Sunday, April 30, 2006

Congregational Summit

I was encouraged today by the responses and attitudes displayed at the congregational summit. I have to admit to a little trepidation after reading through the comments section of the survey, and after hearing from a number of people their disappointment in the tone of some of the comments. There were a number of good suggestions in response to the questions about what we do well, what we can do better, what we can begin doing that we are currently not, and what we should abandon that we are currently doing. Even more encouraging was the spirit of unity that was displayed. It is my sincere hope that we have taken a significant step on the journey of becoming a missional people.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Survey Comments

I have spent quite a bit of time the past couple of days going over the 32 pages of comments from the congregational survey. I have to admit to a whole range of emotions as I read through the comments for the first time, but in subsequent readings I was able to be a little bit more objective. Some observations...
  1. The need to address youth and children's programs was the most prevalent theme throughout the comments.
  2. Roughly even was the number of comments indicating a desire to return to our traditional roots and the number of comments indicating a perception that we are currently too traditional to effectively reach out to the unchurched in our community.
  3. There were a number of comments expressing concern with the low numbers within the 25-40 age range - the proponents of a more traditional approach and the proponents of becoming less traditional both expressed the belief that the approach they favor would help attract this demographic.
  4. The number of comments regarding traditional vs contemporary worship styles was roughly even for both points of view, and while those were some of the more evocative comments they were relatively few when compared to the total number of comments.
  5. There were some comments that seemed deliberately hurtful and some that were harsh towards some individuals.

I believe that many will feel some sense of hurt or disappointment when they read through the comments. I believe that the hurtful comments came from people who are themselves hurting and perhaps feeling a sense of abandonment of cherished ideals. I hope that some of the comments were not made simply out of meanness. I pray for healing for those who hurt badly enough to be hurtful. I pray for healing for those who are hurt by them. And I pray for understanding, acceptance, and a genuine love for each other within our congregation.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Afikoman

I previously mentioned attending a Passover Seder with a Messianic Jewish congregation. (Messianic Jews hold to Jewish heritage and traditions, but believe that Jesus was the Messiah). Seder is a specific order with specific foods, readings, blessings, etc.

The Passover Seder Plate (ke'ara) is a special plate containing symbolic foods used by Jews during the Passover Seder. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which is the focus of this ritual meal. (Wikipedia)

The 7th symbolic food is set apart and consists of a stack of 3 whole Matzot. The unleavened bread symbolizes the haste of the preparation of Israel in leaving Egypt; they did not have time to prepare regular bread. The middle matzo is broken into 2 pieces. The larger of the 2 pieces is wrapped in a napkin and set aside. This is the Afikoman and is later eaten at the conclusion of the meal. The Afikoman must be eaten before midnight and once it is eaten no further food or alcohol is consumed.

There are a couple of explanations as to what the stack of 3 Matzot represent. The most common seems to be that they represent Abraham, Isaac (who was 'sacrificed' and returned from the 'dead', and Jacob. The Afikoman represents that which is to come - the Messiah. According to the leader of the Seder we attended, it was the Afikoman that Jesus broke during the Passover meal with his disciples when he said "This is my body".

I don't know with certainty that this is true, but it certainly adds another dimension to the richness of the account of the last supper.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fewer Kids in CHIP - Good News?

In an editorial in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, Mary Katherine Stout attributes the decline in the number of children enrolled in CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) to the growth of Texas' economy. As defined by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission,

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance for their children. CHIP coverage provides eligible children with coverage for a full range of health services including regular checkups, immunizations, prescription drugs, lab tests, X-rays, hospital visits and more.
CHIP is a program designed to provide access to health care for the children of the working poor. The familiy income eligibility ceiling for CHIP is 200% of the annual federal poverty rate, which is currently $20,000 for a family of four. CHIP enrollment has declined from a high of 529,211 children in May 2002 to a current enrollment of 294,189 children.

