Thursday, June 29, 2006
At the risk of spreading an urban (or in this case rural) legend, consider the case of the ermine. The ermine is a small, weasel-like creature indigenous to Canada, the Northern United states, Asia and Europe. In the spring and summer the ermine's coat is dark brown with a white underbelly, but in winter the coat turns entirely white except for the black end of its tail. The animal has long been hunted for its white winter coat, its fur being used to line the capes of nobility. But not only do people prize its fur; the ermine itself is pretty protective of its white coat. It spends hours preening the fur, and it will go to great lengths not to get dirty.
Trappers have used this quirk against the animal. When they find an ermine’s lair, they will coat the entrance with thick black tar. They wait while their dogs are set loose to track the animal. Instinctively, the ermine will make for the safety of its den, but when it sees the black tar covering the entrance, the ermine will turn and face the dogs. The ermine would rather fight its attackers rather than risk dirtying its white coat. The trappers then move in to claim their prize.
Would be that you and I were as zealous for our purity as is the lowly ermine! John spoke of the holy martyrs who had been washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). Only those who are so washed can enter the city of God (Rev 22:14). Paul tells us that despite our past impurity, we have been washed (1 Cor 6:11). We become part of Jesus holy bride through the “washing with water of the word” (Eph 5:26). But we live in a world filled with dirt, a world that wants us to participate in the dirt. James tells us to “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21). We need to be so protective of the purity that Jesus won for us at the cross that we not only run from the immorality around us (1 Cor 6:18), we will turn and fight rather than give into it!
My treatise on ermine trapping may only be a preacher story, but God’s call to holiness and purity is not! We need to take it seriously.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Just last month, Limbaugh reached a deal in a long-standing case of what is commonly called “doctor shopping.” He had been charged in obtained multiple prescriptions for painkillers from multiple doctors under false pretenses. He had received a (sweetheart) deal of having all charges dismissed after 18 months if he submits to random drug tests and undergoes treatment for his addiction to painkillers.
Yesterday, Mr. Limbaugh was detained at Palm Beach International Airport after authorities found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a valid prescription. Well, actually, it had a prescription… it just wasn’t to Mr. Limbaugh. The explanation was that the drug was legally prescribed, but that it was “labeled as being issued to the physician rather than Mr. Limbaugh for privacy purposes.” That actually sounds plausible, I guess. But the privacy angle didn’t work out so well for him in this case. In fact, I think we can expect the commentators and comedians out there to really pile on ol' Rush this time. After all, Viagra is just a lot funnier that Percocet or Percodan!
None of us are perfect... so you would think we would know better. But there is this human tendency to respond to the foibles and failures of others with too much interest and not enough grace. We want to hear all about the latest celebrity scandal; there are entire TV shows dedicated to that kind of gossip. And when we don’t like someone (because of their politics or personality or both), we take special delight in hearing about their failures. Many left-wingers will be pouncing on this latest chapter in the Limbaugh soap opera. (Of course, Rush pounces pretty hard and fast too— just ask Bill and Hillary).
How different is the response of God to our failures and foibles. God is hurt by our sin and disappointed in our choices, but He is instantly ready to forgive when we are ready to own responsibility for our actions and make changes in our perspectives. David, who was in a position to know about such things, assures is that God overwhelms our failures with his mercy and grace— listen to Psalm 103:10-13
10 He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
God doesn’t tolerate sin. He doesn’t overlook sin. He never says that our sins don’t really matter. But he will forgive our sin… completely. And when forgives sin, you don’t have to worry about reading about them later. They are gone. Now, if only God’s people were as serious about forgiveness!
Monday, June 26, 2006
The special Jesus Loves Porn Star Bible is really The Message translation of the New Testament with special articles and helps. This non-traditional approach to ministry has caused some controversy. The American Bible Society refused to print the Bible; it was subsequently printed by NavPress. There have been Christians who have been critical of other things done by X3, but they defend their ministry decision as an important way to reach out to our broken world in a way no one else is doing.
