Monday, May 24, 2010

"Christian" Labeling

Most of us have been through a “is this product ‘Christian’ or not” phase. I myself wore a W.W.J.D. bracelet instead of a secularized rope surf bracelet in Jr. High. This went on for nearly a year before I became disillusioned when the Christian fashion powers introduced F.R.O.G. I didn’t see how amphibious creatures had anything to do with my ability to walk in faith. Also, my small arms were running out of room for religious bracelets. Not to mention the fact that my conservative Christian school was in a clash of values because they didn’t allow guys to wear bracelets. Great debate was had.

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of debate about products and whether or not they are “Christian.” The guys who start these arguments have wardrobes made up solely of T-shirts purchased at Family Christian Stores that say things like “Lord’s Gym” and “Body Piercing Saved my Life.” They don’t listen to secular radio unless Switchfoot is playing, but they channel surf often just to see if they are on the hits station. They have indiscriminate taste when it comes to “Christian movies.” They are fans, regardless of production quality, acting or plot predictability. When it comes to classic American music, they couldn’t tell you who wrote American Pie or name a classic Bob Dylan song.

I’ve decided to challenge “Christian” labeling champions by confronting them for any product they use not bearing a Christian label. For example: “What is that?! Orbits gum! Haven’t you ever heard of Testa-mints?! I hope your breath is fresh on the fast train to hell!”

Or, I’ll present them with labeling conundrums. You know that your “faithbook” t-shirt was made by a godless pagan in China. Can your t-shirt really be Christian if it was made by a lost person? Can I buy a Marylyn Manson CD made by a Baptist factory worker?

Here is another good question: Can t-shirts and other Christian products make it into heaven? This is important for those of us who do not want to ascend into heaven naked when the rapture occurs. I mean, according to the Christian movie Left Behind our clothes will be on the floor when we are ascending. Since it is a Christian movie and subject to canonization at the next council of Nicaea (TBA), it must be true. I’d like to know if there is any possibility that my “GZUSLIVS” t-shirt from high school will make it with me.

I’ve heard that my wife’s Amy Grant t-shirt would have made it before 1991. Looks like now it’s going to be a lyric in a Larry Norman song about post-rapture attire. I’m sure the “Tribulation Force” will make Amy Grant t-shirts standard issue.

What’s your favorite piece of “Christian” gear?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"I love it when a plan comes together."

The A-Team was a classic show. Really, the only thing that show needed was Mr. T. But add crazy Murdock, Face, and the brilliant planning of John “Hannibal” Smith and you have a show that lives on forever. I’ll never forget that opening theme song as Mr. T used a chain saw to make a new door.

What was especially cool about the show was how four veteran misfits were able to perfectly come together in their imperfection to save the day. Whenever this happened their leader, Hannibal used to say “I love it when a plan comes together.” Sometimes I listen to the A-Team theme song just to get pumped up on the way to church. Secretly, on good days, I imagine myself in leather gloves with a cigar saying the classic line.

This week, I had a “Hannibal moment” as I watch Serve Elyria come together. The interesting thing is that unlike the A-Team, I can’t take the credit. Plans that I made are not working out in ways that work out with other plans that I made that are not working out. God is working things together. It is interesting how that works out. The plan always comes together, but never in a way that I can get the glory for it. He is Hannibal Smith watching everything together, and I’m “Mad Murdock” playing my part in the plan without having any idea what is actually going on.

The roles of B.A Baracus (Mr.T) and Face are still open if you want to sign up. See you at 9:00am in Ely Square.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Good Stories

You know you belong when you have good stories together. Tomorrow, I’m preaching on Belong as part of our series on evangelism called “Leading in the Adventure.”

