Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Slur By Any Other Name . . .

I’m setting aside my recent feeble attempts at Biblical exegesis in favor of something from the morning headlines – literally and figuratively.
Until Google discontinues this service in 1 November this year, my internet browsers (I use Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome, depending on my immediate need) all have iGoogle as their home page.  It is the most customizable user friendly set of utilities I have found on anyone’s site, and I have it set up with local weather everywhere I have family, newspaper headlines from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Miami Herald, and Tampa Tribune, and a tropical weather watch, along with a big clock and calendar and a few other quick hot links I use.
Scanning today’s Post-Gazette headlines, I encountered this headline:
“Supreme Court sends affirmative action case back to lower court:
The U.S. Supreme Court has kept alive the use of affirmative action in college admissions, but it has made clear schools must undergo "strict scrutiny" to prove that they need to consider race to meet diversity goals.
The article itself, found here, is much longer.
When you consider the recent hot topic of celebrity chef Paula Deen being fired from Food Network and dropped as a spokesperson by Smithsfield hams for a comment she made involving the use of what we euphemistically call the ‘N-word’ over thirty (30) years ago (yes, you read that right – 30 years ago) and the whole issue of discrimination came flooding back through the memory archives of my personal databank.
I’m a child of the 60’s.  I lived through the Miami riots, observed Mississippi and Selma, the murders of Martin, John, and Bobby, hid under my desk during practice drills of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and remember the “I have a Dream” speech from something more visceral than video archives or PBS documentaries.  I remember when affirmative action became law, and remember that the words ‘affirmative action’ are political legalize for “legalized discrimination”, because in the end, that’s what it is.  Our great nation has two kinds of discrimination.  Illegal, and legal.  The legal one is called affirmative action.  It’s the truth.  Get over it.  We also have both acceptable and unacceptable racism.  When a hip hop artist or rap artist of color used the ‘N word’ that is acceptable racism.  When someone finds out that ivory southern white Paula Deen used it 30 years ago, that is unacceptable racism, and by politically correct god, she’s going to pay!
My heritage is mostly German.  Three sets of my great grandparents were born in Germany. There is some Scots-Irish in the mix at the great grandparent level, but starting at the grandparent branch of my family tree, a new strain weed is introduced into the strain.  The uprooted from Germany was replanted in America and from that day until now, every branch, leaf, sprout, root, and fruit has been 100% American by birth coming from German heritage.  My great grandparents became German-Americans but by the very nature of their births, my grandparents, parents, myself, and my children and grandchildren (that’s all so far) can at best clam to be Americans of German heritage.
I don’t know how long it takes for that recognition to be ‘official’; by which I mean I don’t know how many generations, but I’m the third generation born in America and my children the fourth, my grandchildren the fifth.  Anthropologists count 35 years for a generation.  By that count, my grandchildren are a generation early.  My maternal grandfather would have been 100 next year and my grandkids are already generation 4 – 140 years downstream from him – his great, great grandchildren.
Don’t worry – this will make sense in a bit.
I have three sisters and two brothers even closet to their European roots.  Their paternal grandparents were born on Italy. Their father – the man who raised me and who I called Dad, was the first generation of his family born in America. A first generation American of Italian heritage.  My three sisters and two brothers who share his blood are second generation Americans of Italian heritage.
Now, let’s return to the Post-Gazette headline for a moment, indirectly, at least.  When I worked at what was then known as the Oldsmobile Plant in Lansing, Michigan, I was hired to work on the factory floor. After a while I had the opportunity to get a promotion to management in the form of a supervisory role.  First, however, I had to participate in an 8-hour ‘assessment center’ to determine if I had the requisite tools to be considered for supervision, which was absolutely the bottom rung on the General Motors salaried employee ladder, but a place to start.
The assessment was scored in three triads.
1-3: don’t call us, and we won’t call you.
4-6: closer you are to 6 the better your chances are
7-9: you’re a lock for a one week temporary assignment
GM paid thousands of dollars to develop this testing program and they test drove it on experienced supervisors before administering it to us hourly flunkies.  The highest score awarded in the development trials was a 7.3.  I scored an 8.8.  I got a call within a week of the test and my one week assignment lasted 6 months.  I never did get hired as a full time salaried supervisor because just about the time my one week trial was up, Roger Smith, then Chairman of GM was busy killing GM, had instituted an austerity program and a hiring freeze, and in the next five years even hourly ranks at GM fell from 250,000 to 125,000.
Now, let me tell you about John Williams.  John was a black man who worked in HR.  He stood 6’6”, weighed about 275, and could touch his fingertips when wrapping his paw around a basketball.  We all knew John simply as Thunder, but only because buildings shook when he walked, and windows rattled when he spoke.  John was my sponsor, my guardian angel, my mentor, and my friend.