"We think this goes with the central message of the gospel and Jesus loves you regardless of your profession… This is not about shock tactics, this is about trying to get the word of God to places most say would be impossible but we have found a way to do it."So... where would Jesus be in all of this? Would He be at the trade show talking about the truth of God with people who desperately need it and encouraging them to get out of a sinful lifestyle? Or would He stand on the sidelines criticizing the effort and complaining about the cover style of the Bible that was produced? Oh, and where would the Pharisees be? It is interesting how the church has come to so value the mantle of its respectability that it rejects as unseemly the very kinds of things that Jesus did. There is food for thought in here somewhere.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
I had a déjà vu of that yesterday. I was preparing for my Wednesday night class by reading in 1 Kings and Chronicles. I was going to make a point about why David was prevented from building the Temple himself. Specifically, I wondered if the blood on David’s hands was all the men he killed in battle or perhaps the innocent blood he shed… like that of Uriah. So I read the text closely. Well, in 2 Samuel 7 where David asks to build the Temple, there is no mention of blood on David’s hands. God promises to build David a house (dynasty) and that his son would build the Temple. In 1 Kings 5 as Solomon is explaining his plans for the Temple to Hiram, king of Tyre, he says that David was too busy at war to build the house of God. And in 1 Chronicles 17, the parallel passage to 2 Samuel 7, again there is no mention of blood being on David’s hands. I carefully re-read all the passages and there was no mention of what I remembered being there. I was sure it was there… right beside the verse about going to sleep with a lighted match!
This reminds me of two things. First, it can be dangerous to rely upon what you think you already know and have learned about the Bible. The absolute enemy of our search for truth is the absolute conviction that we already have it! If all we are after in Bible study is the repetition of what we already know, then Bible study is a pretty pointless pursuit. Sometimes we begin a Bible discussion by saying, “Well, I’ve just always believed that…” And what we may mean is that we aren’t all that open to considering it in any other way. Just because you think a story, interpretation or application is in the Bible doesn’t mean its there. In fact, it may keep you from looking.
Second, sometimes it really is there! In 1 Chronicles 22, David is giving his son instructions for the future Temple project. In giving Solomon his marching orders, David says—
7 David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. 8 But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. 9 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign.
So it was in there all along—I just didn’t read long enough or hard enough! Sometimes continued study confirms what you believed to be true in the first place. And that’s OK too, isn’t it? While I was tracking down all of that, I ran across a lot of other great stories as well. One day I’ll probably have a debate with myself about whether one of those stories is really in the Bible or not!
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Glory Road is the story of Coach Don Haskins and the Texas Western University basketball team. This little school from El Paso, Texas made an improbable run to win the 1966 NCAA national championship over the Kentucky juggernaut coached by legendary Adolph Rupp. But then, the movie wasn’t really about basketball; it was about racism and integrity. An informal rule in southern basketball dictated that you never play more than one black player at home, two on the road or three if you were behind. Texas Western won the 1966 NCAA championship with an all-black team on the floor, defeating all-white Kentucky. On that court that night, modern basketball began as Texas Western delivered “the emancipation proclamation of 1966.” (Those are the words of NBA coach Pat Riley, the star of that Kentucky team, in an interview that ran during the closing credits of the movie. By the way, Riley had a pretty good night for himself last night in the NBA).
In one impassioned speech in the movie, Coach Haskins reminds his players that their effort was about more than basketball. They were playing for something bigger than basketball, bigger than themselves. Rather than the pressure of that overwhelming these young men, it gave them the strength to give their best effort and prevail in the end. In the end, they won something more important than a basketball game.
That is the reality of our Christian lives. Every day, we make decisions on how we will relate to people and conduct ourselves in the world. From the slow and disorganized cashier at Wal-Mart to the non-helpful customer (no) service person at the phone company to the nosey neighbor who is always showing up at inconvenient times, we must decide how we will act and react. At one level, it’s just grocery-shopping, bill-adjusting and neighbor-ducking, right? But on another level, how we act and react is all about spiritual warfare. We know what Paul says in Ephesians 6:12--
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (NLT)
Spiritual warfare takes place within the ordinary decisions of our ordinary day. Every choice we make and ever action we take either contributes to the light in our world or to the darkness. What you and I are about at work, school or home today is spiritual living and spiritual warfare. Our life today is about more than just life in the here and now. Every day we are taking steps along the glory road.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Maybe we need the same message too. It is so easy to see “church” as what happens within the walls of a particular building during a particular time. So we have "church services" and "church programs." But the church is not what happens a designated place at the next appointed time; church is what happens in the lives of God's people. The dominant metaphor for the church in the Bible is that of family. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:15—
If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
That's not talking about the proper dress code (suits or hats) or whether or not its OK to eat or let the teens play laser tag in the building. It's not talking about a building at all. The house is not a church building... it is us. The NCV renders this text, "You will know how to live in the family of God." No, we don't think of church in terms of being a building, but we do think of church as what happens when we come to the building. If we are ever to get a handle on what it means to be an ancient church in the modern world, we will have to lose our identity of "doping church" with what goes on at the building.
