Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Passion

I haven’t seen “The Passion of the Christ” yet, although I hope to within the next couple of days. I think this movie could be powerfully used in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. At the same time, this movie could be also have little if any effect at all, if either of these two possibilities gains prominence:

The “Passion of the Christ” will be waste of time if all it does is degenerate into a bunch of Christians having an academic/theoretical discussion on whether or not we approve of how Mel presented the story, in the way we think he should have.

I think that any expectation that this movie should deliver “the whole enchilada” is missing the point. I’m looking forward to this being a great door-opener in discussion about Jesus. Any “filling in the blanks” on Jesus’ life and teaching is our responsibility, not Mel Gibson’s.

The other danger is if we get all anal-retentive and try to force conversations out of the movie to go in some sort of pre-packaged “steps to conversion” program (and there are already plenty of Christian marketing companies producing “Passion Evangelism” kits, t-shirts, and — wait for it — “Passion jewelry”; ugh).

After a movie like this, we need to continue to listen, even more than before, to peoples' reactions and stories, and remember that the journey provides opportunity for many "little sowings" (Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23). This movie does not have to be the “make it or break it” point in evangelism, but it can provide an opportunity for much discussion and dialogue around pints or lattes. Let the Spirit guide you in your conversations, but relax, okay?

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Gleanings from Pub Culture

The other day at Prov, in our "Worldview & Culture" class, our prof was doing his weekly routine of playing some ethnic music in the background during our class discussion times. Often, it's been some really cool African traditional music which is absolutely beautiful in its richness and funkiness. 

This week, the CD that was playing was... the Celtic band that I play in (!). It was slightly surreal to hear the same songs that I had performed just the evening before in a pub, being played in a seminary classroom.

There were some questions asked of me during our breaks, wondering how you go about being a Christian witness in a band that basically plays songs that could be summed up as "drink and fight and drink and fight and drink and fight some more".

Here's some of the things I've learned over the years of playing in secular bands, on and off, since I was 19. (I'm 42 now -- you do the math):
  1. Be slow to speak and quick to listen to their stories before you try to interject your own (James 1:19-20). "Earn the right to be heard" was George Mercado's way of saying it. If you wonder how I'd apply the "slow to get angry" part of James 1:19-20, see the next point.

  2. If you choose to follow Jesus' example and be a "friend of sinners" (Matthew 11:19), don't be surprised when you see and hear things that might normally offend you. Getting past being easily shocked, without hardening our hearts, is the skill that needs mastering here. Jesus went out of His way to be gracious and merciful to the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11) -- surely we can learn to do the same in our contexts.

  3. Lot gets a great deal of bad press because of the whole Sodom & Gommorah deal, but St. Peter recounts a different side of Lot: a righteous man whose soul was grieved by the evil around him (2 Peter 2:7-9). Yes, our souls at times may be grieved, almost overwhelmed at times, but we need to commit ourselves to not retreat into the false "safety" of a Christian ghetto.

  4. Missionaries have often spent years sowing seeds before seeing results; in our fast-food-drive-thru mentality of ministry, we often give up if we don't see "results" in a relatively short time. Get used to a journey (process) that requires time.

  5. Since the emphasis today is on "conversation", the seeds that get planted are almost never sown in a linear, point-by-point fashion. The seeds land haphazardly here and there, because in a conversation, topics bounce all over the place. But the seeds do land, and some will take root (Matthew 13:18-23). Relax. Don't jump on every "opportunity" as if it's your last, and try to shove people or conversations to a pre-programmed conclusion. The journey allows for many "little sowings".

  6. Jesus asked more questions than He answered. Try reading through the Gospels and noting the number of times Jesus answered a question with another question. We need to learn the art of asking good, honest (non-manipulative) questions.
One last important part of the equation: pray tons. Pray for the individuals that you have regular contact with (the band members and their spouses/significant others, in my case). Pray for spiritual protection and wisdom/discernment for yourself before you go. Pray a cleansing prayer after you come out. Keep praying like the widow in Luke 18:1-8, and see what God does.

Saturday, February 7, 2004

God Answers Prayer... Right?

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"

Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.

The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea." (Acts 10:1-6 NIV)

Most of us are familiar with the rest of this passage: Peter's vision of the sheet full of "unclean" animals, the conversion of Cornelius and his entire household, and the realization of the Jerusalem Church that the Gospel of Jesus was meant for all nations.

