Monday, February 23, 2009

Closer to Being Human

I just read a review in the NY Times on an off-broadway play entitled "This Beautiful City," which traces the transformation of the city of Colorado Springs into a "miniature capital of (Evangelical) Christianity." As expected, one of the storylines is, surprise, surprise, Ted Haggard and his fall from grace (covered elsewhere on this great blog) . What caught my eye in the review were the lines spoken by the character (holding his hat in the picture on the left) who plays Marcus Haggard, one of Ted's sons.
“Sure, tragedy happened there,” he reflects. “Flip side is, in my view, my dad’s understanding God for the first time. Because, you know, we believe God is unconditional love. He is the only one who can love us completely for who we are, no matter what we’ve done, and heal us. So I think my dad’s being healed. I think he’s closer to being human now than ever before.”
I would never wish what happened to Haggard on anyone. Having said that, if that is what it takes for us to become "closer to being human," it can only be a good thing. As Luther points out, "A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it is." May we all be similarly healed!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Defeated Pastors

Mark Galli, a Christianity Today editor points out that many of the pastors he has observed at this year's National Pastors Convention in the US seem to harbour "a simmering anger about the church" (read it all in his blog posting, "Pastors as Lovers")

Having been a pastor himself, he understands that the primary cause of this slow burn are the people that make up the flock. It is not a problem unique to Western Christianity, but is just as real here in Singapore. I'm quite sure many pastors have thought, "I love the church, but its the people in the church that I can't stand."

I am sure that the reasons for this can be complex, but I can't help but think how it boils down to how most pastors view their people. They mistakenly believe that change is the natural outcome of good preaching, teaching and leading. The cause and effect thinking that if we just give them good teaching, they will be transformed. Yet what happens is that we run up against the reality of the bound will, and get frustrated when our best efforts seem to fall on deaf ears.

The irony is that Pastors conferences heap on the misery when they continue to exhort these weary pastors to just do more of the same. Galli says, "I just wish that at NPC, more of the presenters would not have fed the anger with calls for revolutionizing this and transforming that, which only puts more guilt and even more unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of men and women in pastoral leadership..."

I've been there, done that, but refused to buy the t-shirt because who wants to be reminded of his inadequacies and failings? Ironically, Galli's prescription to "love the church" may not be any more soothing to tired souls. How can a bruised, beaten up shepherd, rise up and love his flock. I believe that it is only when he receives the love of the Shepherd, that he can rise up and love others. After all it is only love that can beget love. Christ said to "love as I have loved you." And to be fair to Galli, he sort of instinctually understands this. He points out towards the end of the of his blog post that the healing and renewal he had received in past conferences came because of the opportunities he found to commiserate with fellow sufferers, and the fact that he found sympathetic listeners amongst the walking wounded. Love indeed births goodness.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Desperate acts

Unfortunately, the reality of how much people measure their self-worth by their net-worth comes through in this article. Much attention in this current economic crisis has been focused on the people who are on the lower strata of the socio-economic pile, but the reality of depravity and depression affects all, even those who seemingly have it made. Pain is truly universal.

IN THE abyss of financial ruin, faced with sure disgrace and possibly prison, some of the newly scandalised rich have taken desperate measures in these despairing times.
The black hole of hopelessness can be overwhelming. A man who lost US$1.4 billion (S$2.11 billion) to Bernie Madoff sits down in his Manhattan office and carefully writes a series of suicide letters to family and friends, then swallows a fatal dose of pills and conscientiously places a wastebasket under his bleeding arm, after slicing it with a box cutter.
Others are mind-boggling in their brazenness. A financier accused of stealing from his investors boards his private plane alone, sends a fake distress call over Alabama saying his windshield has shattered and he is bleeding profusely, then parachutes from the still-moving Piper Malibu, which is later found in a Florida swamp with no signs of blood or an imploded windshield.
In the past year, there have been more than 10 such incidents, from points across the country and beyond, executed by men whose finances disintegrated, sometimes into greed and possible thievery - with the same dizzying speed of the roller-coaster global market.
In January alone, three cases surfaced. German billionaire investor Adolf Merckle, who lost a fortune in shorted Volkswagen stock, threw himself under a commuter train.
Patrick Rocca, an Irish property investor who lost millions when the real estate market bottomed out, waited until his wife took their children to school before he shot himself in the head. Outside Chicago, real estate mogul Steven L. Good was found dead in his Jaguar, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Weeds and Wheat

Having grown up as a pastor's kid, and now entering my 11th year of ordained ministry, I am seldom surprised anymore by the things that go on in churches. Martin Luther, the great reformer definitely understood that the Church is an imperfect place, and desperately in need of a Saviour. In a sermon reflecting on the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matt. 13:25), he said:
The meaning of the parable is that no Christians, especially no preachers, should grow disheartened or despondent because they cannot bring it about that there are only saints in their churches. For the devil does not stand aloof but throws his seeds in, and this is first noticed when they burst forth and shoot up. Thus it happened with the apostles Paul and John and others. Where they hoped to have devout Christians and faithful labourers in the gospel, they got the most wicked rogues and the bitterest foes. And this it happens with us. Those we think godly and righteous do us the greatest harm and cause us the greatest difficulties, because we sleep and fear no evil.

This is the only comfort, that Christ himself warns us that it will happen in such a way. For this reason John comforts himself in the face of such difficulties in his epistle, saying, "They went out from us, but they did not belong to us" (1 John 2:19). For it is the way of the world that what should be best turns out worst. Angels become devils. One of the apostles betrayed Christ. Christians become heretics. Out of the people of God came wicked persons who nailed Christ to the cross.

So it happens still. Therefore we must not be alarmed and must not faint in our ministry when we see weeds shooting up among the wheat. Rather we must confidently go on and admonish our people, that no one be led astray.

--Sermons from the year 1544 WA 52:132f.