Thunder came into my office one day and I was pretty certain there was going to have to be a funeral before he was finished – mine.  He was madder than I’d ever seen him.  Here’s why:
He explained that one of my journeyman electricians had applied for assessment center.  Personally, I was thrilled for her.  She was a good worker, good attitude, single mom.  I was glad for any opportunity for her to make a step forward.  Until Thunder tore a hole in the space/time continuum of quantum reality for me.  You think Thor has a mighty hammer?  Thor is a wuss next to my man Thunder when he’s miffed!
Son, he said, (called me Son) first of all she is a journeyman electrician because she’s a black woman.  If she took the test for the journeyman card anywhere but this plant, she wouldn’t get it. GM lost a discrimination suit 15 years ago and this is part of the agreement.  Minorities get certain breaks other people don’t get.
I shrugged and said as long as she does her job and she knows enough about what she’s doing that she’s not endangering anyone, I have no problems.
Boy you just don’t get it! He slammed his fist on my desk.  Remember that 8-hour assessment center you had to take completely cold to test your natural ability as a leader and see if you could be trained to be a supervisor? She gets 40-hours of paid training to take the same damn test, and if she doesn’t feel like that’s enough, she can get another 40-hours of paid training! And the only reason she gets it is because she is black! And of you can’t see how wrong that is, and that YOU have been discriminated against, boy, you ain’t as smart as I thought you are! There probably ain’t much I can do about it, but I sure as hell am going to fight it!
Well, long story short, Thunder did fight it, and he was right on every count.  The gal took 80-hours of paid train to test her ‘natural’ ability, and he got absolutely nowhere with his dispute. The government said affirmation is not reverse discrimination and that’s all there is to it.
And you know what the kicker to the story is? When I informed this young woman of her assessment center acceptance, and her training options, and expressed my sincere pleasure at her opportunity, and that I was happy for her and proud of her, the next day I got called into my boss’s office. The woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against me!
So back to the beginning. If I went out and took to the streets demanding special recognition. That’s all – just recognition, no special treatment like affirmative action, just recognition – start calling me German American even though I have never been to Germany and the closes I can trace my roots back to Germany is 5-generations and over a hundred years ago, and pretty everything except lines on a family tree in me that is German has been replace by every member of a family born in the United States of America since before the 20th century began, you’d laugh at me. . . and then probably have me committed.
Now, quickly! Show of hands, and please accept that I mean no offence when I ask this: how many of you out there claiming to be African-Americans as opposed to Americans of African Heritage, were born in Africa, have parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents who were born in Africa? And again, no offense intended, how many of you really believe first, that lowering or creating a special standard for a people based exclusively on racial heritage irrespective of any other consideration, does anything at all for the individual originally denied rights, or abused in any way (i.e., do you really believe giving you something for free today helps someone dead 200 years?) and secondly, do you not realize that when you demand and receive those specialized entrance tests, training breaks and other things where the standards are adjusted down and racial heritage is the primary factor of consideration, that you are in fact saying yes! You’re right!  Given an equal chance, I cannot compete on a level field.  I’m not as, as smart, as talented, whatever, as you are because I’m black, so you have to give me special treatment so I can be as good as you!
Do you really believe that nonsense? Because that’s exactly what affirmative action says.  And I don’t care what politically correct euphemism you use. If it walks like a duck . . . as for the Post-Gazette article? The only consideration EVER for college, work, or anything else should be IS THIS THE MOST QUALIFIED CANDIDATE?  PERIOD!
I had the privilege of attending a unique Dade County, Florida high school.  It was integrated by design. I attended class, participated in sports and, choir and band, learned debate German, science, history and drama side by side with Black, Cuban and White students. Over 90% of the thousand of us who began the journey together graduated. We didn’t learn or practice any other way than to treat each other as equals.  Two years ago we met together for our 40th reunion. My Black and Cuban brothers and sisters were right there with their success stories – doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, preachers, musicians, moms, dads, grandparents. Kids who didn’t get, need or use affirmative action 40 years ago when we learned we really were the same – equal – and in our case, cut us and we bleed orange and black! How I wish the rest of America could have experienced my high school 40 years ago.
Oh, by the way.  Paula made a mistake 30 years ago.  She said an inappropriate word. She acknowledged it. She apologized. America is calling for her head on a butter glazed platter. GET OVER IT!
Barry closed his eyes, looked the other way and Americans died in Benghazi. He lied about it. He’s still lying about. The talking heads who want to crucify Paula Deen are conspicuously silent on the subject.  Makes you sort of wonder, donnit?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Field of Dreams? or Two by Two in Jerusalem?

