Posts filed under ‘Religion’

Powerful Reading

During seminary, I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and I really enjoyed it. Last week I checked out Sue Monk Kidd’s book, Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings, from the local library. Apparently Merton had a big influence on her life and writing, so it inspired me to buy more of Merton’s works. I had just sold a few books on Amazon.com, so I ordered two of his books with my earnings: New Seeds of Contemplation, and Spiritual Direction & Meditation.

Wow. New Seeds of Contemplation is a book I really needed to read during this time of my life. I wouldn’t have got much out of this book if I had read it any earlier, so I’m thanking God for this providential coincidence (how’s that for a paradoxical phrase). There are times while I’ve been reading it yesterday evening and this morning that I’ve found that Merton knows me far too well! I’ll just warn you, don’t read this if you don’t have time to stop and pray.

March 7, 2008 at 8:49 am 1 comment

Joel Osteen’s Typical Week

This is from an interview on southernillinoisan.com where they asked Joel Osteen (who I still think looks like Orel Hershisher) what a typical week in his life is like (h/t MMI)

Mondays and Tuesdays I try to take off. Wednesdays I read and study and pray. I have a stack of notes for potential sermons. I get a theme, and once I feel good about a simple thought, I read and find stories on that. I get up real early and write my sermon on Thursdays. Fridays I finish writing it and take three hours to go over it. I really get it down in me. Saturday I study it for several hours and finish getting it down in me. I have a real good memory. I rest Saturday afternoon before the Saturday night service, and I also preach two Sunday morning services. Sunday afternoon I edit the sermon for the television broadcast. I’m just used to doing that. That’s how I started.

March 4, 2008 at 9:09 am 4 comments

New Monasticism & Real Life

There’s a great story in the LA Times about a group of folks trying the “new monasticism” on for size (h/t TSK). Turns out it’s really hard.

As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help compare my life with these folks who are living in community while yearning to follow Jesus simply and whole-heartedly. Of course, I assumed, we would have nothing in common. After all, my wife, kids, and I live alone in a relatively small parsonage in a very small town in Oklahoma. We aren’t living on the mean streets of Philadelphia like Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way, or even the mean streets of Billings, Montana down from the pawn shop and beet factory. We probably have the same four varieties of salad dressing in our fridge, which is a sure sign, the article suggests, that simplicity has not yet been achieved.

Yet in the middle of these differences, I noticed something. Our small town offers community in a way that the Billings group struggled to achieve. While they were hoping to help their neighbors and wishing for kids to come by and shoot hoops, we have been blessed by a dynamic, interactive, living, breathing community that is drawn to Christ and the Church.

There are days when kids shoot hoops on the basketball goal on our garage. Saturday afternoon, while I was taking my Christmas Lights down (yes, yes), a young boy whose family we helped during Christmas walked by. He looked up at the roof and said, “Hey, Matt.” The next day, a little boy from the other side of the street rode his bicycle in front of the house. His wave was made even more special because his bike was donated at Christmas by a generous and anonymous stranger through the Church. I had the privilege to deliver it so his grandmother could give him a gift. Often, I’m able to stop my truck, roll down the window, and ask kids, “Has your mom found a new job yet? Ya’ll doing alright?” A trip to the post office is never just a trip to the post office. It’s an opportunity to comfort those who’ve recently lost loved ones. It’s an opportunity to ask about Jim, the brother-in-law in the hospital. It’s an experience of true community.

We may not be new monastics, but in the middle of life as a itinerant United Methodist pastoral family, we’ve experienced real community in the middle of real life – inside and outside the walls of the church building. We’ve had to think hard about what it means to live in a particular place at a particular time, while being about a particular mission for a particular God. We’re asking many of the same questions as our new monastic brothers and sisters about what it means to follow Jesus simply and whole-heartedly. Often, like them, we get it all wrong. Yet there are times, like our more monastic-minded friends, that the Kingdom peeks through the clouds of everyday life and illuminates everything around us. In whatever form you experience it, that’s a life worth living.

February 5, 2008 at 8:36 am 2 comments

Bhutto and Jesus

I’m usually not well-informed regarding international news, but for whatever reason, I’ve really been following the Benazir Bhutto assassination. The thing that I’ve been fascinated with was her choice to return to Pakistan in spite of the nearly inevitable consequences of her arrival. Last night, Wolf Blitzer and assorted security experts were astonished by her lack of concern for personal safety as she continually left the “bubble of security” to mingle with the crowd and appear through the sun roof of the car in which she was riding.

