Friday, July 31, 2015

Till We Have One Face

This past week, while working on my Sunday message, I uncovered a fascinating insight in the Bible!

For years, when I have read the word "hypocrite" in the Bible I assumed I knew what it meant.  A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another.  And to be sure, when the Bible uses the word hypocrite, it sort of carries a flavor of that meaning.

However, as it turns out, the word hypocrite is much deeper and more nuanced than that.

Hypocrite is a two part word, as most Greek words are:

HYPO = under
CRITES = judgment

HYPO is where we get our words: hypothalmus "under the thalamus", hypoglycemic "under the right amount of sugar in the blood".

CRITES is where we get our words: critic "someone who judges", criticism "a cutting remark against someone"

A hypocrite, then, is someone who presents on the outside as being totally accepting and loving, but underneath is quite judgmental.

The original use of the word "hypocrite" carries with it the notion and image of a person wearing a mask.  The mask, as it most often occurs in the Bible, is one of overabundant religious expression (piety, righteousness, religiousness, overflowing religious demonstration, religious talk, God talk...).  However, underneath the mask is a deep sense of judgment, derision, looking down, being pejorative, and thinking less of others.

The word hypocrite actually occurs quite regularly in the New Testament, especially in the context of Jesus' ministry.  Here are two of my favorite examples:

*  "When you pray, do not be like the 'hypocrites', for they love to pray standing on the street corners to be seen by others" (Matt. 6:5)

*  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  You 'hypocrite', first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matt. 7:4-5)

What Jesus is upset about here is the attempt to present on the outside (the mask) as being accepting, but actually, underneath the mask, being judgmental.

Here is something I have observed in my own 15 year ministry.  Where you find an overabundance of outward religious expression in people it is often a mask which is covering a deeper sense of judgment.

Not long ago, I was with a gathering of pastors.  Most of the pastors were quite kind to me, but one in particular seemed to have an edge.  I can't explain it, but it just seemed like he might have a particular issue with me for some reason.  I shrugged it off, and moved on to talk to other people.  Later, at the end of the meeting, when a group prayer was offered, the aforementioned pastor spread his arms wide and raised his face to the air.  When a prayer request was made he said, "Yes Lord, thank you Lord, I do pray for that, in Jesus name!"  Another prayer request was offered, "Oh Lord, yes almighty, I do pray for that!"  What I felt that I was witnessing was something akin to what Jesus observed in His ministry.  Outer religiousness, inner judgment.  And what I have found is that where you find outward over exuberant religious expression, sometimes you find a mask which covers something less lofty underneath.

And I suppose, now that I think about it.  I was also being a bit of a "hypocrite" to the person who was praying so demonstratively.  On the outside I was presenting kindly.  On the inside I was judging...

Now, one strong caveat.  Not all religious expression is a mask.  Sometimes the human soul just needs to express itself publicly to one another, to God!

C.S. Lewis wrote an incredible novel called, "Till We Have Faces".  It is about a woman who wore a mask her whole life, and had a hidden life beneath it.  What I am going to strive for in my own life, is being a person with just one face of honest expression, and to be less judgmental in general.

Till We Have One Face!

All For Now,

Monday, July 27, 2015

Some Traumas Never Disappear

On April 30th, 1975, the war in Vietnam officially came to a close with the fall of Saigon.  The 19 year conflict between the United States and Vietnam, played out on the larger stage of global containment of communism, marks one of the darkest chapters in our country's history.  For those who fought in that war, the return home was anything but celebratory or uplifting.  Many Vietnam Vets returned to a country riven with racial, cultural, sexual and generational schism.  "But at least it's over," most people told themselves.  "That awful chapter in American and world history has been closed forever."  According to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, however, the war has actually continued for thousands and thousands of Americans.

A recent study published by the Los Angeles times found that 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, 11% of Vets who fought in that conflict are still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Even though treatments for PTSD have improved remarkably, and there is a much more nuanced understanding of the effects and impacts of war on the human psyche, the lingering impacts of deep stress, trauma, still exist.

What this means in practical terms is that for those who fought in the Vietnam War, 11% of them still wake up in cold sweats, 11% have flashbacks to the war, 11% have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, 11% have turned to drugs and alcohol to blot out the pain, 11% have lingering psychosomatic medical maladies, 11% have sometimes turned to homelessness as the only answer for their pain.