(Note: The slightly processed picture of our building that I included above was found in a folder on my hard drive labelled "church." Old habits are hard to break.)
Friday, June 16, 2006
I think I’m correct in stating that, from the genealogical research that some members of the Shelburne, Shelburn, Shelborne, Shelbourne, Shilborne, family have done, it becomes clear that our clan has long had a bent toward the ministry. That’s just a fact and not necessarily praiseworthy. I’m quite sure we have had in the clan our share of horse thieves, too, some of whom were probably also in the ministry. (Well, a circuit preacher’s gotta ride, don’t-cha-know!)
In my own little sub-clan, we’ve also had a good number of missionaries, which means that we’ve had ample opportunity to see such work and such workers fairly close up.
My earliest view of mission work and missionaries in general came from my oldest brother (Ian's Dad, B. Shelburne) and his wife who, since they went to Africa shortly after I was born, I actually got acquainted with on their furloughs. I thought then, and I think now, they were missionaries of the very best sort.
As I got older, I was introduced to one or two of another sort when I would often accompany another of my brothers to a monthly luncheon of area preachers of more or less “our” brand. The guys needing programs for those meetings often invited furloughed missionaries of their own.
With sad regularity, the missionary would start by opining, “When we arrived in Outer Swazilandika, there were 12 Christians in the whole country,” and you got the feeling he wasn’t so sure about 8 of those. “Now there are 127.” The heartwarming nature of the growth was somewhat tempered when you did a little historical research and found that Christ’s emissaries from other brands had already been there for the better part of at least several centuries and the aforementioned math was being done in the head of a guy who was, as one man said, “so narrow that a gnat could stand on the bridge of his nose and kick out both eyes with one foot.” It was further tempered when you listened for a while and realized that were you to spend eternity in close proximity to this fellow, it wouldn’t take you long to decide that when you’d been dispatched to eternity, you’d landed a good deal south of heaven. (Jesus warned us! See Matthew 23:15.)
But my sons recently told me a story that some large-hearted missionaries of the best sort had told them. It seems that word had reached mature Christian “native” leaders in an African country that a “missionary” of the gnat-kicked type above had heard about their worship (drums, joyful dancing, etc.) and was crossing the ocean to set them straight lest God be appalled by their extravagant joy before him. They met the man at the plane and turned him around: “We love you in the Lord. But we will not allow you to transplant seeds of division from your land to ours.” It was then that the missionaries knew for sure that “their converts” were truly rooted and growing beautifully in Christ.
(c) 2006 by Curtis K. Shelburne.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Superman? Think about it. Here is a savior who comes from another world to save mankind. That does sound familiar, right? The teaser for the movie contained these words spoken by Marlon Brando as Superman’s father in the 1978 movie--
Even though you have been raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all-- their capacity for good-- I have sent them you, my only son.
Sound familiar? Superman's real name "Kal-El" and that of his father "Jor-El" both use the Hebrew word for "God.” The plot has Superman returns after a long absence, a story-line not unlike Jesus’ death and resurrection. These kinds of comparisons really got going when James Caviezel, star of The Passion of the Christ, was considered for the role of Superman, a role which eventually went to Brandon Routh. Stephen Skelton has written The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero, a book featured by Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) on his web page.
