Sunday, December 31, 2006

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid -- Jimmy Carter

To be honest with you, this was not necessarily one of the books I had on my "must read" list, but it was a Christmas gift so I began to read it. I know the book was controversial, and that Jimmy Carter had received a fair amount of criticism.

The book is essentially a historical look at the situation in Palestine and Israel with a strong focus on the time since 1973. Carter writes a significant amount about his personal experiences in this part of the world with many of the leading P
alestinian and Israeli figures -- from before the time he was President to 2006.

Simply put, the book is a call for peace - not a a form of apartheid between Jews and Arabs. If peace is to become a reality Carter believes 3 things must happen:

1. A recognition that if there is to be peace in this part of the world the security of Israel must be guaranteed. Arabs must acknowledge openly and specifically that Israel is a reality and has a right to exist in peace, behind secure and recognized borders and with a firm Arab pledge to terminate any further acts of violence against a legally constituted nation of Israel.

2. Israel should have permanent borders that coincide with those prevailing from 1949 to 1967. Any change in these borders should be negotiated and can be modified with mutually agreeable land swaps.

3. The sovereignty of all Middle East nations and sanctity of international borders must be honored. There is little doubt that accommodation with Palestinians can bring full Arab recognition to Israel and its right to live in peace.

It seems to me, that the most controversial part of Carters book deals with what he believes are the actions of Israel over the past 25 years to disregard previous agreements with Palestinians, illegally occupy land, cease to honor human rights, severely restrict the ability of Palestinians to earn a living, travel, educate their children, vote, and have access to healthcare. In addition, the building of the wall through Palestinian lands further exacerbates the issues related to finding a lasting peace.

While Carter clearly blames both Palestinians and Israelis for the seemingly ceaseless violence, it is clear that he holds the Israelis responsible for being the provokers.

I do not know as much as I should about the situation between Israel and Palestine. But I do think that anyone who wants to learn and gain perspective should read the book -- even if you disagree with Carter.

One of the things I will do is contact Palestinian believers I know who live in Bethlehem and work with both Palestinians and Israelis in an attempt to bring reconciliation between these two groups. It will be interesting to hear their perspectives on Carter's book.

In the meantime, read the book with an open mind.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Amazing Grace -- The Movie



"You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know." This was William Wilberforce's conclusion to his three hour debate in the Houses of Parliament before Members of the British Parliament voted on his Abolition Bill in 1789.

While Wilberforce was able to see slavery abolished in the UK, unfortunately slavery is still alive and well in many parts of the world.

On February 23, 2007 a movie called Amazing Grace will hit theaters around the world.
Amazing Grace, based on the life of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce, is directed by Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner's Daughter) from an original screenplay written by Academy Award® nominee Steven Knight.

The film stars Ioan Gruffudd (Black Hawk Down), Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich), Romola Garai (Vanity Fair), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Benedict Cumberbatch (Hawking), Rufus Sewell (Legend of Zorro), Ciaran Hinds (Rome) and introduces Youssou N'Dour.

You can check out the trailer for the movie as well as a lot of background information by clicking on the link below.

  • Amazing Grace

  • For information on the associated campaign to change slavery in 2007, click on the link below.

  • The Amazing Change

  • He has shown you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God
    Micah 6:8

    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    The Muellers Annual Letter -- 2006 Edition

    Hard to believe that 2006 is almost over, isn't it? I don't know about you, but this year went by way too fast. Maybe it is just old age creeping up on me (you better not agree!). Anyway, here are the highlights of 2006 in the life of the Mueller family.

    Donovan

    Donovan had quite the year. He started the year on his Discipleship Training School (DTS) out
    reach in Uganda and Kenya. Then it was back to Switzerland for a couple of weeks before heading to France for 3 weeks with a friend. Finally, in late April he arrived back in Mesa -- only to be off to Korea six weeks later. Donovan spent 3 months in Korea visiting a friend. He arrived back in Mesa in August, ready to stay home for a while.

    Donovan playing guitar in Uganda

    Over the past few months Donovan has been working as a web designer/programmer for several companies and organizations. His client list is growing! In January he will continue pursueing a degree in Computer Sciences in Software Engineering as well as continuing to grow his web business.

    For his parents, it is great to have him home again.

    Donovan at Home!

    Debbie

    Debbie continues to work part-time as a receptionist at Word of Grace. But her real love is throwing pots. She is taking classes at Mesa Community College, and is not only enjoying the classes and developing her skills, but also building friendships with people who are not yet followers of Jesus. As the proud husband I can honestly say that she is getting really good, and this year she has been able to sell a lot of her creations.

    Some of Debbie's Creations

    In August Debbie's mother passed away. So all three of us flew to Kansas City for the funeral.

    Karl

    I've had a busy year as well. I've been to Africa twice (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda), to Turkey once and on several trips within North America. After racking up more than 50,000 miles, I'm glad to be home!


    I continue to be responsible for Local and Global Outreach at Wor
    d of Grace and recently took over the young adult ministry as well. I am spending an increasing amount of my time and energy on the HIV/AIDS pandemic -- especially in Africa where more than 25 million people are HIV+. God has given us some amazing opportunities to walk alongside African Christians and churches particularly in Malawi. In 2007 I will probably be in Africa at least 3 more times.


    Here I am at a borehole/well we drilled for the community of Matanda in Malawi.


    Istanbul, Turkey in November

    25 Years of Marriage

    This year Debbie and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a wonderful two week trip to the Big Island of Hawai. We had a wonderful time exploring the island, swimming with the fish and turtles, and simply being a couple. It was the first time since our honeymoon that we were just the two of us on a holiday for 2 weeks. During our time in Hawaii, we also met some very interesting people -- as the pictures below indicate.


    We found the Hawaiians to be friendly, but a bit wooden.

    Recommended Reading

    1. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Greg Boyd). When 1,000 people leave your church because of your sermons two things are obvious. First, you must be preaching the truth. Second, you should write a book based on these sermons because it will obviously be a bestseller.

    2. A Generous Orthodoxy (Brian McLaren). Some people love this book, others hate it. I found it to be interesting, challenging and thought provoking. Even if you don't agree with McLaren you should read this book to understand where the emerging church is moving.

    3. Escaping the Matrix (Greg Boyd and Al Larson). In this book theologian and pastor Greg Boyd and clinical psychologist Al Larson bring together Biblical and neurological truths that help you understand how Scriptural principles and how God wired our brains work together. This book shows you how you can transform your thought processes to experience a deeper life in Christ and escape the world's Matrix that control you.

    4. God is not . . . religious, nice, "one of us", an American, a capitalist (D. Brent Laytham). This series of essays is well worth the read if you want to be challenged about our North American perspective on Christianity.

    5. If Jesus Were Mayor (Bob Moffitt and Karla Tesch) A terrific book that lays a foundation for Christians and churches to see communities transformed by the power of God through service.

    6. Race Against Time (Stephen Lewis) Perhaps the most important book written on the AIDS pandemic in the last 5 years.

    7. African Friends and Money Matters (David Maranz) If you are working with Africans or have African friends this book is essential reading. Africans and westerners use and manage money and other resources in very different ways. Understanding these differences will help you avoid misunderstandings, friction and conflict.

