Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quote: Thom Rainer

". . .in our research of over four thousand churches across America, we have seen clearly that many congregations are abandoning the biblical model of pastoral ministry. Instead of allowing pastors the necessary time and encouragement to spend time in prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4), congregations are demanding time and energy from pastors for tasks that have no biblical foundation.

Like the leaders of the Jerusalem church in Acts 6:1-7, if pastors have to meet all the perceived needs and demands of church members, they will have little time to give to their primary call of preaching and the ministry of the Word."

- In Surprising Insights

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Entertainment for a good cause

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra is hosting a screening of Mr. Holland's Opus at the Galaxy Theater next Tuesday, October 5, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, with all proceeds benefiting the orchestra.

As a bonus, two groups will be performing live music prior to the movie. The clarinet quintet will be performing in the theater itself, while the brass quintet (that's me!) will be performing in the theater lobby. Both groups plan to start playing around 6:00 p.m., although the brass group is hoping to kick things off a little earlier, if the tuba player can make it from Puyallup on time.

We'd love you have you join in the fundraiser, but honestly, if you just want to hear some fun brass music, come on by from 5:45-6:30 and hang out in the lobby. I think you'll be impressed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Said the wise older pastor to me

"If a cow takes a dump out in the back forty, you can pretty much ignore it until it dries up. But if it takes a dump on your front porch and everybody's tracking it through the house, then you've got to deal with it now, messy and smelly though it may be."

And said another,

"Never wrestle with a pig in the mud. You'll both get muddy, and the pig always loves it."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Degree vs. Category

Leftover thoughts from our Islam and Christianity seminar on Sept. 12.

While the seminar was positive and constructive, there were a few moments when tension and anxiety filled the room. At least two who attended weren't pleased with the overall message of reconciliation, hospitality, love and understanding. And one question that wouldn't seem to go away: "Do Muslims worship a different God than Christians?" Andy wouldn't quite go there; one woman who is a leader in the local interfaith movement seemed to balk at the idea that anybody would try to elevate one religion above another; and one or two seemed offended that Andy wouldn't categorically denounce Islam as a false religion, and Muslims destined for hell.

But it's got me thinking, this question of whether or not Christians and Muslims (or anybody else, for that matter) worship different Gods. The traditional answer is "of course." Behind that answer is the often unspoken assumption that, while we say we worship different Gods, the reality is that we worship the one true God, and they worship a false idea of a false god.

In other words, it's an issue of category. 'Our' God is over here in this category of 'true,' and 'their' god is over there in the category of 'false.' We worship a real God, they worship a thing that doesn't exist except in their minds.

I wonder, though, if we're looking at it wrong. That it's not an issue of category (real vs. false, true vs. fake), but an issue of degree. That we're all in some sense worshiping the same God, it's just that some are closer, and have a clearer understanding of God, while others are further away, and have only a hint of God - but worship God as much as that hint allows.

Christianity teaches that there is one God, and that the clearest representation of God is known to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself taught that the only true way to come to God was in following him. Our worship of God comes from the knowledge that God has saved us through Jesus, and now lives in us in his Spirit. I would make the case that this means, on the whole, Christians are closest in scale to worshiping God as fully as humanly possible.

But the Hebrew prophet wrote of God placing eternity in the hearts of humankind. The Psalmist tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. There seems to be this belief within Christianity that only those enlightened by the Spirit can sense and worship God, and everybody else is worshiping either their own imagining, or a satanic misrepresentation. But could it be instead that people of other religions can still sense the working of God in the world; in their hearts and souls, there is some recognition of the reality of the One True God, and they are worshiping that One True God - just not to the same degree as those who have met God in Jesus?

Supposing Mohamed simply had a sensitive soul; supposing he spent hours under the desert sky pondering the nature of the universe and the working of God, supposing he sensed in his deepest places the marvelous reality that is at work behind all we see and hear and touch. . .supposing he truly was sensing the One True God only, in the absence of knowing Jesus, he couldn't grasp the true nature of God in Jesus. In the absence of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he couldn't come to see the reality that is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Paul, Peter, Luther, and me?

