Thursday, May 31, 2007

our creation story

What if conservative Christianity decided to join together with liberal Christianity and read the first few chapters of Genesis like some of the earliest Church Fathers? What if all of Christianity decided that Genesis 1-2 was true but not literal? What if we all agreed together that God created the world and that Genesis gives us a beautiful, poetic picture of that? And what if we all stopped trying to cram a wooden, literal interpretation into something that was never meant to be taken that way in the first place?

Here is what might happen:
- science and reason would no longer be opponents of Christians, but allies.
- scientists would feel free to let science declare the glory of God's creation
- Christians would stop arguing about pointless things like having "creationism" in schools and would return to their first love, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Atheist would no longer have the argument against Christianity that creationism is impossible.
- Both Christian and non-Christian alike could stand in agreement that God may have indeed created through an evolutionary process
- Rather than secularism being lord of science, Christ would return as the King of all fields of study, which is His rightful place
- Agnostics who were seeking to understand God would feel free explore Christianity
- Christians on the right and left would stop bickering about how God created, and would celebrate His creation
- Conservatives wouldn't have to feel like they need to "defend scripture" as if scripture needed defending
- Liberals wouldn't have to feel like they had to deconstruct scripture but could trust in its beauty and authority

One day, I hope all of Christianity can read those first few chapters of the Old Testament as the early church Fathers read it. It is true. It is powerful. It is beautiful. It is authoritative for faith and practice. But it is not always literal.

For more reading on theistic evolution, read: "The Language of God" by Francis S. Collins.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

praying for rain

I stood looking at a dry desert cliff. The cactus on the edge seemed to be waving hello. There wasn't much vegetation to speak of so I guess he was waving at me. The cliff overlooked a 100 foot drop. The ground below looked cooler from the shade of the rocky precipice. It was the kind of place where you needed plenty of water. It was the kind of place where daredevil base jumpers come to test their limits.

I closed my eyes.

I heard the thundering of the waterfall. I felt mist on my face. I listened to the power of the rushing river water. I smelled the aquatic smell of the river bank. I heard the million tons of water doing cannon balls into the pool below. I felt the breeze created by water sprinting to its favorite cliff. I listened to the bubbles below coming up for air. I smelled green all around me.

I opened my eyes.

I had to blink a few times. All that was there was the arid reminder of the things that are. The sun dried up my sweat before it could drip. My mouth was pasty. My lips were beginning to crack. Parched dust punished my face. The only sound that broke the silence was the distant circling of vultures overhead. My arms tingled from the hot wind that was kicking up the sand.

I wanted to close my eyes again. I wanted to taste the fresh air of the waterfall that should have been but wasn't. But I knew I had seen enough. I had seen what was coming. Now, I had to be a part of the present.

I looked off into the distance. The clear blue sky was being stained by a different color miles north of the cliff. Puffy white clouds were beginning to gather. I thought to myself, "Someone has been praying for rain." And I knew it was time to join them.

Monday, May 21, 2007

picking a President

What is the criteria that you use to pick a candidate? How will you determine who to vote for? Does faith play a part? It's interesting when we look at the leading candidates on both sides.
Hillary Clinton: (Christian) United Methodist
John Edwards: (Christian) United Methodist
Barack Obama : (Christian) United Church of Christ

Mitt Romney: (Heretical-Christian-ish) Mormon
John McCain: (Christian) Episcopalian
Rudolph Giuliani: (Christian) Roman Catholic

Out of all of these leading candidates, Barak Obama seems the most authentic and most sincere about having a real relationship with Jesus Christ. But this causes a real problem for conservatives who are used to voting Republican. Christians on the Right want to vote for a Republican who is a Christian, but all the Republicans who are leading in the polls create issues for the Christian voter.

Is it ok to vote for a Mormon? If not, then you are left with two "less than devout" Republican candidates. So your basic options from a conservative Christian point of view are as follows:

1. Vote for a solid Christian Democrate who you disagree with politically. (Obama)
2. Vote for a heretic Republican who you agree with politically. (Romney)
3. Vote for a pseudo-Christian Republican who you agree with politically. (McCain, Giuliani)
4. Vote for a pseudo-Christian Democrate who you disagree with politically. (Clinton, Edwards)

The options aren't that exciting for the "moral majority" in the 2008 Presidential election. Some of this confusion will get ironed out in the primary elections. If it ends up being some version of #3 vs. #4, the decision will be a bit easier. The Right will go with #3. But how will the Christian Right vote if the options are #1 vs. #2? Or what about if it is #2 vs. #4? Or even #1 vs. #3?