When I read this study, I was dumbfounded, and it has raised a penumbra of questions for me.  How can people still suffer from a trauma 40 years after that trauma?  How can a trauma that we face have such a deep impact on the human emotional condition that it still leaves a mark almost half a lifetime after the initial stress?

And what applies to the Vietnam War must equally apply to all of the wars that Americans have fought in over the years.  11% of those who fought in the American Civil War (that would be around 100,000 people by the way, since the Civil War involved around 1,000,000 Americans) suffered from PTSD until the day they died.  11% of those who fought in World War I and World War II must also have suffered from PTSD.  11% of those who have fought more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan must also be suffering from PTSD.  Through the years the names for PTSD have changed - Shell Shock, Mania,

Far be it for me to compare my own life to the deep and devastating impacts of fighting in a war, however, like you (I am sure), I have suffered a series of smaller traumas in my life.  Even though I have "worked through" many of those traumas (and am still working through some of them), I must admit that some of my own traumas have etched scarred rivulets in my soul.  But I have recovered from these.  What about those who haven't recovered from traumas?

Dear God, Please be with the Vietnam Vets, and Vets everywhere, this morning who still suffer from PTSD.  Help them to heal!

All For Now,


Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Take Your Anger To The Grave

If it weren't true, it could be the stuff of a blockbuster Hollywood comedy.  "Grumpiest Old Men"!

Up until about five years ago, there were only two remaining Jews in the Afghani city of Kabul.  Once a city that had a proud population of 40,000 Jews in the 1800's, the ongoing discrimination, the difficult life circumstances and the hard scrabble culture drove most of the Jewish population away.  And then were just two (count them - one - two).  Their names were Ishaq Levin and Zablon Simintov.

Here's the interesting thing.  You might expect that being the last two Jews (the last two of anything) in Kabul would help the two men to develop a kind of deep personal bond.  You might think that a kind of, "you scratch my back - I'll scratch yours," "Let's keep an eye out for one another," friendship might develop between these two men.  Nothing could be further from he truth.  The truth is that both men hated one another with a passion!

"He is an old fool whose brains do not work properly," Mr. Simitov said of his enemy not long ago.  "He is a donkey who thinks only of himself.  I wouldn't go into his flat if I were you: it stinks."  Mr. Levy had equally invective words for his arch-rival; "He is arrogant and ruthless.  He is making my life a misery."

Once a city of many synagogues, there were two remaining Jewish houses of worship in Kabul up until recently.  The deep animus between these two men actually prevented them from attending each other's places of worship.  And so, even though the membership of each church was only one, they carried on by themselves each week.  Each week, both men would leave their apartment by themselves, walk down the street to their own private synagogue, where all by themselves they would pray, sing, lead worship and then go home.  Perhaps they were unaware of the scripture; "Where two or more (not one) are gathered, there I am also."

The hatred and anger between these two men was so great that it actually led to a fist fight that broke out in one of their synagogues.  "Yes, I knocked him down, with my fist, right here," said Simintov, "He had sneaked in and was eavesdropping on my conversations."  What conversations, one wonders?  There was only one member of the church.  Perhaps he was speaking to...God

If you have noticed that I have been writing in the past tense about this strained relationship, you are correct.  On a snowy, blustery, bleak day in 2005, the older man, Ishaq Levin, was found dead in his cluttered apartment.  Levin died by himself, all alone, in a very foreign part of the world.  And yet sadly, death itself would not end the struggle between the two men.  Commenting on his nemesis' death, Simintov said, "The old man was crazy!"

This real-life illustration of hatred offers so many possibilities for comment and observation.  It raises the question of whether in the midst of an outside oppressive force, people resort to a kind of in-fighting and squabbling that would not otherwise exist.  (As a side note, I remember a similar pattern when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a kid.  The Christian community there was often divided against itself, mostly because of the outside religious oppression that took place against it.).

But on this Monday in the year 2015, the clearest theme to emerge from this tragic story is the simplest:

Don't Take Your Anger To The Grave

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you; Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).

