Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's the Deal with October 31?

Tonight I’ll be home with bags of candy so that I can answer the door bell dozens of times and hand out treats to children dressed up as pirates and princesses and a variety of other outfits.

Halloween was a simple and fun night for me when I was a child. In my costume and with my brother I’d race to as many houses as I could in the time allotment my mother gave me for “Trick or Treating” and haul in enough candy to last until Christmas. Today Halloween has become the second biggest commercialized “holiday” surpassed only by Christmas. The day has gone way past children roaming neighborhoods for candy to elaborate parties, sexy costumes and “devilish” entertainment.

And, within many Christian circles Halloween has taken on complicated and controversial dimensions. Some Christians choose not to participate in Halloween at all because of its roots in ancient Celtic practices and the occult. Others choose to seize and transform Halloween into a harvest festival or autumn party. Some are downright combative that they will not allow the “dark side” to rob them and future generations from simple childlike fun that they enjoyed years ago.

Few may be aware that October 31, 1517 was the day that the great reformation was launched with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. Luther’s theses debated the Catholic practice of indulgences and that act eventually launched what would become the protestant church.

November 1 had historically been celebrated as All Saints Day where the church would have a variety of worshipful observances around the remembrance of the saints. All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day, would often begin on the night before or All Hallows Eve (thus Halloween) with worship that celebrated the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

Whatever the secular impression or observance of October 31, it is a significantly spiritual day, both of Light and darkness that should be addressed with godly discernment and wisdom.

Monday, October 29, 2007

T-Mobile Has a More Biblical Phone

Today T-Mobile unveiled their newest entry into the specialty phone market, called Shadow. It has a big screen that slides up to reveal a key pad and has software with eye-catching graphics. According to Chief Executive Robert Dotson any similarities or comparisons with Apple’s new iPhone end there.

Shadow has a 20 key pad like a Blackberry but is touted to be more fun. The screen features a string of icons. The first one is a link to myFaves where pictures of your favorite people stare at you. A scroll wheel allows you to toggle among the icons.

There’s a full web browser, Wi-Fi, a 2-megapixal camera capable of taking video and a music player. It can sync with Microsoft Outlook and has stereo Bluetooth.

So, if you’ve read this far you’re thinking, “What do you mean that the phone is more biblical?” Dotson grabbed my attention when he said that the iPhone is “a great product…but it is an experience built around me. It’s a self-indulgent product where I can sit down and have all the experiences that are important to me.”

Instead, he said, the Shadow is about the people who are most important in your lives. “It’s a we-, it’s an us- phone.”

If there is anything that has defined and described American life in recent decades, especially the Boomer generation, it has been the never ending focus on “me”. If there is a key word that describes the life of a Christ-follower it is “we”.

Becoming a Christian is not only about my giving my ultimate allegiance to Christ but that I express that allegiance by loving others well. Loving others is most often expressed in highly committed, deeply substantive relationships that the Bible calls “community”. The life transformation that God is at work to do in Christians cannot happen without “we”.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

When Ceremony Overshadows Conviction

ABC News reports that David Brooks, the former CEO of DHB Industries, has been arrested for embezzling company funds. DHB Industries is the leading body armor provider for US soldiers in Iraq.

Among the list of charges is that Brooks spent $10 million on a bat mitzvah party for his daughter. For $10 million Brooks was able to have Aerosmith, 50 Cent and Don Henley of the Eagles perform along with other extravagant party experiences such as gift bags for 150 kids that included iPods and video cameras.

A bat mitzvah is the female version of a bar mitzvah. In Jewish tradition when a girl is 12 years old or a boy reaches 13, they are said to become “a daughter (bat) of the covenant” or a “son (bar) of the covenant”. It marks a time of assuming responsibility for one’s relationship with God. These days the bat mitzvah ceremony or party tends to overshadow the substance or meaning of the girl becoming a woman of God. That’s certainly the case in the Brooks story.

