Sunday, December 17, 2006

Five of the Ten Things I Think I Think

Since I've not had much time to post, and I've been thinking about a lot of things recently, this week's "Ten Things..." is so long, and dense, that I've decided to split it into two days. Five things will be posted on Monday, and the other five things will be posted on Tuesday.

1) I gotta say that Roger Rhodes, our Staff-Parish Relations Committee Chairperson at Shawnee UMC, was right..... they are looking at me differently. You see, while we were home at Thanksgiving, Roger and I stepped out for lunch (at Arby's... I had the usual - a roast beef sandwich, curly fries, and a refreshing carbonated beverage), and in the course of the conversation, Roger said,

"Listen, when we tell the congregation that you're going to be the senior pastor as of next July, people are going to be looking at you differently. You've always been the "support guy", and you've filled that role well. But now that you're going to be the "lead guy", expectations will be different. Just remember that."

Well, today was the first day in church since the formal announcement earlier this month, and I must say, he was right. And you know what? You wouldn't want it any other way. These people love this church, and want to see it move forward, building on the sacrifices that have been made, to be a force for the Kingdom of Heaven, the cause of Jesus Christ, in our community. Any change that might jeopardize that is going to scrutinized, and this is a big change.

It's just the way things are now. They are looking at me differently, and I must say, the reverse is true also.

2) That all being said, how can you not love it when two men who you deeply respect, come up to you after a service, tell you their men's prayer group has been and will be praying for you, and then let you know that they'll be giving a card of all the names and phone numbers of the guys in the group so that if you need prayer, any time, day or night, you can just call? Or when you express doubt that you can fill the shoes of your long-time mentor, a long-time saint of the church says, "Bryan, talk like that again and I will give you serious trouble." Or on your desk, or in your email, or snail mail box, there are heartfelt expressions left for you, expressing grace and excitement about the future.

Kent Reynolds is right. When you take on leadership in Christ's name, you get it all - the blessing, and the Cross. I'm sure that many tough days are in store, but you just can't believe the magnitude of the blessing! I just feel like God is changing me in a hundred different ways this year. You don't know how humbling, troubling, and what a blessing that is, all at once.

Alright... enough about that.

3) Sorry for the lack of posts. Never received emails from people wanting to know where the heck the new posts were before. Between finishing up a HUGE theology paper for a class, preaching this week for another class, caring for a family with the flu, and then getting it myself, the time for posts was non-existent. Fortunately, the fam seems to be getting over this wretched virus, the assignments are done, and now I can start doing some reading for the next class.

And, maybe make a post or two. Anyhow, it was just "one of those weeks". Am glad I feel like I can breath again.

4) I once heard Jeff Foxworthy equate the Dixie Chicks saying they were ashamed that W was from Texas, with someone running through a trailer park in Arkansas screaming "WalMart Sucks" - In both cases, you're just asking for a beating.

Well, guess what? 130 Evangelical Christian pastors, led by a Baptist pastor from Louisville, Kentucky are saying publicly that Jesus wouldn't shop at WalMart.

(Uh, just give me a second.... my head is spinning.)

Don't believe me? Here's the TV ad they're running in a number of markets right now, and a link to their website:

Here's a link to an interview that the pastor in the ad, Joe Phelps, did with a Neil Cavuto on Fox News. It is an interesting debate, as it is obvious that Cavuto couldn't disagree more with Phelps' position. As it doesn't end in a shouting match, I found it thought provoking.

I find it interesting that this debate is being forged around the ideas of wages, health insurance, and loss of industrial jobs to China as it relates to the American worker. Little, if anything, is being said about the working conditions of overseas factories (remember the flap with Kathy Lee Gifford's line of clothing be made by child labor in Bangladesh... nothing like that is on the radar) or the fact that despite the deplorable conditions of these factories, that now millions of people overseas are improving their standard of living. The ethics being argued are based on what Jesus would think is best for Americans, which is interesting, and maybe a tad narrow for a Jewish guy who said that we needed to make disciples to the "ends of the earth".

I mean, if this linked article is true when it says that if you need possess only $2,200 in assets per adult in the household to be in the top 49% of the world's wealthiest people (or $61,000 to be in the top 10%, or $500,000 to be among the richest 1% in the world), AND that 3 billion people live on $2 a day (or less), I'd think Jesus might frame all of these questions a little differently by asking us, "Who is your neighbor?". Call that liberal, or whatever you want, but I can't help believe it to be true.

