|Posted on June 6, 2013 at 4:00 PM|
New Christians often express uncertainty about what to wear for worship. They don't want to be inappropriate. Oddly, even though I've been ordained for twenty years, I have the same dilemma. The tradition I received is to wear the black Geneva gown, which is intended to express reverence. (It also means I don't have to iron a shirt!) Yet I think the robe is usually inappropriate; its formality stifles the exhuberance of praise we see so often in the Psalms. So I usually only wear the robe when we celebrate the Lord's Supper.
On the other hand, I reject casual worship. How can one be "casual" about worshipping a holy, splendid, majestic, and glorious God? Some of the more hip pastors give careful attention to gelling their hair or sporting that icon of relevance, the tattoo. Such self-concern is the opposite of worship.
Interestingly, Orthodox and Roman Catholic pastors make the same mistake. They love pagaentry and ornamentation -- as if we make something holy by imposing a veneer on its surface. Only God's presence makes something holy. Human attempts to make something holy acheive the oppositie effect: to make it gaudy and deeply unspiritual. This is why Jesus dispensed with pagaentry, I think. There is a role for pagaentry -- when the Church gathers for a rare important event that calls for grandness. That's often powerful, and it's worth hauling out the robes and stoles for that. But such events are unusual and therefore such dress should be rare.
Thankfully I stop thinking about what I wear within moments of entering the sanctuary. But ever now and then I remember that what I wear sends a message to you about how we ought to worship. Does what I wear matter to you?
I feel free about how I worship at Parkminster. Free to weep when moved by the praise or by the Lord's Supper, free to shout, free to clap my hands and free to close my eyes in reverent silence. Given my druthers, I'd wear jeans and a solid color shirt. That's what I wore at a mid-week service for years, and I honestly felt most reverent in that attire. Reverent, yet free to be exhuberantly swept up in praise or silent contemplation. But don't mistake my preference for jeans for caring about being cool -- not when it comes to worship.
|Posted on November 6, 2012 at 10:05 AM|
In the sermon last Sunday a said something I've never said publicly before: that America is in a decline that is leading to a major disruption. For many of you this is not a prophetic statement; you've suspected it for years. But such "going to hell in a handbasket" thinking is something I've hesitated to promulgate because so often it comes from fear: namely, fear of social change. But now I've gone public. In this blog I'll recap why.
In the sermon I refer to Jesus' teaching in Luke 21 (found also in Matthew 24 and Mark 13) about the coming crisis of his era. He was referring to the destruction of the Jewish nation, which occurred as a result of three revolts against Rome between 70 - 135 AD. In this passage Jesus also teaches about his eventual return and the end of the world. When we discuss "the coming crisis", therefore, we must distinguish between the end of the world and the end of the era. Both are catastrophic, world-changing events. But I'm not talking about the end of the world; the coming crisis to which I refer signals the end of the era in which life as we know it will change.
I don't have prophetic insight into what form this upheaval will take. What I do have is insight to see that the upheaval is only the end result of the crisis we are now in. De-sensitized people see upheaval as a sudden event that comes almost out-of-the-blue. That is because de-sensitized people are acclimated to the wickedness of their culture; they are, in Jesus words, "weighed down by dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life" (Luke 21:34). Discerning people, on the other hand, see the upheaval as the foul fruit of decisions made generations earlier. For example, war-weary Europe tried to pacify Hitler because it could not face another world war. But Churchill saw the German threat for what it was and cried out against it. Likewise Jesus, forty years before the catastrophe of 70 AD, saw the seeds of that crisis present in his own day. The metaphor of the boiled frog applies here. It goes thus: a frog plopped into boiling water will immediately jump out; but a frog plopped in tepid water that is very slowly heated will not perceive the danger it is in and will stay in the ever-hotter water until it dies.
The fallen world lurches from one crisis to the next. That's "normal" for the world. But social catastrophe can be avioded if people come to their senses, repent, and live the way God intended. Of course, all of American society will not repent. But Jesus taught that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump". Christians, convicted of truth, can sway a society back toward sanity. It's been said that the spiritual revival sparked by John Wesley and others in England during the industrial revolution there prevented civil war. Of course, secular commentators wouldn't see it that way. But Christian movements can and do prevent social catastrophes.
