Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Zuckerberg is Closer to Being Right than You Think

The growth of mainline churches in the 1950's and 60's was astounding.   With the growth of population--the so-called Baby Boomers--and the explosion of suburbs, mainline churches adopted a formula.  The formula was simple, find an area where a new suburb development was planned, buy up some property, knock on the neighbors' doors, and, voila, a new congregation is born.  

Churches became centers for neighborhood activity.   Women gathered at the church for activities and their children would play on the playground.   Men would gather together, build a softball team and compete against other congregation teams.  Neighbors became friends.   There were common goals: sanctuaries to be built, Vacation Bible Schools to be planned, food banks to be developed.   The church provided a sense of community, a sense of belonging.  The model thrived for a few decades.

Recently, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he envisions his social media platform will, like churches have in the past, build a sense of community among its users that will bring identity and the urge to serve.   Reactions were mixed, but the fact is, Zuckerberg is right in many respects.  

In the face of decline, mainline churches have doubled down on the sense of community that belonging to a congregation can bring.   The UMC's slogan "Open hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors", the ELCA's "God's Work, Our Hands", TEC's "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"are all grounded in the notion of being welcomed into a community.  

So why isn't it working?

I suspect it isn't working for a couple of reasons.  First of all, community isn't really that hard to build.  If you have ever talked to the parents of a child involved in swimming, you know this.    Swimming meets are often far apart geographically.    Parents drive caravan-style to the meet.   They stay in hotel rooms next to one another.  They cheer for one another's children.   They wait and chat for their child's heat to come.   They have created a community.   I have heard Furries--young adults who (for some reasons not known to me) dress up like woodland creatures and meet at hotel conference rooms--describe that part of their joy of being a Furry is the sense of "community".   Community is not that hard to build and there are many, many opportunities find one.

The second reason may be that building community is not the calling of the church.  The calling of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So while the church can offer praise, provide charity, and build community, these actions are always secondary to the proclamation of the Gospel.   Even when Jesus prays for unity among his disciples in the Gospel of John, it occurs as concern after the call to proclaim (17:20).  

If the church wants to thrive, it needs to distance itself prioritizing the notion of building communities.  Mark Zuckerberg will figure out a way to build community more effectively than we ever have.  Let us instead put our focus on proclaiming the gospel.  I guarantee--community will come.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thom Rainer is an author and church consultant.   He also has a blog and his stuff gets frequently circulated among pastors.   His last piece set me off a bit.  Titled "Ten Common Sentiments Pastors Wish They Could Express", this piece reads like a whine-fest.

Here are the sentiments with my own commentary:

1.  “I am struggling with depression.”

I don't wish to share my emotional health issues with you.    I might to let you know that you are not alone in your suffering, but I have a doctor that I talk about these things with. 

2.  “Don’t criticize me right before or after I preach.”

This says a lot more about you than me.  But really, pastors should be made of sterner stuff.   This job can be very challenging at times.   But I think about Paul telling them all he endured for the gospel--5 times he got the lash.   Three times the rod. (2 Cor 11).    A pastor with a delicate ego is in for a short miserable ministry.

3.  “I worry about my family in the church fishbowl.”

Pretty legit, but I also know that it is absurd to think anyone will protect them from this but me.   That's my job as a parent and husband.   And I'll do it well when I need to. If you think I won't, try me.  

4.  “I wish the ‘healthy’ church members in our church would stand up to the bullies and critics.”

Shockingly, churches are filled with people.   You know, the sinful kind.   If your joy in serving is going to be limited to only the times when people do as they ought, ordained ministry is probably not going to be your bag.  

5. “Pray for me; I need it.”

This one is true.   If you aren't praying for your pastor, you are doing the whole Christian-thing wrong. 

6. "I don’t know if we can pay our personal bills.”

Yes, I know some pastors are underpaid.   Thankfully, I'm not one.   And most pastors I know aren't.   But as many pastors as I know that ARE underpaid, I know just as many that are lousy financial planners and would be the sort who have trouble paying personal bills regardless of pay.

7.  “I am so tired of attending mundane meetings.”

Name a career that doesn't have this complaint.   Name one.   Moreover, when the discussion turns to "should we have decaf as well as regular coffee at the bible study" that is a perfect time for a pastor to excuse himself or herself saying, "ok, I think you all can take it from here".   Because they can, you know.  Give them a chance. 

8.  “Don’t ask me to do something right before I preach.”

You can.   I'm just going to forget it.   That's on you, because I've told you.

9;  “I can’t keep up with all the changes in culture and churches.”

No you can't.  No one can.  So don't. Problem solved. 

10.  “It hurts me deeply when we lose a church member.”

Yeah.   I take it personally.   But then I remember its not all about me.  

