellencies of Christ. To Edwards, the work of Grace produces in the heart of the believer affections for these moral excellencies. Therefore, our chief end in life is to display these moral attributes of God in our life. Edwards represents the height of the pietist and revivalist history in the Reformed tradition. I see the chief end of man not to so much to display the excellencies of God in the world as individuals but as a body. We, as people, by the way we LIVE TOGETHER, are to be this "city on a hill" that displays God's manifold beauty. We are to become the Morally Beautiful Community.

Our Beauty and Evangelism
Edwards, in his life and the life of his congregation, experienced seasons of Grace that transformed the community around them. The fruit of the people, the winsomeness of their worship, and their artistic expressions, all came forth from the community and led to great cultural renewal. Such a view of the role of the church and the potential for the church, I believe, constitutes a distinct worldview. The question is, "why do some Christians have a worldview which maintains this high and prophetic view of the church while others do not?". I for one cannot read the bible without seeing the call to become this radically distinct and morally beautiful people, a corporate vision. I believe that this is the Hebrew worldview. Western individualism has undermined this corporate aspect of the biblical worldview.

Church as Prophetic Witness
I will make just a couple of many possible explanations of why I personally, and I assume others, might maintain such a high view of the church in God's program.

First, our personal experience with church effects our definitions of what is normal church life. First, I was not raised in the church. Secondly, my first Christian experiences were of a fully renewed church body. I was saved out of the American dream into a Morally Beautiful Community. The church I first attended was highly mobilized. All my friends participated in church daily. The church had three lengthy prayer meetings a day. I lived in highly intentional community with 8-12 other single men. We did works of justice every weekend in neighborhoods in Southern California. The church grew by over 1500 people in the first 5 years I attended. Testimonies of significant life change were very regular. Monthly baptisms took most of an afternoon to accomplish. I lived in the same house as my mentor. All these experiences inform my expectation of church.

This church though reformed in doctrine at the highest levels was negatively effected by the anti-intellectualism of American evangelicalism and the most hyper streams of Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, the positive church experiences created in the participants a very high definition of God's intention for the church. I believe that such a view of the church is biblical. The book of Acts stands as a picture of the prototype of the church. The normal mode of the church then is to manifest the moral attributes and the qualities of the church in Acts in our generation. Such a view of the church leads the believer to see the church as a prophetic picture which like the New Testament church produces evidence of the Lordship of Jesus Christ by its distinctive story. Such a view of the church sees the North American church as existing in an abnormal or subnormal condition. Such a worldview is compelled to focus much attention on the urgent need for church renewal. Such thinkers begin to contemplate deeply the problems with the North American church at large and seek to understand the root causes of what ails the church.

Believers who maintain such a high view of the church tend to have an rather low view of the role of politics or the state as a means of cultural renewal. I do not claim that this view of the state and politics is necessarily correct. For example, the church in China is considered to be relatively renewed and is it not possible that this renewed church is playing a significant role in the democratic movements in China. I do not know. But what I do know is that a renewed church is the foundation of such a movement toward the renewal of the state.

So the question would be. How does one's view of the church effect one's view of the path to cultural renewal? How does one's personal experiences effect one's passions toward church renewal? Would you say that you hold a high or low view of the church as Morally beautiful Community? Would you say that the renewal of the church is central to your personal commitment? If so why? If not why not?

God Bless,

Saturday, February 26, 2005

More Random thoughts that are Bound to Get me in TROUBLE

Tod Bolsinger has a question, "What is your ideal church?" to which I responded:
1. The church is a people of the presence of Jesus (my sermon tomorrow). Laying on of hands..prayer..expectation of experiencing God in worship and community.
2. Very engaged in doing justice to the point that a distinctively simple life is present. People live frugally and sacificially for the work of doing justice globally and locally.
3. Discipleship is something that is done through "observation, imitation and discussion". The homes of people are open so we can learn how each other live. Community life as discipleship. 4. High view of scripture with respect to both our theology and our practice.
5. The arts are freely expressed in the worship experience and has representation from all cultures in the community and all ages.

Joe Kearns: Has some tough questions with respect to pro-life arguments and body/soul dualism.
My prolife position takes two forms:
1. Call me a knucklehead but I have never argued abortion on the basis of "body/soul" dualism but I always use biology. If a person says who knows when life begins why not say, "Life is when biological reactions are taking place" and hman is defined by genetics. So he issue has to do with the our law should protect human life that can with care experience the minimum level of self-consciousness and human experience.I would write the law in such a way that protects the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the retarded and the unborn but not a clinically brain dead person on life support. I would define it entirely biologically.
But I also am starting to see the merits of the following argument:
2. Members of human society and also governments are not only responsible for protecting the rights of individuals but also nurturing and promoting human flourishing for those who are not able to nurture their own flourishing. So society has an obligation to care for the sick and the state is obligated to step in if society has fallen to the extent where individuals neglect their responsibilities. This position has huge implications with respect to care for the elderly, children, the unborn and the poor. Nurture then is a positive good that humans are responsible for the obvious example is the care and the neglect of children.

and Blue Goldfish and I seem to qualify as one of those "iron sharpens iron" relationships.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Are you Going to GodBlogCon?

I plan on going to GodBlogCon in October. Are you going?? I would love to meet some people that I have been offending this week. :) I would love to meet every body else too!!! I haven;t told my wife but I think it would be a great vacation to Arizona for a few days. Are you in??
God Bless,

Ahh looks like it is going to be in California...I live in California..Well, I'm still in ? You?

A Talk with a Friend

I was having a discussion with a non-Christian friend of mine today at my work (his wonderful photo blog is here) and I asked him,
If Christian’s lived in a way that was distinct in the way we related to money. If we cared for one another, if we had high financial integrity and lived as if were not ruled by greed, if Christians showed that we loved people more than money, if we built hospitals and tried to prevent crime by building community centers and generally did good works, how would that effect our cause?”

To this he responded, “That is my whole thing. I can’t see a difference.”

Out of the mouth of ….objective observers of the church…

God bless,

The Church, the Kingdom, Nice Things and Church Renewal

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have a love affair with simplicity and even what Mother Teresa called “Gospel Poverty”. St. Francis spoke of blessed poverty, what we would today call simplicity, as a virtue. Of course, I am not an ascetic like Francis. I understand the Platonic world of the middle ages, but we have thrown the baby (the teachings of Jesus) out with the bath water (the dualistic worldview of the pre-reformation, neo-platonist church). Here is an exerpt from a post from Oct 2004:

One day when I was a young believer (about 1988), I had a big breakthrough. I went to a party for a family member. The party was all high society, and I felt very out of place. I was the proverbial "Arab in the Synagogue". I felt like "Forest Gump at a Black Panther Party".

Anyway, that night, as I reflected on the evening, a big "yo, duh" struck me, "We as Americans believe we can be Christians and not live the story of Jesus. To be a Christian means entering the life of faith which Jesus lived. We are called to approach life one day at a time and step out in faith to bring the kingdom to our reality one step of faith at a time. An existentialist monk was born that night. Saint Francis relates to this breakthrough because this tyoe of breakthrough is the story of Francis.
Francis' big idea was this.
Here are two stories:
1. Francis began his life of faith by saying one day, "Lord show me what to do and I will do it". That day, he went to church, and the priest spoke on "see all your possessions" and "store up treasures in heaven". So Francis did it. He stepped out in love for God and obeyed. His immediate experience was freedom. Francis fell in love with this experience of freedom and faith and the rest is history. This is the expereince of heaven on earth. We live in the NOW and the life of faith is stepped into in the existential present only. Today is the day of salvation!! Oh, this is so it!!

2. In a second story, Francis, after a day of prayer, asked his friends a question, "Should I spend my life in contemplation or should I preach also?" The answer came back 'preach also'. So he did. Francis was trapped in a Greek gnostic world of only ecstatic contemplation, but Francis found the balance of contemplation and compassionate action. And again, the rest is history!!Francis revolutionized the church by bringing it back to its Hebrew, and yes existential, roots of living the life of faith one day at a time. Right here! Right now! On planet earth!!

Yet, the direct teachings of Jesus to "not store up treasures" and to "sell our possessions' are completely re-interpreted to mean something that is not the practice of the early church. We speak of 'stewardship' which often means make sure you put enough away for retirement. The teaching seems to amount to an exhortation to be better at seeking the Worldly Dream than the world is. What would our teachings regarding sexuality look like if we used the same hermeneutic?

