Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Have we lost the plot?

How refreshing. The Servant Song by Richard Gillard is a nice counterpoint to many more modern melodies meant for corporate worship. The idea of extoling Christian fellowship without complexity (sans programs, hoopla, and religious entanglement) is a welcome memory. Somewhere along the way, we've lost the plot in our visible exegesis of Christian living.

The Flaming Lips once did a cover (I actually like the recording) of "Plastic Jesus". You may know it ? It is a tune that is quite entrenched in the folk tradition. I wonder if, in some ways, American - maybe even Western en todo- christianity hasn't created "plastic" religious trinkets of our own to sell to each other and distract us from serving those to whom we are sent? Are we loving our brethren and neighbors or are we packaging "church" and all of our trinkets for sale to an identifiable market segment of religious consumers?

Certainly, the lyrics to "Plastic Jesus" ruffle the feathers of many "pious folk" and maybe it should; however, if it "ruffles" us - His hopefully non-plastic Church- towards repentance and genuine engagement in the lives of our neighbors, we should welcome the air play.

In contrast, here is a most excellent (non-plastic) reminder (from the 70's no less) for us today as we work out our part in the narrative of God's redemption. It is certainly a lyric worthy of note and an all over great song.

The Servant Song (Brother, Let Me Be Your Servant)
Words and Music by Richard Gillard

Brother, let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night-time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love and agony

Brother, let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too

© 1977 Scripture in Song

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Jesus Between the Hedges

Football “between the hedges” is a big deal for UGA fans and this past weekend was no exception. 80,000 plus people gathered at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium to watch their beloved “Dawgs” “hunker down” against Kentucky (Georgia vs Kentucky ) for a “one step closer” advance towards a Sugar Bowl bid whilst, in the distance, a huge banner is unfurled “God Hates Sin”.

Was the banner accurate? Yes (It did not say “God Hates Sinners” and this is good.) But, could it be that the message is only one aspect of the total story? Moreover, is it the chief message we as Christ’s followers should put forward to a fully packed stadium?

The “banner guy”- zealous no doubt and possibly with good intentions- stood on the bridge above the end zone and held out his banner for all to see. Certainly, the message has merit. People do need to know that God is holy and doesn't just "smile and wink" at their sin. Yet, was it a banner that Christ would have us pick as a visual aid for addressing the masses? Moreover, would Jesus unfurl a banner of His hatred of sin whilst excluding a testament to His love of mankind?

A friend commented. “I don’t think Jesus would have picked it. In fact, I think it does harm to the message of Christ. More harm than good, in fact. Even more, I think Jesus would have picked a different message. I think He would have keyed in on His love and not his hatred.”

In a gospel “déjà vu” account previously seen in the prophet Isaiah, Jesus gives us a clue:

He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
(Luke 4:16-21, NIV)

Although it is not the case for SEC football, in neighborhood sports you sometimes get a “do over”. Maybe, the guy on the bridge could use one here?

You decide. Both messages have merit. What would you write on the banner? And while you're at it, how do you think the life of the church (gathered and scattered) should read (
banner or none) to everyone that encounters her way of living and loving each other and all others?


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Monday, November 14, 2005

A Doctor and the Jesus Creed

"The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people. If we can do this without the practice of any particular spiritual disciplines, then we should by all means skip them." -- John Ortberg

A while back, I came across a link to a blog called The Jesus Creed. The link started with Dr. Paul Baggaley, a family doctor who resides in Western Australia, and his site Baggas' Blog. He took part- along with a good number of others and me, in an online book study earlier this year. (The study was organized by Messy Christian. If you're interested, a new study will start in the next month or so. It looks like it will be Bonhoeffer's "Life Together". Drop me a note or get word to Messy. You are welcomed to join in.) I enjoy reading his comments and appreciate Baggas’ voracious reading habit and faithfulness to post in the midst of his everyday life and service as a fellow Christ-Follower .

