“The Cosmic Dance” by Greg Boyd

The Cosmic Dance by Greg Boyd (forthcoming)

picresized_1199099521_page1

Since we’re on the theme of the cosmic dance, here’s a fascinating project by Greg Boyd, one of my biggest influences and favorite teachers.  Get ready egg-heads!!

“Christus Victor Ministries is working with an artist, page designer and photographer to create The Cosmic Dance. Using funky art and creative photography, the book spells out the basic discoveries within six areas of contemporary science: Neuroscience, Quantum Theory, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory, Non-Equilibrium Dynamics and Relativity Theory. It then tries to show how these scientific realms, each in their own distinct way, suggest that reality is something akin to an open-ended “Cosmic Dance.” In contrast to the mechanistic, Newtonian science of the past, these areas of recent contemporary science suggest that spontaneity, creativity, and freedom permeate the cosmos. And this, Greg contends, has significant implications for how we should live.”

Hopefully coming sometime in 2009.

SINKING (3): Patching Leaks #1 – Culture Christians

bailing-life-boatIn my previous post I suggested today’s youth culture can help remind us what really distinguishes a healthy church from a sick, diseased or dying church: “Are the individuals who make up that church authentically regenerated, committed followers of Christ whose lives bear outward evidence of the inward sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit?”  Teens value authenticity above almost anything else and they can spot a fake a mile away.  They want the “real thing” or nothing at all.  This leads me to the first potentially disastrous leak I see plaguing the evangelical Church in America today: Culture Christians.

I define “culture Christians” as those whose Christian identity is tied most passionately to the ongoing culture wars and efforts of the religious right to “Take America back for God” through legislating Christian morality in the public square.  They are very passionate and committed to their form of Christianity and as a political voting block carry significant weight and influence.  For those who believe the evangelical Church’s primary role on earth is to hold the pagan world accountable to God by imposing their moral standard on a secular state, the motivation and zeal runs high. Those who speak loudest do not always speak wisest.  Because of the power this evangelical voting block has exercised in the heated political battles and presidential races recently, the majority of people outside the church have a completely politicized, right wing impression of the entire evangelical Church.  Jesus = rebublican, etc.   

The problem is that this is simply not the God-ordained role of the church.  We are not the moral police of an increasingly secularized culture.  We are the Body of Christ, called to be a countercultural people, replicating Christ’s self-sacrificial love to the world around us.  We do have an active political and prophetic role; but we are active and prophetic in a very different sense than the cultural warriors.  We influence the culture around us by remaining a peculiar people who don’t play by the same rules as the world.  We represent Christ’s political agenda – which rarely fits into either right or left, republican or democratic categories.  We serve the Kingdom of God and have Christ as King – not Caesar or the President.    

My interactions with teens have reinforced my conviction that what the world needs is not another political agenda, another crafty politician, another clever platform, another Christian moral policeman shouting “No, No, No” to a scoffing crowd of unbelievers.  (A timely read for the current perceptions young people have of Christians is “UnChristian” by David Kinneman and Gabe Lyons.) Rather, the teens I interact with get fired up about joining a movement of rebels who capture the attention of the naysayers through surprising acts of love and service, shocking the world by our greater sense of purpose, and gaining credibility in the eyes onlookers by living lives of notable character and integrity.  

The problem with merging the Christian church with a particular political stance in the culture war is that the church’s mission to reach the world with the Gospel is then bound up with how successful the church is in fighting the culture war.  When we lose ground in the culture war (and make more enemies in the process) we lose our voice and witness as well.  If the Evangelical ship is indeed taking on water, one of the major leaks has certainly been this unfortunate identification of Christianity with a culture war more committed to changing the culture of America than becoming a unique Jesus-shaped culture of our own — a peculiar people distinct from the culture whose very existence bears prophetic witness to the Good News of God’s advancing Kingdom in the world.

The culture war is almost lost.  The sector of evangelicalism that has staked it’s reputation on that battlefront will suffer greatly in the defeat.  The good news is that the true church, the true Body of Christ, will continue faithfully bearing witness to the Kingdom of God and the self-sacrificial, Calvary love of Jesus in the meantime.