What we teach regarding the Christians relationship to material wealth is important because it is a central aspect of our distinctiveness to the world and because money used wisely is a central way to express compassion for the least whom Christ identifies with (Matt 25).
I believe that Jesus and the apostles gave us at least a general example on how Christians ought to relate in our practice to the materialism that is at the root the “world” (1 John 2:15-17). Also, according to the discipleship motto, “observation, imitation and then discussion”, to understand the simplicity in the Christian walk, we start with the practice of Christ and the early church, then we seek to imitate it as we attempt to understand the principles of this simplicity life through the sayings.

I find it alarming that the church seems to never call the church to “sell all our possessions and give to the poor” or at least “sell our treasures (extravagant stuff)” and give to ministries that are seeking to do justice. Sell your second home or your vacation home and give to the poor like Barnabas did. I am sure many people do this in private which is fantastic, but I am questioning our teaching and our visible practice before an ever observant world. Jesus said “let your light so shine that others see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”. The early church had a distinctive characteristic to its community in that they were not materialistic like the world around them. How can we expect to be a light to the world and yet have lost our saltiness on such a central aspect of the life of the prototype church in the book of Acts?

God Bless,

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The City, the Kingdom and Nice Things – Part 1

Before, I start on this entry let me say the following:
1. Christianity, like all things, is more caught than taught. I believe things are learned through "Observation, imitation and then discussion". I have found that blogging is a pretty difficult media to explain radical ideas that are based on a nuanced principle without first having people visit and observe what the application in its immature form looks like. Also, I find the discussion element in blogging is a lot like jazz. It isn’t every detail that is important it is the chances we take that makes it all beautiful.
2. I see learning to live out Jesus' teachings on simplicity and materialism to be no different than learning to live out Jesus' teachings on loving your enemies or humbling yourself. They are learned like gymnastics - progressively. So in the same way we are not perfect in terms of love and humility, so too we are not perfect with respect to simplicity and materialism.

Also, if you are here from Gideon Strauss's blog and discussion and you haven’t read this(Hebrew and Greek Views of the Journey) please do. OK onward..

Gideon Strauss in a very short blog entry said the following:

A biblical cosmopolitanism ... ... is what we need as a corrective to the romantic agrarian notion of the rural utopian enclave. This is about more than a city/country distinction. It is also about where our hope is to be found, how we are to be rooted, to what or whom we belong ... ultimately.

I would like to focus on this very last phrase…I interpret that Gideon is saying that seeing life as city life as opposed to rural life is more in line with the ultimate state, which we all know is in the “city” of God. To this entry of Gideon’s, I responded “so Gideon does this mean that after all is said and done the Kingdom of God is about buildings and food”. This comment was a reference to a few ideas:

1. Gideon is referencing the City in Revelation 21 and I was wondering if maybe he was taking this passage literally. I think he is saying our ultimate state is a city. Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind” so my interpretation of Gideon’s entry is that if we are going to live in a city get used to it and internalize a kingdom vision of a city. This post is primarily going to be a review of the meaning of Revelation 21. The meaning of the city and the feast in the kingdom is not about nice buildings and nice food. I am sure Gideon would agree. I think???

2. My humorous little comment about "buildings and food" was actually a reference to a Talking Heads album called "more songs about buildings and food". My statement was a double entendre. The Talking Heads were a highly stylized art band. Their emphasis was on form and style. I was trying to critique what appears to my mind to be a high value of the material aesthetic of things. Gideon revealed this in his post on his utopia. I thought it strange to see the ideal state (Utopia) as being primarily materially "pleasing to the eye". Because I cannot fathom that these perceptions of mine could possibly be either Dr. Strauss's intention or part of the neo-Calvinist vision of things, I asked the question, "Gideon, are you saying that after all the Kingdom is about buildings and food".

3. Thirdly, I was obviously quoting the Apostle Paul who said, "kingdom of God is not about food and drink, but justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". (Rom. 14:17)

So my question still remains, does a neo-Calvinist vision of the ultimate state lend one to sacrifice justice and simplicity for the sake of creating aesthetically pleasing cultural artifacts? Or if we think the kingdom is about nice buildings and enjoyable food, even partially, will we undermine the journey into the Kingdom of justice, peace and joy which comes through the presence of the Lord in our midst (my paraphrase of Paul)?

My View of Revelation 21:11ff
I have posted on this once before so I will be brief. Rev. 21 says,
9One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, ...streets of gold...

The angel is going to show John a vision of the bride, the church in her glory. Then he sees a vision of a beautiful city with streets of gold and pearly gates etc. This is prophetic vision (metaphor) of the Glory of God (his Moral Attributes) displayed in the church. The city is beautiful because its moral qualities are so stunningly beautiful. To enter the community is like entering through pearl gates into a city with streets of gold. It is the community in which justice dwells. It is the city in which righteousness dwells. The presence of God is its light and its source of its glory. This is the kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says, “You are this city set on a hill but if you lose your saltiness (moral distinction) you are worthless and you will be trampled over by the world around you”. Jesus then goes on to explain the key elements of this moral distinctiveness which empowers the witness of the church. Forgiveness, love of enemies, peaceful spirit as opposed to anger, a controlled tongue, prayerfulness and a radical expression of simplicity,

In Jesus’ teachings on simplicity Jesus says, “Do not worry about what you eat or what you wear. These things the world seeks after. Look at the lilies of the field they neither spin nor sew, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like any of these. How much more valuable are you than they. So therefore, do not store up treasures on earth. Instead make treasures in heaven. You cannot serve God and money.” (my paraphrase). Jesus is saying as much as you try to compare beautiful things that you create, cultural artifacts, they will never be as valuable as people. Therefore, give to the poor. If you have to choose between a nice thing (a treasure) or a person, the person is always more valuable. I give you a gift, the poor, in which to practice your charity. Do not seek buildings and food, but seek the kingdom and God will provide for you like any good government will provide for its soldiers.

The question then is how can the church maintain its moral distinction without changing our understanding of a Christians relationship to nice things. It is platonic to think that Jesus’ concept of treasures in this passage is not to mean “nice things” or expensive cultural artifacts (like Solomon’s clothes). The Hebrew mind would never think Jesus was talking about our heart attitude. That which you possess is that which you value is the meaning of the phrase, “Where your treasure is there is your heart also, you cannot serve God and money”.

If the church is to return to the moral distinctiveness of the early church, we must also return to the simplicity of Christ and the apostles. We must begin by understanding the “end”, the city spoken of by John, the Utopian vision, to be a picture of a community of justice, peace and joy through the immediate presence of the Lord in our midst. We must display our love for neighbor through sacrificing the material things we love in acts of charity to all our brothers. “If you behold your brother in need and withhold from him how can the love of God be in you” (1 John 3:16)

So when I ask: Is the kingdom about buildings and food, I am asking do we glorify God by creating exquisite cultural artifacts that are a reflection of God’s grace in us or do we instead, so long as there is poverty on earth, express God’s incarnational compassion through wise acts of charity? You think these two are not mutually exclusive, I think Jesus teaches that indeed they are for “you cannot serve God and money”. And anyway, why not err on the side of love in this matter.

God Bless,

New Blogs on This Block

For all practical purposes, I am still on my bloging break. The life story series is very easy to write compared to my normal radical change in the chuch posts. Also, my apologies to everyone for the less than inspired posts lately. I think I am going to start posting a little more inspired posts but that means I have to start getting up early again.

In the mean time, I updated my blog roll.

Blog of the Month is: Under the Acacias. This is a Missionary Blog and deserves a daily read.

Also, I added the following:
Liam Byrnesy
Pete Porter
Expat Teacher

And a Teen Blog that is great:
To Be Least

An a friends music site
Tom's New Songs

check out all these sites and give 'em a regular read.
God Bless,

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Free to Feed - part 5 - Revolution and Its Fruit

Before I start let me explain that I do not blog politics because I do not believe that the root cause of the human problem is political. This view was not the case when I was young….

I was a wide awake adolescent. As a boy, I was aware of the “evils” of the world and the suffering of the masses. As an adolescent, though my parent’s divorce, this pain became part of my personal identity. My circumstances became enmeshed with the circumstances of the world at large. I think this process of becoming intimate with sorrow and injustice is a good thing. The truth is a global perspective is God’s perspective.

