A church in India

As I was walking to work today, following the masses of people who go to chapel without ever giving a second thought to the job that my colleagues and I do to make chapel happen, there was a guy sitting at the doors ‘begging’ for money. It was another student, and he wasn’t poor.. but he had dressed that way and was begging for money to build a church in India. Now, I didn’t stop and talk with the guy to figure out exactly what he was doing, or if he could be trusted, I just kept walking because I had to be at work.
What got to me was the reaction of the girls in front of me. There were three of them, and my apologies for the stereotype, but they are those girls–you know, the kind who wear only the most stylish name brands, and who always have a cellphone attached to them, and who hang around with about five athletes, and date one, but only for the benefits. Anyways, as they were asked to donate to the church in India, they very briskly walked past (as did I) and went through the doors. Once inside, they began considering how much money they had, and how it was going to be better spent. What struck me the most was the last girl, who had only four dollars, but it was saved for a much more important purpose–going tanning.

But before I could drown myself in the acclaim of being so much more holy, and being willing to give my money to projects like that, one thing jumped out at me: I didn’t give anything, either. The moment quickly turned from being ‘their’ problem to being my problem. I was all of the sudden extremely convicted. God asked me to make an account for my money, and what I came up with wasn’t extremely reassuring.
I spent $35 today on music. I got four really great prices, and these CDs will be great next semester if the whole alternative worship service actually starts like I want it to (I got chillout music – volumes 5-8 of Cafe del Mar). I am doing heavy-duty research on a pack for hiking, which will be a combination of Christmas and birthday money, and will likely cost me anywhere from $79 – $199, depending on what I get. As soon as school is over this year, four of my friends and I are spending about $180/person to take a week-long trek into the rocky mountains. I spent $20 on food this weekend, and if I look at my debit card statement, average about 50 bones a month in fast food tabs. I spend a lot of money. And I honestly can’t even account for where most of it goes. So I’m having a pretty hard time right now justifying a lot of things. I’ve been meaning to sponsor a compassion international child for a while now, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I don’t have any lessons for tonight. Just questions for myself.

Have I spent my money well recently?
What of my spending went towards making an eternal difference?
What have I done to make an eternal difference?

I take my leave of the evening, a contrite and convicted man.

The Golden Calf

I have been thinking about this a lot over the past few months, and I may turn it into a “mini-series” or something, but I want to write a little bit about the Israelites and the golden calf. If I get really ambiguous, I may even devote the next couple of weeks strictly to the Pentateuch and lessons to be gained from it. They are numerous, and they apply in countless ways, and have just as much meaning as they did thousands of years ago. There is even TONS of writing to be done on worship, strictly from the Hebrew sacrificial system. And since I am now a scholar *ahem* in these topics, I feel like writing about some of them.

First of all, I’d like to clarify with you what exactly happened at the golden calf incident at the foot of Mount Sinai. Most of us grow up reading the text for face-value only, and completely miss important things like the cultural and historical background of any given text. This happens especially with the golden calf passage. We read it, and automatically assume that Israel has turned their back on God and gone to worship this idol that they made, and we ask questions like, “how could they turn their back on God, who just delivered them from Egypt?” and “What are thinking worshiping a god they made themselves?”
In actuality, the Hebrews had not turned their back on God at all. They didn’t get bored waiting for Moses to return, and decide to just make a god for the fun of it. In that time period, it was very common for a god to be portrayed as riding on a cow. So, most idols that you saw in those days would be of the god itseld riding on top of a calf. What the Israelites didn’t do was make a new god. What they did do was take Yahweh and make him into an idol, no different than any other god being worshiped at that time.
You have to understand that up until this point, nothing like Yahweh had even been even conceived of by the people of the earth. All they understood was that gods were idols, who protected certain villages or people groups, and had a ‘range’ to their power, meaning if you got too far away from the idol, the god’s powers were diminished and he was unable to do as much to you as when you were right next to him. Basically, gods in this time were nothing short of super-humans. Sure, the might have believed them to have special powers, but everything about their gods was still limited to human capacity of thought.
The Israelites making an idol was their way of putting Yahweh into a very unoriginal, very ordinary box that everyone else had put their Gods into. But nothing about Yahweh was original. In fact, many of the Levitical laws (which appear from Exodus- Deuteronomy) are written specifically to set this nation of Jews apart as Yahweh’s chosen nation, and to display to the people of the world that this Yahweh was much more powerful (not to mention he actually exists) than their false gods. The sin of the Israelites was limiting Yahweh to ride on top of this golden calf they had forged, and not understanding that the God they were serving was so very much more than they understood him to be. I’m not really sure that Israel ever really got over themselves when it comes to understanding Yahweh. First of all, the sheer thought that we could understand Yahweh is in itself a bad place to be. But to make Yahweh into who they wanted him to be, instead of the other way around, was a common theme throughout the scriptures.

