24 February 2013

The Problem with "Twitter Theology"

When one "tweets" (i.e. writes something on Twitter), they only get 140 characters to do so.
       The other day I read a Facebook update (which I assume was a feed from Twitter or Buffer) which said, "'Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves.' Luke 16:9. Jesus said it...not me!"
       This is pithy, and provocative, and gets people to your website or blog. But it is woefully incomplete and even confusing. And such is the problem with what I call, "Twitter Theology."
       The problem is magnified by the fact that the person who tweeted this small section of Luke 16:9 labels himself as "an international expert on the Middle East." I know this person and I do not doubt that he is an "expert." But should not experts be more complete or clear when quoting a verse of Scripture this this?
       The entirety of Luke 16:9 says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Well that puts a slightly different spin on things, rather than only saying, "Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves." So the verse is telling us to use money to gain friends and that's how a person gets into heaven?? Really?
        In reality only looking at verse 9 is not fair either. This verse is found in a 14-verse parable known as The Parable of the Shrewd Manager. The last thing you ever want to do is pull out a part of one verse from a parable. Context is extremely important in such passages.
       The "problem" is that Luke 16:1-14 is far more than 140 characters, so you cannot tweet it. And reading 14 verses is not nearly as pithy or provocative as half of one verse.

23 February 2013

"You are everything that is good in me"

"You are everything that is good in me." ~ Detective Mac Taylor to his girlfriend Christine in last night's episode of CSI New York.
       The line was poignant, and struck a nerve deep in my soul. It got me asking this question, "Who is it in my life that I can make that statement to?"
       Nobody really.
       Except Jesus. Only Jesus. Always Jesus.
       Jesus is everything that is good in me.
       If there is any good in the human heart (which I believe there is) it is the gift of God.
       If there is shalom in me it is Jesus' shalom which he imparts to me.
       If I love it is because Jesus first loved me (1 John 5).
       If I forgive it is because Jesus has forgiven me.
Mac Taylor is almost right. He is missing the source - Jesus. HE is everything that is good in me.

22 February 2013

Remembering the "Big Bear Principles"

On the outskirts of Los Angeles, in the San Gabriel Mountains, sits the pristine town of Big Bear. It is now known as the location where a murderer was hold up in a cabin in recent weeks.
       Big Bear has a very special place in my heart. Throughout much of the 1990s and into the 2000s, when are kids were young and we were missionaries in Europe, our family would venture to Big Bear just about every summer. Susy's aunt and uncle had built a rustic A-frame cabin and they graciously allowed us to use it for a few weeks to a month in the summer.

       One summer, July 1998 to be exact, we went to Big Bear and I was FRIED! I had hit a major wall in ministry, I was burned out.
       I had been Europe Director for Christian Associates for 3 years. The ministry was growing rapidly, with new projects springing up around Europe. New staff were coming on board.
       And I was spiritually, emotionally, and physically wiped out! I got a hernia in June of that year, which was the "straw that broke the camel's back."
       I retreated to Big Bear for a more extended stay. I collapsed really.
  - I slept in every day.
  - I went to the local "greasy spoon" in the small town and talked about nothing with people I did not know.
  - We visited a local church - Calvary Chapel - and sat in the back row and stared into space.
  - I brought Steven fishing, we rented a boat and went on the lake, we barbecued a lot, I read books to the kids at night.
       Somewhere in that month God began to point some things out to me. Painful realities of my life. I started to understand that my life was not sustainable at the pace I had been living.
       Toward the end of our time in Big Bear I took out a pad and paper and wrote on the top, "Big Bear Principles." There were 5 that I wrote down, and I added a 6th in the summer of 2000 when I was in Big Bear again.
       Herewith are my Big Bear Principles, which I still try to hold to and accept as best as I can.

Principle 1: There is no moderation in slowing down. God requires nothing less than radical surgery.

Principle 2: When I work I work hard and when I play I play hard.

Principle 3: I must maximize being with people I love to be with, I must minimize being with people who drain me.

Principle 4: Mentoring is in the eye of the beholder. I must creatively cultivate new mentors all the time.

Principle 5: Retreat is a prerequisite for the next attack.