Similar things happen in Christian traditions of christening or confirmation or baptism. Most glaring in my opinion is the modern day wedding where 95% of the attention is given to the one day ceremony and reception/party rather than the marriage the wedding is supposed to launch.

This Christmas many will endure candlelight and communion services so they can get on with opening presents and gatherings where they will overeat and over drink.

The David Brooks trial will focus on how he ripped off his company, investors and customers. There will be no mention of how he has cheated his daughter of a real encounter with the living God of the universe.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Transformation vs. Hypocrisy

While scrolling through headlines to see if there was anything in today’s news that I wanted to read I came across “Troubled Belltown nightspot to become evangelical church”. I clicked in and read with interest about Seattle’s Mars Hill Church buying the former nightclub with plans to open another satellite of their church. Mars Hill now has about 6400 people that participate in their church at 5 different locations. This would be the sixth.

I’ve been to Mars Hill several times. It is a special church. I believe that the Belltown location will be a blessing to those that live nearby and give it a try.

For the past couple of days I’ve been reading a recently released book, “unChristian” by David Kinnaman. Based upon a significant amount of research the book claims that many today don’t draw near to Jesus Christ or to the church because of perceived hypocrisy. Statistically 85% of those surveyed said that “hypocritical” was the way they see Christians. I don’t like that statistic but I also can’t disagree with it.

I love the Church (the institution and the people). I also see a lot of hypocrisy. However, I think a great deal of hypocrisy happens because of a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christ follower.

For example, with the Belltown location becoming a Mars Hill church, I can promise you that Mars Hill will not simply put their sign out front without changing what happens inside the building. You will no longer go into that building in order to get intoxicated or to watch provocative dancing. That location will be changed inside and out.

Therein is the problem for many “Christians”. According to the data in “unChristian” most Christians believe that the chief mark of being a Christian is that you become a “good person”. That mentality leads many to focus on the outside of their lives. Focusing on behaviors is like Mars Hill focusing on what kind of signage they are going to put outside the new Belltown location. Rather, there must be a focus on transforming the inside.

God’s not interested in Christians pretending that they care about others or acting like they are generous. God’s plan is to transform us so that we are compassionate and giving people.

The word “hypocrite” comes from the ancient Greek theater and referred to actors who wore a mask and pretended to be a character. What’s happening in your life? Is there a focus on internal surgical change, or external facades and masks?

Friday, October 19, 2007

When Substitutes Are Insufficient

Today’s Seattle Times reports that Sea-Tac Airport is attempting to head off holiday controversy this year. As you may recall, around Christmastime 2006, a rabbi contacted airport authorities and demanded that an eight foot menorah be prominently displayed somewhere in the airport. Why? Because he thought that was only fair since there were Christmas decorations displayed throughout the airport.

The Christmas decorations the rabbi referred to were decorated trees, not a crèche or Christian nativity scene. The airport authorities reacted swiftly by removing all the decorated trees literally in the middle of the night in hopes of avoiding controversy. Their thought was that no decorations of any kind would equal no controversy. They were wrong.

An uproar exploded that went national in what most considered overreacting, political correctness gone crazy and another episode in the “culture war”. I truly had some sympathy for the airport authorities because their real job is ensuring that we have safe and efficient airline transportation, not PC holiday decorations.

This year the airport authorities have planned “wintertime decorations” that are free of all religious implications. The pictured model is of handcrafted birch trees nestled in imaginary snow drifts.

Some cultural commentators will no doubt be adding this story to their list of evidences that there is a war on Christmas with the intent of suppressing if not removing Christmas in the ongoing attempt to secularize America. These issues are of interest and importance to me but they are secondary at best.

My first concern is about the prevalent and many times unconscious substituting that takes place in the lives of my friends. Sea-Tac is going to substitute wintertime decorations for Christmas or Hanukkah decorations. What’s ever so much more important is when we substitute spirituality for relationship with God.