I think we are very much in danger (if in fact we are not already doing it) of making a golden calf for God today. No, we’re not melting down any jewelry. But everything about the way we “worship” today is looking more and more like a golden idol of bovine nature. We want to make church as comfortable as possible, even though there should really be nothing comfortable about being in the presence of the almighty God. We want to make it as ‘seeker-sensitive’ as possible, and we want to especially make sure not to offend anyone with the things we say, so that we make sure as many people as possible come to our church; it seems to make little difference whether or not we make them constantly examine their life and look for their faults, just as long as they come to church.
The whole emerging church movement can be classified as one which is golden calf-building. Now, understand that I think there is a TON of good things that can come from the movement, and I am planning on starting an alternative worship service next semester on Sunday nights. But taken the wrong way, the whole movement is about making God close and personal, and making him our own personal “idol” without having to share him or understand that he is the God of the Chruch, and not just my little toy statue.
As a religion student, this is usually hard to do: but I believe it is imperative that we recognize that God is incredible, and amazingly beyond the ability of our human mind to conceive Him. Yes, he has given us himself through his Word, and also through his Spirit, and he gave us access to him through his Son, but he is still uncomprehensible by us as humans. In our worship, we have to understand that God cannot be put in a box. God cannot be put on top of a golden calf. The next few times you’re in a worship service, think about the number of ways we have turned church into a golden calf. Try very hard to be objective–a lot of the things we do without ever thinking may be some of the most harmful ones. I don’t know exactly what this means. It will vary from person to person, church to church, and culture to culture. But take the time to examine your own life and that of your church.

Is your jewelry starting to melt?

On Worship, part deux

I’ve been hit with a flood of things I’ve been wanting to write about, and just haven’t had the willpower to write about them recently. Even now, I’m forcing myself to do this because it’s been a week since last time I wrote anything. And you’ll have to stick with me today, because my theological gyroscopes have been way off all day long (just ask my church music class).

Today, I was trying to make a point, and it completely backfired because I *may* have used a completely unbiblical example as part of my argument, and people didn’t generally like that, or whatever.

Anyways, the following few sentences are the point I was trying to make. This might make me a heretic, but understand that most of the things I write or say theologically often come out, and then I adjust my viewpoints later based on how heretical they were. So you may not agree with everything I say, but that is why I write; to fuel the thoughts not only in my own mind, but in yours as well.

I believe that ‘worship,’ in the context it is most often used today (meaning mostly songs and the parts of the service intermixed with that), is a one-way communication. I’m not saying that God can’t or doesn’t reach out and respond to us in that time of worship, but nonetheless it is inherently a one-way street. We were created to glorify God. That was our original and sole purpose for being created. So what that means is even if God never acted in our lives in any way, and even if he was never involved in our lives, and even if he never sent his son for our sins; we still have the responsibility to glorify him, because that is the reason we were created. I believe that prayer and scripture are our methods of two-way communication with God. We wait for him, and he responds to us. Now where this gets really tricky is where the line between the two is drawn. Because I do believe it’s possible to sing a prayer, but I don’t think that in itself contradicts my belief. Because although it may involve singing, the intent behind a prayer is still different than behind a time of ‘worship.’