The tip towards Scott McKnight and his blog is a good find. Likewise, I was intrigued by the idea of “The Jesus Creed”. Could there be an ancient creed that Christ acknowledged? ...a catechism or confession that pre-dates the creeds of the church and the New Testament? Searching to find and overview of the subject, I came across the following article. It is clearly worth the read. So, here’s an excerpt to get you started. The outcome may be more simple than you thought :)

Jesus creed: what is the focus of spiritual life?

Christian Century, Sept 7, 2004 by Scott McKnight

DISCIPLESHIP AND disciplines: during the past 50 years these two words have expressed for many of us the quintessence of following Christ. We have come especially to associate "discipleship" with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose prophetic voice showed us what it was like to be a Christian under Hitler's regime. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," we read in Reginald Fuller's translation--words that challenge us to take up the cross daily, even at the cost of persecution and death. (Continue)

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Riverwalk and the Siren's Song

O.K. I get it. I like to travel light but having a simple, yet compact, digital camera on the road is a good idea. Today – weather, temperature and sunshine- is simply too nice not to take note. I almost feel like I should pay admission and , as an added bonus, San Antonio has done a nice job with the Riverwalk area. Very nice. So, here are a couple of pics from Google.

This week's work related trek to Texas has been productive. Good progress on active projects and good conversations with colleagues and customers. Yet, as always, I am happy to be on the road but a bit sad to be away from family and friends back home. (Alas, he says, "It goes with the turf." And, it's OK.)

Right now, it’s lunch time so I’m taking a 3.5 mile detour towards San Antonio’s historic district for a bit of lunch (el Buen Gusto serves up a very local (non-tourist) lunch that is cheap and more akin to the food in the kitchen of my friends in Reynosa, Mexico rather than Tex-Mex fare) and, afterwards, a cup of coffee near the “Paseo del Rio” before making my way to my 2:00 appointment. (It is good to take a “mental health” break – even a brief respite- and set work aside for a few minutes before the work of the afternoon continues. It is a practice that I protect in my forties that I wouldn’t allow in my twenties and thirties. Too bad ( I can only estimate the loss in productivity, creativity, and focus.)

Pausing, I realize that there are some really good dialogues going on right now. One took place late yesterday as I drove west from Houston to San Antonio. A close friend and brother in Christ (we’ve been friends and participants in a local body of Christians - now gathering in Stone Mountain village- for 20+ years) called to chat. I was genuinely delighted to hear from him.

After the usual updates on wife, kids, work, etc., it was good to hear how he was finding encouragement in noticing that he was an “aroma of Christ”- for good or for ill- in the whole of his life and that he is sensing God’s pleasure as he lives an integrated everyday faith that seeks to truly love his family, friends, co-workers, customers, and the strangers that he gets to meet as he goes about his “work-a-day” life.

Having encountered quite a few set backs (at least from his perspective) in recent years, he now sees how the struggles – as well as his wrestling with God’s lead in his life - are not side trips in his walk with our Father but actually have put him right in the place where he longs to be : Living, in the whole of his existence, a life of seamless service that ministers others and examples Christ. No hype- just real.

His comments underscore a tension that we often encounter as we follow after Jesus. In fact, not long into the journey, we find that we face choices – pursue Christ as far as it is comfortable or trek towards self denial, humility, submission, and so on. We know the proper path to take; however, we sometimes find it is tempting to settle for sort of a “Christianity-lite that a prosperous (American/Western) church sometimes serves up – often buffet style- to those who are simply willing to show up, look the part, and take part in a very insulated manner of pseudo-Christian living. In some ways, the tempting and alluring fare is almost a siren’s song that can sideline a fervent disciple and weaken the church. Sadly, we too often choose to sing along.

Anyway, enough of solving the troubles of the world…it’s time to wrap things up and get back to work. An integrated faith….now that’s good parting note.

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