Principle 6: I retreat in order to reassess my calling and to cultivate the virtues that make that calling sure and "complete."

20 February 2013

The Life and Times of Howard Hendricks

I first heard Howard Hendricks speak at a Campus Crusade for Christ conference called, "KC83." I had come to faith in Christ a mere two months earlier.
       I do not remember what Professor Hendricks spoke on at the conference, but I remember thinking to myself, "This is a man of God." I was right.
       This Giant of the Faith died peacefully today.
       Here are some statements by "the prof," as he was called by his students.
       In an interview in 2003 with the Dallas Morning News: “You’re looking at a completely fulfilled human being. If I died today having produced some of the people God has given me the privilege of shaping, it will have been worth showing up on the planet.”
"You never graduate from the school of discipleship."
"How big is your God? The size of the your God determines everything."
"Spend the rest of your life doing what God has prepared you to do."
And here is Professor Hendricks speaking at his last chapel service at Dallas Theological Seminary. His talk was titled, "The Ultimate Final Exam."

17 February 2013

The Community of the Pit

Last night a bunch of guys gathered around the fire pit in my backyard. It is sacred space.
       In an unconventional way it is Acts 2:42-47 lived out on a micro level, for a moment in time, with guys finding their way through life.
       This is the text of the email I sent out to a bunch of guys inviting them out last night:

" Thanks to the creativity of Jim Maynard and the sweat of a bunch of guys, we put a fire pit in my backyard a few years back. There has been many a beer drunk and stogie smoked around that fire - in the dead of winter and in the heat of summer.
       We have been labeled in a variety of ways:
   * Boyz AT the Pit
      * Boyz OF the Pit
         * Boyz IN the Pit
I suppose is depends on the state of your heart and mind at the time.
Many a conversation has been had around the pit -
  * Job promotions, job losses, pay cuts
  * Marital bliss and marital strife
  * We have celebrated new life, we have cursed the loss of life
  * We have talked sports rivalries
  * We have debated the politics of gun ownership and gun control (and we are still talking to each other!)
  * We have shared homemade brew and smoked finely rolled cigars from around the world
For me the Firepit is Sacred Space. A place of respite, of safety, of laughter and weeping, of no BS at times and lots of BS at other times! :o)

       Last night was all this and more - a dozen of us huddled around the fire and caught up on life after a number of months apart.
       There were newcomers and old-timers, drinkers and a non-drinker, smokers and non-smokers, younger and older (Steven even came out for a while with the guys!).
       I am deeply grateful for this ad hoc group of guys who sporadically gathers around the pit and shares life together, as we all stare into the flames.
       It is holy and profane, the mundane and absolute core stuff of life, it's community.

16 February 2013

Deeply Personal Very Public Information

My friend Lizzy asked several of us if we would write something for her blog of a personal nature and that which is very public. I was going to blow off the request, but then I read Lizzy's incredibly brave and sensitive post of her own. And I was convicted. So I wrote the following for her blog.

My Last Best Year: Deeply Personal Very Public Information

I arrived at a very successful church in 2006 to be the #2 guy (or maybe #3) in the shadow of a dynamite preacher/senior pastor. Within a year he was removed and the church was spiraling into a church split. And I was spiraling into depression.
       For the first three months after the pastor left, another pastor and I preached most Sundays. It was like speaking at a funeral every week, except people in the congregation came back periodically to see if the person was really dead. Every Sunday felt like a sucker punch to the kidneys for me. Each successive Sunday became more and more painful as people left.
       I vacillated between a few perspectives on this church mess. Perhaps reality is somewhere in the midst of these thoughts:
* Thought #1 : Everyone wants a "rock star" for a pastor and the star will eventually crash, either due to self-inflicted wound or other circumstances;
* Thought #2: God orchestrated the whole thing to show the folly of human empire-building;
* Thought #3: The emotional pain caused by this church split was and is staggering to me!
       In the midst of all of this I struggled deeply: WHERE IS GOD'S GRACE IN THIS MESS?
Trite answers from well-meaning people did not help.
Spiritualizing the mess did not help.
Blame shifting certainly did not help.
       The question haunted me. I got depressed, probably clinically so. For quite some time. I lost faith in the institution of the Church. At points I thought I might lose my faith, and almost did.
       But as the old hymn says, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back." It is in that following (dare I say obedience) that I began to rediscover grace - in the form of spiritual brothers and sisters who sat with me in the mess, who did not have simple answers to hard questions, and who challenged me to forgive (myself, others, God).
       I hope that my wounds are turning to scars. Scars remind us of past hurts but they are now healed wounds. That is my hope.