The point I am trying to make is the intrinsic nature of our worship, and how the core of it should be nothing personal of selfish about it, but rather a complete act of selflessness. If we enter into worship as a two-way communication, then we enter into worship with selfish motive. Our worship does not hinge on whether or not God has ever or will ever do anything for us. He is deserving of our praise regardless. Now, I do believe that the fact God is intimately involved in our lives can lead to more passionate and zealous worship, but the point remains that even if he did none of those things, we still owe our glorification to him.

By no means is it wrong to expect a response from God. In fact, if God never responded, I doubt that any of us would be Christians today. And I don’t believe any of us would worship God if he was in no way involved in our lives. That just doesn’t make sense. But I believe it is important to enter into a worship time with the understanding that God deserves our worship regardless of what he has done. Even if I am going through a valley in my life, and have no desire to praise him, I still should enter into worship with the same amount of dedication to God. He deserves it no matter what.

I don’t want to get hung up on the separation of one-way versus two-way, because I don’t think it is necessarily important most of the time. I just think it is important the way we enter worship is always founded on the same principle. I may feel more like praising him at the end of school than I do the week before during finals, but my worship during finals week should be just as passionate as any other. It’s hard, and no way do I do it all of the time, or even most of the time, but it is what I am striving for in my worship. Excellence in my worship, and complete dedication.

On the Brink

To all of you, my faithful readers… I apologize for my lack of writing the last couple of weeks. I would like to blame it on finals, and the end of school and so forth and so on, but some people might blame it on other recent events in my life :) Anyways, I just wanted to give you some idea of what’s happening in my life the next couple of weeks, and key you in on why I may not appear for a week or two.

Finals were done Wednesday, and tomorrow evening I take off with Eric, Aaron, and Justin for what will be one of the most memorable, if not ridiuculous trips ever thought of by man. We will hop on the red-eye on Taurus airlines (that means we’re driving) at 7pm, CDT. The trip will start with a 17-hour drive west to Denver, CO. We’ll stop there briefly, and then make our way up to Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ll camp there for the first night, and then make our way up to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, a short 8.5 hour drive north. three nights of camping there, and then we’ll make our way back. We’ll leave Thursday morning, and meet up with Nate Lail in Rapid City, SD for dinner. We’re eating at the Alpine Inn, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever eaten. Then it’s another all-night drive back to Milwaukee, WI, where we’ll get about lunchtime, rest for an hour or two, and then make our way to O’Hare Intl. Airport.

From O’Hare, I’ll board an airplane and head out to Phoenix, Arizona–a welcome warm-up from the 20 degree nights in CO and WY. My mom and sister will meet me there, and together we’ll spend the week at Richard, my step-dad’s house. We’ll do some sight seeing, and visit a Diamondbacks baseball game, and other fun stuff. Then Thursday the 12th, I’ll fly back to O’Hare, and hop a car ride over to Moline, Ill. for Mike and Lindsay’s wedding. The wedding is Friday, and then Saturday we’ll hit up Willow Creek on our way back to Marion.

So that’s my itinerary for the next couple of weeks, just so you know. I completely expect to update you before then, and at the very least I’ll be keeping a journal along the way, so if nothing else you’ll be bombarded with writing from the next two weeks.

Yes, we will watch a lot of movies this next week. 52 hours of car riding does that to you.

I’ll write about it once, and then forget it

Hopefully my writing has made this clear already, but in case it hasn’t, you should know that I don’t particularly thrive on writing about the hot topics in the news. I already hate the news media enough as it is, so I really don’t need any more reasons to hate it. But I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time now, especially since it has been the primary news story for the past week or two. What rights does Terry Schiavo have?