You could look at it this way: A lot of people around Washington see Mt. Rainier off in the distance, and have a distant understanding of what's actually up there. We all have a picture in our mind, but only a fraction of those people have actually climbed it, and know what it looks like when you're actually standing on it. It's still the same mountain, but we know it to different degrees.

I think perhaps this is a better way of looking at all the dueling religions: most (not all) have some sense of the reality of God, they are, in some sense, worshiping the real God. It's just that a relatively few have actually met that God and are worshiping him, in the words of Jesus, in Spirit and in truth.

Of course, the idea of degrees of closeness will still rankle people who don't believe any religion ought to claim a greater understanding of truth. Their are those who want to believe that every religion is legitimate in its own way, that none has a greater degree of 'correct-ness.' But I can't go there. I can learn to respect and love people of other religious faiths, but in the end, Jesus was the one who said "No one comes to the Father except by me." That's a claim to singular truth, a claim that all other paths are dead ends. So I hold fast to the truth that God is known to us in Jesus, that our salvation is won in Jesus.

But this idea that Muslims worship a false God. . .I'm not so sure. Maybe they are worshiping the God of the Bible, just not to the same degree of fullness that followers of Christ are.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Review: Stuff Christians Like

I've got a little section on my bookshelf reserved for Christian humor. It's little, because most Christian humor is lame. At least the stuff that gets published. But I've got a few of these little cartoon books, the kind that poke fun at Christians and the Church. I was looking through them a few months ago in a vain last-minute attempt to find something funny for the Alpha introductory talk.

The problem was, they're all pretty dated. I found them pretty funny, but that's only because they were poking fun of the church in which I grew up, a church of potlucks and steeples and choirs and pastors in robes. But I quickly realized they wouldn't translate to people coming in from outside the church, or to people more attune to the Church of the 90s to the present. Which made me sad.

But then, along came Stuff Christians Like, and the day was saved. This is that same book, only with three major differences:

1) This book is the product of the 21st-Century Church, not the 1950s church. Thus you have pieces discussing metrosexual worship pastors, hip youth group rooms, side hugs, church logos (the holier, the better), mission trip romances, Rob Bell, using "love on" as a verb, using the word "just" as prayer filler, and judging fundamentalists for being judgmental.

2) This isn't a comic book, although it has great illustrations.

3 This book often uses humor to make a serious point. Just when Acuff gets you laughing, he rips home with a zinger, challenging us in our blind spots to, you know, actually be better Christians.

Of course, the book is ironic in its own way. One of his pieces is on ripping off advertising and logos to make similar-looking T-shirts (think "Jesus: The Real Thing"). When, as even Acuff admits, this book is a knock-off of the wildly popular Stuff White People Like website. In fact, Stuff Christians Like began as its own website. So there you go. In (gently) mocking Christians for being unoriginal and derivative, Jonathan Acuff's book is unoriginal and derivative.

That's not to say it's not funny. Or worth picking up. It is funny, and it is worth picking up. It might not be the most important Christian book of the last decade, but is still a worthwhile way to pass some time, laughing at ourselves and the funny way we live our lives. But don't fear that it's a sarcastic diatribe against the church, as so many of these things are. It's more along the lines of Keillor making fun of Lutherans, or Foxworthy making fun or Rednecks. The humor is in seeing yourself somewhere in there, and saying "oh yeah, I guess we are a little goofy. Maybe we should stop taking ourselves so seriously."

Note: thank you to Zondervan for providing a free preview copy of Stuff Christians Like for the purpose of this review.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Christianity and Islam: A workshop

Do we need to be afraid of the growing presence of Muslims in our communities? Must Islam and Christianity be pitted against each other for supremacy in society? What should the non-religious make of the ongoing struggles between these two religions?

We invite you to join us for a critical conversation as we explore whether Christianity and Islam can peacefully coexist, and what the best of these religious traditions have to contribute to our communities. We will look at how to build relationships of trust with Muslims, extending hospitality to our new neighbors.

