Thursday, October 30, 2008

Go Directly to Hate! (Do Not Pass Go)


For several days, "Yes on 8" folks have been gathering on corners waving placards and expressing their support for the California ballot initiative seeking to define marriage solely as between one man and one woman in our State constitution. A few "No on 8" placards have also popped up around the area, too.


Today, however, "No on 8" supporters came out in force, holding up their signs and whooping it up as cars passed (some honking out support) on a couple busy local intersections. I was floored when I saw several of the signs on display bearing messages that accuse those who disagree with their position as guilty of "hate".


"Don't teach your children hate" read one. Another hand made sign had the four letters of the word h-a-t-e woven in among the message to vote no. Mind you, not one "yes on 8" placard had any auxilliary message suggesting that those who took the other view were hateful or stupid or evil. They were simply advocating their support for the traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But the other side is quite willing to accuse their opponents of "hating" gays and teaching the children to "hate" them, too. It made me wonder what these particular zealots would say to a gay man or woman who, nevertheless, support a "yes on 8" stance (there are some). Do they hate themselves? Are they trying to teach others to hate them too?


This whole issue underscores what is so odious about today's politics. When citizens and politicians take positions on particular issues, they often go directly to accusing their opponents of hate -- of being like Hitler or Nazis and so on. That's a convenient way to demonize the opposition and suppress real debate but it does little to advance our understanding of one another.


Honestly, I felt slimed by what I saw today -- in fact, I felt a little "hated" since I plan to vote "yes" on 8. And those who know me -- and my children -- know that hate has nothing to do with these convictions. Unfortunately, I can't fit all that on a placard.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Song of the "Chocolate" Soldier

C.T. Studd -- his very name conveys potency and substance and his life story bears this out.


In his early years he was a reknowned British cricketeer -- a hero who made his name in sports at Cambridge. Later, however, Jesus Christ became his magnificent obsession. Eventually, Studd left the comforts of home to serve God in China, India and Africa as a missionary. Not only did he serve the Lord on the frontier of nineteenth century missions, but he called many others -- especially students -- into the same service.


Studd was not a man to waste words. He called people to give their all for Christ and His kingdom without hesitation or apology. He had an understandable impatience with those who populated Christian environments but who had never done business with God and tended to flake out or shrink back when challenges appeared.

He referred to them as "chocolate soldiers" who -- though claiming to have a part in God's army -- were prone to melt away in the heat of trial and demand. His comments about these so-called "chocolate soldiers" follows below. As you read them, you may find yourself getting angry and upset about the "chocolate factories" we have built in the life of today's church and Christianity:

Studd wrote --

"To the Chocolate Soldier the very thought of war brings a violent attack of ague, while the call to battle always finds him with the palsy. "I really cannot move," he says. "I only wish I could, but I can sing, and here are some of my favorite lines:

"I must be carried to the skies

On a flowery bed of ease,

Let others fight to win the prize,

Or sail through bloody seas.

Mark time, Christian heroes,

Never go to war;

Stop and mind the babies

Playing on the floor.


Wash and dress and feed them
Forty times a week,
'Til they're roly poly--Puddings so to speak.


Chorus:

Round and round the nursery

Let us ambulate,

Sugar and spice and all that's nice

Must be on our plate."

Over 100 years have passed since these words were first written. Has the pasage of time only made them more remarkably relevant to our own day?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why You Hate Making Decisions


Some years back, I learned something about the word "decide" that I have often reflected upon and shared with others. When you learn more about this word, you will better understand why it is often hard to make decisions.

The part of the word "decide" that is of particular interest is the "cide" part. It is Latin and means "to kill" (as in: suicide, homicide, infanticide and so on). This means that when you decide something you are by the very nature of the act putting some of your options to death. You are killing off choices. You are slaying some things in order to empower others.

As in any death, there can be a natural and important greiving that goes with deciding. People who marry may need to mourn the death of their singleness. People who choose to become a real part of one church must reconcile the fact that they are letting go of another. People who choose to live in the country may need to mourn the loss of the city lights.

When we choose a particular college, career, car, political candidate -- you name it -- we are admitting that we can't keep our options open for ever. The gavel must fall sooner or later and, when it does, something must die. This is the other side of the blessing of free choice.

It seems to me that one of the problems of our times is that we don't like limiting our choices. We want to keep our options open for ever. We want to wait until we have more data, more certainty, more assurance, less risk. Or we may even punt and let someone else make our decisions for us. "It's too complicated" or "it's too painful" we say. "You do the killing for me".