Again and again, I couldn’t help but think of how this mirrors, at least on the surface, the political implications Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).” Now, I don’t want to go any further down the road of drawing parallels between Bhutto and Jesus; that’s not my point. I’m just saying her choice to return to Pakistan in spite of the nigh inevitable consequences parallels Jesus’ decision to go up to Jerusalem in spite of what was in store for him there. Bhutto’s decisions simply gave me a modern parallel of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem.

As I pondered this, I once again realized the incredible strange reality of the gospel accounts of Jesus. CNN’s coverage of Jesus’ political execution wouldn’t have ended with the cross and extended pondering about the future of Israel. It would have probably died down a bit, only to take off three days later with the strange claims of his followers, “He is no longer dead, he is risen!” Imagine that. What in the world would the Situation Room do with that kind of news?

December 28, 2007 at 8:39 am Leave a comment

Christmas Books

I always get books for Christmas from my Mom, and this year was no different.  So, my latest additions are:

They Like Jesus...Leviticus

I’ve already started reading Dan Kimball’s book (I read his online chapter awhile back), and I really like his emphasis on getting outside of the office and living missionally as a pastor.  The other book, a commentary on Leviticus, is more of a reference work for leading bible studies, answering questions, and preaching.  I also got a gift certificate to Amazon.com, so I’ll be getting a nice assortment of books in a few weeks, including my books for my January D.Min. class.  2008 should be a good year for reading!

December 26, 2007 at 8:04 am Leave a comment

Catching Meddlers: Top Five Posts of 2007

I loved Gavin’s idea about posting our top five posts of 2007. I went through and checked out the hits for my posts, and these are the five with the highest totals (with #1 being the most viewed).  Apparently ordination questions are far more popular than any of us could have ever imagined.  Personally, of these five, I like #2 and #4 best.

  1. Ordination Questions: Traditional Evangelical Doctrines
  2. Our God is More Merciful Than That
  3. Ordination Questions: Kingdom of God, Resurrection, and Eternal Life
  4. Ordination Questions: Nature & Mission of the Church
  5. A Good Man is Hard to Find on Ash Wednesday

December 20, 2007 at 5:09 pm 2 comments

Advent with Eugene Peterson, No. 2

I’m still hanging out with Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places during Advent. It has been a great, albeit slow, read. To get Peterson, sometimes you really have to slow down and absorb what he’s trying to say.

In the following passage, I didn’t have to slow down. In fact, I wanted to speed up and fly right by!! In this passage, Peterson is talking about the idolatry of trying to live our faith disconnected from the places where we find ourselves, especially the workplace. Rather than risking everything and trying to find creative ways to live faithfully within our jobs we instead, “fantasize about jobs in which we can wholeheartedly work, in the wonderful phrase, ‘to the glory of God.'” He also argues that we look to the Christian marketplace to fulfill our need for a deeper faith.

“…what we do is look around for ways to affirm and cultivate our new life in Christ outside our workplace. And we soon find, quite to our delight, that there is a lot to choose from. A huge religious marketplace has been set up in North America to meet the needs and fantasies of people just like us. There are conferences and gatherings custom-designed to give us the lift we need. Books and videos and seminars promise to let us in on the Christian “secret” of whatever we feel is lacking in our life: financial security, well-behaved children, weight-loss, exotic sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers. The people who promote these goods and services all smile a lot and are good-looking…(p. 125).”

Peterson then suggests that when we get caught up in this discipleship via consumerism, “we have become consumers of packaged spiritualities.”

“This also is idolatry. We never think of using this term for it since everything we are buying or paying for is defined by the adjective “Christian.” But idolatry it is nevertheless: God packaged as a product; God depersonalized and made available as a technique or a program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative (p. 125).”

Well…ouch. I’ve asked my family to buy me Amazon giftcards this year so I could buy tons of great “Christian” stuff to read. Hey, a new prayerbook would deepen my prayer life. A new commentary would certainly spark a renewed interest in Scripture. Doggone-it, my faith in Christ will be deeper and stronger in the new year because of these purchases…

Idolatry, huh? I suppose at times, God as a technique or a program is much more attractive than a living and active God.  Maybe this Christmas when I’m opening my new commentaries, prayer books, and emergent manifestos on leadership (w/apologies to Tim Keel, whose new book I can’t wait to read), I’ll remember that God doesn’t fit in a package. Maybe I’ll look up long enough from my new cache of books and catch a glimpse of the manger. Maybe then I’ll remember what I really need is an ongoing relationship with the living, active, Creator God, who is too big for words and much too big to wrap.

December 12, 2007 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

Churches of the Mega Variety

Here is a map from the New York Times showing the concentration of mega-churches in the United States (h/t Allan R. Bevere). Interesting, eh?

