Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Ways to Think About History in a Church

The history of a church is packed with host of information that can be helpful to a church as it works to fulfill its mandate. Here, I want to suggest two models (among what is surely many) for viewing the history of a church: foundation and fence.

When history is a fence, it limits, often without reason. It keeps things inside. It prevents straying. This is most commonly presented as “We have always done this,” Or “We have never done it that way before.” 

When history is a foundation, it stabilizes and supports while it informs. It allows things to be built on top of the foundation, while not traversing the boundaries of a foundation. This allows a church to build itself on the mission rather than fence itself in by history.

The dangers of a fence is that it makes a church think it is faithful because it still does what it always did. Often what the fence perpetuates is a cultural expression that was fine when it started. It worked well in helping to accomplish the mission. But it has passed it’s usefulness now.

The danger of a foundation is that a church may cantilever off of it into something that cannot be supported by the foundation. In order to support the new structure, they actually build a different foundation.

While both of these are real dangers, I am of the opinion that the foundation is a better model of church history than the fence is. What should drive the church is the mission given to us by God. While we should exercise great caution in departing from some historical traditions, we must think carefully about why we would continue them. Thoughtlessly defaulting to “what we have always done” is no more a virtue than thoughtlessly departing from what we have always done.

Chasing old fads is not better than chasing new ones. The church should be defined primarily by its mission, and secondarily by its history.

So use your church’s history to build, not to limit.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Night Special – Just Buy It

I recently saw an ad in a Bible college’s magazine for a website where you can have access to a “huge library of series ideas, message outlines, cross references, illustrations, and life applications that you can download, develop, and deliver this Sunday.”

It concludes that you can “Put more time into developing your message.”

For just “a dollar fitty” (as we say in da Rouge), you can download an editable sermon outline.

[Note of Irony: This is the  same type of place that I think would have issues with modern versions at least in part of because of copyrighting, you know the old “They just publish new Bibles to make money off of God’s people.” I suppose it’s okay to make money off of God’s people so long as you are own peddling your own words and not God’s, though I am not entirely sure which they hold in higher esteem.]

Here’s two questions I have:
  1. If you download all this stuff that’s already developed, why will you need “more time” to put into “developing your message”?
  2. Isn’t a Bible college supposed to train pastors to develop the message rather than provide them with a website where they can download it?
Why develop sermon ideas and series ideas because you are out in the community getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in their lives and where the Bible addresses it?

Why go get your messages from studying the Bible when you can dial up a website and spring for a buck and a half to get someone else to do the work for you? Of course, it is “editable,” which means you can call it your own, I guess.

Why go get illustrations and applications from spending time with people and talking to people in your community when you can get cool stories from someone else’s life (that may or may not be true)?

Now, let’s be clear: We all lean on others for the study of the Word and the teaching of the Word It would be foolish to suggest otherwise … almost as foolish as refusing to lean on others. I do pick up series ideas, topics, and illustrations from a wide variety of places (all for free because, of course, I’m cheap). I do, from time to time, use published material for certain classes and forums in the church.

But I struggle to accept that it’s okay to download sermon outlines and preach them, even if you edit them.
In my preparation, I usually (and intentionally) refuse to look at how other pastors have handled a particular passage because I do not want to copy them. I do not listen to someone else preach the text.

I know, I know. One can make the argument that reading commentaries is not that far away. Actually though, I think it is (if you are using the right kind of commentaries). Most commentaries are filled with stuff that does not fit well into a message. They do not contain cute outlines, and gripping illustrations. In fact, they are rather boring (which may explain why some very accurate preaching is “rather boring”). I don’t use many homiletical commentaries until the very end because I feel like I need to make it mine before it becomes someone else’s.

My conviction is that when a man stands up to preach, his message should be the result of his Bible study, not his internet connection.

In an unrelated note, the Big Guy’s mug shot is right on the page where you download the sermons.  I don’t know … It just smacks of something strange.

Friday, August 27, 2010


There’s a certain noble-broadmindedness about this claim:

On the historicity of Genesis, I suspend judgment, officially.  For rhetorical and investigative purposes, however, I'm going to proceed AS IF every word in Genesis speaks of historical fact.  If that's true, goody.  If that's not true, so what?

If Genesis isn’t true, then so what?

There is a lot of stake here.

There is the inspiration of Scripture. If God-breathed it out, then it must be true. Simplistic? Perhaps. But what else do we say about a God for whom it is impossible to lie? There is nothing in the Genesis account that would cause us to read it any way other than as historical fact. And there’s nothing in the character of God or the Bible’s teaching about itself that allows us to read it as anything other than historical fact.

There is the reality of brokenness in the world. If not for the historical fact of Genesis, there is no explanation for brokenness and fallenness in the world. Sin makes no sense other than as a cultural category rather than a moral category. Death is not the result of sin, and if not for sin, we would all die anyway.