Remember Armageddon Times
When I graduated from High School, my best friends both wrote in my yearbook this phrase, “Remember Armageddon Time”!! This was a reference to an event that so characterized my mind during these years.

One of my favorite songs of all time is “Bob Dylan’s Dream. Here is why.
In 1979, I bought a single from the English punk band the Clash called Armageddon Time. The lyrics go, "A lotta people won’t get no justice tonight. A lotta people won’t get no supper tonight. So remember to kick it over. In this generation, Armageddon times" My few friends and I sat and listened to this song over and over. The rain began to fall and I began to cry uncontrollably. We played the song over and over all night long and I wept. My friends just sat and watched me as I cried out, "Oh God oh God oh God"…I looked at my friends and I yelled at them. "What are we going to do" and I wept. As the night wore on, I actually grabbed a knife and began to threaten myself as a cry of desperation. "I will become a display of pain and suffering if I have to to get people to wake up". I believed I was wide awake but the world was asleep to all the pain in all its quarters and all its grotesque forms and all its subtleties. Again, if you want to understand hardcore youth culture, it is a response to the reality of a Global view of the world and the contrast between the saccharine world of American suburb and the reality of our global responsibilities. Admittedly, some youth culture is a response to the artificial exterior of the American suburban culture and the reality of its underbelly. Either was, I seemed to have both in spades. So my friends told each other, "Remember Armageddon Times" which really meant, "Don’t forget the poor and the suffering" (Gal. 2:10).

My buddies and I had a saying, “Beauty is akin to truth” (from Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”). To this day, I still love bands like “System of a Down” that to me even in all their angst are beautiful in a fallen sort of way. They touch truth at least the truth of the human problem. Though they can not put their aesthetic knowledge into the proper dogma, I still have faith that maybe their aesthetic sense will find its proper expression in the Gospel of Grace.

An Early View of the Gospel
By the time of the story of that night, I had begun to go to church. I had read the Sermon on the Mount and was sold on the teachings of Jesus. Though I was 16, I never attended a youth group or, if I did, I never went back. Instead, I went to the adult services. I attended, by myself and sometimes with my girlfriends at the time, our local Presbyterian church. I separated the world into two worlds: those who care and those who don’t. At school, there were very few who cared. My rebellion was against the mission of most youth and we all know what that is: sex and drugs and rock and roll. I was very fortunate and I believe blessed to see this path as antithetical to caring.

As for the church and Christianity, it seemed to me that Jesus cared but the church didn’t. So my version of Christianity was lived out alone. Though I attended church, I do not remember ever meeting anyone or making any church friends. My earliest political philosophies were worked out in our AP courses in high school. There were two groups: the Ayn Rand "Virtue of Selfishness" crowd and the bleeding hearts. In those days, Christians were bleeding hearts. As I went to college, my political philosophies got a bit more involved and revolutionary. Ronald Reagan had become president and, well, I lived in a co-op.

In the mid-80’s, I got heavily involved in the South African Divestment movement. The divestment movement was run by people who saw the world either in racial terms (what I call Black Politics) or in terms of class (Marxists). Most students were a combination of both. The idea of the divestment movement was very simple. If the South African system was to fall, it must be forced to change through economic hardship. Every dollar spent in South Africa was seen as supporting the regime. Desmond Tutu and Allen Boesak were calling for western companies to divest from South Africa and the colleges were called on to lead the way of boycotting (divesting) from companies that did business in South Africa. Stanford refused. I spent most of my waking hours involved in these political activities. I had already graduated in terms of units, so I really didn’t need to go to classes. I remember meeting a few times, one on one, with the president of Stanford regarding the issue of divestment and the political activities that were going on every day on campus. I was overwhelmed by the administration’s entrenched attitude. In Marxism, it is assumed that classes create ideologies that support their position of power. Ideology is a by-product of class. My experiences in the divestment movement solidified this "layered-cake" worldview. Such a worldview, which basically says, "no one can be converted" is very depressing and makes a person who is trying to wake people up quite depressed. This experience and one other led me to get quite disillusioned.

During my last year at Stanford, I got arrested along with about 60 other students and faculty members for a sit-in in the University Bursars office. The students decided to defend themselves with the help of some pro-bono lawyers. The trial went on and on and, finally, when we realized we had no actual case (we were there to make a statement) we all changed our pleas to "no contest". Our sentence was a big 2-days. We were all shipped out to some rural jail barrack in central California. Those nights were quite eye opening to this na├»ve college student. As I slept in the barracks, a young man was completely tripping out on PCP. He ran all over the place screaming at the top of his lungs, "I need a cool clean shot of heroin". In my mind, I coupled this young man’s “performance art” which was far more radical than anything I could dare to muster, my experience of entrenched power, and the hopeless worldview of Marxism and I became officially hopeless. Nothing ever changes. PERIOD. And so in this state of mind, I graduated from the pristine halls and gardens of Stanford University.

God Bless,

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Incarnaional Ministry and Risk

Here are links to latest sermons on Acts. The first is about taking risks by making friendships with risking people. This sermon is on the biblical hero Barnabas.

The second sermon is about Incarnational Minstry from Peter's paradigm shifting experience in prayer and his experience with Cornelius and God's Grace.
God Bless,

Some Randon Thoughts that Are Bound to Get Me in Trouble

1. Ecclesiology. What is your vocation? I preached a sermon on “Who is your boss? and What is your job description?” a few months back. I have always taken a very simple view of this question. My boss is Jesus, and my vocation is making disciples. Everything I do, I pray, is done under the banner of making disciples. I may not be so great at it, but it is my calling as a Christian. Not becuase I am a pastor but just because I am a Christian. My vocation, my title, is disciple-maker. The church is the place I make disciples. Leadership’s job is to design processes which effectively make disciples.
I have never seen my calling on earth any different than under the banner of this mission. (In reality, I think the mission is bigger than making disciples. I think the mission is creating Morally Beautiful Community in the church. But for now let’s limit that to making disciples.)

When I meet people, when I work, when I write music, when I play with my kids, it all is aimed at one supreme purpose. All of life has only one sphere. We have no other calling. If I am a Christian and a business man, I do not think a person can be in any ultimate way called to be a businessman. He or she is called to make disciples and maybe he or she makes money by providing some value to the market in order to participate in the mission of the church to make disciples.

One calling and retirement.
Let’s say, I think I am called to be a bricklayer or an architect. When I am too old and can no longer build buildings do I retire? My calling is fulfilled? My calling was to build a business, make money for my family and now I am retired. No way!! No way!! No way!! Is it possible that this type of thinking is the fruit of an improper identification of our calling? We are called to make disciples and now that you have finished making buildings, you can dedicate all you learned about buildings to help the church make disciples and build disciple-making processes. There is no retirement in the kingdom. I understand there is certainly a point where we do only a little, but to the end we give our two mites. For we are all called to one supreme purpose and that is to make disciples.

I personally make "stuff" for a living. I love the challenge of thinking of new processes and of learning about people and the nature of organization and management but could any person say they are called to build "stuff". I value very highly the values that I can instill in the company I work for. If I can support people as a value or safety as a people value in the culture of the company I work for then great. Or if I can do my job well and glorify God in so doing great. BUT I am not ultimately called to make "stuff". I am a Christian and my ultimate calling is to make disciples. Everything I do in the world is a proximate purpose that is submitted to the ultimate purpose of making disciples. If the proximate calling ends, the ultimate calling remains.

So has a low and limited ecclesiology taught people that they have a calling other than disciple-making. This is an honest question directed at the gang. Is it right to define our calling as in terms of how they support their family financially and this idea is just foreign to me. Is it not our role in the body, the disciple-making community, that is our "gifts and calling"?

2. An Epiphany about being Incarnational: OK so I was getting ready for church this morning and I was singing “Living For the City” by Stevie Wonder. I though to myself. Man, my kids need to start listening to Stevie.