I read about an activity our 'home' church back in Pittsburgh participated in recently, and it got me thinking.  Mission work is important.  Paul knew it.  Others since knew it.  When I was a student in Bible College, we had the privilege of hearing Oswald J. Smith share that when he built his church in Toronto, they committed to giving 10% to missions before anything else was paid.  Then 20%.  Then 30% All the way until this great church was giving their first 90% of income to world missions.  Dr. Smith said they've never missed or been late with a bill, payment, payroll or any other obligation.
Then this morning I read what our home church, which sends kids and even their pastor on short term mission work (he has a burning burden for the people of the Dominican Republic) participated in there in their own town and I remembered something I think we often forget.
When God states things in a particular order, He does so for a reason.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus laid out His plan to accomplish the charge given in Matthew 28:18-20 - what we refer to as the Great Commission. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said you are going to become empowered by the Holy Spirit.  May we never lose sight of the fact that our commission is from Christ, and our Authority/power is the Holy Spirit.  Anything else will fail miserably!
When that power comes upon you, conquer the world for me, but do it in this order:
1. Jerusalem (where you live - your home town)
2. Judea (open to interpretation, but perhaps your state)
3. Samaria (again, open to interpretation geographically on the first century map, but perhaps your nation)
4. The Uttermost Parts of the Earth (The Uttermost Parts of the Earth)
Without in any way discounting the importance of world missions, I think the modern church has divided outreach today into two basic types.
For the Judea, Samaria, Uttermost Parts of the World group, which is generally speaking bunched together with most of the emphasis on the latter of the three, the plan is, if there is enough money left after the bills are paid, hold a special campaign, raise some money and send some short term volunteers - mostly teenagers - to the uttermost parts of the world, or send it to your denominational world missions fund where collectively you can reach more than you can independently.
Or go on TV.
The Jerusalem outreach is almost exclusively built on the Field of Dreams model, i.e., if you build it, they will come.
Never mind that when Jesus said go, the first place he told us to go was right where we live!  Never mind Dr. Luke recorded that "daily were added those who were being saved" and not “daily were being saved those who came and joined the church.”
Somehow we have lost sight of the idea that the unreached in our own back yard are just as unreached as the unreached in the uttermost parts of the world!  And in our blindness, we’ve convinced ourselves that if we just make sharp enough programs, slick enough advertising, hip enough music, and create just the right atmosphere and swing open our doors, the unreached world out there in our Jerusalem will come stampeding to our Sunday morning rock concerts!
And, my friend, that’s not how Jesus did it, and that’s not how he told us to do it when He left us behind to watch and wait for His return.  What’s happening instead is that 14 of the 15 churches experiencing growth in America are using the Field of Dreams model and their membership growth isn’t coming from conversions due to community outreach, it due to pew swapping. That single, lone church experiencing growth - real growth – is the one that understands what Jesus said.  Evangelize – Disciple – Repeat, instead of proselytize!
We just left a local church that has been our home for about 18 months.  Six months ago we underwent a leadership change.
In six months we watched worship become the rock concert of the week.  Perform, Applaud, repeat 3 times.
Personalized response and attention was replaced with ‘contact cards’.
Phil Collins with Jesus video clips and the Superman: Man of Steel theme became acceptable ‘worship’ music format, if you can call it that.  Worship is led by a revolving handful of children who don’t understand worship on a personal level much less how to draw others into worship. The personal touch and emphasis on outreach (while being admittedly weak on the discipleship side) has been replaced with personal kingdom building.  Little ‘k’.  Not the Kingdom of God.  Growth has become pew swapping.  And I can’t remember the last time we had a baptism on site.  In short, a once thriving, loving community of Christ followers has become a thriving, stunning example of a prototypical Field of Dreams model church in action.  It breaks my heart.
We moved to the area north of Tampa to care for my wife’s elderly mother, or we’d still be at our ‘home’ church in Pittsburgh. The Senior Pastor there goes to Dominican Republic every year.  He has a heart for the unreached in DR.  Just like his heart for the unreached in his Jerusalem – Pittsburgh – Southwest Pennsylvania.  But for that, I imagine we would still be worshipping at that church.
But God has a divine purpose for our lives.   Remember that from the Four Spiritual Laws gospel tract?  I used that as a witnessing tool but I think I never fully ‘got’ the ‘divine purpose’ bit until recently.  I believe God is calling me to be part of a church plant, and I think I’m beginning to understand and see some of the things I learned about theoretically in college 40 years ago – back when I was much too full of me to be of any use to God.  Oh, I think I’m still too full of me to be of any use to Him, but I think that’s the first step along the path to being used – realizing how completely unworthy you are and how totally unnecessary you are to the accomplishing of the establishing of the Kingdom of God. I think when God can finally shake enough of ‘I’ out of me, He’ll be able to use me, and that’s really all I want at this point in my life.  That God make me the man I should be so He can use me to His Glory.  I no longer want to build the field.  I want to be the guy filling up the free seats section with unreached from my Jerusalem who didn’t even know there was a game today, much less where to get a ticket!  That’s my dream.