Belonging makes me think of playing in the band, growing up in a wonderful family, and working at Open Door. I can point to just a few great life experiences like these when everything seemed to be in place. I was accepted and loved unconditionally. We had a common purpose and relationships of integrity. I’ll be talking about this more tomorrow, but I wanted to take some time today to share a few stories about my life on Dorm 5-2 at Liberty University. You know you belong when you have stories like:

Salt Spew. One night I needed $3 to pay off a loan, and God provided an opportunity for me to earn it through a dare. My friend Jenny had piled mountain of table salt and pepper on a tray and asked if anyone would eat it. Money poured in for the bravest/stupidest volunteer. 55 cents…then $1…then more….finally, the magic number was broken, and I raised my hand. Stepping to the tray with the ease of a fighter pilot, I swallowed four heaping spoonfuls of salt. And basked in the cheers of the cafeteria dwellers. “The mighty Dan has vanquished the sodium mountain of death! Great shall be his reign!” (This may be a slight exaggeration of their praises.) The subsequent events happened in less than a minute. “Water,” was all I could say. Mountain Dew was all anyone had. For a science experiment, try putting salt in Mtn. Dew some time. It is entertaining when it is happening somewhere other than your stomach. The cute nursing student next to me who had not been in school long enough to tell me that salt poisoning can be deadly asked me if I was ok. Not wanting to ruin my chances of going out with her by looking weak, I said I was fine. A second later, I realized I wasn’t. Another second after that, I realized that the cafeteria bathroom was a quarter of a mile away. Blahhhhh…three hurls of relief as dinner made its way back onto my tray. I raised my head from the third heave and erupted in laughter. Everyone but my dorm mates looked at me with eyes of terror. Unconditional love. I found out later that my good buddy Jeremy “Beanie” Heisey might have saved my life by giving me Mtn. Dew. Don’t eat too much salt kids.

Naked slip n’ slide. We had a tile floor that ran the length of the hall (about 150 ft. or more.) The guys filled a trash can with laundry detergent and water and drenched the last half of the hall. I was the RA at the time and could hear…thump, thump, thump, thump…..woooshhhhhhhhhhh…..crash! Then cheers of joy. This is what guys at Christian colleges do instead of getting drunk. I knew I should stop them, but I had taken part in the event earlier that day. I waited till I heard the RA from downstairs come to the door, then I rushed out and started yelling. “What are you guys doing!? Clean this up now! It’s ok Josh (downstairs RA), I’ve got it under control.” Later, I told the guys that the scolding was just for appearances. “We understand, Dan. We’ll clean it up right now.” They squeegeed the water down the stairs and flooded dorm 5-1. Ah, memories!

Suds over DeMoss. (I may or may not have been involved in this one.) One night we pooled all the laundry detergent from the dorm and poured it into the fountain in the center of campus. While this had been done before, it had not reached the epic proportions of the glorious 5-2 sudsing! The billows of foam could be seen from almost a mile away as the entire student body walked to chapel in awe of the spectacle. It was the stuff of legends. The parties involved have never been named. As Ronald Reagan once said, “You can accomplish much if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Root Beer Float. One year, we built a float for homecoming parade…a 2 story root beer float that towered over our competition, dwarfing all other floats in its shadow. We did smite their ruin of our foes on the field of battle and great was their fall. We won $100 and had a Christmas party. Nobody messes with dorm 5-2.

Violence is not the answer…but it’s worth half credit. Disputes were usually resolved with gentle grace. However, there are more than 5 love languages and one of them is kicking the crap out of each other. We had a thing called shower death match. It was only used in the most extreme circumstances. One shower was turned on as cold as possible. The fight started on the hall and could only be ended through tap out, pass out, or being thrown into the icy rain of the shower. I’m pretty sure that the popularity of MMA Fighting can be traced back to 5-2 Shower Death Matches.

The night the dorm caught on fire…twice. The Lynchburg, VA Fire Department is a great establishment.

The “donkey show. MTV had a show with a name that the guys at a Christian college were afraid to say. They were not, however fearful of attempting the stunt. We were visited more than once by emergency medical technicians for games like “Dan Love Bowling” (This game involved Dan Love, a skate board, and some trash cans), “Bush jumping,” “Ping-Pong Smash,” and “Trash Can Bobsledding.” Anything to impress the women of LU.

She is at Liberty to marry whom she wills (1 Corinthians 7:39b) The truth of this out of context passage brought about hours of discussion about LU’s abnormal ratio of beautiful women to men. There is something in the water there. I can’t explain it other than to say that for a 19 year old freshman, it is like entering the promise land. Accountability was in place to avoid the sin of Romans 1:25.

