Friday, April 17, 2009

If It Makes You Happy It Can't Be That Bad

When I was in college I took a class called Philosophy 101, also known as Moral Philosophy. We spent the entire semester discussing different philosophies of morality. We looked at different philosophies (search for truth) that shaped people's ethics. We discussed and wrote paper after paper about each philosophical idea.

Each philosophy we deconstructed and looked at from various angles. There was NOT ONE philosophy that could not be dis-proved. Not one. At the end of the class we had to write a concluding paper about all that we had learned through the semester and I realized, as I was writing this paper, the truth: there has to be an absolute truth, a moral code, to go by because no other philosophy of morality stands the tests of scrutiny.

Lately, especially in Western culture, the idea that what we think is right and wrong is really all about what works for each person individually (or sometimes culturally). In other words, if it something is morally right or wrong for you or for your culture we should not make any judgments on it. The belief says that we cannot make a full-scale judgment that something is fully right or fully wrong. Or, in the words of one song writer: "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad."

I wonder if those who believe in moral relativism (the belief that what's right for you is all relative) would be singing the same tune if say someone was breaking into their house and wiping them clean of all of their stuff. But hey, if wiping you clean makes them happy, it's right for it can't be bad. Right?

Most people who advocate for this idea of a world without moral objective standards also embrace this idea of "tolerance." They will say things like "We ought to be tolerant" or "We should be tolerant." This is a direct contradiction of the very thing they are saying! If there is no such thing as standard of morality, according to them, I don't ought or should anything!

The other problem with "tolerance" is that anytime you disagree with someone you are practicing intolerance! If everything, every view, every opinion is moraly relative, than believing someone's opinion is wrong is practicing intolerance!

This idea that tolerance in allowing people to do whatever makes them happy just doesn't hold. I actually find it quite ironic that those who most tout tolerance as a virtue are themselves quite intolerant of those of us who disagree. Tolerance really only extends in these cases to those who's view is the same as theirs

I believe it is very possible, however, to disagree with someone's beliefs on an issue and yet still treat them with love. Isn't that what we're called to?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When a church is not really a church

Last spring while I was in Europe going to the various Youth With a Mission bases (by the way, I realize I have not really fully blogged about my time there other than at the beginning part of the trip in Scotland. Someday, maybe, I'll get around to that too) our team of OJ, Suzanna, their kids Ariel and Judah, Pete and I decided to take a trip into a town called Largs (I think that was its name, not sure now it's been so long) to go shopping. Immediately upon arrival in Largs began looking for a place to eat.

We walked around for a bit looking for something that caught our eye. As we were walking down the street we came upon what we thought was a church. However, upon entering the courtyard, we could see that what was once a church had now been converted into a pub! We decided to eat at this restaurant and as we walked in, I have to say, I was a little weirded out by being inside. It was very strange to be looking at what used to be the pulpit and seeing people eating there, or looking over to the side of the church and seeing a bar where alcohol was being served. It was a a surreal experience to say the least. I couldn't help but think of when Jesus threw the market out of the temple.

I have heard a statistic that there are now more pubs in Europe than churches. If my experience is normal...some churches are now pubs! The decline of the church in Europe is well on its way. Some even say they (Europe) are about where we in the US are headed in about 20 years.

I have spoken in previous blogs about how irrelevant the church has become to people's lives and the statistics that prove this in various articles like the Newsweek one or the one I posted from the Christian Science Monitor. One of the things Mark Anderson spoke on this weekend is how church has become something it was perhaps never meant to be. It looks nothing like it looked if you compare what we are doing now with the early church in the book of Acts.

I have become more and more interested over the last few days in what exactly the early church was like and how it is exactly that the church today came to look the way it does. What I have found is really interesting.

The church in the book of Acts looks NOTHING like it looks in Western culture. It actually more closely resembles the way the church currently works in China: meeting as groups in people's homes, eating together, sharing things, being relevant in each others' lives, the gospel being spread by word of mouth and because others seeing the changes in people's lives. The bride of Christ in Acts was full of power and love. Christianity spread in 300 years to include almost everyone in the Roman Empire. This caused Emperor Constantine to take notice and, like any good politician, made changes to accommodate this new majority in his kingdom.

The enemy worked for 300 years trying to eradicate Christianity by martyrdom and oppression, but his greatest work came from within. After Constantine made Christianity legal, he insisted on its elders (particularly those already IN man) getting together to come up with common doctrine (Council of Nicene), taking over old pagan buildings and implementing a hierarchy of leadership. This is when the church as we see it today began to take form.

There is a lot to go into on details, but basically what happened is that Christianity began to lose footing with everyday life and quickly became something only on Sunday, filled with hints and reflections of paganism ( the cult of Isis and how worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus is an off-shoot of that) to make Christianity more palatable to those coming out of polytheism and paganism, the church became entangled in politics to the point that men saw gaining positions in the church not as a calling to serve the Lord, but to serve their own interests. Christianity moved from everyday life and common men and women to buildings and men who used it to serve their own purposes.

