Friday, August 31, 2007

OK, Obligatory Snipe

Daniel Kirk mentioned this in a recent blog entry, and I did feel the need to comment. Let me give you some background before I show you the quote the frustrated Daniel. For years I've been saying that Evangelicalism™ confused the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven with the Republic of the United States of America (I once even heard a seminar advertised on the radio that was going to answer why America didn't appear to be in the book of Revelation). America is the "good guy" that is spreading the light over the world. In some quarters to challenge that assumption means that you are "not-patriotic" which in turns means that you are "not Christian." Christians, after all, should support the US in it's mission. Yet, whenever I bring up the danger of blurring the line between the Kingdom of Heaven and any worldly power I'm told, "Where have you see that? We don't confuse the two." Then I get a statement like this from the President of Westminster Theological Seminary:

"...Later there was another person by the name Amerigo Vespucci. Amerigo Vespucci came along and said this isn’t the Indies. This is a new world. These are unknown continents, and so the credit was given to him and the name has stuck forever. But what I want you to think about is that the name America is a derivative of Amerigo from a French named Emeric, which is a derivative from a German word that is Haimirich.

"Now if any of you have studied German know that Haimirich means "The kingdom of Heaven.” Now think about that for just a moment. Do you realize that America’s name literally means the “Kingdom of Heaven?”...That’s a good description of America isn’t? It’s a place where the Kingdom of God has come and where the corrupting influences of humanity have been powerfully at work."

Oops. Now, I do want to point out that Dr. Peter Lillback did make an effort to nuance his statement to show that there was not an equality between America and the Kingdom of Heaven - he points out that "the corrupting influences of humanity have been powerfully at work." Yet, his nuance isn't enough. Evangelicalism™ doesn't do "nuance," it does black and white and that's it. So, if the Kingdom of Heaven came to America, then the corrupting influences of humanity need to be attacked and destroyed so the Kingdom of Heaven can really thrive - it's in our name after-all.

Sigh, this just makes my trepidation of preaching the "Song of the Sea" even greater - this type of triumphalism makes me wonder what ever happened to the Cross.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sermon Struggles

This week I preaching on Exodus 15: 1 - 21, it's the song sung after the Lord delivered Israel through the Yom Suph (Sea of Reeds, traditionally, the Red Sea but who knows). It's a great passage, and one of the most important moments in the story of Israel's experience of the Lord's presence - and yet I find myself strangely dreading preaching on it this Sunday.

Why is that? Largely it's because as a group of Middle-Class Americans Central Baptist (myself at the top of the list) doesn't really approach the song in the way that it was meant to be approached. The Israelites in the narrative were a group of slaves who had just narrowly been delivered from the super-power of the day (Egypt) by the Lord's hand. Their celebration of the Lord's great strength wasn't so much a warning to the rest of the region that Israel was going to kick all their butts - but was more a celebration of the strength of the Lord to save. It was a cause for hope, that God was going to fulfill the promises God had made - and a proclamation that the relationship between Israel and the Lord was one worth celebrating.

When people who currently have power sing songs like this, however, the meaning becomes transmogrified. Instead of being a celebration that we are privileged to be under the Lord's wondrous protection it shifts to the dangerous assumption that "God is on our side." Terrible things happen when people begin to sing about the power of the Lord with the unspoken belief that God will be there to smite out enemies "on demand." Such is the source of religious wars, and political campaigns (both in the secular political sphere and in churches) in which the humanity of the other side is ignored because "God is with us." As I'm preaching to a group of people who have a measure power (economic if not political), I'm going to be hard-pressed to keep the focus on hope rather than arrogant triumphalism.

In my musings on this passage, I started to wonder if perhaps this is why Evangelicalism™ is so adamant that they are an oppressed minority. Perhaps there's still a seed in the back of Evangelicalism™ that remembers that God is not on "our side" and can't be manipulated by the power-play politics we try to appease God with. If Evangelicals™ are oppressed, after all, then we can't be held responsible for what happens to our enemies - God' sweeping his arm over them not us (no matter what it might look like, what with all the weapon sales, lobbying efforts, and propaganda campaigns). A thought, and a passage that gives me great hope, and scares the daylights out of me. Ought to be a fun sermon I guess.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Couple of Updates

I've not been blogging much this past week (the whole family was sick, not a lot of time) - so I want to share a couple of updates on what's going on.

First, the continuing saga of our new office computer (we got a mac mini, if you didn't know) continues to amaze me. Along with the switch we not only got a reliable computer that flies through it's tasks, we also made the switch from an ancient version of Word Perfect to NeoOffice ( aquafied) - this means that our Church office is now using ODF, this makes me very happy. When you combine this with the ability of OS X to make a pdf out of just about anything, we're not going to be having any incompatibility issues with files we have to share with others. This makes me happy. I've also set up Adium on the office computer and me as the only contact for the secretary. As my office is now on a different floor from the office, this makes passing messages a lot easier (not to mention transparent when I'm working at home or at Panera). It's already been very helpful.

