As I Prepare to Preach on Pentecost Sunday

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The wind is blowing a gentle breeze outside.  As I type these words I can hear its swooshing sound and see the trees outside my office sway.  Three Sundays ago the wind was blowing at 50 miles per hour and I was at home sick while my associate preached.  At that point I was a little bit sad Pentecost wasn’t then because God’s Spirit is breathe and God’s breathe is 50 miles per hour and more mighty.

As in answer to prayer the wind is still blowing today, albeit with much less force.

The wind blew my hair as I unlocked the doors of the church this morning.  I was reminded that the church is the content of the breath of God.  The Spirit is the breath but as the Spirit breathes, we are what it pulls in and then sends out.

In the same way that when I take a breath I am pulling in some weird mixture of Nitrogen, O2 and CO2 (among other things) and then breathing out a similar mixture, but with more CO2 than O2, the Spirit breathes in this weird mixture of holy and sinful people and then breathes those people out, but with more holiness than sin.

As I stepped in the door I turned to look at the two giant trees that grace our front lawn.  I was reminded that they also breathe in and breathe out only their breath is the reverse.  They give us more oxygen and through it more life.  We give them more carbon and through it more life.  They do our part.  We do ours.

I have always appreciated the trees for that very reason.  Without them, we have no life.

What I have not always appreciated is that my breath is just as valuable to them as they are to me.  Without my breath they die.  Without my gift they wither.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we remember that glorious day when God’s breathe blew over all creation.

In spiritual (Spirit-ual) worship we are breathed into God.  In benediction we are breathed back out to all creation.  We are breathed in sinful and breathed out holy.  However, we are not breathed out for our own benefit or own pleasure.  Holiness is not for the benefit of the saints, in the same way that my CO2 does nothing for me.  Holiness is for the benefit of the creation, for all creatures of our God and Kingdom.

Pentecost happens so that the saints may heal the hurting.

So that the saints can fix the broken.

So that the saints can love the unloved and unloveable.

So that the saints can reconcile the enemies.

So that the saints can comfort the afflicted (and yes, afflict the comfortable)

So that the saints can adore the ugly and entertain the lowly.

Pentecost happens so that a Holy people can redeem the world.

Happy Pentecost Everybody!

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Beyond The Talking Points: Of Mayors and Subpoenas

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Before I launch into today’s topic, I want to issue an apology for not posting anything for two weeks.  Last week I was at a retreat in the mountains, learning about discipleship and becoming a better disciple.  The week before that I hosted a High School Cross Country meet that sucked away most of my time.

But I thought I would venture back into the blogging world by discussing the latest culture war to flit across my computer screen.  This one is about as juicy as they come, involving liberal mayors, conservative pastors, the ongoing homosexuality debate, subpoenas, petitions and a very bitter, yet delighted mob of Christians.

What happened in Houston, or rather is happening, is nebulous at best.  Even the bipartisan articles (like Snopes) are being accused of bias.  Many conservative Christians, riled up by a FoxNews COMMENTARY (not article), are jumping up and saying, “Yes!  We told you so!  We were right and we love being right!  And finally, someone is persecuting us!”  Although nobody really is persecuting us quite yet.

Meanwhile Houston stations and papers are trying to set the record straight.  But the problem is that the record is so complicated that setting it straight is impossible.  In fact, this situation is so entangled, curvy, and bent that to set it straight would be to deny the complexity of the world around us.

But first let me try to state the facts, as I have pieced them together.

First, Houston tried to pass a law that enforced non discrimination (especially against homosexuals).  This law exempted churches but not businesses that are run by Christians.

Second, many Houston churches and their pastors protested the bill and got 50,000 signatures on a petition to stop it from being signed into law.

Third, the city rejected the petition because it argued over half the signatures were acquired under false pretenses (which I think means the churches lied to people about what the bill actually said).

Fourth, the pastors filed a lawsuit AGAINST the city saying the signatures were valid.

Fifth, the city, in defending themselves against the lawsuit, did what everybody in a lawsuit does:  They subpoenaed everything the judge would allow them to, including sermons pertaining to the issue.

I want to put an aside here to say that if my church sued our city over something as banal as property usage, I would fully expect the city to subpoena any manuscripts or recordings of sermons or announcements pertaining to the lawsuit.  That is just how lawsuits work.

Sixth, Fox News published a commentary that made it sound as if the subpoenas were filed in offense (not defense).

Seventh, most conservative Christians were overjoyed and angry at the same time and posted the link everywhere with a gleeful “I told you so!”

Eighth, I read the Fox News commentary myself and was almost fooled by it until the last few paragraphs were suddenly an angry and hasty call to action with a hearty “I Told You So.”  So I decided to ignore the situation.

Eighth, a very prominent leader on my district whom I love and trust, saw the Fox News article, was fooled by it and emailed it to all the pastors, meaning my efforts to ignore it were thwarted.

So how should a devout, committed and sane Christian respond to all this.

I have zero idea.

But here is what I did.  I sunk my head in despair at the foolishness of it all.  I shook my fist and screamed in the air at the stupidity of those in my own faith tradition.  I tried to post articles that helped Christians understand the messiness of the situation, only to realize that most Christians have zero understanding of the American legal system, nor do they want to understand it.  They just want something to be mad at.  It is how they seemingly entertain themselves.

I shook my fist in the air again.  Then I went looking for someone in real life to argue this with, armed with all the facts, only to realize that even the best arguments would not stand against the invincible ignorance of my Christian siblings.  Instead it would only increase the aggravation and break down Christian unity.

