christians can have funny pastimes.

Christians can have funny pastimes.  We like to form coalitions and high councils, often centered around the diagnosis of culture as biblical or not.  Some of us like to play referee between the sacred and secular, the profound and profane, the already and the not yet.  Unfortunately this habit can become doubly dangerous when the cultural diagnosis is followed by a strict biblical antidote.

For example, a simple dose of Genesis 1-3 is all you need to recover any obvious confusion over gender roles.  Recently, Owen Strachan, Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, made such a prescription when he wrote about a Sesame Street episode as an “assault” on our “Protestant worldview” which “is subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood”.  Although I would gladly respond to Strachan’s piece, Micah Murray did an astoundingly beautiful job with his post, Boys and Dolls: A Father’s Response and I would highly encourage you to read it.

I really don’t mind the coffee shop conversations surrounding complementarianism, egalitarianism and gender roles that plague the evangelical blogosphere.  These conversations can potentially provoke the evolution of loving others as equally as we love ourselves, a distinctive characteristic of God’s kingdom.  Let the woman OR man oppressed by gender stereotypes say ‘Amen’.

What I really do mind about these councils, coalitions and blogs is the incessant need to constantly ‘recover’ all things as biblical or not.  Remember Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ jokes?  If you’re blowing the whistle on Sesame Street, then you might be reformed.  If you can’t watch one of the greatest children’s television shows ever without appealing to a ‘biblical’ definition of manhood or womanhood, then you might be reformed.

Whistle blowing isn’t a new pastime by the way.  Building a biblical framework for everything from dinosaurs to politics has gone on for several hundred years.

Sola Scriptura is one of the pillars of reformation thought.  It essentially states that the Bible alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and holiness or right living.  This doctrine or idea was basically born from a resistance to ecclesial excesses like indulgences and penance, which were being increasingly taught and cultivated within the Catholic Church.

Enter the greatest whistle-blower of all, Martin Luther, who believed that all scripture pointed to Christ and that anytime traditions or teachings conflict with scripture then tradition must be rejected.  Luther sought a balance between the authority of tradition and the revelation of the Spirit, by which some began to claim authority that went beyond scripture.  To Luther, that balance was found in the authority of scripture as a test for all claims of revelation be they past traditions or future assertions…including those coffee shop conversations.

However well intentioned the reformers were in developing dogma such as sola scripture, it was still made as reactionary to the misinterpretations of the Catholic Church.  I would point out that fighting heterodoxy (or bad teaching) doesn’t necessarily culminate in orthodoxy (right teaching).

Because of this, I take issue with the statement that ‘Scripture alone is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice’.  If I believed that, then of course I would feel compelled to diagnose something as biblical or not.  Luther’s legacy continues as men like Strachan use the bible to test gender roles.  However, the need to preserve and protect the Bible is never more evident in those who are afraid of losing something…

Perhaps the greatest danger of all is in making holy scriptures the fourth member of the Godhead.  Salvation is a gift from a loving God who sent His Son as the incarnate Word and who said of himself, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  Bibliolatry isn’t the only conclusion to sola scriptura but it is a possible and real conclusion.

Justo Gonzalez writes, “the church established the canon…but the gospel established the church, and the authority of scripture is not in the canon, but in the gospel.”  I would never doubt or deny the sufficiency of scripture for both describing our salvation and making plain the salvation history of God but when exactly did the litmus test for something as potentially cultural as gender roles become Genesis 1-3?

Another great theologian, John Wesley, didn’t explicitly propagate a ‘quadrilateral’ for theological authority but he did employ four sources in reaching conclusions to truth.  These sources were scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Wesley believed that our ideas about God affect our beliefs of God which affect our actions toward God.  Most importantly, these ideas are never formed in a vacuum.  He ironically approached a more Catholic theological attitude of prima scriptura, a paradigm that acknowledges the interpretation of truth as equally important to the truth itself, perhaps even holy itself.  Scripture will interpret us as we interpret it but why approach this holy process with such dogmatic rigor?

Christians always seem to get into battles with each other when we try to set scripture against experience or scripture against reason.  In one corner is Rachel Held Evans and in the other corner is Mark Driscoll.  What we have here is a false choice.  It’s a dichotomy that would confuse us.  Our imaginations are often forced into boxes that fail to justify in any sense the greatness and mystery that is God’s voice.

Are gender roles going to change over time?  Yes and expectedly in the direction of redemption.  May all who are captive be set free.

So what exactly is ‘biblical’ then and when is it appropriate to make that categorization?

I have this image of a Christ whose usual pastime is to walk with his friends, eating with them and engaging them physically, emotionally and intellectually.  We approach scripture with the same anticipation and expectation of hearing the voice of Christ as his friends did.  There is no fear here.  Here there is no need to assign roles according to gender.  There is only holy wonder, holy laughter.  Coalitions and councils give way to community as we leave our diagnoses behind.


leadership mistake #1: treat everyone equally.