I continue to play with the mini myself - and I've discovered the wonders of Keynote. While I love ODF, the feature-set of keynote is the most awesome piece of presentation-technology I've ever seen. If I get a Mac (and I'm fully intending to do so), I'm switching to keynote. Why? Well, here's some features I'll use every week:
  • Drop Shadows - Shadows let me layer elements in a presentation, right now I use the GIMP to make drop-shadows, and then save images as transparent png's. It's a time-consuming process - not anymore.
  • Auto-transparency - I like to cut out some backgrounds to focus images - it's fun to do, but time-consuming. The auto-transparency feature of Keynote will likely come in handy.
  • Export to a Movie - I've always wanted to be able to export a timed presentation to a video so I could share it with others. Now I can. Oh, and you can also record your narration while the presentation plays. Sweet.
Also, I had a meeting with with Jay Delp today to talk about his impending consult here at Central (regarding a new presentation system here) as well as getting his input on some of the ways I use the screen for liturgy and preaching (I'm pondering books). Jay's one of the most sought-out people to set up A/V for big events in the Country, and has been doing some writing on A/V in worship so I value his thoughts. What I got from my time with Jay is two-fold:
  • First, he's an incredibly gracious guy with a kick-butt living room (it's his studio, geek-envy). I'm glad I got to talk with him just because he's an interesting person who's doing some nice stuff.
  • Second, he was very encouraging with some of the things we're doing here at Central - and confirmed that a lot of what we're doing is fairly unique to the way that screens are typically used in worship. This makes me happy - guess I'll try to get some articles written to see what people think.
Anyway, now I need to start working full-bore on my 10 commandments series, I translated both versions of the commandments today, and tomorrow I'll make a hand-out so folks can keep up with where we are in the order (I'm following the traditional Jewish numbering). I also need to start ordering books to start my research on next fall's series on the political implications of Jesus' message - suggestions?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Radio Orthdoxy"

I've found three or four interesting posts recently that have made me want to try out tracking back to other blogs. This Post on "Out of Ur" is an wonderful example of who is really in charge of Evangelical™ Churches - it ain't the pastor/elders/deacons or whatever - it's the folks on the air-waves. I've had conversations like this numerous times - it's aggravating to say the least. Thankfully, I haven't had one in a while though.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another Encouraging Thought

Four years ago my role here was to, basically, hear people's complaints and make the complainers, "happy." Obviously, this was not the most healthy of environments to walk into - nor was it the most satisfying of ministry locations. It was, however, the culture of the Church - and the first thing I realized when I got to Central was that the culture had to change. The prospect of this was both intimidating and exciting. Growing up I'd always shied away from things that were too challenging, but as I moved through LMH and then Eastern I began to love being challenged by projects, classes, and personal study. Seminary left me starving in that area (which is one of the reasons I picked up Linux), and my first two years as a pastor made me fear that I was going to be nothing more than a religious manager. The prospect didn't make me very happy, and when I found that Central needed something other than a religious manager I was very excited. Yet, I have to confess I was also scared out of my mind because I was in completely uncharted waters wondering how the heck one managed to shift a culture that almost dared people to try and change it (and had a left a trail of folks who had tried in it's wake). I ended up taking some short trips down bad roads and some long trips up the wrong mountains my first couple of years here - but I kept trying to see just what direction we needed to steer towards to find the path where Christ wanted us. Frankly, I needed a lot of friends on the way to keep me even on the ship.

In those days, as the clearinghouse for congregational problems, stuff would be dropped on my lap that I really shouldn't have needed to deal with - but, as it involved the Church (and the people in the Church) it was somehow always my problem. When I suggested to people that they talk to folks over thing that needed to be done/weren't getting done/should be prevented from every happening folks would shrug and say, "Well, O don't want to offend anyone, I mean it's not really a big deal, but I thought you might like to know so you can do something about it. After all, you're the pastor."

Lately, however, that's not what's been happening. People are feeling freer to deal with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, talk about ministry decisions (and even, gasp, disagree with them without blowing up), and generally feel free to pursue ministry here without having to use me as a clearinghouse. The results are a congregation that's growing in health, is learning how to trust each other, and will actually confront problems. Needless to say, I'm a lot happier - I pray we keep developing this type of trust, good things will come of it.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm Stuck

OK, I think many folks know I'm planning a rather ambitious undertaking for the coming fall/spring with the working title "Structure Through Mission" (actually, I need a better title so suggestions for that would also be helpful). Folks who read this blog have already helped me develop the interview portion of these events, now I'm stuck for some more congregations to invite. Here's who is participating so far:
  • Chris Lahr – Coordinator of the Mission Year Philadelphia community.

