Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Churches, Kids, and Pastors

October 1, 2009

Well, our church hunting may be nearing an end. It hasn’t been an easy process, lemme tell you. Turns out there’s a lot to consider when looking for a church! But we limited our search on a couple of factors:

Number one: We’re not looking all over metro Atlanta for the right church. We’re only keeping to churches that we can drive to in a matter of 20 minutes or less. The reason for this is that we don’t want to just attend once a week. We want to connect with some people in those churches for a while, and we want our kids to make some friends that they can hang out with and get to know. That’s just not gonna work if everyone we meet lives on the other side of Atlanta.

Number two: We don’t want to drag our kids to twelve different churches in this process. Besides wearing them out and stretching the more introverted ones beyond their capacities, I figure this would only teach them to be seasoned critics of churches (“I liked the couches at such-and-such church but didn’t like the music and so-and-so church”). We want to get their input wherever it’s relevant, but then we make the decision and they can just run with it.

Number one limits the geographical scope of our hunt and number two made us prioritize which churches to visit. In the end we had three churches to choose between, with pros and cons spreading evenly among all three — no obvious winner. This made us have to think really hard about what matters most in this hunt. What exactly are looking for? Are we looking to connect to a church long term, or just for a while? Are we looking for ourselves, or for the kids? If one church seems clearly better for them while the others are better for us, what do we do? Whole lotta hard questions to work through here.

Perhaps hardest of all, how does a die-hard organic church guy make his way back into a traditional, brick-and-mortar, Southern Baptist church without going berserk? I’ll have to get back with you on that one… Still working on it.

One thing in this process that has been educational for me has been visiting with pastors from each church. Since I’ve been in a house church for nine years, I didn’t have much interaction with pastors for quite a while. But now, in the last three months, I’ve had lunch and/or involved conversation with no fewer than SIX pastors and at least as many church leaders of other titles (elder, associate pastor, etc) plus I’ve got one more coming to visit our home Monday night. These conversations have been helpful for me, reminding me how folks “on the other side” of the institutional/organic divide think about things.

I’ve been reminded how much people see the preacher as the mouthpiece of God in the congregation. A house church like the one in my neighborhood believes whole-heartedly in every member ministering (even in the sense of everyone sharing and speaking in the meeting). Not so in a traditional church. At least three of the six men I recently spoke with clearly believe that it is their responsibility to feed the congregations they minister to. They see themselves as feeders rather than equippers. They see the congregation’s dependence upon them as a perpetual thing, and they feel that is how it should be.

One minister I ate with handed me a book, which I will blog about for the next few posts. It was Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever.

It’s a pretty good book, all things considered. I believe it’s very popular (especially with counter-cultural neo-Calvinist guys) and I think I can see why. Dever says a lot of things that I can agree with. I like his attitude towards church growth experts (“Forget what the experts say,” p.54). Stick it to ’em. He sees the futility in chasing the latest fad in seeker-friendly church practice. I can identify with that. I can identify with much of what he says, in fact.

But Dever’s model hinges on a fundamental principle that I cannot accept: The absolute centrality of the preacher in the life of the church. Dever would probably say that preaching, not the preacher, is the center. Or more precisely, that the Word of God is the center. When you put it THAT way, I agree completely. But the practical outworking of that principle, in my mind, rests with the whole body of Christ supplying what each joint supplies (see Eph. 4:11-16). For Dever, God speaks through the preacher. And that’s how most of the pastors I speak with see it. Even the ones that believe in a plurality of elders, like Dever. The preacher is still there, and he’s still doing that function all by himself. He speaks. Everyone else listens. The end.

Well, more on that and other things in the next post. In the meantime, it looks like we’re going to pick the church that’s best for the kids. Two of the churches we’ve been looking at have too few kids to connect with. They also use programs that are heavily driven by point systems, candy, and other such “extrinsic motivation.” Honestly, that’s really a turn off. Do I want my girls learning praise songs because they get candy if they can sing the words correctly at the end of the lesson? Or learning Bible stories because if they do they get a chance to win a bike?