There is the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. If not for the historical fact of Genesis, there is no expectation that sin is a real problem that can only be dealt with by the seed of the woman conquering the serpent. Jesus’ death becomes only a moral example, a parable about the cost of sin, which really doesn’t matter anyway because sin doesn’t bring death.

And there are myriads of other implications.

The fact is that we cannot treat Genesis so glibly. There is a renewed battle over inerrancy, I think. And it starts where the word starts and where the Bible starts—in Genesis.

These superficial treatments of Scripture are unworthy of the grandness of God’s revelation that alone provides a rational metanarrative for life in this world.

Let us not be intimidated by those with no anchor. Their high-sounding language is really worldly and empty chatter, falsely called “knowledge.”

We know better.

Or at least we should.

When Does One Become a Parent?

Here’s an interesting (and for the most part rather inconsequential) line from a news story:

Gibbons, 47, already had raised eyebrows with his ethics-skirting romance with Legal Aid lawyer Jeanne Emhoff, 31, who he fathered a son with weeks ago.

Grammar (and morality) aside, this is an eyebrow-raising sentence for me because it calls into question when the son was fathered.

If the conception is in view (which would be the normal usage), “weeks ago” would hardly be enough time for the pregnancy to be known, much less for the gender of the child (i.e., “son”) to be known, since it generally is several weeks before a pregnancy test can be viable, and months before a child’s gender is known.

So this article apparently refers to the birth as the time when the “fathering” took place.

The truth is that the baby was fathered at conception, not at birth. And this, for the sake of the next generation, is an important distinction. That son was a person long before he was born, and long before it was even visually evident that he was a son.

While an insignificant line is not good to build a whole case on, it reminds me that the status of life is controversial. We, as life-loving people, should be careful to be precise in the way we speak because language itself creates a culture in which things are viewed a certain way. (No, that is not postmodern; language does not create reality, but it does communicate a view of reality.)

And speaking of words, why is it that “fathering a child” and “mothering a child” are two entirely different things?

I think it would be a better world if “fathering a child” was more like “mothering a child.” Take care of the child. Spend time with the child. Model life for the child. Don’t just have a fling with the mother.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Bobby Thomson has died. You never heard of him? Then you're unfit to be an American and must move right now to someplace outside the country, like Nancy Pelosi's congressional district. Bobby Thomson was the greatest heartbreaker in the history of sport...well, in the history of Brooklyn, New York.

Bobby Thomson is the one who hit the “shot heard round the world” in the 1951 playoff game between the Giants and the Dodgers, after the Giants came back from 13 1/2 games down on August 11 to tie the Dodgers and earn three game play off series. The Giants scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 5-4. He did it with 20 year old Willie Mays waiting on deck.

What I didn’t realize until just recently is that the guest of honor at my sixteenth birthday part was involved in that game. That’s right, Alvin Dark who led off the inning with a single and then scored just ahead of Thomson’s homerun to cut the deficit to 4-2, surprised me by coming to my sixteenth birthday party.

You talk about a night. A dozen or so high school baseball nuts (with one girl as I recall) sitting around talking baseball with Al Dark who not only played in the majors, but  had also managed the A’s to two World Series (72 and 73). And we talked and talked and talked about baseball.

Great stuff.

The 1951 playoff game was made famous by Russ Hodges’ radio call, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” (Interestingly, long time (and recently deceased) Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell was calling the game for the Giants on their flagship station.) This 1951 comeback later became the scenario for an episode of MASH.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In the Diner

It’s pretty crowded today. So much so that I can’t really overhear conversations. Which means I am alone with my own thoughts. Well, those and Mark 7:14-23.

I am still stewing in my mind about an conversation this morning with a guy who is going through some really tough times. I have talked to him a number of times over last year or so. Today was the most explicit, frank conversation.

He says, “What do I do now?”

I had the chance to explain the gospel to him, trying to give him hope that being a good person wasn’t good enough. Sure it makes your friends and family happy, and makes the world a better place to live in. But it doesn’t do much beyond that.

The good news is that Jesus was good enough, and he died for us, both to reconcile us to God and secure our eternity as well as to give us a new paradigm for living in this world.

But I am stewing because I felt inadequate to explain it in a way that make sense to a guy who is actually looking for another answer.

I know there is always tension for us “gospellers” between the “here and now” and the “there and then.” People take the attitude that “I will worry about the ‘there and then’ when it gets here. Right now I need to get through today.”

I feel like one of my greatest weaknesses (which feels somewhat like trying to pick the saltiest drop of water in the oceans) is talking to people who don’t have a church background or even a religious background. The concept of God as a personal God who has something to say about life is foreign to them.

This is the case with people now more than ever before.

And I feel like I don’t have the categories in my mind for it. I have church/Bible/Jesus categories that make sense to people who share those categories.

But I feel lost in trying to talk to people who don’t share those categories. And most people don’t.

Which means I gotta figure it out.