Drying Up

I am reading in Luke 11 this beautiful morning and I looked out to see my neighbor across the creek come out to water his plants. I smiled as I watched him water, but wondered if he really thought he was accomplishing anything. His watering consisted of spraying the tops of the plants from the hose for a couple of minutes, maybe wetting down the leaves of the little trees he just planted and then going in. The top of the soil certainly looks wet but we both know better. Here at this elevation in the Rocky Mountain region, our humidity hovers near zero and with today’s light wind, that top layer of soil is going to dry out within a few minutes after he closes the back door. The roots that are searching down deep for life giving moisture are getting nothing from that exercise.

SO what does this have to do with Luke 11. In the middle of the chapter, verse 28, the Lord utters these words:

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.

How many in churches last Sunday (mine included), or this morning in their quiet time, or listening to a speaker on the radio on the way to work heard God’s word but then failed to translate it into obedience? It is so easy to be bathed in the Word, like the jets from a hose, but then not have that moisture sink in. God’s Word runs off of the skin and dries like water if we fail to absorb it. This requires that we spend the time necessary to let the Word run down deep, where our souls can be nourished. It requires that we meditate on the sermon, on the speaker’s comments, on the passages we read in the Bible rather than just hearing or reading and moving on.

God will provide thunderstorms later this afternoon, so the plants in my neighbor’s yard will get the water that they need. He will make up for our failures. Perhaps today is the day we need to out for a nice long walk in the rain. Want to join me?

Distraction or Attraction

Looking out the window of my office at this early hour and watching the sunrise turn the bottoms of the gray clouds a vivid pink, fading to orange as the cacophony of the avian masses sing their praises to the Creator, once again I am struck by the glory of God. The simple beauty of His creation stirs my heart each day and I bend in worship. It takes nothing more than a sunrise or a single flower or the languorous flight of one of the water birds off the nearby lake to focus my attention on the greatness of the Lord.

Yet, come Sunday, churches across the land will focus their worshippers on the video screens and try to gain their attention through technically proficient multimedia shows. I wonder if we’ve gone a bit overboard to the point where our attention is distracted. We have the ability to project our praise lyrics over the top of moving images that transition into a video vignette that leads to a twelve slide set of sermon notes, all with stunning transitions and a fade to black before coffee. Do we really need this? Perhaps our attention would be better focused on God if we were to shift our worship hour to 5:00 AM to see His natural transitions and images.

Contributions of the Asian Church

A theologian who I have read and respected for some time, Simon Chan, is interviewed in the June 2007 issue of Christianity Today. The theme of the piece is missional theology and one question in particular challenged some long held beliefs about ethnic churches. The interviewer, Andy Crouch, asks What does the Asian church have to contribute to our understanding of discipleship and mission?

I believe the traditional Asian family structure, with its emphasis on extended family and authority within the family, could be very helpful to the Western church and its tendency to atomize the Christian community into autonomous individuals. Western people have great difficulty understanding that a hierarchical structure is not necessarily opposed to individual freedom. They tend to think of hierarchy as an arrangement of domination. But that is not the way we see it in Asia.

There is much to be said for a restoration of the community ethic within our churches. Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the idea of our ‘personal’ relationship with Christ, damaging the notion that we are created for community and hindering our acquisition of the theology that derives from it.

The Secret – Hidden in Plain Sight

… is Hidden in Plain Sight according to author Mark Buchanan. The Secret is not to get more of yourself and your thoughts into your life, the secret of more is to have more God in your life. Buchanan gives us an eminently practical book about practicing virtue, but with a twist. What he discovers in this exposition based on Peter’s second letter, verses 1:1-9 is that the pursuit of virtue is not the ever constricting legalism that we often see it portrayed as but rather, a freeing, energizing journey meant to give us life in abundance beyond our wildest dreams.

Peter begins the passage by pointing out that the followers of Jesus already possess everything they could possibly need for life and godliness. There is no further education, ritual, or secret handshake – everything you need has already been given to you by the Lord and the indwelling Spirit. Everything you need to have the full, rich, abundant life that you’ve always wanted is yours, all you have to do is recognize it, take hold of it and live. On top of the life that you’ve dreamed of, God offers more as we make every effort to add the seven virtues that follow to this already charmed life.

Buchanan does his usual excellent job of talking about the seven virtues that give us more – goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Each chapter is a joy to mull over rather than an instruction manual to be followed. Sometimes we see our shortcomings while other times we are pleasantly surprised to see how far we’ve come as we turn the pages. Mark shows his pastoral heart and a good deal of transparency as the words flow from page to page and suddenly, in too short a time, the book ends. It leaves you wanting more, and God is only too willing to meet you in prayer and grant your wishes.

Now that you know the Secret, you won’t have to buy that other book.

Defining Religion in America

Later this summer, I’m teaching a section of Religion in America in our Themes in Religion and Culture curriculum. The course examines the intersection of various religious traditions and the pluralistic culture of America to see how each contributes and affects the cultural religion of this society. In order to contribute to this discussion, students will need to be clear on the boundaries created by their personal definition of religion and cultural religion. Since many very smart people drop by here from time to time, I would like to enlist your help. Can you provide a definition for both of these terms?