In the case of Mr. Levin and Mr. Simintov, they were both each other's only neighbor and they were also bitter enemies.  One can't stop to wonder though, if the tragedy of their lives could have turned into a story of redemption, and grace if, by reaching down deep-inside, and from a power that was wholly not of their own, they could have forgiven one another for whatever grievances they had against each other.  Perhaps instead of being the last two angry enemies of the Jewish faith in Kabul, they could have been the last two friends, and companions - who hung with one another - until the end!

All For Now,

Monday, July 13, 2015

Developing Vs. Recruiting

About a week ago, there was a very amusing, and somewhat troubling, scene which emerged from the halls of the US Congress.  Amidst a US Senate inquiry into the status of Syrian rebel development by the US military (that is Syrian rebel defectors who have been vetted and trained by the US military for assistance in fighting ISIS) the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, gave an embarrassed and embarrassing response.  Sen John McCain: "How many rebels have been trained to date?"  Sec. Ashton Carter: "(Ahem...) well 60".  60,000 wondered some members of the US Senate Armed Services Committee?  Five dozen!

Another Senator continued the questioning:  "Do you mean to tell me we have spent $500,000,000 to train 60 people?"  "That's correct," said Ashton Carter.  Five-hundred-million dollars for 60 new leaders....

As I have pondered this perplexing ratio between the number of people trained and the amount that it has cost the US government to train them, it would seem that we, the US tax payers, have paid $8,333,333 per person being trained in Syria.  For that amount of money the US could send entire villages of Syrians to college for several generations.  Obviously questions need to be asked about the efficacy, if not the financial feasibility of spending so much much for such a little outcome.

However, as a pastor of fifteen years, and someone who has started three new church developments, I have a slightly different perspective.  The amount of money, time, effort and work that is involved in "Developing" new leaders, verses the amount of money, time, effort and work that is involved in simply "Recruiting" them is a totally different thing.  And so, this week, I want to reflect briefly on the topic of:

Developing Vs. Recruiting

Whenever you bring a completely new set of ideas, philosophies, and beliefs into an existing culture (especially where those ideas, philosophies and beliefs have never existed before), you are going to have to spend a lot of money and expend a lot of time and energy.  In short, it's just going to cost you!

One of the most famous missionaries of all time is Dr. David Livingstone.  Chances are that you remember Livingstone for his memorable meeting of Henry Stanley on Nov. 10, 1871.  Stanley had been sent to find Livingstone in the deepest heart of Africa.  Finally, after years of searching, Stanley found Livingstone in the town of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.  Upon meeting, Stanley said to Livingstone; "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"  Livingstone responded by saying, "Yes, I feel thankful that I am hear to welcome you!"

One startling fact about Dr. Livingstone's missionary work that is often forgotten, however, is that in his 32 years as a missionary to Africa, he only received one Christian convert (a tribal chieftain named, Sechele).  One convert for 32 years of work.  One convert for tens of thousands of pounds donated by the London Missionary Society.  But what Livingstone experienced as a missionary was the difference between:

Developing Vs. Recruiting

When you are developing new leaders, you are spending countless hours with them.  As soon as you feel that the future leader you are developing is really making some head-way, you find out that there are whole new areas of growth that need to take place.  When you are introducing someone to a totally new way of thinking, life, outlook, it requires so much time and work.  The financial and energy resources required to grow effective future leaders are sometimes seemingly infinite in their size.

Recruiting future leaders is simply a matter of signing them up for a list.  But recruitment of leaders never lasts down the road - only developing of leaders does!

Jesus ran into this problem all the time with the leaders (disciples) he was trying to develop.  One day, when he really felt that after three years of work, he was getting through to his disciples, he was talking to them about how one day he would have to die.  Peter, Jesus' most promising leader said, "Never Lord!"  "This shall never happen to you."  Jesus, in a moment of frustration said, "Get thee behind me Satan!" (Matthew 16:23).  Jesus experienced the difference between:

Developing Vs. Recruiting

When I was starting out my ministry, I was a Campus Minister at the University of Michigan.  The church I was working for had never had a very large or effective ministry before, even though that church was literally right on the edge of the University of Michigan campus.  I spent three years working very hard to build that program.  We took 20 college students on a mission trip to The Philippines, a trip that was mostly paid for by the members of that congregation.  But in actually we did not develop these leaders that went on the mission trip, we just recruited them.  At the end of three years, what did I have to show for my efforts?  Actually there were only three very effective young Christian leaders.  One of them eventually went to seminary.  I will never forget a question one of the elders of that church asked me at an elder meeting, "You mean to tell me we have spent around $50,000 for 3 young leaders?"  "Yes," I told him, "but one of them went to seminary." The truth was, though, I knew the difference between:

Developing Vs. Recruiting

If you are in a position to bring about new leadership in an area that has never existed before, and you are wondering whether the money time and effort you are spending are worth it, consider the examples of Ashton Carter, David Livingston and Jesus (thus naming a new holy trinity:-).

