Monday, December 1, 2008

Moving In To New Digs

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately. Not that I haven't had anything to say - its just that I got tired of running too many blogs, and I got in to some major re-design projects for some websites I run. Most of those re-design projects are winding down. But I was still wondering what to do with my personal blogs and the two people that read them :) So, I decided to condense about 4-5 personal blogs or half-started and abandoned blogs into one blog over at WordPress.com:

Matt's Musings and Meanderings

WP has a few less features, but cooler looking skins and constant updates. I have placed all of the posts from this blog in to one category, and you can see new posts that fits with this blogs theme by clicking here:

The Beggar's Table category listing

Someday soon I may also see if I can get the postings from that category fed in to this blog, just to keep the design up. Until then, enjoy the new digs....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Diversity is the Spice of Life

We had a birthday/Ph.D. graduation party for my wife last week, and decided to invite all of friends from all or our various spheres of life. Work, church, other random friends, etc. My wife and I know a diverse group of people. I was kind of glad that the anti-Obama guy didn't ever get in to a conversation with the Obama lover, or the universal-health-care-hater didn't find out that there were Canadians in the room that love the health care in Canada. Although, I would love to see those conversations happen - just not at a birthday party :)

Of course, looking at this group of people, and how racially diverse it was in addition to being idealogically and theologically diverse, made me glad to have such cool friends.

Of course, I don't think many people in church realize how homogenous the church really is. When I read some blogs about cool, hip, "modern" churches, I get discouraged at how really clueless so many of them are. And they justify what they do in Church by what "non-Christians" tell them after the service... about how cool their service was. I call them the "non-Christian pastoral ego strokers" because, well - that is what they do: tell the pastor that everything they are doing is cool and perfect.

The problem is - if they are telling the pastor the truth - wouldn't there be a lot more of them than a handful? I mean... if these "seeker-friendly" churches are getting it so right - wouldn't there be thousands more people coming to church. Because it is so cool?

I don't think they realize that these N.C.P.E.S.'s they often have at their services are not as un-churched as they claim to be. You see, they tend to say stuff that is radically different than my real-life non-Christian friends say about the same church services - the ones that go to these churches once and never return. I did some investigative journalism once, and found that many of these N.C.P.E.S.'s are actually professional church visitors. We've all heard of professional church hopers, right? We'll, these N.C.P.E.S.'s are just a step down from that. They go around to all these different churches to feel "positive energy", to encourage the churches that are not that spritiual or Godly (their words, not mine), and then to hit another church the next time. Usually not the next week - just the next month or whever they hear of another feel-good church to go to.

Personally, I really don't have a problem with people that do any of that (at least they are going to a church service from time to time) - just the pastors that use these peoples' comments as "proof" that they are doing the right thing in church.

That is why I like my church - they are not afraid to tell you what they have done wrong or to try something new even of it is followed by a deafening, uncomfortable silence during the service. They want to give people a chance to speak out scriptures that they feel led to share after worship. And sometimes - no one shares anything. Not very seeker-friendly, but they still try it and I love it.

Just rambling now, mainly because I haven't posted in a while.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

That's Not In The Bible? Really?

Last night our local news interviewed a relative of one of those prosperity gospel preachers that are currently under investigation. This person works for the famous minister, and I think he was attempting to defend his ministry's position on the whole issue. I have no love for the prosperity gospel at all, but I at least try to give people a fair shake at explaining themselves.

That is, if they actually use Biblical sense. You see, so many of these prosperity people like to go with this "having your finances scrutinized by a Senate sub-committee is not in the Bible" routine. I just get so tired of people that justify some modern activity with the reasoning that it is not "in the Bible." "Sending out millions of spam e-mail comments is not prohibited in the Bible, so I don't see what is wrong with it" and other such nonsense. Constitutionally-based democratic governments didn't exist during Biblical times... so of course your aren't going to find senate sub-committees in the Bible. Sheesh.

Here is basic "Following Religious Texts 101" for ya - because this would really apply to any religious text and not just the Bible. If you are going to use the Bible for guidance, you are going to have to apply principles that are taught in the Bible and apply them to modern situations - not look for modern situations by name in the ancient text. What does the Bible have to say about relating to the government - any government? Plenty, actually, but I think Jesus pretty much summed it up with this: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars." A statement that actually directly deals with your financial records.

