Friday, July 27, 2007

Praying for Change

How would your prayer change is you began where you normally end?

This is a question presented by Bryan Chapell in his book Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name. Chapell makes an interesting observation about how humans typically pray.

We habitually end our prayers
with the phrase “in Jesus’ name, amen.” The amen means “truly” or even “I really mean this.” But what are we actually saying? We are supposed to be saying that everything we prayed for was offered “in Jesus’ name” –for his honor and purposes. When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we pray for his sake more than our own. We still present our desires and concerns to God, but we do so in the context of yielding our priorities to Christ’s priorities. The final phrase of our prayer reminds us, as well as commits us, to submit all our requests to the glory of Jesus.

Yet that’s not always the way we pray. Often we focus on asking God to ease our worries and satisfy our wants before adding “in Jesus’ name” as an obligatory spiritual seasoning to make our petitions palatable to God. Some of us may even have been taught to use the name of Jesus to “claim the desires of our heart.” Such teaching encourages us to end prayer “in the name of Jesus” to get whatever we want. But Jesus is not like a genie in a bottle whom we can command by invoking his name. When we pray; we should be doing more than looking heavenward, believing with all our might that our wish will come true, and instead of repeating, “Star light, star bright, bring the wish I wish tonight,” saying, “In Jesus’ name, amen.”

…So why wait to the end of a prayer to tag on Jesus’ name? Helpful traditions encourage us to add Jesus’ name before our “amen” so that we do not forget him. But when our routines have desensitized us to his priorities, then it’s time to begin where we end. Praying backwards will inevitably turn our prayer priorities upside down. By saying “in Jesus’ name” first, we will more readily discern when our prayers go astray from his purposes, hijacked by our self-interest.
Of course, actually saying the words “in Jesus’ name” at the beginning of our prayers is not really the point. The point is to first have a deep sense in our hearts what those words are supposed to mean: “I offer this prayer for Jesus sake.” When Jesus’ priorities come first, our prayers will change. They will be less self-oriented, more Christ-directed, more blessed, and ultimately most satisfying to our hearts.

…..In Jesus’ name, (Not-Amen) Begin…

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sand Architecture

The Family and I loaded up the van and ventured out to Indiana Dunes State Park today. Our voyage was at multi-fold. One, we had a bunch of young adult friends who we were meeting up with for the day. Secondly, there was a certain Ultimate Freezbee game scheduled to be happening... I also, wanted to get a fresh lay of the land, since this will be destination spot for next week's Father-Son Sand Sculpting & Fun.

Moreover, I simply flat-out love designing architectural structures made of sand with Micah. Today, we designed perhaps our biggest sand castle yet...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bon Appetit

My friend April is studying Culinary Arts. She currently spends 12 or more hours a day marinating in the multi facets of the art of mixing, creating, cooking, preparing and presenting. To hear her talk about food, preparation and presentation is invigorating. She has more passion for food than anyone I've ever met.

I never realized so much thought, effort and creativity went into the process of preparing a meal. Occasionally I'll get a spark of inspiration, send everyone out of the kitchen and begin creating my signature masterpiece fondly referred to around my house as "Jerrell's Dish." (I could describe here what's in it and the secrets thereof, but your screen would explode as you read it). And, there are times, like last night, where I enjoy having some friends over and I grill up some finger-lick'en chicken kabobs, with each element colorfully selected and arranged with great precision, not to mention the careful choosing and pre-tasting of a combination of spices and herbs. Throw in my wife's sweet potatoes and its a party.

However, more often than not, my meals consist of a box, a mix, a bowl, some water, a little microwave and presto -- my gourmet macaroni and cheese is ready to be served. Not the case with my friend April. To watch her work is like watching Picasso paint. And the finished product... even better.

For the masses, eating is simply something we have to do to survive from one day to the next. The premium is placed upon the speed its delivered, not creative arrangement and presentation. The emphasis is on how quick we can devour it and move on to our next obligation, not savoring of each bite, intentionally experiencing the layers of tastes and textures thereof. We simply just eat...and then move on to the next thing.

Kind of reminds
me of prayer. There are moments of inspiration and heart-felt passion, but often, if we're honest, prayer gets reduced to a list, a duty, something we simply "have" to do to make it through the day...

This weekend
at Calvary Temple we are beginning a new series of messages... Bon Appetit. This series will begin to look at prayer more like April looks at Culinary Arts: the tastes, the textures, the layers, the thought, the color, the multiple dimensions, the spices, the herbs and the presentation. Prayer is intended to be bring one into active engagement with the Living God in such a way that leads to the transformation of ourselves, our reality, even history itself.

