Monday, June 30, 2014

Loyal Liar?

Years ago, a new term was introduced into church jargon: the Loyal Liar.

It was first used in a fictional story about an older liberal professor mentoring a young Pentecostal pastor into giving up his faith, yet continue to be a pastor.

To be a Loyal Liar was the cold & calculated decision to pretend that you still believed in Christianity, preach sermons you didn't believe, pray prayers to the ceiling, and collect your pay from the unsuspecting church. (That's cold, dude...)

Two recent instances brought the Loyal Liar approach to my mind again:

One was reading about the seven-year prison term given to the (now former) lead singer of a popular Christian metal-core band; seems he had tried to arrange the murder of his estranged wife, which is a no-no in most religions, particularly Christianity.

And if that wasn't enough, an interview that he gave just before his sentencing revealed a disturbing side to both the singer and the band he led:
  1. He freely admitted that he'd left the faith years before, as had most of his bandmates, but they'd faked being Christians in order to continue to sell their music.
  2. He also estimated that only about 10% of the "Christian" bands they'd toured with, actually had Christians in the bands.
The other incident was a comment from a young worship team member, after I had complimented the team for their worship leading:
"Thanks! It really makes a difference when the band actually believes what they're singing!"
On one hand, that's what we used to call -- in the olde days -- a "no-brainer".

But on the other hand, this young singer has been around long enough to know that there are also a lot of worship leaders who would also fit the Loyal Liar persona.

And in other conversations with 20-something worship musicians, I am hearing stories of increasing disillusionment about the number of their worship-leading peers who "play act" in worship, but don't believe what they're singing about.

"And the partying..." lamented one guitarist. "They don't even try to hide it. And they think I'm weird because I don't join in..." (sounds like things others have experienced, including yours truly)

What to do?
  1. Take a long, hard look at my own life. In what ways do I not reflect the character of Jesus? ouch...
    It's always a good idea to look in the mirror first. Because even at our best as Christians, we get to play the role of the tax collector in this parable that Jesus told (at least, we should; the other option isn't very appealing):

    “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

    “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God" (Luke 18:9-14).
  2. Encourage anyone you know that (as the singer said to me earlier). represents "the band that actually believes what they're singing".
    I believe God is already moving among many people, including singers & musicians, to rise to a higher standard of putting their morals, ethics, and talents where their faith is. In other words, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of (consistent with) the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27).
  3. Pray like crazy for any Loyal Liars that you meet. Don't judge them (remember the Pharisee in Luke 18?). Pray for them.
    An old expression that many of us have said many times: "Lord, break our hearts with the things that break Yours". 
    I think this qualifies.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Life Together (with Coffee)

Home group. Cell group. Kinship. House church. Call them whatever you like, these are (imho) the best vehicle for community. The larger, corporate gatherings on Sunday can be great as well, but it's in the smaller settings where lives can be shared on a deeper level.

(Note: when I use "corporate" in this context, I just mean "everybody gathered together".)

Wendy & I have a ton of fond memories from many years of home groups that we've been involved in (like the one in Winnipeg pictured above):
  • that time when we didn't organize who was bringing what to our monthly potluck meal together.
  • The house group of teenagers and college students (about 35 people) all brought one of either two options: Dinner Rolls or Ice Cream.
  • the Record-Breaking Home Group Marathon
  • It was always our practice to tell people: "Okay, you can stay as late as you want... until midnight." Usually, that meant waving good-bye at 12:01 in the morning. On this one evening, however, people began to arrive around 6:00 (an hour early) to hang out in the kitchen drinking coffee; the "actual" house group started meeting at 7:00(ish); and at 11:45 PM, a prayer need was suddenly blurted out, resulting in a group prayer time that lasted until 4:00 AM.
    That's a 10-hour home group. Just sayin'.  
  • Teenagers inventing crises in order to "crash" the youth leaders' house group.
  • The youth leaders began meeting weekly in the parsonage (where Wendy and I lived with our three-year-old daughter). What began as monthly leaders meetings had morphed into a weekly gathering for the senior high youth leaders (10 plus Wendy & I). Teenagers began regularly showing up in some form of crisis five minutes before the meeting would start, and then would stay for the house group after receiving prayer for their "crisis".
    After a few weeks, they stopped inventing crises and just unofficially became part of the youth leaders' home group. They came for community, and in the process, were discipled into youth leadership (without titles or position -- gotta love it!). 
This week, our house group from The Well crammed into a living room, complete with snacks (ice cream & Timbits), coffee, a guitar (mine), and a divergent group of 20-somethings, 50-somethings, and a smattering of folk in between those ages.

We didn't do anything remarkably new, innovative, or revolutionary. We hung out together, caught up with each other, laughed a lot, sang some worship songs, talked about the previous Sunday's sermon, and shared prayer requests and prayed for each other, as well as sharing answers to prayer requests from previous weeks.

Sounds pretty normal, eh? I wouldn't miss it for anything.

The level of vulnerability in this group is amazing. When we first started meeting a couple of years ago, we were pretty typical: prayer requests were short and usually of the "safe" kind. That's very normal at the beginning of any new house group. It takes time for the personality of the group to develop, and with it, the trusting relationships that allow for greater vulnerability and sharing of our lives.