    8. Cross-Cultural Conflict (Duane Elmer) If you work with people in shame-based and community oriented cultures, you must read this book. Lights go on, on almost every page.

    Well, I guess that is all for 2006. If you read this entire letter, you should receive a prize (you may not get one, but you probably should).

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a terrific 2007.

    Karl, Debbie and Donovan

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    I'm Off to Turkey

    In a couple of hours I will begin a 21 hour trip to Istanbul, Turkey. I'll arrive about 2 hours after the Pope is scheduled to be there. This will be my 4th time to Turkey since the fall of 2002.

    It should be an interesting week. I am meeting with a variety of leaders both Turkish and people from around the world to talk about leadership development issues. The church in Turkey continues to be under pressure, and harassment of church leaders in many forms is not uncommon. It will be good to get an update of what is happening.

    Should also be interesting to be in the country the same time as the Pope. As the protests prior to his arrival have indicated, Turkey doesn't do well with freedom of religion as we define it in the west.

    Saturday, November 25, 2006

    Reflections from my time in Malawi

    I was in Malawi the first week in November -- my 3rd time in the last 12 months. For those of you who don't know, Malawi is one of the 20 poorest nations in the world. Per Capita income is less than US$1 a day, and 50% of the population lives on US$120 a year. Life expectancy is about 37. There are 1,000,000 orphans -- more than 50% of those are as a result of HIV/AIDS. More than 15% of the adult population is HIV+.

    In the middle of all of this, there are Malawian believers and Christians who are doing incredible ministry to the sick and dying, the women and grandmothers and the orphans and vulnerable children. We are trying to walk alongside the Malawian church as it ministers in communities devastated by the AIDS pandemic.

    AIDS in Malawi is all-encompassing. Every aspect of society -- family, economics, education, religion, business -- everything -- is touched and affected by HIV/AIDS.

    From this trip I have two images burned into my heart and mind. Let me briefly share them with you.


    The other day I was taking a shower, and in the middle of that lovely, warm shower the following two pictures came to mind.


    The new borehole/well in Matanda, Malawi


    Carrying home the precious gift of clean water!

    These two pictures tell a story. The Matanda area, on the outskirts of the capital city of Lilongwe is a typical Malawian community. There is no electricity. There is no running water. Until we dug this borehole/well this summer, there was no clean water available to the people in the area. This young girl walked at least one kilometre to get to this well, fill up her pail and walk home with her precious gift of clean water. She can't do what I do -- have a shower everyday with hot water. She can only dream of something like that -- if she even knows it is possible. My life and hers are unbelievably different. The question that I ask myself often is simply this -- what can I do to make the life of this young girl, and millions like her more human? What is my responsibility to see her life become more like God would want it to be? How can I help the Kingdom come to Matanda and to Malawi?

    My second story is also about a young girl from the Lilongwe area. Her name is Matilda.


    Matilda

    Matilda is 12 years old. She lives in Ngona -- a very poor community in Lilongwe. Matilda's mother is dying of AIDS. Matilda lives in a small, one-room mud-brick house with her younger brother and her 17 year old cousin. Her cousin often gets drunk and becomes violent. One night her cousin will come home and may very well beat and rape Matilda. If her cousin doesn't do this, then one of the other men in the community probably will. The beating and rape of young girls is an everyday experience in Ngona. Women and girls have no rights, and the men who abuse them rarely suffer any consequences. Matilda represents thousands of young girls in Malawi and millions in sub-Saharan Africa.

    But, unlike many other orphaned girls in Malawi, Matilda has something going for her. She knows a woman named Theresa. Theresa is looking for ways to help Matilda -- to find a safe place for her to live, to help her get an education, and to find a way to get her adequate food and clothing. Matilda has hope. Millions of other young girls and women don't know a Theresa, and there is little reason for hope.

    As my friend George Snyman from South Africa says -- the fact that millions of girls and women in Africa live in fear of getting HIV/AIDS through no fault of their own, and that they are subject to beatings and rape as a regular part of their existence, and that they have no rights when it comes to sex or education or so many other things that western women take for granted -- all of this is simply UNACCEPTABLE if there are Christians in this world.

    And, if this is unacceptable, then what am I doing about it? What am I doing to love my neighbor across the street or in Africa? What am I doing to see the Kingdom come to Matilda and the girls and women in her situation? What are we doing?

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Returning to Africa

    On October 27 I am traveling to Africa for the 3rd time in the last 12 months. This trip will include stops in Malawi, South Africa and Uganda.

    In Malawi our team of 6 will be involved in four things. First we will be doing some training for 75-100 pastors and church leaders from communities surrounding the capital city of Lilongwe. Many of these pastors do not own Bibles and are only semi-literate. This will be the 2nd time with this group of pastors for us. Two of our team are nurses and will be involved in training Home-Based Care (HBC) workers. HBC workers are volunteers who regularly go into their neighborhoods and take care of individuals and families infected or affected by HIV/AIDS as well as helping child-led households. We will be training 85 HBC workers. Thirdly, some of our team members will be be profiling the HBC workers for sponsorship. We are hoping that small groups, families or individuals will "adopt" a HBC worker by sending $35 a month, praying for them and encouraging them. The funds will go into a "pot" that will go towards HBC supplies, medicines, food and "incentives" for these volunteers. Finally, we will be sitting down with our African ministry partners and looking at how we can effectively work together for the next 2 years -- in other words -- some strategic planning.

    In South Africa our team will be spending time at the headquarters of Hands@Work, one of our key ministry partners in Malawi. Their model of Home-Based Care has won "best practice" awards, and we want to learn as much as possible from them. If you want to check out the people we are going to work with, visit:

  • Hands@Work

  • VisionLedd

  • From South Africa I am going to Uganda for the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Development Associates International (DAI). DAI trains many of the key Christian leaders in Africa and Asia. You can check them out at:

  • Development Associates International

  • I'll be back home on November 14. I will be posting pictures on my photoblog:

  • Karl Mueller's Photoblog


  • Talk to you in November.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Hockey Season Has Begun

    IT'S JUST A WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!

    Hockey season has begun -- so the best time of the year has begun. Baseball is almost over (and we all know baseball is boring), so that is a GOOD thing. The Arizona Diamondbacks lost a ton of games again this year -- but that is nothing new.

    It should be a good fall and winter for Phoenix. The Cardinals are playing the way they have for all but one year of their history -- that means they are losing. For some reason I get a perverted sense of pleasure watching them lose. I just feel sorry for Kurt Warner.


    The Phoenix Suns will have another good year. Hopefully our favourite Canadian NBA player, Steve Nash, will play at the MVP level again.


    AND, this year it looks like the Phoenix Coyotes have a decen
    t shot at the playoffs, so, who could ask for anything more (other than the Stanley Cup -- but we are a few years away from that). I REALLY HOPE a Canadian team will bring back Lord Stanley's Cup this year. It's about time that happens.

    HOCKEY -- THE GREATEST GAME ON EARTH


    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    Practicing Greatness -- Reggie McNeal

    Practicing Greatness is a good book for young leaders, but also for people like myself who have 25+ years of leadership experience behind them. For young leaders the book is an excellent guide ito becoming a great leader. For people like myself, who have been in leadership for a long time, it is a good book to take inventory of one's leadership and make the necessary adjustments to becoming a better leader. After reading the book, I think I have been a good leader -- not a great one. But, the book has also challenged me to aspire to becoming a great leader. I have a new determination to ibecoming the leader God has called me to be. I don't want to stay where I am, I want my last years in ministry to be my best.