Living for the City
A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the ha!
His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floors for many
And you'd best believe she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city... yeah!
His sister's black but she is sho'nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she's got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the hum
Her brother's smart he's got more sense than many
His patience's long but soon he won't have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Cause where he lives they don't use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city...
Living just enough...For the city... ooh, ooh
(Repeat several times)
His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his life walking the streets of New York City
He's almost dead from breathing in air pollution
He tried to vote but to him there's no solution
Living just enough, just enough for the city...yeah, yeah, yeah!
I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don't change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, stop giving just enough for the city

I just love the horn breaks and the lyrics are just IT. So then I thought “Oh my, people who were raised in the church desire their kids to learn the hymns just as much as I want my kids to learn to love Stevie Wonder. So I think I am gonna call up an organist to integrate the Hymns a bit more.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Free to Feed - 4 - The World's a Mess It's in My Kiss

Admittedly, this post is a little rushed BUT..I am very excited about how this series is going to support some vital ideas....
1. The need for the Gospel to focus on "creation, fall redemption" and the creation of Morally BeautifulCommunity as oppsoed to a gospel that simply saves the soul of the individual.
2. Incarnation as both the Christian's identification with the suffering of the world and incarnation in the sense of affirming the image of God in man.

So onward and upward...
How long it was that I lived with my mom, I don't know but I imagine it was about 6 months. After a bit, I moved in with my sister. The deal was my parents had all moved out of town and it was thoguht to be best for me to continue high scholl at the same school. I think this was a good idea. I had good friends and the school was very good. My sister was very hip and became a good friend, and praise the Lord her husband had a great record collection and a fantastic sound system.

As a young child growing up listening to the stroy telling music of the 60's and early seventies, having been moved by the global story of poverty and now my parents divorce, all came together in the perfect storm. I was continually aware that the human condition had a big problem.

I simply was not a normal kid. I could not for the life of me understand how people could seek to make money, get a spouse, buy a fancy house etc while people were starving to death. People who do not understand youth culture understand this..Hard core youth culture is a child's reaction to the reality of evil in the world. Some become nihilists. Some focus on their own evil and pain and psychological damage. Some focus on political solutions. Some don't really give a rip and just want sex and pleasure. As an adolescent, I always thought such a self-centered approach to the problem of evil, and what I saw at 16 as structural evil, was the most mainstream and ignorant response. So hard core youth culture, rebels against the American dream in light of the early and maturing responses to the reality of evil.

The biggest influences on my youth were books and music. From 16-17, I remember reading the following books:
The Jungle by Upton Sinclaire
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclaire Lewis
Dubliners, Portrait of an Artist, and Ulysses - James Joyce
Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden - Steinbeck
Invisible Man - Ralph Elison
Experiments with Truth - Ghandhi
Autobiogrpahy of Malcolm X-Haley

Music was completely dominated by Bob Marley and the Clash...

So here is the point...All of these works pointed to one thing: the need for a revolution.

We have discussed two major themes in the last month in these posts.
1. Trying to understand other people's perspectives including people who do not know Christ at all.
2. The church as a community (in which the heart's cry for a revolution is met). The kingdom of God.

If someone said to me when I was young, all that music is evil or so and so writer is a socialist, I simply would have writen them off as self-centered and uncaring. The only people who affirmed what I was seeing and feeling were revolutionaries. The church was too busy helping people help themselves while people were suffering. How could such a self-centered approach to life be true religion?

Was I wrong? Where should the gospel start? What should the church become in light of HOW WE DEFINE THE PROBLEM? The church, it appeared to me, as a WIDE AWAKE, thoughtful youth was unwilling to even acknowledge the problem. So to me, the church was not relevant. So I turned elsewhere...

God Bless,

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Book Promotion for Tod Bolsinger

Tod Bolsinger over at It Takes a Church wants to show his publisher the power of blogs to use as promotional tools. So lets all for here and buy a book. What this can do is help blogs be seen as a good place for advertisers to use for promotion.

OK this is what I did.
1.Go to Tod's blog.
2. Click on the Best 50 books link.
3. Scrool down to "It Takes a Church ...."
4. click on the book picture and
5. well..

Lets push new media.

Free to Feed - Part 3

Yesterday Gideon Strauss posted a review of the movie "Thirteen".
Gideon quotes Walt Mueller:
As the movie unfolds, viewers are treated to a host of disturbing and sometimes graphic portrayals of the pain Tracy feels as the result of her decisions. Her cries are not always verbal and direct. At times they are silent. Dean Borgman accurately connects Tracy's cries to her relational brokenness, a reality he's seen over and over throughout his years in youth ministry and more frequently in recent years: "In one dramatic way after another, adult society has shoved young people into silent margins; there they must tell their stories — if not in words, in silent, self-destructive acts or bold outbursts of violence...

Gideon is reviewing this movie as a segway into discussion on church renewal and the role of the church. As you should know by now, I see the church as emerging "Morally Beautiful Community" and I beleive that it is a limited view of the church, as dispenser of grace or church as filling station, that undermines our ability to witness and to minister. So with that I return to ..

My Story
The first draft of this was sown in tears…I feel a bit vulnerable…here goes..

By the time I was ten or so, my parents had upgraded our status a tad. We moved to a new neighborhood. This neighborhood was not good for me. I began to realize how other kids were one way in private and another way altogether in groups. I was the youngest kid in the group of kids that hung out together. My brother was the oldest. I learned to hate the whole male pecking order game. At this early age, I already began to simply refuse to play these games that simply seemed wrong and cruel and petty.

At school, I had some pretty good friends. My friends were other kids that were in the mentally gifted classes. We played a lot of basketball and basic sports like any kid but the dynamics of the neighborhood certainly stamped a deep sense of alienation on my person that would remain for many, many years. Right at the height of these awkward years…Something very pivotal happened.

I remember walking home from school on a sunny fall day during my Sophomore year in high school. I was still a child at this time as I was a “late bloomer”. As I entered the drive way of our home, I saw my older sister in the driveway. She is 11 years older than me. She said in a very matter of fact but forceful way, “Get in the car. You need to go to my house.” I got in the car and we drove to her house. She sat me down on the couch and said the words I will never forget, “Mom and dad are getting a divorce.” I can still feel the shock of it as I write. My head started to spin. The room literally was moving around me. She might as well have said, “I am an alien from Mars”. The idea of my parents getting divorced simply did not compute. We were a very proud family. We were perfect. All the kids got straight “A”s. My father was the boss. He never missed a day at work. I really do not remember my parents arguing. My childhood mind was simply unable to comprehend that my family was breaking up. GONE…

At first, I lived in our house with my mother. I do not have really any memories of these first few months. I do actually but I can’t dare to put them on paper. As I write this I am reminded of scenes that my young mind simply could not even dare to feel at the time. If you were a play write, I do not think you could think of images of abandonment as keen and as devastatingly clean as the scenes that are flowing through my mind as I write. Basically, I went from a normal kid to living as a homeless kid in my ex-parents house. Total emotional chaos. It was literally like my parents died in a car crash and no one knew but me. At least if they died in a car crash people would send flowers or visit or I would be shipped off to my sisters. The only real difference between my parents dying in a car crash and my parents divorce was that, at least I didn’t blame God. Instead, I blamed my mother, but, either way, I was completely alone.

My New Parents
I still remember the first show I went to. It was a band called 999 at the Whiskey a Go Go. It was probably late 1978. The pain I was feeling fit so perfectly with the self-destructive and anti-social zeitgeist of English punk rock. I used to buy every import record I could find. The LA scene hadn’t really started yet, but, from a far, I could begin to experience the fellowship and the freedom of rebellion and anarchy. No one I knew listened to this music, so I really couldn’t commiserate with any other co-conspirators at this time.

Then, in the summer of ’79 I was so bored and lonely that I decided to call some people cold turkey. I went through the phone book and called a few people from high school. The second kid I called must have been equally bored because he hopped on his scooter and picked me up. I had a new friend. His parents were likewise pretty distant.

I was at that awkward age where a child really needs answers to how life works and how to survive in a very cruel world, and I had found my new source, the new sages, my new parents. Joe Strummer and Darby Crash, Bob Marley and James Joyce. These were my new role models, my new significant adults, my new parents.

God Bless,

Monday, February 14, 2005

How Big is Your Tent - Or Do you prefer to just sleep under the Stars

A former pastor of mine used to say, "God loves the whole church..smells and bells and all". This phrase greatly expreses my own philosophy. My aim in my former post and this one is to see if there is a way to encourage others to love the whole church by learning to seek to discover the values that each cultural expression is attempting to communicate and blessing these intentions.
An Illustration
The following illustration, I think gets to the point which I am so feebly trying to communicate

I think this is from the Movie “Sounder”. I saw the movie probably 20 years ago but really it is the punch line that is the point. So I am admittedly ad-libbing the story a bit.