According to Stout this is a reaction to an improving economy and a lower unemployment rate. She implies that families are disenrolling because their fortunes have improved to the point where they no longer need assistance in providing health insurance for their children. A THHSC December 2004 report An Analysis of Disenrollment Patterns in the Child Health Insurance (CHIP) in Texas suggests otherwise:
  • 52% of families disenrolled did not obtain other insurance
  • 31% became eligible for and enrolled in Medicaid - hardly an indicator of improving fortune
  • 11% obtained employer-based family coverage
  • 5% obtained other insurance on their own
  • 1% did not know whether they had insurance for their children

I would suggest the possibility that the decline in enrollment might be attibuted to legislative cost cutting efforts resulting in more stringent eligibility requirments, a change in renewal timelines from every 12 months to every 6 months, longer initial waiting periods, and the use of a private vendor to handle the enrollment and renewal procedures. Hardly good news for poor working families.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I Wish Dad Was There...

Yesterday was Senior Sunday. Tonight was Taylor's basketball banquet - the last of 6 years' worth of football, basketball, and all-sports banquets. Prom is next week and graduation a month away. The days are dwindling in the high school chapter of our baby boy's life, and my time as a proud dad in the bleachers has come to a close.

As I reflect on the dozens of youth soccer and little league baseball games, the dozens of Jr High and High School football games, and the literally hundreds of basketball games Taylor has played over the past 12 years, I still have the pencil printed page from a journal his first grade teacher had her students keep...

Yesterday I hade A Soccer Game. I did prety Good. The Game was A Tie One to One and I made That one Goll. I wish dad was There Becose that was first goll I made this seson.

I wish dad was there...

I had been gone that weekend to a retreat at Camp Tahkodah in Arkansas with some friends from college. It was a time of renewal and I don't regret having gone, but those words have always stuck with me. I wish dad was there...

I have missed very few of the athletic or other activities either of my kids have participated in. Until Lauren went to Pepperdine, the only race I did not see her run was when I was in Russia. I made the trip to California to see her run at least 2-3 times each of her four seasons at Pepperdine, and was online every Saturday afternoon to see the results of her races on the west coast. I have spent more hours than I can count and have driven all over the metroplex to get Taylor to practices and games with select basketball teams.

It is hard to describe the pride and pleasure of a father observing the performance and the efforts of his children as they contribute to an athletic team, a choir, a Destination Imagination team, a youth group. It is sad to realize that I will no longer be able to see those things, while at the same time there is a sense of pride in his accomplishments and an excitement for this next chapter in his life.

I wish Dad was there...

There have been many milestones already in the lives of both my children as well as in Barbara's and mine as a couple. I have made a commitment to be there as they have faced decisions about school, about work, about all those little things that occur on a daily basis. I have had the privelege of baptizing both of my children. I hope I have demonstrated to them how I love their mother.

I wish Dad was there...

To the best of my ability, those words will not ever be written or even thought by my children while I am alive and well. Yet, knowing the frailties of human nature and the uncertainty of life on earth, I acknowledge that it may happen. But I can rest easy knowing that neither they nor I will ever have to say "I wish my Father was here". Jesus said it once on the cross and ensured that we would never have to.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Survey Results #2

In a comment on my first post on the survey results, Zach asked "Why do 56 not feel they have a strong sense of belonging? How do we reach out to those among us?"

I think that there are a number of factors that at times contribute to a lack of sense of belonging. Pat Keifert used an illustration at our initial PMC meeting that may shed some light. He said that a typical congregation can be described in a set of 3 concentric circles, with Family comprising the inner circle, Inside Strangers comprising the second circle, and Outside Strangers comprising the outer circle...

Family are generally those who feel a strong sense of belonging, are involved either directly or through influence in decision-making, and know how to be involved both socially and in the activities of the congregation.

Inside Strangers are members, often very active members, who don't perceive themselves as a part of the inner circle. This may be by choice, may be due to a lack of ability to navigate the soci0-political structure, or may be because family members are protective of status quo, whether by design or unintentionally.