    What follows is an outline of the book as well as some of the key things he says.

    . . . greatness begins with a clear vision that inspires people to get into the act of forgetting about themselves and committing to the greatest good.
    - Ken Blanchard, from the Forward

    . . . greatness in the kingdom of God is a journey toward humility. . . . Humility derives from the leader's awareness of where his or her source of strength lies . . . greatness in the spiritual world cannot be pursued without cultivating God-consciousness. . . . Jesus idea of greatness revolves around humility and service.

    Great leaders bless people. . . . Great leaders help people be a part of something bigger than themselves. . . . great leaders leave people better off than they were before the leader entered their lives.

    After introducing the book, McNeal goes on to describe 7 disciplines every leader must consciously and intentionally commit themselves to. McNeal also makes it clear that these disciplines are a process and that leaders need to be committed to these disciplines their entire lives.

    1. The discipline of self-awareness is the most important because it protects leaders from being self-absorbed or merely role driven.

    McNeal goes back to this discipline throughout the book. He also states that "family of origin" issues/lessons are the most important ones for a leader to deal with because they will spend the rest of their lives either building on or trying to overcome the lessons we have learned from our family of origin.

    Another aspect McNeal focuses on is the idea of "the call". He believes that great leaders center their lives around their call, cannot be understood apart from their call, and have a relationship with God that is inextricably linked to the call.

    McNeal concludes the chapter by stating that if leaders are not self-aware, they become hollow with no sense of self and work only from the expectations of others. The other option is that the leader becomes completely self-absorbed, so that everything is "about them".

    2. The discipline of self-management acknowledges that great leaders must not only be great managers, but primarily and foremost they must manage their own emotions, expectations, temptations, mental vibrancy, and physical well-being. Leaders that fail to manage themselves are vulnerable to self-sabotage and/or derailment.

    McNeal talks about most of the usual areas of self-management. The issues he raised that I appreciated the most were:

    • The importance of "muse time". Regular time to spend with God and to think about direction, strategy, calling, etc.
    • The importance of "emotional intelligence" -- the ability to work with people. McNeal believes only 1/3 of a leader's effectiveness is based on raw intelligence and technical expertise. 2/3 of a leaders effectivness is his/her ability to manage themselves and work with others.
    • The importance of managing money. Spiritual leaders hold attitudes toward and beliefs about money that color not only how they treat money but also their overall lifestyle and life choices.

    3. The discipline of self-development is a life-long commitment to learning and growing and building on one's strengths. Great leaders NEVER STOP being curious and intentionally learning and building on their strengths. Unlearning the past is a key to learning in the future. Unlearning is harder the learning. The key to learning is becoming part of formal and informal learning networks of those effectively engaged in ministry and business.

    McNeal also focuses on the importance of developing your strengths. Focus on your talent and develop it. One of the statements in the book that made an impact on me was this:

    Our strengths are also our needs. . . . we each need to do what we do well. If we don't get a chance to perform in the area of our talents, we feel cheated, grow frustrated and court burnout.

    Finally, McNeal gives some practical advice on how to learn from our failures.

    4. The discipline of mission is the propensity of great leaders to give themselves to great causes. They order their lives missionally, and don't allow themselves to be hijacked by others' expectations and agendas, or dissapated by distractions that rob them of energy.

    . . . leaders speak in terms of contribution, of significance, or changing the world. They don't work for an organization; the organization works for them. Their job, their role, their current assignment is the venue or platform from which they pursue their life mission. No matter what job they take or role they fill, they redefine the position to fit their mission, not the other way around. .. . the venue provides a platform for the leader to pursue a life mission. The venue is negotiable; the mission is non-negotiable.

    This chapter reminded me of something Gary Edmonds once said to me. Leaders have a PASSION, they need a PLATFORM and then they need to figure out how to PAY for it all. I think Gary and Reggie are correct.

    The focus of this chapter is about your central life purpose and how to cultivate it. Overall, an excellent chapter.

    5. The discipline of decision-making is the ability of great leaders to know how to make decisions, when to make decisions, and what decisions need to be made. In this chapter McNeal focuses on the ability to ask the right questions, to listen to the right people, to collect the right information, and to use this to make the right decisions.

    6. The discipline of belonging characterizes great leaders to nurture relationships and to live in community with others, including family, followers, mentors, and friends.

    McNeal gives good practical advice on belonging to your family (family of origin, spouse, children), belonging to your co-workers (and your responsibilities to them), the importance of authenticity and relationships and mentoring (both being a mentor and learning from others)

    7. The discipline of aloneness is the leaders' capacity to endure the loneliness of leadership but to intentionally practice solitude with God.

    Overall I found this book to be very helpful. It may be because of where I am at in my life and ministry, the things I have been thinking about over the past several months, and what I have been feeling and sensing from God. I know that as I prayerfully read this book, God has challenged me to take some concrete actions. Some I have already taken. Others will follow in the next few weeks. I have been encouraged that some of the things I have been doing are on the right track. Other things I have to incorporate into my life in new and more intentional ways.

    Read the book -- it will do your soul good!

    For Those of You Contemplating Purchasing a Compaq/HP Notebook Computer

    If you are thinking about purchasing a Compaq/HP notebook computer, allow me to give you our family history with these notebooks.

    1. In 2003 we purchased a Centrino based Compaq notebook for our son. It worked like a charm for 18 months. Then, things began to go wrong. Short story is that after 4 trips to Best Buy for repairs, resulting in 7+ weeks of no notebook computer, Best Buy declared it a lemon. Fortunately we had purchased the extended warranty, and we were able to get it replaced for no cost. If you purchase a computer warranty from Best Buy, be aware of the fact that you are able to replace it for a computer costing an equivalent amount -- not with one with an equivalent configuration. Some Best Buy staff will try to get you do the latter, when the former is what the warranty allows for -- and is a much better deal. So, with his new replacement Compaq/HP notebook computer, my son purchased the Best Buy extended warranty.

    2. Now that my son's new Compaq/HP notebook computer is about 11 months old, he has been experiencing problems for about 3 months. When he first noticed the problem he returned it to Best Buy and after a week they returned the computer. They had cleaned the fan -- because the computer appeared to be overheating and then would turn itself off. That seemed to solve the problem. However, in the last 2 months the problem has gotten worse and worse. Now the computer regularly shuts itself off whenever it feels like it -- which makes it very difficult for him to work or do anything of substance with it. So, when he gets back from Korea, it's back to Best Buy.

    3. The IT Department where I work purchases only Compaq/HP computers. I have had my most recent HP notebook for about 16 months. Now the keyboard is beginning to act up. First the "a" key didn't want to work -- then a week later the "e" key doesn't work, and today the "shift" key is misbehaving. So, when I get back from my sabbatical/holidays, I will need to get it fixed.

    UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 29, 2006

    4. My son returned from Korea with his HP notebook not working at all. It went back to Best Buy and 2 weeks later it was returned -- with a new motherboard! The notebook is now working well. BUT, remember, buy the extended warranty. We think that in another year, he'll get a new notebook courtesy of that warranty, because this one will have needed at least 2 more repairs.

