Sunday, February 27, 2005

Christian Seeming

One of the great problems that Christians face in witnessing to their faith is other Christians. At least, the problem is other people who call themselves Christians. These others don't show any signs of being different than they were before their Christian commitment.

One might wonder how it is that people can make a commitment and yet not change. The answer is simple: The commit with the intention of baptizing the way they already live. By that I mean that they seek to dub their lives Christian without their actually conforming to Christ. Instead of having their lives be Christian because they conform to Christ, the seek to call their lives Christian because they have undergone an initiation into the church by making a verbal commitment that never reaches the heart. They just want the freedom to live as they always have without fearing Hell.

Author Harry Turtledove in his book "Between The Rivers" presents an encounter between a character, Sharur, and a goddess, Fasillar. Fasillar is angry with Sharur because, in her estimation, he does not really obey gods, but merely calls himself obedient all the while living to circumvent the gods' will. The encounter proceeds:

"[Sharur] said, 'Great goddess of this town, great goddess of this land, I will appease you and the other gods of this town, the other gods of this land, with any contrition-offering you ask of me, short of my life or the lives of my countrymen. I want no more from you than to trade my wares for the wares of this land and to return to my city, to return to my god, in peace.'"

"No, ' Fasillar said...' A contrition-offering depends upon true contrition. You, man of Gibil, you would make the offering and speak the words of contrition with your mouth, while your heart laughed within you. For the gods of this town, for the gods of this land, to accept such an offering would be for us to eat of poisoned fruit. Better it were never made.'"

"Sharur bit his lip. Fasillar had indeed seen what was in his mind: he would have made the offering as part of the price of doing business in the Alaskurru Mountains, not because he repented of being what he was."

God does not call people on their own hypocrisy like that. At least, He has not. Not yet. But He will. The day will come when He will say "Away from me, for I never knew you."

Friday, February 25, 2005

Secular but Spiritual

A brief list of some songs I know that are secular but nevertheless touch on spiritual matters:

Love's Divine - Seal
Heaven - Los Lonely Boys
Lord, Is it Mine? - Supertramp
The Heart of the Matter - Don Henley
The Big Wheel - Rush
Roll The Bones - Rush
One- U2
Mission - Rush

These are justa few that occur to me off the top of my head. Any one have any others they think should be on the list, leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Harder Than Growing Up

Growing up seems to be a lot harder for me to watch than it was for me to do. At least that's what I am thinking now.

I am watching my kids grow up. They are only 6 and 7 years old, but they have already changed a lot, and experienced a lot. A lot of it has been good, and I have had the privilege of watching them exult in their first baseball hit, successful skate, caught ball, ride of the bike without training wheels, and much more.

Other things though have been less pleasant. I have had to watch my kids struggle with the death of a pet. I have watched them cope with a new school, leaving friends, and grapple with loneliness and even bullies.

The thing is that their life is a lot easier than mine was. I was an only child, and mine was a very violent life. By the time I was 7 I was used to seeing my mom beat up by my dad, and the police were well known to me on weekends as they came to investigate what I now know are called "domestic disturbances." I was picked on and ostracized in school and would never have been permitted to stay in the school system by today's standards. I was in a fight most days.

I did not have an easy time growing up. I battled depression, and was having suicidal thoughts before I was even 10. But I would rather go through that again than watch my kids struggle with their own issues. I would spare them all the pain and accept all of their pain and more to do so.

Yes growing up is hard to do. But I am finding it harder to watch.

Monday, February 21, 2005

What A Weekend

First, I spent most of it on the road. I was at a conference. That was good; I got to hear about what God is doing in the neighbourhood I grew up in. Surprisingly (don't we tend to have negative views of the places we grew up in?) God is doing quite a lot. I met the man who is planting a church there. He is filled with the Spirity's fire and passion and zeal. What's more, a more humble and gentle spirit would be hard to find. A tremendous man of God, and I am grateful that the KLord has sent someone like that to revive my home.

Then Sunday came. I tell you that I could sense the Spirit doing something that morning. Nothing went wrong, or at least nothign went wrong that was not instantly fixed. God seemed to be preparing something. By the time Sunday School had started, I could senseGod's movement even more. Our youth class was double what itnormally is, the adult class was also bigger, and people just kept on coming.

When worship started you could sense the joy. It seemed that nothing could detract from the Lord's presence. Nothing did. Not even my preaching. We had our best attendnce of the year, and, for a regular service, one of our best attendances ever. There were many visitors, and we had a number of regulars away too. We followed with a meal that was wonderful; the only thing warmer than the food was the fellowship.