Outside Strangers may or may not consider themselves members. They may be relatives of members or may be outsiders drawn in for specific needs or activities - a grief recovery class or a hurricane relief project.

This framework can be useful to understand some of the dynamics at work within a congregation. I think 15-20 years ago it was fairly evident who was family at Skillman. Today, I'm not so sure; I would not be surprised if a large number would describe themselves as inside strangers if they were asked to place themselves in one of the three categories.

That's not necessarily a bad thing if we are seeking to become more missional. If our focus is inward - wanting the church to meet our needs - then the further we are from family the less we feel connected. But if our focus is outward, then we naturally migrate more toward the outer rings - that's where our mission is.

I don't know that I've actually addressed Zach's concern - I do not mean to imply that we don't want to reach out to those among us or that it is not important to feel a sense of belonging. I do believe that one factor that contributes to the development of a sense of belonging is sharing in a common mission. Another is participating in conversation. I look forward to the opportunity to do that next Sunday afternoon.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Politics of Bread

Tuesday morning was the 11th annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast at the Anatole. John Edwards spoke powerfully about the problem of poverty in our country, but the phrase that really grabbed my attention was spoken by Gerald Britt, Executive Director of Central Dallas Ministries, as he introduced Eddie Bernice Johnson. Here is an excerpt from his remarks...

And so, just as there is a politics of infrastructure, or public safety, or public education, there is a politics of bread.

The number of households which suffered from food insecurity increased by nearly one million from 2003-2004. Texas leads the nation in the percentage of households which experience food insecurity at 16%.

Any serious conversation in a city like Dallas about those among us, who daily face the issues of food insecurity and food inadequacy, dare not be confined to individual charity and institutional good will.

In a city like ours, people among us who go daily without healthy and nourishing food, because they don’t make enough money, or live in the wrong neighborhood, is a sad commentary on our collective priorities and ambitions.

While many of us seek to excuse ourselves from the conversation by pointing out the social pathologies of those whom we classify as “poor,” I would remind you that we are reminded daily of the pathologies of those who have sought safe haven in the suburbs. The purposelessness, self-destructiveness, the histories and habits of sin, the nihilism and materialism that characterize those of us who are middle class, leave us no room to point fingers.

The desperations of the poor and the prosperous, don’t teach us that any of us are better than one another, they teach us that we need one another.

The fact is, in a city like Dallas, there are far too many churches, far too many non-profits, far too many programs for anyone to go hungry because they don’t have access to healthy and nutritional food choices.

...But I will also make you another commitment. We will keep on working on the politics of bread.

It’s not enough to salve our corporate, theological, or electoral consciences by quoting Jesus, when He says, “The poor you will have with you always.”

We will continue to provide the pantry, AND train our neighbors for living wage jobs; we will feed the children AND work on fit and affordable housing; we will help those who are providing warm hot meals AND we will make health care accessible, AND we will work with every segment of and system in our society to bring people from dependency to the dignity of self-sufficiency, because it is what is right and just. And because that which is owed in justice, should never be given in charity.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Survey Results...

The results of our congregational survey were emailed to the everyone on the email list today. A couple of things, although not especially surprising, jumped out at me.

The first has to do with worship. As the elders have begun meeting with each of the adult Bible classes, no topic has engendered more discussion and strong feelings than worship. Yet, the survey results say that 80% of the congregation is satisfied that "Offering worship that provides a meaningful experience of God and the Christian faith" receives an appropriate emphasis, and 70% are satisfied with the emphasis on "Providing worship that expresses the Gospel in contemporary language and forms". The 30% that indicated a lack of satisfaction with the degree of emphasis on contemporary worship were almost evenly divided among those who feel it receives too much emphasis and those who feel that it does not receive enough.

Two observations.