Christians who typically use faith as the primary reason to vote for one candidate over another will find themselves in a pickle as they try to pick a new President.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

streams of living water

We are doing a sermon series based off of the Richard Foster book, "Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith." In that book he looks at what he considers to be the 6 major 'streams' of Christian thought and practice.

Here are the Streams in the order that we are doing them and examples of each:

1. Contemplative - A prayer-filled life (ex. monastic orders)
2. Holiness - A virtuous life (ex. Wesleyan Holiness churches)
3. Evangelical - A Word-centered life (ex. Baptist churches)
4. Charismatic - A Spirit-empowered life (ex. Assemblies of God churches)
5. Social Justice - A Compassionate life (ex. African-American churches, Christian charities)
6. Incarnational - A Sacramental life (ex. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic church)

When we look at the church in the beginning of Acts, I think we see all of these streams flowing into one river.

Acts 2:42-47
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching [Evangelical] and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [Incarnational] and to prayer [Contemplative]. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles [Charismatic]. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need [Social Justice]. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts [Holiness], praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Monday, May 14, 2007

pain of sin

I was talking to a friend the other day who is a part of a recovery ministry. He was in a small group the other day that discussed the roots of sin. From the perspective of that ministry, here is how sin is born much of the time:

1. We experience some kind of pain on our lives.
2. We feel a sense of shame from that pain
3. We search out and find a "false comfort" to deal with the shame and pain.
4. False comfort comes in the form of some kind of sin or some kind of "good works"
5. We begin to experience a "numbness" from the habitual false comfort
6. We begin to find ourselfs alone. Our numbness has pushed people away.
7. Our loneliness sharpens the feeling of the original pain.
8. The cycle continues.

This kind of thinking makes sense to me. It is the kind of thing I bet Jesus saw. He was good at hanging out with "sinners" because he understood the root cause of sin. He knew that underneath the garments of an unholy life was the pain of a heart ripped open. He knew that sin was just harmful attempt to heal.

He saw the same thing in the Pharisees. He knew their self-glorifying "righteousness" was yet another attempt to hide. It was just another attempt to heal. So why was Jesus so much harsher toward the Pharisees than he was toward "sinners and tax-collectors."

My guess is that the "sinners" saw their unholy state of life and grieved it. The Pharisees flaunted their state of life and used their status to magnify their pride and arrogance. "Sinners" were teachable. "Sinners" knew they were needy. Pharisees pretended. They saw themselves as the teachers. They saw others as the ones in need of correction and healing.

I wonder what would change in our own hearts if we began to see the root of sin as pain. And maybe the root of all pain is the pain we all experience as humans. Maybe the pain beneath all other pains is the pain of being separated from God. It is the pain of living outside the Kingdom of God and longing to come in.

Monday, May 07, 2007

new leaders

As we contemplate the necessities of being a leader in a Christian community like Horizon Church, some things have come to the surface. There are lots of characteristics that are important for a leader to have. The ability to love people well is primary. But what has emerged as necessary prerequisites to loving people well are the ability to face yourself and the willingness to receive God's love.

What seems to be a particular danger is someone who is trying to serve and love people primarily because they need to feel needed and accepted. We might call this a "neediness factor." Also hazardous is the person who is generally afraid of people and their potential disapproval of them. We might call this the lack of "emotional stability."

Leaders need the emotional stability to receive criticism without crumbling and also without getting too defensive. Its also important that their "neediness factor" is low. The more needy a person is, the less they are able to stand firmly on the foundation of Christ. Neediness means a person is dependent on people inappropriately. It also means they have a warped view of themselves. This usually manifests itself in an inflated sense of self-hate.

The hard part is that everyone has some of this in them. We are all damaged by sin. We are all somewhat destabilized emotionally and somewhat needy in one area or another. So how much is too much? In order to be a leader, one must have some of this submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Highly dysfunctional leaders created highly dysfunctional churches.

This is a dilemma when inviting new leaders to come on board. We as a team of leaders must examine if someone is leading. We must decide if they are making disciples. We must also decide if they will be able to stand the storms of leadership. We must ask the hard questions and face the hard answers. What is their "neediness factor?" How is their "emotional stability?" Can they look in the mirror and be able to deal with what they see deep inside? Or will the responsibilities and demands of leadership crush them emotionally and spiritually?

This task is not an easy one. But this process is vital for the health of our church and the health of our future leaders.