I think it is important for Christians to understand the popular culture. Jesus spent His time in the streets with common people, not ivory towers separated from them. I think we can use the interest of people in the culture to build bridges to the gospel. That is why we look at the birth of Jesus at Christmas and his death-and-resurrection at Easter— people are already focusing on those themes. I did preach on The Da Vinci Code when the movie was released, and I made a big deal about The Chronicles of Narnia, a movie I’ve seen a half-dozen times. I think it is important to use people interest or questions in spiritual things to point them to spiritual truth.
But there seems to me something else going on when we start seeing Superman as a Christ figure! Do we really think someone will see Superman again beating up on Lex Luther and think, “You now, I really outta go to church?” Will secular people be opened to spiritual truths here? Will discussions about Superman Returns at the water cooler give us chances to share our faith? Maybe, I guess. Who knows?
Or is it maybe that believers are looking to secular culture for some sort of confirmation of faith? If a popular movie throws us a bone (or uses imagery that we can interpret as a bone), maybe that makes us feel better about our faith. After all, we are used to movie like The Da Vinci Code undermining and ridiculing faith. We are used to religious people in movies always turning out to be psycho-killers. So when The Chronicles of Narnia comes along and treats faith respectfully, that is refreshing. So are willing to see Superman as another allegory of faith? Am I the only one who sees this as a super stretch?
If talking about Superman Returns helps you share you faith, that’s great. But if we are willing to take comfort in Hollywood treating faith respectfully, then we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed. It has always been the case that those who follow Christ must follow him outside the camp of respectability (see Hebrews 13:11-14). There is always something of a disgrace to follow the Crucified One. We certainly should not expect our culture to make faith more respectable!
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
There are great variations in all these groups, but they do share some common traits. They accept only the Bible and reject tradition as a basis of authority. They produce independent churches with no denominational organization, and they stress holy living and Christian fellowship. Most of these groups practice some form of believer’s baptism (and reject the baptism of infants). And people on this movements were very committed, often giving up everything to follow God. For example, there were about 50,000 Anabaptists martyred between 1525-1535 A.D.
So, where are all of these restoration groups now? (Well, we know where we are... maybe) Some of these groups completely faded from history. Others so divided, fractured and splintered so that they are no longer single movements. Hawley argues that the failure of all of these restoration efforts was is in their FOCUS. Each group found something (maybe several things) that they found "broken" in Christianity. For the Anabaptists, it was the practice of infant baptism and the state church system of Europe. For Stone and Campbell, it was baptism by immersion and the pattern for church organization. For the most part, these things that were found to be in error were external things relating to doctrine, worship and church organization. Because these external things were what these groups saw as WRONG, these tended to be the main focus of the group. So the whole point of Christianity was the relationship of church and state or baptism by immersion. What was lost (or at least overshadowed) in many cases was the focus of God reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus Christ.
What is my point? It is possible for believers in Christ to focus with laser precision on the external forms of religion and completely miss God Himself! That is what Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5, these religious leaders who were themselves great restorationists (John 5:39-40)
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Jesus recognized the Pharisees’ emphasis on the study of scripture. He does not, of course, criticize their study. What he criticizes is the focus of their study. They saw the scriptures and all the laws and traditions that came from their study of the scriptures. What they missed was the Christ at the center of the scriptures. Spiritual life comes from scripture only as we are connected to the Christ of scriptures. The restoration isn’t about church organization and external forms—restoration must center in the person of Christ himself. As Edward Fudge says as he concludes His booklet “The Restoration Movement Fulfilled In Jesus Christ” (available online here) with the statement, “CHRIST is the end (goal - telos) of the Restoration Movement, to all who believe in Jesus.”
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Anyway, I came across the following story the other day. A man named Claude Powell lived with his six children in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All six of his children needed of new shoes for school and the exact time that the old washing machine broke down. A string of bad weather had reduced his work, so money was tight. Powell managed to get the shoes, and then bought a used washing machine advertised in the paper. The house where he bought the washer was obviously the home of the well-to-do, filled with all the comforts anyone could ever want. As he packed up the old washer, the conversation got around to children. Claude Powell commented on the challenge of keeping six children in shoes. The woman left the room crying, and her husband explained that they had one child who had been paralyzed from birth. He had never needed a new pair of shoes. Powell finishes his own story, “When I got home I picked up all the old shoes worn out from skipping rope, kicking rocks, and jumping puddles, and I went off to be by myself. Kneeling by my bed gave thanks to God for all the worn-out shoes in our house.”