  1. The balance between contemporary and traditional forms seems to be about where it should be. While the 16% who desire more emphasis on contemporary and the 14% who desire more emphasis on traditional may not feel personally satisfied with the balance, the vast majority find it meaningful, and are satisfied. There is an opportunity for those on either end to love one another and to love the majority of the congregation by not insisting on changing to meet their preferences.
  2. The amount of discussion over the past couple of years on contemporary vs traditional is either causing our focus to be on ourselves and what we prefer or is a symptom that we are focused upon ourselves. It would be appropriate to shift our focus and discussion from our own preferences about how we worship to how we can fulfill our mission of sharing the Gospel.

That leads me to the second thing that jumped out at me - the item rated as needing more emphasis by the largest number of people - 53% - is "Sharing the good news of the Gospel with the unchurched". As I reflect upon our initial exposure to the Partnership for Missional Church, and the conversations that we began on that Saturday, I am convinced that we have the willingness to be missional and that participating in PMC will help us develop the skills and the will to share the good news.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Christian Quotation of the Day

So long as we are full of self, we are shocked at the faults of others. Let us think often of our own sin, and we shall be lenient to the sins of others.
... François Fénelon (1651-1715)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Random Easter Reflections

This past week has seen a number of "firsts" in my Easter experiences.

I put one of the crosses in my front yard and have received comments from several of my neighbors expressing appreciation and several asked where we got it. It was a conversation starter. I am reminded that how I treat my neighbor (and my behavior that is seen by more people than I realize) communicates much about who I am and whose I am.

Sunday we visited my brother-in-law and attended University Christian Church on TCU's campus in Fort Worth. A very traditional high church liturgical service. Beautiful building, church bells, lots of standing and sitting, congregational responses. I'm not a fan of the organ, but I have to admit that when those trumpets were sounding during the Hallelujah Chorus it was mighty impressive.

Friday evening Barbara and I attended a Passover Seder (pronounced sayder) with a Messianic Jewish congregation in North Dallas. We were invited by one of our neighbor families who had made plans to attend with their life group and had a couple of seats available at their table. Very interesting and enjoyable evening. The Seder is a specific order with specific foods and drink that symbolize the story of the passover. More details to follow - particularly about the Afikomen.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday Has Come

But very early on Sunday morning the women came to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone covering the entrance had been rolled aside. So they went in, but they couldn't find the body of the Lord Jesus. They were puzzled, trying to think what could have happened to it. Suddenly, two men appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed low before them. Then the men asked, "Why are you looking in a tomb for someone who is alive? He isn't here! He has risen from the dead! Don't you remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again the third day?"

Luke 24:1-7

Friday, April 14, 2006

It's Friday...But Sunday Is Coming

It's Friday.

Jesus is Praying. Peter is Sleeping. Judas is Betraying. But Sunday is coming.

It's Friday. Pilate is struggling. The council is conspiring. The crowd is villifying. But Sunday is coming.

It's Friday. The disiples are running like sheep without a shepherd. Mary is crying. Peter is denying. But Sunday is coming.

It's Friday. Jesus is walking to calvary. His blood is dripping. His body is stumbling. His spirit is burning. But it's only Friday. Sunday is coming.

It's Friday. The soldiers nail my savior's hands to the cross. They nail his feet to the cross. They raise him up between two criminals. But Sunday is coming.

It's Friday. The disciples are questioning. The pharisees are celebrating. But they don't know that Sunday is coming.

It's Friday. He's hanging on a cross. Forsaken by his Father. Can no one save him? The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My king yields his spirit. Oh, it's Friday. But Sunday is coming.

Thanks to Rob Thomas and IgniterMedia for producing this powerful image and reminder that Sunday is Coming!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

When Fishermen Don't Fish

One of the insights arising from our discussion at the Partnership for Missional Church session this past Saturday is that we see ourselves as a primarily inward focused congregation. Max Lucado tells this story...

When I was in high school, our family used to fish every year during spring break. One year my brother and my mom couldn't go, so my dad let me invite a friend.

Days before leaving, we could already anticipate the vacation. We could feel the sun warming our bodies as we floated in the boat. We could feel the yank of the rod and hear the spin of the reel as we wrestled the white bass into the boat. And we could smell the fish frying in an open skillet over an open fire.