I hate to break this to prosperity people - but the IRS is not the only agency that can get financial information from an institution (the Department of Labor anyone?). Senate sub-committees can, by law from what I recall, request financial statements. Render unto Caesar, dudes...

One thing that really makes me sick is all of this "attack my personal religious beliefs" junk. In other words, the chair of the committee has a problem with the "prosperity gospel", and is attacking them because of that. Grow up already. This one is worse than the "race card" in my book. Any time your religious beliefs have anything to do with accepting money or other donations from people, the government has the right to investigate. I fully believe in that - but I also realize there is no perfect way to do that. But we have to try and find a way to make sure that people are not being taken advantage of.

I just don't get how these prosperity gospel people can just skip so many scriptures in the Bible - like go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor and all? Every time Jesus met with a rich person in the Bible, the rich person didn't come away looking too good. You need that private jet to visit 19 countries to spread the Gospel? Really? Too good to actually mingle with real people in coach class? Because it takes a good 100 trips in coach class to even begin to justify the cost of a cheap personal plane.

I do need to point out a mis-step that interviewer took last night - one bad question he had. He asked if people would give money to the ministry thinking it would go towards a lavish personal jet instead of going to feed the poor. The problem is - people do give to these ministries knowing that they are supporting a prosperity gospel half the time, so they know full well it goes to pay for mansions and such. Its the other half that don't know better than I am worried about.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What is False Humility - Really?

"This is a song God gave me, because He didn't really like it"
- Brian Healy of Dead Artist Syndrome,
Cornerstone Festival 2002


Much has been said over the years about the irritation that some have over musicians and artists claiming that God "gave" them a song or painting or poem or whatever. This is false humility, or so some would claim - because such a bad piece of art could never come from God.

I've been wondering - what the heck is false humility anyway? According to Wikipedia, "'false humility' consists of deprecating one's own sanctity, gifts, talents, and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from others." So, in other words, acting humble to get praise from God or people.

So what does the Bible say on this subject? When reading Luke 14:10 today, I had to do a double take on it: "But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests."

Is it just me, or does the Bible appear to encourage us to take a humble place just so that we will be exalted? Well, yeah - it kind of does. I searched through the Bible, and found that the term 'false humility' only appears in two places - Colossians 2:18 and 2:23. The problem is that in those two verses, the word false is not technically there. Some translations put the word false in there because the context implies it - but that is a controversial decision for many. And to be honest, neither of these verses really give a good definition of what 'false humility' really is.

I think I like the Literal Version's translation of Luke 14:10 a little better: "...so that when he who has invited you may come, he may say to you..." In other words, you humble yourself so that you might get exalted - but there are no promises. But you still humble yourself anyways.

If false humility is such a bad thing - wouldn't there be more in the Bible about it? Obviously, the Bible encourages us to be humble, so you don't want to be false at anything the Bible encourages us to do. But such an elaborate definition as one finds in Wikipedia just seems to go waaayyy beyond just being falsely humble.

I've never felt comfortable with labeling certain actions so absolutely as "false" humility. To
me - false means to not be true. In other words, false humility - to me - means that you are acting humble but you really aren't. Of course, some people are really good actors... so there is no way to really tell who is "acting" humble. Only God would know. So why do we like to get so irritated at people that we think are "acting" humble? Especially when we have no way of really telling - even if we go by Wikipedia's definition?

Maybe its our own lack of humility that is convicting us?

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Man In White

So I have been gone for a while. To my three readers, sorry about that :) I am thinking about transferring all of my blogs in to one spot. Maybe not. We'll see. But that's not the reason for my absence. We recently lost my Mother-in-law to cancer. It has been a long, hard, year-long down hill fight for our family. Watching some one slowly deteriorate is a long hard process. Something I could never wish on any one. And something that challenges your beliefs in euthanasia. Maybe someday I will blog more on the whole experience.

