Listening

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I’m preaching in church this weekend.  I always love this opportunity.  To paraphrase Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, ‘when I preach I feel His pleasure. ‘

As often is the case, I have little advance warning of this opportunity.  Officially, I have 7 days to put it all together, which is certainly less than I’d like.  I’m not really complaining, but at this point my brain is a jumble of thoughts.  I’m going to use my little blog this week to highlight the process that goes on inside of me as I prepare.

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I’ve had a growing frustration over the last few years as to what exactly is happening in the Western Church.  Over this time I’ve had the constant allegory of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, in my head as an example of what I think most people feel about Church.  Books like Simple Church, The Essential Church, and a host of others talk about the mass exodus going on in this segment of the church, particularly among young people.

What these books highlight is that growing amounts of young people are seeing the Church as being superfluous  to their lives, good but not all that important.  There is also a constant secular assault saying, “You are deluded, worshipping an imaginary God.”  Much of this is happening while we parade around regally in our nakedness.

I have recently been reading a book called The Naked Gospel.  The thesis of the book (so far) is that the Church is failing because we are not really teaching proper doctrine.  I had to put the book down.  I could not disagree more.

I have no desire to abandon the Church, any more than I desire to disown my own mom, but what I have experienced in the Church in the past few years is a dedication to doctrine, and a disconnect between living out that doctrine in a powerful spiritual life.  God has become ceremony, even in our low-church commonness.  Christianity is what happens on Sunday and midweek services.  What happens on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to affect much outside of the Church.  But even worse than this, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that it is designed to.  In short and in the words of many teens, “it’s boring.”

I know I sound negative, and in a real sense I am.  But all of this comes from love, because I don’t believe that God is boring, and I don’t denigrate the Church, it is the freaking Bride of Christ, after all.

Now that doesn’t mean that plenty of people don’t take their faith seriously.  I would say that majority of them do.  But we sing songs about victory and we speak of miracles, we pray for them, but we don’t really believe they’ll happen, do we?  Well, at least not every day.  We believe in miraculous healing, but we don’t pray for the guy in the wheelchair at Starbucks.  I say that evangelism is good, but I walk by throngs of people everyday who don’t believe, and yet I have no intention of embarrassing myself in front of them.

This gets communicated in every part of our popular thinking.  In the media we speak about “religious extremism.”  The real problem is not Islam, but people who take the Koran really seriously.  Christianity is not seen any differently.  Believe all you want, just don’t let it affect any visible part of your life.  Read the Bible, just don’t ever quote it in public.  Talking about Jesus is OK, only if it is a vulgar interjection.

How antithetical to all of Christianity is that?  The message of Jesus is supposed to permeate every pore.  Christ wants to be lord of your life, not just our Sunday mornings.  The problem in Church as I see it, is not that there is no proper doctrine.  The problem is that we don’t believe that doctrine should do anything.

What if this Holy Spirit actually could give us gifts to do wonderful things?  What if we could actually tell people about Jesus and they’d believe?  What if that guy in Starbucks actually got up and walked?  I wonder if Christianity would be boring then.

This is some of what God has been working inside of me.  I don’t know how much of this will make it into my message.  We’ll see.  -Ryan

In a New York Minute

This was my sermon from March 22nd at Grace Vineyard.  I hope that it affects your life.  Please leave any comments.  I love the interaction regarding my sermons.

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What I Want to Want

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I started out the day re-reading a section of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  I tried to allow his section on Christian meditation to sink in as I ate lunch, and then headed out.  It was a perfect day today, one of those Texas days that you just can’t waste.  There were no sweeping Spring hailstorms, or silent freezes of winter, and the summer furnace had not been stoked yet.  Outside, there was nothing but miles of blue sky and all of creation going through its April busywork.  I went to the park.

As I turned off the car in the parking lot, I grabbed my Bible.  I was looking for a passage in Philippians, but ended up reading 1 Thessalonians 5:5.  “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” I let that seep in, and I began to walk, meditating on being a son of light and day. Continue reading “What I Want to Want”

Internet Evangelism Day -April 26th

The other day I got a comment from Tony from InternetEvangelismDay.com. I usually am very skeptical about people who try to sneak link-spam into my blogs, and I tend to be pretty heavy handed with the comment approval. I checked out the site just for kicks-and-giggles, and was quite impressed with what I saw. Their site is a veritable menagerie of tools and helps for churches planning to use their Internet ministry effectively. At the core of their plan is to make April 26th a day dedicated to Internet evangelism worldwide. Continue Reading…

Internet Evangelism Day

The other day I got a comment from Tony from InternetEvangelismDay.com.  I usually am very skeptical about people who try to sneak link-spam into my blogs, and I tend to be pretty heavy handed with the comment approval.  I checked out the site just for kicks-and-giggles, and was quite impressed with what I saw.  Their site is a veritable menagerie of tools and helps for churches planning to use their Internet ministry effectively.  At the core of their plan is to make April 26th a day dedicated to Internet evangelism worldwide.  I am waiting to hear back from them about a few things, and am happy to use whatever platform I can to help them reach our mutual goals for ministry.  This really gets to the heart of my passion.

InternetEvangelismDay.com screenshot Behind all my theorizing and theologizing regarding the Church and communication is a core conviction that has been growing inside for several years.  Basically, I have grown tired of the Internet being the Devil’s playground.  Christians fear it.  UnChristians revel in it.  It is the Mos Eisley Cantina (for all the Geeks out there) of our little planet.

