1) Well we started the Paul series yesterday. To be honest I was nervous about not kicking it off, but I thought Charlotte set the table well. I was off the preaching schedule yesterday because I had tentatively scheduled myself in Dallas this week to do some dissertation work. Unfortunately the churches I'm trying to schedule are just impossible to nail down, so I ended up staying home. Thus, since Charlotte had been assigned to the week, she put her heart and soul into getting things off on the right foot, and I thought she did a great job.
2) In case you missed it, we're going in two directions for the next couple of months. In the morning, we'll stay focused on the book of Philippians, which Paul wrote during his second, and ultimately tragic, term of imprisonment in Rome. The church at Philippi was unique in the sense that they seemed to embrace Paul's message with a depth of commitment and conviction that was somewhat missing in other churches. Paul's call for churches to be communities of not just spiritual but social transformation was often met by those communities with opposition or, in some cases, indifference. Many of the calls to sexual, culinary, and physical purity were so foreign to people of that era - particularly in religious traditions whose practices had often been marked by excess - that many new Christians had a hard time taking them seriously.
Remember, these churches were made up largely of people who either had been associated with Jewish faith communities in exile from Israel, or folks who had been associated with other faith movements and just walked in off the street into a worship service. They lived in a truly pluralistic world where major and minor cities alike would be awash with numerous different temples practicing all matters and forms of religion. Unwashed in 1700 years of Christian domination of western culture, folks from Paul's day were used to multiple religious practices co-existing. "Exclusive Monotheism" was still largely a novelty, and mostly unheard of in their world. They hadn't been born into the church like many of us were. It's just a totally different world.
And for whatever reason, the church in Philippi seemed to understand that if they were going to try to walk with Jesus, that things were going to be different. We'll focus on that in the morning.
3) On Tuesday evening will peer into Paul's world. The man who was simultaneously a Christian, a Jew, one educated in a Greek tradition (and thus, Greek), and a Roman citizen. How many other people could make these claims in 58 A.D.? I'm guessing not too many. Maybe nobody else in all the world. How strange it is that the Lord would merge together in one person ancient practices of the middle east, an education given in a style that ended up defining the way the western world still educates its graduates, a connection to the most powerful theo-political state the world has ever seen, and faith in Jesus. It's a miracle. Paul is at the intersection of the world that still marks us today.
People shaped and marked by ancient religious practices who fear they'll lose their identity in a rapidly changing world.
Nations that struggle with the role that religious ideals and leaders should play in governance.
The split between religious faith that emphasizes belief in the unseen and education that calls anything that hasn't been measured or observed a theory.
The tension that exists in living the Christian life between spiritual regeneration and social transformation; personal salvation and corporate accountability; emphasis on faith or works.
Paul's words hold keys, I believe, to helping us navigate these murky seas. I don't believe that he makes our way easier.... in fact he confronts us in ways that will make us very uncomfortable. But his way, a new way, Jesus' way, is a way of hope. Hope to you Tuesday.
4) Due to the lateness of the date, and years of unpredictable weather, last year, the local HOG chapter dropped their annual run for "Harvest for the Hungry". I was disappointed when I heard this since this would have been the first year I could have rode (a Kawasaki Voyager tucked in with all those loud American bikes) for the cause of the West Ohio Foodbank. Besides, each year we'd pick up $500 or so, and I hated for the WOF to lose it. I mentioned this to our "Ride and Dine" leader, Larry Inskeep, who, only two weeks ago, promptly organized a ride, which we held yesterday. Despite all appearances (because it was overcast and cloudy), it was a nice day for a ride.
Cool but not cold. Little or no traffic on the road. Corn harvested so there were fewer blind corners. Just a nice, nice day for a ride.
While we didn't end up with the biggest turnout, people pitched in and we still raised almost $700. And all involved seemed to have a great time. There were plenty of doorprizes (yours truly won a OSU cooler), lots of good food, and a nice (if not warm) warmy atmosphere in Solid Rock Cafe (where we ended our trip). We'll probably move this ride to coincide with the Blessing of the Bikes service the first week of May. Don't miss it. Larry lays out a nice ride, and the money will go for a good cause.
5) Is OSU the number one team in the country? The pollsters say "yes", but as for this blogger... well, I'm not so sure. Thanks to Eric Stallkamp, the "Dean Four" (Dad, Brother esq, Unk, and myself) were at the game Saturday where the Bucks manhandled a Kent State team that seemed resigned to defeat almost from the beginning. Here's the list of who the Bucks have beat thus far:
Youngstown State, Akron, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Washington, Kent State
Here's who is left on the schedule:
Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan
Is there even one Top Ten team on this schedule? Nope. Not this year. Michigan seems to be finding itself, and Illinois and Penn State have shown life this season, but beyond that, no elites on the schedule this year.
So will OSU play in a National Championship game if they win out? Yep. Will we know before that game if they really deserve to be there. I don't think so. On the upside, it feels like 2002 all over again, when, thanks to a weak schedule and plenty of close games, not too many experts in the country gave them a prayer against the Hurricanes. On the downside, no Bucks fan could exhale until Dorsey through that last incompletion in overtime. Right now, it's that kind of year.
