Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Whose life gets changed?

One out of three kids will go on a cross-cultural mission trip before they graduate from High School -- and this year alone, roughly 1.6 million American youth and adults will go on some kind of short-term "mission trip," either at home or abroad.

Good news?

Maybe -- as critics (even within the church) like to point out, there's precious little evidence of long-term benefits for those who go (and even less for those on the receiving end of these trips).

Not pleasant news, I know. So take a deep breath, and click on the title of this post for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Big Brother can preach at your church every Sabbath!

It's called "godcasting" -- and if past trends are any guide, it's going to start hitting the Adventist church big-time in two to four years.

Here's how it works:
  1. Find a pastor who knows how to preach.
  2. Record his or her sermons.
  3. Get a team who knows what they're doing to edit and add special effects.
  4. Show it on Sabbath morning.
  5. Use a local team of lay people to provide worship music during the service (and personal follow-up afterwards).

The advantages: church people get a good sermon every week (and the Conference saves on pastoral salaries).

The disadvantages: if you're over 50-years-old, you probably won't like it . . . and yes, it does open the possibility of good preachers gaining a cult-like following.

Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Just another reason why Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" is not in the church hymnal.

Rock-and-roll will never die.

Pity.

It’s not that I don’t like the stuff. I came of age in the ‘70s, after all – and I definitely have the LPs to prove it! And I still embarrass my children by singing along with Beatles anytime they show up on the radio.

In short, been there.

Done that.

And bought the t-shirt.

But lately, it’s all beginning to feel just a little . . . stale? A little old? A little too predictable, with all those “Classic Rock” radio stations continually grinding out the same “Top 40” hits that I’ve been listening to now for the past forty years.

And I know that change comes hard. I know that people’s taste in music is pretty much “fixed” by the time they hit the age of nineteen. And I know that I absolutely, positively, cannot even begin to understand why people listen to 98% of the stuff that gets played these days.

What’s more, I realize that churches have the same problem . . . and not just with music! No, the unstated agenda of many church members (including myself!) is to try and recreate the church of their youth – or rather, the church they remember from their youth.

As one famous prayer put it, “Lord – give us back the 1950s, and we promise to get it right this time.”

But as somebody else has pointed out, “God loves us just the way we are – but He loves us too much to leave us just the way we are.”

No, you read the Book of Acts, and it’s clear that the Spirit is no friend of the status quo. Instead, He keeps nudging us along. Giving us the occasional shove. Chivvying us out of our nice, comfortable ruts so that we keep moving in the direction God wants us to go.

And I hate it when He does this – in fact, I hate it anytime the Spirit tries to change my settled ways.

But there has to be more to life than the same old “Golden Oldies.”

That’s true of music.

And that’s true of the church as well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let it shine

Click on the title for an article in the New York Times about a Christian youth group that meets in an elite New York public school.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

So that's why they call them "cell groups"!!!

So you're a Chinese Christian stuck working in some out-of-the-way town where nobody speaks your language . . . but you have a cell-phone with free weekend-minutes? Welcome to the Church of Grace -- a Chinese-language Christian church that holds services by conference call. Click on the title for the article in the New York Times -- and let me know if anyone out there would like to start something similar.

Does this mean "Kumbayah" is making a comeback too?

Interesting article in the Washington Post about the political rebirth of the religious left. The big question: sure, mainline Christians who care about the environment, poverty, and the poor are better organized than they have been in years -- but do they have the numbers to make a difference?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Results-based Christianity

When it comes to retirement plans, I have every reason to like the one I have now.

Every reason except one.

  • It was picked out for me by financial experts at the place where I work -- financial experts who have nothing but my best interests at heart.
  • It is run by one of the oldest, largest, and most respected companies in the business.
  • And the books and articles I've read all agree that my investment portfolio is balanced and diversified, just as it ought to be.

In short, my retirement plan has everything going for it . . .

Everything except this: it's not making that much in the way of money.

Okay, that's a little bit of an exaggeration (but not much) -- my retirement plan's actually done pretty good this quarter (though there have been months I would have been better off putting my money in a mason jar and burying it in the back yard).

Still, you see my point: no matter what else it may have going for it, a retirement plan is no good unless it delivers the goods.

Likewise, the spiritual life you're living just now -- the church you attend, the devotions you practice, the prayers you make ever day -- it may have a lot going for it: good intentions, the respect of your community, and even a theology that is balanced and correct . . .

But it still needs to deliver the goods -- goods such as love, joy, patience, peace, and self-control.

You know, "the fruits of the spirit."

For just like my retirement plan, every life is an experiment -- an attempt to find the best way of getting the results desired. And every lifestyle stands or falls on its ability to deliver those results.

So take some time this week to review the "spiritual investments" you've made. See what kind of results you're getting. Find out how the experiment's been going so far.

If you're happy with the way things have been turning out, then well and good.

And if you're not . . . well, I know that change comes hard. But it's something you may want to consider.

With interest.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Perhaps the House of Representatives needs to read Matthew 6:5-8?

Every now and then, I get asked to have prayer at a public meeting -- a city council meeting, Kiwanis, whatever. And whenever I do, I always ask myself just how "Christian" this prayer should be. Many of the people taking part, after all, are not church members -- and some are most definitely and defiantly not Christians!

So . . . do I pray "in Jesus name" or not?