What can I tell you... a guy goes to Haiti, and his view of the world changes.

4) Something very interesting is happening in the Evangelical world right now. Speaking from the heart of it, Asbury Theological Seminary, I have been surprised at the level of social consciousness among people who recently have been mostly identified almost exclusively with two issues: abortion and homosexuality. Genocide in the Sudan, the AIDS crisis in Africa, issues of poverty and race, protecting the environment, and even the business practices of a place like WalMart are now hot button topics among many evangelicals.

If you had to ask me, "Why the shift all the sudden?", I'd have to say "I'm not sure, but here are three possible reasons.

First, I want to know that in evangelical seminaries, the idea of what a Christian disciple is being thought, and re-thought about right now, very thoroughly. The idea that a Christian is a person who shows up at church, maybe goes to Sunday School, and volunteers in the church is under serious debate and discussion right now (I've been thinking about this too, and I've been trying an experiment with an anonymous accomplice.... Did you know you were being prayed for at the Kewpee? More on this later...).

Ideas like Christian values showing up in family budgets, places of business, and the impact of everyday personal ethics are being discussed around here every bit as much as the need for a time of personal devotion, each day. If you are interested in understanding some of the literature that's fueling this debate, here are three books you should buy with your Christmas money (and you're not gonna find them at your typical Christian bookstore... that much I can assure you. I use Amazon quite a bit, but if you'd rather shop local, I'd encourage Lima residents to go out to Readmore Books to order them, and I'd encourage Readmore Books to partner with our only real coffeehouse, The Meeting Place, and create a Lima version of Barnes and Noble.... The Readmore Place!):

The Other Six Days by R. Paul Stevens
Missional Church by Darrell Guder
The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost

5a) The second reason that evangelicals are changing their focus, I believe, is due to the effect of authors like Dallas Willard, who in their books (Dallas' classic is The Divine Conspiracy - don't buy it unless you like to do heavy reading... it ain't a dime store novel) are challenging the notion that Jesus' main message was that people needed to accept him before they die so that they could escape eternal damnation. I don't think these authors would argue that people need to accept Jesus, but their point is that Jesus came proclaiming that the "Kingdom of Heaven is at hand", and that this message should be our focus.

As Christ followers, they want us to ask these questions: What is the Kingdom of Heaven? What does it mean for it to be at hand, on earth? What does this mean for me, in real terms, as a follower of Jesus Christ? I believe with Dallas Willard leading the way (The Divine Conspiracy will be one of the classic theology books of this era), these theologians are positing that Jesus desired not just internal or personal transformation, but also systematic transformation of the world. They are getting quite a hearing right now, in places like Asbury.

5b) And the third and final reason I think all this churning is going on among evangelicals is cause (hold onto your hats... this is gonna be a little surprising, and I suspect not going to be universally accepted) Bono, the lead singer of U2, effectively cajoled, begged, and shamed the evangelical community to do something about the disaster of AIDS in Africa... and I think the language and means he used to do this really forced some people to re-think their basic understanding of the impetus of the church.

I mean if a lead singer from an Irish rock band, who smokes cigarillos and drinks alcohol, can quote scripture chapter and verse, make a solid argument as to why the Gospel demands action on behalf of the world's destitute poor, and then give amply of his own time on their behalf, I think that got a lot of people's attention. Rock stars usually stage benefits that raise a few million bucks for a cause, and then generally go back out and live dubious lifestyles.... but Bono's example was different. And I guess, evangelicals wondered how they were getting "out holy-ed" by a rock star.

Want to know how important he is right now? When we went to the Leadership Summit at the Willow Creek Community Church, of all the sessions with all the speakers, the one that was totally jam-packed (almost entirely by evangelical pastors and lay-people) was the session that Bill Hybles interviewed Bono' about his Christian faith and how it related to the crisis of AIDS in Africa... and it was the only session that the speaker wasn't there, live and in person. In other words, people jammed the building to see a taped interview. Nobody, not Jim Collins (wrote Good to Great), not Andy Stanley (big megachurch pastor), not James Meeks (pastor of megachurch in the poorest part of Chicago and Illinois State Senator) received the attention that Bono, who wasn't even really there, received.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but there are the three I thought of.

Catch the other five things tomorrow!

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