The scene shows a group of about seven or eight rural Black church goers returning from church. One man is playing slide guitar on a National Steel. The music sets the mood of rural Mississippi or Louisiana. One man begins to tell a story. He says:

Ya, know I missed church last week. Well, ya see my wife was baking cookies for the boss to take to church and it was running late. So she went off to church and I delivered the cookies to the boss's church. I got there and I gave the cookies to the deacon and he took them and put them in their fellowship room. Ya know, I have never been in a white man’s church, so, when the deacon got back, I asked the deacon if I could sit in the back row. Well, he said, "yes" and I sat there through the whole service. It was very different. No one said “Amen”, and they didn’t clap to the music. So right before the end of the the service, I made my way out and headed for home. Well, on the way home, I was talking to the Lord, and He talked right back to me..
He said, “Willie, you did the most amazing thing this morning..Ya know, I’ve been trying to get in that church for 50 years..”

I think that sums it up. We all think God is in our box, but, what do you know, God doesn’t live in a box at all. God is not constrained by the works of man’s hands. We erect barriers made of our customs and traditions and laws, and these barriers prevent us from seeing how the Grace of God is working in the lives of other people all around us..

A great example of this is the story of Peter and Cornelius. God's desire is to get Peter over to Cornelius’ house. Peter has to be able to see the Grace of God in the life of this gentile. Peter has to learn to get into Cornelius’ box. In order to accomplish this, Peter has to have his mind blown a bit. God has to destroy Peter’s box. God doesn’t convert Cornelius to become a Jew, but, instead, God grows Peter up a bit by teaching Peter that God is no respecter of culture and ethnicities. Peter’s mind is changed both through an ecstatic experience in prayer (he fell into a trance) and through an observable experience of the power of God over at Cornelius’ house. This short term missions trip changed Peter’s mind. He caught God’s heart for all peoples and came to see how God can work in a box other than his own.

So the choice is ours we can continue to fight from our petty small minded perspective for our cultural preferences, or we can learn to participate in the work of God in the world by entering other people’s boxes and blessing what God is doing in their world.

We worship a Missionary God, and, if we desire to enjoy His presence, we may find that we will need to find His presence by becoming incarnational in a world other than our own. Those who, like Peter, are being led by the Spirit into the world of others and who can put down their self-centeredness for just one moment, and look for God’s grace in the world around us in other boxes and other perspectives, these are the sons of God.

God Bless,

Friday, February 11, 2005

Bob Dole and Impotent Worship

I am having a discussion about worship services with Blue G. van den Bosch over at Surface-Blue Goldfish. Also, I am planning to preach this weekend on the conversion of Cornelius and Peter’s vision in Acts 10. I plan on titling the message: “The Gospel and Our Prejudices”.

Mr. Blue seems to be bugged by the entertainment, mega-church, “consumeristic”, watered-down, self-help, seeker sensitive, “worship” services. But... in his post he gives a solution that is nice (I imagine), but not exactly an option that will help the Christian cause from my perspective.

Mr. Blue G says the following:
Some churches imitate pop music concerts in the name of “praise and worship”. Lights flash, videos fill the screen, singers engage in “liturgical dancing”. The music is loud and its beat is strongly similar to that of secular music. Worshipers wave their arms in the air and applaud.
When the emphasis is on audio-video stimulation, then God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit become “excuses” to indulge the senses in “worship” that does not lead to a higher plan of godliness, spirituality, and Christian maturity. In this environment people become totally enamored by the phenomenon of “worship” rather than being enthusiastic about serving God. The worship “experience” is their focus rather than the work of God which is by faith.
It's all about the experience. ….
By contrast, I remember the worship services of my youth: From pipe-organ music by Bach to the architecture, from the church-furnishings, from the congregational music, from the way everyone dressed, from the very sermons and prayers of the pastor himself - everything breathed "simplicity, sobriety, and measure." We dressed up on Sunday for two church services. In the words of
Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff:
We dressed up on the Lord's Day, dressed up for the Lord's Day, and entered church well in advance of the beginning of the service to collect ourselves in advance, silence so intense it could be touched. The interior was devoid of decoration, plaster painted white, ceiling pitched to follow the roof, peak high but not too high. The only "richness" was in the wooden furnishings. These were varnished, not painted. ... We faced forward, looking at the Communion table front center, and behind that, the raised pulpit. Before I understood a word of what was being said I was inducted by its architecture into the tradition.
Then the consistory entered, men dressed in black or blue suits, faces bronzed and furrowed from working in the fields, shining from scrubbing; this was the Lord's Day. Behind them came the minister. Before he ascended the pulpit one member of the consistory shook his hand; when he descended from the pulpit at the end of the service all the members shook his hand, unless they disagreed. We sang hymns from here and there - nineteenth century England, sixteenth-century Germany. But what remains in my ear are the psalms we sang. Every service included psalms, always sung, often to Genevan tunes.
Yet when congregations and "pastors" equate
packing the house with success, we get this:
Worked into a frenzy by the 10-piece band and 300-member choir, dozens of slick music videos and, yes, the wave, congregants were enraptured. "We love it. We don't miss a Sunday," says Annette Ramirez, sitting in the arena's front row with her husband, Joe. "The message is always very positive and the music is great."
I prefer not to sing songs about somebody's girlfriend or boyfriend during worship services.See above. Yes. As Randy writes, "Supposedly Christian songs that could be addressed to a love interest other than God are just insipid." Worse. It may be time to drive out the
entertainers from God's house. Or am I over-reacting? Please bring back the Psalter Hymnal! Please.

Its about Transcendent Values not Culture
We are all in agreement. Praying for golf clubs is sick. In fact, I have never played golf and cannot remember the last time I had a day off. Women showing cleavage in church is sick. Sermons that don’t call people to sacrifice and holiness are sick. BUT the answer is not going back to the culture of the 1950’s? The problem is not loud music or the lack of the beloved songs of your youth. The problem is the values that this approach communicates and the message these activities as a whole communicate. Whenever we argue one set of cultural symbols like loud music vs hymns, we miss the point. We must move the discussion beyond our cultural preferences to the substance of the things we are attempting to communicate. We need to learn to cross cultural barrieres and affirm the grace of God regardless if the means used suit our cultural preferences and sensibilities. When we call for a return to our cultural preferences, we are being ethno-centric and are missing the incarnational reality of the Gospel. It ain’t about a return to the glory of yesteryear. I am a pastor and I know that the fruit of yesteryear is not all milk and cookies. Returning to the past is never the answer for authentic worship in the present.

Bob Dole and the 1950’s
I remember in 1992 when Bob Dole gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. He spoke of the values of his youth in the 40’s and 50’s. He spoke of returning to those values. I had to hang my head. I turned to my wife and said, “Get ready for four more years of Bill Clinton”. How could anyone be so out of touch as to look with loving affection at the 1950’s and think that message is going to connection with America? Did he miss the civil rights movement? Did he miss the attack dogs and the fire hoses and the assassination of Martin Luther King? Is he so clueless as to not realize that the majority of Americans from my generation associate the 50’s with racism and segregation? Different generations and cultures make different associations with different cultural symbols. Bob Dole sounded to my Generation X ears like a plantation owner.

Today, Bob Dole has been trampled under foot and is remembered as the politician with E.D. The same thing happens to the church when we cannot discern the proper symbols and cultural mechanism to use to translate our transcendant values to the surrounding culture or even to our own children. We are laughed at and deservedly so.

Bob Dole made the ultimate mistake. He romanticized the past. When we do this, we alienate the present generation and rob them of their opportunity to speak with their own voice. True spiritual renewal and authentic beauty only comes from a free heart that expresses transcendent values of the gospel in their own voice. Jesus Christ is Lord of all the nations and has redeemed all nations and all generations to speak their praise from their heart.

The Symbols of My Heart
The key to unity on these issues is to be able to discern the values that a person is attempting to communicate. Each generation has its own voice, and it is the responsibility of all Christians to be mature enough to be able to properly interpret the meaning of the cultural symbols that artists use to express their worship. It is petty and immature to attempt to sanctify a culture and not the value that for that moment those artifacts expressed.
For example, when I hear a folk rock type of melody like Matt Redman’s “Heart of Worship” or Brian Doerksen’s, “Refiner’s Fire” to name a few 10-20 year old worship songs or “I could sing of Your Love forever” by Martin Smith, I am reminded of the authentic expression of weakness and humanity from the music of my youth. This is the music that gives me a voice to speak my heart.

