Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Church as Culture

Monday night in my Leading Congregational Transformation course we had another professor come in to talk about ethnology. She brought up a wonderful way of conceiving church I had never thought of before. She introduced the church as a culture of its own and her studied involved ethnology.

A church is a culture that has its own language, customs, rituals, etc. Every church has its own culture that encodes the story of God in their culture. For instance, an inner city church in Houston will have a completely different culture from a suburban church in Frisco, TX. As a new preacher to a church, it is vital to begin to understand a church's culture before making an impact.

In overseas missions, it is a grave error to plant an American church with American cultural norms and beliefs into an African church. Different symbols mean different things. God's story must be translated into the culture. This is why anthropology and the study of culture are so important for any missionary. You cannot plant an American church in an African culture.

Just so, I cannot plant a church conceived in a seminary in Abilene, Texas, in whatever church I end up at. Any model for church that is one-size-fits-all is not appropriate for church work. Culture and location matters. Each church has a different culture and needs a different way to do church. This is what makes church work so interesting to me. Every church will need a different kind of minister and symbol to get across the same message of Jesus Christ. The mosaic of Christianity points to the same thing but in different ways. How illuminating!

Flexibility is the key word for the next three years. May God continue to keep my plans and dreams for the church flexible because the last thing the church needs is a set of clones on a mission to take over the church for one agenda. I must become an observer of culture and symbol over the next three years and hopefully that will transform me into a preacher that allows dreams to come from within a church rather from without.

The Spirit of God is among the people of God. The mission of God is wrapped up in the gifts of a given community of faith. The mission may look different in every church, but the message must remain constant: God is the one who continues to seek the lost despite every human's reaction of sin. Jesus Christ is the only reason for our hope and in him is life!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Oh, Larry...

Last night I sat in bed flipping channels and stumbled across Larry King Live. He was having a discussion about gay marriage with two homosexuals and two heterosexual "Christian" voices. It was quite a heated discussion. The proponents of gay marriage seemed to be well-spoken, patient and agreeable people, while the opponents seemed to to be overly condemning and confident as they looked down at the homosexuals. Larry King, like most media moguls, was out to make the Christians look like bigoted jerks who wanted nothing more than to ruin the lives of these great homosexual citizens. As the callers called in, they were very upset with the Christians who chose to make a stand for what they believed. It was an interesting dialogue to say the least.

It brought me back to another Larry King I saw months ago with Joel Osteen. Joel is doing many great things with the Lakewood Church that I have written about in the past, but on the show Joel refused to say there was one way to heaven and he got many Christians upset who believed he had not been strong enough in his beliefs on the show.

Where and how can we build bridges in this society to a world of people who do not know Jesus Christ? There seems to be no way to be a bridge builder with the liberal media without giving up the most vital parts of our faith. There is only one way to heaven, but how can that be said in our society that is so filled with intolerance for the intolerant. What should be the stance for Christians in politics and on shows like Larry's? I agree with these Christians last night that there is only one way to heaven, but I disagree with the way they said it. I also disagree with Joel for not being strong enough in his statements, but I applaud the way he sought to build bridges. Where is the middle ground? What would Jesus do?

This morning I received an e-mail asking me to join a group at ACU on the internet site "Facebook" called "Keep 'Brokeback Mountain' Off of Our Ranches." The group's intent, though mostly to be humorous, is " to complain about all the gayness in movies and to help people dealing with enough problems of 'brokeback people' just being around. I know many of the people in this group and many of them harmlessly joined just to be funny, but as I decided to reject my invitation, I thought what does that say about us as Christians? Gay jokes are easy and have been since elementary school, but is that the way of Christ? Is that this mission we are about? It is when I see things like this that I begin to ask myself, "Is the liberal media more correct about us as Christians then I want to believe?"

My political views are in flux at the moment. I grew up a good Christian Republican home (catch the sarcasm), but as I think more about what it means to be a Christian in all facets of life my views have begun to open up. Surely God is not Republican or Democrat nor does he care to join either side. And I am sickened by the right's "Christian" agenda. In this post-modern, post-Christian world, we must stand up for what we believe, but we must also never equate legislating morality with the great commission. Legislation is not where the battle for hearts and souls can or will be won.

I'm not sure where I am on the subject of voting and politics yet. I know I never want to support and candidate from the pulpit, but what are we called to as Christians in the political arena? And how would I begin to build bridges while standing firm in my beliefs as a Christian if I were called someday to be the "Christian" voice on a liberal media show such as Larry King that seems out to get me. These are questions worth pondering and discussing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hook 'Em Horns

What a great break it has been. Holly and I got to be in Dallas for about almost three weeks with our families. What a blessing our families are and continue to be. God has truly blessed our lives through the ones who have brought us up faithfully.

Not only has God blessed me with a great family and wonderful in-laws, but he has blessed my life most through the one I call my wife. We started dating five years ago Jan. 5. These years have been wonderful and I love you with all of my heart. I love that you long to grow close to the Lord and I ask that God will continue to bless our marriage and ministry in the future. You are a blessing Holly and I am especially thankful that you will be getting me through grad school. And you are still the most beautiful woman in the world!!

Grad school begins a week from today. I am excited and nervous. In this new year, I want to commit to being more spiritual in all areas of my life. I pray that the Holy Spirit will more fully lead me in the way of righteousness. Most of all I am thankful for Jesus who gives me a new breath, not just each new year, but each new moment. I am blessed to learn and grow at a place like ACU. Preaching is my passion and gift and I pray that God will continue to lead me in his direction and mission in the world.

Last night, Holly and I went to the hospital to be with Timm and Heather Dilling who should have a baby today. It is so exciting to be a part of something like this with close friends. Exciting times! We pray for the day she will take on Christ for herself.

But most of exciting of all, how about them Horns! I could not believe the performance Vince showed in the National Championship. I wish he would stay for his senior year but it will be exciting to see him on the next level. Trade up to get him in the draft Cowboys!

For all who read this, may God bless you in this new year not just in spiritual and physical ways, but may he bless you to join him in his mission as his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Don't get caught just going to church. Don't think it's enough to read your Bible and pray everyday. A checklist faith is not enough for our God. Be in prayer that God will use the gifts he has given you in real ways this year for the sake of his kingdom. May every small group and church be more focused on the ways God is moving in this world because there is so much God wants to do through each of our broken vessels.