I see symptoms of the coming crisis in four ways: unsustainable ecology; undemocratic gap between the rich and poor; sexual nihilism; and family breakdown. There is much to be said about each -- in a future blog.
|Posted on September 20, 2012 at 7:50 PM|
All around the Islamic world violence is breaking out because of a hack video which casts Mohammed in a bad light. At first our President and Secretary of State condemned the violence, but now they are switching their rhetoric to "condemn all hate speech" contained in the video. The REAL issue is that Moslems are rioting and killing -- not "hate speech" perpetrated by nobodies. Why have we become so accommodating to the insane violence of radical Moslems?
The other relgious newsliner this week concerns an archeological discovery about Jesus so-called "wife". A scrap of papyrus written 350 years after Jesus' death contains an oblique and dubious reference to Jesus' "wife". Newspapers have been airing it on front pages for days. Most reports stress that this papyrus scrap does not constitue credible evidence, I'm glad to say. But the thought does occur to me how differently Christians and Moslems respond to challenges to their faiths.
Moslems and rioting and killing. Christians are not.
Moslems have been rioting and killing Christians all over the world for a decade. THAT is a real issue. Concern over this anti-Islamic video is NOT a real issue. It's outrageous to care even slightly about "hate speech" concerning Mohammed when Mohammed's followers are busy butchering not Christians' beliefs but Christians' bodies.
|Posted on July 30, 2012 at 10:50 AM|
In July our elders approved a short-term employment ministry called New Life Toys. The idea for this lept off the pages of a book that the leaders of our Haiti and Bread of Life missions studies in January. The book is When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor or Yourselves by missionaries Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It combines "liberal" concern for the poor with "conservative" grounding in personal responsibility and creates a deeply biblical approach to alleviating poverty. Starting a BAM (business as ministry) is one thing the book suggests churches do.
I have a long history with this neighborhood just north of the Kodak tower. In 1993 my wife Nancy and I moved in to start an inner-city ministry. The next summer we started a painting company called Holy Rollers Painting Company (we won so much business based on that name!). We employed 7 people on welfare, 6 of whom subsequently left public assistance. In 1996 we started a church there called Peoples Ministry in Christ. Some of Parkminster have delivered food baskets or worked in other minstries there. This neighborhood, called "Edgerton", is part of my heart. I've always hoped a few of our members would want to minister with the people there, and I am encouraged by our church's response.
If you are interested in helping with New Life Toys, we need mentors to encourage the workers as well as drivers to help transport the used toys. We also need donations of used toys. But we must not do the work for the workers; such charity may make us feel good, but it often disempowers the workers and injurs the mutuality of the friendships we hope to establish. I've often been delighted to learn how much I need the frienship of people in this neighborhood; earlier this year, for example, a homeless man at People's Ministry prayed for me in a way that brought me great healing. We truly need each other, and our friendships with the people in 14613 is a sign of God's Kingdom on earth. So let's not go into "charity-mode".
Contact the church office if you are interested in helping, and as always... please pray. Pray that the Lord will draw together a strong partnership between Parkminster, Peoples Ministry, and the employees.
|Posted on July 27, 2012 at 8:30 AM|
Another battle in America's culture war erupted last week when owner of fast-food chain Chik-fil-A Dan Cathy announced he opposed same-sex marriage. Pro-gay supporters quickly announced a "kissing protest" in Chik-fil-A restaurants, and the mayors of Boston and Chicago promised to ban Chik-fil-A from their cities. Speaking for all of Chicago, mayer Rahm Emanuel stated that the anti-gay view doesn't mesh with Chicago's values. Soon Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee organized a counter-protest by asking Americans to have lunch at Chik-fil-A on August 1. It is an angry fight in which both sides feel instictive revulsion toward the other's position.