I'd liek to take some credit, but I can't. I can just say it was exciting and a privilege to be a part of.

I can't wait to get to next Sunday!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Metaphors Gone Too Far

Have you ever been in a group that hear a really neat metaphor that everyone, and I mean everyone, suddenly appropriated and used to death?

I had that experience yesterday. The metaphor was "being on the bus" and it was made to walk on all fours, so to speak. The metaphor was applied and misapplied in a variety of ways, expanded beyond all recognition.

Don't misunderstand me here. I like metaphors. I use them frequently. I just don't like seeing them abised. Metaphors are great teaching tools, but they have their limits, and to ignore those limits is an exercise in absurdity. It becomes more about communicating our own cleverness in manipulating a metaphor than about communicating ideas.

Sometimes we will use metaphors or images witotu considering their impact. An image that was used yesterday was that of "having teeth." The idea was of course of enforcability of a new measure, but teeth in the image carries the idea of punitive measures, and enforcement has to do with law. Those ideas are inconsistent with church. I think the idea that was really being sought was effective and encouraging.

Maybe I'll fire off an e-mail to point that out. I will explain it in appropriately metaphorical terms of course.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A Really Bad Day

This has been a really bad day, for two man reasons. I will discuss them briefly, and in no particular order.

1) The NHL Season Is Cancelled

I have been waiting for this for weeks now, but still I am saddened and frustrated by the cancellation of 2004-2005 season. I am saddened because hockey is very much a part of my life; I grew up with it and some of the best of my childhood memories revolve around it. I remember clearly going to Habs games at the Forum. I recall sitting on my Grandfather's bed as we watched Hockey Night in Canada. Losing the season feels a lot like losing a family heirloom.
I am frustrated because the cancellation comes on the heels of getting so close to a deal. The two sides had abandoned their respective philosophical solitudes and were a mere 6.5 million dollars US per team apart on a salary cap. It should have only been a matter of hours of dealing to get to a compromise number. I cannot accept or understand how those hours were not given by Gary Bettman.

2) The House of Commons Begins Debate Of Same-Sex Marriage

I cannot understand why the Martin Government will not accept the so-called "third option" of legislating civil unions that are functionally and legally equivalent to marriage. I don't see why a government should seek to redefine a basic social institution when there is no need to do so. Martin insists that it is about equality: "This would give same-sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal, but not quite as equal as the rest of Canadians,"

I don't get it. If same sex civil unions are given the same functions and rights, what does it matter? Martin has not established that there would be any real difference other than the term "marriage" Does he think that marriage is a right? I can't see that. Having your relationship recognized by the state may be a right, but there is no way to justify insisting on claiming the title "married" is a right.

I hope and pray that the Government will come around to see sense, or else be defeated.

At the moment though it seems that this debate is going to end up as negatively as the NHL labour talks.

It has not been a good day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Some Thoughts on Clarity

What does it mean to say that something is "stated clearly" in a text?

If I say: "I am hungry," is that clear? Or do I have to explain what all of those words refer to? Do I have to, at least, explain what I am hungry for? In what detail? Do I have to tell you that its food, or will you assume that? Do I have to tell you what specific food and in what amount?

See, some folks like to act as though there is no way to actually ascertain the meaning of my words. They act as though nothing is clear. For instance, if you said that I am hungry for food, then you are right. There was of course the chance that I might be hungering for a good movie or something, but the most likely answer was the right one. But folks who deny that something can be clear basically assume that nothing is a "most likely" meaning. Everything is equally possible (or impossible).

These folks really have nothing to stand on, and they are using a theory of knowledge that Is really self-refuting. See, in making the very attempt to tell us that nothing can be clear, they are assuming that their very words, their meaning, can be recognized in a clear fashion.

Its just one of those ideas which is fine for debating but doesn't actually work in the real world. One cannot simply assert and assume vagaries into language and communication without effectively denying the possibility of communication and the very purpose of language

On the other end of the spectrum are those people who hold that most things are clear, and in fact can only be understood one way. Their way, of course. It is ridiculous, but they set themselves up as being some kind of autocrat of understanding language.

Using my example above, it is like someone saying that I can ONLY be hungering of food. There is no other appropriate use of "hunger," therefore I am hungry for food. I can't be hungry for love, power, or anything else.

This of course is the opposite error of the person who denies clarity. Where the denier of clarity inserts vagaries that are not present in language and communication, the person who insists on only one meaning denies vagaries in language and communication that legitimately do exist.