Getting outdoors and being inspired or moved by the lakes or mountains is wonderful but it is no substitute for a relationship with God. Having days off of work to gather around a table for a “thanksgiving meal” begs the question, “To Whom are you giving thanks?” Just having an attitude of gratitude is insufficient. The coming insanity around gift buying and gift giving is void of eternal significance if one fails to connect with and celebrate God’s gift to us in Christ. The Sunday ritual of sleeping late, reading the paper, drinking coffee and watching football is an awful substitute for experiencing God in a faith community of worship.

Some substitutions don’t matter a lot. Other substitutions are the difference between true living and mere existence.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Insults, Political Correctness and God

October 19 an animated Hollywood feature, “The Ten Commandments” will be released by Promenade Pictures. I saw a couple of trailers and it looks good. I’m interested to see it. Some terrific actors bring their voices to the characters.

During these days of promotion apparently a little controversy has erupted with Disney Radio because they took the Promenade ad and edited it. At a point in the radio ad where the character Moses is being introduced, the lead in description was supposed to say, “Chosen by God, Moses…” Radio Disney edited out “Chosen by God”.

Initially Radio Disney told Promenade that according to their broadcast standards and practices the words “chosen by God” should be omitted. After word of this decision got out to other media Disney Radio said that the phrase was confusing and still later they said it had to be edited for time.

One Promenade exec questioned, “Who are they afraid that they’re going to offend? Everyone knows the story of Moses and that he was chosen by God.” You can read more about the controversy here.

The previous question of course falls into the murky pit of political correctness. It seems that we learn of some group or person being offended every day by the ever changing PC norms.

As I read this story I immediately said out loud to myself (yes, I talk to myself while reading), “Who are they going to offend…what if they offend God?”

That launched me into more personal reflection. What’s going on with me? Are there thoughts, actions or inactions from me that offend God?

God has been so compassionate and patient with me. When I fail to extend that to someone else I think it is an offense to Him. God has been very generous with me. When I lack generosity toward others I believe it is insulting to Him. I could go on.

We would do well to take a few moments right now to confess and repent of our offenses.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter, Donny Deutsch and Intolerance

Donny Deutsch hosts a television program on CNBC called “The Big Idea”. This past Monday he interviewed columnist and author Ann Coulter. The primary reason anyone hosts Coulter on their show is for ratings. She is very provocative and will often say shocking things. It makes people think, it makes people angry and it makes people tune in to a program and thereby brings ratings.

Without recounting the entire interview (you can read it here) Deutsch came to a point in the conversation where he asked Coulter if “it would be better if we were all Christian.” Coulter shot back quickly, “Yes.”

“We should all be Christian?” Deutsch repeated.

“Yes,” Coulter responded, asking Deutsch, who is Jewish, if he would like to “come to church with me.”

Deutsch went on and on with shock and incredulity that Ann would be so prejudiced and intolerant that she would want everyone to be Christian. Deutsch compared Coulter to the President of Iran who wished that Israel would be obliterated.

Come on Donny, if you had a guest who was selling a product or idea he or she would think that everyone needed to “buy” his product or idea. That’s the nature of things when you believe something is true. I believe that Christianity is true. It is the greatest gift and blessing in my life. If I wish that everyone was a Christian and enjoyed God like I do isn’t that love on my part?

Donny, you pointed out that you’re Jewish. One blogger commented that wouldn’t you think it was a good thing if the President of Iran became Jewish? Donny, if you could pray one prayer and the President would become Jewish, wouldn’t you want that?

At the same time, the last thing I would want is my Christianity or Deutsch’s Judaism to be forced upon someone. Freedom is the opportunity to accept or reject faith, ideas, experiences, products, etc. So Donny, I would think that Ann's desire for all to become Christians is not intolerant but rather your insistence that she and every other Christian not have such desires IS intolerant.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Life Change Through Community

Today I sat in a meeting that was attended by a friend of mine, Chip Kimball. For those of you that live in the Redmond area, Dr. Kimball is the superintendent of the Lake Washington School District, a district that serves 24,000 students and consistently performs near the top of several national scores.

