Sunday, April 20, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough

2 Timothy, a letter from the apostle Paul, begins in the usual and customary Pauline manner. The greeting, followed by a thanksgiving. But then things get more pointed and we see what’s truly on Paul’s mind. As in the case of the other letters from a jail cell, Paul is in chains and his message has been hampered to some degree. Nevertheless, what he offers is his usual encouraging tone regardless of his circumstances.

It seems that Timothy has been discouraged of late and needs some reassurance that what he’s doing is of extreme importance. Paul reminds Timothy that he needs to use the God-given gift he’s been given as “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline.” (1:7)

Strikingly, Paul states that “everyone” in the province of Asia has left or deserted him (see verse 15). Apparently, when the going gets tough, some people walk away and chose an easier and more preferential path. This was arguably the case here. Paul was forced into a prison cell, under house arrest for the message he was proclaiming. Such imprisonment was not a popular thing, as you might imagine.

And the thing is, we’re not talking about just anybody here! We’re talking about the apostle Paul – perhaps the greatest missionary that’s ever lived. And still, everyone in Asia has apparently given up on him as well as the Gospel. Incredibly sad to say the least.

I wonder how this plays out in ministry today. Sometimes, when things get a little tough, testy, and difficult, it’s easier to walk away and find something else. In the world of sports, we call these fair-weather fans. Those fans that are quick to jump on whatever bandwagon that’s out there as they follow the best baseball, football or whatever team it is at that time. However, when that teams finds itself in decline, they quickly hop off and join the fan club of another team instead.

When people leave you or forsake your mission because things may not be looking so bright, don’t lose heart. God has a plan and will bring it to fruition with or without those individuals who left. If God’s in on things, know that in his timing His will will be done!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Romney's Pretty Funny

At Wednesday night’s Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave his “Top 10 Reasons for Dropping Out of the Race." Pretty funny stuff. Here goes:

10. There weren't as many Osmonds as I thought.
9. I got tired of corkscrew landings under sniper fire.
8. As a lifelong hunter, I didn't want to miss the start of the varmint season.
7. There wasn’t room for two Christian leaders.
6. I was upset that no one had bothered to search my passport files.
5. I needed an excuse to get fat, grow a beard and win the Nobel prize.
4. I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair.
3. I wanted to finally take off that dark suit and tie, and kick back in a light-colored suit and tie.
2. Once my wife Ann realized I couldn't win, my fundraising dried up.
1. There was a miscalculation in our theory: "As Utah goes, so goes the nation.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Safety First

Just yesterday we're driving down the street on our way to do some family bowling along with some other families from the church when something struck our attention. A guy (we'll leave it at that) was riding his bike. Not all that strange and who could blame him with gas prices where they are. However, what this guy on the bike was wearing was what struck us next. He had this jacket on with reflectors on them. Again, not so strange except that it was still light out. Maybe he was planning on being out for awhile - who knows. Next, he was wearing a helmet. "Okay," you might be saying, "so what?" What we saw next was the strangest sight of all.

As we we're stopped at a red light, he too was stopped to do what-of all things? To light up a cigarette. Seems ironic to me that a guy who's out for a healthy ride to get some exercise, who's concerned about getting hit so he wears both a reflector jacket as well as a bike helmet. But he's smoking a cigarette that we know kills thousands and probably millions of people every year! While he might think he's practicing "safety first," I'm not so sure?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Main Thing

One pastor runs the "cowboy church" in Texas and dresses the part - cowboy hat and big belt and all. Another pastor in Texas wears a suit and tie in a renovated sports stadium even though it seems to me that a jogging suit might be more appropriate. Regardless, how one dresses for church, and how the leader of that church dresses, undoubtedly defines who that church will be and become. If the pastor is more casual in nature, then a casual attire will more than likely become the predominate clothing in that environment. Likewise, if the pastor raises the bar and dresses in the finest of clothes, his or her congregation is going to attempt to match.