We could hardly wait. Days passed like cold molasses. Finally spring break arrived. We loaded our camper and set out for the lake.

We arrived late at night, unfolded the camper, and went to bed - dreaming of tomorrow's day in the sun. But during the night, an unseasonably strong norther blew in. It got cold fast! The wind was so strong that we could barely open the camper door the next morning. The sky was gray. The lake was a mountain range of white-topped waves. There was no way we could fish in that weather.

The next morning it wasn't the wind that made the door hard to open, it was the ice!

It was a long day. It was a long, cold night.

When we awoke the next morning to the sound of sleet slapping the canvas, we didn't even pretend to be cheerful. We were flat-out grumpy.

The next day was even colder. "We're going home" were my father's first words. No one objected.

I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people. When those who are called to fish don't fish, they fight.

When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones. Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers. Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved. Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers.

Leave soldiers inside the barracks with no time on the front line and see what happens to their attitude. The soldiers will invent things to complain about. Bunks will be too hard. Food will be too cold. Leadership will be too tough. The company will be too stale.

Yet place those same soldiers in the trench and let them duck a few bullets, and what was a boring barracks will seem like a haven. The beds will feel great. The food will be almost ideal. The leadership will be courageous. The company will be exciting.

When those who are called to fish, fish -- they flourish!

From In the Eye of the Storm- Copyright (c)1991 by Max Lucado - Word Publishing

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

That's Entertainment?

I frequently hear or read comments disparaging the use of drama, video, special music, solos, etc. in worship assemblies as being inappropriate because they are entertainment. In my experience, the intent of the use of any of these is to communicate with the listener - to convict, to motivate, to instruct, to illustrate - much like an effective preacher. The intent is not to entertain. Jesus told stories - we call them parables; the intent was not to entertain.

When Paul instructs us in Ephesians 5 to "speak to one another using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs", he is talking about how we should live. He is not talking specifically about the assembly, but that is one of the occasions where we have the opportunity to speak to one another. The singing of a solo or presentational song can be a meaningful and effective way to speak, and may be more faithful to Paul's instruction to us than our insistence on acappella singing in the assembly.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

As Dwight mentioned yesterday, Edward Fudge does a good job of coherently capsulizing the circumstances and relevence of the recently "rediscovered" Gospel of Judas. Reprinted below are his gracemails addressing this issue. It is worth the effort to be familiar with current issues such as this and The DaVinci Code, because for many people in today's culture they represent the extent of their understanding about the authenticity of the Bible...see my earlier post on The DaVinci Code.

Edward Fudge
Apr 10, 2006

Since writing the previous gracEmail on the “Gospel of Judas,” I have viewed the two-hour television special aired on Sunday night, April 9, 2006 on the National Geographic Channel and have read the actual translation of this apocryphal Gospel at . (Thanks to my friend and gracEmail subscriber Dr. Hans Rollmann, Professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland, for the URL cite. I do not know how long the text will be available here.) Having now seen the program and having read the “Gospel of Judas” itself, both of which confirmed the previous gracEmail, I add the following observations in this quick update.

National Geographic certainly knows how to tantalize an audience even though its titillation is sometimes misleading. In discussing the “Gospel of Judas” found in an Egyptian cave in the late 1970’s, the TV special teasingly asked whether the manuscript was “real” or “fake,” fi nally assuring viewers that this “Gospel” had indeed been “authenticated.” Many viewers likely took these proclamations as assurances that the “Gospel of Judas” was written by the Apostle of that name, or even that the Gnostic doctrine this “Gospel” was written to promote was really true. In fact, the “authentication” talked about meant only that radiocarbon dating placed the manuscript’s origin at about A.D. 300, give or take 50 years. In other words, the “Gospel of Judas” is not a recently-forged fraud. But that is almost unimportant when we know that it was instead an ancient fraud, according to the church father Irenaeus, who wrote about A.D. 180. Unless I blinked and missed it, National Geographic’s television special never even mentioned the fact, also known from Irenaeus, that the “Gospel of Judas” was used by a group known as Cainites who claimed spiritual lineage from Cain, Esau, Korah and the inhabitants of Sodom.

