Monday, October 31, 2011

7 Billion of Us

It's official. There are now, as of today, October 31, 2011, 7 billion people on the face of the earth according to estimates provided by the Official Bureau of Demographers at the United Nations Population Division (or OBDUNPD for short). In case you have grown numb, as I have, to the size of actual numbers, 7 billion in numerological terms looks like this; 7,000,000,000. (By the way, talk about a thankless job. "What do you do for a living?" "I count people...")

But actually counting people, or rather, the important idea that ALL PEOPLE COUNT, is the main thing I want to write about this morning.

Not too long ago, I was visiting the Walmart in Paso Robles where I live. Visiting may not be the right word since it was a Saturday afternoon, in the middle of the summer, and the string of people in front of me in the garden department looked more like a ticket line for a Coldplay concert. I stood in the line, frustratedly gazing, and cursing under my breath, at all of the people in front of me, and, I will admit, reminiscing about the lines that are inscribed on the tablet of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your lame, your tired, your broken your poor...". ("Yes," said to myself, but why do the lame and the tired and the broken and the poor all have to be in front of me in the line at the garden department of Walmart on a sultry Saturday afternoon.) God will strike me down for that comment. "Forgive me Lord, I know not what I am saying."

But then, like a hand stretching down from the heavens and hitting me on the forehead (eg: "I could have had a V8"), this one sentence resounded and then echoed a hundred times in my brain. THESE PEOPLE ALL MATTER! I am not sure, but I think the words were God's own words, placed in my careless, feckless, thoughtless, and agitated mind.

The reason I think they were God's words is because Jesus said many similar things when he was with us on earth; "Jesus said, let the little ones [also translated as, 'these ordinary people'] come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matt. 19:14)

The concept that all people matter, all 7 billion of us, is at the very center of the Gospel of what it means to be a Christ follower. All people matter. Not just the people in our immediate circle, not just the ones who live in our neighborhood, not just the crew who show up for church every Sunday, not just the ones living on the North American continent, or Europe, or Africa. All people, means all people. They matter, as a whole and they matter individually. Each one person - 1 out of 6,999,999,999 - matters.

But it's more than that. More than simply "mattering", all people are "loved" by God, their creator, who made them, and us, in His image. God put a tiny part of Himself into every living soul that has ever been created. God lived for, died for, and lives for all 7 billion of us.

The poet and philosopher GK Chesterton wrote extensively about faith. However, the concept that all people matter was one of the hardest things for him to wrap his towering mind around. Chesterton took this radically difficult idea to another level when he wrote the enclosed poem about the size of the earth (the pebbles in the brook), the size of humanity (the hairs on our heads...think about that, God knows the number of hairs of all 7 billion people who are currently living on the face of the earth.). Here is the poem...

“I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well hath He spoken: "Swear not by thy head.
Thou knowest not the hairs," though He, we read,
writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
and I will name the leaves upon the trees,

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
or see the fading of the fires of hell
ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.”
G.K. Chesterton

In case you aren't feeling challenged enough in your faith this morning, by simply trying to live out the Law of God through the Mercy of Christ, try to wrap your mind around this one...

All 7 billion of us matter to God, and they should all matter to you and I as well...

All for Now,

Monday, October 24, 2011

I was actually planning on writing a blogpost today which was entitled; "Was the Apostle Paul Left Handed?" (Really, I was...). The piece I was going to write for this week involved very interesting Biblical exegesis I have recently "exegeted" which makes the conjecture that Paul, being a Benjamite (of the tribe of Benjamin, not an updated version of Vegemite...), and of the tribe which was entirely left handed (by many anthropological and archeological evidences), might have been left handed himself. I was then going to make deep and heretofore undiscovered conjectures about how Paul's lefthandedness contributed to his overall ministry and his psychological makeup. But that blogpiece will have to wait for another day. Because, in the intervening period a much more interesting and important item has arisen (go figure...), and that is my conversation/interview with pastor and church growth development expert Chris Yaw.

Chris Yaw is a fascinating person! He is currently ordained in the Episcopal Church (USA), but was very involved with journalism and media, film and TV before going into the ministry. He attended seminary in the UK and in Los Angeles. Chris won an Emmy, while in television, as he says, "along the way." In Chris' own words: "I noticed the huge contrast between the superficiality of the spiritual leaders prevalent in the popular media and the depth and wisdom I was finding among these highly intelligent and lesser-known Christian voices. I remember listening to my New Testament professor and more than once thinking, "Now here's a guy who should have a cable show." [Chris Yaw's picture is shown here in the upper right hand corner of this blog].