    My advice is simple:
    • Don't buy a Compaq/HP Notebook Computer.
    • IF you do decide to purchase one, be sure you have a 3 year warranty that covers everything -- because everything will go wrong.
    • Seriously consider purchasing a Dell notebook. My experiences with Dell notebooks have been very positive. And, now that Apple has come to it's senses and is using Intel processors, it may be worth looking at Mac Notebooks (though I know 3 people who have had serious hard disk problems with their Macs). Macs may be the way to go, especially once they have got the running Windows thing down pat.

    Sunday, July 23, 2006

    Communities First -- Jay Van Groningen

    Communities First is an excellent introduction to Christian-based community development -- locally and globally. The book is not just a theological treatise -- though it deals with some theology -- but mostly a very practical, hands-on guide to getting started in seeing your community transformed by the grace of God.

    One of the key issues the author raises is this. Does your church want to do ministry to your community, or do you want to do ministry with your community? Ministry to your community will result in primarily relief ministries -- and little individual or community transformation. Ministry with your community will focus on community transformation. The former is much easier than the latter.

    Doing community transformation with a community, at a minimum requires:
    • Developing and sharing vision WITH the people in your community -- even the ones who don't go to or like your church.
    • Becoming PART of the community. Your church members need to live intentionally in the community you want to reach. Your church needs to function as a genuine part of the neighborhood -- not just as the owner of land and buildings that happen to be located in the neighborhood. The people in the community need to have a sense that you are part of them -- they need to have a sense of "community" with your church.
    • Sharing ownership with the neighborhood of the projects and ministries you are involved in. If there is no ownership -- there will be no permanent change.
    The implications of just these 3 points for the average local church are huge and revolutionary. It seems to me that the great majority of churches minister TO communities, not WITH. We know what the community needs better than the people who live there -- or at least that is how we often act. We really don't like sharing power -- especially if we are a large, successful church.

    Perhaps this is why even though hundreds of churches are planted across the USA every year, we really see little genuine community transformation. Most churches have a vision for individual transformation, not community transformation -- and those churches that do want to see their communities transformed are ministering TO -- not WITH.

    If you have influence in your church, and you have a heart for community transformation, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

    Thoughts from the Beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii -- Part 4

    In the July 2006 issue of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey wrote a brief article entitled The Lure of Thoecracy. Here are some of his thoughts.

    Yancey tells of a Muslim man who made the following statement to him.

    I find no guidance in the Qu'ran on how Muslims should live as a minority in society and no guidance in the New Testament on how Christians should live in the majority.

    This man put his finger on a central difference between the two faiths. Christianity, tends to thrive cross-culturally and counter-culturally, often coexisting with hostile governments. Islam, geographically anchored in Mecca, was founded simultaneously as a religion and a state.

    In many ways Muslims see the state and their faith as one. Islam is not a private religion -- it is very public. It is a way of life. In many ways, Islam is theocratic.

    What Yancey and I find interesting is that some of the very things many Christians resist in Islam, are the very things many Christians find tempting. Christians seek political power and a legal code that reflects Biblical morality (hence the focus on amendments to the constitution on marriage, homosexuality, banning abortion, etc.). Christians are rightly concerned about raising their children in a climate or moral decadence. Christians, like Muslims see others as a stereotyped community, rather than as individuals.

    I have heard from many Christians the idea that we need to change laws to reflect Biblical values in order to preserve our Christian heritage. This has got me wondering -- maybe Christians and Muslims are not that far apart. Both of us are tempted to impose our worldview on the nation we live in. The Qu'ran encourages Muslims to do this. The Bible however, seems to be silent on this issue -- prefering to see individuals and communities transformed from within by the grace and power of God.

    I wonder what we should be spending our time on. Signing petitions and attempting to exert political pressure -- or simply doing the Kingdom of God -- living justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God?

    Thoughts from the Beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii -- Part 3

    I read an article in Christianity Today on the Didache. One of the quotes sparked my interest. Apparently the writes of the Didache in addressing issues related to the church, said that if a visiting speaker comes, and wants money, that is a sure way to tell that he/she is not from God.

    How do you think this would go over in today's evangelical/charistmatic circles? Public speaking in churches, at conferences, etc. is quite lucrative (our church pays a visiting speaker at least US$2,000 for 3 services -- and I know we are on the low end). Having dealt with evangelical/charistmatic speakers over the years, I know that many of them ask for honorariums and benefits (golf trips, certain kind of hotel rooms, etc.) that the average person in a church would never be able to afford. Our Christian celebrities have come to expect certain luxuries. I was told by the senior pastor of a mega-church (who often benefits from these luxuries) that this is simply the price we have to pay for for getting speakers who will draw a large crowd. Well known speakers expect to be catered to, and we need to do the catering!

    Wonder what the early church fathers would say about that? Wonder what Jesus would say about that?

    Thoughts from the Beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii -- Part 2

    As a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (School of InterCultural Studies) I get the Fuller publication entitled Theology News and Notes. The Winter 2006 edition contained an article regarding the relationship of pyschology and religion -- Christianity in particular. Reading it reminded me of some of the things I had read in Generous Orthodoxy and a couple of other books I have recently read. Here is a summary of the 3 major concerns the author of this article expresses.

    1. Christianity as a Utilitarian Concern in Psychology Christianity may be useful in helping people. In other words, prayer, meditation, church attendance, etc can all be therapeutic. So, just as Prozac or other drugs alter our moods and help us feel better, engaging in acts of personal piety can do the same. To value Christianity for it's usefullness is really a form of idolatry.

    Is my Christianity utilitarian? Is the Gospel we proclaim a utilitarian one? Is this our approach to people -- both believers and not-yet-followers of Jesus?

    2. Christianity in the formula for health may well be consumerist. Since capitalist cultures tend to take on the character of an exchange of merchandise, religion becomes simply a commodity one can select and purchase. If Christian interventions work, then religion is a cost-effective way of addressing rising health costs. In consumerism, religion and health are commodities, medical and psychological practitioners are purveyors, and health insurers are brokers. But is not health a gift rather than the result of a contract in which a Prozac god is bound to fulfill an obligation to reward devotion with health? We need to ask not "what God can do for us", but rather, what can we do for God. The answer my friend, is not blown in the wind, but found in Micah 6:8 -- to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.

    3. Christianity associated with health is private. In our culture religion is private -- we each believe or worship what we want to, and as long as we don't push our beliefs/religion on each other, we are all okay. This idea reflects the individualism of Western cultures -- the self as autonomous, self-interested and unencumbered by responsibilites for others. Healing is not assumed to occur in the context of a community, and hence an individualistic culture constructs a Christianity that helps me achieve my mental and physical health.

    All of this gets me thinking not only about the state of the church in the USA, the church I am part of, and particularily of my faith. Is my relationship with God primarily characterized by consumerism? Is my faith utilitarian? How does our proclamation of the Gospel (in word and deed) need to change? How do I need to change?

    Thoughts from the Beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii -- Part 1

    For the past week I have been on the Big Island of Hawaii. My wife and I are here for two weeks celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. We love the Big Island. It wouldn't be hard to live here. I spent 5+ months here in 1977. Returned in 1986. Introduced my wife and son to the BI in 2002. My son spent 2 months here in 2004 volunteering time with the University of the Nations -- and here we are again in 2006. It is the perfect ending to my sabbatical time (though technically right now I am not on sabbatical, I am on holidays).