The Internet is both the biggest opportunity for evangelism in the history of the world, and the greatest tool the Church could ever hope for.  Yet we are letting it slip by deeper and deeper into darkness.

When Gutenberg invented the Printing Press, the Christian Bible was the first book ever printed, and almost immediately the Church showed that it intended to use this medium to the fullest.  Still to this day, the Bible remains the best selling printed book of all time, and other Christian books are common worldwide best sellers.  Yet, as the Internet spawned, the Church has been painfully slow and wary to use this medium much at all.

Do you doubt me?  Can you name one major Christian blog that cracks technorati’s top 50 regularly?  Give me one Christian site that is on everyone’s bookmark list.  We have GodTube, the poor Christian cousin of YouTube (I’m not really dissing them at all), and other Christian versions of popular culture online.  And yes, we use the Internet pretty well for Bible tools, and maybe some “Christian dating,” but not much else with excellence.

So my conviction and passion is to point the way for Christians to use this tool to spread the great news about what Jesus did for humanity through cyberspace, and to use the World Wide Web to teach people wanting to learn more about God wherever they are.  I have a passion for this, because I believe that God has a passion for it.  I believe that no x-rated site, or malicious virus can prevail against God and His people.  I believe in a revolution of love starting on your web page, and mine.

That is why I am behind what InternetEvangelismDay.com is doing.  Mark April 26th on your calendar, and start a viral movement to take the Internet for Christ.  –Ryan

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Pledging Allegiance

This may seem like a stretch at first, but I think it bears consideration:

Do you remember when you were a kid and you stood up every day to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class?

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Those words are indelibly imprinted in my mind.  It is like an old TV or computer screen that was stuck on one thing for an extended period, and had that image burned into it for all time.  When I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t pass a flag without getting teary-eyed and patriotic.  Really!  I know it sounds hokey, and if you aren’t an American, you are probably rolling your eyes.  Maybe even if you are an American, you might be too.  There is nothing wrong with having a deep love for your country.

All of those feelings were concurrent with the whole “my daddy can beat up your daddy” phase.  That is natural.  Back in childhood we all had a natural sense that there were certain things in life that were unquestionable.  Your mom was a better cook than every other mom.  Your dad was the strongest man in the world, and everything they said about the world was written in stone as by the very hand of God.  Even when they said you had done something wrong, and you were angry, still you knew inside that they were right.

At some point in childhood this all goes away, slowly at first.  Then you wake up one day when you are about 13, and suddenly you realize that the opposite is true.  It sort of comes on you like a flood in the night, and you wake up in the morning, and you know everything about everything.  Anything else is to be questioned with the most stringent of examinations.  It isn’t until later when you realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Now, as I read my Bible I am daily confronted with a nagging question.  What should I do about those things that I am reading that challenge the way I’ve decided the way things are and should be?  What do I do about the words and commands in the Bible that say something I don’t want to be true?  Do I tear them out, pretend they are not there, or in the fashion of the day, explain them away as saying something else entirely?

I don’t have to enumerate these issues.  Anyone who has truly read the Bible has found them.  Issues of sexuality, the proper roles of men and women, giving money to the Church, speaking only words of kindness and blessing, all of these and more assault me daily.  In a post-Christian world this is increasingly going to be a battle line.  We have lost an innocence that repeats, “God says it, so I must believe it.”

One of the many questions to ask is how accurate is this paradigm of adolescence to the spiritual landscape?  In many ways I think we are in our spiritual teens as a society.  I think that we have in large part decided what we want to be true.  We want issues of sexual morality to be however we’ve determined them.  The Bible has to be wrong, in our eyes, if it says something other than what we’ve already determined is right.

The answer to this that many Christians in a post-Christian world are going to have to learn is not to simply return with “God says it, so you must believe it.”  That won’t affect people any more than convincing a teenager that you are right simply because you are their parent.  Notice the use of the word “you” in that quotation.  We must continue and hold fast to the fact that we MUST believe it simply because God says it.  That is where our allegiance lies.  Our reality must not be conditional or subjective.  But our dialogue must point to Christ, not to behavior.

Christ will continue to affect lives, no matter what title we give to an era.  But we Christians have failed in many ways to point our lives and rhetoric to Christ.  Instead we have pointed both towards our code of behavior.  This is not my idea of how things are.  It is fact.  Most un-Christians statistically view Christianity mostly as a code of behavior, and their criticisms of our faith almost unanimously stem from that.  Our behavior is important, as it points others toward Christ (as is the main point of Ephesians 5), not as an ends to itself.

What the post-Christian era knows that we don’t is that it makes no sense to say “God says, so I must believe it, and therefore do it,” if they have no allegiance to God.  We would do well to stop saying “you should live this way,” and start saying living lives that make people ask us “How can I have a life like yours?”

A Letter to a High Schooler Who Moved Away

This is an excerpt from an email that I sent in response to a message from a teenager who moved away.  I just thought it opened a little window into my world.  Sorry it is long.

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Dear _____,

There are challenges wherever you go.  The difficulty of your situation is that a person’s tendency is to compare the best of one thing with the worst of the other.  That is why comparing ourselves to others is so bad.  We only see their best that they present to the world, compared to the things we see as wrong within ourselves.  The same thing happens with places.  There is good in every place.  People are people.  I miss the surf of Southern California.  I miss the mountains.  I miss driving on freeways where other drivers actually know the rules of the road. Continue reading “A Letter to a High Schooler Who Moved Away”