Chris is currently carrying on conversations/interviews with pastors from many different church backgrounds and traditions and asking them about what secrets and insights they have about how to help churches grow. Chris is interviewing many very successful church pastors (myself not withstanding...) who have literally grown churches from 25 people to 5,000 in a matter of years. Chris also defines church growth in many more ubiquitous ways than simply numbers - by asking questions about Spiritual growth, theological perspective and business entrepreneurial spirit.

Check out to listen to and watch some very interesting interviews/conversations with some very successful church pastors and leading church growth experts. My own interview with Chris will be available in a matter of weeks on the same web

All for now,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jesus Wore Our Cap

I have lived in a lot of very sports oriented communities before, but never more-so than Paso Robles, and the Central Coast of California. I grew up in Boise Idaho, where the Boise State Broncos were, and still are an official member of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy State). I was a chaplain and Campus Minister at the University of Michigan where Maize and Blue literally ran in the veins of students and alumni alike. I am from a Scottish family that loves the Glasgow Rangers in Soccer (Football). But nowhere is more athletically highly charged than Paso Robles.

And athletic symbology is very important here. Sports hats are of utmost significance!

For the first three months while living here, I made the very big mistake of wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. Not only are the Yankees reviled here, like they were some Afghani militia intent upon blowing up our national buildings, but they are generally not liked. I wore the cap not knowing or appreciating the major statement that I was making.

The hat you wear for the team you support is not just a fashion accessory where I live, but it is a mark of territory, a totem of anthropologic alignment, an icon of ritualistic pride.

So, it was a big deal the other day when I broke down, after 6 years of living in Paso Robles, and bought a baseball cap with the insignia of the local High School team - the Paso Robles Bearcats. Don't ask me why it took me 6 years to buy the baseball cap of the home team where I live. Maybe I have commitment issues. But, I dawned the cap for the first time at the homecoming game of Paso High. It definitely felt like a major "coming out" (I use that phrase in the sense of a Southern debutante, and not in the other usage of that colloquialism). When Star, my wife, saw me wearing the Paso Robles Bearcat hat she said, "Wow, you are going Native." What she meant by that is that I was finally espousing the primary belief system of the people that I had come to serve and minster to. I was wearing their cap. Actually, the word "their" no longer applied. I was one of them. I was all in...

What am I driving at?

Jesus Wore Our Cap. After centuries of quibbling about the need for full intervention or comfortable separation, Jesus finally broke down and bought our main humanistic insignia - our personhood, our cap. Ultimately, he chose, to visit the cosmic concession stand. Jesus bought and wore our cap. The cap of our team!

The great miracle of the universe is not that God is great and sovereign and supreme. God is! It's not that God is able to relate with us on an every day basis. God can! But, even the Greek God's (Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Aphrodite) were able to relate with humans - even though they were separate.

The great miracle of Yahweh is that He not only chose to become human and live among us, like some Mesopotamian deity striding upon the face of the earth. It's that Jesus went native. He lived with us. He was and is one of us. He marked himself in the same insignia that was, and is, important to us (master fisherman, carpenter, rabbinical wizard, theological superhero, miracle worker extraordinaire, friend, teacher, counselor, healer, preacher). After Jesus wore our hat, there was no going back to a comfortable separated distance of a royal, Pentateuchian godhead - three in one.

Jesus was all in...He Wore our Cap...He was one of us...

All For Now,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You Give and Take Away

Here's a full confession - I am not a huge fan of all the worship music that has ever been written. Here's an even fuller confession, I am not a huge fan of all hymnody (church hymns) that have ever been written either. However, there is one worship song who's theology and lyrics are some of the most profound theology I have ever encountered. There is one worship song who's Biblical groundedness is rock solid and who's consistent theology and solid church doctrine is bedrock and sound. The song I am referring to is the worship tune by Matt Redman called; "Blessed be The Name of the Lord."

And my favorite lyric in this song is;

You Give and Take Away
You Give and Take Away
My Heart Will Choose To Say
Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

I would put the theology of that line of music up against any Wesleyan hymn of the mid 1800
's or Lutheran theological tome of the 1500's - or any stuff that has ever been written.

Last week, Charlie Rose interviewed Gary Player, former international golf phenomenon and sports superstar of the 1970's and 1980's. Gary Player, who was not the tallest player in the game, or the strongest by any stretch of the imagination, was asked by Charlie Rose whether he was the best player in the history of the game; "No, No," said Player, "Not by a long shot. Many other players were much better than I was." And then, Gary made the most remarkable personal revelation; "I believe that my gift for golf was given to me. IT WAS LOANED TO ME FROM THE GOOD LORD. It's the only explanation for my winning that many games. The truth is I am not that good. It was loaned to me, and it can be taken away, just as quickly."

