Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jamie Moyers: 50 is the new 30

Followers of Beyond the Pale know that I LOVE baseball.  Even though I've been focusing on Christian teaching themes the last few posts, I don't think I'm straying to far by including a baseball related topic.
Especially since baseball is the National sport of the Kingdom of Heaven and like the old Pentecostal preachers used to say, "If you don't like it down here, you won't like it up there."  ;)

Anyhow a big shout out to Jamie Moyers who yesterday pitched a 3-2 winning game for my Colorado Rockies over the San Diego Padres.

"So", you ask, " whats the big deal?  Baseball pitchers will have 10 - 20 wins in a season.  Pitchers win games every day."

The big deal is that Jamie Moyers is a major league pitcher who is a half a year away from turning 50!

That's right, Jamie Moyers is 49 years 152 days old which breaks the previous oldest winning pitchers age from a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who in 1932 was 49 years and 70 days old.

 For someone who follows baseball I think it is simply amazing that a man who is 50 years old for all intents and purposes was able to throw balls with enough punch to pitch 7 innings against guys half his age.

The last batter he faced was born 3 years after Moyer entered the Major Leagues.

Recently here in Hong Kong there has been a lot of talk about the government repealing its mandatory retirement age for public sector workers at the age of 60.

Retiring at 60?  Jamie Moyers outstanding performance shows that 60 is the new 40 and 50 is the new 30.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What if Christianity became Beautiful Again?

Brian Zahnd's starts his new book  Beauty Will Save the World by telling the story of Prince Kiev, a pagan ruler of Russia who lived a thousand years ago.  Seeking to discover a new religion that would help unify his people he sent dignitaries out to the surrounding realms.  These ambassadors reported back a number of faiths.  Some "were dour  and austere...others were abstract and theoretical."  However when they reported on the Christian faith found in Constantinople:

"Then we went to Constantinople and they led us to the place where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth for on earth there is no such vision of beauty and we do not know how to describe it; we only know that God dwells among men.  We cannot forget that beauty." 
When I look at some of the focus of the church at large in recent years I wonder, "Where has that beauty gone?"

I recently observed a little online Internet debate involving a lot of faith based Christian answers to some non-Christian's  "jabs" at Christianity.  One of the participants speaking for the "Christian" side admitted their lack of "apologetic" skills and wished they could be better at this kind of debate.

I stayed out of this particular exchange but for me, I had to disagree.

If this person had been C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharais, or even Jesus Christ himself there is no interjection, no pithy comment, no silver bullet statement that was going to be uttered that was going to change anybody's position among this group of debaters.  Everyone's minds, on both sides, were made up, unshakable, and equally dismissive of each other...

...and I realized this was not only "not beautiful" was "ugly".

When did the sharing of our faith become "ugly"?

What happened?

And where have I been guilty of adding to that ugliness?

Speaking of Jesus have you ever noticed he never really engaged in debates or "apologetics"?

I mean really...  Had he never read Josh McDowell or listened to Kirk Cameron?

In fact rather than be a "defender" Jesus tended to choose silence when asked questions by people who had other agendas.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.    Matthew 27:12-13
  When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort.  He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him.  Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.  Luke 27: 8-12
I'm pretty sure these days God is not looking for "Defenders of the Faith" as much as he's looking for disciples who will 'Love God with with all their heart, soul, and mind and then out of that devotion,  Love their Neighbor as much as themselves.'

The world is growing accustomed to an image of the church that is angry and defensive.  We read books and listen to sermons equipping the Christian believer against all attacks against our faith but in the process, we lose the beauty inherent in that faith. Then we politicize our Christianity in a vain attempt to force others to conform to our morality.... know, because forcing people to behave in a certain way against their will has ALWAYS been so successful in the past...

But what would happen if people saw that following Christ was beautiful!

Brian Zahnd says in Beauty will Save the World:
"Beautiful!  Our task is not to protest the world into a certain moral conformity, but to attract the world to the saving beauty of Christ.  We do this best, not by protest or political action, but by enacting a beautiful presence in the world.  The Western Church has had a four century experiment with viewing salvation in a scientific and mechanistic manner, presenting it as a plan, system, or formula.  It would be better if we returned to viewing salvation as a song we sing."
Let's begin asking the question when we engage as "the church"; "Is what we're doing beautiful?"

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Let's Bring Heaven to Earth"...Bono

For a while I had been wondering what has been happening with Bill Hybels from Willow Creek. Seemed in the 1990's we were all reading his books and watching his teachings. Haven't heard from him as much these days...

Well, I perused YouTube looking for whats been happening with Bill lately and found a great interview he had with U 2's Bono. They both look a little younger so I'm not sure when the interview occurred but when I see it I get excited. I see a church that is beginning to "get it"! 