It would appear that too many of those who declare "until God shall separate us by death" at the wedding altar really mean "until something better comes my way". Too many who sing "I have decided to follow Jesus -- no turning back" really mean "I'll try to have the best of the kingdom and the best of the world too, thank you". But, or course, to decide for the Lordship of Christ is to murder the life we might have lived under our own direction. We can't have it both ways. Really. We can't.

I recently decided to change my life in major ways and say "goodbye" to things I loved a great deal including the security of the familiar (something we middle-aged folks learn to cherish). Sometimes, I chafe against this act of decision. Sometimes I wonder if there is a way I can go back and reconfigure it again and again. But, in my more clear-headed and mature moments, I remember all those things that reinforce the finality of deciding: "pick up your cross and follow Me" (the cross being a symbol of death), "you can't steal second base with your foot still on first" (unless, I might add you are one of the Fantastic Four or the lady in the Incredibles -- neither of which apply to me). And, one of my favorite John Wimber-isms: "Faith is spelled r-i-s-k". You see, we must often decide without guarantees, when its not the perfect time to do this or that, when we can only hope for the outcomes we want.

Committing acts of decision, committing that kind of murder is, in fact, the way we grow and shape our lives. Looking back down the chain of things we have decided is our history and our history is pretty much the story of our decisions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who Do You Care About?

We started a new VCMN facebook group. First, you sign up for facebook and put together a profile (free). Then you can join a group like ours. The group can post topics for discussion. It's a great way to connect.

Today, I started a new topic for the VCMN group to discuss: Who Do You Care About? What follows is my opening post. Feel free to visit our facebook group and read what people are adding or join in with a post of your own:

When we start talking about "mission", it's easy to get quickly overwhelmed. The needs out there are just SO huge. So, a good place to begin thinking about mission is to ask yourself who you care about. It might be a person, a family, a people group (Jr. High Students), a neighborhood, etc. But -- even if you are not exactly sure how to help them -- you find that you really care about them. So who do YOU care about?

For me, I find myself caring about young adults is their 20s and 30s. I care about them because they are really starting to exert their influence on culture and society but, to my mind, so many have been given little real help on how to live life by their elders (including -- and maybe especially -- in the church).

I want to see them become FOCUSED (a tall order in this hyperactive world) and confident. In a day when it is so important to "matter", I want to see scores of them find meaning in the simple qualities of personal character, spiritual maturity and long-term commitment even though these things are not "hot" or flashy. I ache to see the next generation of leaders raised up with their feet solidly planted on terra firma but their arms wide open to the myriad possibilities their lives will provide them to tell the world who they are and who God is in their lives.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lark News - "A Good Source For Christian News"


(Picture from Lark News exclusive story captioned: "Obama Heals Hundreds")

For those who know the pleasure of sitting down with one of those checkstand tabloids that feature Bat Boy, the Prophecies of Nostradamus and the latest chapter in Elvis's post-life life, I give you: Lark News (http://www.larknews.com/) the self-described: "Good Source for Christian News".

This month's Lark online includes the hair raising story of the youth pastor who "dropped an f-bomb" during a church board meeting, or this shocking report straight outta Pontiac, MI:

"Listeners of Christian talk radio were surprised and dismayed to learn that the same slate of programs has been playing on Christian radio stations since 1988, and that the entire fa├žade of Christian radio has been run out of a basement complex in Michigan."

For the record, Lark News has been my source for a certain sort of edification for several years now, and it is my privilege to share it with you. You can even find a handy link to http://www.bonofatigue.com/ ("It could happen to U2") there.

There is no charge to log in to Larknews.com and even read your horoscope (after harsh warnings about the biblical ramifications of astrology). Mine, for example, wisely counseled me: "Don't get bogged down in Leviticus this year". Hmmmmmm -- something to think about, for sure.

So, don't delay: go to Larknews.com and order your "Home Schoolers Gone Wild" t-shirt or catch some of the latest and hotest stories to come over the (Christian) wires.

Building the Perfect Candidate

My perfect presidential candidate doesn't exist. But if they did, they would possess certain qualities that would make them, well, perfect. I will list a couple of them and then invite you to add one of your own.

Let's see if we can build the perfect candidate.

1. They would be unapologetically, consistently and irreversibly pro-life.

2. They would tell us that the wild economic horses have already run out of the barn and propose drastic (even painful) solutions for both the public and private sectors instead of simply throwing more funny money at problems.

3. They would confront the corrupt public education system and tell them that they must now compete on a level playing field with private schools, etc.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Exchange Goes On -- and Escalates!