A few years ago, I was asked by my direct boss (the administrative pastor) if I wanted to go play golf with him and another pastor on staff.  ‘This should be fun’, I thought, ‘hanging out with two cool dudes on the golf course.’  I reported to this guy so why not enjoy the moment with our guards down.  It was a Thursday morning and while we would have typically been in the office, here was a chance to bond with two people I respected and wanted to know better.  It was a great time too.  I’m horrible at golf, by the way.  I plan on losing a dozen balls each round.  In any case, the morning sped by as we shot the breeze (literally), chased balls and compared war stories.  I finished the day back at the office and left thinking this had a been a great day.

The surprise came on Tuesday morning at staff meeting when we were told that time sheets now had to be filled out for the work week.  Not just when we came in and when we left (which wouldn’t make sense on a salary anyways) but literally keeping a journal of everything we did during the week.  These reports had to be filled out and turned in at the end of each week, no exceptions.  Come to find out, the senior pastor was livid when he found out that three of his employees were on the golf course.  Now, I’m not saying we could or couldn’t play golf.  To top it off, I still don’t know the true impetus and intention of being made to fill out those sheets.  What I can say is that we now bore the brunt of the decision my boss made.  In other words, a knee jerk reaction translated into a blanket policy.

You know those policies right?  The crazy far out ones where anyone new to the scene can’t figure out why in the world this particular policy exists.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s when you’re asked to behave a certain way to avoid the mistakes of another.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes.  I’m not saying policies don’t have a place in every organization.  What I am saying is that treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone fairly.

There is a difference between fair and equal.  In fact, I’ll go so far to say that equality has nothing do with grace.  Equality is simply treating everyone they exact same way.  When a child points out that something’s not fair, it’s because that child doesn’t have a grasp of what they do and don’t deserve and grace will never be about what you do or do not deserve.  Thank God I’m not treated according to what I deserve.  Equal treatment denotes a sense of privilege.  Fairness, on the other hand, denotes a sense of grace.  You see, had I been treated fairly based on the anecdote from above, I probably wouldn’t have had to fill out those time sheets because technically I was doing what had been asked of me by my superior.

Unfortunately in this context, the need to treat us all equally came more or less from a sense of insecurity.  When I’m able to interact with my team or followers based on who they are individually, it’s because I’m secure about who I am.  I’m secure enough to let that illusion of control go.

This weekend, there were several challenges in our weekend services.  For each challenge, there was a situation.  For each situation, there was a leadership opportunity.  I came into this weekend knowing full well that a leader does not and should not pretend to know all the answers.  A leader should, however, be fully prepared to treat each individual fairly, with love and grace.  The only reason, and I sincerely mean the ‘only’ reason, that I have even a glimpse of what grace means is because it has been extended to me. That glimpse is but a drop of the ocean that is His love.

I’m not interested in blanket policies based on knee jerk reactions.  I know that quality is my M.O. but it will never be at the risk of losing a friend or follower, especially to produce a temporary result.  If you truly knew me you would know how hard it is for me to write these things.  However, I’ve learned (and am learning) that I’m far too in love with the One who is gracious and far too in love with those He has extended grace to, to ever risk equality for fairness.  Thank you God for loving me fairly.

the greatest challenge to your leadership.

Ever-challenging decisions are the hallmark of your upward mobility in leadership.  Know two things: (1) Leadership is influence and (2) you have influence.  In fact, its greater and more important than you could gather.  If you would see your influence grow (and more positively at that) then you would choose to make some hard decisions.  So, imagine with me, we are in the landscape of your life and there is desert in the distance, some mountains and streams, rainy days and snowy nights.  I smell the dank aroma of mud but also the sweet nectar of honeysuckle.  This variety in climate is an image of good days and bad days, easy times and hard times and the greatest challenges to your influence.

Upon climbing that mountain, swimming upstream or trekking through the dry, dangerous desert something becomes glaringly apparent.  This is no longer about your ability or inability, it’s about your guts, your instincts and your resolute tenacity.  You see, the greatest challenge to your leadership isn’t on the horizon and it will not be waiting for you in the bad days more than the good.  It isn’t about social demographics, personality tests, race, education or hierarchies.  Taking a step beyond that, the greatest challenge to your influence has nothing to do with opportunity granted or lost.

So let’s now rephrase the question to get at the heart of the matter.  The greatest challenge to your leadership is not a “what” it’s a “who” and that ‘who’…is you.  I don’t know if Dr. Seuss himself could have said that better.  When trudging through the mud, battling the loneliness or when climbing the mountain top amidst its breathtaking views it’s still…you.  You see, it’s always been you.  It’s been the sum of your attitude, your hopes, dreams and fears.  It’s been the good, the bad and the ugly all rolled into that person you love the most.  Heeding or not heeding the calling on your life could lead to a presidential podium, an opulent office or digging through greasy garbage.  This is unfair sometimes, unreal sometimes yet it’s life and it’s your life and you have a calling.  There is the echo of the voice within as deep calls to deep.