At the surface level, the television special seemed to focus on this apocryphal Gospel’s potential to rehabilitate Judas’ reputation as a Satan-driven scoundrel – a characterization that has indeed been misused by some professing Christians as an excuse for anti-Semitism (which is always inexcusable). In fact, even the New Testament Gospels eschew a one-dimensional view of Judas since they report that he returned the betrayal money to those who had hired him and then committed suicide – two incidents which some Christians have seen as evidence of deep remorse and perhaps even of genuine repentance. Further, Judas inadvertently served the divine purpose according to the apostolic preaching recorded in Acts, even though he remained personally culpable for his actions.<>

Be that as it may, the presentation of Judas the man is only window-dressing in this newly-discovered “Gospel.” The manuscript’s real point – and the main reason orthodox Christians reject it (aside from the fact that it is a fraudulent work to begin with) – is its promotion of Gnosticism, a worldview contrary to the biblical understanding of reality on almost every fundamental point. This is apparently a minor detail to many postmodern scholars, for whom all ideas are equally valid and all groups claiming to be “Christian” are legitimate spokespersons of Jesus Christ.

Those of us who remain committed to Scripture as divinely-authoritative and who therefore oppose whatever essentially contradicts its core teachings need to realize that we are increasingly out of step with the spirit of the age. It is not unimaginable that the day may come even in America – as it did for the apostolic church of the first three centuries and as it has today in many other parts of the world – when we must choose between personal comfort and security on the one hand and faithfulness to Christ on the other. If that happens, may we – like Irenaeus and Polycarp and John – stand firm whatever the cost.
Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit.

Edward Fudge
Apr 9, 2006

As every savvy marketer knows, sensationalism sells books and attracts a television audience. The National Geographic Channel can therefore expect a host of viewers for its special program "The Gospel of Judas" set to show tonight (Sunday, April 9, 2006). "One of the most significant biblical finds of the last century," hypes the producer's website, "-- a lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus." The TV special follows the translated publication three days earlier of the so-called Gospel of Judas, a codex (bound like a book rather than rolled like a scroll) written on papyrus sheets in the Coptic language and discovered by looters near El Minya, Egypt in the 1970's.

This manuscript, carbon-dated at about A.D. 300, is indeed "significant" -- but primarily for its contribution to our understanding of early Gnostic teaching, an influential heresy opposed by numerous early Christian writers and, in an even-earlier form, by both the apostles John and Paul in the canonical New Testament itself (Gospel of John, First John, Second John; Colossians). The Gnostics (from a Greek word for "knowledge") claimed special insight into mysteries of the cosmos, secret wisdom passed down through the centuries but hidden from ordinary mortals. (The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown certainly did not invent sensationalism!)

Gnostic teaching usually claimed that the material universe was evil, having been created by a lesser deity; denied that Jesus was both truly human and uniquely divine; and (like philosophies ranging from ancient Hinduism and Buddhism to today's New Age cults) enticed adherents with promises of exclusive spiritual fulfillment if not actual deification. The "Gospel of Judas" claims to report conversations between Judas Iscariot and Jesus during the Final Week, in which Jesus tells Judas "secrets no other person has ever seen." In the document's most sensational "revelation," Jesus asks Judas to help the spirit of Jesus escape its mortal flesh by betraying him to death ("You will sacrifice the man that clothes me"), although this will result in Judas being "cursed by the other generations."

As of now, scholars believe the newly-translated "Gospel of Judas" might be a Coptic translation of the earlier Greek-language "Gospel of Judas" mentioned about A.D. 180 by Irenaeus of Lyons, a pupil of Polycarp, who in turn was taught by the Apostle John. In his work titled "Against Heresies," Irenaeus described the "Gospel of Judas" as a fictional work manufactured by a group known as Cainites who claimed spiritual lineage from Cain, Esau, Korah and the Sodomites. According to Irenaeus, the "Gospel of Judas" said of Judas that "he alone, knowing the truth as no others [of the Apostles] did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal" (31:1). Irenaeus dismissed the "Gospel of Judas" as a fraud and its teaching as anti-Christian heresy. Those who know and believe the true gospel taught by John and the other Apostles should feel free to react the same way today.
Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit. Visit our multimedia website at .