It turns out that military chaplains struggle with the same issue -- and for a quick look at the issue, click on the title for a link to the relevant article in the Washington Post.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

And for her birthday, she got a miter-box

This Mother’s Day, my wife is getting a table saw with a carbide blade.

It’s the perfect gift – really.

You see, my wife has spent the last three months remodeling our kitchen. She’s refinished the cabinets. Painted the walls. Picked out new countertops. And installed so many new lights that I’m sure our kitchen is now visible from the moon.

The only thing left for her now is to put in the laminate flooring – and for that, she needs a table saw.

Hence, the gift.

And if that doesn’t seem very romantic, then all I can say in my defense is that I’m doing the exact same thing as the Holy Spirit.

Check any list of the Spirit’s gifts, after all, and you’ll find He does most of His shopping at a hardware store. There are no non-essentials on this list. No luxuries. No knick-knacks, gee-gaws, or frou-frou of any kind.

Not even chocolate and a dozen roses.

No, what the Holy Spirit gives us are tools – tools to build up the church.

And yes, the Spirit provides us with all kinds of tools. Go back and compare all those lists of spiritual gifts that we find in Paul’s writings, as a matter of fact, and you’ll find that the Spirit has an even better selection than Home Depot!

And yes, the Spirit has all kinds of ways to provide us with these tools – “natural” talents, learned skills, sudden and miraculous gifts.

And yes, we should never reject any tool the Spirit gives us. To be sure, I might not see the need for an arc welder (or the gift of tongues) . . . but if the Spirit drops it off, then He must know that we’ll need it some day.

In short, the Spirit doesn’t always give us something we’ll enjoy.

But He always gives us everything we need to do the job.

And if you’re like my wife, then there’s nothing you’d rather have.

Even if it’s a table saw for Mother’s Day.

PS In teaching this week’s lesson, be careful not to get bogged down in a discussion of “tongues,” and just exactly what they may have been (or should be today). To be sure, it’s clear that “the gift of tongues” in the Book of Acts is the miraculous ability to speak a foreign language . . . but it’s not so clear what this gift might be in I Corinthians 14.

  • Some say it was the miraculous or natural ability to speak a foreign language.
  • Others say it was some kind of ecstatic “babbling” – and certainly verses 15-16 lend themselves to this interpretation.
    But in either case, the point is the same: spiritual gifts are tools that should be used to build up the church. Any other use of them is demonic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gnostic gnews

Click on the title for a ton of links that will help you deal with questions about the Gospel of Judas.

The real question: why is Tom Hanks wearing a mullet?

Click on the title for lots and lots of links to stuff that will help you deal with The DaVinci Code.

Attack of the phantom church members

The good news? Roughly 40-percent of all Americans will tell you they were in church last week.

The bad news? Somewhere between one-fourth and one-half of the people who said this were lying (or mistaken).

Click on the title for a link to the article in Christianity Today.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

With Jesus in the family . . .

Nothing brings people back to church like having children -- but what happens when the parents still don't believe, even though they'd like their children to have all the benefits that come with going to church (or synagogue)? Click on the title for an interesting article on this topic in The Washington Post. (And while I'm at it -- have any of you run into a similar experience in your church? What was it like, how did you handle it, and what was the result?)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wait until they hear my eight-part sermon series on the Book of Habakkuk

68-percent of the people who attend church say that music is their favorite part of the service. Click on the title of this post for the latest poll results, as well as quick updates on Moslem attitudes towards women, the Catholic church and condoms, and religion in public schools.

And yes, "dealer prep" is included

You’ve picked out the car you want. You’ve settled on a price. And now the dealer asks if you’d like to add on a few “extras.”

“Like what?” you ask.

Like an engine, maybe . . . or a windshield? Or perhaps you’d like four wheels on that new car you’ve just bought.

And if this conversation seems a little odd – if you thought these things come standard with every car – then you’ve just put your finger on the essential point of this week’s lesson: the Holy Spirit does not come “extra.” No, it is standard equipment in every believer’s life.

Take away the Holy Spirit, after all, and what’s left?
  • Not your own conscience – He’s the one who keeps pointing you towards Jesus.
  • Not your own ability – He’s the one who keeps nudging you along.
  • And certainly not your own will power – if you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, then you know how far that will get you!

No, if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit, then we wouldn’t have a prayer – literally. For “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).

Now it’s true that John Wesley talked about a “second blessing” – a special gift of the Holy Spirit that could free the believer from every known sin.

And it’s true that “holiness” preachers such as Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer went on to emphasize our need for this gift – a gift they called “Christian perfection” or “entire sanctification.”

And there’s no question that Ellen White shared this emphasis . . . though unlike some of her peers, she never claimed to have received this particular “blessing” – and she was very skeptical of those who did!

But whatever else this “second blessing” may be, it doesn’t mean that some believers “get” the Holy Spirit while others do not. It doesn’t mean that some believers are “saints” while others are not. And it certainly doesn’t mean that some believers are really, truly saved . . . while the rest have to limp along with nothing but the love of Jesus.

No, the Holy Spirit is not like air-conditioning. It’s not like a CD player. It’s not an “extra” that will cost you more.

No, the Holy Spirit comes standard. And when it comes to the price . . . don’t worry. It’s covered.

Because Jesus paid it all.