"Bon Appetit..."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This is Going to be a Blast!!!

Father & Son Sand Sculpting & Fun
When: July 29th - 2:00-6:00pm

For: fathers and their son(s) (ages 2ish-10ish years old) who are looking for an excuse to play in the sand, connect with other dads, and become a sand architect for a day.

Where: Indiana Dunes State Park - (approximately 50 minutes from South Bend) 1600 North 25 E. Chesterton, IN

Bring: your own sand sculpting tools, accessories, snacks and $5 for parking.

Plan: Bring change of clothes and gear with you to church, hook up with another father-son, grab some fast-food, pray the little one(s) sleeps on the way, and prepare thyself for a blast…

Let me know if you have any questions...

Directions: By-Pass to IN-2 to I-94W. Take I-94 W 13.93miles to IN-49 (EXIT 26B). 1.79miles IN-49 N becomes CR 25 E. (Follow signs to Indiana Dunes State Park. Park - Walk to Pavilion. We will be straight ahead to the right... Look for pole with red flag...)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gospel, Repentance and the Kingdom of God

Faith, salvation, gospel, repentance and the kingdom of God are words used throughout the New Testament. They all hold significant meaning within Christian history and those that followed Christ. Over time, these words and the meanings thereof have often been shaped by the culture they found themselves lodged in. Though this may not always serve to be a huge detraction from the original meaning intended, it nonetheless often subtracts from the overarching messages and implications that these words originally carried.

Each of these words mentioned above, have an original context. A context surrounded with real life realities, cultures, circumstances and images that were intimately united to the words themselves. Whenever there is a cultural and contextual gap from the one it was once delivered in, there are frequently missing components to the bigger picture - the meta-narrative in which they find themselves in.

The last several days we have been meandering about what "church is" and "what is the gospel". We have concluded that much of our current understanding is the byproduct of our cultural context and not necessarily that of biblical precedence. This doesn't in and of itself make our understandings anti-biblical, but it does warrant ongoing reflection and consideration.

When a Jew living in the First Century heard the word "gospel," what was their understanding? What about the word "repentance"? Was their initial mental image that of an altar at the front of a church? Was it even a religious (as we know it) image that moved to their frontal cortex? Or, was a First Century Jew's first image of "repentance" that of a political and revolutionary nature? Or, consider the "kingdom." I've never lived in a land where there was a king. Are the implications of this word greater than my King Arthur ideology?

Jesus was a real person. He lived in a real place. He was surrounded by very specific cultural influences. The time and culture in which He lived very much influenced what words, images and stories He choose to utilize while communicating. We must never forget this. Therefore, it would seem, that for us to gain a better - more complete understanding of the message(s) He communicated, most notably the "Gospel," it would serve us well to first ask ourselves:
  • How did the first hearers of these stories understand and interpret them?

  • What cultural and contextual elements is the author leaning on to communicate and why? And, so forth.

Yet, for most of us, it is a challenge to know which archives of historical data to peruse through to begin our search of a grander historical and cultural understanding of the First Century, thus the words that Jesus spoke. Last summer I facilitated a learning environment with about 25 people, where we tracked through about 150 years of history. Our primary focus of study was 50 years before Jesus was born to about 50 years into the history of the early church. We we're looking specifically for the historical, cultural, social, political and spiritual backdrops of the life and message of Jesus. In preparation for this learning environment I spent quite a bit of time rummaging, searching, researching, reading, reading, and some more reading.

Throughout the conversation I was often asked as we neared the end of our 16 week study, which books and resources would be helpful for continued study and understanding. It would have been ideal to have a piece of scholarly, thorough, and yet not-too-laborious to navigate through that would enable one to gain an accurate big picture perspective. I was hard pressed to find ONE. I gave out a list of recommends, but there was recently a book published by a friend of mine that, had it been in released last summer, would have definitely made it to the top of the recommended list.

The Book is Static: Tune Out The "Christian" Noise And Experience The Real Message Of Jesus by Ron Martoia.

takes a fresh look at such biblical terms as "salvation, kingdom, repentance and gospel." The books publisher, Tyndale House, summarizes the book by saying:
"Words communicate. Christians often use words to communicate to others; however, these words aren’t understood by many of those outside the church. We can be so absorbed in our 'christianese' that we don’t realize others don’t understand the jargon and cannot figure out what it is we mean by what we are saying. Static readers will become aware of what we are saying so we can re-focus our thinking to communicate clearly to those outside the church."
Tyndale House is right in what they say, however I think they don't say enough. It is a serious issue that we use "words" that individuals "outside the church" don't understand without our knowing. But I think there is another issue, if not even more serious than the former and that is that we often use "words" inside the church, that people inside the church don't understand, but because they've heard these words so often, they've become conditioned by familiarity to think they know the meaning, without fully understanding -- and without knowing that they don't know.

