Escaping the Fishbowl

Today I’ve got a guest blogger for you. Direct from Twitter is Preachers Kids Probs. He’s quite a spiritual hybrid: a generation removed from the Amish church, a closeted catholic, an overchurched cynic, and baptist preacher’s kid. So, without further ado, take it away kid!

~TXS

courtesy of Amaar at www.pptbackgrounds.net

courtesy of Amaar at http://www.pptbackgrounds.net

How many times have you been in church and thought to yourself “this again?” or “can I just sit down already?” Of course you don’t say anything. To say anything about your perpetual boredom during the service would be rude, most likely, and probably call into question your salvation. Not that you walk into church with the intent of repeating the same thing, singing the same tired praise chorus for the millionth time (seriously, how many times can you sing “Come, Now Is The Time to Worship” or “Heart of Worship” without having an aneurism?), being bored to death during the sermon, or even wondering how much longer the service is going to be; but it still happens.

I’m going to clue you in on something. The sound guys behind you- you know who I’m talking about- the fat guys with beards chugging coffee? He’s chugging coffee because his day probably started around four or five that morning. Trust me, he’s just as bored as you are. Even in my dad’s church, I would often be asked to run sound because I had done AV work professionally for other churches and I was still bored even then. I remember even playing angry birds in the sound booth once the sermon started. Not really professional on my part, but it was either that or take a nap.

Bored to death during the sermon? I’ll drop another truth bomb on you. Chances are your pastor spent quite a bit of his week praying over what to preach over and the sermon he has prepared is what someone in the congregation needed to hear. I know often times, even for myself as a youth intern when leading bible study or “preaching” during youth meetings or events, I would often be in the middle of my notes, looking out into the group of kids that we had there and think to myself “I feel sorry for these kids.” It’s the truth. Sometimes your pastor has had just as much of a stressful week as you did – if not more stressful – and to be at church preaching the word that God laid on his heart is nothing short of miraculous.

As a preacher’s kid, I can attest to this in more ways than you can imagine. I don’t just live in a fishbowl; I am the fishbowl… maybe that’s a tad existential. But try being on display for the church and the community and have them judge every move you make, what you go to see at the movies, and what you listen to. You have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to scream, “Are you freaking kidding me?” When my dad accepted his previous pastorate I was asked to do some work with the youth that summer as well because of my experience beforehand in youth ministry. During a business meeting the subject of the youth’s spiritual state came up and included the fact that we shouldn’t have couches in the youth room because it “promoted inappropriate closeness.” I responded to the first with “Well, are you going to volunteer for youth events? Are you going to invest in them? No? Okay, sit down. I think we’re done on that count.” To the second point about the couches I pointed at the pews and asked, “Are these safe? There isn’t anything dividing me from another member of the opposite sex. In fact, are you prepared to give extra money to replace the seating that we’re losing by removing the couches? No? Okay, I guess we’ve solved that.” Needless to say, from that point on, I fled church business meetings (aka Voice Your Complaints Sunday) like the Israelites fled Egypt. I also didn’t do any more work with the youth after that summer (shout out to my little sister for stepping up to the plate beautifully).

Ready for another truth bomb? We all have twitter accounts… and we use them. We use them to say what we can’t readily say in church, we use them to vent, we use them to ask for intercession, and we use them to poke fun at you- and ourselves. I’ve had the honor of “meeting” various individuals along the way.

These are people who have been in the ministry and left because they got burned out by always having to quell uprisings in the congregation. These are current youth ministers trying not to voice their exasperation at the lack of spiritual concern in their youth group publicly. These are worship pastors making fun at the sorry state of “worship music.” These are pastors who are still preaching in churches that need to crack a joke or two. These are church members who are just bored with their churches in general.

Don’t get me wrong; I would hope to God that none of us use our anonymous accounts for tearing others down or gossiping. But often times we need a place to let our hair down and make a joke or two about how churches always need money to spend on new pens with the church name on them for the office or how there is a definite lack of money in the church often resulting in our giving extra time and money to help make ends meet for the sake of the gospel.