And keep at it!

All For Now,

Monday, July 6, 2015

What Real Evangelism Looks Like!

Yesterday morning, as we held worship once again in the Edwards Movie Theater here in Camarillo, California, I was reminded one more time of why I like New Church Development so much, and frankly:

What Real Evangelism Looks Like!

*  The morning began at 5:15AM as I pulled my car out of the driveway in the spritzing rain to go pick up our two worship trailers from the storage facility where they are parked.

*  Upon arriving at the storage facility at 5:45AM, I found out that the code that usually works to open the storage unit did not work on this particular morning.

*  In a panic, I scanned the facility for signs that might indicate why our team could not have access to our entire church's inventory.  "Closed for Fourth of July Weekend," said the sign.  "Back at 10:00AM".  "But church starts at 9:30!!" We screamed back at the sign.  The band would arrive at 8:00 to practice!!  The video team would arrive at 8:30!!!

*  Not knowing what to do, I decided to hop the tall security fence to the storage facility, and try to figure out another way in.  What I did not remember is that the jeans that I was wearing had a very small tear in the crotch area.  Actually, my wife Star reminded me the night before that I probably shouldn't wear them anymore.  I told her that it would be ok, because, you know, "I won't be jumping any high fences or anything.!?"

*  As I leapt the fence, I felt the tiny tear in the crotch of my jeans become a very large tear.  A cool wind could be felt in the area close to my nether-regions.  My jeans had a gaping hole in them.  Perhaps I could get away with walking with my legs closer together all morning, I told myself

Back to the task at hand...

*  I found a side door that I used my shoulder to jam open and to jimmy.  Our team made a last second decision to shuttle by hand our entire inventory of sound equipment for the three blocks between the storage facility to the front door.  But our cars would not be big enough to haul the equipment.  We would need a big truck.  A horse trailer maybe...We called one of the church elders to borrow their horse trailer.

*  6:15AM, I am driving a two-ton pick-up truck that is carrying an eight-wheel horse trailer sixty miles an hour, with a gaping rip in my pants, and yelling obscenities out the truck window, as I drive to the movie theater.

*  A team of four incredible volunteers shuttles, by hand, all of the equipment from the storage facility to the theater.

*  7:00 set-up begins in panic and haste at the theater.  We are easily 30 minutes behind.

*  7:30, I quickly go over the notes of my sermon in my head for a few minutes before the band arrives.

*  8:00, I join the band (I play the keyboard....sort of!?!) in practice.

*  9:25, a brand new person arrives at the theater who I have only met once.  He tells me he is a Hindu, but finds a deep sense of peace in the worship service that we offer each week.

*  I look my friend in the eye and say, "Oh yeah, we are real peaceful!  We've got peace down here at Mission Street Church!!  Especially this morning.  But welcome!"  I remember to hold my legs close together.

*  9:27, Star has mercifully brought me a change of jeans!

*  9:30, worship begins!!

This, I humbly submit to you is one version of:

What Real Evangelism Looks Like!

And so, my call to all of my evangelical friends in this country, who are so vexed about recent decisions regarding same sex marriage that were made by the Supreme Court, is to follow a 10 step process:

1.  Relax, leave it in God's hands
2.  Wake up early in the morning and worship in a location that is not your church
3.  Jump over a tall security fence, and rip your jeans
4.  Jimmy a lock open
5.  Drive a horse trailer at 60 miles per hour and yell obscenities out the window
6.  Haul 5,000 pounds of sound equipment to a movie theater
7.  Offer a kind and loving ear, and heart, to an outsider to the faith
8.  Play an instrument in a band
9.  Preach in a location that is not a church.
10.  Give God thanks for all things!

All For Now,