We also want the girls to be with us in the worship service. That knocks out one of my choices right there. Put that together with a few other details that I won’t belabor at this point, and we’ve probably got our church home for the next little while. I won’t lie to you…it’s gonna be a tough transition for a guy like me. But I’m putting my trust in the Father to know what’s best for us right now. I don’t know enough to make these decisions myself. What can you do?

On a side note, the surrounding community has done a great job of trying to help out the schoolchildren that lost their school last week in the flood. By the way, people here are dating everything now by saying “that was before the flood” or “that was after the flood.” Well, after the flood, the neighboring churches, schools, and businesses pitched in and bought supplies for the kids that have been displaced by the flood. Some neighborhoods got nearly two feet of rain in one day. I know my area got more than a foot just in the first evening. Anyway, here’s a story about the local news network presenting the kids with what they collected.

And it rained, and rained, and rained…

September 24, 2009

It has been a pretty busy week around here. Take a look at this shot of Hwy 78 (Veterans Memorial), the road that I usually take to work in the mornings:

flood_vet

Needless to say, we’ve been stuck in our neighborhood for a few days, now. Up until later this afternoon, all the major arteries to our area had been submerged under water. I am told the Interstates are all open as of tonight. Check out this shot of Six Flags:

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Not sure I’d wanna go on that ride after this, would you?

Anyway, Sunday night was a looong night. Sometime after midnight, it went from raining to pouring to severe storms, then it just stayed there FOR HOURS. I don’t know how to communicate to people who were not there about it. It was the most thunder and lightning I’ve ever seen and heard in my life.

You know when the heart of a storm finally gets above you, things get really loud, the thunder seems like it’s crashing directly down onto your roof, and the lightning seems like it’s threatening to come in your windows from every side? It usually only lasts for a minute or two then passes over you and heads on to the next destination. Well, this time it just never left. It parked right above Douglas County and stayed there for several hours. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed every ten seconds or so, right on top of one another, for several hours straight. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.

My girls were bouncing out of their beds all night long begging us to do something to enable them to get to sleep, but none of us could sleep. It was like someone kept shaking our house while someone else kept flicking the light switch on and off and on again ever few seconds from midnight to about 4am. It was pretty horrendous. The main downtown artery, the 75/85 Connector, flooded for about an hour:

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Drivers on all the surrounding Interstates got stranded for a time, too (see I-85 below, near Spaghetti Junction):

interstate

We got a call early that morning notifying us that, not one, but several water mains broke in our county and it would be a while before our water would come back on (three days later we still can’t wash dishes or do laundry or take showers without getting in our cars and driving somewhere else to do it.) Determined not to let this get me down, I put on my rainy day running shoes and ran before sun up, like I always do. Only this time, as I neared the end of my route, I discovered that a gaping 10 foot wide drop off was there where the road should have been (I’ll have to post a picture of that later).

While the girls’ school got canceled (for the whole week, it turns out), I had to report to teach at my high school post for a really soggy day. Lots of people didn’t make it in that day, and it took me over an hour to get home. It usually takes 15 minutes, but I had to drive down six different routes before I could find a route that got me home. Others took more like three hours to get home, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

I also can’t complain about water damage or flooding, because our house got little more than a wet area on one carpet. My school was untouched, really. I can’t say the same for nearby Clarkdale Elementary:

clarksdale

The school is totally submerged, in case you can’t tell. Kindergartners began exiting their classrooms when the water first started coming in the doors, and by the time the last few dozen were leaving, the teachers were hoisting the kids on their own shoulders because the water had already gotten above the children’s heads! That’s truly what you call a flash flood, and it was not a calm moment for those teachers and administrators. Four hundred elementary kids will now be displaced for the forseeable future. That’s gonna be a tough school year.