I slammed my fist against the wall.  Then I started practicing what my response would be if someone brought this up on Sunday morning during worship, only to conclude any response other than, “yeah, okay” would violate my principles as a loving pastor.

I hung my head in despair again and prayed for the church.  I begged God to forgive us for our misinformed rage and our eagerness to break all of the commandments (like, “thou shalt not lie”) just to get our nation to litigate an obscure command in Leviticus.

Then I felt better and took a deep breath, reminded myself that Christians have been stupid for 2000+ years and yet the Holy Spirit has continued to do wondrous things through the church despite its very broken sinfulness.

Finally, I sat down to write this blog in the hopes of reminding my readership of two things:

1) The world is incredibly complex.  To boil a situation like the one in Houston down to words like, “persecution” and “right” and “wrong” is to engage in the sinful practice of lying and manipulating.

2) Despite how incredibly stupid and bitter the vocal Christians are, the Holy Spirit’s work continues unhindered.  We serve a big God who covers the multitude of our sins.

So take hope my friends for our God is much bigger than us!

Christian Fundamentalism Part 3: What is the Harm?

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This post is the third in a four part series based off of my very real interactions with Christian fundamentalists.  You can read posts one and two here and here.

Two days ago I wrote about my real life experiences with fundamentalists and defined them for the purposes of this conversation as those Christians among us who believe in the absolute inerrancy of Scripture and that 1950s America was the perfect expression of God’s kingdom.

The question that inspired these posts was, “what is it about fundamentalists that makes me so eager to hate and judge them?”  As I pondered that question it led to a greater question:  “What actual harm are fundamentalists doing to the world and to Christianity?”  Yesterday I answered the first question by saying, “there is not much that deserves my eager angst.”  Today’s and tomorrow’s posts are the answers I have arrived at to that second question.

I believe there is real harm being done by the fundamentalists among us.  As I have interacted with them I find that they are doing harm to the Christian doctrine they claim to defend and to the fellow Christians they try to convert to their thinking.  Today I will talk about the harm to greater Christian doctrine.  Tomorrow I will talk about the practical, personal ways they violate others.

First I want to tell about a conversation I had with one of the most hardcore fundamentalists in town.  Like most of my conversations with fundamentalists it began with me complimenting him and ended with him insulting me and calling me not Christian.  The conversation began by me sharing that I feel like some Christians worship Scripture instead of Jesus.  He was baffled by that comment because, as he explained, “Scripture is the Word of God and Jesus is the Word of God so Scripture is Jesus and we must worship Scripture.”  I was shocked by that statement, not only because Scripture never calls itself the Word of God but always reserves that title for Jesus but also because it proved to me that fundamentalists really believe that the Bible is God.

By contrast, in historical Christianity Jesus has always been the absolute revelation of who God is.  After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit continued and continues to reveal Jesus in several means.  Scripture over time (a lot of time) became the primary (but not the only) way the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us.  And in my tradition, it is a necessary book to keep the church from getting off track.  By metaphor it is the chief tool in our tool belt and we desperately need it because without the Bible a congregation is a carpenter without a hammer or a barber without scissors or a writer without a computer.

But the Bible cannot do for us what Jesus did on the cross and the Bible cannot replace the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth using many means.  Scripture can only remind us about what Jesus did and encourage us to enter into life giving relationship with Jesus through the other means of grace.  Those means are things like prayer, congregational worship, Christian conversation, academic study, and exercise, among many others.  They, along with Scripture, sustain our right relationships with God and others.

But for fundamentalists Scripture is God, particularly King James’ Version of it.  It is God’s arm instead of the church’s hammer or scissors or computer.  They think Scripture is fully God, or at least the only part revealed to us.  Thus Scripture becomes the only work of the Holy Spirit and fundamentalists end up with no room for Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  To them God is just a book and interestingly a book they talk a lot about but seldom ever read (but that is another post for another day).

Then they read Scripture as if it provides correct logic to us.  But logic will not save the world in the way that the very human and very God, Jesus saves the world.  I have not had one honest debate with a fundamentalist that didn’t end with their insistence that if you think the wrong thing about God you are going to hell.  So their evangelism often takes the form of displaying right logic instead of Godly love.  But Scripture, the very Scripture they claim to protect, claims that people will only know Christ by our love.  It is not doctrine or logic that saves us, except the doctrine and logic of right relationship with God and neighbor and enemy.

Therefore Scripture, in their thinking is God itself, a God who is as small as a logical system and cannot do anything but be words on a page.  Put another way, they don’t use Scripture to worship God made flesh.  They worship Scripture as God made paper.

To end with another story that illustrates these points, the Baptist church in town sent out a mailer that invited people to come to their events.  The mailer was a wonderful idea with the church’s calendar of events and mission statement.  It even had a letter from their pastor that spent three paragraphs explaining how their church was all about Scripture:  How Scripture tells us how to be better parents and how to manage our finances and all the right rules and wisdom to live a happy life.  But not once did the pastor or the entire packet mention Jesus.  The church seemingly doesn’t need Jesus because they have the Bible.  For them evangelism isn’t about introducing people to Jesus.  It is about introducing people to Scripture.

But what Christianity has always had to offer is not petty moralisms or God given self helps or divinely revealed logic.  We have always offered the very presence of the resurrected Christ through the Holy Spirit.  But fundamentalists believe they have all they need in the sacred words of Scripture, so they don’t need or want Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

This is how the fundamentalists are killing themselves.  They cut themselves off from the presence of Jesus by choosing to worship the created Scriptures instead of the creator God.  And now they have empty doctrine that cannot sustain itself.

Come back tomorrow to see how this plays out practically.