And with the development of a "safe place to take risks", the fruit is evident in how freely people worship; how our Bible studies are a mix of a-ha! insights, serious questions, and laugh-out-loud funny observations; and especially the vulnerability shared during our times of praying for and with each other.

And our most recent gathering was no exception. It's inspiring, and an honour, to be part of a group like this. All stumbling heavenward, full of faith and full of questions, rejoicing and weeping together. Gathered around the Bible, worship, and prayer in a living room while children play on the floor.

I've been a part of house groups, in all shapes and sizes, for most of my life. There are always ebbs and flows, triumphs and failures, Holy Spirit highs and human brokenness lows. But this is where community gets real and gets deep. This is where we share our lives together.

This is starting to sound like an advertisement for home groups, isn't it? Well, I guess in a way, it is. :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Wee Dram

Thanks to the Father's Day generosity, mischievousness, and creativity of my three beloved children -- Jordan, Caleb & Renee -- I am currently not only the possessor of a fine bottle of Scottish Whiskey, but also have a life-time lease on a square foot of Scotland on the Isle of Islay, in the Hebrides, which is not that far from our clan's traditional (medieval) lands in Argyll.

And all five of us had a fantastic day together -- I am blessed with an incredible family!

And I think it most fitting that the first "wee dram" will be done as a toast in honour of my father, Keith McAlpine, whose commitment to living his faith out in every aspect of his life (even when it got him fired) continues to serve as an inspiration to me.

Beannachd Dia dhuit. (Blessings of God be with you. - ScotsGaelic)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Strain Out the Lumps

a companion piece to Theological Face-palm
Over the last week or so, I have had the privilege of joining an editorial team working on Bill Jackson's newest book on church history.

For those who don't know Bill Jackson, he's the author of The Quest for the Radical Middle, and to say he has a passion for church history would be an understatement of biblical proportions.
But this is neither a book review, nor directly about anything Bill Jackson wrote.
Reading Jackson's manuscript -- as I supplied edits, suggestions and push-back (constructive critique) -- simply got me thinking about church history (which I'm also fascinated by), and particularly how we view "moves of the Holy Spirit" throughout history. And about our tendency to practice "selective hearing" when it comes to the historical data.

There have always been (at least) two prevalent approaches to studying the Holy Spirit in church history.

One side, popularized by cessationist thinkers -- probably the most vociferous and relentless example would be John F. MacArthur's The Charismatics (1978), Charismatic Chaos (1992), and Strange Fire (2013) -- sees the historical data as proof that any new "move of the Spirit" is a fraud. 
Their theology predisposes them to discount any contrary evidence, and they can tend towards a theological version of "la-la-la, I can't heeeeaar yooou...." (usually employing words that sound best when delivered with a contemptuous harrumph)

And the other approach sees anything that even remotely resembles the Day of Pentecost as proof positive that the Holy Spirit was at work. Their need to prove that the Holy Spirit of Jesus is "the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow" predisposes them to gloss over, or simply ignore a lot of problems. 
And they, too, can tend towards a theological version of "la-la-la, I can't heeeear yooou..." (usually employing words that sound best when delivered with a gleeful smirk of dismissal)

In historical hindsight, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that during virtually every recorded "revival", there were abuses, excesses, moral failures, and usually (if not always) really, really bad theology -- a.k.a. "false teaching" -- that were as prevalent as any spiritual gifts, physical manifestations, and reports of healing.

Cessationists point to the problems, excesses, and false teachings as proof that any so-called move of the Holy Spirit was, in fact, a fraud. (Which, conveniently, reinforces their cessationist worldview.) Their answer to the historical evidence is: "Yes, but..." Yes, it may have looked like a move of the Spirit, but the bad fruit clearly demonstrates that it wasn't.

Continuationists put a greater emphasis on the power of God -- the healings, the prophetic words, the passion for worship -- as proof that these moves of the Spirit were genuine. Their answer to the historical evidence is also: "Yes, but..." Yes, there were excesses, abuses, and false teachings, but the good fruit clearly demonstrates that it was a genuine revival/move of the Spirit.
I'd like to suggest that we ditch the "Yes, BUT...", and embrace "Yes, AND..."
Yes, there appeared to be evidence of a mighty move of the Spirit. Yes, there were spiritual gifts in evidence. Yes, there were physical manifestations as the Spirit touched people. Yes, there were healings. Yes, people hungry for more of the Spirit flocked to the meetings. Yes, prayer and worship were vibrant expressions. Yes, a lot of people came to Jesus.

AND there were problems:
  • emotions ran wild, and were encouraged to do so
  • an elitist attitude began to grow in those who "got it"
  • legitimate concerns were ignored; anyone who voiced a concern was mocked/condemned
  • biblical discernment went out the window; God was "doing a new thing", after all
  • leaders who went off the deep end into immorality or apocalyptic authoritarianism could not be questioned
  • false teachings inevitably came in as the Enemy sowed tares, and lack of discernment enabled it to thrive and spread
The biggest, "Yes, AND...", in any current and future moves of the Spirit, needs to be:
Yes, the Holy Spirit is on the move, AND we will be on our guard for the inevitable attempts of the Enemy to bring in excesses, abuses, and false teachings to derail what God may be doing. We will practice biblical discernment and not give ground to the Enemy by turning off our brains.
We will use the sieve of the Bible as our guide -- it will strain out the lumps, and allow the Holy Spirit to flow.