The Adventures of Bayou Jon. Jon wore boots and carried a large knife he called “The Blade of Retribution.” One night we found a snake slithering across the dorm floor. Hearing the commotion, Jon walked down the hall and into the room. Without a word, he pulled out the Blade of Retribution, cut off the head of the serpent, wiped the knife clean on his pants leg, put it away and left the room. “A country boy can survive.”

The night I shared my faith with my grandfather. It was spiritual emphasis week and the speaker had challenged us to do something about the person God had put on our hearts. I had prayed for my grandfather for 13 years, but had never spoken a word to him about my faith. My Spiritual Life Director (Dorm Pastor) prayed with me and I left the meeting to call my granddad. I remember calling him and hearing him confess Christ over the phone. When I stepped out of my dorm room, I saw my SLD, Spence Davis sitting on the floor praying for me. You don’t forget moments like that.

The night my grandmother died. Grandma had gone into surgery with a good chance of coming through. It was serious, but we all expected her to be fine. I remember getting calls throughout the day as things kept getting worse. They couldn’t stop the bleeding. The phone rang for that last time, and I picked it up knowing what I was going to hear. It was my Dorm 5-2 brothers that prayed with me that day, that carried me through that dark night. That’s brotherhood.

The day I married my wife. Not only did these guys celebrate with me. They stood beside me and committed to hold me accountable to my commitment for the rest of my life. Seriously, if I ever act like an idiot and do anything to hurt my wife, these are the guys she knows to call. They have been instructed to tie me to a tree and beat the crap out of me with the love of Christ. My faithfulness to my wife is motivated by my unending love for her, my desire to honor God and family, and the honor of our brotherhood.

Salvation. Men came to Christ and or made significant life-changing decisions every year on that dorm. In the midst of the rowdiness, I watched these imperfect men become passionate men of God. In this community of brothers we prayed for one another, confessed our sins, and led men to Christ. God moved.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the king speaks to his men, recounting the unity that comes only when trials are shared. He says:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day

I have a Band of Brothers. We have fought together, prayed together, laughed and cried together, served together and lived life together. For any one of them I would stand beside them and fight a host of foes. I know I belong because I have good stories with these men. Not just fun stories of college antics, but real stories of grace, trial and redemption. This is what it means to belong.

How about you? Who do you have good stories with?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mime Condemnation

Do you think mimes can go to heaven?
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. --Romans 10:9
I knew I didn't like mimes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Emergend?--Part2 "Apologetic Jiu Jitsu"

Reactive theology is a very dangerous thing. In a recent post, I dealt with the universal issue of self-oriented theology (our tendency to re-interpret the Bible to fit opinions and comfort). I used the emergent church as an example and a springboard to highlight this problem that we all have. Unfortunately the issue doesn’t end there. Let me tell you the rest of the story…

Jones ended his lecture with a Q and A (don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here). While I had hoped to see him speak in favor of Scriptural authority, Jones had brought a lot of clarity to our understanding of contemporary western thought and had not outright denied Scripture, Truth or any other core doctrine. This was a great opportunity to glean some wisdom about for ministering to postmodern youth. My hand went up; so did several others.

Several friendly and valuable questions were asked and answered. Some clearly disaggreed with Jones but were genuinely seeking clarity and understanding with Christian unity in mind. I was disapointed that I hadn’t been called on, but things were going well until a middle-aged “baptist curmudgeon” or “BC” (as I will call him) piped in.

Side note: Every Christian should learn Apologetic Jiu Jitsu. When you find you disaggree with someone, your first order of business should be to fiind common ground, some aggreed upon pre-supposition to work from. If both parties are operating from separate pre-suppositions, no one gets aywhere. It turns into a shouting match or a “look-cool-in-front-of-the-audience” match. Apologetic Jiu Jitsu channels the opinion of your “opponent” to convince him of yours. In most cases, this will allow you to either win your friend over or find that you already agree. If not, you can at least end the discussion on good terms with the possibility of ongoing discussion.