While we were in El Paso, I hit the local Family Bookstores for some reading materials. One book that I found in the clearance section was Man in White by Johnny Cash. I'm only about a third in to it, but so far it is an excellent read. Cash is a superb story teller as usually, but the subject matter really sets it apart. He is re-telling the story of the apostle Paul from a cultural and historical stand point. Just getting a glimpse in to what Saul's living quarters looked like, or what the Sanhedrin might have thought of him, or all the other historical and cultural insights is incredibly stimulating to me.

I haven't finished it yet, but I can write more when I do. Where I am at now, Paul is still Saul and is chasing after the Christians to persecute and kill them. Cash paints him as one massively driven dude, and I love it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Enough Armchair Quarterbacking Already!

A pastor of mine used to make fun of football fans. He is a football fan, but he thought it was funny to see mid-aged, overweight men yelling at the screen when a young, strong, in shape player made a bad judgment call. Like they could have done any better in the same situation. Of course, who cares about all of the good plays they had also accomplished up until then.

I get pretty discouraged reading Christian blogs. All they seem to be able to focus on is something that some church somewhere is doing wrong. Usually, the blogger attended one service or listened to one sermon online and concluded that the whole church is not preaching the gospel, or preaching the "correct" style, or whatever - based on that one sermon.

The whole thought that there is only one correct preaching style (expository, topical, parables, etc) that is absolutely the one best way to preach in all situations is pretty ludicrous. Jesus himself used all types pretty equally, so to say that expository preaching is the best way to preach is pretty anti-Biblical to me.

Of course, how can we even tell how the preaching is at one church from just one or two sermons? If they are really following the example of Jesus, what if it is just that week that they decided to teach in parables and life application (like Jesus frequently did)?

And to clear the record, "Gospel" is not a category of message in the Bible. Gospel is just the way we translate a Biblical word that really means "good news," not a category called "Good News." If someone found a sheep that they had lost, that was "good news" also - the same word would be used. ANYTHING that could be considered "good" could be considered "Gospel" by the Biblical use of the word. Jesus told us to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. Paul would later just use "good news" when writing letters to people that he knew would know what "good news" he was talking about.

But, really, you go to a church and claim that they don't preach what you call "the Gospel" ever based on one sermon?

I find it funny that so many Christians today would probably go call Jesus a bad preacher that doesn't preach correctly if they went to see one of His sermons.

I would love to just see a blog post about what some church did right somewhere, not the constant doom and gloom of every church every where is always getting it wrong drum beat that we see on so many blogs today. I've got a few ideas of what I could post on this area about my church, so I will get to posting that in the future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Hypocrisy Problem in Church Today

Lifeway released some interesting survey results recently. They basically surveyed specific attitudes of people that don't go to church. This was the stat that caught my attention:
  • 72% of the people surveyed said that they thought the church was full of hypocrites.
Well.... I never. While something like this can seem like an insult, I do have to admit that these people are correct. Churches are full of hypocrites. Before you think you can predict the rest of my thoughts here and think that I am going to decry the amount of hypocrisy in church today, I want to explore a slightly different path here.

What is hypocrisy, anyway? We throw it around a lot - but what does it mean to be a hypocrite? You can basically look at hypocrisy as a lie - you say one thing and do another. This ties in with something else I read today: a study that claims that the average person tells almost 88,000 lies in their life time (3-5 times per day). So, the sad fact is - we are all hypocrites. Churches are full of hypocrites because the world is full of hypocrites.

The real rub here is that one of the functions of a church is to reveal hypocrisy. And this is actually a good thing. Sure - you go to church to worship and pray. But you should also go to get your life examined from an outside perspective, so that your hypocrisy is exposed and you can actually change it. Not to have fingers pointed at you or to get judged, but to actually help you become a better person.

So what this all means is that people who don't go to church don't want to come, in part, because they see the hypocrisy in other people's lives that has already been exposed.

Great. So.... what can you do about the fact that people don't want to come to church because the church is doing one of the things that the church is supposed to do? Beats me. It's this big lie that we all believe in America that hypocrisy is worse than any other mistake you can make, and that being a hypocrite means that what you believe in is wrong because of your hypocrisy and not because of any actual truth behind it. Or that you should avoid someone because they don't actually do what they say they believe. If this were true, I guess we would all have to lock ourselves in our houses, get online jobs, and never interact with other human beings.