It feels like I’ve spent the better part of the last three days hauling water from one place to another so that we can do things like cooking, washing, bathing, drinking, and flushing. The toilets alone can be a real hassle at a time like this, I gotta say. Our power went out after a day or so, too, so we had to relocate to a friend’s house so we could cook, bathe, and do laundry. Thanks to Jerry, a brother in the neighborhood here, we had a place to set up for a little while until the power came back on, and things got a little easier from that point on.

So many people around us have lost homes and cars and schools that our community will be doing relief work for many months to come. In case you’re interested in helping, you can donate to the county school relief fund or contact the pastor of Ewing Road Baptist Church, who is coordinating much of the work for the affected area.

In the meantime, I’m thankful to live in a neighborhood just high enough above the creek levels that we didn’t look like Venice when it was all over. Just five minutes north of us, one neighborhood looks like this:

flood1

Compared to this, we’re doing just fine. Going back to work tomorrow, and happy to have a place to work.

What I Learned From a Muslim Riot

February 8, 2006

It’s impressive to see how angry some Muslim communities of the world have become over depictions of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. What’s more amazing for me is to learn that most Muslims believe it is wrong to create ANY depiction of Mohammed for ANY reason. That detail fascinates me.

The ancient Hebrews also had a rule about depictions of Yahweh. As I recall, Moses threw quite a fit about a gold cow once. The rule about making a graven image of Yahweh was due to the fact that Yahweh is invisible, immeasurable, infinite. He is spirit, and to put him into physical form would immediately supplant Him from His rightful place as the only legitimate Object of worship.

But the earliest Christians (who were themselves Jewish) made a bold leap into the unknown by claiming that Jesus Christ was Yahweh Himself come in the flesh. They unapologetically declared that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God,” and “the exact representation” of Him on this earth. Yahweh had always promised that He would one day dwell with His people, and while previous attempts to represent Him in artistic form were forbidden, God’s own representation of Himself was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Like Jesus, Mohammed was a man. A flesh and blood man. I believe that most normal Muslims believe that. Which means that he can be drawn. He can be painted. He can even be cartooned. That’s the risk you put yourself up for when you inhabit human flesh. A man can be caricatured. In fact, the more famous he is, the more likely it is that he WILL be. I’ve seen three disrespectful depictions of Jesus in the last two days. I didn’t like them. I guess I consider them offensive. But I didn’t go burn the national flags of the countries that allowed them to exist! Well, that’s not what I’m trying to write about at this moment. So back to what I was trying to say…

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that followers of Mohammed disallow depictions of him out of respect and homage to him? In their efforts to idealize him they confine him to the unseen realm, so to speak. I suppose that for them to see him represented in visible form would somehow reduce him and dishonor him, robbing him of the worship that they believe he deserves.

Compare this with Jesus, who stated in no uncertain terms that he who has seen him has seen Yahweh. This man stated that he and Yahweh would come and indwell those who believe in him, so that we, too, can become sons and daughters of God. The early Christians embraced this idea and proclaimed that when the church of Jesus gathers they are reassembling Christ himself. They are the body of Christ, inseparable from him in every way. “Little Christs,” they came to be called. Here is a faith that embraces the visible representation of their God.

Talk about running the risk of misrepresentation! Millions of little depictions of Christ running around all over the earth. What was Jesus thinking!? Didn’t he know that he was setting himself up for insult and injury? In particular, what was he thinking when he chose ME to be one of those representations? If I didn’t have the utmost deference for his wisdom, I would question his judgment about this issue. But this only illustrates my point. [Wait, what was my point?… Oh, yeah…] God knew that we could never be satisfied worshiping a God that we couldn’t see. We are flesh and blood and we identify with flesh and blood. So He took on flesh and blood in order to be with us. In so doing He set Himself up for insult, abuse, and misrepresentation. Apparently, he counted the cost and determined that we were worth it. That’s really something. I think I’ll go dwell on that for a little bit. Why don’t you join me?