Both of these are wrong. Both are used by people who seek to undermine faith in God by either denying that He can effectively communicate Himself in the Bible or limiting that communication.

Don't get fooled.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Power of Fear

As part of my my reent promoton from 1/4 time to 1/2 time status in the church, I requested, and was granted, a book allowance.

Now, I haven't had one for a few years, and for me, who loves to read, and read technical things that most people developed glazed looks on teir faces merely contemplating looking at, this is a wonderful turn of events.

I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store with $250 to spend. Except that an individual candy for em will likely cost about $35 instead of a nickel. That to say that the money can be spent pretty quickly.

Now, I have been holding back a lot. I know what I want to get, but I don't want to just rush and start spending. Also I am taking a biblical financial management course, whcih really makes me want to avoid just rushing out and spending too.

But you know I want to.

I do.

Just thought I'd get that off my chest before I go and make a purchase...

Thursday, February 10, 2005

God and Gary Bettman

Being such a hockey fan, I imagine a few have wondered why I have not to this point weighed in on the whole NHL labour situation.

The reason is simple. I am a pastor. It isn't like I can curse or anything. And, until recently, that's about all I have wanted to do in reference to the lockout.

But now Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, has issued a drop-dead date for negotiations. To the NHLPA he says either get a deal or get lost.

All I can say is it's about time.

Bettman, I suspect, does not expect a resolution.

But, and I must say this is probably going to make a lot of people grown, Bettman is oddly acting like God.

The lost try to negotiate with God all the time. They try to negotiate how good they have to be in order to get into Heaven. God of course won't change his standards, which is total, complete, utter perfection.

In our Collective Bargaining Agreement with God the terms are pretty clear. But we still try to negotiate individual side-deals.

God seems content to let us try to do that. I suspct He does not expect any resolution, at least none that does not end up looking exactly like the CBA that already exists between Himself and His creation.

Let us not forget that we too work witha drop-dead date. Actually, in a way we work with two. Either we will ourselves drop dead, or else Jesus will come back. But in either case, it is a matter of either get an agreement with God or get, or stay, lost.

People are oftn more willing to negotiate seriously knowing that the ultimate consequences are close at hand. That may hold true for the NHL and NHLPA. I hope it holds true for many lost souls in this world.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Harder But More Realistic

Theologically, I am a Conservative Evangelical. I am not, however, a fundamentalist.

I understand that for many there is really no difference between being a conservative Evangelical and a Fundamentaslist. I draw a distinction though simply because experience tells me that being a fundamentalist entails a certain mindset that is generally lacking in evangelicalism.

Fundamentalists tend towards legalism, and they like their faith spoon fed to them. They love arguments from authority. They really love things to be black and white. Situations are either right or wrong. Circumstances are viewd in simplistic terms. These things put togehter make reality easier to digest, but, in my opinion, reality is not better understood. In fact I think that thinking along fundamentalist lines invovles a basic disconnect from reality.

Reality does not exist in small easily digestible bits. It all hits you in the face. Arguments from authority, like "the Bible says," require more explanation than the simple statement in reality. Fundamentlaists don't normally do well in those circumstances because they don't really know, for the most part, how or where the Bible says a lot of things. They were just told by someone they trust and are parotting that line.

For my part, I don't want anyone saying "Pastor Brent says." I want people to be able to say what they believe and why, and I want them to know how the Bible supports what they believe.

Reality also isn't black or white. There are shades and hues and colours. The kinds of descriptions of reality that fail to take that into account are really abstractions of reality.

Fundamentalists may fnd it easy to live in a world like that, but it isn;t the world the rest of us live in.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Being Wise With the World

I guess this will conclude what has become an unintentionally tripartite thought reflection on accountability structures. That is, unless something else crops up to prompt more.

So what do we do for people who feel that the implementation of accountability structures like auditors and child protection policies compromises the trust relationships within a fellowship?

I think the first thing we have to do is admit that there is a valid point to be taken from that feeling. The whole concept of checks and balances in the secular world is one based on fear and mistrust, and the desire to protect oneself, to create hedges. That sort of thinking is, quite simply, anathema to a fellowship. Church fellowships are based on trust, mutual vulnerability, and love. We do well, I think, to admit that those differences exist, and we need to affirm those who sense them. We would be making a mistake to vilify these folks. They are, IMO, acting like an early warning system; they are telling us that we are incorporating a system whose foundational principles are contrary to the foundational principles of fellowship. We should listen to the those warnings.