Sure, Christianity spread (and the Dark Age right with it) but I suspect that many people were not truly saved. There have been attempts to make changes to the way we do church (Martin Luther, Jan Hus, Charles Finney among others) but many of those man were kicked out of the church for their beliefs or martyred. The Reformation happened and some things got better, the First and Second Great Awakenings helped, but I believe we need a Third Great Awakening.

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Western way of doing church is a death sentence to Christianity on so many levels. We have taken our relevancy and put it in a building on Sunday mornings and called it good. One of the things Mark Anderson said was that we expect people to get up, dress funny, sing strange songs, listen to someone talk about a subject for a bit and then pay for it! I don't even want to go to a church like that anymore.

Our beliefs were from the beginning meant to permeate every bit of our lives. Read the passage from Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The Lord isn't saying here to literally tie His commandments on your hands or head or doorframe. What He is saying is His word should be a part of everything you do everywhere you go! It should be on your lips when you speak, it should be at your jobs, it should be in your dreams, it should be a part of all you are.

Is it any wonder non-believers are not attracted to our churches? They call us hypocrits and they are right! We have sold them a Christianity that is without power, without holiness, without the ability to change a person's life, and without relevancy. Sure, we're not perfect, but can you really blame a non-believer for not being attracted to what we've made our Christianity?

We tell them: "Oh just say a prayer and you'll be saved." Really? Where does it say that? And then we wonder why, after saying this nice little prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts (instead of TAKING our hearts and REPLACING it with His) people don't start coming to church or they come for a while and then stop.

Oh, friends, we HAVE to change some things about how we do church, about how we live our lives, and about the Jesus we preach. I don't have the answers for how to do this, but it is burning on my heart! May it burn on your heart too.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Paradigm Shift

Whoa. Whoa. I am utterly speachless and without words to describe my weekend this weekend with Mark Anderson, Call2All and Imact World Tours head guy. I have had many of my own thoughts on the state of the US, the times we are living in, and the anemia of the Western church confirmed. I have had my faith encouraged, my calling with clarity and my eyes opened like they never have before.

Seriously. I have never had things presented in a way as clear, as well-thought, as clear-cut as they were to me this weekend. I am blown away. I am changed. I very rarely say that about anything, so you KNOW it was good.

I don't know how to talk about briefly 12 hours worth of material in one blog post.

But, I am headed in June to Call2All conference in Hong Kong to be a part of something that is bigger than I had ever imagined I could be a part of.

A lot of what Mark talked about is on their website, and I'll be posting tidbits of his talks here and there.

I am rocked and blown away and I think the quote by Jim Elliot says it all: ""He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."


Saturday, April 11, 2009

See folks, what we're doing IS NOT WORKING!

I'll comment more later.


Why, oh why am I so easily offended? I was at the end of an A-MA-ZING weekend talk from Call2All/World Impact Tours guy Mark Anderson (which I'll write about more in a bit) and then found out I was not invited to something that to *me* seemed important. I was immediately wounded and offended at being overlooked.

When, oh when, Lord will how you see me be enough? When will what you think of me be all that matters? When will the things you call me to and the things you say about me outweigh all of the praises of men? When will I be secure enough in your love that I no longer look to a person, or a ministry or a thing to fill me the way you can?

Oh, that is what I long for, Jesus!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

To get Diamonds from Coal you need Pressure

As I have alluded to in previous posts, the last year and a half or so have been particularly hard for me. The other night as I was feeling pretty down and miserable, I began to pray and seek the Lord on what has been happening with me. The Lord showed me a picture of a lump of coal. This lump of coal was in the Lord's hand and He began to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze it. Then, He opened His hand and instead of coal, what was sitting there was a beautiful, perfect diamond. I heard the Lord say, "This is what I am doing in you. I am making you into a jewel."

A few days later while worshiping at church I heard, "There will be reward for your suffering."

This then led me to the passages in James 1 and Romans 5 which both talk about trials and suffering.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything......Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:2-4, 12

And we
rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:2b-5

I find it interesting that we are called to not just endure trials, but to REJOICE in them. This goes against everything in my fleshly nature. I don't want to suffer trials. In fact, often I believe that as a follower of Christ I am exempt from them. There is even a whole church movement based on the idea that if you are having trials, you are doing something wrong. This is bad, bad, bad theology.

What the Word tells me is that not only am I NOT exempt from trials, that I should EXPECT them and be JOYFUL when they come. Because when trials come, it is an opportunity to experience more of God's maturity, more of His perseverance, and more of His character.

Sometimes we bring trials on ourselves by our actions. These trials, I believe, are actually consequences of our sin. God allows the course of our actions to come to their natural conculsion. In those instances it is not the kind of trial that we rejoice in. Those kinds of trials we, if we allow ourselves, take a good hard look at what we've done, repent, and turn from what we've done.

Some kinds of trials come because we are affected by the actions of others. We call these injustices. Sometimes things happen to us not as a result of our own sin, but as a result of the sin of others. No one sins in a vacuum. Why God sometimes allows injustices, and sometimes intervenes to deliver us from them is a subject for another post.