I hate country music BUT just driving home I heard a song that made me cry. We all need to be able to hear the message through whatever the medium. I love the band System of a Down. There music is very violent and aggressive, but I can hear their message in their voice. I associate this with Honesty and Beauty and pathos. These sounds are the sounds of the “hymns” of my youth. My job as a pastor is to give artists the freedom to speak in their cultural language and create cultural artifacts to express the gospel with clarity for their tribe.

If I write a worship song, it is not going to sound like Beethoven. I associate Beethoven with Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” and Hitler not Christ and His church. Instead, if I am singing about self-sacrifice and total surrender, it is more likely to sound like Bob Marley or Counting Crows. These are the means that my redeemed heart uses to express my passions and loves for the Kingdom of God.

I hear many songs in church
He Lives, He lives salvation to impart
you ask me how I know He lives.
He lives within my heart..
and it makes me think of Al Jolson. It wuld be anathema for ME to create a kingdom message in this voice. At the same time, I hope I am mature enough to give other peple the opportunity to worship the Lord in the voice that fits their culture.

The moral to the story is that we need to learn to understand WITHOUT PREJUDICE the values each group and individual is communicating from their voice. “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” (“which could be a song about someone’s girl friend”) does not communicate erotic love to the author or to me. Please, Martin Smith and those who embrace such worship hear this as total surrender and abandonment to the love of God. I hear such affection as holiness. To interpret such music as shallow is to not be listening.

“Blessed Assurance”, which I love, is no more sanctified than “Heart of Worship”.

The Answer
The answer is to labor with God to build a morally beautiful community and for that community to create its own authentic artistic artifacts which memorialize the story of that community as it lives in its own time and space. Such work is difficult and requires all our prayerful commitment. To call the church back to the artifacts of a past glory is a false method and is circumventing the hard work of church renewal. Imitation of the entertainment of the world is likewise a cheap substitution for authentic and spirit filled worship. Neither the return to the past nor the water-down saccharine imitation of the world’s entertainment can replace the inspired artistic creations of a Spirit led church. It is from the moral excellence of a community that is both living the story of the redemtive community of Christ and that is filled with the liberty of the Spirit that is needed. Such a communtity will then create the artifacts that speak to a generation with a new and authentic voice. Anything else is just cheap, impotent, imitation worship.

God Bless,

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Free to Feed - Part 2

Part 1 ended with a few of the earliest memories of my pre-school years. As I continue, I think a few additional memories will serve the story well.

When I was about 9 or 10, I had an experience that still comes to my mind periodically. I was with my mother and we were watching a World Vision special. I saw on the screen the distended stomachs of the protein deficient children. It was 1972 and the famine was in Tanzania. The time came for a pledge, and I asked if I could give my money to feed the starving children. My mother and I cried together, and we gave my small fortune to the poor in Africa.

These images of starving children stuck in my mind for many years and affected greatly the passions of my adolescent years.

Another experience that I remember from my childhood was attending sporting events. My father had 50 yard line season tickets to USC football. Our seats were literally on the aisle of the 50 yard line. I remember the exact place we would park our car and then walk about a half mile to the stadium. I loved this Saturday afternoon ritual. We saw OJ Simpson, Anthony Davis, Lynn Swan, Charles White. Ricky Bell and all the great USC stars. We went to the Rose Bowl games against Michigan and Ohio State inthe '70s. I even went back to Notre Dame to see USC-Norte Dame games.

My father was a jogger and I remember when I was quite young, about 8 or so, rising early before school to go running with my dad. Early in life, I learned to love the intoxicating effect of hard work.

As I write this story, I realize that two influences seem to define my early childhood. On one hand, there is the success of my father in both business and athletics and our camaraderie around both watching and playing sports. The quest for excellence would become and still is a great joy in my life. I associate a challenge to improve myself with relationship with my father. Though early in life my father was emotionally distant and our relationship indeed did center around excellence and achievement, later in life and even today, we have learned to have loving relationship in both success and failure. In contrast to this very masculine relationship with my father, stands the nurture and giving nature of my mother. From my mother, it seems, I learned the Moral Beauty of self-sacrifice and the joy of giving. Though as the story progresses my mother’s needs will surface, at this point, I can see that I inherited a healthy love of excellence from my father and a moral standard for giving and sacrifice from my mother.

God Bless

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Free to Feed - Part 1

I am getting it from a few angles here. MoJoey is saying I need to show a little proverbial skin and open up a little. At the same time, Adrian and Dave are blogging their testimonies. Also, I feel I have articulated my positions on mission and monastic pretty clearly and would like to move to something different. Therefore, I have decided to blog my testimony over the next few posts.

Family Influences
My father was born in 1923 in Eric, Oklahoma. In the deepest years of the depression, during the Oklahoma dust bowl, his parents and his brothers and sisters migrated to Northern California. His testimony is that the migrant worker life picking strawberries in Northern California was the “exact opposite” of the Grapes of Wrath. Though I don’t know the details, I do know my father became an orphaned ranch hand by the age of 13. As I learn the details of the life of my grandparents, whom I never knew, it actually sounds a lot like the Grapes of Wrath. But, my father was from the greatest generation, and the processing throug the trauma of the great depression and the other pains of life is not something my father and his peers are so good at.

During his early teen years, my father, who was quite the athlete, learned to box. He made good money to help support his brothers and sisters. Boxing would become something I have great memories of. My father and I, when I was a boy, would attend the closed circuit boxing events for all the great fights of the ‘70s. This extreme, and in many ways existential, quest for athletic excellence that is so distilled in the drama of boxing is indelibly stamped on the dreams and activities of my adolescence and early adult years.

In 1940, the war broke out, and, at the age of 17, my father dropped out of high school, fibbed a bit about his age, and joined the Navy. My father was stationed in the Pacific and never saw much action. After the war, my father, along with the victorious men of his generation, began to build his life and pursue the American dream so many of his generation had died for.

My father is quite a talker. He is, at least today, a picture of self-confidence. My father, as I picture him as a young man, was a self-confident, good looking, freewheeling entrepreneur with, like all of us, a bit of baggage. He is a salesman and a very successful one. After the war, he went into the automobile business and having built a healthy business, at the age of 27, he met and married my mother.

My mother in many ways is the female counterpart of my father. She too went through the difficulties of the depression. Her father was a very intelligent man with all the brokenness that was taboo to speak of in those days. My mother like my father is wise and entrepreneurial. My mother kind of reminds me of Mary Tyler Moore in the old sit com. She is highly functional and, in my youth, was a matriarchal stabilizing influence. She is a very safe person. She is not needy and, like my father, is the archetype of the greatest generation. My parents were hard working business people and, by the time I was born, had become upper middle class.

Heavy Like Heaven
I was born in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I came out of the womb sensitive and serious. I was the youngest of four children with the next youngest, my brother, being 3 ½ years older than me.

We were a proud family. We appeared, to my childhood mind, to be the perfect family. It was always nice to go to my father’s work when I was a pre-schooler and know that my father was the owner and the boss. I felt like a prince. I would learn later that my father was clinically depressed and a workaholic. All I knew then was that we were Hightower’s and that held great honor in my heart.

One of the earliest memories of my childhood was of my mother’s record collection. My mother, praise the Lord, was a fan of folk music. We had Kingston Trio records and Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Stevens and the whole gang (minus Dylan). I spent a great deal of time listening to those records. I remember as a 4 or 5 year old listening to "Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel over and over again until I had taught myself how to read. My mother even bought two sets of headphones so we could sit together and sing along to the melancholy songs of Paul Simon. Even as a very young boy, I remember crying listening to "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens and "America" by Paul Simon:
"Cathy I'm lost", I said, though I knew she was sleeping.

Sensitive and serious from birth, that is the story of my life.

God Bless,

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Taking a Blogging Break

If you know me, you know that I am really bad at rest. So, I am going to take a few days off of blogging. Maybe I can convince my wife to post....I'll watch the kids. So if you see a post from my wife, then I am probably throwing a baseball with my son.

God Bless,

Monday, February 07, 2005

No Way?? - I won!!

Thanks whoever it is that voted for 21st Century Reformation for best Ministry Blog. I am blessed. :) The other winners are listed here.

