Would you pray with us?

Today I invited the folks of the Vineyard Church of Waterville to join me in praying this every day for our selves and our church:

And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” So God granted him what he requested.
–I Chronicles 4:10 NKJV

To find out more of why I think this is a wonderful opportunity for us, listen to today’s sermon. Go to:
the Vineyard Church of Waterville sermon page or
click here for the direct link of the mp3 of today’s sermon “Don’t Come up Short: Abide”

Dying

My iPAQ is down again. I had to reset and reload it. These things simplify life, right?

At least I get to catch up on blogs. Here’s a quote from Jon Swanson:

Much to the chagrin of churchy people, the standard that Jesus established was not dying for our faith. It was dying for each other. Too often we get all stuffy about standing up for our beliefs. Seldom do we get celebrated for laying down our lives or our livelihood for others. (However, it happens. All the time)

He’s writing about peas and a fundraising effort for a breast cancer patient.

But this is so true, isn’t it?

We’re so much more likely to say, “Yes Lord! I’ll die for you!” than we are “Yes, Lord! I’ll die to that area of my life for this person.”

That’s why so many marriages fail. Dying for Jesus (in North America) is largely conceptual. But dying to myself for my spouse means I really have to change. And if I don’t my spouse will let me know!

Dying for Jesus can happen at some unspecified time. Dying for others happens NOW.

I think that’s been the most incredible thing about pastoring for three years now. Often, the people that don’t stick with us are the ones that

  1. say they’ll die for Jesus and say it loudly and
  2. want every single part of life to conform to their own preconceived notions.

Then they go and justify their inflexibility by their passion for Jesus.

And as a recipient of their “you’re-not-doing-it-like-I-would-so-you’re-not-doing-it-God’s-way,” I get to die to myself. Their myopic vision isn’t something I need to chastise them for or vilify them for. Once in a while I’ll get to call them on it. And it certainly is stress producing. But we keep reminding ourselves we’re all myopic in some areas.

I’m not ranting. Really. This is just how it is. This is community. It’s not hanging out with people you love 24/7. It’s living life with people and doing it whether it feels comfortable or not.

If you’re a pastor, I bet you know it’s true.

If you know a pastor, ask Jesus to help them live in this tension. Ask God to help them have a thick skin and a tender heart.

And if you call the Vineyard Church of Waterville your home, thank you! We have an amazingly committed crew of people that are committed to dying for each other. You guys keep short accounts (not letting things fester). You keep communication open. And you’re just as honest when you’re going through a crappy patch of life as you are when you’re living in praise-land!

You guys are the best.

[Hallelujah! My iPAQ just binged at me!!! It’s fixed!]

This could be us

[Warning: A rant of political nature is about to commence]

This morning as I heard a BBC’s World Service report on the insult to Islam of naming a teddy bear Muhammed, I had a shocking thought: This could be us.

Think about it. Change the name to “Jesus” and you’d have all the people passing on the latest urban legend about the FCC taking “God” off of TV writing letters to the editor. You’d have the social fundamentalists squawking on the Fox News talk shows. You could easily have the picketing and demonstrations like those reported by CNN.

Don’t believe it? Have you read an email against the Golden Compass lately?

I’m got quite scared when I thought about people like that being elected as president. Fortunately none of the Republican presidential candidates seem to be social fundamentalists. But we currently have a president (who I voted for both times) that has sanctioned domestic spying against us and our neighbors without Congressional approval and who passes legislation only after elaborate signing statements that explain why the rules don’t apply to his administration. How much further would it take to have state mandated prayer in schools? Or some other state mandated religious observance?

You may be concerned this pastor is sounding like an atheist. I’m not. I’m a committed and passionate follower of Jesus. But I don’t believe in “following Jesus” the way I see espoused by political pundits like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson.

Personally, I praise God I live in a secular state. Is it messy? Yes. Do things happen in the US that I’d rather not see or have my kids exposed to? Certainly.

But I’m free to choose what to believe and free to learn how to work out my relationship with God. I know Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, and others have helped countless millions in their faith with God. Good! May I be so used some day.

But when we start demanding all of society censor things to fit our worldview, we get into an awfully addicting power trip. One that throughout history more often than not ends up in protests like those in Sudan.

This cultural warfare has more in common with the Taliban than with Jesus.

Maybe I’ll go get a teddy bear and name it Jesus just to remind me this the next time I’m tempted to think a bill or a vote or an election is “essential” to “protecting” my faith as a Christian.