A church that that God applauds because we are doing for the "least of these" as unto Jesus Christ himself

A church that is not as concerned with:

  • getting a particular political candidate elected
  • church buildings and construction projects as it is with "living stones"
  • leading social agenda crusades that do nothing to demonstrate Christ's love
  • enforcing the "law" as it is with the dispensing of Grace

 But rather a church that brings the love that Christ first showed us to the world!

 And just think, when its all over, we get to go to a really great U2 concert in heaven!

Friday, April 6, 2012

20th Anniversary!

Ah yes, the baby!!
Just a quick little post to celebrate my wife Tammy and I's 20th anniversary.  As I mentioned previously on my blog, Tam & I met nearly 22 years ago (actually Oct 8, 1990) in Hong Kong and we married about a year and a half later on April 4, 1992.

We celebrated by heading over to Macau for a night at the Venetian hotel.  Each room there is like a mini-suite and the hotel laid out a chocolate shaped heart filled with different chocolate pieces surrounded by rose petals to celebrate our little evening!

The Venetian Hotel (and Casino)
Although it is our 20 anniversary...we do have a 15 month old baby!  Our 14 year old was good for a night alone by himself, but the little one came for our romantic getaway for 2.  Yes, 3 is a crowd in such circumstances...but we love him so we made a way :) !

And our evening out for dinner was wonderful.  We had originally made reservations at Morton's Steakhouse but we made a last minute decision that with Ethan, a dinner at Morton's may be more of a challenge than we would like so we fell back on our traditional Macau favorite, Fernando's.  Fernando's is a Portuguese staple in the former Portuguese colony and we have been frequenting it for at least 20 years.  Fresh bread, chicken, veal, salad, and Portuguese fried rice washed down with Sangria (for Tammy) and red wine (for me).

We also had a drink with some new friends we had just met and had gotten married.  One of the things Tammy and I love are the interesting people we meet on this side of the ocean.

Anyhow, we had a wonderful night reaffirming our marriage and looking forward to the next 20 together!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Theology Without a Net

A few years back in grad school I took a class called The Politics of Ideas.  During the obligatory introduction you get during these types of classes the Professor warned us that we would be going down into a chasm of ideas that would challenge many of our notions and understandings.  He then promised though not to worry, that at the end of the class we would climb back out of the hole on a (metaphorical) rope and all would be well again.

It was an amazing class...

Well,I just finished Pete Rollins new book Insurrection; To Believe is Human, To Doubt Divine and I won't say so much that I have emerged from a deep hole (that would portray the wrong picture)  but I do feel as if I have returned to ground level after free climbing a sheer cliff.  This image of climbing was seconded when I saw the print version of the book (I read it on Kindle) and Rob Bell's quote on the cover reads:
In this book Pete takes you to the edge of a cliff.  And just when most writers would pull you back, he pushes you off.  But after your initial panic you realize your fall is a form of flying...and its thrilling!
Over the years my wife Tammy has sometimes been a little unnerved about the questions I ask concerning God, the church, and  Christianity.  I've told her one of the reasons I feel able to engage in those questions and conversations, essentially to scale very sheer "theological" cliffs is because of the absolute trust I have in my climbing gear (Jesus Christ).  He is my firm foundation and "belay" line... and with that I have a lot of freedom to climb and explore.

 While reading Rollins book I must admit though I was keeping my eye out for clues that he had a safety line rooted in Christ himself.

...and he does.

A couple times when I thought he must be in free fall, he instead found that piece of rock wall that was secure and then just dangled there by his finger tips looking down at me...was he smiling?

(Gotta love a church fellowship in a pub where the speaker has a pint of Guiness rather than water)

When Christians don't wish to explore their own faith , when they prefer to rely on watching a pastor climb the wall rather than engage the rock themselves, when they'd rather sit safely in a pew (or these days a folding chair) rather than endure the painful scrapes and jagged edges of a rock face, then I begin to wonder what their faith really is.

Do they have any trust in their equipment?  Or is their a fear when it really mattered their safety line in Christ would snap and they would find themselves in a free fall?

In Insurrection Rollins argues that many Christians in fact relate to God in the manner of Deus Ex Machina.  (God out of the Machine)  Essentially Deus Ex Machina is a writing convention used whenever the play or story needs to be moved along or something needs to happen to suddenly make sense of a plot.  In ancient Greek plays the "god" would be lowered in to perform some bit of magic to get the plot back on track, and then he would be lifted out again.  Its considered a cheap writing convention though it is still used often today...

Rollins argues that for many Christians their relationship with God takes the form of this convention.  God is not part of the natural flow of their life story but is lowered in on occasion to help makes sense of their lives and the world.  Rollins mentions that when ever he encounters a Christian that gets angry or defensive when their faith is challenged...when they feel a need to "defend the faith" so to speak, it's then most often that they are using God as really a "cosmic security blanket".  Its the Christian who can engage in serious questions on matters of the faith even with those who oppose who are more often those with a strong secure line wrapped around themselves and Christ.

As for me, you'll find me up on the wall and this blog will probably begin to more regularly report on my views while hanging there...I hope they'll both bless and challenge you!