Sunday, May 28, 2006

Full Flannel Jacket

there is no such thing as fruitless ministry. only good fruit and bad fruit. what is not beneficial can only be harmful.

is it harmful to think in only black and white? i almost don't want to believe that my faith holds any power or authority. yet i sing about moving mountains and forget that Peter walked on water. i must admit, Christianity to its full extent is unfamiliar territory. i need discipleship. i need tougher meat to chew. i need to interact with God on a new level. i want to know how to get to that secret place. i rationalize the mystery of God and seek purpose behind His miracles. if it is not good to move a mountain, it must be bad.

i want to see someone make a Holy Spirit felt puppet. i want to know what that looks like. and use it to teach a lesson explaining the Trinity.

"In every encounter we either give life or we drain it. There is no neutral exchange." - Brennan Manning

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Avoiding Gossip

when talking with christian peers about congregational affairs, remember:

"christian concern" resolves to correct an issue and looks for a way to confront the guilty party. anything else is borderline gossip. we need to be intentional.

Monday, May 15, 2006


i find it annoyingly difficult how my "zero-sum-mind" will allow me to think i have a firm grasp on a given theological subject, but when asked a simple question, i draw a blank. even if i am well rehearsed in a complete answer. often i find myself combating this when i teach sunday school. a battle of intellect is much like a wrestling match. if i block, i am momentarily unguarded in another area. in this new position, my mind is very busy determining my next plausible move. considering my options, their outcomes, my advantages, my weaknesses, and an eventual goal in mind - to pin you into submission.

what is it like to hear God's voice?

do not despair. it's only as hard as you think. if you don't think it's hard, it's not; and if you think it's hard, it is.

i believe God is absolutely capable of having a relative relationship with us. if i say, "God is good", this is an absolute statement; if i say, "God is good to me", i have made the statement relative to me. both are true statements. one is not less true than the other. sometimes i struggle to think that God loves me as much as someone who is more successful, or happy.

i find it annoyingly difficult how my "zero-sum mind" will allow me to think i have a firm grasp on a given subject, but when asked a simple question, i draw a blank. (a zero-sum game has winners and losers. if you believe that in order to make $100, someone else needs to lose $100; that’s zero-sum.)

if i dwell on the question, my humanness struggles to come up with an answer. "I don't know" is not satisfying enough for me. but if i focus on the direction of conversation, where it is going, what my options will be when i get there, what i know to be true... i can pin you into submission.

i believe God speaks to me. i believe it is in my thoughts - it even sounds like me. i believe i am created in God's image. made complete, fully capable of living independantly. i believe God wants me to make decisions in life. i believe, in my humanness, i am fully capable of interacting with God. i believe God manipulates my compassion when i ask Him. i believe God has given me control over my life.

this is all relative truth. but God wants to speak to you too.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Unchained Son

the following is a testimony of a man whose story you may have heard, but never knew:

Jim is a thirty-something teacher to whom people are drawn. but Jim breaks all kinds of rules. he's confrontational, opinionated, filled with will-power.
he threatens to fight scoudrels who are making money off of religion, even grabbing their TV camera, a tool for this sordid gain, and smashing it to the ground, creating one long commercial break. 
he has called his students dumb and dull, asking how much longer he'll have to endure their company. 
in order to stem his influence, his enemies play word games and devise interview scenarios in which to embarrass him; he's so cunning and shrewd that he constantly shows them up instead. no one has the guts to talk the way he does. others talk like they understand God; Jim talks like he knows God. Jim forcefully disrupts the order of things and disregards convention. Jim's inappropriate. 
he calls people bad names that "respectable men" never say. he verbally confronts one of his most powerful government officials. when Jim has faced an authority figure who, because of manufactured charges, could actually invoke the death penalty, Jim's slow-to-come responses have been obscure, searing, and disrespectful. 
Jim doesn't mind his manners around important persons. Jim causes problems for society's respectable people. no wonder they want to pull him down. 
in one public speech, to illustrate a profound spiritual truth, Jim has spoken of excrement going into a drain. he's colourful, but some think his language is too coarse for a spiritual leader, and the press has a field day: PREACHER OR POTTYMOUTH? YOU DECIDE. 
he has told reporters that his mission isn't to discover or promote a lifetime of warm and cozy. au contraire: "i bring division and conflict! live as i say you should," he tells morning news shows over coffee and crumpets, and it may "tear your families apart!" then he states the obvious: "those who don't find me offensive will be blessed." who booked this guy? Regis wonders, glancing at security, hoping they're keeping a sharp eye. who in the world does he think he is? muse countless others. 
Jim is sarcastic, sometimes bitingly so; he doesn't apologize. Jim goes to parties and hangs out with others who do. at least once he has supplied the wine, for free, during a wedding where children were likely present. drinks are on him, even though he knows he'll be accused of corrupting others and touting sinfulness. the bureaucrats and government workers with whom he spends time are the ones everybody else hates. Jim doesn't even shun mentally imbalanced devotees or politically leprous radicals. 
many murmer and complain that they don't understand him. his own students sometimes won't ask him questions because they fear his response. 
most religious leaders enjoy the attention of large crowds, but Jim's wary: he doesn't trust them, and he doesn't hide his distrust. he actually confronts empty compliments during public gatherings--not a seeker-friendly ministry approach. even though he still takes students, Jim's been unemployed for at least three years and doesn't even look for a job. he lives off handouts, owns no property, doesn't even have his own cardboard box to return to at night. 
one choice that led to further attacks was Jim's allowing a prostitute--in public--to anoint him with rare and expensive oil that could have been used to feed the poor, support missionaries, or pay for part of a child's life-saving surgery. while his students and his opponents boiled with anger over this wasteful extravagance, Jim would not hear it denounced and had the audacity to say that whenever God's liberating message is preached, this one event will be mentioned favorably. the woman wiped Jim's feet with her own hair, a lure she has used to draw men to her bed, but he has no care for his reputation. the scandal of it all! hear the good folk gossip! film at eleven! 
he warns his students that people will despise them. some will even be brought to court by blackmailers with unfair charges. Jim tells them to pay off the blackmailer before it goes that far. he instructs one student to sell some clothing in order to buy a weapon.
Jim, who's loving, kind, and compasionate, is not owned or influenced by fear and shame. still, he does all the above and more, which begs the question: do you think Jim's a "good Christian man"? is he a nice guy? 
this is part of the life of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, but are you surprised by how foreign some of it looks? if we compare these actions of Jesus to the behavior expected of the average guy in most churches today--and, if we were honest--we'd say, absurdly, that Christ is not a "Christian." we wouldn't pray to him; we'd issue prayer requests for him. 
something doesn't add up.

- Excerpt from Paul Coughlin's book: No More Christian Nice Guy