By the Grace of God . . .

I was looking for something entirely different today when I happened across 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.  Paul is addressing a serious problem in the Corinthian church.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason this particular passage made it into the canon or Scripture that makes up our modern Bible, irrespective of your personal flavor of choice (providing, of course that you are reading from an actual translation and not an interpretation or paraphrase) is because the matter being discussed didn’t simply go away when the first century church became the second century church and so on. If I may be so bold, personal observation suggests that the matter at hand is still an issue begging attention in the 21st century church.
Here’s what Paul wrote to the seriously screwed up body of believers in Corinth (and, I think, to us as well):
9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner- not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person." 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NKJV
Two things caught my attention. First, the perverse, rampant sexual sin about which Paul is referring isn’t going on outside in the unsaved world, it’s going on in the church, along with a bunch of other equally distasteful acts of unrighteousness!  Second, the Corinthian believers, who were quick to pass judgment on the practices of the world seemed to be noticeable tolerant of their own perverse activities.
As I said, I kind of stumbled across this while looking for something else. It made sense when I read the first of five passages in the Through the Bible in a Year plan I’m reading.  It comes from Psalm 7.  I read the entire Psalm.  It was the first of five.  Because I’m reading the Chronological plan, these were Psalms that were written about the time Saul was chasing David all over creation looking to murder him out of jealous rage.  Saul found himself in need of taking care of certain personal necessities, and retired to a nearby cave to perform them.  A cave where, by no small coincidence, the aforementioned David was hiding.
David had the perfect opportunity to rid himself of this pesky enemy, and was being encouraged to do so, but was hung up on the small fact that, well, yeah, Saul was his enemy, and trying to kill him and all, but (don’t you just hate buts?!?!?”) Until He said otherwise, Saul was Still God’s Anointed.
David prayed and sought God’s direction.  God confirmed David’s gut feeling about the whole anointed thing, and David let the King live, secretly slicing a corner of his robe while the King was otherwise occupied. You can read what follows in 1 Samuel 26.  My point is that the story recorded here was yesterday’s reading in the chronological read.  Psalm 7 was the first of the 5 chapters from today’s read. There are 17 verses in Psalm 7.  I wish to direct you to two very interesting prayers in the first five verses.  The connection to Corinthians should be self-evident.
1 O Lord my God, in You I put my trust; Save me from all those who persecute me;
And deliver me,
2 Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.