But such is the mindset that we have to work with in modern America. How to convince people that they actually need the very thing that is turning them off right now. Luckily, that's not the real issue here. But it's one that I'm sure will cause many discouraging conversations around the nation on a daily basis. Most churches will probably work to find a way to be less hypocritical. That's always a good goal, but one we will have to work on for the rest of our lives. And probably not the quickest way to convince people to visit your church.

Come to think of it, realizing the truth about global hypocrisy, it kind of puts an interesting spin on all the churches that are trying to reach people by just "being real"? In "being real," wouldn't that mean they would be letting their hypocrisy hang out in the wind for everyone to see? Wouldn't that mean that they are actually pushing more people away - since so many people don't like the realness of hypocrisy? Just some things to ponder on, I guess.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nothing New Under the Son

I've been working on this post for a while. I want to make this point without hacking anyone off. I know many people, many good friends (who luckily don't ever read any blogs) that do exactly what I am going to recommend not doing. But, I think this still warrants saying, so please realize that this is my two cents and you are free to disagree if you want.

Katie and I have been going through some transitions recently. Our former church home was just too far away. We were able to find a great church nearer to us that shares the same vision and goals as our former church, so we made the eventual transition to this church. We visited several churches (including a scary large prosperity Gospel mega-McChurch that I've blogged about before) before settling on our current church.

Sometimes I get to talking to people about why we didn't choose another newer church near us that has some great ideas and does some new, different things. It is a great church that I would be glad to go to. We go where we felt called. But here is my main issue with so many new churches: they try really hard to not be like existing churches. For me, I just can't get fully behind a church that is trying to not be like others. I believe that a church should just be what they are called to be, and that's it. Don't worry if you do or don't look like someone else and just go for it with all of your heart.

I believe that we need new churches. We need new styles of churches to reach different people. We need churches to stay at manageable sizes so that everyone gets plugged in and covered. I'm all for that. I just feel that new churches need to watch their attitudes about existing churches.

I've seen many churches through the years try to be current and modern by avoiding "churchy" stuff. Slogans, structures, dress codes, songs, and anything else that smacks of traditional churchiness are all thrown out in favor of reaching people around them.

Then, some kind of problem happens. You see this historically with every new church ever started. Some just fall apart when this happens. But most come up with some ideas of how to deal with problems, and implement these ideas. Once these ideas are implemented, the new church usually ends up looking just like some other established church somewhere else. Sure, they may look different than the church that they originally came from, but they still really haven't created anything new.

And, hence my thought for the day - there really isn't anything new under the sun. It seems like for every church that tried something new, I eventually find someone else that was doing it before them. Things change, but most new stuff is really just a new combination of existing older stuff. And, like I said - I am all for that. I love that kind of stuff. As long as you are doing that because it is what you are led to do, not just because you are trying to not be something else.

Take for example, Vineyard churches. No one will deny that they really pushed "modern" worship into it's current level of popularity. But, if you look around hard enough, you will find churches that were doing "modern" style worship before Vineyard (or the churches that became Vineyard even) was even an idea. And the first churches that because Vineyard were not even aware of these other churches.

Or another practical example I have seen: some Baptist members get tired of not being able to raise hands in their church, or maybe the fact that they don't reach people of other cultures, or whatever. So, with the blessing of their pastor, they start a new church to explore these things and reach the culture around them. They do some things that are great and ground breaking (to them), but then some problems arise. They come up with something that solves these problems, and a few years after they have started, they end up working just like a Vineyard church.

Not that they is bad. It's just what I have noticed, and an example to make my point: follow God by actively doing what he calls you to, not by avoiding becoming someone else.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Can We Just Ban Some People From Being Parents?

I am mad right now. I know it is a sin, but I need to vent. First, a little background.