6) Max's last soccer game is tonight, and we have a SPRC meeting scheduled. I already missed a few of his games this fall due to work-related conflicts. I don't want to miss this one. I'd cancel the meeting (there's not much to tackle on the agenda), but that would make two-in-a-row we've canceled, which would be unparalleled in our history. Remember the SPRC deals with personnel issues, and in the last four years we are a church that's saw an associate pastor leave after less than a year in office, the hiring/loss of five youth pastors, and the succession of a 17-year old tenured pastor to a guy who has never been a senior pastor before. The SPRC has perpetually had a lot to do. No other committee has met more, or for longer, than SPRC. Now, with all salaries set until next June, no pressing issues at least in the immediate future, and an almost entirely new committee coming on in January (thanks to terms expiring and previously unfilled slots being filled) we have little that is controversial or difficult to deal with. Now, we need to start thinking about the future, that's where we'll be heading tonight... possible future hires fueled by dreams of the future.
But I'd still rather Max play soccer. Bummer. We'll see what we can work out.
7) Here are some very cool pictures from last week's Fall Fest. The overhead pics were taken by a fireman from the Shawnee Township Fire Department from the top of the extended ladder attached to the truck they parked outside of the church for the event. Hope you enjoy them.
Thank you to everyone who made it possible.
8) Bill Cosby, yesterday, pulled no punches yesterday on "Meet The Press". Cosby, who has been lauded and reviled because of his take on parenting within the black community, has co-authored a book on the subject. Cosby's take... the disappearance of fathers in the black community is directly linked to the decline of living standards for children in the black community. If you missed what he and his co-author had to say, here's the link.
Cosby's comments are timely, as today in the Lima News there was an article that cites rising graduation rates in urban communities here in Ohio over the last decade. The article goes further to say that the growth of specialty/magnet schools designed for specific minority groups has contributed greatly to this change. I know right now that the drop out rate young black males in the Lima City Schools is an issue that has come to the forefront for the community, school board and teacher's association. It will be interesting to see what creative solutions are suggested and pursued to deal with what has been an on-going issue. As the effects of globalization continue to drain jobs requiring unskilled labor from our area, Heaven knows some creative thinking is needed to help overcome these problems right now.
9) Male leadership is a huge issue right now in the life of the church. Protestant and Catholic churches for years now have watched a slow decline in the percentage of males attending churches with their wives or families. Even though someone like Mark Driscoll (who I blogged about last week) can say and teach things that are often terribly misogynistic, he is lauded in certain quarters within protestant circles as being a "savior" for the post-modern church because so many young males fill the pews of his church. It's no secret that males tend to be more action-oriented and more visually-oriented than females, yet churches tend to be slow-moving institutions that still put forth their message using primarily verbal mediums. As communal and generational bonds that historically tied people to Christian churches continue to break down, how we live out and present our message must change.
My wife sent me an interesting link entitle www.churchmarketingsucks.com
The site, which is blog that is published by the Center for Creative Church marketing, gives endless tips on new ways churches not only market themselves in the community, but convey and carry out their message. It seems like the examples of "what to do" are filled with web sites like this one, where the pastor is fit and trim, wears some sort of T-shirt, and preaches in a theater, but that seems to be where things are going. Or, in other words, using a new veneer to make it clear that this church "isn't your mother or grandmother's church". One wonders, though, if this isn't just a lot of window dressing on a message that maybe needs to grow and change... and if that veneer wears off quickly.
I have no idea.
10) Finally, this Saturday, as we approached Ohio Stadium, for the first time I've ever attended an OSU game, a church (one of the ones where the women all wear long skits and wear the their hair up in a bun) stood out in front of the stadium, handing out tracts and calling people to repentance. I always feel uncomfortable when I encounter this kind of evangelism. On the one hand, it takes a lot of guts to spend your day out in the hot sun/frigid cold openly professing not only you love for Jesus, but also a call that others embrace Him also. There is a fearlessness that's almost admirable. It reminds me of a dream I had last year that my Beeson colleagues and I traveled into downtown Lexington and we did street preaching... which I have never done my life. The idea of such an endeavor has always seemed distasteful to me... an offense to my refined mainline sensibilities I suppose.
But, on the other hand, talk about church marketing sucking... I don't know if you could make the Christian faith look more out of touch than those folks did that day. I thought it telling that next to one of the street preachers a woman who worked for a company that makes gum stood there handing out free samples. I don't know how many more people chose the gum than the tracts, but I'm guessing we're talking 10 or 12 times more people took her offering... and later I saw the ground littered with abandoned tracts.
Considering, once again, cause you'll get people at rock concerts, ballgames, and other big events engaging in the same kind of street evangelism, unlike after Peter's first major sermon in Acts, thousands didn't come to Jesus outside of Ohio Stadium. There was no great movement of people down to the banks of the Olentangy River for an impromptu baptismal service. I wondered, again, if maybe more harm than good was accomplished in their efforts.
I don't know if its possible to be challenged and repulsed all at the same time... but that's where I found myself Saturday morning in Columbus. Challenged to be bolder about my faith, but repulsed by the disdain my Christian brothers and sisters seemed to show for those that day who just wanted to see a ball game.
And now I wonder, what did God think about all of that? If you wondered, that's the stuff I think about all the time. Such is my life.