The Creator of the universe is issuing that call whether you know it or like it.  Barack Obama, Charlie Sheen and Ellen DeGeneres all have a call on their life.  God loves them and would see their influence “re-created” for and after His heart.  Listen well: God has a “chosen people” who are also a “sent people” and you are one of them.  Where would you find the greatest challenge to your influence in this ebb and flow of life?  This isn’t a how to list or a 20-question quiz to discover yourself.  It’s ownership time.  Look in the mirror, perhaps darkly at first but look long and hard enough for why your influence isn’t turning this world on its ear.  The greatest challenge to your leadership is yourself.  What are going to do about it?

I just wish that…

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Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr

How often these words precede some form of self-revelation or observation of the world at large.  These words, “I just wish that…” can open someone’s thoughts or ideas about the most banal of everyday life to the most profound of the human experience.  Example: I just wish that Lindsay Lohan would enter a mental health facility until she’s 30 OR I just wish that Muammar Gaddafi would give up his despotic reign of Libya OR I just wish that McDonalds would offer a low-fat Big Mac.  Obviously, you could keep this ball rolling with all the details of your life that everyone on Facebook may or may not know about.  Maybe you used these words this morning on your way to work.  It is, after all, easy to narrate the solutions to life’s problems as you see them.

Let me try one…I just wish that we would become the solutions for the problems as we see them.  Maybe then wishes would come true.

whatever happened to liturgy?

The Royal Wedding.  What an amazing demonstration of premeditated calculations!  I can’t begin to imagine the man-hours dedicated to engineering one of the social events of a generation.  Prince William is just a few months older than I am and I don’t anticipate seeing as much pomp and circumstance in a wedding ceremony until their (or our) children choose to wed.

Although the wedding ceremony itself (a “call-to-order” of the wedded life) can vary among cultures, there always seems to be a structure in place signifying to the participants that something incredibly important is happening. If for no other reason then for the simple fact that this event will hopefully happen only once in a lifetime.

What does this have to do with liturgy?  Imagine that such a celebration was performed happenstance, without thought as to the meaning or magnitude of it. Imagine that this royal heir, with a pedigree of majestic history built into his DNA, walked in whenever he wanted, said whatever came to mind and then proceeded to trounce around thanking everyone for coming. He would be perceived as a dunce and the rest of their lives would be haunted by this memory.

This is important – the magnitude of the event may have come from the size of the audience and it’s rarity but the meaning of the event came from who was invited. The wedding list was very telling of how significant this moment was. This was why a liturgy was important, to help the participants grasp the totality of the event. Even if we had to sit and wait for the next moment, the next sentence, the next syllable or thought, it was ultimately to invite the presence of God among them.

The liturgy helped to identify (or locate) authority in the future King and Queen of the Commonwealth Realms.  Deep inside there is still an awareness of the holy in the marriage ceremony.  We’re truly celebrating another when we allow a liturgy to guide us on this sacred journey.  Finally, the liturgy in this wedding pointed us all to a transcendent history of people, places and ideas extending deep into the records of time culminating in this very moment.

Liturgy is known “as a religious phenomenon, liturgy is a communal response to the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or repentance.” We know these things don’t we…and yet in my faith tradition and in what I’m seeing in so many other productions of the weekend experience of church, what do we have now to help us grasp, identify, celebrate and transcend?

Instead of a creed, we have announcements.  Instead of sacraments we have electric guitars.  Instead of a sermon we have a talk.  Instead of silent reflections we have as much noise as possible.  Hear my heart in this: I have seen a balance of such things and seen them well but I don’t feel that balance accurately reflect the trends of worship in our post-Orthodox landscape of North American Christianity. Where do I get the authority to say such things? I can’t remember hearing of an Evangelical/Charismatic/Orthodox catechism for children widely espoused. When was the last time our order-of-worship for kids church was modeled after the Northumbrians or our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters?  I know there are churches who are on this track but they operate on the fringes, not in the limelight of our conferences.

So why is this important and why am I pointing out kids ministry and a connection to the Royal Wedding?  Assuming nothing of their personal salvation, William and Kate nevertheless know who they are and where they came from. Can the children of our churches say that? Can you and I say that? What if we were as certain of our identity in Christ as they are of their identity in British royalty. I believe in a new song from within.

I believe that deep calls unto deep at the roar of His waterfalls but I also believe that things like the Orange Conference drive our vision more than a re-imagining of our liturgy. We have espoused so many models of ministry birthed from cultural reaction instead of drawn from the deep wells of our traditions.  We don’t know who we are or where we came from.

So where do we go from here?  I see us on a dangerous trajectory, one that continues to revere in awe or disdain the culture we operate in.  I propose instead a dynamic liturgy that uses developmentally appropriate methods to ultimately induce praise, thanksgiving, supplication and repentance. What that looks like for your faith community, I don’t know and don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that we’ve invited the world to a wedding feast, we are the bride and the bridegroom cometh. I know that to grasp the totality of his Coming, to understand His authority, to celebrate Him and see history as His-story we need a liturgy, not another conference or model.  My hope and purpose in writing this is simple – reflect well upon how we spur kids and families to respond to the sacred and let’s make culture react to Christ in us.

The Free Dictionary: exhortation definition: an act or instance of exhorting.