My wife is half Asian. Her Dad is from India. That puts her in one of the smaller minorities in the United States. The fact that she is half puts her in an even smaller minority, one that has typically faced more racism in the past than many people who were full born into one ethnicity. "Half breeds" (one of the nicest slang terms you can find for people like my wife) are typically discriminated against by white people AND by their own people. Unless they are light enough to pass for a white person and no one finds out they are half. Most people look at my wife, find out she grew up in El Paso, and assume she is Hispanic.

She works at a school that is predominately black. Most of her kids are nice, decent 9th graders. But teens are teens and she has to discipline some. One of the parents of a disciplined child called up and questioned my wife's actions because her child "felt" my wife is a racist. Well, that is a nice way of putting it. She actually yelled at my wife.

First of all, let's look at this. A racist person works at a mostly black school? Do they realize how stupid that sounds to even say that? I mean, really? Someone hates black people and they are going to go work at a place that helps black people get an education? That has got to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard. In the words of the great television prophet John Stossel: "Give me a break!"

Second of all, the root of the word "racism" is RACE - as in an entire group of people. If my wife is racist, she would have to be disciplining all people of that race, in an unfair manner. All 20 people in that class that are of that same race. Oh, but wait - she's only had to discipline 2 or 3. Whoops. I feel another prophecy coming on....

But this one gets me: RACISM IS NOT A FEELING!!!!!! It is specific actions or words. You can't feel that someone is racist, anymore that I can feel that this parent is an idiot. You have to have documented actions or logic to to prove something. Which is why I documented my logical proof that this parent is an idiot. A flat out idiot.

The thing that really burns me is that this parent had the (PG words fail me here) to whip out Biblical quotes and Jesus at the end of her tirade. You want to judge someone without even knowing a thing about them, based on your child's "feelings," and THEN tack Jesus on the end? Really?!? People like that just give Christianity a bad name. Not to mention the massive list of scriptures they break themselves in doing this. No wonder people don't want to go to Church any more.

Gandhi once said, "I would be a Christian if it wasn't for the Christians!"

If someone is discriminating against you, and you can factually prove it, then say something. But make sure you have your facts straight. If you don't have facts, and you end up being wrong, you will have just slandered another person and therefore be almost as bad as any racist. Not to mention reaping destruction on the life of the person falsely accused.

If you are a parent - let me say this: the attitude of defending and believing your child no matter what happens is wrong and destructive for your child! Like, it will really mess them up later in life if they think they are always right and never do anything wrong. Parents that act like their children are perfect angels that never do anything wrong just make me sick. That is just sinister child abuse wrapped up in a loving facade. Like my little brother said to my parents recently: "I'm so glad you guys never took my side when I lied about my teachers. You would have always been wrong!"

Okay, rant over. I know I crossed some lines in there, so I repent.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Trolling the Bargin Bins at Bookstores

I am one of those people, like many others, that takes a long time to read a book. Mainly because I start one and then forget to pick it up for weeks. So, my readings block won't change that fast.

I also like to troll the clearance section of Christian bookstores. I never really buy anything from the stores, or even visit much. But the clearance sections are interesting mix of good and bad books.

If a book is a hit in the Evangelipopcology market place, they won't go into the bargain bin. Which is fine by me - I don't need to know how to kiss my date goodbye or twist God's arm to bless me with money. Whenever a book does make a splash, you can usually expect a large number of copycats. The better ones of these make a good splash themselves, but some of them bomb. These end up in the bargain bins. That is the bad - so bad that I get a good laugh out of reading their cover summaries. So, I guess it does end up being 30 seconds of entertainment.

The good is that when a book comes out that is too dense or quirky for the general public, it will also usually end up in the bargain bun. Those are the kind of books that I love to read. I just picked up a book that I am going to start reading recently on Jesus. Crazy, huh - a Christian bookstore book on Jesus? They can sometimes be rarer than you think. I can't remember who this one is by, but it takes all of the Gospels and combines them, and then the author added notes and side stories about the cultural atmosphere of the time. I'm sure some things will be off or wrong, but I look forward to getting this comprehensive picture. The Bible was written for people that lived in the time that it was written about, for people with a great understanding of the culture. The authors left a lot of explanation of the times out of there, basically because they had no need to explain it to their intended audience. I love reading anything that can restore that lost picture in my mind.