BC had apearantly never heard my advice on apologetic jiu jitsu. “Why do you heretics in the emergent church deny absolute truth?” he said. (Note: these were not his exact words. They were, however very cutting with the same implications).

My opportunity to gently and respectfully hear from Jones and bring us both closer to an orthodox view of scripture was sabotodged by a grumpy guy who wasn’t there to make friends. I aggree that Jones wasn’t taking a stand in the way I think he should, but a caustic frontal attack was not going to be effective.

Regardless of his intentions, BC’s tone made it seem like Christian unity and Christ-like love were the furthest thing from his mind. Unfortunately, Jone’s response was not particularly kind either. I can’t say that he was right, but I can’t say that I blame him. He was blindsided at his own lecture. In that situation, I would have either snapped back or use soft-spoken charm to make BC look like the bad guy. Jones managed to do both. The venom came out. Jones refered to a particular group of evangelicals as bordering on heresy. BC had already accused emergents of heresy. Both of these guys got pretty harsh. It was painful and unproductive.

Disclaimer: I believe false doctrine should be confronted (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I just believe it should be done with grace, love, tact and clarity (1 Cor. 13). Seek to understand and then say, “I just don’t think that lines up with what God says in [reference].” Any phrase that leads with, “Why don’t you…” or “you guys are…” doesn’t end well.

I remember sitting there with my hand in the air wishing for a chance to speak. My thesis dealt with the topic of epistemology as it relates to the revealed truth of God, I think I was qualified person to respond to the issue. However, my voice was never heard. In that room only the loudest, angriest (dare I say, least effective) voices were heard. It was very discouraging.

Lest you demonize Tony Jones, remember that he was interupted and accused of heresy in his own workshop. I would have been pretty upset as well. Given the circumstances, I think he kept it pretty civil. There was no yelling or name calling, just venom in the language and tone of both parties. It was clear that both had some hurt related to this topic.

Jones cut off the heated Q and A by saying that he had a plane to catch. He left abruptly. (Not his fault, by the way. He told us at the beginning his flight was early and that he couldn’t stay long after the lecture.)

I left the workshop with my heart on the floor. I had seen what reactive theology cause division. I was broken for the church. My heart was heavy and it was written all over my face. People who didn’t know me stopped to ask if I was ok. I spilled my heart out to a Youth for Christ guy I had met the day before. “The church keeps swinging like a pendulum,” I said. “One generation overcorrects to some extreme and then the next defines their theology in contrast. Someone reacts to that and we are back where we started.” We never seem to get it right. It feels like we are all just reacting to the last guy. Very few are looking at Scripture and genuinely seeking Truth.

Last week I made the statemetn that Emergents are “unwilling to surrender.” I wanted to clarify that this is not true of all of them. I think many are really seeking truth. However, I think in both camps of theology (maybe I should say “every camp”), there is a reactive faction, a group of people that identify their belief in contraversy. They react, distract and refuse to surrender to plain truth. We have these guys in the evangelical camp, and they have them in the emergent camp. We react and fight. All the while, we lose sight of the Great Commission.

So, I’ve listed a few guidelines for interacting with fellow believers who disagree:

Orient: Find a presupposition that you can both agree upon. Here are a few that may work:

o Scripture—inspired and innerrant

o Scripture—reliable historical document

o God—loving, all-powerful, just, etc.

Clarify: When someone disagrees with something you believe, ask them why. Find out if they have any Scripture to back it up. Take some time to read up and research before coming back.

Biblify: Find out what the Bible actually says about the issue.

Time: Don’t feel like you have to convince or be convinced in the moment. If you both care about truth, you should both be willing to allow one another time to look into it. If you really are right, your point can only be served with more research time.

Pray: Ask God to reveal the truth to you.

Relate: Preferably, build relationship before disagreeing. People tend to be more respectful when they know each other as people not as dissidents.

Return: Don’t flee the discussion . Keep coming back with questions and evidence. If you are clearly right, they eather conceid the point or hide from you (I’ve had this happen to me).

Tell us about a time when you changed a belief after a discussion about it?