3 O Lord my God, if I have done this:
If there is iniquity in my hands,
4 If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me,
Or have plundered my enemy without cause,
5 Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me;
Yes, let him trample my life to the earth,
And lay my honor in the dust. Selah”
The skull cracking realization came to me that more often than I would like to admit, the first two verses look like s lot of my prayers: “Lord save my butt from those crummy rats out to get me and, while I have your attention, would you mind doing that burning coals on their heads thing you do, yeah?  Thanks.
Equally humbling was the realization was how very few of my prayers about my lack of righteousness sounded like verses 3-5; “O Lord, My God, Look what I have done!  How could I?  God in Heaven, release me to those against whom I have sinned and let them do as they will with me for your Grace and Glory, Amen”
I feel strongly that I am being led to be part of a church plant.  I don’t know when, where, or with whom.  I have only the sense that it will be my job to be the support guy for the Shepherd. And I know to do that, my attitude, my life, and my prayer life need to change.  My desire is to be the man, father, husband, whatever, that God wants me to be, and for that to happen, my prayers need more of the second part and less of the first.
Our call is simple.  It is to go, make disciples, baptize, repeat, and by the grace of God. . .


Monday, June 17, 2013

But...But...But...I Saw It On the Internet ! ? ! ? !

      The photo accompanying this has been edited to remove the stupid comment attached as an attempt at humor.  And, I suppose some people would find it humorous.  I didn’t.  I thought it was, well, stupid; the stupidity of which being amplified by the incorrect dating attached to each piece of the composite image.

      Einstein is alleged to have quipped “People are stupid.  Individual people have the capacity to be highly intelligent, but people as a collective whole are generally stupid.”  It’s probably an urban legend.  The attribution, I mean.  Of the voracity of the conclusion itself, I have no doubt and concur completely.  I just can’t prove it was Einstein who said it.  Not Albert Einstein, anyway.  Ralph Einstein, maybe.  Could even have been George Carlin.  After all, almost everything else clever or witty on the internet is attributed to either George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, or that tough sheriff in Arizona, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the sheriff guy.  It wasn’t Dub’ya or Obama either, so it stands to reason it probably wasn’t Einstein.

      It makes sense, though.  Statistically, I mean.  People individually are smarter than the herd.  Every presidential election since Reagan should prove that to you. The ‘crowd’ may be hip, ‘cool’, ‘in’, and all that, but generally speaking, they’re generally statistically wrong.

      After all, the ‘crowd’ told Chris Columbus he was probably going to fall off the end of the earth – if the dragons and sea serpents didn’t get him first, that is; the crowd told Galileo the Sun orbited the Earth which is the center of the universe (a fact many still believe today, albeit on a somewhat more localized level)  and the crowd shouted to a bewildered Pontius Pilate, who himself proclaimed, “I find no fault in Him” – “CRUCIFY HIM!!!”

      But you see, I found both the quote and the attribution to Einstein (Albert, not Ralph) on the INTERNET! And EVERYBODY knows IF IT’S ON THE INTERNET IT HAS TO BE TRUE, RIGHT?????


      That’s not to say individuals cannot be just as stupid as the crowd.  Let’s go back to that JPEG image for a moment.  The guy on the left is Christopher Reeve.  He played the man of Steel in four feature films.  Well, three if you’re honest.  The fourth one was a politically correct statement for some nonsense or other that even Reeve was embarrassed about after he cashed the check. Note the date in the upper left hand corner.  2006.  We’ll come back to that in the ‘Individuals Can Be Dumber Than A Box of Rocks” (with apologies to any rocks we may have offended) portion of our show.  The guy on the right who looks like he just climbed out of a coal bin in his new K-mart PJ’s and prosthetic 6-pac abs (which, by the way, Christopher Reeve refused to wear – he chose instead to put on about 40 pounds of muscle for the role) is Henry Cavil, the Man of Steel for a new generation.  The follow the crowd tweet me, like me, pin me, tag me, internet generation.  The generation for whom ‘getting personal’ is tweeting the girl sitting next to you that you like her rather than just telling her.  Yeah.  That lot. This is the generation whose Batman, Spiderman, Hulk, and now Superman is slipping another step further away from the light and into the darkness which is every day a little bit more our world.