• Can Islam and Christianity co-exist in the same world, or must there be a “clash of civilizations?”
• What are some of the key differences and similarities between these two monotheistic religions? What are the core beliefs of Islam and what do Muslims believe about Jesus?
• How do Muslims view Christianity? Do we worship the same God? What should be our attitude to the Muslim community down the street?
• Is Islam compatible with democracy or capitalism? Does the Koran support terrorism?

Sunday, September 12
4:00-6:00 p.m.
The Key Peninsula Civic Center

Rev. Dr. Andrew Larsen has been an ordained minister with the Evangelical Covenant Church for over 20 years, experiencing extensive cross-cultural work in Latin America and now serving Muslim communities locally and abroad. He has also served as Pastor in the U.S. for 7 years, engaged in the broader work of the church in both local and global projects. He has taught classes on inter-religious engagement and is currently facilitating local churches across the U.S., Canada, and Latin America to serve their immigrant neighbors. He has traveled and networked with Non Government Organizations and churches serving in Europe, South & North America, North Africa and the Middle East. He regularly visits mosques, has many Muslim friends in the Puget Sound region and been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue for over 5 years. He lives in Seattle with his wife and 3 children. He received his Doctorate in Ministry from Fuller Seminary in 2007 where he received his M. Div. in 1988. 

Dr. Larsen will also be sharing in the Sunday Worship Celebration at Lakebay Community Church. We begin at 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Eye am becoming annoyed

For those of you tired of reading the ongoing saga of my eyeball, feel free to ignore this post and move on to something more interesting. 

I went to the eye doc today for a followup to last month's torturous procedure, wherein said eye doc carved up my cornea with a scalpel in an attempt to relax some pressure leftover from the corneal transplant. That pressure left the cornea with too much astigmatism, making it impossible to fit a contact lens with any success. The procedure was supposed to flatten out the lens; today was the day to finally fit the eye with a lens, and, after almost two years, return me to the club of "people who can see out of two eyes."


Doc looks through machine and says "I need to do it again, and see if it works better this time."

Me: "Um, what? Do what again?"

Doc: "Relax the cornea, just like we did last time."

Me: "Is it going to be just like last time? The same amount of work, same amount of pain?"

Doc: "Yes. Why? Did it hurt much last time?"

So, to make a long story short, I talked him out of cutting me up today, since I had lunch plans with a friend I haven't seen in 18 years. But I now have an appointment to go in in mid-October, at which time they'll cut up the cornea again. Then wait another 6 weeks to see if that even works.

Ominously, the doctor said these things usually get their best results the first time; there's a much smaller chance the 2nd time is successful. And if the 2nd time isn't successful, he said, "we go back into the operating room." Not another transplant or anything that drastic; they simply 'reopen the wound and suture it back up again.' Oh. That's reassuring.

For now. . .it will be Thanksgiving at the earliest before I finally get a contact that works (over 2 years since the original operation); but if this 2nd procedure doesn't work, it could easily roll over into 2011 before I finally see well out of that eye.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Scourge of Self-Righteous Divisiveness

Back from a weekend at family camp. The weekend started with a conversation with a fellow Covenant minister. He related a story of a group of neo-calvinists who had joined up with his church, and then attempted to force the church to adopt their theology, and teach it, and nothing else, to their youth. Their suggested curriculum for the youth group was all 'Pure Calvinist theology" a la John Piper and J.I. Packer. Said one father to the pastor, "We have to teach our youth to be afraid of God, so they won't sin." When the pastor responded "I'd rather teach them about the love of God, so they will want to obey," that man left the church, taking quite a few families with him. And he took a parting shot, labeling this man of God a Liberal, and dangerous to the church.

Later in the weekend, I had a conversation with a Young Life leader and youth pastor, a man caught up in the current atonement debate within Young Life. Once again, a vocal group of neo-calvinists has taken control, declaring that Penal Substitutionary Atonement, being a good Calvinist position, be the only method of atonement/salvation taught in Young Life. A group of others, who hold to other models of atonement (mostly Christus Victor, but there are others), a group that wants to tell the story of a loving, forgiving God rather than an angry, vindictive God, have essentially been told to be quiet or leave.

