Sunday, January 29, 2006

Monday, January 23, 2006

Secret Sodom

I love the internet. How cool is it that within seconds we can find out information on any topic we want. We can have “real time” conversations with people in far away places… for free! Music, any music you want, is a click away. And many have found their soul-mate through online introductions.

But the internet can also be a sin magnet. A tempting treasure of trash that can suck you in like a black hole. An innocent search on any given topic can quickly lead you to a link to somewhere you had no intention of going to, but find it hard to leave (kinda like the Hotel California.) A private conversation in a chat room, or on MySpace can give one a sense of anonymity that has them speaking in ways they would never speak to those they respect. Music, movies, software… anything that can be digitally stored and transferred, can turn an upstanding citizen into a felon with a few clicks (and oh, how we rationalize!!)

I was reading recently about Abraham and Lot, and their little visit to Sodom and Gomorrah. It is amazing how openly decadent this place was. No shame. And how willing Lot was to live in the middle of that. Ah, yes, but he was able to live “in” that culture and yet not be “of” it. Right, until he offered his daughters as a sex bribe to the men who came to “know” (in the biblical sense) his two male guests, who were angels. Lot, you horrible sinful man! What in the world were you thinking? How could you… oops, something about a pot calling a kettle names comes to mind here.

Integrity is a tough thing. It really means that what you see is what you get. If I appear to be a person who doesn’t talk a certain way, or look at stuff I know I shouldn’t, or one who would never dream of stealing… then, that’s really who I am, even if no one's watching. But the internet has a way of luring me into believing “no one will ever know”. And they may not… but if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it – well, you get the point.

I still love the internet. And, if you’re reading this, chances are you do too. All I’m calling for is some integrity in a world that seems to cherish its “secret” sins. Wanna try something really gutsy? Go download this little app that lets you pick a trusted accountability partner and emails him or her your internet history once a month. I dare ya.

Wouldn’t it be something if, when we get to heaven, and we stand at the Great White Throne, the supreme judge of our souls opens our internet history folder? Yikes! When I was a kid, my mom taught me a little song -“O be careful little eyes what you see…”

Silly song… yeah.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Don't Push Your Convictions on Me!

I’ve been a part of church for a long time. I grew up in a little church that, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was pretty legalistic. By that, I mean that there were certain rules that were in place that only existed because “…Christians just don’t do that.” We joked about “we don’t dance, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do” but sadly, it seemed that was about the extent of it. Soon after I left home and left that church to attend another in my college town, I found out that many who preached those rules – didn’t really hold to the rules themselves.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of legalism in a place isn’t even the rules, it’s the inability to be transparent; the need to uphold an image of “christianity” that is only a fa├žade. We wear smiles when we’re dying inside. I saw this a lot growing up. And, unfortunately, I learned to play along.

I’ve been a part of new churches that have started in reaction to the legalism of old churches. In their reaction, they allowed the pendulum to swing to a place of “freedom in Christ” that apparently forgot that the freedom we have in Him is a freedom from the chains of sin. We’re not slaves to it anymore!! A good friend of mine once said that we ask the wrong question. We’re always asking how close we can get to “the line” without really sinning. When what we really should be asking is how close can we get to Christ. And, what would it look like to really follow Him. To love as He loved, give as He gave.

Right now, I’m a part of a church that is real. And I love it. It’s an old church. I’m sure it’s had its days of legalism too. Probably none of us is immune to it. And, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of messy stuff that goes on. But here’s the deal. We’re committed to be authentic, to not play church. You want to be anonymous, to blend in, to come and get your “church fix” and then go? Then this is probably not the place for you. But if you want to be a part of a community that is serious about learning what it means to be church, to discover what it means to walk in the way Jesus did, I think we might get there.