        But me, I dunno.  I still like Christopher Reeve; still prefer the brighter, more colorful Superman Alexander and Ilya Salkind  delivered back in 1978.  Didn't much care for Warner Bros. turning Batman into the 'dark' knight in every sense of the word, and not liking the continuation of the trend in the new SuperDude.  Why do our childhood heroes have to be tarnished?  In 1978 the tagline was “You will believe that a man can fly!"  Less heroic?  What's the point of that?  That Superman was bright, heroic, and hopeful.  Just as Michael Keaton's Batman was Dark without being morbid, Christopher Reeve managed to be "This strange visitor from another planet who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great American Newspaper, fought a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way" without being morbid, scary and dark.

      And now, thanks in no small part to politicians who apologize for our great nation everywhere they go, to the point where we Americans ourselves no longer believe in the dream that was America...unless we can weasel it out of some kind of entitlement plan...are left with a darker America, and hopeless, dark, no longer heroic heroes.  So sad.

      And that brings us back to the picture.  Those dates.  They’re what trouble me.  And the way a little lie hidden inside a big truth dusts the truth with the silt of darkness.  The left side of the photo - the bright, colorful, hopeful side with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel is an advertising still for Superman the Movie, released by Warner Brothers in 1978.  Twenty-eight years prior to the date on the image and two years after Chris Reeve died in 2004!

      Simply because someone, for whatever reason – probably just picked the year out of the air – did what hundreds if not thousands of people do every day on the internet and in other walks of life.  They made up a lie and passed it off as truth that hundreds if not thousands of other internet users will then blindly pass along.  Insert quarter, press play, repeat.

      Apart from the seemingly inexplicable need for Hollywood to taint our childhood heroes this one example is pretty harmless, but every day I see hundreds of ‘pictures’ passed along on Facebook by individuals who, if they bothered to read the message they were blindly forwarding and the darkness they were blindly spreading they just might grasp the fact that they are thoughtlessly doing so from the very basket from which Jesus so passionately begs them to reveal His Light!  As they lift the basket from one side to reveal His Light, they are working equally hard to seal the cracks on the other side lest the light somehow escape and penetrate the darkness that so quickly surrounds them.

      So, tarnished heroes aside, I am left with the firm foundation of belief that Jesus is the eternal rock of my Salvation. 

      He is the much needed light of the world; the one hero Who neither time nor time’s minions can tarnish, their combined and tireless efforts notwithstanding.  Still having just enough ‘old school’ in me to dust it off and remember, I am reminded of the 19th century Lutheran minister, Edward Mote, who, while preparing a sermon taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter seven, verses twenty-four through twenty-seven; ‘the Parable of the Two Builders’ and later set to music in 1863 by William Bradbury, a hymn I know from my youth as

On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
      According to the internet Department of Contrived statistics, 97% of you won’t pass this on, while 3% will ‘get the joke’, wipe some of the tarnish from the beacon and share the light with someone.