Blogging on Bloggging - A Passion for Content

Many people, myself included, equate the story of blogging with the story of Marin Luther and the printing press. If I get the story generally correct, Martin Luther posted his thesis and it was his students that printed them and distributed them without Luther's knowledge. Due to the role of the new media, all Europe was soon talking reform. Taking up this theme, I would like to make a challenge to my fellow bloggers

What is Your Purpose in Blogging
1. Content: I have been searching high and low for good content lately and I find slim pickings. Even in the emergent context, I find few inspiring posts that discuss a new approach to church. Probably the best blogs for content are the pastor blogs especially Tod Bolsinger. The key I think is in this principle: Luther had an agenda. Bloggers need agendas. This is why the political bloggers (which I absolutely can't stomach) are actually good bloggers. They are networked around their passion for their agenda and their ideas. Where is this passion and agenda in the church reformation community?

My goal is to use blogging to create discussion and incubate a SCHOOL of thought regarding church renewal and mission.

I encourage bloggers to define their agenda, their goal, and plead their case and develop their worldview through blogging. To me, blogging is not a hobby. Blogging is not an end in itself where we have "fun" having casual conversation with people around the globe. Blogging is another way to get a message out and to network with people who are asking the same questions. Our blogging needs to be more "purpose driven".

2. Church Renewal and Reformation: The church is attempting a reformation. The first reformation was regarding our theology. We need to hold tight to this foundation of biblical authority and Gospel doctrine, BUT this current reformation is about OUR CHRISTIAN PRACTICE. There is a great deal at stake. The emergent thinkers are asking great questions, but the answers need to come from the whole body of Christ and need to respect BOTH recent and ancient history. The questions are attempting to give answers as to why the current moral distinction of the church is so pitiful. We do not make disciples well. The church in general has monumental problems that greatly effect our witness. Bloggers need to get engaged in the discussion.

We have dabbled with this new media and learned how to make links and how to make "friends", but we as GodBloggers have not learned how to make a difference.

I look to pastor bloggers and philosopher bloggers and devotional bloggers and apologetics bloggers to begin using blogging to learn and discuss church reformation and become engaged in the discussion. Develop a blogging purpose and a humble agenda.

If it is appropriate to speak of Martin Luther in the same breath as blogging, then our passion for content must greatly increase. We need to labor dilegently to learn and to provide new and usable ideas for the reformation of the church ON THE GROUND.

God Bless,

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Great new "Aggregator" - An Adrian Creation

Adrian Warnock sent me an e-mail of a new aggregator he created of "Warnie" winners. The log is really well organized and goes way back with lots of history (77 pages of links to previous posts). Very nice...

I am going to blog roll this under aggregator..Great Job Adrian.

Warnie Winners Aggregator

He also gave a Warnie to one of my favorite bloggers and quite frankly I am very picky.

Catez at All Things to All

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Blog Award - Self Promotion

Here is a nice weekend light post. If you would like to, go to the icon on you right (under Blog Awards) and follow the directions. I am a finalist in a few categories. WOW...??
God Bless, brad

Friday, February 04, 2005

Series on Charity and Libertarian Ideals

Michelle McClendon from Testimony and Truth (a great devotional and thoughtful blog) left me some encouraging words on my post this morning:
This stuff should be in a book so I can curl up with it. This is such important stuff, Brad. Thank you for taking the time to write this and to compel us. We need to hear this.

I am preaching on Barnabas this weekend so thanks for the encouragement...I have been finding fellow bloggers to be very kind and willing to spend considerable time reading my often long posts. Thanks every body.

Actually this morning after I posted, I was pretty happy how these three posts came together...So if you havn't read this as a series. Here they are...
The Cost of Morally Beautiful Community
The World System - The Context of Christian Charity (also see James Brink for some important comments on my post)
The Global Village and Materialism

I hope these posts encourage you in your obedience and imitation of the cross of Jesus Christ.
God bless, brad

The Global Village and Materialism

This morning I was worshipping to the song "What I Have Vowed" by Matt Redman of the CD "Heart of Worship". This is IT.
All I have vowed I will make good.
My life is not my own. No longer my own.
Living now for you.
Everything I think. Everything I do is for You

Our Christianity has made us free to make these dread filled choices to take up our cross and make difficult sacrifices. We choose between HIM and us. As the world becomes more fragmented and alienating, such choices become more accentuated and crisis laden. The modern world pulls me to self preservation and fortress laden isolation. I am blessed with a dread-filled choice to obey. The modern notion was that this choice was a turn from the chaos of the world into the piety of individual sanctification and experience, BUT a more balanced and biblical theology sees the refuge being in both the Lord and His people. Instead of resisting the modern world, I applaud the increase of the complexity of life that is brought about by human freedom in the context of human fallenness. As the human condition becomes more free, the dread and difficulty of exercising this freedom will increase the psychological stress people actually experience. This dread is the experience of human freedom. So, as human freedom flourishes, the church can shine ever brighter as the place of refuge and safety. So, I stand pledging my obedience in the difficult modern world of infinite possibility.

One of the great and dreadful choices we must make is the choice to give freely.
Jesus beckons us with these words,
19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22"The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23"But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth."

The Meaning of the Term Treasure
Many argue that this word treasure means to have affection. Therefore, the saying “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” would be interpreted to mean “Do not have affections for the things of the earth”. Verse 21 would then mean, “Where your affection is there is your heart also”.
But this interpretation actually makes no sense of the passage and in fact is a very "platonic" and even "Gnostic" way of looking at the passage. First to say that where our affection is there is or heart is tautological. The saying reveals no new content. Of course where my affection is there is my heart. This interpretation is basically saying that where your heart is there is your heart. So the need then is to discern your heart in order to be able to discern our heart. NO!!! We discern our heart not through self-examination of our motives but we discern our heart by our observable fruit.

When Jesus says "do not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy", He speaking of the physical vulnerability and transient nature of this thing called treasures. It is far more natural to interpret treasures literally as earthly treasures or earthly wealth or luxury items. Now, Jesus' saying means the following, "Do not store up for yourself wealth and luxury items, for where your wealth is there is your heart. Instead become wealthy in God’s economy."
My friends, you know a tree by its fruit. Daily, we make choices. Make friends with earthly wealth or hoard this wealth. Give to everyone who asks or be close handed. You cannot serve and strive for earthly wealth and also strive for heavenly wealth. The dreadful choice remains until the end of the age. The poor we will always have with us. The poor remain for our good and sanctification. The poor force us to make the dreadful choice of sacrifice. Do not be deceived. Where you treasures are there is your heart also.
1 John 3:16-18 says it this way,
16We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

The poor are in our global village and before us daily. This global reality makes the possibilities more and more ever before us. The complexity of society and the information age has made us more responsible to our global neighbor. As the opportunities increase so too the responsibility of our freedom and the dread and difficulty of our decisions. We are not allowed to see the world and not give. If we do, the love of God is not in us. Again, the external storing of our treasures as opposed to the free surrender and sacrifice of our treasures, our material possessions, is the test of our hearts.

Jesus presents this choice before us as essential to following Him. Such expressions of love with wisdom is vital to the display of the Moral Perfections of God through His people.
The global village and the expansion of freedom makes such choices more available and our opportunity for the Glory of God more ever present.
God Bless,

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Best of the Christian Carnival

My main post today (02/03/2005) is below, but before that a little props to Rodney Olsen.
I did not post in the Christian Carnival this week, but I would like to promote the following entry from Rodney Olsen called Wiping Out Poverty. Though I do not think we will ever "wipe out poverty" (human freedom will always make way for self-destructive behaviors that end in poverty), I do appreciate Mr. Olsen calling the church to do the math and take responsibilty for making lifestyle changes that can make great strides toward promoting life globally.

The World System - The Context of Christian Charity and Good Works

It has been my pledge to not blog politics. My desire has been to not offend readers by political views which could in some way get between my role to promote the renewal of the church and the reader. I see politics as a distraction to our main task. This does not mean that I reject all political involvement but that I am simply not called to such political activism. BUT...

I am involved in another blog community called the Dialogical Coffee House. This morning I decided that prior to diving into my exposition of the sayings of Jesus with respect to Christian charity and materialism, I would counter-balance the quest for chuch renewal with its complimentary political view. Please, if you do not agree with this post, which is on political basics, do not throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject the more important issues of following Jesus into a life of Good Works and Blessed Charity.