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Level Ground at the Foot of the Cross

When Dwight used the phrase "the ground is level at the foot of the cross" this morning I was reminded of the following article that I read recently in the Church Innovations Newsletter while thinking about what becoming missional looks like...

Crossing the Bar X: “Home by Another Way”
By Jim Johnson, Church Innovations Consultant

“How has it come to be that we who have sought to faithfully proclaim that the “ground is all level at the foot of the cross” and that Jesus came “to seek and save the lost” have so successfully put forth the impression that one needs to live as though he or she is not lost in order to be worthy of being sought and saved by our Savior?”

When I overheard Cathy, a soon to be retired elementary school teacher from a very small town here in Montana, talking with my wife Nancy one night at the Bull’n Bear, I was taken back to statements made to me in the space of three days in a small concert tour I was doing on the Oregon over 10 years ago.

Three women, in 3 different towns, had said the same thing to me that Cathy was saying to Nancy after they had listened to “A Hard Case,” a song I had written about divorce and how people often experience the church when their lives are falling to pieces. The only difference between Cathy and these other three women is that each in their own time had returned to the church – the first after a minimum of 10 years away and a maximum of 30 years for another.
Cathy has not.

“I used to teach Sunday School and everything,” Cathy said, “and was pretty active in my Presbyterian Church. Then I got divorced. The word got out that I was divorcing my husband, and for three weeks in a row, no one talked to me when I came to church. I haven’t been back since.”

Click Here to read the entire article

Friday, April 07, 2006

Partnership for Missional Church

This evening was our initial introduction to the Partnership for Missional Church process. I am excited by the potential for God to work through this process to facilitate transformation from an inward focus to one that is focused on fulfilling the mission Jesus gave us. After I got home this evening I found that Mike Cope had posted the following quotes from Dallas Willard on his blog today, and thought they were relevant to our discussion tonight and to the process we are beginning:

“Nondiscipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem. The fundamental negative reality among Christian believers now is their failure to be constantly learning how to live their lives in The Kingdom Among Us. And it is an accepted reality. The division of Christians into those from whom it is a matter of whole-life devotion to God and those who maintain a consumer, or client, relationship to the church has now been an accepted reality for over fifteen hundred years.”

And then this:

“Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings, and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens. Such Christians are not inwardly transformed and not committed to it.”

(From The Divine Conspiracy, pp. 301, 342)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Million Dollar Murray

I have been participating in the Urban Engagement Book Club. Sponsored by Central Dallas Ministries, we meet for lunch on the first Thursday of each month to review a book addressing some issue(s) affecting life in America today - poverty, education, health care, homelessness, and so on. Today, in addition to this month's book, we discussed a recent article in the New Yorker titled Million Dollar Murray.

Murray was a chronically homeless alcoholic who over a number of years was regularly arrested for intoxication. He was frequently in bad enough shape that he would be taken to the emergency room before he could be taken to jail. The pattern repeated itself over and over. The author estimated that the cost of treating Murray in the emergency room over time added up to more than $1,000,000. The thesis of this article was that it is more expensive to do nothing about the chronic homeless than it would be to provide them with housing.