You Give and Take Away!

The theology of "Give and Take Away" occurs throughout the Bible. God seemed to give Moses and the Israelites a vision of their possession of the Promised Land. And then He seemed to take it away when they protested and murmered too much. God gave Job many riches, a happy family, a peaceful and prosperous life, and God, by some strange arrangement with one of the Evil One's minions, in the flash of an instant, took it all away. God seemed to give King David all favor and blessing when he was a humble servant of Saul's and a timbrel singer in the king's court. And then, God took it away when he fell from grace later in his career. God gave Jesus life on earth, fully human, fully God. And, if we are to understand theology correctly, Jesus gave his life away for the redemption of humanity, freely given, freely taken away.

You Give and Take Away!

The theology of God's power to "Give and Take Away" is not the stuff of children. It is much easier to think about our lives as a dualistic struggle between good and evil. Even easier is the myth of the secular world that, "stuff just happens." But Christ followers who have deep down, real life theology, and belief, know that in a fundamental sense, we don't control all the events of our lives. Neither does chance control our fate entirely. What we really believe is that our God is a God who, at least some of the time...

Gives and Takes Away,

All For Now,

Monday, October 3, 2011

Who Is Your Kenite?

This past Wednesday, the weekly Bible study that I teach began a study on the book of Judges. Judges, is of course the great Old Testament "Who's Who List" of patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish faith (Deborah, Samson, Jephthah). Perhaps it is because of the relative heroic status of the rest of the figures of this book that I have always skipped over one of the most important references in the entire chronicle. I don't think I would be overstating it if I said that it is possible that the entire history of Jewish culture, thought, faith, and life owes itself to this unbeknownst group of people. I am talking, of course, about the Kenites...

Who were the Kenites?

The Bible tells us that; "The descendants of Moses' father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the men of Judah to live among the people of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad." (Judges 1:16).

Again...Who were the Kenites?

Biblical archeologists tell us the Kenites were a nomadic, "bedouin-like", traveling people who were expert at copper mining and metal work. Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, the father of Zipporah, was a Kenite. The fact that the Kenites are descendants of Jethro, a Midianite priest, may suggest that they were not entirely orthodox in their singular devotion to Yahweh as their one God. Their faith, while seminal in Moses' development at the time of his upbringing, wasn't exactly correct, as we would "correct" in our modern understanding of the word. The Kenites were not, as far as we know, flagrantly averse to Yahweh, or ardently opposed to his singularity. The Kenites were within the spectrum of faith, it's just that they weren't really spot on in all of their understandings.

Most importantly, the Kenites were the friends of the Israelites. They supported the Israelites in their expansion into the Holy Lands. Some scholars have even gone so far as to suggest that the Jewish people would not have been as successful in their wars against the Caananites if it had not been for the lessons that the Kenites taught the Israelites about how to mold metal, make swords, develop armor. The Kenites taught the Israelites how to work metal and smelt copper. The Kenites were a different people from the Israelites, and yet they were their friends. The Kenites were good neighbors, at a time in Israel's development when they most needed neighbors of any kind. In other words, they were very talented people, who didn't necessarily have it all together in terms of faith, or have all the answers of life worked out. They weren't perfect people. But Israel needed them and both people groups blessed each other through their mutual interaction and community.

We all need Kenites in our lives!

When Star and I first had the honor of starting Highlands Church we sent out letters to all of the people that we knew of to pray for us, or support us. Some 500 letters went out telling our friends and family asking them for their prayer or support in our attempt to start this new church. A few of the people who received the letters were not Christ followers - by any stretch of the imagination (though I hasten to add that they were not adherents to any other world religion or faith system, they just weren't strong believers). However, we asked those people who had faith to pray for us, and we asked those who did not to simply support us (as the Kenites did for the Israelites. While Star and I knew that many of our non-Christian friends did not understand all the nuances of faith, or have it "all figured out", we also felt that in some miraculous and transcendental way, God might accept their support as well. We felt that as we attempted something that was out of this world, in starting a new church, that the one God who had formed the universe and made all humans in his own image, might use the support of all of God's people.

We felt that the God who had helped the Israelites out through the Kenites, by their association and their connection with us, might listen to the prayers of our friends of faith, and see the support of those who didn't have it all worked out. And it would appear, after six years of this incredible church development, that we were right!

Who are the Kenites that God has given today - for support and friendship?

All for Now,