The Third Way of a Decent Right
On political matters, I tend toward libertarianism. By libertarianism, I mean a very limited view of the role of the state. The role of the state is primarily to protect the rights of its citizens. Therefore, in this discussion, I would tend toward promoting a "third way" that contends for a "decent right". Thinking globally, as Gideon has suggested, it seems that the influence of the Christian church to promote a decent right in lands where civil liberty and economic opportunity is structurally denied to a majority of citizens is a third way in which the North American church could better find unity and could, therefore, be better mobilized.

My political philosophy, as immature as it may be, is based on my strong commitment to the gospel of grace, as opposed to law or coercion, as the means to authentic righteousness. It is not beneficial to have the state privilege certain institutions over other institutions. It is not religious or virtuous for a population to act charitably under duress or fear. In a marketplace of civil liberty and freedom, the gospel and true righteousness will prevail by the grace of God. Therefore, in this dialogue, I promote a decent right which expands upon a strict libertarian view of the role of the state to include the following clarifications:

1. Opportunity. We can only say that a person is truly free when that individual is given a legitimate opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For example, it is necessary and prudent for the state to place a high priority on public education. Radical libertarianism would limit the state to such an extreme as to not see the state as playing a role in breaking the back of structural oppression through the education of all classes of society. If the libertarian right looks at the state as only protecting rights and not seeing that freedom includes the promotion of equality of opportunity, I do not think that we can say that all members of such a society would be actually free. The promotion of equal opportunity as a paradigm leads to an appropriate level of economic regulation of the monopolistic tendencies of unhindered capitalism. The promotion of rights and opportunity can lead to a decidedly “green” aspect to this third way of a “decent right”. The promotion of opportunity would mean the maintenance of a political and social infrastructure which protects human dignity and allows for authentic choice and consequence of all societies members.

2. Consequence. When I hear the idea of public justice, being a novice to this discussion, I tend to think of the possibility of extending the role of government into somewhat utopian programs. Government oversteps its bounds when it undermines motivation and promotes victimization by calling all suffering injustice and therefore seeks to cushion the consequences of poor behavior. Therefore, it does not promote authentic human freedom for the state to protect adult citizens from the natural consequence of poor intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and economic choices.

In my youth, the 80's, I was a Marxist. The Marxist worldview is filled with innumerable errors, but with respect to economics and an understanding of human freedom, I see one problem that stands above them all. Marxist theory hinges on the idea that wealth is created when those who have the means of production steal labor value. In the Marxist system, the laborer creates all the value and profit equals the amount of value that is stolen from the laborer. This economic theory completely underestimates the value of human thinking and creativity. In my business life, I have found that companies and individuals create huge amount of wealth when they invent or create a new product or an innovative way to manufacture or promote a product. In other words, wealth is generally created through human ingenuity and entrepreneurship. A system which promotes human intellectual achievement and the benefits of such achievement is a system that promotes human dignity and human freedom.

Within such a system, the world system, the Christian is given the challenge of voluntary charity and good works as well as the opportunity to create value for the market and society. The role of the state is to promote such a system that balances civil rights, equal opportunity and the reality of consequences.

God Bless,

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Something Beautiful for God-My Good Day

While I was getting ready for work today, I realized a few joyful events had already occurred this morning that brought tears to my eyes. One of those happened right as I walked out the door to go to work.

As I walked out the door, I heard my five year old daughter crying and saying to my wife, “Mommy, I can’t find the picture I drew. I want to give it to my teacher”. I could feel the authentic desire to give a beautiful gift to her teacher. The gift she most wanted to give was a picture that my daughter herself had created. What is so wonderful is that this creation is actually a page from a coloring book. The pattern is set out ahead of time and my daughter picks the pretty colors she likes and tries to stay within the lines.

As I walked out the door, I thought, “Ain’t that the story of my life.”

Lord, all I want is to give you, my teacher, something beautiful. May give something that is according to your pattern but filled with the colors and the textures of my life experience. May it be according to the pattern you set for us. Amen.

Also, I read an e-mail this morning from Gordon (his new blog), Gordon says he decided to blog after reading some posts here at 21st Century Reformation. This kinda thing is happening more frequently. Yesterday, a young man from the UK (I can't find the link) had a link to my Sunday sermon. He said he had listened to the sermon just that morning as he got ready for his day. He even quoted a story from the end of the sermon. What a privilege.

I have always been a bit outside the structure, but blogging has opened up another platform to share the vision of the beautiful community and as time goes on it seems more and more people are getting excited.

Again yesterday, these college students from Missouri (and Here) sent an e-mail. These folk are so it. There emphasis is that blogging is just a way to communicate about community. Blogging and internet relationships are not the real deal. Blogging is a chance to share stories and be encouraged to press into community and live the dream where you are at.

So true…
God Bless,

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Cost of Morally Beautiful Community - Treasures on Earth - Part 1

There is a discussion going on at the Dialogical Coffee House about politics and the role of the Christian. I do not know politics. I am not wise. But I do know how to live in freedom. The presence of Jesus - this I know. The following series of posts is my take on the path to cultural renewal.
I fear as I write on the subject of materialism and the cost of discipleship, I will lose some of my readers. Blogging is a hard medium to explain the nuances of biblical ethics. So, I ask you to bear with me. The church and all of us have a dream put in our hearts that is calling us to live in our true humanity and in the footsteps of Jesus. I am going to begin the discussion with a story from my youth. I have known the reality of freedom as a single man, and I seek to learn this reality as a father and a husband. The principles are the same though the specific application must be different. Over time, I will distill the ethical principles and seek to live it out and, by the grace of God, offer up "something beautiful for God".

Yes, "I have had enough of romantic love and I again am gonna give it up for a miracle"..the miracle of the morally beautiful life and the end of it all. The end of it all - the morally beautiful community that is in His mind. It is time to "see His thoughts take shape and walk right out".

The Cost of Discipleship
But what is the cost of seeing such a dream take shape. "The foxes have holes and the bird of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head". All of the Words of Jesus come together and place us in crisis. Freedom is the faith to walk into obedience without fear. So few believers know the freedom of entering the story of the Son of Man who has no where to lay his head. But I have a story...and this story is being revived as the challenge of living something beautiful for God places us in the crisis we need if we are to become free to feed.

Free to Feed
When I was about 26 or 27, I lived in a Christian community in downtown Anaheim. I was the leader of this community with another young man. There was about 5 of us single men who were all college educated but had been taken by the story of the kingdom. We functioned as a recovery home and had about 5-6 other men living with us who needed deliverance from life controlling addictions. The ministry was wonderful. I often say those years were one continual prayer meeting. We attended the Anaheim Vineyard. I was on staff and ran the Benevolence Ministry.

One day while I was praying from the Book of Luke, I remember reading this passage of the rich young ruler, Luke 18:21-22. The rich young ruler responding to Jesus question about his obedience to the commandments says,
"All these things I have kept from my youth." 22When Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
I decided I wanted to find out what this passage meant. So I took my one possession other than my clothes and my guitar, my truck, and I drove to my parent's business. I dropped the truck off and took a bus ride back to Anaheim.
I remember that bus ride home. I was never so happy in my entire life. What is it about choosing to live the dream that creates a cathartic experience of freedom and hope and joy? For the next few years...I walked most everywhere. I met many people and had fantastic success in ministry.

Mother Teresa has a phrase that I absolutely love, "Gospel Poverty". She says that the world has millions or even billions of poor people who are there in poverty because of the sinfulness of the world we live in. But, we, the "sisters of charity", we live in poverty because Christ has set us free and set us to be the Gospel to the world. We are kings and princes, and yet, we come down to live incarnationally with and in the suffering of the poor. We identify with the suffering of the world and quench the thirst of Christ for souls. Mother Teresa was free to feed. She wept at he feet of Jesus and, by grace, offered up something beautiful for God.

Today, I have six children and one wife and many responsibilities. BUT I AM STILL CALLED TO GOSPEL POVERTY. I, and you, are still called to live as the Love of God for the poor of the world. We are all called to make our lives something beautiful for God. This beauty and freedom is the dream of the kingdom, and there is no freedom until we give up our romantic notions of love and step out and give shape to the Words of God and the compassion of Christ.

The next series of posts are going to look deeply, and hopefully in a balanced way, at what it means to step into freedom and live for the Love of God ALONE.

God Bless,