I feel myself being drawn into the anger of this debate. You'd think someone like me, who once served in a gay church, could be able to avoid polarization, since I formally held the permissive view on this issue. But I find myself having to control my outrage that a moral belief based on 30 centuries of Judeo-Christian tradition is now unquestionably wrong -- at least in many Americans' minds. What's happening to us?
I see a similar dynamic in the first half of the 1800's over the issue of slavery. In the southern mind, slavery was an assumed part of life based on an amazingly blind belief in the superiority of the caucasian race and culture. The northern mind found this detestable. Both found the cause worth killing for. (That, and the cause of preserving the union and/or states rights). The issue was only decided by all-out war.
I am not of the opinion that "we should all just get along" and "live and let live". That approach surrenders moral reasoning and concludes ultimately in nihilism and moral chaos. I think the debate about sexuality (of which the debate over homosexuality is only a part) is an important discussion concerning the nature of love and the public good. It comes at a time -- not coincidentally -- when American culture has mostly forsaken its ethical grounding in biblical faith. No matter how nominal that grounding at times was, biblical faith did serve to help us transcend our subjective feelings and opinions. But with that loose ethical grounding gone, the beliefs that hold our society together have foundered. We are in trouble. The chaos is not coming, it is here.
I intend to remain a calm but clear voice of biblical faith. I accept that this means challenging both liberal opinions (as in this case of homosexuality) and conservative opinions (as in the case of environmental concerns). But above all, it means challenging opinions based on no ethical grounding at all.
|Posted on March 21, 2012 at 4:30 PM|
This week two court decisions, one in this country and one in the UK, legalized punitive action against Christians who believe that homosexual practice is a sin.
First, in the this country, the Supreme Court ruled that officially recognized Christian campus groups cannot discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation. Groups like InterVarsity are now required to allow practicing homosexuals to be admitted as members and stand for election as leaders even if this violates the group's beliefs. The hypocrisy of this thinking is clear when one considers that secular groups like Young Republicans may require that its members not be Democrats. Yet the Supreme Court is now dictating who may be members in Christian groups. Campus ministries must now become "unofficial" and forego priviliges like publicity and meeting space if they want to maintain a moral belief that has been part of Judeo-Christian practice for 30 centuries.
Second, punitive action against a woman in the UK who spoke against homosexuality on her Facebook page has been upheld the the British court system. I quote Christianity Today:
"Disciplinary action was taken against Adrian Smith, a housing manager at Trafford Housing Trust (THT), last year over an exchange on Facebook relating to gay marriage. In February last year, Mr Smith posted a link to a BBC news story entitled “Gay church marriages get go ahead”, and added his own comment, “an equality too far”. One colleague responded by asking him if his comment meant that he did not approve of gay marriages, to which Mr Smith replied: “I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience." The colleague brought the comments to the attention of THT, which decided to discipline Mr Smith despite the comments being made on his personal Facebook page, outside of working hours. He was subsequently demoted from his position as housing manager and his salary was reduced by 40 per cent. His appeal against the decision was unsuccessful."
Christians, your rights to profess bibical standards regarding homosexuality -- no matter how reasonably and compassionately you may do so -- are now being restricted by your governments.
|Posted on March 9, 2012 at 9:00 AM|
An increasing number of you are barging into my office or e-mailing me with words similar to this: "God answered my prayer! I'm so excited!" This is a great delight to hear. I knew he would! Our Father delights in delighting us.
Our current sermon series is Whatever You Ask, and the title is taken from Jesus teaching in John 16:23: My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. It's a stop-you-short truth. The best way to learn is to try it. He delights in giving what we ask, indeed he will give even more than we ask. There's a glass ceiling on our joy, and he wants to take us way past it.
Yes, there are conditions on this teaching. Don't groan; God is not a used car salesman. The problem is not our Father's capacity to give, it's our capacity to receive. We are simply limited in our abiity to take in the higher delights. God's answers, which sometimes seem like non-answers, grow us to receive more. Many children don't like lobster because they're stuck on sweets. The conditions on receiving help us move past the good to receive the best.
(To understand how to pray effectively, listen to the recent sermons on this website. They're quite useful, if I do say so myself).
