Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Story of Jonah

Clearly, the story of Augustine did not lend itself to comments and interaction. So, I want to change subjects now to something a little more practical for me -- something that I'm going to teach about for the next few weeks: the Story of Jonah.

When I was a kid the story was about two things:

1. Proving to people that a full-grown man actually could be swallowed by a fish and live to tell about it. If a person didn't believe that this story actually happened, they might not believe that anything in the Bible actually happened. And it had to be a fish -- not a whale. It seemed very important that God got his animal classification right.

2. The moral of the story was: If you run from God, he'll get you.

Anyone else have that experience?

Anyone want to chime in on what the story is really about?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ambrose & Augustine

When Augustine went to Milan to become Professor of Rhetoric, a whole new world opened up for him. Milan was experiencing something of a renaissance in philosophy, and Augustine dove in. First, he met a man named Ambrose -- the Bishop of Milan -- who impressed Augustine with his wisdom and insight. Ambrose himself had been influenced greatly by the Platonist philosophers, whom he referred to as the "aristocrats of thought".

For many early Christians, Platonism and Christianity seemed to have much in common. Both were other-worldly. Jesus had said, "My kingdom is not of this world." This sounded similar to what Plato had said about the "world of Forms". Both Greek philosophy and Christianity believed in the immortality of the soul.

At first, Augustine was drawn to the Milanese "neo-Platonists", who followed the teachings of Plotinus (205-270). Plotinus was born in Egypt, but he taught in Rome. He adapted Plato's philosophy in several important ways, and his word was edited by his disciple Porphyry (232-305). This philosophy became known as neo-Platonism.

Plotinus believed that creation emanated from the One (God) who was Good. There is, therefore, no radical distinction between God and his creation. Everything that exists must be good, or contain good, otherwise it could not exist at all. Plotinus' teaching was in sharp contrast to the Manichees' and helped Augustine rethink his position on some fundamental beliefs. Plotinus also gave Augustine the vocabulary to describe mystical experiences. Neo-Platonic thought is woven throughout Augustine's writings.

The Platonists always felt like they could offer a vision of God (or the Good) which could be attained by the unaided, rational "ascent" of the mind to the world of Ideas or Forms. They found the Christian notions of God becoming a man in Jesus, the crucifixion and the resurrection, unthinkable. The idea expressed in The Gospel of John that the "Word became flesh" was impossible for them to believe. Ultimate reality and ultimate truth could not be sullied by contact with the natural world of the material.

Through Ambrose, Augustine turned from the writings of Plato to the writings of Paul in the New Testament. There he found a man he could relate to -- weakness, struggling with temptation, passion to do right. Paul wrote, "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."

That really resonated with Augustine. He came to realize that reason alone isn't enough. What was missing was grace. He needed help from God in order to be a whole person and find authentic freedom.

At the age of 32, Augustine turned to Jesus as the ultimate source of wisdom and salvation. He turned to the Bible as the ultimate source of authority and revelation. Here's the moment of crisis, in his own words:

"I was asking myself these questions, weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain 'Take it and read, take it and read.' At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scriptures and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.... So I turned back to the place where Alypius was sitting, for when I stood up to move away I had to put down the book containing Paul's Epistles. I seized it and opened it, and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes fell: 'Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature's appetites.' I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness and doubt was dispelled."

Monday, November 28, 2005

Confusion & Conversion

Augustine was born in Tagaste, North Africa -- which was part of the Roman Empire. His mother (Monica) was a Christian; his father was not. His part of the world was wealthy and cosmopolitan. Great works of literature were available. People were highly educated.

When he was 16, Augustine studied law at Carthage, but in 375 (when he was 21), he began studying philosophy. He had read Cicero's HORTENSIUS, and that set him on a new path. He became a member of the Manichean cult and was Professor of Rhetoric at Rome in 383.

He was only there a short time, however, moving to Milan and meeting a man named Ambrose -- a Christian bishop. Ambrose was the first Christian Augustine ever met who was smarter than he. This fascinated Augustine, but he maintained the notion that Christianity was intellectually weak -- even though he was hard-pressed to say why. He began to be drawn towards neo-Platonism but eventually became a Christian in 386.

At first, Augustine just wanted to live a solitary, monastic life. But in 391 he was foricibly ordained Bishop of Hippo (now a city in Algeria). He remained bishop there for 34 years, writing a ton, battling heresy and living in community with other Christians.

We know more about Augustine than any other ancient writer, because he wrote the most famous and influential of all ancient autobiographies: CONFESSIONS. Begun in 391, this book gives a detailed portrait of his early life and education. He paints himself as a worldly, passionate young man, driven by his quest for truth. He battled constantly with his own emotions and weaknesses.