I first encountered this effect with one of my best friends and his family. He had spent a good portion of his teenage years outside of the United States and when he and his family came back to the states, they opened their house to other missionaries coming back on sabbatical. I had long suspected that other families in the ministry were fairly normal, but never actually witnessed other people in the ministry letting their hair down and having fun. In hanging out with these people who gave their lives to the impoverished, the sick, and the downtrodden; I found that, in fact, these people were very much the same as I. It knocked my socks off to hear the confession from a missionary: “really, sometimes all I want is a cigar and a cold beer.”

I don’t mean to say that all the people you know in ministry positions are like this in fact, I assume there are quite a few that are ultimately quite boring (Yes, I’m talking about <insert name of your favorite pastor here>), but what I’m getting at is they’re all normal people and they have many of the same wants, needs, desires, and passions that you do. We all get discouraged; we all have experienced the feeling that the service would seemingly go on forever. Want to complain about how the music was or how the sound was this morning? Trust us. We know.

In fact, we most likely noticed far more minute screw-ups during the worship service and sermon than you can even imagine. Thought that the sound was off during the sermon? Congratulations, we know. In fact we’ve been using the same microphone since 2003 because the church budget won’t allow us to get new equipment and the options are either a quieter sermon or listening to feedback for the better part of 30 minutes. Thought the music was droll and boring? Trust us, we know. We even noticed that the bass player’s bass was a little flat during the worship set; we even noticed that the worship pastor had a sore throat.

You want to complain that we haven’t done true love waits with the youth group again? We’re aware that we haven’t done it because we can’t change a heart issue. Want to complain about how so and so in the congregation are dragging people down because they still smoke or drink? We’re well aware that they do, we also watched you cut people off while cursing merging off the highway to get into the church parking lot. In all fairness, I probably cut you off earlier this week too- but I would much rather talk about you and not me.

What I’m getting at in this obscenely long diatribe is that- at least speaking for myself- we have anonymous accounts for a reason. You get to vent all you want at church or to your friends. We get to vent- usually- to no one. Having been in leadership positions and watching my friends and mentors get torn down by people with vendettas, I wish that I would have had a place to vent or scream “hypocrite” during those times because far too often, churches aren’t necessarily the most open or accepting of places. Instead of forming bonds that strengthen the body of Christ- the church- we form cliques. Instead of walking in humility, we point to the church bake sale and say, “look what I organized!” Instead of walking in mercy, we condemn a youth pastor for making a south park reference because it was relevant to the situation. Instead of walking in grace, we forget that the homosexual next door to us is just as in need of Christ’s redeeming love as our gluttonous and envious hearts are.

You want to see your pastor’s life change? You want to see your church staff be more productive? Start walking in humility, offer to visit the sick in the hospital and take no extra credit for it, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5) Start walking in mercy, overlook the bad and focus on how Christ loves them and how they can be used for the kingdom, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:6-7) Start walking in grace, show love to everyone you meet and make peace where there peace is so desperately needed, remember that Christ forgave you while you were still hopelessly mired in sin “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:8-9)

When in doubt, love God first; then love people. There’s a good chance that sitting right next to you during the service is someone with an anonymous twitter account bemoaning the current state of the church and Christianity in general.


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Leave Your Bible On the Shelf

In a very short span I had a disagreement with a friend (yes, we’re still friends) about the importance of the Bible as text as opposed to the Gospel message. I also recently read a blog post admonishing pastors to bring their physical Bibles to church and to stop using electronic media instead. You can read that blog here.

I’ve don’t usually write posts directly responding to other bloggers, but I really felt that I had to this time. You see, I think that Dr. Barrett couldn’t be more wrong in his assessment of Scripture, technology, and culture – and the idea of reprimanding Christians based on his faulty assessment drives me up the wall.

Just so that you don’t think I’m some crazy, anti-Bible nut-job, let me write a couple sentences about myself. My first graduate degree was in Biblical Studies, where my Master’s work was on the authority of Scripture. My second graduate degree was in Pastoral Preaching. I am FULLY committed to the authority of Scripture in shaping the life, thought, and action of Christians. I am FULLY committed to preaching the truth of Scripture from the pulpit and not watering down the message and removing Jesus and his exclusive claims from God’s story. I have a deep love for the Bible. On my desk right now I have two Bibles (one English and one Greek New Testament). On my shelves I have 3-4 different translations, a Hebrew Old Testament, and two collector’s Bibles (a 1942 Bible produced for the Army and an 1895 printing of a Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament).