Interestingly, each of the two above pastors and their churches are trying to reach two different people groups. The "cowboy church" is trying to reach out to cowboys and the other church is trying to reach out to a different group of well-dressed individuals. Either way, neither one of them is wrong in their approach. Both are doing what God has led them to do and are leading the charge to share the Good News in each environment. Still, for some, there's only one way and one way only of "doing church." As if the creative genius that God is, only prescribed one mode or one way of worshiping him in the corporate environment that takes place for most on Sunday mornings in a "traditional" church building. Wouldn't such expressions of Christianity be boring further advancing the belief by outsiders that church isn't for me?

Simply put, for the unchurched and dechurched, our worship times better offer them something that matches who they are. When we lift up one expression of worship over another as the only way, we're saying in effect that what they are, as often shown in how they dress, is wrong and needs to be changed in order for you to worship in this place and at this time. No wonder that worship and church attendance in America is in a rut. When we lose sight of the main thing - the imitation of Christ - we get caught up in petty arguments over issues that make no difference to God. A focus on Christ, and living out our life as modeled for us by Christ, is the main thing and needs to become more of the main thing in our lives. When it's not, the shinning light on the hill becomes a dull glimmer that's fading fast.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Mist - A Truly Scary Story

While I've always been a big fan of the horror movie, I rarely find one that is as intense and scary as the recently released movie - The Mist. Most horror stories , and even more so, their usually bad film adaptations, are stupid and usually make for a good laugh. I read The Mist ( a novella penned by none other then the master of horror himself- Stephen King) when I was in college. It was a scary story then and the film adaptation is no less frightening and even more disturbing in the end. Please note: my writing about this movie in no way condones the watching of this movie. Not only is this movie filled with filthy language that I could do without, it is also filled with some rather graphic, grisly, and gory details that I won't comment on. While it doesn't bother me (since it's all fictionally fake), I know many would be disturbed by some of these scenes. This movie is definitely rated R and would not make a good family movie to say the least.

Nevertheless, the movie is well done and the acting is equally up to par. If you've seen this movie, I'd be curious what your thoughts are. There's definitely some interesting theology within.

Connecting with God

Today, as I'm reading the familiar words of David as found in Psalm 23, I can't help but see his deep connection with God. At this point in his life, David was undoubtedly connected with God in a way that all of us should strive for. The peaceful serenity that comes out of this Psalm is amazing. David sees the Lord as his "shepherd"- one that guides and directs us in the way we should go. Even more remarkable is the fact that while David pens this great Psalm, he's in the middle of something bad. In verse 4 he tells us that while times are tough (he's walking through the valley of the shadow of death) he's not willing to be belittled and bewitched by fear. Why? God is with him.

How much easier would our lives be if we had such a deep connection with God? For those of us who know David's story and have read some of the other Psalms, we know that this wasn't always the case. For example, read Psalm 22, where David feels somewhat or even largely forgotten by God. Nonetheless, my guess is that when David was living in close connection with God, even the most harrowing of circumstances wouldn't have brought him down. Instead, the Good Shepherd would have led him through it. If you're feeling a little bit down and dragged by the drudgery of life, perhaps it's time to begin connecting with God in some new and perhaps some old ways. It wouldn't hurt to spend a few minutes in prayer this very moment, would it? Think on these things...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Times Are Changing

In recent years, I've been an avid user of the library. In graduate school it was my best friend when it came to research as well as finding a quiet place to study the ever complex Greek language. In recent days, the public library in Grand Rapids has likewise been a great friend in offering me plenty of locations as well as a vast array of books, music, and even DVD's. What I can't get at one location, I'm able to order and have delivered to the location of my preference for pickup.

As I think about the library, I'm amazed about how much has changed over the years. As a kid, when I visited the library, it was the card catalog that enabled you to find the books. Nowadays, through the beauty of technology, it's the ever expanding online catalog that enables me to find the book of my choice from the comfort of my very own home. Pretty cool and a time-saver to say the least.