As I mentioned, I am in an exchange with people over at Alan Hirsch's blog over the place of knowledge and theology in the true experience of the divine. Even my son, Andrew, weighed in over there. Today, Alan re-opened the discussion with more quotes and people jumped right in.

Here's what I put up (prompted in part by a quote someone named Scott pulled from a Brennan Manning book):

Scott, my brother:

I love Brennan Manning, have read a number of his books and heard him speak on several occassions. But, wherever that quote came from, it is just… stupid (sorry!)
Do I really need to throw away EVERYTHING I know about Jesus every five years? Everything? The doctrine of His virgin birth? My fierce conviction (I’m counting on this) that He died in my place? His bodily resurrection? Do I really need to “relearn” all of that? Whatever point about keeping it real with Jesus was trying to be made by the author of that quote is, for me, obscured by the overstatement.


I get it that worshipping our knowledge of God is both limiting and idolatrous. But where I’m struggling is how the alternative is being framed. But, then again, I’ll be straight up enough to tell you I’m coming from an a particular flow of Christian experience and I’m trying to protect something that I believe matters. So here’s the deal…


I love to see God “show up” and blow our minds. I pray for it. I have a lifetime of experience in Pentecostal / Charismatic circles with 25 years in the Vineyard movement to date. But, sadly, I have seen incredibly goofy and even harmful stuff peddled to people in the name of throwing away everything about God so as to be open to the experience du jour (supposedly of Him) and I ache over the harmful backlash I have witnessee, and pastored people through, on the back side. Others, with different backrounds and experiences, may be contending in their comments for other things and I’m okay with that. Maybe they could share a little more about that in future posts.

The very alive church in Jerusalem, in Acts, testified to both the miraculous transcendence of God and to regular doses of “the apostles doctrine”. There is this thing called “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” in Scripture. There is a foundation. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”. Maybe that’s what Alan and others are trying to awaken — first, fear the Lord, then explore the knowledge. Cool. But knowledge, doctrine, the actual intellectual construct of the law and the gospel is never, as far as I can tell, cast aside. Instead, it seems to be necessary to point us to authentic experiences of the divine.

I guess I think of it like this:

If I have a container and it is filled to overflowing with water, then Praise God, my cup overflows. But if I pour water into thin air because I have no container at all, what’s the point?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rationality, Hubris, Faith and the Wild Places of God


I've been in a spirited exchange with some folks over at Alan Hirsch's blog The Forgotten Ways (it's on my blog list). You can follow the thread by clicking on his post about "When Theology Becomes Idolatry" and following the comments. Let me say that Alan's book by the same title is one of the most influential Christian books I have ever read and has been very powerful in propelling some of the radical changes I am making in my life and ministry.

Nevertheless... you can decide for myself if I am missing some important point, but I was sort of surprised by the places the conversation went -- what is being protected and what is being advocated by all (including me).

Here is my last comment post over there to pique your interest:
GiGi and company:

It is exactly about semantics, but that's okay (first definiton of the word "semantics" from Merriam Webster online is "the study of meanings"). And, as Dan Lowe points out, it would be good for us to be clear about what we mean by the word "mind" (and what was meant by the word "back then").


So here's what I mean: the mind is something like the processing center that works with both physical and spiritual realities -- the visible and invisible. The mind can percieve things that are mystery and conceptual, i.e.: the "super" (beyond) natural. But it can also manage data from the five senses, etc.


A sound mind, in my opinion, bridges the invisible, conceptual, "feeling" world to the rational, objective, observably physical world and gets them "talking to each other" between our ears (to borrow Dan's phrase).


That's why I think Scripture recognizes that the natural world reveals things about God and even praises Him, but the Bible also asserts that He is super-natural, beyond nature (including what the mind can conceive and quantify) and not bound or defined by it. I think it's a "both-and" not "either-or" deal.

I'm glad Janet is a student of theology in the apparently formal sense. I am glad she is reading Augustine and the gang and really thinking deeply about God. Alan warns that rationality is one of the biggest causes of hubris -- true enough. But rationality is also one of the biggest causes of sanity -- especially concerning faith.

I guess I want it all. I want a solid, chunky "rational" center to my faith that is orthodox and able to be communicated with clarity. And, I want an "edge" to my faith that presses me into the "wild places" of God and the mysteries of the Spirit and the Kingdom. I just think it gets a little freaky when the edge becomes the center and the center becomes the edge.