    My wife and I have done some tourist things, but mostly we have spent time at various beaches, snorkling and reading. I've been reading various books and articles and thought I would share some of the thoughts I've had -- especially from some of the articles I've read.

    A New Kind of Urban Christian -- Timothy J. Keller -- Christianity Today (May 2006)

    Keller believes that cities are the key to reaching nations. Nothing new here. Let me summarize his key points.

    1. More Christians should live long-term in cities. If we don't live in the cities of our nation and the world in at least the percentage of the general population, we will lose our influence on the culture. Christians who live in large cities, and who counter-culturally LIVE their faith can influence the arts, business, academia, publishing, the helping professions and the media in ways that will have an impact on their entire nation. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs or rural areas, or forming Christian ghettos (in actuality or in mindset) Christians should be engaging their culture by working in those areas that have the most power to influence.

    2. Christians should be a dynamic counter-culture. Christians are called to be an alternative city within-the-city showing a Kingdom of God culture in how sex (abstinence before marriage and fidelity within), money (radical generosity, helping the poor, treating employees with fairness, justice and generosity) and power (power-sharing and relationship-building between races, social and economic classes and those alienated from society and the Body of Christ) can be used in non-destructive ways.

    3. Christians should be a community radically commited to the good of the city as a whole. We must move out to sacrificially serve the good of the whole human community -- especially the poor. Revelation 21-22 make it clear that the ultimate purpose of redemption is not to escape the present material world, but to renew it (all creation groans). God's purpose is not only saving individuals but the world (see A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren) and inaugurating a new world order based on justice, peace and love -- not power, strife and violence and selfishness. Christians should not go to the city in order to get political, economic and social power so they can impose their agenda. Rather, Christians should go to the city to serve the city -- not just our own tribe. We must lose our power to find true power -- what Greg Boyd calls "power-under" in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation. Christianity will not be attractive enough to win influence except through sacrificial service ("power-under" -- doing the Kingdom) to all people regardless of their beliefs. As we do this, we will be misunderstood and sometimes attacked -- but we will gain the respect of those around us -- AS LONG AS we exercise "power-under" rather than "power-over".

    4. Christians should be a people who integrate their faith with their work". If we don't integrate our faith, our Biblical worldview and our values into EVERYTHING we do, then we will not influence our culture.

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    The Myth of a Christian Nation -- Gregory Boyd -- Part 2

    Please read my previous post before reading this one.

    After stating his central thesis, Boyd goes on to say the following:

    For some evangelicals, the kingdom of God is largely about, if not centered on, "taking America back for God," voting for the Christian candidate, outlawing abortion, outlawing gay marriage, winning the culture war, defending political freedom at home and abroad, keep the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, fighting for prayer in the public schools and at public events, and fighting to display the Ten Commandments in the government buildings.

    . . . this perspective is misguided, . . . fusing together the kingdom of God with this or any other version of the kingdom of the world is idolatrous and this fusion is having serious negative consequences for Christ's church and for the advancement of God's kingdom.

    . . . What gives the connection between Christian and politics such a strong emotional force in the USA . . . is the longstanding myth that America is a Christian nation. . . . this foundational myth is a alive and well in the evangelical community . . . and is being embraced more intensely and widely now than in the past . . . because evangelicals sense it is being threatened. . . .

    this nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples. Instead of living out the radically countercultural mandate of the kingdom of God, . . . this myth links the kingdom of God with certain political stances . . . and it has greatly compromised the holy beauty of the kingdom of God to non-Christians. This myth harms the church's primary mission.

    Pretty strong words, wouldn't you say? What do you think? Are the majority of evangelicals in America idolatrous because they mix these two kingdoms? Is this sycretism? Is Christianity, America's tribal religion? Is this nationalistic myth blinding us, manipulating us, making us ineffective as God's people? Is it stopping us from truely being counter-cultural?

    One of the things I remember vividly is being in a church service on the July 4th weekend in 2001. There were probably 1200 people in the service. We sang some worship songs -- and some people had raised their hands and were "getting into" the worship. The worship time was closed by a couple of patriotic songs including the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "God Bless America". As I watched the reaction of the people to these songs I was shocked. During these songs people REALLY worshiped. 3-4x as many people had their hands raised. People were swaying to the music, their eyes closed in what appeared to be "worship".

    I remember standing there, looking around and thinking -- who are these people worshiping -- God or America? Maybe Boyd is right and we are an idolatrous people. Maybe we are more committed to America than to God, and that is why the church in this country is largely ineffective and shrinking in size. Perhaps, if we were more committed to God than to our country, evangelicals really would agents of spiritual, social and cultural transformation.

    What do you think?

    The Myth of a Christian Nation -- Gregory Boyd -- Part 1


    About two weeks ago I finished Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation. I have intended to review it, but have chosen not to until now. I have needed some time to think about what Boyd has written. At the same time I have been reading a book entitled God is not ... religious nice "one of us" an american a capitalist edited by D. Brent Laytham. Both of these books have been quite thought provoking. I've made some comments in previous posts about both books. What I intend to do in the next couple of days is write a series of short posts interacting with both books. Hopefully short posts will be more readable than long ones.

    One of the things I find interesting is that Boyd thought that a sermon series that shrunk his church by 1,000 people was worth a book. Most senior ministers write books when attendance increases by 1,000 people as a result of a sermon series. But then Boyd has always thought a little differently.

    Boyd begins his book by laying out his central thesis which is as follows:

    I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. . . . evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world (whether it's our national interests, a particular form of government, a particular political program, ...) I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.

    A strong statement -- but one that I have by and large, discovered to be true among evangelicals across America. As a legal immigrant to the USA (I actually became a citizen last year) one of the first things that has become increasingly obvious to me is that the Kingdom of God and America appear to be one in the minds of the great majority of evangelicals -- and that by furthering America's agenda (political, economic or military) somehow we are also furthering God's agenda (after all, God is on our side). Disagreeing with the mixing of God and America makes one barely a Christian.

    My reaction to the mixing of God and America and the reactions of the minority of evangelicals that don't necessarily believe that the Kingdom of God and America are the same has often been wrong as well. In our reaction to the religious right we have often become interested in forming a "Christian left" -- distancing ourselves from the self-righteous right. By doing that, we have become self-righteous ourselves, and fallen into the same trap as the Kingdom of God = America folks. We have become caught up in the kingdom of the world. We have stopped asking ourselves -- not in a trite way -- but seriously "what would Jesus do?".

    If our task as Christians and the church is to represent Jesus, then we have to ask what that means in all areas of life. We need to ask, not what would Jesus do about illegel immigration -- but how wouyld He minister to illegal immigrants? The wrong question to ask about gay marriage is -- are you for or against gay marriage?-- but how are you ministering to people who are homosexual? What are you doing to help people in heterosexual marriages stay married -- in the church (where the divorce rate is 50%) and in the community? Our economic questions should not be about how can we make more money -- but how do we do business? Are we honest? Do we have integrity? Do we treat our employees with respect? Do we pay them what they are worth (not market value)? Are we using the finances God entrust us with to bless those in need, or are we building up treasures on earth?