That said, we need to also admit that there is nothing necessarily contradictory to fellowship to be found in accountability systems. As I said, in the secular world the foundational principles of such systems are incompatible with those of fellowship. Yet I think we can and should work to discern, not to say manufacture, principles that are compatible with fellowship to have such structures. We can have child protection policies for the sake of outreach; we make it easier to reach out to the children of the world by addressing the fears of the parents for one example. Having financial accountability structures makes it easier for us conduct business, like building projects, getting loans and mortgages, which will further the ministry of the church for another.

At the same time though I think we need to confess we have done a poor job as a Body of doing this. We have too easily given in to and accepted the paranoia and fear principles that the secular world puts forward for such policies and structures. That acceptance has led us to marginalise those who disagree with the structures.

So I think we need to reach out to those whom we would otherwise eye suspiciously for their lack of enthusiasm for such structures. We need to show the very love of, and for, fellowship, that these folks express by their opposition.

Now, that is not to say that there are not people who have something to hide, or that there are no people who simply kick because they have authority issues and don't like being restricted. But we need to deal with them pastorally as well. Those who have things to hide need to be helped to come into the open, and to be loved. Those with authority issues, really a spirit of rebellion, need to be helped to embrace mutual submission.

I believe it can be done, and if there is one weakness accountability policies and structures have, it is a lack of pastoral concern. That isn't''t inherent to them, but it is the way we implement them and use them. That needs to change.

Enough rambling. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Wise To Just Worldly?

Last time I was musing about the implications of imposing administrative checks and balances. I am picking off from there.

Some implications, the ones I mentioned yesterday, stem from inaction, and they are legal. The consequences are imposed by the world. The Word of God is pretty quiet when it comes to such things as administrative checks and balances, nevermind child safety policies and the like. The world however does things like sue you or refuse to grant insurance coverage or rescind charitable status. Mostly, these are undesirable, but in most cases survivable as well.

Theologically the implications are somewhat subtle. That is the case because theological implications are secondary concerns to most people, even most pastors. Most just don't think theologically. These implications revolve around loss of fellowship, a compromise of the relational integrity of the fellowship. This is where the trust issues come out. People get hurt, lose confidence in the church family, or feel trust has been lost, and they leave. These implications are also undesirable, and, arguably, less survivable.

Right away then I think we can conclude that if we are going to pay attention to consequences, then the ones we have to pay attention to are those that stem from theological implications. That tells us that if we are going to implement administrative checks and balances or child safety policies ten the reasons must be theologically based as well as informed by the world's requirements. It is one thing to follow legal requirements for sound theological reasons, regarding them as simply the cost of doing gospel business. It is another to let the world tell you to how and why to do business.

The discerning reader will have noted that I have yet to touch on what to do about people who feel the fellowship is compromised... Well, I guess I'll have to get to that next time. I do have some thoughts percolating though.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Worldly to Just Wise?

There are a number of things which over the last number of years churches have adopted which seem to spark a debate between how much we Christians let the world dictate our practices, and what the theological implications are for adopting them.

That may sound complicated, but really its not. I'll give some examples and you'll see what I mean. I hope.

One example is accounting practices and accountability. Here in Canada, the Government is being stricter about how churches are organized. For example, I know a church where, at one time, the Management Board set all the salaries. The salaried people in that church were the pastor, the organist, and the janitor. The Management Board had four members: The Pastor, the Treasurer, the Janitor, and the Organist. The Government thought this was improper and the church was threatened with losing its charitable status if something was not done to create a more arm's length relationship between the group setting salaries and those salaried.

Now that may seem like an obvious conflict of interest, but to the church it was not. These were all Christian brothers, loved, respected and trusted. The Government seemed, from their point of view, to be asking to mistrust these Christians just because they were salaried. There was a question about the theology that would be implied by creating structures in church that seemed to presuppose mistrust.

The Government, you see, has not read the gospels. If it did, it would find that the disciples were mostly family, and relatively close family. That would not fly in this day and age, and yet Jesus had no problem with it. What are Christians to make of this? How are Christians to respond to the government?

For my part, I am uncomfortable with the trust issue, yet I believe that Christians can easily think of good gospel reasons to implement such administrative checks and balances. Off the top of my head, I think the principles of mutual submission, and mutual accountability are most applicable.

Some of course might choose to harp on the trust issue, even when trust is not, from the church's point of view, the issue. What do we do about that?

I'll think about it and get back to you.