Finally, I came home to read a heartbreaking email, telling the story of a seminary prof and personal friend being accused, slandered, labeled a heretic, and essentially being forced to defend himself before his denomination. . .all because he dared challenge the predominant, Penal-Substitution Model of the Atonement. And the charges. . .once again, strident neo-calvinist influences.


I don't have a problem with calvinism, really, although I don't agree with much of it. I do recognize the weight of their arguments, and don't deny that they may be right. I give them the right to believe, to teach, to hold to those positions. But time and again, they don't offer the same freedom to others, instead teaching that calvinism (especially as espoused by Piper, Sproul, and MacArthur) IS the gospel. And thus they divide the Body, a sin (in my opinion) far greater than choosing the wrong model of the atonement.

For a people who supposedly believe so much in grace, they sure don't show it much.

(and I know there are some good calvinists who read this blog, so feel free to join in the conversation. I don't want to attack the many for the sins of the few. . .it's just that, I know too many who have suffered too much at the hands of your fellow theological brothers and sisters)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Church Reading

A couple of books I finished in the last month - David Olson's The American Church in Crisisand David Gibbons' The Monkey and The Fish 

Both books are by ministers/leaders in the Evangelical Covenant Church, the tribe to which I belong. Both books were gifts to Covenant Ministers at a previous Midwinter Conference, so thanks to Zondervan for your generosity.

Both books cover the same general ground: the world has changed, and continues to change. What was is slowly passing, what is is in flux, and what will be is anybody's guess. Regardless, the church finds itself in trouble - losing touch with society, losing members faster than we realized, losing influence in our world; and, where there is growth, often times it is shallow, narrow, lacking in the depth and breadth that ought to mark the Kingdom of God.

Olson's book is a statistical tour de force, based on substantial research into almost every nook and cranny of the American Church. The results of that survey are pretty disturbing. Church attendance overall is down; compared to population growth, the attendance figures are even worse. Almost every denomination is losing ground in every county in every state. Old churches are stagnating and dying off, and not nearly enough new churches are being planted to stem the tide. Too many churches are simply surfing on the final waves of Christendom, enjoying the remnants of the kingdom they used to control, even while ignoring the changing landscape around them.

Gibbons' book is more of a friendly chat, looking into the amazing cultural forces at work to chance the American (and world) landscape. Any semblance of a monolithic culture is quickly passing. Our neighborhoods are filling up with people from all over the world, and our young people are wired into the world even from their very bedrooms. The 'Seeker-Sensitive' church of the 80s and 90s, the church that tried to tap into singular cultures in order to draw like-minded people, can no longer be counted on to grow the Kingdom. In fact, Gibbons would argue, it's an unbiblical model in the first place. The Church is instead called to be cross-cultural in every way: crossing ethnic lines, social lines, and socio-economic lines. He says, "Here is the reality: if we really want to see our churches grow in the way Jesus would want us to grow, if we really want to see Christ revealed in our communities and through our lives and in this global world of ours, then we must focus our strategic initiatives of love on people who make us feel uncomfortable, who don't fit into our thinking and our conventions, who are marginalized and even considered misfits and outsiders."

He goes on to say, "When the world sees the church willing to forgo size and scale to love and embrace people who are not like us, treating them as neighbors, they can sense an expression of true and genuine love. It's a thing of miraculous beauty. And people know beauty when they see it."

Both books are realistic, but also hopeful. First of all, God is still at work in the Church, so we always have reason to hope in the future. Secondly, God seems to be raising up a new group of leaders, pastors, thinkers, and church planters who can help us all move into this new world. The challenges are real, and many will be tempted to bury their head in the sand. To those who are willing to take a risk, to be "liquid," as Gibbons says, to flow with the Spirit, to carry on conversations rather than making pronouncements, to listening and learning and loving and risking, these are great times. A new wave of the Spirit may be happening before our eyes.

The question is, are we willing to give up our false ideas of importance, our desire for comfort, our (false) belief that we have all the answers? Are we willing to give up the delusion that we can return to the 'good old days'? Or will we sit back, hide, and forgo our mission to the world?

Both Gibbons and Olson challenge the church to step out in faith, to learn anew what it means to minister in the world, and to be a part of this amazing work of God. We would do well to listen.