One of the greatest tragedies
of self-deception
is to not know something
to not know that
you don't know it.

Ron Martoia in his book Static does an awesome job at trimming away unnecessary baggage, while presenting a clear and easily readable picture of the words, their original context, theological implications and how we can effectively communicate them in the world we find ourselves.

Additional Recommended Reading in this genre:

Historical & Political Climate
  • Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Order by Richard A. Horsley
  • Desire for the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill
  • Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelly
  • The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity by James S. Jeffers

Jewish Cultural Context of the First Century

  • Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim
  • As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg
  • Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell
  • Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind by Barbara Bowen
  • The Bible Lives Today by Barbara Bowen*
  • Through Bowen Museum with Bible in Hand by Barbara Bowen*
    *Barbara Bowen Books are hard to find

The Person & Message of Jesus

  • The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright
  • Jesus & the Victory of God; The Resurrection of the Son of God; and The New testament & the People of God by N.T. Wright - (These three are a BIT more academic in nature).
  • The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others by Scot McKnight
  • Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels by Scot McKnight
  • The Secret Message of Jesus by Brain McLaren
  • The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
  • God Came Near by Max Lucado
  • Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 by Kenneth Bailey
  • Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey
  • The Cross & the Prodigal by Kenneth Bailey

Engaging the Scripture
  • Eat this Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading by Euguene
  • The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story
    by Craig G. Bartholomew & Michael W. Goheen
  • God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts
  • The Art of Reading Scripture edited by Ellen F. Davis & Richard B. Hays

Monday, July 16, 2007

What is the Gospel...?

Scot McKnight, Blogger and Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago, recently wrote an article, where he contends that many of the problems facing the contemporary church can be traced to the individualistic gospel we preach. The following is an excerpt from that article.

Because of some research I did on the “gospel” in the Bible, leading to a book called Embracing Grace, I have come to a conclusion not unlike that of David King: namely, when I see “problems” or “issues” in the Church, I often say to myself, “What kind of gospel would have been preached and responded to that would give rise to this kind of practice, problem, or theology?” At the bottom of lots of our problems is a “gospel” problem. Students of mine that grow up in Christians homes often admit to me that the gospel they grew up was this: Jesus came to die for my sins so I could go to heaven. This parody of the biblical gospel, I contend, is at the heart of many of our problems.

  • Example #1: We often hear pastors today wondering why Christians are not more committed to the local church and seem to have so little time for anything extra?
  • Example #2: We routinely are reminded that 11am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America’s week.
  • Example #3: We often observe that there are far too many Christians who “have it together” with God but are “relationally a mess.”
  • Example #4: Many evangelical Christians feel “most spiritual” when they are praying or reading the Bible and do not see their marriage relationship, their parent-child relationships, their sibling relationships, or their relationships with others – in the Church and outside the Church – as part of their “spirituality”. Instead, those elements are at best “implications” of their relationship to God (which is the focus of spirituality) rather than central to that spirituality.

But, we must be more willing to ask this question: Why all the emphasis on love and peace and reconciliation and community in the Bible if these elements are not central to the spiritual life? Is not the Bible’s emphasis less on the individual being transformed than the community being created in which that individual finds transformation? Do our spiritual formation courses adequately address community formation?

My conclusion after studying the Bible on the meaning of “gospel” is that one of the major reasons for each of the above examples is a gospel that gives rise to

  1. a radically individualistic understanding of the meaning of life,

  2. a non-communal perception of what the gospel is intended to accomplish, or

  3. a God-only understanding of the gospel.

Let us not suppose that any of these examples has simplistic explanations, but let us think a little more systemically: if we preach a gospel that is entirely focused on “getting right with God” but which does not include in that presentation that God’s intent is to form a community (the Church) in which restored persons live out this Christ-shaped and Spirit-directed spirituality, then we can expect to hear lots of pulpit rhetoric exhorting us that the Church matters. And, if we discover on Sunday morning that everyone in our church is the same ethnically and economically, we can be sure that we are preaching something that is attracting only those kinds of people. And if we are hesitant to admit the implication of this ethnic, economic reality, then we need to be more honest with ourselves. We get what we preach. And we perform what we preach. How we live reveals the gospel we responded to and the gospel we believe.