    These, and similar questions are much harder to answer and do something about, than the questions we normally ask -- because they require us to DO the kingdom -- to FOLLOW Jesus. These are not questions that are easier to answer for the right or the left.

    So, I have determined, that when the polarizing questions arise -- I am going to try -- as hard as I can -- to avoid answering politically. Instead I am determined to respond by asking questions about what Jesus would do. How would He respond to the political issues of the day? And, by the grace of God, I will allow him to form my character so that I become less self-righteous, and more like Him.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    2006 -- A Bad Year in Sports -- At Least for Me

    What a bad year in sports for me.

    1. Canada doesn't even get a medal in men's hockey -- a national disgrace.
    2. Edmonton loses the Stanley Cup -- and Canada's Holy Grail is in the Carolinas.
    3. Germany loses in the semi-finals of the World Cup. So sad.
    3. Phoenix Coyotes don't make the NHL playoffs.
    4. Phoenix Suns lose in the Western Conference Championships in the NBA.
    5. Toronto Blue Jays are a good baseball team, but will probably not make the American League Playoffs.

    Same-Old, Same-Old

    1. The Arizona Diamondbacks are bad -- and will probably continue to be bad for a few years. Hard to believe they won the World Series in 2001.

    Bright Spot?

    1. Steve Nash -- a Canadian -- wins the NBA MVP twice in a row. Not bad for a 6'3" point guard whose first love was soccer.


    Predictions?

    1. Arizona will still not have a professional football team this year. Ya, we have the Cardinals, but they will continue to be quite miserable. Sure, they will probably win a couple more games than last year -- but I will be shocked and awed if they make the playoffs. I suspect they will go something like 7-9 or at best 8-8.
    2. The New York Yankees will continue to be the biggest overpaid losers in the MLB.


    Hope for the Future?


    1. Phoenix Coyotes should get nothing but better -- lots of good young players and they have already made some good trades to improve in the 2006/2007 season. They have a good shot at making the playoffs.
    2. Phoenix Suns should be better with Amare Stoudamire returning -- as long as Steve Nash can pull out another MVP year. If Nash and Stoudamire return to their form of a couple of years ago, there is a shot at an NBA championship.
    3. Maybe a Canadian team will bring home the Stanley Cup.

    Overall, all this stuff has no real meaning -- but I do enjoy the diversion from everyday life.

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Is God A Capitalist?

    Well, in the past few weeks I have read a couple of books that have turned out to be quite different than I anticipated. Not only have they been interesting but they have challenged me personally.

    This afternoon I read an essay entitled God is Not A Capitalist (Michael L. Budde) from the book called God is not ... religious nice "one of us" an american a capitalist edited by D. Brent Laytham.

    The essay I read today made me go "hmmmm" -- as in, these are things to think about. I work in a mega-church, and I am on the board of several Christian organizations, and perhaps some of what Budde talks about in this essay is applicable to my ministry situation.

    Budde begins the essay by stating that "whatever we conclude God is or is not should have an important influence on what we think the church should or should not be". No argument from me on that.

    He then goes on to talk about the fact that in North America and Europe there has been an increasing mixing of the
    for-profit world with the ministry world. Not only have churches and ministries begun to look at business models for how to run their ministries, but in some Christian circles for-profit companies have even begun to sponsor Christian events, concerts and conferences. Sometimes churches or denominations have lent their name or celebrities to for-profit organizations (see the phone card below I saw in Germany), while at other times Christian events have had corporate sponsors.



    T-Mobile Phone Card Availabe in Germany Endorsed by the Pope

    Some denominations, churches, and Christian organizations and movements have employed marketing companies to help them develop a more positive image. Discussions on "branding" have become more popular on the boards and leadership teams of churches and Christian non-profits.

    Are there problems with these approaches, or is it simply a matter of Christians catching up with the rest of the world? Budde makes two comments in response to this question.
    • Using the tools of the for-profit industries (televsion, advertising, movies, marketing, etc.) also requires the ideological assumptions of those industries, including "don't get people depressed", "we need to keep the message positive", etc.
    • Once one moves from congregants to customers, the logic is relentless and its effects on the church are not easily contained.
    But the melding of God/Jesus and the corporate nature of the Western world goes further. Over the past 15-20 years there have been an increasing number of books published about leadership and management insights from the life and teaching of Jesus. There have been numerous books published about how Jesus wants us rich and how to run a Christian company and make money. Perhaps the best known of these books was written by Laurie Beth Jones in 1995 called Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership. Michael Novak even compared the multinational corporation to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

    In addition, countless books have been written that have taken the practices of leadership and management from the corporate world and introduced them to the church. For example, I can't remember how many times I have recommended Good to Great by Jim Collins to church and ministry leaders -- and how many times it has been recommended to me (it is a great book, by the way) or quoted in meetings I have been.

    All of this (and I suspect there is much more) makes it seem that as Christians we believe that God, in some shape or form is a capitalist. After all, we don't seem to have problems with mixing the philosophy of capitalism with our Christianity.

    But is God a capitalist? Budde suggests, that if He is, He is not a very good one.
    • In Matthew 20:1-6 Jesus pays people who work for Him for an hour, the same as He pays those who work for Him all day. Overpaying for work does not a good capitalist make (underpaying people makes for a much better capitalist).
    • In Matthew 18:12-14 Jesus leaves the 99 sheep to find the 1. Jesus obviously doesn't understand that getting so personally invested in individual sheep is a bad idea. Just as an employer can't get too close to employees he may one day need to fire or lay off, it is simply bad business to get hung up about a single sheep.
    • God's personnel policy isn't exactly capitalistic either. On more than one occasion He seems determined to call the lame, the poor and the marginalized. In fact He rarely seems to have good things to say about the rich, the compentent or the qualified. Not a great way to build a successful company.
    • God's benefit package isn't the greatest either. Jesus tells His followers that "as they do to me, they will do to you". Now Christ was persecuted and martyred. He obviously didn't get His corporate message right.
    • Jesus also kept saying things about " the last shall be first and the first shall be last". Wouldn't this be a sure way to scare away would-be investors, lose market share and push the most ambitious people out of the firm?
    • God also isn't real good on getting a maximum return on His investment. He sends Jesus to the backwaters of Galilee. Wouldn't Rome have been a better place to announce the Incarnation?
    I could go on -- but it appears that God makes a pretty bad capitalist. Successful companies cannot continue by giving people more than what they deserve or produce, by privileging the weak and inefficient over the strong and powerful, by ignoring those with resources to give in favour of those who have nothing and appear to amount to nothing. Jesus passed up countless money-making opportunities -- He didn't charge or take offerings for healings, He gave away thousands of people bread and fish for free (without even an offering basket) and he alienated a rich young man who could have bankrolled His ministry.

    So what does this all mean? I'm not 100% sure, but my suspicion is that we need to begin to think about economics differently. Perhaps we need to think about the role of the church and the corporate world differently. Perhaps we need to think about our economics in terms of what the church is called to be as a foretaste and forerunner of the Kingdom of God.

    Now that there seems to be a resurgence of beginning to understand the church in missional terms -- as a community of people who are called by God to continue Jesus' kingdom work, perhaps we need to also think about the church as having its own economy, its own exemplary and real-world practices, ideas and theologies of provision, property and prosperity.