What I found fascinating about this article were the studies that dispelled the notion that the homeless fit within a bell-shaped curve type of distribution in terms of the amount of time they spend in homelessness. Roughly 10% could be characterized as chronically homeless, while the majority spend some time as homeless and then find permanent shelter. The implications for treating the problem are that adequately addressing the chronic 10% by providing a home and support structure would be far less expensive than doing nothing. Whether motivated by a sense of compassion, altruism, or simple economics the end result would be a far better situation than what currently exists.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lean Back, Kick Forward

Friday and Saturday this week we kick off the Partnership for a Missional Church project. Throughout Skillman's long and rich history missions have played a prominent role. As we enter into this conversation about what it means to be mission-shaped in our community in this place and time, we want to build on our history but not be bound by it. I'm reminded of Leonard Sweet's use of a swing in articulating his image statement:

There is a new theory among physicists about how the swing works. Previous theories revolved around the principle of "parametric instability," which pivoted the action of swinging at the middle of the arc, and the rocking forward into a higher center of gravity. Physicist William Case, while watching how children actually swing, has now posited a new principle which physicists call "driven harmonic oscillator." The key to the swing is not in the middle of the arc, but at each end of the arc, where and when the swingers at the same time lean back and throw their feet forward.
That's my image statement. As a historian of Christianity, I want the church to lean back–not just back to the 50s, but all the way back through 2000 years of history, all the way back until we're, in the words of that Sunday School song, "Leaning, Leaning, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." But at the same time and I do mean simultaneously, we must use that energy and power that comes from "learning to lean" to kick forward into the future and Carpe Manana.

Much has changed in the 50+ years at our current location - people have been born and have died, old friends have moved away and new ones have come, the auditorium has changed color schemes and a new building has been built. But however much change has occurred within our walls, it does not compare to the changes that have occurred in the world around us. Demographic changes, cultural changes, technological changes, world view changes.

I believe that it is inevitable that some of the forms and methods that have served us over the years will have to change in order to communicate with today's community. In the midst of change, though, are some constants - the God we serve, the gospel we proclaim, our mission to make disciples - the media and methods have to adapt, but the message is eternal.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Christian Quotation of the Day

Christian Quotation of the Day
April 4, 2006

Meditation: But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. -- James 2:18 (ESV)

Quotation: In my intellect, I may divide [faith and works], just as in the candle I know there is both light and heat; yet put out the candle, and both are gone. ... John Selden (1584-1654)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Cutting Down the Net

Just finished watching Florida team members and coach cut down the net following their solid victory over UCLA in the championship game. Each of the players cut for themselves a small piece of the net from where it connected to the rim and when Billy Donovan (the coach for you non basketball fans) cut the last piece, the net was no longer connected to the rim. If you could somehow picture that process in reverse, the result would be that as each member of the team added his piece, the net would become stronger until the last piece made the net complete. It just struck me how symbolic that was of successful teams and organizations. When each person weaves their string into the net, the result is stronger and more effective than the individual strings are. And conversely, the net is weakened when pieces are cut out or withheld. Just food for thought...

The DaVinci Code

One of the things I didn't get around to during Spring Break was reading the DaVinci Code. I finally got tired of waiting on the paperback and bought a used copy at HalfPrice Books, and read it this past week. I enjoy the genre and had intended to read it when it first came out, and then with all the attention it has garnered over the past couple of years it made it to my must read list, but I did not get around to it until now when the movie is due to open in a few weeks.

For what it's worth, I thought it was a pretty good read. Dan Brown is not in Robert Ludlum's class, but he wove a pretty good story here. There is enough suspense to keep your attention and enough historical accuracy to make the story credible. I can see now why the book has generated controversy and numerous responses seeking to refute the premises of the book.

One should keep in mind that the book is fiction. The author uses elements of truth and weaves a story that appears credible, but is fictitious. One example is the explanation of the development of the canon of the new testament. There are elements of truth in the author's story of how the canon came about, but the story as a whole is a fictional account supporting the theme of the novel.

I was struck by a couple of thoughts as I read this book. One is that many readers will likely take at face value that all the historical details and descriptions are true. As we are examining what it means to be missional in today's culture and in our community, we need to recognize that many of the people we encounter will have a distorted view of the Bible, of the church, and of Jesus. We cannot assume that people have a Christian world view, and that will impact how we try to reach them.

A second thought is that Satan often works in a similar fashion - he uses elements of truth to deceive. That is something to be on guard against.