15 February 2013

"Always in the Process of Staying Together..."

The difference between good leaders and great leaders is found in one word: PERSPECTIVE.
       I learned this lesson in the mid-1990s when I was first part of Crossroads Church of Amsterdam. It was a very rough time in the life of the church. The senior pastor had resigned, the church was in a weird interim place without much direction, people were hurt and stunned.
       I was quite sure that after only 8 years of existence Crossroads Church was imploding and would be no more. One day a former elder who had moved abroad was visiting the church. I said to him (these are my exact words), "That's it. Crossroads is falling apart. It's over."
       He responded, "You have it all wrong Brian. Crossroads is not falling apart, it's in the process of staying together!"
       At first I thought he had lost his marbles, that the elevator was one floor short of the top! But then I realized that I did not have good perspective, I was too close to the mess to see the good and great things God continued to do at Crossroads.
       My friend was right and I was wrong. Thankfully! Crossroads was and is in the process of staying together. It is now almost 18 years since that conversation - Crossroads is still there, still touching people's lives. God is always faithful, even when we are not quite so much!

14 February 2013

A Word About My Lovely Wife

My wife Susy is a fairly private person; she is quite content being behind the scenes and quietly and gracefully going about touching people's lives.
       She is one of the most subtle people I know.
       And she does not necessarily like being the subject of my blog! But it's Valentine's Day and I want to write about Susy - she will just have to live with it this one time.

       This is my newest favorite photograph of Susy. I know, that's a little strange. This is Susy doing what she really loves to do - throwing a pot, shaping a blob into something beautiful.
       That's a great description of Susy's life (maybe even calling) - she helps shape blobs into beautiful things!
       She is a counselor/therapist who journeys with people week after week in their pain and brokenness as they become whole again. She patiently helps people take their next baby step.
       She creates amazing pottery - goblets, angels, mugs, platters, vases, candle holders, and other items - each one is a unique expression of her creativity. Her work is more and more mesmerizing to me, and to others.
       And she has helped shape this blob (me!) for 25 years of marriage this year. Yes, I know, I MARRIED UP! A lot of guys marry up - some know it and some don't. People who spend time with Susy and me in a friendship are certainly very glad Susy is in the picture, and they know I have married up! I have strengths, but CHARM is not one of them.
       Susy is, in a word, charming.
       And so today on this Valentine's Day (which in general stresses me out with unrealistic romantic overtones), I am simply grateful for my wife Susy.

Abraham Heschel on ... Religion

13 February 2013

Abraham Heschel on ... the Self

"The focus of prayer is not the self ... It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns, the absence of self-centered thoughts, which constitute the art of prayer ... Thus, in beseeching Him for bread, there is one instant, at least, in which our mind is directed neither to our hunger nor to food, but to His mercy. This instant is prayer.
       "We start with a personal concern and live to feel the utmost."

12 February 2013

It is Finished!

I just sent the second edition of the Passover Seder Haggadah to the printer. It is a totally new lay out and design, with some added pages.
       If you are interested in a copy I will have them available and for sale beginning February 25th. Passover this year is Monday, March 25th. Plan ahead for a great Seder!

Abraham Heschel on ...Lifting the Veil

Lifting the Veil
"God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. In every man's life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal. Each of us has at least once in his life experienced the momentous reality of God. Each of us has once caught a glimpse of the beauty, peace, and power that flow through the souls of those who are devoted to Him."

11 February 2013

Abraham Heschel on ... Awe

"Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme.
       "Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, ... to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe."

10 February 2013

Rabbi Abraham Heschel Quotes

I will post a series of statements made by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. His perspectives on religion, peace, sabbath, land, God, grace and a host of other themes are nothing less than brilliant and life-giving.