    Perhaps we need to look at the Sermon on the Mount and see what it may have to say to us about economics, and how we live our lives. How do we live out Matthew 5:42, or the Lords' prayer (ask God for daily bread, not our bread for the next 10 years), or living like "the lilies of the field" (Matthew 6:25-33)? I don't know, and I'm not sure. I wonder if I truely have the faith to live like that. Perhaps I have become more of a capitalist than God, because I can think of LOTS of reasons why this is all impractical and it wouldn't work. After all this is 2006 and things are much more complicated, and, and, and ....

    Saturday, July 01, 2006

    Some Thoughts on the Fourth of July Holiday Weekend

    I remember the first time I was in an American church that had a Christian flag and an American flag on the platform. I was 19, and I was visiting the USA for the first time in my life. Though I had grown up in an evangelical church I did not even know that there was a "Christian flag". And, upon seeing the Christian flag and the flag of the USA on stage -- equal in size and prominence -- something just seemed to be wrong. Somehow it seemed to me, in my young, naive Canadian mind, that my Christian faith and my national pride should not mix. And, it seemed so inappropriate that while worshiping God in church I should have the symbol of a nation in view all the time. It somehow seemed wrong to me that a church would want to identify itself with a nation -- especially since I had read some world history and had learned that when Christians identified themselves too closely with a national government bad things always seem to happen.

    I returned to Canada, but in 1981 I married a lovely young woman from Missouri and all kinds of things changed. One of which was that since 1996 I have lived in the USA (and last year, on July 4, I became a dual citizen -- both Canadian and American. These past 10 years have been a real "eye-opener" for me. I discovered several things, that perhaps for Christians who have grown up in the USA seem natural.
    • I discovered that America is a "Christian" nation. This came as a big surprise to me considering it's history of dealing with Native Americans, slavery, etc. I knew America was religious but it had never struck me as being particularly Christian.
    • I discovered that to be a "real" Christian I needed to belong to a particular political party and hold particular views on abortion, gun control, homosexuality, gay marriage, military involvement in various parts of the world, etc.
    • That as an American Christian I needed to be committed to "take America back for God." This surprised me because I always thought that God had called us to bring people into relationship with Him and see communities transformed by His grace. Somehow "taking America back for God" and the Great Commission didn't mesh in my head.
    • I discovered that instead of "doing the Kingdom of God" I was expected to spend time "doing" the kingdom of the world -- investing time in trying to make America a more Christian place through signing petitions, boycotting products sold by particular companies, protesting the correct issues, phoning or writing politicians, and of course voting for the correct political party. This also seemed strange to me, because as I read through the New Testament and looked at the ministry of Jesus or Paul or the early church it seemed that attempting to change the greater political or moral climate was not on their priority list. I saw Jesus and the early church "doing" the kingdom of God.
    All of these things have never "sat well" with me. However, I must admit that I have gotten caught up in political debates, and other actions that have not contributed to the Kingdom of God. I have used my being Canadian in an ungodly way to make myself appear better than my American brothers and sisters. I was caught up in the kingdom of the world in the same way that those I disagreed with had. I was no different -- I just had different opinions. For that I am truely sorry.

    So, this year, on the 4th of July weekend, I want to commit myself to "taking America back for God" by doing the Kingdom of God. I realize that it will cost me much more to "do" the Kingdom of God than to attempt to change the kingdom of this world. I want my walk with Jesus to be divorced from allegiance to a particular political perspective (right or left), a particular civil religion, or a particular nationality or ethnicity. I realize that if I am going to follow Jesus, I need to truely be a "foreigner". As Larry Norman sang many years ago "this world is not my home, I'm just passing through".


    This means that I will focus my life on "working out (cultivating) my salvation with fear and trembling". I want to become someone who is characterized -- not as a German, or a Canadian, or an American (though I am all those things) -- but as someone who loves Jesus, lives like Jesus, and leaves behind those things that Jesus leaves behind.

    I'm not sure how this is going to happen. But I am sure that God wants to work in my life in new ways. It does mean I need, in the words of Bob Dylan "to change my way of thinking". God will, as He has promised "renew my heart and mind" and "transform" it. It will be a process -- so please be patient with me. As Brian McLaren says, I am an "unfinished Christian".

    Friday, June 30, 2006

    Is God Nice?

    Since I am on "sabbatical" and I am sick (bad cold/flu), I have had some time to read and think. This afternoon I read an essay called God is Not Nice" by D. Stephen Long. This essay is found in a book edited by D. Brent Laytham called God is not ... Religious, Nice, "One of Us", An American, A Capitalist. Now, I know that this title will more than likely offend a number of people and also help one make assumptions about the content of the book. But, just like Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, the title doesn't always reflect the content of the book (more about this book later).

    Now to get to what I am thinking about. Several years ago I read a book entitled The Missional Church (Darrel Guder). One of the statements in the book that has been influential in my thinking over the past while is this one

    more often than not, the church has become a dispenser of religious goods and services."

    If you honestly look around at the North American church, we have to admit that this is by and large true. Churches provide funerals, weddings, youth programs, children's programs, good music (in any one of the styles you find most appealing), good sermons, lots of entertainment, etc. Now, in and of themselves, most of this is not wrong -- but we all know that people leave one church and attend another one because the religious goods and services that the former church offers are not as good as those of the new church. In essence, one of the things we have been doing is developing religious consumers rather than disciples of Jesus.

    Why has this happened? I am sure that there are scores of reasons, but Stephen Long said a couple of things in his essay that may make some sense. Long suggests that we have turned the God of the Bible into a "nice god". One that does things for us -- heals us, makes us happy and fulfilled, provides for us financially, etc. And, we have created this "nice god" because we have allowed our therapeutic culture and some of the theology of the Reformation to infiltrate our modern/post-modern church. In essence, we have molded the God of the Bible into a nice god that is acceptable in our materialistic, self-absorbed culture.

    The nice god we worship emerges from our therapeutic culture where self-esteem and narcissism rule. I don't have to add much to this -- if we have open eyes, we know our culture is ruled by these two things -- and I more than suspect that the evangelical church has bought into these two values as well. Our nice god makes us feel good about ourselves (after all if He didn't, imagine what it would do to our self-esteem) and is there to provide us with everything we need and want.

    If you add to our therapeutic culture the Reformation idea that we can primarily know God for what He does "for us" and "in us", you end up with churches that are primarily dispensers of religious goods and services. As Guder indicated in his book, and McLaren clearly states in A Generous Orthodoxy Jesus becomes our personal Saviour (a religious commodity), our healer, provider, etc. It almost sounds like it is "all about me" despite the fact that we sing a song that says "it's all about you Jesus".

    Long says it even more bluntly. He suggests that churches sell people a product they want or need for their own fulfillment. Now we use religious words for our products -- but our "sales pitch" is that one of the primary purposes of the Christian faith is to give our lives "meaning" and to satisfy our individual souls. Our evangelism says "accept Christ, He is good for you." We are thrilled by the fact that people "make decisions" for Jesus (somehow I can't remember the word "decision" in the Great Commission). Our discipleship often concentrates on a "benefits package" that come by following Jesus. We preach sermons that tell us that Jesus is the means to a better life or marriage or job or attitude. These all turn Jesus into an expression of that nice god who meets my spiritual needs.