I’ll start off by giving you my opinions, and then tell you why I’m right and let you know why you’re wrong if you disagree.

1. I believe that not only does Terry Schiavo have the right to die, but she should have been disconnected from her feeding tube ten years ago. Yes, her family claims that she has responded to them at times. She has cried, laughed, and even looked at them (woo). My dog can do more things than that. My dog not only recognizes my voice, but she will sit, speak, shake, lie down, and even roll over (again, woo). For a dog, their life expectancy is about 10-12 years, give or take. They grow from a puppy to an adult in about two years or so. Proportionally, human children are expected to live 75 years, give or take. And while humans grow mentally, socially, and emotionally for their entire lives, by the time a human has reached 2-3 ‘dog years’ (15-22 years old) they have for the most part reached an adult level of physical development. What am I saying? That in fifteen years, if Shiavo has failed to develop past her infantile level of physical acuity, then logic would say that we shouldn’t expect her to develop a whole lot more by now. I admire that her parents have never given up hope for their daughter, but I’m a realist (not a pessimist, a realist). I’m sorry your daughter suffered brain damage. It’s a terrible thing. But at this point in your life, your ‘optimism’ is merely a way of covering up your inability to let go. You fighting for your daughter is not an example of hope shining through the darkness. It’s an example of emotional damage which has never healed, and will continue to bleed as long as your daughter is alive.

2. If you were living on life support, you wouldn’t want to live that way for that long, either. Think about what Terry can do. She can lie in bed all day. She can’t watch tv, because she doesn’t comprehend it. She can’t be relational, because she can’t communicate. She cannot take care of herself, because she doesn’t even have the ability to move of her own volition. Terry Shiavo is not living, machines and nurses are living for her.

It would be one thing if Schiavo was a quadrapalegic, unable to physically take care of herself but still mentally, emotionall, and socially a healthy human being. If that were the case, then I believe her husband would have no right to take her off of life support (not to mention the fact that she probably wouldn’t be on it). This is not simply a matter of a man wanting to get rid of ‘unwanted baggage’ so he can marry and live a normal life. The man has stuck with her for fifteen years. If his only goal was to get married and rid himself of the troubles of caring for his incapacitated wife, he would’ve gotten divorced a decade ago. Don’t make Michael Schiavo out to be the bad guy (although I don’t know him, so he could be…but you don’t know him either, so don’t). This woman is only considered living because machines keep her alive. Let this be my written statement to my family: if I ever am declared brain-dead and am living on life support, give me some time to recover. But if after a little while it’s clear that nothing is going to change with me, then take me off of life support. I don’t want to live that way. I’d much rather die and be in Heaven.

3. Think about the amount of money this has cost us. Our taxes are going to help keep Terry alive, and are now also paying our Senators $160,000 a year to make bogus legislation to try and keep Schiavo alive. Let’s crunch some numbers. At the least, it is costing $2,000/day to keep Terry alive, and I would guess it’s probably a whole lot more than that. But for the sake of safe estimation, that amounts to $730,000/year. Over 15 years, we’re looking at almost $11m in hospital bills to keep her alive. Regardless of whether her insurance or the government is paying for it, and I would guess they both are, that $11 million dollars has been paid for by me. By my taxes, and by my insurance money, and by my social security.

Now, as Christians we would always claim that life is worth more than money can place an amount on. And, in theory, that is true. But realistically, $11 million dollars is a lot of money. There are very few people on the face of that earth that would be able to pay that. I love my family, but if they were being held for $11m ransom, there’s no way I could pay. I’m sorry; I just don’t have any way of paying an $11 million dollar bounty. And that would be to recover them, still a functioning human being. We have paid that bounty for Terry Schiavo, only for her to be just as brain dead as she was 15 years ago, and as much as I value human life, there has to be a point where we accept the things that happen in life. I don’t know why she went brain dead, and I wish she wouldn’t have. But she did. It’s a part of life. It’s time to accept that, and move on. Life isn’t things being perfect. Life is dealing with the imperfect things that happen throughout our days. That”s why I’m so glad my hope is in the Lord. If it wasn’t for my hope that he came to be my salvation, and that his blood atones for my sins, then there would be little purpose to life.