I see we have several in OKC, a few in Tulsa, one in Lawton, and one down on the Texas border in southern Oklahoma. Anyone out there know where that is? It looks like it’s around Durant, but I’m not sure.

December 6, 2007 at 4:35 pm 4 comments

Strengthened by Solitude

Fall SceneSaturday was a really good day. A few months back, my mother had a lot of bulldozer work done on her property, leaving about 5 large piles of trees behind. These piles eventually have to be burned, and so with my wife gone to Women of Faith, the kids and I went over to help burn them. There is something really great about clearing and burning brush piles. As we were working I said to my Mom, “You know, I think it’s impossible to worry or stress out when you’re burning brush.” She agreed. Right now she’s going through radiation treatments for skin cancer, so I think her words carry a little more weight than mine on that particular subject.

Once the fires were burning good, we went to the house for lunch. The afternoon was fairly uneventful, until I had to go back and pile a little more brush and check on the fires. I drove the four-wheeler out, with Dixie, Mom’s border collie, running ahead across the pasture. After seeing the fires were good and contained, I decided to ride up next to the mountain that borders my mom’s place on the back side of her property.

I got off the four-wheeler and stood watching the sun begin its evening descent into the western sky. Off to my right, I heard a loud snort and saw four white tails raised high in the air as the deer bounded off into the woods. Dixie laid down at my feet, and I began to think. Before I knew it, nearly thirty minutes of silent thought went by and I didn’t want to leave. God was truly in that place, and like Peter at the transfiguration, I was ready to build a house and move right in.

At first, I thought maybe this was a bad thing…that I was being unfaithful for imagining what it would be like to live in that spot and experience that kind of beauty and solitude every day. In fact, I’ve been thinking about that for the last few days, and I’ve only began to process what happened there.

I’ve had Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines sitting on the shelf since our vacation early this year, but I hadn’t found the time to read it. Actually, that’s not true. I tried to read it, but I guess it just wasn’t the right time. Now it is, and today I came across a passage that I believe helps explain what I experienced on Saturday.

Today, sustained withdrawal from society into solitude seems to indicate weakness, suffering, flight, or failure rather than great strength, joy, and effectiveness. Believing that, we, for instance, thoroughly misunderstand the context of Jesus’ temptations after his baptism…

Willard then suggests that the Spirit led Jesus into solitude in the wilderness, not to place Jesus in the weakest position possible, but to allow him to face Satan at the place of his strength and strengthening.

The desert was his [Jesus’] fortress, his place of power. Throughout his life he sought the solitary place as an indirect submission of his own physical body to righteousness. That is, he sought it not as an activity done for its own sake, but one done to give him power for good. All of those who followed Jesus knew of his practice of solitude, and it was greatly imitated in the centuries after his death.

I think that something similar might have been going on as I stood in God’s presence watching the sun go down into the valley. As I stood on the side of the hill, I was conscious in my silence of God’s overwhelming grace. Today, Willard helped me realize something. My time alone – mesmerized by God’s beauty – didn’t bring on the temptation to withdraw from the world. Instead, as I unknowingly imitated our merciful Savior in the wilderness, God embraced me, empowered me for good, and gave me strength to engage the world once again…even though I had no idea that was going on. Thanks be to God.

November 7, 2007 at 12:51 pm 6 comments

Jesus’ Model of Pastoral Care??

I wonder what this passage might teach us about how we do pastoral care (h/t A commenter named jfreeham at the Theolog).

“…after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:6, 17-21

Read Willimon’s words from his book, Pastor (h/t relevintage):

The pastor is [often] reduced to the level of the soother of anxieties brought on by the dilemmas of affluence, rather than the caller of persons to salvation. My colleague Stanley Hauerwas has accused the contemporary pastor of being little more than “a quivering mass of availability [emphasis mine].” Practicing what I call “promiscuous ministry”- ministry with no internal, critical judgment about what care is worth giving- we become victims of a culture of insatiable need. We live in a capitalist, consumptive culture where there is no purpose to our society other than “meeting our needs.” The culture gives us the maximum amount of room and encouragement to “meet our needs” without appearing to pass judgment on which needs are worth meeting… In this vast supermarket of desire, we pastors must do more than simply “meet people’s needs.” The church is also about giving people the critical means of assessing which needs give our lives meaning, about giving us needs we would not have had if we had not met Jesus.

Are you a pastoral vending machine or are you practicing the holy art of saying no? Is there middle ground somewhere in between? What are we called to be? Can pastors abuse this theological approach to pastoral care in order to feed their own laziness? And to ask a question that is becoming increasingly popular, how would life as a Bishop change the way Willimon thinks about this? What do you think?

October 29, 2007 at 12:20 pm 5 comments

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