The carnal person prays only for his will to be done because he doesn't trust God's will. To her or him, God is a cosmic kill-joy who only wants to press you into mass-produced plastic mold called "church lady" or "Jesus Geek". There's no way to learn that this isn't true except by experiencing the grace of asked-for and answered prayer.
I just have to say how much I love my heavenly Father for his delight in delighting us. This is maturity; to delight less and less in the gifts and more and more in the Giver.
|Posted on February 6, 2012 at 1:35 PM|
It's odd that the main place I hear and see vulgarity is when I work out at the YMCA, a "Christian" organization. When I'm there I get to stay culturally relevant by hearing songs like "Last Friday Night" in which a girl has a menage a trois or "I Kissed A Girl" about another girl experimenting with homosexuality. I feel physically revolted and stunned by that vulgarity because I know so many kids are thinking "Wow, that's cool. Think I'll try it." I also know the people who make that music are laughing all the way to the bank (and sadly, all the way to hell -- for causing "these little ones to sin", see Matthew 18:6). I've complained about it at the Y, and though they change the station for me, somehow it winds up back on in an hour and gosh-we're-sorry-but-we-just-can't-figure-out-how-to-filter-that-stuff-out. Guess the stereo is missing the off button. Or perhaps the management is missing a moral conscience.
But parents and fellow Christians, sometimes it helps to complain.
My 4th-grade son told me they played a "bad song" in class last week. It was I'm Sexy And I Know It. I saw red. Promoting "sexiness" in children just plain wrong; sexualizing children is something we must NEVER get used to. So I complained. And the teacher called me back and was fantastic. He explained the mishap, took full responsibility, apologized clearly, and says he'll take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. I was so encouraged I bought him a gift card.
What if I'd said nothing? And conversely, what if we Christians forgot our fear of being called prudes and complained?
|Posted on January 24, 2012 at 3:40 PM|
Last Sunday we ordained new elders and deacons, each of whom have discerned the Lord's call on their lives. The writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn commented once on his experience of his calling in life. Solzhenitsyn was a one-man resistence movement to communism in the former Soviet Union. Listen: "I felt as though I was born to fill a space in the world that was meant for me and had long awaited me. A mold, as it were, made for me alone, but discerned by me only this very moment. I've done many things in my life that conflicted with the great aims I set for myself, and something has always set me on the true path again. Many lives have a mystical sense about them, but not everyone reads it aright. More often than not it is given to us in cryptic form."
In other words, even the great among us must struggle to discern and act upon their calling. I am not so impressed by those who have the "thunderbolt from the sky"-type calling; I am impressed by those who begin with a small and often underconfident act of obedience... and just keep saying yes to God.
|Posted on January 10, 2012 at 2:25 PM|
With nineteen new members and a full slate of officers for the first time in four years, I think we can feel encouraged. And the real excitement is in the specifics: the conversions; the moments of bold ministry; the small groups where Christ was palpably present. These are the thrilling times we see what Jesus meant when he said the Kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:21). For more specifics, see the session report on our 2011 goals.
I’ve started saying to you “no church does more with less”. You accomplish a lot for your size. But I think you can grow beyond being “small and scrappy” to being truly influential in our community.
Are we winning people to Christ in real numbers yet? Are we making the difference with the poor we ought to be? Are we discipling converts and developing their giftedness for impact in our local culture? I’d say not yet. We’ve re-discovered that we can take risks and succeed, and we’ve re-discovered that Christ can change lives through us; but our next phase seems to be moving beyond re-discovery into visible growth. We should be able to walk in to service on Sunday and say, “Hey, we really are growing!”
For this to happen, we first must resolve the issue of affiliating with the PCUSA. I hope that won’t distract us long. We also need to get out of austerity-budget mode. Most of all, we need to beef up what’s already succeeding: small group bible study, mentoring, children and youth ministry, big event outreach, and hands-on mission.
I don’t see us doing new things this year so much as improving upon the innovations of the last two years. We’re now beginning the third year of our three-year plan, and we will need the same boldness that characterized the first two years of the plan. Friends, do not flag in your zeal.