I would like to go on, but I need to go. Hopefully I’ve made some clear, well-presented arguments in the last few paragraphs. If not, I will certainly expound on my standpoints later. But for now, I look forward to your comments, thoughts, and responses.

What do you think?

I have some pretty amazing friends

It’s late, and I should have gone straight to bed since I have to be up in 5 very short hours…but I have to give a really big thank you, and I want to do it right away.

I have some pretty amazing friends. They (very successfully) pulled off a ‘surprise party’ for me tonight, and I am blown away that I have friends who care that much about me. Allison, Yankey, Eric, Aeron, Combs, Mike, Lindsay, and Kristy all put together a little birthday bash for me, and I’ll admit it, I had no clue any of it was going on. Mad props on keeping it secret. But they had decorations, food and drinks, and even a cake with my favorite cake saying on it. I’ve never been a fan of big parties, and especially not surprise ones because I hate to feel like I’m the center of attention, but it was a really great time, and although I may be bad at showing my positive emotions (the negative ones tend to show much easier) I can’t tell you how good tonight made me feel. Especially once Eric stopped blowing the little noisemaker in my ear.

So to my very dear friends, I just want to say thanks. You guys rock my world, and I am so incredibly blessed to have friends like you. Here I go getting sentimental again–but I really can’t say just how much you all mean to me. If it weren’t for you guys, there is no way I would have made it through this far. I hate to think about how we are all starting to graduate and ‘move on’ with our lives and how we are nearing the end of such a great community, but thankfully the end of college is not the end of friendship; and through Christ, even the end of life isn’t the end of friendship (now is the appropriate time to start humming Friends are Friends Forever). Somehow I doubt that this brief writing has really done justice the way I feel about you guys, but hopefully I at least got the message across.

Wow. I’ve had a pretty amazing birthday.

Unfortunately, I’m back

My mind is on the verge of being completely worthless, so I won’t even attempt to catch up on 10 days of writing tonight. Expect a lot of reading material tomorrow night, though. I have a lot I’d like to write about (it’s driving me nuts that I can’t write it tonight, but I’m just way too tired).

So anyways, I’m back from a wonderful, awesome, fabulous, fantastic tour in FLORIDA. I got a lot of sun, we had a lot of incredible concerts, and I spent ten days with 70 really great people. This last week I felt incredible. I haven’t felt that good in a long time. It was truly a really great tour, and somehow even managed to be relaxing despite 16 concerts and 1400 miles of driving. But now I’m back in stupid, cold Indiana and I hate it. Moreso I hate the fact that I’m back at school. Pretty much my whole group felt the same way. When we ate dinner tonight, it was basically a bunch of us sitting around the table being depressed that we were a) back in school, and b) no longer in Florida.

I think palm trees are healing for my soul. I think useless work meetings at 7:30am on my day to sleep in make me want to jump off a bridge.

Thoughts from T.B.

Combs, Eric and I went to Walmart for some last minute supplies, and then hit up Taco Bell for some late night goodness. While we were there, we noticed a couple of families, or at least family groups in line behind us. Eric started thinking about how these people represented so many in Marion…the poorest and neediest of our community. Seeing these people started in his mind the questioning of what exactly we’re doing as far as ministry. We started questioning first of all our own involvement, and secondly the involvement of our college in the community. 2500 college students who for 8 months of the year inhabit this town and effectively constitute one-tenth of its population. Yet aside from one chapel a year where they give out some numbers of ways to get involved, we do nothing. We sit here on our butts playing video games, or drinking coffee, or even doing homework. And it’s not that any of those things are bad, and homework is even necessary. But what impact do we have in the community? Little. Do we have some? Yes. But for a collective of 2500 people, not that much.
Somehow the conversation ended up leading to emerging worship, and a severe questioning of what we’re doing in church. I myself have been struggling a lot lately with the way we worship in general. Of course, I feel it is very important, and in fact the reason we were created, that we worship God. But I question so much the way we worship. Churches every year spend millions upon millions of dollars on technology for worship, but what do we gain from it? What is so important about singing hymns or praise choruses that it demands more effort and money than other ways we can worship, such as working with inner-city youth, or unwed mothers, or needy families? In the church of the 1st century, you wouldn’t have found a building where they had church. Yes, there were Jewish synagogues, but certainly no Christian churches. People met in houses, and their worship was an intimate gathering of friends, who are all fellow belivers. They shared meals together, shared communion together, and shared their worship and learning together in a small, tightly woven group. Yes, they also functioned in a larger corporate setting, as all the house churches in a town would be considered one church of a city, but the main focus was on the close intimacy that lends itself to accountability and discipleship.
I’ve come to realize this year that my group of friends, particularly the people who are in Chorale with me, in many ways act as my church body. True, I go to College Church on Sundays, but I get very lttle fellowship there, the fellowship I get is with my group of friends, and that is a great thing for me. So tonight, we began to talk about the possibility of experiencing this model of church in a personal way. While it’s still in the works, we are looking at once a week having house church, where after Chorale we would all gather for dinner, and then ave communion, and then have a time of worship and discipleship. The more we thought about it, the more excited we got, and I just wanted to share that with you, as it is still running through my mind. I also want to share with you a letter that has been challenging me recently. This letter was written circa AD 120, when the church had been established for 50 or 60 years. It is from Aristides to King Hadrian. To be honest, I don’t know who either of these men are, but it doesn’t really matter. The letter speaks for itself.

“Now the Christians, O King, by going about and seeking have found the truth. For they know and trust in God, the maker of heaven and earth, who has no fellow. From Him they received those commandments which they have engraved on ther minds, and which they observe in the hope and expectation to come.
For this reason they do not commit adultery or immorality, they do not bear flase witness, or embezzle, nor do they covet what is not theirs. They honor their father and mother, and do good to those who are their neighbors. Whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols made in the image of man. Whatever they do not wish others should do for them, they in turn do not do; and they do not eat the food sacrificed to idols.
Those who opress them they exhort and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. Their wives, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest. Their men abstain from all unlawful sexual contact and from impurity, in the hope of recompense that is to come in another world.
As for their bondmen, and their children, if there are any, they persuade them to become Christians; and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.
They refuse to worship strange gods; and they go their own way in all humility and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them. They love one another; the widow’s needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan from the person who does him violence. He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting. When the Christians find a stranger, they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as a true brother. They do not call brothers those who are bound by blood ties alone, but hose who are brethren after the Spirit of God.
When one of their poor passes away from the world, each provides for his burial according to his ability. If they hear of any of their number who are imprisoned or oppressed for the name of the Messiah, they all provide for his needs, and if it possible to redeem him, they set him free.
If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have a spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with the necessities. They observe scrupulously the commandments of their Messiah, living honestly and soberly as the Lord their god ordered them. Every morning and every hour they praise and thank God for his goodness to them; and for their food and drink they offer thanksgiving.
If any righteous person of their number passes away from the world, they rejoice and thank God, and escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby. When a child is born to one of them, they praise God. If it dies in infancy, they thank God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. But if one of them dies in his iniquity or in his sins, they wouldgrieve bitterly and sorrow as over one who is about to meet his doom.
Such, O King, is the commandment given to the Christians, and such is their conduct.”

Wow. How do we stack up today?

Just so you know, I am leaving for Florida and spring break in about 2.5 hours. I have decided not to take my laptop with me, so I don’t know how much posting I’ll be able to do. Just post your thoughts anyways, and I’ll update you when I can.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Florida.