SINKING (2): A Church Health Lesson from our Teens

The Internet Monk Michael Spencer recently devoted 3 blog posts to describing the coming Evangelical collapse in America.  I recently posed the same question: “Is the Evangelical Church in America sinking?”  I think I want to bring my observations from the perspective of a youth pastor since that is where I’m currently ministering.  The evangelical ship has a large crew on deck and many ministries that keep the ship cruising across the seas of the ever-changing culture toward it’s desired destination.  I’m just one lone crewman trying to make a difference for the Kingdom in my little corner of the boat — here in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities.  

I find myself ministering to a wide-eyed crowd of blank-slated teens completely oblivious to the critical essays on the current state of the church so common in books and the blogosphere. Most teens have no clue what an “emergent” is even if they are the very definition of one.  They couldn’t describe the difference between an Anglican and a Pentecostal.  They aren’t lobbying for Dobsonian legislation or championing the cause of the the Obama Nation.  They’re just teens looking for the next free meal or ride to the mall.

walkin41They are young people looking for a cause worth giving their lives to.  They are curious seekers looking for a truth that strikes a chord deep in their heart.  They are a busy, stressed out generation looking for a place to find rest and renewal for their souls.  They may look tough and jaded on the outside, but beneath they are often hurt, scared and lonely individuals looking for a place where they can take off the mask for a while and be known, be loved and belong.  

My point is this: A 16 year old simply would never ask the question, “Is the evangelical church in America sinking?”  They don’t think in “macro”, corporate terms like that.  Instead, they measure the health of the Christianity they know based on the so-called Christians they meet.  They make simple, subconscious evaluations of each individual they encounter who claims to be a Christian asking themselves,

“Does this person’s life seem any different from the rest of the world because they are a follower of Jesus?”

When mom and dad drag them to church on Sundays or blackmail them into going on the summer trip, they are soaking it all in.  They are observing the adult leaders, church staff, pastors and the rest and seeing if they are genuine, caring, trustworthy and a noticeably different than the people they encounter the rest of the week.  They don’t read Barna’s statistical reports or attend church revitalization seminars.  They just see if the church has any remote resemblance to the radical life, love and legacy of Jesus Christ.  

Before we go on to critique evangelical theology, worship styles, outreach programs, political positions, forms of community (ecclesiology) and such, maybe we should take a step back and learn from our youth what really matters at the core.  The most important question facing us is not, “Is the Evangelical church sinking?” but rather, “Is my own faith sinking like Peter as I take my eyes off Jesus and focus my attention on the cultural waves around me?” 

I’m grateful to minister to a group of teenagers who constantly force me back to what matters most: Loving God and loving others.  How are we doing?  If we get this right, I doubt this boat’s going down anytime soon!

“No man has ever seen God: if we have love for one another, God is in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

Mark Driscoll on Nightline

Here’s classic Mark Driscoll – the man who inspires me one moment and drives me crazy the next.  Many people would say that you either love him or hate him.  I’m one of the few who can’t make up their mind.  He’s boldly preaching the Word and God is using him to reach a tough, highly secularized west coast demographic.  God bless him!

Guitar Hero & Open Heart Surgery

“I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:19-20). 

Many still view youth ministry as a second-class calling, a holding tank for immature, video-playing adults who couldn’t quite make it in “real ministry” who end up playing dodgeball and Guitar Hero through their 20s and eventually go on to more respectable work in their 30s or maybe even grow up into “real” pastors with a more wounded-heart1respectable salary. 

Now I am a bit biased, or course, but I personally think youth pastors have much more in common with heart surgeons than community recreation directors.  Every Wednesday night dozens of fragile, broken, confused, hurting teenagers come to our gatherings, hungry for meaning, purpose, self-worth, love, acceptance and a word of hope.  In the context of a safe, loving, trusting relationship these teenagers begin to open their hearts up and give us access to the core of their being and permission to speak God’s heart-piercing truth into their lives, poking around with the scalpel of God’s Word. 

guitarheroIf the Christian life is primarily about God coming into our lives and giving us a new heart (cf. Ezek 11:19-20), then youth pastors are God’s trained surgeons performing open heart surgery every week, many times over.  Now that’s a high calling!  Can you think of anything more significant, more demanding, more rewarding than that?  