But what about the fact that God was listening to the prayers of someone who knew nothing (as far as we know) about Jesus? I remember being taught during high school that "God doesn't hear the prayers of the heathen (nice term for our non-Christian friends, eh?), until after they pray the 'Sinner's Prayer'." 

I didn't buy that back then, and I don't buy it now. Cornelius is but one biblical example of God hearing, and answering, the sincere prayers of someone who didn't technically "know Jesus" -- at least not yet.

And how many times have we heard testimonies of people saying that their first prayer was "God, if You're real, You've got to show me"? And then God answered their prayer, and they later became followers of Jesus.

Recently, my son bought me the concert DVD Bruce Springsteen: Live In Barcelona. It was recorded last year during "The Rising" tour, and there are numerous overtly "spiritual" moments throughout the concert. During the song "My City Of Ruins" (which is an awesome song of intercession), as Bruce sang the lines:
"With these hands, I pray for Your strength, Lord
With these hands, I pray for Your love, Lord
With these hands, I pray for the faith, Lord
C'mon rise up! Rise up!"
...over 20,000 people raised their hands to the sky and sang these words at the top of their lungs. Imagine: Bruce Springsteen led literally thousands of people in prayer during this tour! Church cynics would disparage this with comments like "yes, but who were they praying to?" To me, this kind of comment represents the height (or depth) of evangelical arrogance. The same God who was so quick to respond to Cornelius' prayer in Acts 10 is the same God who heard the prayers in Barcelona, and the other 82 cities that "The Rising" tour came in contact with.

Think of it: thousands upon thousands of people, all over the world, calling out to God in prayer. I wonder how God will answer? I wonder how many of us Christians will get out from behind the safety of the four walls of the church, and actually witness how God is already moving among the nations?

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Trending (but which direction?)

I've been looking at a number of blogs recently, and I'm noticing some trends what have caused me to wonder: "Has blogging hit the wall"? Here (not in order of importance) are some observations in blogdom:

  • Less articles and thought about postmodern ministry, and more on social/political activism (Nothing wrong with that, but it makes me wonder if we are becoming an army of arm-chair critics with blogs? Or now that the "rush" of self-righteous anger at "McChurch" has worn off, the only way to keep the buzz & adrenaline going is by turning to political ranting instead?)
  • An increase in church-bashing and "Modernity" bashing
  • A mystifying worldview assumption (A) that the "Modernistic" church has hopelessly compromised the purity of the Gospel (that's called "generalizing"), but that (B) postmodernist Christians somehow have rescued the Gospel in their house churches and coffeehouses (that's called a "blind spot")
  • If anyone leaves a comment that doesn't agree with the blogger's opinion, they get slammed and ridiculed, or simply ignored, and they stop commenting after awhile
  • If someone posts something encouraging and positive, a few people comment
  • If someone posts something harsh (against "McChurch"), then they get lots of "give 'em hell, Harry!" kinds of comments from approving "insert-pet-peeve-here"-bashers
  • If someone tries to find a middle ground between the extremes, hoping to spark some serious thinking about reaching our society with the Gospel, people stop visiting their site because, like all else in life, controversy gets attention (just ask Janet Jackson) and a conversation about proactive restructuring doesn't allow people to rant and complain, so they go to blogs where they can rant and rave to their hearts' content (except that ranting and raving never makes you "content")
  • A growing tendency for bloggers to simply cut and paste other bloggers' work into their sites, instead of creating original content; it used to be done as an intro to the blogger's thoughts (and I've used some this way myself), but now it seems to be done mostly to give the appearance of consistent blogging without the blogger having to interact even with the post they've pasted from somewhere else
  • "Dialogue" and "conversation" have really diminished in recent months -- it seems to be everyone just ranting their own opinions and not interacting with the other commentators -- more like a collection of monologues
  • I see an increase in advertising (and occasionally get an email) on how to "increase traffic to your blog", and hearing about "getting on the 'A' list of bloggers"

Which prompts me to wonder: -- Why are we blogging anyway? For notoriety? Hoping for invitations to be the new Illuminati? To take pride in how many people link to our blogs?

Either I need some more sleep (which I think is totally true), more coffee, or perhaps a bit of both.