I love my Bibles. But the idea that using tech in the pulpit instead of one of my physical Bibles is doing damage is erroneous teaching and needs to be corrected. Dr. Barrett lists 5 “dangers” of using tech Bibles instead of print Bibles:

1. A Different Message: the tablet represents many things besides a Bible. It represents apps, magazines, games, and much more. “A print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people….”

2. Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew: the tablet may…encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. People won’t know where things are in their Bibles because no one is asking them to “turn to chapter such-and-such.” They fail to see the big picture of God’s story.

3. Flesh and Blood: reading from a tablet removes the reality of having something “there”. As physical beings who gather in a tangible place, God is really with us as Lord of space and time. “This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.”

4. Visual Reminder: We risk the Word of God becoming lifeless when we take away the physical book. “And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?”

5. Nonverbal Communication: Carrying your Bible around with you communicates to others that you are a Christ follower. Forget the physical Bible and we lose our witness to the world.

Now let me tell you why he’s flat wrong:

1. You cannot reduce the Living God to a symbol: If you believe that you need a visual symbol of God speaking to talk about God’s story then your god is too small. Yahweh cannot be contained or limited to a mere symbol. No matter what the delivery method, the power of the Gospel is not the literal word but in how the WORD of God pierces our hearts and souls. God can do that through a preacher who uses a print Bible, a Bible app, or an audio Bible while you listen to the Bible on CD.

2. Biblical illiteracy goes far beyond what happens on a Sunday morning: There are many people who love God dearly and live their lives to conform with the desire and will of God but don’t know that Lamentations is somewhere after Leviticus. The Gospel is not about knowing the order of the books of the Bible. It’s not about being able to find a particular passage whenever asked. The Gospel is about surrendering our story to God’s story. In the history of the world illiterate people have usually outnumbered the literate. For the first1600 years of Christianity most people did not even own their own Bibles. It was only after the advent of the printing press and Reformation that it gradually became commonplace for families to own Bibles. Dr. Barrett’s accusations create a false superiority of literate Christians over illiterate Christians. It says that Christians in underdeveloped nations are lesser Christians because they can’t read the Bible or know the order of the books. This mindset actually does DAMAGE to the Gospel.

3. A flesh and blood Savior does not necessitate a “flesh and blood” book: Jesus is the center of our faith – not the book. The Gospel is his story, not the black (or red) words printed on a page. The only flesh and blood that matters are HIS. Whether I am reading from the Bible or simply telling someone the story of Jesus, HE is all that matters, not the book. Books deteriorate, get torn, fall apart – but the Gospel will go on eternally.

4. No visual necessary: as stated above, the hard-text is not necessary for telling God’s story. In fact, holding TOO tightly to being “people of the book” places too much emphasis on the printed word – it elevates the book to the status of idol! It creates two Bibles: the “real” Bible that is printed and the “faux” Bible that comes in other media. It does damage to the Gospel to create this dichotomy.

5. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that people would know them because they carried Bibles: he said that people would know they are followers of Jesus by their love. Behavior is more important than outward symbols. We’ve all seen people who wear crosses around their necks or tattoo a cross or fish on their bodies. It doesn’t make them Christian. I once heard a pastor state that wearing a cross doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a car. Outward symbols do not mean anything about the condition of our hearts. I would rather people see Jesus in my character and behavior rather than because I lug around a book.

There is a real function to the sacred text. As Paul writes:

For everything that was written long ago was written for our instruction, so that we might have hope through the endurance and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. ~ Romans 15:4

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

There is a real purpose to Scripture, and that purpose involves shaping and forming the believer. There is a relationship between the text and our life. There is nothing neutral in claiming the Bible as Scripture. The Bible must be “normative and life-shaping” because the writers were commissioned by God (whatever your view of inspiration). The divine voice demands response.

I do not impugn the authority of the text for Christian life and thought. We must not, however, substitute true authority, i.e. the story of God’s redemptive actions through human history, for cheap bibliolatry. The printing press was revolutionary technology in its day, giving the common person access to words never dreamed possible. Technology today is no different, giving us the Bible in new ways. But it isn’t really a new Bible, is it? It’s still God’s story – unchanged. And when we learn this then we can access HIS story through any means.