This weekend we… as a group, a community …made a covenant together. Not just individuals vowing something to God. There was that, but it was more. We talked about the responsibility we have to one another. About being a covenant community who are engaged in the world, but not engaged to it. And something about it felt very different from places I’ve been before. It wasn’t a list of rules, and it wasn’t reckless “freedom in Christ”. It was a commitment to pursue… together… the very heart of God. Wow.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

I just received a new package of incense today. Incense! you say? Well, yes. Not the froofy stuff I burned back in the 70’s that has less than honorable associations, but frankincense. That’s right, the stuff the wise men brought to Jesus.

What for? For worship. I'm a worship pastor at a little church here in Beaverton and while the burning of incense is not a part of our tradition, we began using it about a year ago.

Which begs the question why? Why would a pastor (especially one in a tradition that has never used incense) begin using it? It’s easy to argue for its use from the Old Testament. Exodus chapter 30 gives us very specific instructions for its use and even includes the recipe! But in the New Testament, there are no instructions for its use (no condemnation either) and so many church traditions have turned away from the use of incense to enhance worship.

So, why? Is it because it smells so good? No. Well… I like the smell. Others hate it. But there in Exodus, it’s really clear that we’re not to use it as a perfume or because we like the smell. How ‘bout cuz the smoke looks really cool in the lights? Uh… that one’s probably not going to cut it either. Or this one… because cool churches are using ancient forms of worship, and we sure want to be cool. While that certainly is a trend, it’s a lousy reason to do anything we do in worship!

No, the reason is that it’s rich in symbolism. The worship of God has always been packed with symbolism. He is the great redeemer, and we are always “redeeming” things for use in worship. Our most famous one is an electric chair... I mean, a cross. This is just one that doesn’t take all that much work to redeem, because God’s people have been using incense in worship (at His instruction) for thousands of years (it sure takes a lot less work than a Christmas tree!!!)

How do we use it? At a certain point in our worship service, when we are responding to the Word of God spoken into our lives, we place the incense on the coal. I call attention to our prayers and our worship rising like the smoke of the incense; an offering of our lives going up to the Lord. I’ve also used it at the beginning of a service (Pentecost Sunday) to symbolize the Spirit of God coming into our midst. The incense also can bring a sense that this place is holy. It’s different. Set apart. Unlike Starbucks or Safeway. I think the incense heightens our awareness of that. We also leave with the smell of worship on us. Not a bad metaphor as we go back out into our community. Back to Starbucks, but with an awareness that we carry with us the smell of God. We are going into a world that needs to know Him.

One last thing. If you decide to use incense in a church that never has, you need to know about the protestant cough. The protestant cough is a phenomenon that occurs with some people who believe they are allergic to the incense. So, first of all, you need to know what’s in it. If you are buying pure frankincense, you’re buying pine pitch. You could, I suppose, use it to increase your grip on your baseball bat, or to help start your campfire. I’ve checked with some in the medical community who have assured me that it is highly unlikely that anyone could be allergic to this stuff. There have also been “tests” where no incense is put in the censer or thurible, but the cough persists! Well, at any rate, you should know that some will hate it and cough and sputter. You’ll need to figure out how to deal with that… I’m still trying.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Few things compare...

Standing in a stream, drifting a fly on the top of the water... waiting... patience... WHAM! This one was on the Deschutes in October.

"Better to be out fishing, thinking about God - than to be in church, thinking about fishing." - a very spiritual unknown fisherman

Okay, okay... I'll do it!

After much prodding from my family and friends, I am finally breaking down and joining the blogging world. I think the thing that really pushed me into it was entering a new phase of life. This past year Becki and I entered into a chapter of life known as "the empty nest".

Last January, our oldest son Ben left for India. He's been there for a year now and is due to return (for a period) in February. Last August, our youngest son Andy left for college and a journey that will take him... well, who knows where. Last Wednesday, our daughter Katy (a beautiful rose between a couple of ... hmm, dandylions?) became engaged to a young man who will take her away from us. We love him, but she's not my little girl much longer.

And so begins a new chapter, or maybe a new book in a series. It's not being written by me. I'm just one of the characters. And you know what else? It doesn't feel empty... it feels full. I feel more alive than ever. And that's a cool surprise. I'm so excited to see where it leads. Hope you check back often to see where it goes.