    Is it any wonder then, that when Jesus doesn't meet all our needs or wants, or we lose a job, or get sick, or have marriage challenges, etc. that we begin to wonder about God's existence, His reality, etc.

    Is it any wonder, that if we have been sold a religious commodity (Jesus), and if that commodity doesn't "work" we discard it and look for a better one?

    Hmmmmmmm? Makes one think, doesn't it?

    It also explains a lot about the church in the developing world. Whether I am in the mountains of Guatemala, the slums of Africa or in India, Indonesia or Turkey, I find "ordinary" Christians making extra-ordinary sacrifices to follow Jesus. Somehow it hasn't hit them that Jesus is to provide them with personal satisfaction, money, health and happiness. I wonder why?

    Could it be that they know the God of the Bible rather than the "nice god" of the North American church?

    Monday, June 26, 2006

    Brian McLaren, Brenda Salter-McNeil and Greg Boyd

    Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren and The Myth of A Christian Nation by Greg Boyd. Then yesterday morning on the way to Prescott, Arizona my wife and I listened to a tape by Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil on racial reconciliation.

    It struck me that there was a common theme running through the two books and the sermon. McLaren talks about how following Jesus in really about serving. Boyd talks about the difference between "power-over" (kingdom of the world) and "power-under" (kingdom of God). Dr. Salter-McNeil talked about the importance of humility in racial reconciliation.

    The theme is humility and service. It reminded me that God is humble. That Jesus came to earth in all humility. And, that as Boyd points out -- the Kingdom of God is about humility and service -- about "power-under". That if we are going to reflect Jesus personally and corporately, we need to be characterized by humility and service.

    That got me thinking about how my city or state or country sees the church -- and the church I am part of in particular. Would the people in our immediate community see us as a humble church that desires to serve? Do the other churches in our city see our church -- as a church that is humble and desires to serve them? Do Americans perceive the churches in our country as churches that are committed to humility and service as we follow Jesus?

    God also began to speak to me personally. I realize that I need to have God work in my heart as well to be someone who in everything I do am committed to service, humility and "power-under". My education, ministry experience, ministry position, country of origin or ethnic background really have nothing to do with anything. I need to follow Jesus and serve Him using the gifts, skills and abilities He has invested in me.

    My prayer is that I will truly serve the Lord with humility.

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Some Thoughts While Sitting in the George Bush Airport in Houston, TX

    Getting back from New Orleans is turning out to be quite the nightmare. I have been in the New Orleans and the Houston airports since 1:00 pm this afternoon. As I am typing this, it is 10:15 pm -- and my next flight doesn't leave for another 75 minutes. Not only that, but the letter "a" on my notebook doesn't want to see to type anymore. Must have overworked it.

    Anyway, I am reading a book called The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd (I will review the book in the next couple of days) and I remembered a song written by Bob Dylan back in the 1960's. Here are the words:


    Oh my name it is nothin'
    My age it means less
    The country I come from
    Is called the Midwest
    I's taught and brought up there
    The laws to abide
    And that land that I live in
    Has God on its side.

    Oh the history books tell it
    They tell it so well
    The cavalries charged
    The Indians fell
    The cavalries charged
    The Indians died
    Oh the country was young
    With God on its side.

    Oh the Spanish-American
    War had its day
    And the Civil War too
    Was soon laid away
    And the names of the heroes
    I's made to memorize
    With guns in their hands
    And God on their side.

    Oh the First World War, boys
    It closed out its fate
    The reason for fighting
    I never got straight
    But I learned to accept it
    Accept it with pride
    For you don't count the dead
    When God's on your side.

    When the Second World War
    Came to an end
    We forgave the Germans
    And we were friends
    Though they murdered six million
    In the ovens they fried
    The Germans now too
    Have God on their side.

    I've learned to hate Russians
    All through my whole life
    If another war starts
    It's them we must fight
    To hate them and fear them
    To run and to hide
    And accept it all bravely
    With God on my side.

    But now we got weapons
    Of the chemical dust
    If fire them we're forced to
    Then fire them we must
    One push of the button
    And a shot the world wide
    And you never ask questions
    When God's on your side.

    In a many dark hour
    I've been thinkin' about this
    That Jesus Christ
    Was betrayed by a kiss
    But I can't think for you
    You'll have to decide
    Whether Judas Iscariot
    Had God on his side.

    So now as I'm leavin'
    I'm weary as Hell
    The confusion I'm feelin'
    Ain't no tongue can tell
    The words fill my head
    And fall to the floor
    If God's on our side
    He'll stop the next war.

    Quite the song isn't it? This song is 40 years old and it could have been written in the last 3 or 4 years. In Christian circles there are currently a lot of people identified as "prophets". I'm never quite sure who made them a prophet, but they are "Prophet _________".

    The way God works always surprises me. He uses a movie star to provoke cultural conversation about Jesus. He uses a rock star to raise awareness of AIDS and poverty among evangelicals. Perhaps He used (and continues to use) Bob Dylan as a prophetic voice as well.

    It would be just like God to do that.


    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    10 Months After Hurricane Katrina

    I am sitting in a hotel room in downtown New Orleans. I'll be here through late tomorrow afternoon. My primary purpose is to visit a ministry in St. Bernards Parish that has been working with those who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

    Before Katrina the parish was home to more than 70,000 people. St. Bernards Parish was hit particularily hard. As I drove through neighborhoods 10 months after the storm I saw hundreds of homes on scores of streets that were empty and uninhabitable. The destruction was almost unbelievable. It was hard to believe that all this time could pass, and so little reconstruction had been done -- in a country that has more resources and wealth than perhaps any other nation in the world. Over 20,000 homes and businesses were destroyed by Katrina. The pastor I was with today thinks it is going to take a decade for the area to recover. He could be right.

    In the middle of all the destruction I visited a church that has been working in St. Bernards Parish since the storm. This despite the fact that it's building was covered by more than 10 feet of water and the pastor's home was totally destroyed. In fact, he drives 90 miles everyday (one way) so that he can lead this ministry that is bringing help and hope to the neighborhood. The church is feeding 350 people day, provides a food bank (there are no grocery stores within 10 miles of the church), a medical clinic, help for families in rebuilding homes and a place where the people of the community can come for spiritual help. This truely is the people of God in action.

    Standing with this church is Operation Blessing -- and this week -- a team of young people from Pennsylvania and another group of Lutheran young people from Wisconsin. They are helping to feed people, clean up and rebuild houses, and build facilities for the church to more effectively minister in the community. These youth are staying at the church -- on cots that fill every available room and part of the worship center. There is no air conditioning and only a couple of bathrooms for the 100 plus people helping. I was impressed by the commitment of the church and the teams working in difficult conditions.

    As I toured the neighborhood with the pastor I met a young woman the church helped after Katrina. The woman was a Vietnamese refugee who had married an American. After the church helped their family they came to church and committed their lives to Christ. Now they are serving the Lord by helping with the reconstruction effort.

    Sometimes I get discouraged about the American church. We seem to be so self-centered, not interested in our communities and unwilling to make a difference. Then I see a church like the one I am visiting in New Orleans, and God reminds me that He is still at work -- and there are still are churches that are interested in making a difference in their community.