The Bible doesn’t change. We do.

My 4000th Tweet – a Blog Post…

4000

I have a lot of fun on Twitter. The community of Anons and Familiars has been a great place to interact with people make new friends. As I was coming up on my 4000th tweet I thought I’d have a little fun and ask people for suggestions on what I should tweet about.

There was the usual snark and teasing that is normal from this community, but I ended up with 8 suggestions. Rather than trying to pick one to write a limited tweet about, I thought I’d write a blog post and address them all!

So…in the order they came in, this is what some in the community came up with….

Doctor Super Donna ‏@DonnaGeee said, “Duh – me of course.”

Donna is a sweet lady who has a mission in Twitter life to greet people each day with a picture greeting. Hey, Donna, this is your shout out! 😉

Daniel Nazaruk ‏@sirpianoguy said, “KJV 1611 all the way baby!”

No, Daniel, not all the way! For those of you who don’t know by now, I’m not a KJV-lovin’ man. This is for two reasons.

1) I believe the Bible most effective for people is one they can understand. This was part of Martin Luther’s whole point in bringing the Bible into the common man’s language! If the Bible is unintelligible to people then it is no good. The English used in the KJV is fast becoming a dead language. Some words are completely out of use. Some words have completely shifted meaning. How is that a useful tool for understanding God’s revelation to us (especially since the original Bible was in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek anyway)?

2) I have a textual issue with the KJV. I am in the camp that believes the Textus Receptus is the inferior text type. I prefer the eclectic text represented by the Nestle-Aland or UBS Bibles (my graduate work was in Biblical Studies so if this is a little much information just message me and I’ll be happy to explain any of this).

SBC Calvinist ‏@SBC_Calvinist said, “obscurity.”

The state of being unknown. That’s the Anon world! I’m not gonna say too much on this at the moment. I’m in the middle of editing the first edition of a e-journal. Several Anons are getting together and submitting pieces for this monthly journal. The theme of Vol. 1 Issue 1 is ANONYMITY. Keep an eye out for it, it should come out in about 2-3 weeks.

Kit ‏@LaineyTurc said, “How about marital sacrifice?”

This is actually a joke. Lainey and I have had conversations about love and sacrifice in marriage. I believe that a sacrificial mentality is needed in marriage. She says that it’s never a sacrifice to do things for the one you love.

But human nature is selfish. We typically look out for our own interests before looking to the interests of others. But Xianity throws that natural order into chaos and says, “Consider others more important than yourself. Look to others’ needs before your own.” In a sense, this is the heart of sacrifice. We give up our own sense of priority for the well-being of others. If a marriage is to go the distance, both partners need to embrace this attitude.

Sandi Tutolo ‏@CatBirds72 said, “Creation vs evolution.”

I won’t say too much on this one because I’ve scheduled a blog post for tomorrow about this topic. Let’s just say that I believe that God is the creative force behind the cosmos but I’m not willing to put him in a box and say he HAD to do it one particular way. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be worshipping Jesus in heaven alongside of some evolutionists…

SBC Calvinist ‏@SBC_Calvinist said, “Paper vs plastic.”

Plastic.

SBC Calvinist ‏@SBC_Calvinist said, “Dental hygiene.”

Dear world, please brush your teeth twice a day and floss regularly. Your teeth will thank you. People you talk to will thank you.

SuperMomWebb ‏@JoyFilledMom said, “How to raise children in The Lord (or things that one shouldn’t do).”

This is tough because, no matter what we do as parents, our kids are always going to choose their own path. Sometimes that will lead them away from faith. That is heartbreaking. While we can’t choose faith for them, we CAN give them a solid foundation of faith. The Shema in Deut. 6 is right on:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

On top of this, however, is an important concept called modeling. It doesn’t matter what we say to our kids – our behavior says it louder. Don’t talk about the Bible with them. Live it out. Let them see it daily. That’s the best chance we have of making a lasting spiritual impact in the lofe of ANYONE, whether it be our neighbors, coworkers, or kids.

So there it is. My 4000th tweet. Thank you all for playing.

We’ll have to do this again some time soon 