Thanks again, everyone, for sharing your thoughts

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pesky Apostles, Part 3, (in which Bill reveals a startling fact about himself)


"I believe there are thousands of emerging apostles that have gifts within them and they are not being released because we don’t have fathers that understand the apostolic calling and the [need to] release them like we should.

I believe we do have many young ministers with apostolic callings who struggle to develop on their own because there is no one in their region that they are connected to that has a heart to train and disciple them into their gifting.”

- "Apostle" John Eckhardt, Founder of Crusader Ministries, Chicago, Illinois



I love that quote. I believe it to be true. I believe that there is a tsunami of apostolic ministry that is waiting to be unleashed but is being held back and untapped. So, it's time for me to confess that part of my interest in contemporary apostolic mininstry is the result of my own growing personal desire to be apostolic. Now, before you start accusing me of latent megalomania, read on...

At the root of it all, I want to start a movement -- but not just any movement. I want to start a movement that inspires and assists other people to start movements. I want to see students start movements on their campuses, blue collar workers start movements in warehouses, factories and distribution centers, educators start movements in the school system, housewives start movements in their neighborhoods. I even want to see techies start online social networking movements in cyberspace.

That's what happens when you start to see the ministry of the Kingdom of God as a boundless network that stretches through everyday people into everyday places instead of a building-centered or superstar-revival centered physical destination.

I believe that the rising tide of network awareness in society in general and the church in particular may call out the ministry of the apostle in a way that our former models of church life and ministry simply could not. Today's "apostles", like those of the New Testament, will not make it about their superstar apostolic status (which, I Corinthians shows, was odious to Paul). As Forrest Gump's mother might put it: "apostles are what apostles do". And what apostles do, in the New Testament sense, is plant outposts of the Kingdom of God into everyday places, situations and people groups until the surrounding culture understands that Jesus is Lord.

I'm still not comfortable with calling people "apostle", but I want to be apostolic. That's because it takes apostolic people to release apostolic people. And apostolic ministry (according to Ephesians) does not stand alone. It stands alongside the mininstry of pastor / teachers, evangelists and prophets. Seems to me that we have plenty of high-visibility "pastors", some notable "evangelists", a very few reliable "prophets". What would happen if this five-fold notion of ministry leadership really came together in apostolic network movements without walls? I'm looking for how this can really happen in our day and in our time.

Today's resource-gulping ministry structures are in for a rude awakening given the economic times we live in. Apostolic ministry is lean, mean and organic. We can see that in the New Testament. We can see it in China and other places around the world today. It may not be too much longer before we start seeing it "for real" in the West.

Until then, I'll just keep praying that John Eckhardt's description of the need of this hour gives way to a new day when elders "eld" as releasing and empowering spiritual fathers, the young men see visions, the servants and handmaidens prophesy and the seed of the kingdom gets out of the warehouses and into the fruitful fields of harvest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Those Pesky Apostles, Part 2



(A Google image search brought up this picture of "Apostle Randy Brown" and "Pastor Gayle Brown")

Earlier in my Christian life, I was told that "missionaries" are the equivalent of apostles today. I can see some reason to think this since "apostle" means "one who is sent out" and missionaries are sent out to other cultures or nations to preach, serve and plant churches. But I've met a number of missionaries since then that do not strike me as the least bit apostolic. There must be more to being an apostle than being a missionary.

I am beginning to think there is a two-pronged solution to this apostolic mystery. That's because one must recognize the unique role of the apostles (including Paul) who were hand-selected by Jesus and who exercised leadership in the First Century church. By the way, the roll call of N. T. apostles includes some uncommon names such as Matthias (Acts 1:26), Joses (Barnabas - Acts 4:36), Andronicus and Junia (feminine name? Romans 16: 7). I have come to refer to these as "capital A" Apostles. They are the foundational Apostles (Eph. 2:20) who are responsible for "the Apostles Doctrine" (Acts 2: 42), who wrote Scripture and who hold a non-repeating role of influence in the Body of Christ.

On the other hand, one must recognize that not all the Apostles wrote Scripture, not all are well known to us today and, very likely, some of those considered Apostles in New Testament times had much less influence and exercised less far-reaching authority than others (don't worry -- I'm not going Papal here).

I think that such Apostles were more likely to have planted networks of churches and exercised influential leadership within those networks. It seems possible that such "small a" apostles were not necessarily hand-selected by Christ the way Peter, Paul and John were, but were recognized as apostolic by those who were (Andronicus and Junia hold an interesting place in that sense).