Sometimes we need to be reminded of what is really important. It is so easy for us to get caught up in what we don’t have and think we want. If we would occasionally just stop, seriously stop and consider all that we have, then we might find ourselves ashamed of wanting more and more. We have been blessed so much that often the very things we want (and even think we need) are really reminders of all we have. Our response should be to thank God for all his marvelous gifts and then to look for ways to share them with others.
Monday, June 12, 2006
One change led to another. That is the way things are in our Christian lives. Once we really change the way we look at life and at God, other things begin be seem our of place. Gradually, thought-by-thought and act-by-act, life is transformed. We may never notice how we get from point A to point B… and we might not be able to explain the trek looking back. But growth happens. The power of change is beyond us… and so is the explanation. Jesus pits ii this way in Mark 4:26-29 (NLT)--
“The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”For this to happen, we have to look outside ourselves. We have to focus on God and His truth. Once we see His magesty, we may never see ourselves the same way again!
Friday, June 09, 2006
Marquardt uses the analogy of a dividing to create two new cells, each with its own nucleus. When a family splits, it creates two new families and each of these has its own nucleus or center. In intact families, the nucleus is the children; parents focus much of the attention of the family on the protection and nurturing of the children. When divorce divides the family into two new cells, each parent becomes the nucleus of their new world. Two-thirds of those surveyed who grew up in intact families said that they as children were the center of the family; only one-third of those in divorced families felt the same way. Rather than the nucleus of the family, the children of divorce grow up as the only link between their parent’s new worlds, and that can be a lonely place.
Unfortunately, divorce is sometimes a necessary reality. If that were not the case, then neither Jesus not Paul would have held it our as a possibility for disciples. The church must get better at ministering to the divorced, or else large portions of the population will have no place in our churches. Divorce is not an unpardonable sin, rather it provides us an opportunity to minister God’s grace and love to people who need it. But above all, the church must teach the truth. And the truth is that divorce is never the will of God, and it is always the product of hardened human hearts (Jesus’ words in Matt 19:8).
Part of the church telling the truth is to say that divorce is bad for kids. We may convince ourselves that as long as we are amicable, adult and unselfish, then we can get through a divorce without it negatively impacting our children. Well, marriages fail because spouses have a hard time being amicable, adult and unselfish; do we get better at these things after divorce? Marquardt’s study reminds us that even when divorcing parents come close to being amicable, adult and unselfish, their children will suffer to some degree. What divorce robs children of is their God-intended place of being the center of their parent’s world rather than bouncing back and forth between two worlds.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance," states the online explanation of the rating system. "There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. ... The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Obviously such a line is difficult to draw.
"Facing the Giants" is a about a burned-out, depressed football coach whose life on and off the field takes a turn for the better… a miraculous turn. There is none of the violence, language, brief nudity or adult themes in the film that generall cuases ratings disputes. So why the rating? The movie is simply too Christian and too evangelistic. The word they used was “proselytizing.” The MPAA decided that this little movie “was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions.” As the article observes, “Faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about.”
Well, I guess we should be thankful that the movie was only rated PG and not PG-13… or worse. It wasn’t so many years ago that non-religious parents would send their kids to Sunday School or VBS because they wanted their children exposed to religious and moral training. Now the MPAA is wants to warn parents that exposing their kids to Christian messages in a movie might be dangerous and damaging. The world has changed. I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!
And we need to realize that. We need to understand that our world is a post-Christian, secular culture that no longer accepts Christian values as good or a Christian heritage as the common experience of most. There are some people who cannot understand why anyone would share religious faith with someone. Oh, they see an ill-defined, abstract spirituality as a good thing, but be serious enough about Christian faith to want to share it with someone else? Well that is just not done in polite company.
But at the same time, there are many others who are desperately seeking God. They want someone to show them truth and meaning in their life, even if they don’t yet realize that this is what they are wanting. We need to be God’s messengers of meaning to those who are seeking. That may mean running the risk of being looked down as passé and informed by the cultural elite. It may mean getting a PG rating on you life. But that is what we must risk to be God’s harbingers of good news in a world that needs it!