I asked a seminarian why he was becoming a pastor.   He said people always told him he would make a good pastor because he was "nice".   I don't know where this guy is now, but I doubt he made it in the pastorate very long.    This calling can be tough.   Like any calling, it has it down sides.   You have to have a strong enough ego that you don't crumple under the lightest of criticism.   You have to be humble enough to know that you do things now and again worthy of criticism.    You have to forgive a lot of people that aren't asking for forgiveness.   You have to ask people to forgive you.  

I love being a pastor.   But it's not for wimps.   

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On praying for your enemies

Suspected Charleston gunman Dylann Roof

If anyone is delighting in this day, it is surely the Devil.   The tragedy of 9 black victims cold bloodily gunned down by a young white man is the sort of madness that only the Evil One can come up.   And he will delight even more in the coming weeks and months ahead as this nation will continue to polarize itself further regarding issues of race relations, gun control, mental health, and death penalties.   We jump up and dance every time the Devil plays this tune.   And because he hates us and wants us to be miserable, he delights in all his handiwork. 

And when these events occur, there is always a small but vocal minority rushing to remind us that our Lord Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies.   It is a thin grating noise of a kind of grace that does not sit well with us in our anger.  And, for many of us—and I include myself—become even a little bit more angry when we hear it.  And those calls should irritate us. At their best, they are the call to slothful selves take the hard difficult challenge of our Lord seriously, to keep us from a burning anger that would lead us into more sin.  However, at worst, it is a call appealing the cheapest of graces.

Imagine a world without sin, a world without the Devil at work, such mayhem would never happen.  It would be a world of peace.   Yet we know it is not a world of peace, and so when peace is broken, the next call is the call for justice.   And our justice will be tainted by our sin, we know that.  But our justice, while broken and stained, still remains of divine origin.   In His providence, God has given the state the authority to dispense His will against those who would break His Law “Thou shalt not kill”.

What would perfect justice look like in this scenario?  A speedy guilty verdict and trip to the execution chamber?  I can see the appeal to that, but what if something better could come?  What about due process?   What about a man who comes to realize the horrible nature of his crime?  A man who is confronted by God’s Law and hears the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus?  A man who willingly accepts whatever punishment the state gives to him as a sign of his effort to reconcile?  A man who rejects the hate that now possesses him and can only throw himself to the mercy of God and repents to those whom he has so grievously hurt?  

To pray for your enemy can mean to pray for God’s Law as well as His Gospel to be at work in the world. 

Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord.
                                                            -Psalm 1

Saturday, April 18, 2015

But... but... but... Batman is COOLER

It usually takes a Facebook post from someone else to get me to wander over to the Sojourners website.   Usually when I do follow a link to the Christian Left website, I tend to get a little irked.  But when a friend lifted up an article about Superman vs Batman being every Christian's battle how could I NOT click on that?

The article's author Rick Barry uses the upcoming (still a year away) release of a surefire blockbuster Batman vs Superman: The Dawn of Justice to take a look at the motivations behind each of the classic crime fighters.

The article is great, I'd encourage you to follow the link to read it for yourself, but this passage provides a good summary.

"...Superman can't help but position himself alongside society’s powerless. Crime will always find him because he loves its victims... Batman, on the other hand, does not act in response to people he loves. He acts in response to people he hates."

Is this true?   Is this what Christians struggle with?   Let's take a look at a current example and take a test--the terrorists ISIS and their Christian (as well as other) victims. Think about that and answer this question.  

After thinking about the situation over in the Middle East and the desperate need for justice, what is the feeling of your heart?
A.  More hatred for ISIS than love for its victims
B.  More love for its victims than hate for ISIS

Maybe you answered B.   But I have to be honest, I feel a lot more A.

Barry brings up the 2 Timothy passage about fighting the good fight and asks Sojourners readers if they are only fighting the fight to give themselves some sort of value.  (probably a valid critique as most Social Justice Warrior Christians are Myers Briggs NFs--identity seeking).   Yet, I wonder if the motivations for any of us are not love based in faith, can it be "the good fight" at all?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Some bad news about the Good News

Another cyber stoning occurred this week.

I am talking about THIS story where a successful business woman, Cheryl Rios, posted something on her Facebook that people found offensive, and the Twitterverse exploded, and local news team was sent out to talk the woman and before you know it, it is literally a national news story.  What could have prompted this?  What could a person possibly post on her Facebook page that has the news teams rolling up into her yard less than 24 hours later?

She wrote that "a female shouldn't be president".

Now I am not about to defend Ms Rios's wrong-headed position even though (specifically because?) she later explained her opinion was, in part, because she was a Christian and this was "biblical reasoning".  

PHOTO: Cheryl Rios, the president of Go Ape Marketing, appears in an undated profile photo from the companys Twitter account, @JustGoApe.
Marketing Firm owner YES,
Bible Scholar NO

I know a bit about the Bible and how one comes to the conclusion that the Bible says that a female cannot be president of the United States of America leaves me a bit baffled.  Now there are particular women I would NOT vote for, but the particular woman I have in mind wouldn't get my vote for LOTS of reasons--none of them are because she is a woman.  I don't think I have to name names, do I?