Not too long ago my wife Keri had her appendix taken out by skilled doctors.  They opened her up, went in and carefully removed the ruptured appendix to heal her life threatening condition and make her well again.  I took for granted that they had gone through the proper, extensive medical training to successfully carry out their life and death procedures.  I look up to such doctors with a sense of awe and gratitude for the life enhancing work they do day after day.  

I hope people will give youth workers a fraction of that respect and appreciation.   We wrestle daily with the life threatening illness of sin and the terminal disease of death.  We offer God’s life saving cure of Christ weekly to those who are perishing.  Open heart surgery is no small thing and by God’s good grace we see successful transplants regularly.  I love this “job”!

“[God’s] powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey” (Heb 4:12 The Message).

SINKING (1): Is the Evangelical boat sinking?

sinking-boatWhat is the future of the evangelical church in America?  I just read a devastating post by fellow blogger the Internet Monk predicting a sooner-than-later collapse of the evangelical church in America.    While this prediction maybe distanced theoretical speculation for some, it is an urgent wake up call to those of us youth pastors laboring in the trenches full time.  What will happen to the religious landscape in America and the health of the church “on my watch”?  What kind of a future are we youth pastors helping create right now, week by week, day by day, conversation by conversation, sermon by sermon?  What direction are we steering this evangelical ship, and will it stay afloat once our pimple-faced 15 year olds finish college, start families and take a more active role on deck?  This question should haunt us who labor in vocational ministry, who have been called to play key leadership roles in the guiding the church into the future amid the stormy waters of an increasingly secular, post-Christian culture.  

These are ENORMOUS questions, too complex to summarize in a blog post.  But can we begin recognizing and identifying some of the obvious leaks in the bottom of the boat?  Can we start working together to patch them up and keep it afloat? 

So, what are the major challenges facing the evangelical church in America today?  

I hope to follow up with some of my observations and proposed solutions.  Stay tuned.

Are you in the Network?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).

z157523279“Can you hear me now?”  Yeah, I’m tired of the weasel, too.  I mean, who can stand a nerdy little pip-squeak who exudes such overconfidence and condescending pride toward any perceived threats?  Aren’t techie geeks supposed to be afraid of everyone else?  (Sorry my computer programming friends – you’re typically not known for your burly masculinity.)  Where does this guy get the nerve to walk so freely and fearlessly through these 30 second commercials?  

His strength, confidence and carefree attitude comes from being part of a large, trustworthy and reliable network.  

In much the same way, we Christians are not strong in ourselves.  We are all fragile, weak, sinful people who stand little chance against plots of the evil one and the temptations common to all in this life.  Yet, we do have strength, power and security that comes from being part of a much larger network — the universal family of believers (i.e., the Body of Christ).  We run the race marked out for us with confidence because we do not run alone.  We are surrounded by a great network of witnesses who have gone before us, and who cheer us from both sides of heaven.  Further, we follow on the heals of the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus Christ.

Still many attempt the faith journey on their own.  They run many risks and miss many joys that come from being bonded together in a brotherhood and sisterhood of believers in the uphill struggles that befall us in this all too often darkened landscape.  The oft quoted words of the Teacher are a firm plea to such lone ranger Christians:  

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecc. 4:9-12). 

So, love him or hate him, the Verizon pipsqueak is more like us than we would like to admit.  Let us learn from him both (1) that we need the support of a larger network to survive the journey and (2) the confidence and security that comes from being connected to Christ’s strong body, the church.

What Matters Most

We were created with an abundance of potential to do many great and wonderful things in this life. We are musicians, surgeons, athletes, dancers, artists, carpenters, writers, plumbers and more. Yet, all these titles are secondary to our primary purpose in life. And while arms and legs help accomplish these secondary roles, our greatest human purpose remains to “love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.” Did you read anything about arms and legs in that sentence? Watch this video and be inspired to recapture your primary calling from God.

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life .

%d bloggers like this: