Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

My wife and I watched Lars and the Real Girl earlier this week. Loved it. Ryan Gosling is excellent as Lars Lindstrom. He suffers terribly from family history issues of which we're given only bare hints. He plays the unusual role convincingly and with passion. I won't spoil the movie by telling you what he does to cope. While unusual, it's really not that different from what we all do to find hope in the midst of our brokenness.

What I liked most about the movie was its portrayal of the "pastoral care" given Lars by his family, co-workers, and church. (Yes, finally a positive picture of church life!!) It's very uplifting - and, I must say, convicting.

Interestingly, Nancy Oliver, who wrote the story, attended Florida State. Her screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.

Go Magic!

For a guy who never watches NBA, I'm having fun watching the home team do well in the playoffs! It's now 3-1 against Toronto. Woo-hoo!! This may be what I need to (finally) become a fan.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Worship of God Conference

This weekend I'm enjoying the Worship of God Conference at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Jonathan Noel, our church's worship director, is here with me. This is the second time I've been to this conference at CCC. The first time was way back in 1997 or '98. I am here to be refreshed after several intense weeks at the church, and for Jonathan and me to spend time together talking about our lives, about worship, and about our hopes and dreams for our church.

This morning we heard a very meaningful message by Nate Larkin, author of Samson and the Pirate Monks. He shared his story about the many years he put up a "Saint Nate" front and hid his true self from people, rather than being open about his addiction. Through the gospel, and particularly through community with other believers, Nate was able to learn to live authentically in the church. His talk inspired me to live more honestly before others. I also want to look into starting up a Samson Society meeting of men at our church.

Here are some of my take-aways from Nate's talk that deserve some more pondering:
  • It's not so much our sin that keeps us from God but our supposed righteousness.
  • The gospel is too big for one person to carry. We need someone else in our journey to remind us of the gospel every day.
  • Every day, I need to pick up the phone and tell someone else the truth about what I'm feeling, what I'm doing, and/or what I'm thinking about doing. (Scary!)
  • Christianity is a team sport. Jesus brought me into a personal relationship with him, not a private relationship.
  • Moralistic Christianity leads to either delusion ("I'm invincible") or despair ("I'm such a loser").

Friday, April 11, 2008

Not a good re-start for "The Office"

I didn't think the season "premier" (post writers' strike) of The Office last night was very good. Sure, it was kind of fun to see the couples getting together, and Dwight was funny when he came to Michael and Jan's house with his babysitter. But it seemed to me the writers must have still been on strike and they got the B Team to write this episode.

What I especially didn't like was the new Jan. She was downright crazy. The dynamics used to be a lot funnier when she was the sophisticated boss being turned off/turned on by Michael's shenanigans. Last night was kind of like watching Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner going at each other in The War of the Roses. It was embarrassing, not funny. And Jim and Pam didn't do much besides look at each other and the camera with those befuddled looks on their faces.

Not a good start out of the gate for me. Hopefully it'll be The Office I've always loved next week.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What I'm reading...

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, by Lesslie Newbigin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

Newbigin, who died in 1998, was a Scottish Presbyterian minister, missionary, and theologian who encouraged the Church to have a vibrant gospel witness in the postmodern world.

In chapter 18, Newbigin has some outstanding things to say about what a vibrant Christian congregation looks like. He says it's marked by six things. I'll list them for you, using Newbigin's own words:
  1. It is a community of praise. We live together reverently and thankfully toward God.
  2. It is a community of truth. We hold onto the Scriptures as God's authoritative revelation.
  3. It is a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighborhood. (I like Newbigin's analogy: the Church is "God's embassy in a specific place.")
  4. It is a community where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the exercise of the priesthood in the world. ("It is in the ordinary secular business of the world that the sacrifices of love and obedience are to be offered to God." So to Newbigin, the church needs to be "a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world.")
  5. It is a community of mutual responsibility. (Newbigin calls the church "a new social order . . . where God's justice and God's peace are already an experienced treasure.")
  6. It is a community of hope. ("The gospel offers an understanding of the human situation which makes it possible to be filled with a hope which is both eager and patient even in the most hopeless situations.")
By striving toward these ideals, says Newbigin, the church can take the "high ground" in our pluralist society, and both challenge and change public life.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Church and prayer

I have been reading through the book of Acts lately and will be preaching on it for the next 10 weeks. One of the big ideas in Acts is the relationship between dependent prayer and spiritual renewal. The early Christians were a praying people. Over and over in Acts you see the church in prayer: when the apostles needed a replacement for Judas Iscariot (chap. 1), when they first met resistance from the Jewish religious leaders (chap. 4), when they needed deacons (chap. 6), when Peter was imprisoned (chap. 12), and when they were ready to take the gospel internationally (chap. 13), the early Christians met for prayer.

And it appears they didn't just pray now and then or when it was convenient. Acts 1:14 says "They all joined together constantly in prayer." Acts 2:42 says "They devoted themselves to . . . prayer."

So my question is, How can we in our churches today experience a sustained level of fervent, corporate prayer?

As a pastor, I've run the gamut of ideas: weekly prayer meetings, early morning men's prayer groups, National Day of Prayer gatherings, round-the-clock prayer campaigns, and the like. These meetings typically draw the same small core of people that show up for everything else, and they run out of steam pretty fast. They often die a slow, depressing death. It takes months or years for the church to feel ready to try prayer again.

This is going to sound uncharitable, but one thing I've observed is that prayer meetings and prayer groups often attract people with a defective view of justification. For these individuals, prayer is a means of performing before God and achieving status with people. Curiously, however, they outdo many other, more mature Christians in the area of prayer and set an unrealistically high bar for the church. So the prayer ministry of a church, in my experience, is often the place some of the most unbalanced, undiscerning Christians wind up. Don't get me wrong. As Richard Lovelace puts it, "Even bad prayer is better than no prayer." But prayer groups not grounded in the gospel are not very attractive to the wider body of Christ, and can even kill a prayer ministry altogether. I certainly don't want to tell a brand new Christian to go to a prayer meeting led by one of these folks.

Yet I'm convinced there's got to be a way the church today can experience prayer on the level of the book of Acts, without adopting a wacky theology of prayer.

I think that prayer is probably not going to happen very much in our churches unless there is first a deep sense of need. Again to quote Richard Lovelace in his book Dynamics of Spiritual Life, "the minimal prayer accompanying many projects in the church may indicate that what is being undertaken is simply what human beings can accomplish pretty well by themselves."

Not until we see what desperate straits we're in, how weak we are, and how great the challenges are before us will Christians meet together with urgency and faith and ask God to rend the heavens and come down. Maybe we need to start by asking God to "pour out . . . a spirit of grace and supplication" on the church (Zechariah 12:10).