"Not without a subpoena, you don't"
But here's the thing.   Our current culture is one in which "saying something offensive" is becoming most heinous sin one could ever commit.   Read the comments section on a story like this and imagine that if each comment was a stone--well, Ms Rios would be a pile of bloody mush right now.  Because that's the way it goes today.   Someone says something offensive, the social media explodes, followed by the traditional media, followed by more social media sharing the traditional media stories, and before you know it, everyone is outraged!

"You called me 'baby'!?  That's offensive!"
This outrage toward all things offensive is a problem for Christians--always has been.   Why?  Because the bad news about the Good News is that the Good News IS offensive.  Really?  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive?  Yep.   Think about it, if it weren't, we wouldn't have all these art images like this.

This didn't happen because St. Sebastian
in favor of Voter ID laws.

No, the Good News offends because it says everyone is guilty under the Law.  The Good News offends because it tells us there is nothing we can do get ourselves out of the jam we are in. The Good News offends because--while it is inclusive in that salvation is made for all--it is exclusive in the sense that it is the only means of salvation.  Those truths are hard to accept for a world that pats itself on the back, strives for self-sufficiency, and likes to choose from a bunch of options.

Now the offense of the Gospel does not give the Christian license to be offensive--Saint Paul addresses this specifically to the Galatians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, so it was obviously an issue early on. And one we need to consider seriously as we move about this world.  

"I don't always proclaim the Good News.
But when I do, I do it in a way that humiliates people."
But it also means there can be a price for being a disciple of Jesus.  If the culture of this world pummels a woman for a dumb opinion posted on Facebook, imagine what happens when it hears the Gospel proclaimed. 

Monday, March 2, 2015


Sunday, I mentioned this article from The Christian Pundit.    It is worth reading and introduced me to a quote so awesome that I had it put up on our church sign!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


This past Sunday, when discussing the fruit of the Spirit, we discussed gentleness.   The point was made that when we try to model this fruit, we look to God to show us what that fruit ought look like.   So to have the fruit of gentleness, we need to look to God's own gentleness.  It brought up something taught to me by a pastor of mine in NJ, Rev. Richard Linderman.  He would (and I do now) say that faced with our sinful condition, God had 4 options--annihilation, abandonment, assuming control, or assistance.   I was reminded how this theme arose in the film "Flight".  Some time ago, I wrote a review of that movie and posted it to FB. Here is that review.

Given the heavy duty theological overtones of the movie Flight, I was shocked to find no reviewer discussing them.  So, I made my own review.

Given the sad state of our human condition after the fall, God basically had four options—1) annihilate us, 2) abandon us, 3) assume control over us, or 4) assist us.  Obviously, annihilation was a choice not exercised.  Robert Zemeckis’ Flight (DVD release—Feb. 5, 2012) examines sinner/saint pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) as he inadvertently takes a trip where he will discover which of those three remaining choices is the true God.

By initial appearances, Whip is more sinner than saint as he starts his morning after a hard night with a little beer, a little pot and good amount of cocaine—and that, just to get to his job as a pilot making a routine flight from Orlando to Atlanta.  But in a broken plane and foul weather, Whip becomes a hero by pulling off a landing that no other pilot would have dared, much less completed.  Robert Zemeckis who directed Cast Away (2000) with Tom Hanks has a talent for filming plane disasters, and Flight’s sequence will leave even an experienced flyer tightening his belt on his next 727 ride.

Whip’s flight, however, is just taking off as the investigation into the crash begins, and subsequently, the investigation of Whit’s world of addiction secrets.  Like the famous Magee poem, High Flight, Whip has slipped the surly bonds of drugs, alcohol, and the mundane world of commercial piloting into the sanctity of a new space where he will be—whether he desires it or not—close enough to touch the face of God.  But which God is it?  The uncaring God of abandonment who in apathy or caprice hands out cancer to people like Whip’s fellow cigarette smoker in the hospital stairwell?  Is it the divine puppeteer who controls everything “for a reason” as his co-pilot counsels?  Is there no God other than Whip himself as he jokes?

With a star power like Denzel Washington, the acting alone would probably make this movie worthwhile.  Washington definitely brings his best talent to the film and you flip among rooting for Whip, loathing him, and just shaking your head at him in disgust and pity.  But the supporting cast is strong as well.  This is particularly true of Don Cheadle as Whit’s lawyer who is giving a defense better than Whip deserves, and Kelly Reilly as Whip’s short term love interest whose point in the film seems only to demonstrate how quickly Whip can go from saint to sinner.  In fact, if the film has its weaker points, it is in its inability to bring its characters into the story and use them for anything but Whip’s benefit.  Or is Zemeckis simply treating these characters as Whip does?

Flight is a movie about alcohol and drug abuse, and there is enough going those things going on to give the film its R-rating.   And Zemeckis makes it inglorious enough to nauseate the viewer at times.  There is also nudity and foul language.  With rare exception, I would likely honor its rating.