Someone asked Chip to share some of his personal story. He has a doctorate from the University of Southern California, a master’s degree from Eastern Washington University and a bachelor’s degree from Whitworth College in Spokane. That’s not surprising since he is a professional educator.

What was surprising is that Chip was kicked out of high school in central California for lack of performance and lack of attendance. Later he was able to re-enter high school and he finished with a 1.8 GPA on a 4.0 scale! What happened?

Chip’s story is one of a dysfunctional family. With a lack of support and motivation at home Chip said that he basically disconnected from his peers and school teachers and administrators. His parents eventually kicked him out of their home and he was befriended by people from a local church. Eventually he worked for a while in a church camp and by providence, met a faculty member from Whitworth, a small liberal arts Christian college.

After formally meeting with this prof and the president of the school and asking for a shot to succeed in college they admitted Chip on a probationary basis. Chip excelled and now he is the superintendent of one of the finer school districts in the US.

But the piece of Chip’s story that has stuck with me through the day is that the difference in his performance was rooted in a sense of connection. There was a significant disconnect in high school with family, friends and faculty. In college it was just the opposite as Christian professors and fellow students cared about him, befriended, supported and in a word, “loved” him. While there he met and married his wife and now has a daughter attending Whitworth.

Many of you know that my youngest son attended and graduated from Whitworth and likewise had a powerful experience of Christian community.

I have the privilege of working everyday as an “architect of Christian community”. I get to design systems and create experiences and train leaders who facilitate community. Working “on” community every day and every week sometimes has me so immersed in it that I don’t always get to see the outcomes of Christian community. Today I got to see a living testimony of community.

How real is the experience of community in your life? What’s your story?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Disturb Me

I sat in a session today with Craig Groeschel, a pastor from Oklahoma. He began his talk by asking each of us to pray a two word prayer, “Disturb me.”

Groeschel went on to talk about how many of us live as practical atheists. A practical atheist is one who says he believes in God but then lives like God doesn’t exist. If God exists then it would be reasonable to assume that one would order his entire life around God rather than around self. If God exists one would be more concerned to please God than please people. If God exists one would give more attention to developing an internal character that honors God than an external persona that impresses man.

When Groeschel finished speaking, my opening prayer had been answered. I was disturbed.

I definitely think about God a lot, all through the day. I pray often. I seek to see what God is up to around me and discern whether He is inviting me to do something, to participate with Him in some way. However, the Bible tells us that out of our heart flows what is in our heart. I still long for more stuff when I have everything I need. I still feel competitive with others in a way that seeks to soothe my ego. I still get flashes of anger over inconsequential things and fail to get angry about injustices in the lives of so many.

What flows out of my heart reveals how much there remains of an old life that is dead. An old dead life that is allowed to resurrect is a result of self being enthroned and God being de-throned in my heart. Practical atheism.

“God, I pray that you would disturb those who reflect with me on these things.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Learning in Unexpected Ways

I’m in Atlanta for a few days of continuing education. I’ve been in a session with about 11,000 ministry leaders and the sessions have been fascinating. The programming and staging and music are fresh and stirring. Some of the presenters are familiar and some are new to me. I’ve gleaned important things to think about from all.

However, the presentation I may have learned the most important lesson was from the least impressive. This nationally known speaker and author of several books that I will leave nameless was as off as I’ve ever seen a professional be.

I’ve heard him speak at least three other times on a national stage. He’s good and his content has been important for me to learn. But his presentation today was unlike anything I’ve ever seen from someone of his caliber. The speaker was distracted several times by a variety of things in the house. He forgot his main points which are featured in his latest book so you know that he knew his content. What’s more he would start to tell a story and then realize that the story was supposed to go with a point that he was going to make later. He literally did this three times and would just say jokingly, “Hey, I’m telling you this story at the wrong time. Remember this story for something that I’m going to say in a minute.”