There is a third kind of trial, though. These kinds of trials are not just allowed by God, I believe it is clear that they are deliberately brought on by God specifically to grow us and to mature us. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, but that which can't be shaken will remain. The Bible even tells us that God does this BECAUSE He loves us. Because He loves us, he wants us to look, act, think, feel, and believe as He does. To get that way, He has to reveal everything in us that is not of Him. Sometimes that requires the "shaking" of hardship and trials.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12: 7-11

A lot of believers, in fact, a lot of friends I know, react badly under trials. Well, if I'm honest, I react badly too. We whine, we complain, we get mad, we run away, we look to the world to help us out of the trial (or at least make it feel a little less horrible), and we either learn from this trial or we become doomed to repeat the same trial over and over until we "get it." Many a believer has turned his or her back on the Lord over suffering; forgetting that trials are there for our GOOD.

In the last two years of my life have been one trial after another. I believe that much of this is from the hand of God. And so, I have hope. I have hope that suffering produces fruit. I have hope that God does not disappoint. I have hope that while this life is full of pain and suffering, in the next life I will see reward for my disappointments and my yeses to the Lord in spite of circumstances.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some information about coal and diamonds and here's what I found:

Coal, graphite, and diamonds are all made out of the same element: Carbon. The difference is that the carbon atoms have to be re-arranged into a new pattern.

Graphite (coal) has the atoms arranged where they are connected on horizontal planes, but not on vertical planes (think of a stack of papers....the atoms are tightly linked in each sheet of paper, but the stack itself can easily be knocked over..this is why graphite is a lubricant, because these sheet easily slide around on each other).

Anyway, to change their atomic ordering into diamond requires high heat and high pressure. The heat breaks down the current bonds to free up the carbon atoms, and energize them to bond covalently (very tight atomic bond formed by sharing an electron) and the pressure helps the carbon atoms form in an ordered and tightly packed fashion...the result is the atoms are re-ordered into a pattern that looks like pyramids stacked together (each pyramid connected at four points with its neighboring pyramid), and it is now diamond.

May my life be a diamond on Jesus' crown, and may HE receive the reward for my suffering.


Monday, April 06, 2009


"You sure do go to church a lot," was the comment from one of my friends the other day as I walked out the door to a mid-week church service. I didn't really know how to reply and mumbled something about being "committed" as I breezed out the door.

Her comment, though, has been bothering me a bit over the last few weeks. Not because who said it, but the underlying message that is behind it.

American church culture is all about balance; everything in moderation etc. I think some of this is the church's reaction to how over-the-top we Amercians are about everything in life. And I agree, to a certain extent, that extremes can very often be bad for people. If we work too much, we neglect other important parts of our lives. If we eat too much it's not healthy for our bodies. I agree that living too far to one extreme or another in most areas of our lives is not good.

But there is one area of my life I will *never* apologize for being out of balance in: my relationship with the Lord. In fact, we are called to be out of balance. We are *supposed to be* out of balance. We are supposed to be crazy, radical, sold-out, dying to ourselves, giving our lives away, serving till it hurts, and pouring out our lives....This is the one extremism that not only should be OK, it IS OK.

The first commandment ever given to us is to love the Lord our God with ALL of our heart, with ALL of our soul, with ALL of our mind, with ALL of our strength. Not a whole lot of "balance" there. Yet the American church, steeped in entitlements and "rights" is permeated with this idea of balance.

The church I attend has been accused of not being balanced enough. Balanced with what? Balanced with the world? Balanced with sin? Balanced with "self"? I am not sure what else in life I should be about if I am not about loving God and loving my neighbors. I WANT to be sold-out, I WANT to be radical, I WANT to be on fire! Do we look so extreme because the so many churches are asleep! Maybe we're what the church's level of fire SHOULD be.

Can you imagine, for a moment, being transported back in time to the disciples who were walking and talking with Jesus in flesh and someone saying to them "You sure are around Jesus a lot." Heck, there probably WERE people in the disciples lives saying that. But no one true believe would say this now. But, isn't this what my friend was implying when she asked me?

This should have been my reply to my friend: "I go because I want to meet with Jesus. I'm hoping he'll be there and I don't want to miss him!"

So, for me, when I head out the door to a church service in the middle of the week, or I chose not to see a movie because it is blatantly anti-Christian (or even more subtly not glorifying), or work as little as possible so I can be in ministry more frequently, or get up early to read my Bible it is because I WANT to live that "extreme" and "out of balance."

Of course if I am doing any of those things for the wrong reasons, then I am in sin.

There are times when we need to do things that are not directly related to loving and serving the Lord. Eating, sleeping, exercising, and going to work are some examples I can think of. Though I will say this is a tough category and can be a slippery slope when some of these things take priority over my relationship with the Lord.

I am not juding anyone else's level of fiery-ness; that's between them and the Lord.

But as for me, go ahead, call me out of balance, call me wacky, call me crazy...There's nothing else I'd rather be if it means I am drawing closer the the one my heart desires above all.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Pit Bulls Pt. Deux

So, I just got off the phone with the Animal Control Officer, and whadayaknow....she went to visit the house where the dog that bit me lives and the people at the house are claiming to know nothing about a dog bite and and there is no dog that lives there. Sheesh.