  • Frank Reeder, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pitman in Pitman, NJ

  • Rod White, Pastor of Circle of Hope in Philadelphia, PA

  • Byron Hannon – Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Burlington Nazarene Church in Burlington, NJ

  • Todd Hiestand – Pastor of The Well in Feasterville, PA

  • J.R. Briggs – Pastor of Resonate in Souderton, PA

I'm looking for six more people from the Philly-Area to share with us about how the mission of their congregation helps to create the structure of their congregation. I'm also hoping to invite a representative of a traditional monastic order to share their communal experience along side of Chris Lahr, who is living in a "new monastic" environment.

Thanks for the help!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Recipe for Disaster...

It sounds a whole like what goes on in churches. Kinda scary in a laugh yourself until iced tea squirts out of your nostrils kind of way.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Kitchen Is...(Almost) Open

A couple of years ago the state safety inspector took at look at our church. He noticed that it was not "up to code" and gave us a choice. We could close the kitchen, or we could get it up to code quick. What was the problem? Well, like many old church buildings, our church was one patch over another patch over another patch. Repairs, upgrades, and maintenance were not down so much haphazardly as they were done under the supervision of a haphazard succession of people (over the course of 80 years). What this meant was that when (mythological) "brother Oswald" either left the board of trustees - through retirement, transition to another board (because the by-laws limited the time people could be on a board, aggravating the problem), or death - then all the knowledge about the status of the building went with him. Nothing was very well documented, people just did certain things, and dealt with the idiosyncrasies in the building that were the inevitable result. In a world where the standards for health and safety are low, organizations can get away with that for a long time. Heck, in this world where the standards are rather high a lot of organizations get away with it - but when deficiencies get uncovered that's it, game over.

So our kitchen needed an upgrade, and at the time Central had absolutely no money. Rather than insist that the kitchen was central to our existence of the Church, call for dozens of special offerings to raise the $10,000 or so that it would cost, or cry out against the unfairness of the government - I advised, and the Trustees agreed, that we pull the plug on the kitchen. It was a big decision, and a lot of people were really upset, but we had ministry to do and tying up a significant amount of capital into a facility we used (maybe) once a month wasn't a good idea, no matter how many people insisted it was a necessary part of being a Church.

The thing is, we didn't need it. The best year or so of ministry that I've done here at Central was done when the kitchen was closed. Here's what we did:
  • Continued Pot-Luck meals (we found the the kitchen is a convenience for these, not a necessity).
  • Held a "pizza-bash" where every family brought their favorite pizza and laid it out for everyone to share - it was a huge success and took all of 15 minutes to clean up.
  • Hosted a two day retreat of 30 student chaplains from Eastern College who ate three meals with us.
  • Held several "private" events like Bridal Showers.
  • Had two off site picnics down by the Delaware River and gave away food.
  • Opened a new nursery.
  • Started using a projector in worship.
  • Renovated the youth room.
  • Renovated the room that's now the pastor's study.
  • Started renovating a former storage closet for a 24/7 prayer room.
  • Seen at least eight people become part of the fellowship.
  • Did congregational movements on Evangelism, Pilgrimage, and Hospitality.
  • Worshiped "off site" so we could better display the Gospel to our community.
  • We'll soon be having our first baptism in three years.
  • Probably more that I'm forgetting.
Losing the kitchen didn't hurt our ministry, neither did it directly help our ministry, we did just fine without it and we'll continue to do just fine with it. That's right, a gift has been given so help re-open the kitchen, and the project is almost done - we'll have our kitchen again, and that's great. I just hope we don't ever lose our call ministry, 'cause that would be a disaster.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

LBI Reflections

This week my family decided to take a semi-vacation down on Long Beach Island. By re-arranging my days off, adding one day (meaning I'll work extra next week), and leaving right after worship on Sunday we were able to spend half a week at a shore house a woman from our congregation rented (who has adopted our Kids, as well as us, into her extended family). It's was, OK. It was kinda hot and humid, and passing storms made the surf (which is always bad on LBI) pretty rough for the kids so they were on and off grumpy - and they didn't sleep well. On the other hand, we really like spending time with Peg (the nice lady who rented the house), her daughter and her husband (who are just a little older than Jen and I), and their grand-kids (whom we really appreciate). I've never really gotten to know Peg's Son-in-Law as he's only rarely at Church - but he's actually a witty guy who likes talking baseball (so we get along just fine). Jen and Peg's daughter talked a lot as well. She's someone that we both really appreciate, but we don't get to see her a lot because of her work schedule (she's a nurse, 'nuff said). So, internal to our family we dealt with the grumpys, but the time with our our adopted extended family was really rewarding (and that's not always true for family vacations).