[The rant is now over. ๐Ÿ™‚ ]

The Golden Compass Revisited

In an earlier rant on the Golden Compass, I pleaded with those who are followers of Jesus to use the brains God’s given them to form their own opinions rather than consuming the gossip and half-truths of hate mongerers who call themselves Christian.

I finished both The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. My favorite local librarian, Sarah Sugden warned me that the only good book in the trilogy was The Golden Compass. The others, especially The Amber Spyglass, are awful. So I’ll abide by my librarian’s recommendation and not read the third.

Pullman has the ability of a good storyteller to create believable worlds. With the blend of science, pseudo-science, and spirituality, his work reminds me of that of Madeleine L’Engle…but only as an apprentice’s work is a shadow of the master’s.

Pullman certainly has an axe to grind against the Church and against God. Indeed, the trilogy is about declaring a war on God and completing the revolt started by Lucifer so long ago. If you can get over that little detail, the story is fairly engaging. ๐Ÿ™‚

It intrigues me how “biblical” Pullman’s worldview is. Good and bad angels, destiny and free will, powers outside of ourselves influencing our lives. Sure there are witches but those are in most good stories (C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, J.K. Rowling).

As a pastor, it’s pretty obvious that what Pullman calls “the Church” isn’t the Church as I know it. His Church is a power-mongering, sex obsessed, control-freak monstrosity. A church and a God that’s more interested in submission and obedience than creativity and life. Apparently they overthrow God in the third book. He turns out to be a senile invalid who’s easily killed by his cart being overturned by a mindless monster. If this really is God, I say “good riddance.”

Based on some recent conversations I’ve had, this view of the Church is commonly shared in our culture. Even among Christians.

As I started looking at history through this prism, I began to see why. So much of church history has been sex-obsessed, mostly keeping away from sex as though it were evil. Even to the point of saying the “original sin” was sex. (What a crock!)

And look at the vocal Christians in politics, so much of what they’re screaming about is sex centered: abortion, sex ed in schools, gay marriage, etc. Seen through this prism, God is reduced to a sort of prude in the sky incessantly nagging humanity like Orville Jackson’s “Aunt Lucy” (both played by Bob Hope) in the 1942 movie The Road to Morocco.

Pullman didn’t have to get too creative to portray the Church this way. We’ve brought it on ourselves with our “gospel of sin management.”

Control and power-mongering are not the gospel of Jesus. Jesus says it’s the thief that comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” but that he came to bring life, and bring it more abundantly (John 10:10). Interestingly, he doesn’t come across as sex obsessed or interested in “sin management.” He doesn’t get his disciples to take classes or create programs or grade them on perfect attendance. (He even gets questioned because his disciples don’t fast enough! Matthew 9:9-17)

Instead, he’s come to destroy the works of the enemy: theft, death, and destruction. According to him, if you see those things, you know they’re from the enemy no matter what they call themselves. (Some will even say “Lord, Lord, did we not…” See the full passage at Matthew 7:15-23).

I certainly don’t think everyone needs to read stuff like Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.” Nevertheless, here are some things I’m taking away from my reading of his work:

  • Christians don’t need to be blindly afraid of fiction. It can often show us a better view on either reality or how people perceive reality. That can then help us change and grow.
  • As well meaning as the book-banning police may be, it’d be better for us to stop opposing this stuff. Opposing it just reinforces the preconceived notions of us being control freakish kill-joys. And it helps sell millions more copies of the books than might otherwise happen. Talk about free publicity!
  • We all have minds. Rather than being lemmings following the thought police off a cliff of ignorance, we need to use our minds to the glory of God. Indeed, the Jewish sages taught that study is the highest form of worship. If we were to saturate ourselves in study of Scripture, these “attacks” would be far less intimidating.
  • Finally, while not all of us are going to read these books or watch these movies, we should encourage those equipped to interact with culture to do so. The lingua franca of 21st century western culture is movies, tv shows, music, and books. If at least a portion of us isn’t “learning the language,” we’ll be heading to irrelevancy at warp speed. It’s unconscionable for us to expect people to learn our Christian code-language in order for them to learn about the grace and mercy and life and joy offered by Jesus.

Those are a few of the takeaways. I think I’m much stronger in my faith for having read 2/3 of the trilogy. And I’m in a much better place to engage people–and to beware of the centuries-old tendency to reduce the Gospel to the anemic message of “sin management”!