What did I learn? I learned how to handle a bad moment. I do a good bit of public speaking. It’s important to me to speak as well as I can every opportunity I have. Part of that is driven by a desire to honor God and part of that is a desire to bless people who have graciously given their time to listen to my talk. I feel a keen sense of stewardship about my speaking.

But honestly there is still a percentage of my motivation to speak well that is driven by the fear of looking like an idiot or sounding like a fool. Today’s speaker was a living picture standing before me of one of my greatest fears. At times when preparing to speak I've had a lot of anxiety that I might have an off day like today’s speaker. And yet, there we were in the moment and he had a little self-deprecating humor, sputtered through to the end and then got off of the platform. No meltdown. No big apology. It was just an off day for an otherwise competent speaker.

I learned to be serious about my speaking preparation and delivery but not to be too serious about myself. I learned that one’s worst day of performance is not the end of the world. I learned that God can use someone’s poor performance in powerful ways in someone else’s life (mine). I actually got more out of today’s speaker’s poor delivery than I would have if it had been flawless.

That causes me to be in awe of the work of God in me (us).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is Jon Kitna a Fanatic?

David Flemming has written in ESPN, The Magazine that Detroit Lions quarterback, Jon Kitna, is a fanatic. Flemming is not talking about the game of football but rather about Kitna’s faith in Jesus Christ.

I know that several of you that read this blog are not into professional football. Allow me to bring in a little football context before we reflect.

Jon Kitna is a 34 year old professional athlete from Tacoma, Washington that played at Central Washington University before embarking on an 11 year professional career with three NFL teams including the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals. I have been a fan of his since he entered the league because he is a strong Christian and because he is a gutsy, courageous football player. Few players from small colleges make it to or succeed in the NFL.

Detroit is an historic NFL franchise begun in 1930. They have a proud tradition but have been on very hard times in recent years posting double-digit losses for the past 6 seasons. Kitna predicted/promised the fans of Detroit that they would win at least 10 this season.

He now has the Detroit fans excited about Lion football and he has his formerly depressed teammates believing they can succeed.

Flemming however raises several questions/points that that hold a prominent place in our culture.

Kitna’s presence and influence has resulted in at least 20 teammates making decisions to follow Christ. Several players from the Lions and whatever team they’re playing gather at mid-field for prayer following games. Every Lion practice ends with about 30 players huddling and shouting “1-2-3, Jesus”. Kitna leads a Bible study in his home every Monday night.

Flemming concedes that in part Kitna’s faith as well as his personality probably has had a positive impact on team morale. But Flemming also believes that it makes for a hostile work environment for those that don’t want to be Christians. And, Flemming says that Kitna is a fanatic because Kitna often prays during the game, has never used a word stronger than “fudge” on the field and tithes 10% of his salary to God.

Kitna says, “My first responsibility to this team is to be a quarterback. But my priority in life is to be a man of God. I don’t use my faith maliciously, to damn or to judge people who are not Christians.” Kitna believes in and everyone agrees that he practices, “hard work, responsibility, temperance and selflessness.”

Obviously I’m a Christian and I’m biased in favor of Kitna’s beliefs and behaviors. However, when I imagine working in an office or on a professional team with a majority of, let’s say Muslims, if they were hard working, responsible and selfless I think that I would be fine with their practice of their faith. If they wanted to pray, or quote the Koran or hold studies in their home or have voluntary prayer gatherings during the day or week I don’t think that would be a problem.

Our culture is uncomfortable with the practice of faith in public. Our culture contends for a private practice of faith. Yet this call for privacy is relatively new. The entire history of our country has not only allowed but promoted free expression and practice of faith in public. Yes, there are those who are obnoxious and irritating about their faith. There are also people who are obnoxious and irritating about politics and sports and business and money, etc. Part of being a mature adult is learning to deal with and cope with obnoxious people.

Okay, that’s my reflection. What’s yours? How do you see it?