Much like today, libraries carried music, although it wasn't in the form it is now. I can remember checking out vinyl records and carefully taking them home to listen to them on my record player. I remember how frustrating this was, though, as much of the vinyl was scratched and thereby less than pleasant to listen to. Today, as best I can tell, Cd's are the means of obtaining music from your local library. I wonder how long it will be before even this will change -becoming Mp3s instead-downloaded straight to your computer.

I mention all of this as I think about the church of today. Much like the library needs to be willing to embrace change, our churches need to understand that change is not necessarily a bad thing. I don't miss the vinyl record and I certainly don't miss the old card catalog system. If a library still used these old archaic forms, I'm convinced that less and less people would be willing to hang out in them and to use their means of distribution. As it is, the library is a popular destination with computers, internet access and even a place to get a cup of hot coffee or another beverage of your choice. My local library even serves hot dogs!

In my view, the library has thoroughly embraced change while many of our churches in North America have not. They live and are even willing to die by traditions - many of which have absolutely no biblical mandate to follow. So, whether the church likes it or not, things are not the same as they used to be. Times they are a changing. The question is whether or not the church will change or merely become less and less relevant in a culture looking for something that matters.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Natural Disasters and the Problem of Evil

It's not often that I include other people's writing on The Fuse, but in this instance I was particularly impressed with my old professor, Dr. Ben Witherington's discussion on Katrina and other so-called natural disasters. I have copied his thoughts here and I hope that you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Wrath of Katrina

The beginning of the tidal wave coming ashore in Miss.
The funnel clouds form.
The rains begin.
The sky turns strange colors. The appropriate response to seeing such things is-- get in the car and drive as far away as you can as fast as you can.

This picture clearly was taken too close to the line of fire.
The funnel clouds touch down and the destruction begins.

These pictures are from Mississippi at the onset of Katrina. Were it not the case that human beings and their homes were in the way, various of these pictures depict a beautiful natural phenomenon.

Natural disasters are only natural disasters when they affect the life of higher sentient beings adversely. Over two thirds of the world is water, and indeed close to half the world is uninhabited. Had this hurricane happened on a remote Pacific atoll, we would not even be talking about it.

This raises some interesting theological questions, and not the ones suggested by Bart Ehrman in his recent book God's Problem. Four points are of relevance: 1) human behavior has to be held accountable when people refuse to get out of the way of a hurricane which cannot be stopped. For example, there was ample warning in New Orleans about the magnitude of the storm, and its general time of arrival, but many persons simply chose to ride the storm out. Many of them died. This can hardly be blamed on God; 2) There is another human factor in play as well. The over-heated waters in the gulf of Mexico contributed mightily to the magnitude of this storm. What caused the waters to be overheated? There are a variety of factors and several of them are human in origin: 1) the dumping of massive chemicals in the gulf; 2) the dumping of massive raw sewage in the gulf; 3) global warming which is in part attributable to human pollution. Even if you accept only one of these factors, there is still human responsibility to some degree, and then there is this. 4) according to Rom. 8 all of nature is groaning longing for the day of human resurrection when the world as well will be restored to an Edenic condition. Paul it appears subscribes to a theology that the Fall affected not just human nature but the whole realm of nature. In other words, human sin is the ultimate cause of much of what is fallen in nature. It is interesting to me that insurance companies only call natural disasters 'acts of God'. They don't call positive miracles that, only disasters. Here we have a theology that holds God responsible only when things go wrong.

And this brings up another point. To what extent has God set nature in motion and allowed it to take its own natural courses, bearing in mind that there are various factors human and otherwise that affect eco-systems and ecological patterns? While I do not believe that God is absent or has simply wound up the world of nature and let it run, unless you believe in absolute divine determinism, you cannot simply assume that everything that happens in nature reflects God's hand or will, especially if you have a theology of the Fall that affects nature. I do not pretend to have all the answers to these questions, but they are worth pondering. Think on these things.