       Rabbi Heschel died in 1972. Ten days before his death he gave an interview with NBC TV. Heschel was asked if he had a special comment for young people. "Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power ...Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art."

09 February 2013

I am CHRISTIAN ... there, I said it.

It is not fashionable in some circles to label yourself a "Christian," due to the presumed baggage that comes along with the word in today's society.
       I am a Christian, and I would prefer to live with the misconceptions (real and imagined) rather than run away from the word. Why? For good reason:
* "Christian" is a biblical word. In Acts 11 we are told that the believers were first called Christians in Antioch. There is no commentary or indication that this was a bad thing; it is simply stated as a fact.
* "Christian" comes from the Greek "en christus," which means to be "in Christ." It is a favorite expression of the Apostle Paul - he uses it more than 80 times in his letters. "In Christ" is not just an occasional phrase, it is central to the Gospel in the New Testament. If the word Christian is derived from being "in Christ," why would we stay away from the word?
       But language is a tricky and messy thing. A word which was meant so positively can become corrupted. Words such as Christian, and Muslim, and Jew have ALL been corrupted in a variety of ways by a wide swath of people. I don't hear anyone telling Muslims to stop calling themselves "Muslim!" Certainly there are examples of the word Muslim having negative connotations. But, please, let's not pick a fight with a Jew to stop saying he or she is a Jew! Same for a Muslim. Same for a Christian.
       I want to advocate taking back the word "Christian," in the way that it is used of the main character in Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress. Young Christian is full of burdens and is wandering in many ways. He attempts to obey and live by the letter of the law, but the burden is too great.
       It is only when Christian comes to the end of himself and finds God's grace that he is set free - free from sin and brokenness and from the burdens he has carried. I want to be associated with the word "Christian" if that is what it looks like.

07 February 2013

I Really DON'T Want to Comment on This!

The cover of Christianity Today caught my eye in December. There was a series of articles about "Worshipping Jesus in the Mosque." This is a tremendously thorny issue in some circles of Christianity, and I have struggled whether or not to have a voice in this debate.
       I have decided to make a few preliminary points now, and then to possibly go into more depth in a future post.
       First and foremost, we have to decide if God loves Muslims or not! A small number of Christians might argue that Muslims are "damned" for all eternity. Most of this narrow thinking is due to fear more than anything else. I believe that God loves Muslims. I don't think He loves Islam though.
       Second, some very well-meaning folks want to discard the word "Christian" because there is too much baggage associated with it. But that is just silly. I don't hear anyone advocating to drop the word "Muslim," even though it also is associated with bad things. I believe we need to embrace being "Christian," which after all simply means "in Christ."
       Third, I am concerned at the very public nature of these articles, in a magazine that is circulated around the world. There certainly are secret believers in Christ who have been Muslims. I have meant a few of them. The last thing they need is publicity. We should pray for them, not write about them so much.
       Perhaps in the days ahead I will dive into the content of these articles and give my perspective. For now I think I will leave it with these preliminary comments.

01 February 2013

The Haunting, Hopeful Words of Fantine

Anne Hathaway re-captured the heart and soul of the character of Fantine in the most recent musical version of Les Miserables.
       But it is the essence of the character herself that has awakened me on a number of nights wondering, how many of us live lives of similar tragedy and hopelessness?
       I have listened to the song over again and am haunted by the true-life drama that it portrays for so many people.
       Fantine reminds us that the world was created fundamentally GOOD -
"There was a time when men were kind,
when their voices were soft
And their words inviting."
"...the word was a song and the song was excited."
      And then it went all WRONG, and lives became broken and undone just as Fantine recounts in the closing lines of the song:
"But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living."
      Perhaps Fantine and her song are so haunting because she tasted GRACE but could not fully receive it. Perhaps on some level we all have a bit of Fantine in us. I know I do.
      A friend and colleague quotes John 10:10 frequently: "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."
      But elsewhere Jesus also says, "whoever wants to save his life will lose it,but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:25) Perhaps the character Fantine lives and dies in the midst of these giant words of Jesus. I hope I do.