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Several rambling thoughts were brought to mind by this news blurb. First, I do wish that my Christian sisters would give more thought (make that 'different thought") on how they dress. I know all about style… OK, I know very little about style. But the last think that Christian men who are trying to take purity seriously need is for Christian women not to take modesty seriously. Yes, I know that the purity of our thoughts is our responsibility and that a guy can lust no matter how a woman is dressed. After all, Jesus talked about men lusting in Matthew 5 when ladies were covered from neck-to-toe with head-coverings! But ladies, come on. Help us out here! There are enough Brittany Spears-wannabes out there without you making it harder on us as well!
Second, how a Christian (man or woman) dresses at church is not nearly as important as how they dress period. Sure, there are some ways to dress that would be inappropriate for church. For example, a formal gown or tuxedo would be inappropriate for church, at least at Denbigh. (One day, we’ll add ties to that list!). But if something is inappropriate for church because it is immodest, then it is inappropriate anywhere, not just church! It is not just bad taste to tell a dirty joke or use vulgar language at church— it is wrong to do that anywhere. We should be more concerned about how we dress period.
Third, maybe, just maybe, a church-wide ban on navel gazing is itself a form of navel gazing. We have to think that some of the people going to church there in Italy were non-church people. I wonder what impact those signs (or fashion police at the doors) would have on non-churched people who wandered in off the street looking for God. Yes, inappropriate clothing might compromise something of the solemnity of the atmosphere at church. But come on! Would Jesus be even remotely care about atmosphere? No, He was concerned with people, and He always met them where they were. He did not refuse to talk with the woman of John 8 until she put on something decent! A church that is so focused on its atmosphere that it stops people at the door is navel gazing—looking inward to the point where it doesn’t look outward.
What is it that the church fusses and fights and fumes over? Not the cross. Not the lost. Navel gazing. It is the style of our worship (traditional or contemporary), what we do on Sunday nights (at the building or small group) and what Bible we read (KJV or NIV). We seem to focus most intensely on ourselves and issues that matter only to us. Navel-gazing. It is time to take our eyes off of ourselves and look both upward and outward.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
A two inch long discolored eyetooth is reverenced by 400 million Buddhists as the most sacred object on earth. The tooth is supposed to have been reclaimed from the Buddha's funeral pyre in 543 B.C. and was brought to Ceylon 800 years later. Today the tooth sets upon a golden lotus in the Glorious Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Ceylon. It is surrounded by rubies and tons of flowers. Each year a 100,000 faithful Buddhists come from many countries to gaze at the sacred tooth and bring gifts of gold, silver and jewels to the temple.
The fact that an old beat-up and burned-up tooth could become the object of worship of millions is hard to imagine. But the fact of its veneration reminds us of two inescapable facts concerning worship:
- First, human beings are by nature worshipful creatures. French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said that each has “a God-shaped void” within that we seek to fill with God. A. W. Tozer said, “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.”
- Second, left to our own devices, humans will always get worship wrong. We may be by nature worshipful, but we are not by nature very discriminating about what worship. So we get it all mixed up. We don’t fill Pascal’s void with God, so we settle for substitutes.
Is there any part of our Christian life and service that is any more important than is our worship? Is not our whole reason for existence to give God glory and praise? But do we get it right? Gordon Dahl once said, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship.” That is an accusation of the worst kind… a true one!
The point of worship is not “getting it right.” The point is not getting the right forms and theology (the “five acts” and no piano). The point is not getting the right experience or exuberance (raising hands and raising the roof). The point of worship is God. Get the right view of God, and you will likely have the right idea of worship. But have the wrong view of God, and your worship will always be wrong! May God move us beyond the old debates on forms and formats and move us closer and closer to Him.
Monday, June 05, 2006
There is this Pentecostal college near Eastern College where I teach. Now I am not Pentecostal, but I talk so fast that I think they think I'm speaking in tongues, so it works out okay. One day they invited me to speak at a chapel service. I like speaking there because they're a dynamic, happy people, and I enjoy being with them. Just before I spoke, eight guys took me into a back room of the chapel and got me down on my knees. Then they laid their hands on my head and prayed for me. That was good. I need all the prayer I can get.