Let me suggest, then, a more complete view of the gospel – one that focuses much more on the community of faith – that, if we give the permission to seep into every inch of our ministries, will perhaps lead to the day in our lifetime when these four examples will not be our present problem but our history’s memory. Now a definition: The gospel is the work of the Trinitarian God (a community of persons) to create the community of faith in order to restore humans (made in God’s image) through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as well as through the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit to union with God and communion with others for the good of the self and the world. And all of this to the glory of God.

What then is Christian spirituality? It is the person who is restored to God, to self, to others and the world – all four directions for all time – by a gospel that emerges from a “communal God” (the Trinity) to create a community that reflects who God is. Do we preach a gospel that gives rise to holistic restoration and that can create a fully biblical spirituality?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What is Church...?

Last week I wrote a post Cultural Byproduct or Biblical Prerequisite?, that in a sense was a follow up post to one entitled Cultural Shifts within the American Church. Since then there has transpired an ongoing conversation with another blogger. The following post is part of this ongoing conversation around the cultural shifts taking place, current church culture and structure, as well as community interactions... If you are new to the blog, you may want to read those two posts, along with their corresponding comments to jump fully into the conversation...

It should be noted first of all, that we are living at a unique time in history. There are major shifts taking place in the ways people process, understand and communicate information. Many sociologist use descriptions such as post-literate, post-enlightenment, post-modern and so forth. All of these are and will continue to have significant effect on how followers of Jesus gather, interact and communicate. I spent an hour-and-a-half last night conversing about all of this with about 15 other people. It was an exciting conversation to say the least… All that to say, there is a lot going on…and much more is happening than the specific examples we are referencing…none of which I’ll have time or space to go into here… That’s my take at a lame disclaimer – saying –with all that being said, there are other factors to be considered as well…

Anonymous mentioned:

“We also have a number of staged productions, a cool way of sharing the gospel, but is all of the staging necessary? It's a great way to serve masses, but doesn't serve to connect people to other people in the church? Is that the only way weekly Sunday church can be done?”

I agree with this in that, often Sunday morning gatherings do not serve well to “connect people to other people.” There are a number of contributing factors such as, fixed seating. It would be great to have a room (not on a slant), with unbolted chairs, moveable, re-designable from week to week, and much more conducive for “connecting people” and fostering interactive community. (And yet, is Sunday morning the only time/place that can/is/should happen?). This is one of the reasons we frequently throw out a topic and/or a question to be conversed over by people in the audience. We believe people have a part to play, and one of them is speaking into the life of the community, not to mention the palatable insights, wisdom, perspective and experiences that may be gained by others. It is also a way to help people “connect” and interact, as well as talk about “spiritual things.” Something many people don’t (for whatever reason) do regularly.

Western American Church culture is such that people often have expected to come into a big room (the sanctuary), face one direction, and listen to the “sage on the stage” dispense the heavenly wisdom for the day. They don’t typically come predisposed and ready to engage in a community conversation, etc. (This is one of the elemental shifts that is taking place. Historically it has had its place, and is still useful in some regards, though perhaps in need of some tweaking.)

Additionally, this is one of the reasons that we try to incorporate various means of communication or as anonymous put it “staging.” The goal here isn’t to be slick, trendy or even cool. The goal is to engage and communicate to a room full of people coming from various backgrounds, learning styles, life experiences, and so on.

Look at Scripture.

How did God communicate to humanity throughout Scripture?

Personally, one-on-one, visions, dreams, lightening, thunder, earthquakes, smoke, smells, angels, prophets (speaking, yelling, weeping, writing, miming [i.e. acting out prophetic messages without any words. Like Ezekiel laying on his side for many days… or when he build a clay tablet, drew a picture of the city…then smashed it.], Jesus with mud, sand, birds, flowers, pearls, fields, and on and on…

God/Jesus communicated in 3-D, iMax, Dolby-Surround Sound, Interactive, experiential, didactic, linear, loopy, visual, emotional, auditory, tactical, kinesthetic and essentially any means possible. It seems that God took the perspective, as Shakespeare once said, “the whole world is a stage.” God created humanity unique and different, therefore, if we are to follow His example, we must employ a variety of creative-communication components (be that an image, text on a screen, a lazy-boy, other people from the community, dramas, videos, or even a treadmill).

The intention is always as the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:1-4:

1-That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our
eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:1-4 NKJ)

I love how the Message translates these verse:

1 From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in--we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. 2 The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we're telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. 3 We saw it, we heard it, and now we're telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! Walk in the Light. (1 John 1:1-4 The Message)

Therefore, I strongly believe it (the Sunday stage) has its place. Yet, also agree, connecting people (especially on a Sunday morning where there are a number of preconceived notions of what it means to “go to church.” [If that is even feasible! Can someone “go to church”? is that even biblical. Selah…).