      Or, as Jesus put it, 

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dress for Success

A couple of days ago I copied a link a friend from college posted on Facebook.  The ensuing firestorm of commentary on the link was interesting in that much of it was on point from, as Obi Wan once told young Luke Skywalker, a certain point of view.  Some of it naturally missed the point completely.  All of it got me thinking.
I could be missing the point myself, but I think the author of the article was saying that when the first preacher stepped out of his suit and tie and donned jeans and a T shirt to make those outside the church he was trying to reach more comfortable, he was unique.  When all the preachers on the block were doing it, it was no longer unique.
I do understand the concept.  I think that first guy and probably all who followed had something the Apostle Paul said in mind :
“to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;  to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (1 Corinthians 9: 21-23 NKJV)
It is clearly well intended.  In another place Paul said we are to be in the world but not of the world.  To the contrary, Paul clearly warned Christ followers to NOT be conformed, using a Greek word that means to fashion or model yourself to be like, the world, another Greek word meaning ‘the practices of your age or culture’.  In other words, I think Paul was saying yes, use the tools available to you.  Take the World’s devices and use them.  But do it in such a way that you remain distinct and separate from the world.  After all, that’s what the church is, isn’t it?  The ecclesia?  The called out?
Now the point of the article was to take our God given, God inspired giftedness and uniqueness and use to tools at hand to be unique and different and reach our world without being just one of a herd of many all doing the same thing; all dressed the same, all going through the same motions, all thinking we were all the time the only ones being the ‘cool’ Christians in our respective hoods.
And somewhere in this idea the discussion, as discussions often do, took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
So rather than try and drag the discussion kicking and screaming back to home base, I’m going to just follow this rabbit for a little while – at least until my hand seizes up and makes fixing the typos more trouble than it’s worth.
When I first saw the ‘become all things’ approach in church, it would take on the form of ‘offend no one’ by dropping our denomination name from the church name. Instead of being (Our town) Baptist Church, we became Faith Community Church.  Now lest anyone I know who actually attends a Faith Community Church somewhere that I also lived and worshipped be offended, it’s not you.  I just picked that name out of the air.  Off the top of my head I think I’ve been part of three bodies of believers by that name.
Anyway, the reason given was that some on our board of deacons were concerned that our attendance (read offerings) was suffering because people were offended by the word “BAPTIST” in our name.  Once that ball started rolling there was no stopping it.
We stopped being openly Baptist, giving a new meaning to the idea of coming out of the closet.  Then we stopped singing hymns because you can’t reach young people with these old fashioned songs.  Then we preached in jeans and sandals.  Then we added Christian Rock Worship to our newly incorporated Saturday night services.
And somewhere along the way we lost sight of the idea that there is a difference between the Church and the World; the Saved and the Lost; and the Biblical reality that the Church is the PEOPLE and the building is just a building and that apart from the omnipresence of God, if there are no Christ followers in the building, there is nothing sacred about it.
We forgot that ‘Church’ – the organism is for the Christ followers, and it’s purpose is to equip the Christ followers to be Christ’s ambassadors to the part of the world who are NOT Christ followers.
We lost sight of the fact that the order at the end of Acts three was the unchurched were saved and THEN became part of the church, not the other way around.  Instead we have replaced that model with the Field of Dreams model – the one that says build great programs, run good advertising, open the doors on Sunday with your smiling faces and rock and roll bands, and the lost will come to you.
The great Commission was GO, not Build and wait.
But, I digress.
I’m not a scholar.  I’m the first (after my detractors) to admit it – and I agree with them.  I’m just this guy, OK.  When the discussion on originality took a left turn at Albequoiky (as Buggs Bunny called it) and plowed into a pothole of legalism, I did a little looking around.  My findings are not scholarly, they are not the final word.  This is just what I found.
Dressing up for church – Old Testament Style.  What I found was that the ‘church’, as it were, was first the Tabernacle and then the Temple, but a big difference between then and now is that the building wasn’t built for the people to get dressed up to go meet with God.  In fact, only the Priests actually entered into the presence of God, and only the Priests had to dress up for it, and that was very specific, very detailed.
Dressing up for church – New Testament Style: A number of distinctions here from the Old Testament model.
First, the Building:
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV)

Second, The Bidding:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2 NKJV)

Third, The Bling:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;” (Ephesians 6:10-17 NKJV)

Which leaves us precisely where?
From what I could tell, and like I said, I’m no theologian or scholar, but the only people who ‘got dressed up for church’ in the Old Testament were the priests.  Their dress was particular and described in detail by Law.  The catch was that while the people as a whole didn’t dress up for church as it were, neither did they come into the presence of God.
On the other hand, Jesus Himself said He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  Jesus took the people as they came to Him.  We used to sing about this, remember?  Just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me and that thou bidst me come to thee, oh, Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Yes, I get that, that was before I was a Christ follower.  Now that I am a Christ follower I should respect the House of the Lord.  I absolutely agree!  See number one above.  This piece of meat that carries my spirit and soul around is the Temple of God!  I should be treating it like it is God’s Temple and not polluting it with the crap I use my five senses to allow to enter into it.
And as for dressing it up, well, all I can find apart from number one above and general instructions on modesty, is that it is absolutely critical that I adorn my Temple with the whole Armor of God.  Neckties, Nikes and Chuck Taylor All-Stars are optional.