There was only one problem. These guys prayed a long time. That's usually okay too, but the longer they prayed, the more tired they got. The more tired they got, the more they leaned on my head. I want to tell you, when eight Pentecostals are leaning on your head, it doesn't feel so good.
One guy wasn't even praying for me. Instead, he went on and on praying for somebody named Charlie Stoltzfis. He shouted, `Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfis. He lives in that silver trailer down the road about a mile. You know the trailer, Lord. It's just down the road on the right-hand side.'
I felt like saying, “Knock it off. You think God is saying, ‘What's that address again?’” Anyway, he went on, “Lord, Charlie told me this today he has decided to leave his wife and three kids. He told me he was walking out on his family. Lord, step in and do something. Bring the people of the family back together again.”
All the while, I'm kneeling there with eight guys leaning on my head. I'm asking myself, “When is he going to knock it off so I can get these Pentecostal preachers off my head?” He kept going on about Charlie Stoltzfis leaving his wife and his kids, giving God reminders that he lived in this silver trailer a mile down the road on the right-hand side.
Finally, the prayers were over, and I went to the pulpit and preached. After I finished I got in my car, drove to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and headed for home. As I drove onto the turnpike, I noticed a hitchhiker. Now, I know you're not supposed to pick them up, but hey, I'm a preacher. Whenever I can get anybody locked in as a captive audience, I do it. I stopped and picked him up.
We drove a few minutes, and I said, “Hi, my name is Tony Campolo. What's yours?” He said, “My name is Charlie Stoltzfis.” I couldn't believe it. I got off the turnpike at the next exit and headed back. He got a bit uneasy with that. After a few minutes, he said, “Hey, mister! Where are you taking me?” I said, “I'm taking you home, Charlie.”
He narrowed his eyes and asked, “Why?” I said, “It's because you just left your wife and three children, right?” That blew him away — “Yes! Yes! That's right” — with shock written over his face. He plastered himself against the car door and never took his eyes off me.
I drove off the turnpike at the next exit. Then I really did him in, as I drove right to his silver trailer. When I pulled up, his eyes seemed to bulge as he asked, “How did you know I live here?” I said, “God told me.” Well, I believe God did tell me.
We got out of the car, and I ordered him to get in the trailer. Half shaking, he answered, “Right, mister. Sure! Sure, I'm going in.” When he opened the trailer door, his wife exclaimed, “You're back, you're back.”
He whispered in her ear, and the more he talked the bigger her eyes got. Then I said with real authority, “The two of you sit down. I'm going to talk, and you two are going to listen.” Man, did they listen! That afternoon, I led those two young people to Jesus Christ. Today, that guy is a preacher of out in California.
We believe that God is active and working in His people today, right? We really do believe that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” right? We say that God still works in mysterious ways, correct? And we firmly believe that God answers prayers, true? Then why do we so often act so very surprised when God does just that?
Thursday, June 01, 2006
The world that we live in today has certainly changed. When I was a child, homosexuality was still considered to be a mental disease and aberration today it is a normal and healthy alternative lifestyle. And when I was a child, superheroes were champions of good who fought for “truth, justice and the American way.” But the world in which I grew up is history… my girls would say “ancient history.” It does us no good to point to how bad things are compared now to how things were then. That world no longer exists. And what is more, that world was nowhere nearly as pure as we might remember. When I was a child, George Wallace ran for president on platform of racism and segregation. Yes, the world has changed, and not all the changes have been of the “hell-in-a-hand-basket” variety.
Ours is a postmodern, post-Christian world in which every idea passes as true and nothing is accepted as ultimate truth. And that is precisely the kind of world in which Christianity was born. What early evangelists faced as they took the gospel across the Mediterranean was not a world that denied the idea of God but a world where many ideas masqueraded as gods. In that world, they proclaimed the truth of God and called people to holiness despite the many competing ideas that all claimed to be true. They did not wait for the world to behave, they simply stood in the shadow of the cross and pointed people to its Savior and its lifestyle.
What should we think of comic books recasting Batwoman as a lesbian? She should think that we live in a sinful world, and we should ask ourselves how our lives are shining in the darkness to bring light. What should we do? Well, if you run into Batwoman swooping down a dark alley looking for crime to fight, why not invite her to church with you.