Anonymous also asked, “Is that the only way Sunday church can be done.”

What if this Sunday we unbolted all the seats, and spent from 10:30-12:00pm in small clusters of conversation around some particular ideas…? Would that qualify as church? It would (potentially) serve better to “connect” people… (If anybody has a way of unbolting seats, filling in a large room with concrete/wood to level it out, and the resources to buy new seats, tables, [you can even throw in some espresso machines], let me know… I’ll help you…) All that to say, “no” this isn’t the only way to do “church service.” We are trying more and more (with what we have) to ask ourselves how can we communicate what God’s heart is, get people to interact with that heart, even each other, and ultimately keep becoming the people God has purposed us to be-coming…

This is perhaps where other environments come into play to help foster what a Sunday morning may not be able to… Church DOES NOT equal Sunday at 10:30 am. (Yet for many, this is not the subliminal-subconscious understanding. This too, is one of the “shifts” taking place.) Church is bigger than Sunday morning… Much Bigger. True Christian formation takes place in the “market place,” around the dinner table, in the break-room, in the serving (be it in the church building – helping to facilitate ministry and engage people, or somewhere in the streets of South Bend or beyond, or a host of other expressions…

Anonymous, commented that:

“Churches can operate like restaurants….Did the servant ever really get to know the customer? Did the customer get to know the servant or just the service. Jesus heart is here somehow, it's got to be.”

Interesting thoughts…

I can see where anonymous is coming from. One of the things I appreciate in this statement, is that it is written with a sense of hope, “Jesus heart is here somehow, it’s go to be.”

I believe Jesus has given the church community a responsibility to “serve” those He has brought their way. In a way, I suppose this could be like a restaurant. Hopefully, we’re serving something worth eating… Part of that responsibility should instill an element of doing things right, good, and with a sense of excellence. And yet, perhaps unlike, or more than any restaurant, we’re not just “waiting” on people to get a better tip. Hopefully, prayerfully with some intentionality there will be authenticity, love, care, and sincere interaction-engagement-communication and community development. (With the understanding that according to Hall’s theory of intimacy, some people want very much to be engaged on a personal level and some people would rather not even have some one ask them their name nor shake their hand upon entering a service.) The challenge becomes, how do we (help those “serving”) grow in this type of discernment, love etc etc etc to practice these qualities? Perhaps that’s where some of the “critique” that you spoke of should come in…?

Again, as stated in the disclaimer, there’s much more going on than my feeble post currently addresses.
…may the conversation continue…

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cultural Byproduct or Biblical Prerequisite?

Recently, someone commented on the post Cultural Shifts within the American Church that resonated with some things I've been pondering. This person said,

"I've experienced a lot of unnecessary stuff (in church),
I think, complications to what
God's good plan for
His people is. "

Great thought... Unfortunately, I'm imagining -- not a great experience.

"Unnecessary Stuff..." I have no idea what all is packed in those words for this particular person. But it did get my wheels turning... Unnecessary Stuff that "we" hold on to, adhere to, and even prescribe to others that "hinders" more than "helps."

Reminds me of the following video clip...

Have you ever asked the question,
  • What elements of my Christianity are a byproduct of my culture, but not necessarily a biblical prerequisites?
  • What is essential to being someone who "follows Christ"?
  • What constitutes "having church"?
  • Does church have to be on Sunday to be a church?
  • Does there have to be an extended time of worship/music/singing to qualify as a church service?
  • Does the singing that does that worship/music/singing have to take place all at one time, during the beginning of the service?
  • Is the "real" purpose of "worship" to "prepare our hearts for the Word," as it has often been said?
  • Does there have to be a "sermon" for it to be a real service? (Does it have to happen on the back-half)
The list could go on and on... I'm not saying any of the above listed things necessary fall under the category of "Unnecessary Stuff." Yet, our perspective of these things, how they are placed, what shape they take may in some ways impose "unnecessary" elements upon us...

How 'bout another clip...?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

SlowMotion - 6-24-07

We live in a culture addicted to speed.

"Time is money,"
as they say. So we much do more and more in less and less time. However, something happens to the core of who we are when we continue to live at this pace. As Doug King says, "We must learn to pause... or nothing worthwhile will catch up to us."

This message deals with the symptoms of a world obsessed with doing more at the service of the "Cult of Speed." What would it mean to begin to live in Slow Motion?