One of the reasons that Peg rented the house this weekend was because of a beach program that runs this week called "CSSM." That is, "Children's Sun and Surf Mission." This is basically a free "on the beach" VBS that runs for two weeks every summer. Peg's kids all did it growing up, and now she's excited to get to take her grand-kids to it as well. It's run by a group of enthusiastic College Students, who apparently come back summer after summer, and is organized by the daughter and son-in-law of the program's founder. All-in-all, CSSM is "OK." It's pretty much a typical Evangelical kid's program. It's not shallow, it's also not deep, and it's makes a fair amount of assumptions about the type of language kids are going to understand (a healthy, but not toxic, smattering of "Christian-ese"). I don't think I'd present things the same way, but then again I haven't been running a kids program on the beach for two generations with volunteers who come back year after year after year either, so what do I know?

My kids have been hit or miss in embracing CSSM. My daughter will participate up to a point (especially in the morning, when it's hot and she just wants to go swimming). My Son, on the other hand, has no time at all for CSSM. He sat for the first morning session, but then lasted only about half the time in the evening session before he broke down in tears because he was wondering where we all were (about 20 feet away). The second day, he just didn't want to go at all. As (a)CSSM is free, and (b) we were on vacation - we didn't push my son to participate. He probably would have had a good time had we pushed the issue, but it didn't really seem to be worth the fight. The second evening we went for a walk down to the bay and just had some time to ourselves, and that was nice.

One thing I didn't like about the CSSM presentation was their version of Jonah. It was a clever presentation (complete with beat-poetry), but the committed the error that I can't stand when it comes to Jonah - they changed the reason Jonah didn't got to Ninevah. Look, I don't know why Christians (particularly Evangelicals) fail to notice that the reason that Jonah didn't want to go to Ninevah is actually given in the book (look at Jonah 4:2). Jonah wasn't scared to go to Ninevah (as was presented at CSSM), he was hoping that his avoidance of Ninevah would mean that God would nuke the dang city. Fact is, he hated the city, and he hated the people - and he didn't want them to get an opportunity to repent. Why Evangelicals change this point, I have no idea - particularly when it works perfectly into a presentation of the Gospel message: "God is not like Jonah, he wants you to have an opportunity to be forgiven so much that he sent his only Son that you would have eternal life." See how that works?

Anyway, aside from my problem with the Jonah presentation CSSM was OK, our kids had a bit of fun, and we made some friendships better. Not a bad way to spend half a week.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Best "Security System"

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting one of my closest friends from High School, as well his family. Darrel and company are truly remarkable people who's lives revolve around the ministries they've been called to serve. Darrel's also one of my first peers who modeled Christianity to me (as well as introducing me to the joy that is Steve Taylor). Their kids are cute too.

Anyway, late last night they checked their messages and found out their home had been broken into. It was late, so they figured that there was nothing they could do that night and went to bed (this reveals a marked difference between Darrel and myself - I'm so high-strung that I'd be calling the world trying to get answers).

This morning they were jogged awake by a call on their cell phone from the Police - the culprits had been identified by some neighborhood kids that Darrel and family had befriended, and the stolen property was recovered. Darrel smiled and said, "Well, our home security system works after all, 'know your neighbors.'"

Bingo. Here again is a great life-lesson, very similar to our adventure at the Conshohocken Curve, we need "neighbors" - without them, who extends us hospitality and care, and who do we extend the same toward? I feel sorry for people who have no friends, and don't even know the people living next-door to them. They're all alone.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

See A CrossPoint Story Time

One of the things I've desired to do is use the internet to share the way I tend to use the screen for sermons and "story time." The problem is, easily converting a presentation to video is not an easy task. Oh there is some easy conversion software out there, but they don't handle build-effects for slides (and I'm not going back and creating a slide for each new image, yick). So, I've just been out of luck in that department. I can share my slides, and I can share my audio, but not both at the same time.

Not unless I sit down and manually sync the audio with a timed slide presentation and then provide you both the links that is. Which is what I've done.

So, if you download the following links (warning: you'll need to open the slide-show, it's free) and start the audio at roughly the same time you start the presentation, you can experience how I've been using the screen for preaching. Enjoy!

Presentation: Acts of Love
Audio: Podcast Audio

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Awesome Spoof

I love satire, I think this has got to be one of the funniest things I've seen in a while. iMonk had it on his site, but it disappeared for some reason - so I'm putting it up here. Oh the wonderful caricatures!