Monday, October 27, 2008

What Is Your Name?

One of the most amazing experiences for preachers is having your sermon go in a different direction than your sermon preparation would have predicted. I had that experience this week.

I was preaching on Mark 5:1-20, the story of Jesus casting demons out of a man and sending them into a herd of pigs. My sermon preparation told me that I should preach on God's restoration of people. But as I began to write my sermon, Jesus' question to the man began to change the way I looked at the text.

He asked, "What is your name?" Now that might seem like a silly question, especially since Jesus gets the inane response, "My name is Legion, for we are many!" But I think Jesus' question is a question we often forget to ask.

Names are important. When we use a person's name, we humanize him/her. Too often we characterize people as Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Republicans, Democrats, homosexuals, conservatives, liberals, or terrorists, and we never get to know people by their names. As long as we don't get to know people in these groups well enough, we can continue to demonize them as opponents.

However, my great desire and longing for church unity came when I met Jamie who happened to be a Baptist. It's interesting how people's views toward divorce and remarriage change when their children go through a divorce. We have to start knowing people well enough to know their names, so that we stop allowing generalizations to keep us from knocking down walls.

In Mark 5, Jesus asks this question to a man who had been known by every other designation except his real name. He was known as a lunatic, a demon-possessed man, a monster, etc. But Jesus cared enough to ask him his name.

Let us stop the cycles of dehumanization that our culture allows to continue by asking people their names. Our country found it easier to kill and take land from this country's original inhabitants because we called them Indians. It was also easier to dehumanize and enslave Africans when we made up horrible nicknames for them rather than learning their real names. And it's easy to create laws against illegal aliens when we use them for their services and never learn their names.

We have to stop these cycles of dehumanization. Every empire's downfall began when they stopped caring about the names of the people they enslaved and destroyed. Perhaps we should learn one another's names. Who knows? It might just save us from our sectarian past and it might just save this nation from God's wrath.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Shack

Last night, beside the leadership of Dick, a friend and mentor, I began a discussion class on The Shack for our Wednesday night classes. It was a great start to the class. Many Christian leaders have crossed this book off of the appropriate reading list for their congregations. While I understand some of their concerns, I cannot understand their unwillingness to have a conversation with our culture. Whether you agree with the book or not, millions of unbelievers are reading this book in their quest for spirituality.

Christians have had an interesting relationship with culture through the years. There have always been those who have walled themselves off from culture in monasteries for their spiritual quests. Others have sought to censor every book afraid of what some ideologies might do to those with "weaker" faith. In the process, Christians have missed many opportunities to have viable conversations about God with those who are seeking.

It is my belief that we must discern who God is in whatever ways culture tries to portray him. It will be important to name heresy for what it is. And it will be important to name God-honoring material for what it is. But to me, missing out on culture's conversation about God is always a mistake. The DaVinci Code and the Passion of the Christ are just two cultural phenomena that gave us an opportunity, but many churches failed their members by not preparing them for the conversation.

I am always excited by Christians who want to have a conversation with the world. Perhaps the most positive thing Postmodernity has given us is a group of people with a renewed interest in their search for spirituality. New age movements have caught their attention. Eastern spirituality is on the rise. There are all kinds of pseudo-spiritual conversations going on out there. It's time that we join the conversation. And the next few Wednesday nights provide the Littleton Church an opportunity to do just that!

And beyond the class itself, I have an incredible opportunity to watch an incredible teacher teach beside me. And no one should pass up an opportunity like that either. The next few weeks will be full of possibilities!


Monday, October 06, 2008

Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?

One of the most interesting experiences of my first three months in ministry is meeting so many new people. This experience naturally happens with any move, but ministry tends to send many people your way. While I have never considered myself a psychologist (I haven't even taken any psychology classes at any level), I love to hear people and stories and understand how their background shapes their future.

Experts would claim that they could determine one's personality by asking several questions in an instrument (e.g. Myers-Briggs, DISC, Prepare-Enrich, etc.).

But I have my own study I like to do with people. I think a Christian's favorite gospel says a lot about them. Each gospel writer emphasizes certain aspects of Jesus' life and tells the story in a different way. Some of the gospels are more oriented toward Greeks, while others are written for Jews. One gospel seems to be written for second generation Christians. Some gospels include more of the red letters, while another is written with just the facts.

So, I'd like to take a poll this morning. What is your favorite gospel and why?