This leads me to believe that "small a" apostles may have continued throughout church history to the present time -- recognized and unrecognized as such. I certainly think that some of the "Uncles" I met or heard about in present day China are apostolic. They are not pastors of megachurches or media stars (not possible in the underground Chinese environment), but they influence tens of thousands of believers who meet in small groups, house churches and other network modalities. I don't know whether any call themselves apostles or are given that label by others, but they strike me as entirely apostolic in a way directly reminiscent of N.T. apostles.

At this point, I am still uncomfortable with people introducing themselves as "Apostle Smith" as is sometimes done in certain church circles. On the other hand, it seems to me that the time has come to find some way to recognize contemporary apostolic authority and function in a way that actually means something. In fact, all five of the five-fold people gifts described by Paul in Ephesians 4 need some contemporary re-definition and recognition. We have, as I mentioned in my earlier post, asked far too much of the title "Pastor" in our time. In future posts, I will try to develop this futher.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Those Pesky Apostles


What to do with apostles in our day? For most of my life, I've been content to consign the biblical office of "apostle" to the First Century and be done with it. Some of the qualifications Paul cites for his apostleship ("have I not seen Christ Jesus our Lord..." I Cor. 9: 1) would apparently exclude the idea of legitmate apostles existing beyond Paul's time. Apostles (I was taught from my youth) write Scripture, exercise high authority in church discipline and were selected by Jesus either in the flesh (like Peter) or by a post-ressurection visitation (like Paul). In addition, Paul says that "the apostles and prophets" are at the foundation level of the Church with Jesus being the Chief Cornerstone of that foundation (Ephesians 2: 20). Again, the foundation was laid in the First Century. For a lot of people, that's "Case Closed".


Of course, for some contemporary believers, the case is far from closed. Like Robert Duvall in his film The Apostle, they claim the title for themselves and let the chips fall where they will. There is even a formal association of apostles (the ICA or International Coalition of Apostles) who are "recognized by a significant segment of the church, including peer-level apostles, to have the gift and office of and office of apostle and who have been ministering through this gift for a period of time" (http://www.globalharvest.org/index.asp?action=icafaq). Raise your hand if, like me, you find this to be a tremendously vague, suspicious and unsatisfying set of qualifications.


What is also unsatisfying, however, is the way our refusal to recognize apostolic authority in the present day has left us with a trans-local spiritual leadership vacuum that we have filled by inflating the term "Pastor" to unbelievable proportions. Even in an American context, "Pastor" Rick Warren or Jack Hayford or John Wimber or Chuck Smith or Greg Laurie (just to stay on the West Coast) are "pastor" to tens of thousands or even millions of people.
Since the definition of the word "pastor" goes directly to the role of the shepherd, it's hard to imagine anyone except The Good Shepherd Himself having enough intimate knowledge of a "flock" of that size so that they could be said to "shepherd" more than a few hundred (or less) of them in any meaningful way. But, since we've locked the apostolic office in a First Century cage, we can't go around calling these kinds of men "apostles", though -- as a compromise -- I have sometimes heard such people refer to them as "apostolic" or having "apostolic" gifts without going so far as to formally designate them "apostles". And, indeed -- none of these men have claimed the title Apostle for themselves. So, we now have MegaPastors (you might say) to go with our MegaChurches (and I, for one, am all "mega-ed" out).


In my next post, I'll continue this discussion including my current thoughts about present day apostolic ministry.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bill Faris: Counselee

In addition to returning to my role as a counselor (see previous post), I have also taken this opportunity to take some sessions with my therapist as a counselee. I first began to see Christal in 1988 while in the midst of crisis. Since then, I have changed and, to my surprise and delight, I have found that our counseling relationship has also been able to change as well. She would say that I have found ways to "use her" differently over the years, as needed. I really appreciate that this is possible in a good counseling relationship.

Therefore, with all this new transition going on my life, I booked some appointments with her again. I knew that doing so would help me to better perceive the meaning of this new season of my life experience.

Having observed me for twenty years makes the high price of each session (gulp!)worth paying. That's because I'm not just paying for less than an hour of her time but for our twenty years of accumulated insight, history and connection. It is a fact that, due to the kinds of relationships certain kinds of counseling can produce, no one knows me like Christal. This means that stepping back into session with her -- even after years -- feels like picking up where we last left off.

I have gotten a lot out of this new series of sessions and I feel so grateful for the gift Christal has been to my life. As before, I have left some of my recent sessions with her shaking my head and repeating the word "wow" over and over as I refelct on the things that we accomplish together in such a short time.

The fact is that I'm glad I know both sides of the counseling relationship. There's no doubt that being Bill Faris, counselee better equips and empowers me to also be Bill Faris, Counselor.