The writing style is amazingly modern, concise and compelling. His relentless search drove him to adopt a variety of intellectual positions at different times. Among his greatest influences were:

Cicero (106-43 BC). When he was 19, Augustine read this from Cicero: "The mere search for higher happiness, not merely its actual attainment, is a prize beyond all human wealth or honor or physical pleasure." This set Augustine on the long search for truth.

Manicheism, a religion or cult which combined Christian and Zoroastrain elements. Augustine followed it for 10 years. From Persia, this religion had two ultimate principles -- Light and Darkness -- making it a dualistic religion. Basically, the human soul originates from the Light; matter and the physical universe are evil and originate from Darkness. This is how they explained the origin of evil, but it ultimately denies human responsibility for evil actions. Augustine was especially concerned with the problem of evil. Manichean negativity towards matter and the body left its mark on his theology for years to come. The Manichees followed strict moral rules and frowned on anything related to pleasure. Mani (216-276), the founder of Manicheism, rejected the Old Testament and acknowledged the truth was revealed in other religions.

Astrology. For some time Augustine was fascinated by astrology. Eventually, he became disillusioned with it.

Scepticism. For a short time, Augustine became a sceptic, believing that certain knowledge was impossible -- anticipating Immanuel Kant by several centuries.

Friday, November 25, 2005

I'm Trying

Some of you know how I struggle setting boundaries sometimes -- especially with work. I have so much to do that I often work -- without taking days off -- for weeks at a time.

Yesterday, I tried. But ideas are kind of hard to come by these days, so when they bubble up to the surface, it's good to get them out. I had a bunch of ideas about the concept of hope as it relates to parenting. So, I threw them at my wife as we were driving to my parents' house. Funny thing is, all the ideas came about five minutes after I told her that I just wanted to take the day off and not think about the parenting book.

And then there's today. I've tried two or three times to write something. And it's been like trying to get a splinter out. I put about 1,000 words on paper, read them over and deleted them. Then I tried to read, but after my third pass on the same page, I gave that up, too.

I told you that I was going to write something about Augustine's life today, but that ain't gonna happen. We're having Jeff and Elizabeth Sandstrom over for dinner tonight. I'm going to make a marinara sauce. Hopefully, something will float to the surface while I'm staring into the gravy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Philosophy & Religion

As we continue to explore a little about St. Augustine's life and influence, it's important that we set him in his historical context. Because some of his words (especially CONFESSIONS) have been translated and updated and sound like something so contemporary now, we sometimes forget just how long ago he lived and wrote (A.D. 354-430). Here I'll attempt to give you a little background on when he stepped into prominance. Friday I'll give you a little more biographical information about him.

Western culture has been shaped largely by two dominant forces: Greek philosophy and Christian religion. Greek philosophy has mostly emphasized reason; Christian religion has mostly emphasized faith.

The first few centuries of the Christian era saw an intentional effort by early Christian thinkers (aka Church Fathers) to bring these two forces together. They did this for several reasons.

Greek philosophy was simply imbedded in the thought-processes of the times. If you were an educated person, it was assumed that you thought along those lines -- kind of like the Darwinian theory of evolution is today. People just took it for granted that the Greeks had provided an adequate explanation of things. Once the Christian Church stopped running for its life, they were able to take a deep breath and start hammering out their beliefs into some kind of system. In order to do that, they borrowed terminology from the Greek rationalists. You could even say that they used Greek rationalism as the bulletin board on which they tacked their ideas.

After the Edict of Milan, the Christian Church was finally taken seriously as a religion. Now, they wanted to be taken seriously as a philosophy. By using the accepted language of the time, these early Christians hoped to gain enough credibility to spread their Christian faith -- which had always been associated with more uneducated peoples -- among the educated people of the world.

The Church Fathers knew that if they were ever going to be accepted among educated people they would have to answer some hard questions -- questions that aren't answered by the Bible. For instance, the Bible tells us THAT Jesus is both God and man; it doesn't tell us HOW that is possible. The Bible tells us THAT God created the earth; it does not tell us if he used pre-existing materials or not. In order to speculate on these and other difficult questions, the Church Fathers turned to Greek philosophy.

The greatest thinker among these early Christians was Augustine. He lived in Hippo -- a small town in North Africa -- and he wrote more that has survived to this day than any other ancient writer. Even though he wrote in Latin, his thoughts and words were very Greek.

It's hard to overstate how important Augustine was for the shaping of early Christianity. He was perhaps the greatest theologian since the Apostle Paul, and his ideas were the single greatest influence among the Western, Latin-speaking, church. Augustine's writings dominated the Middle Ages. Both the Protestant Reformation and the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation (Council of Trent) rooted their arguments in his teaching.

As a philosopher, Augustine anticipated Descartes' cogito ergo sum and Freud's theory of the subconscious. His influence can also be seen in the writings of Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Pascal and Kierkegaard.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Faith & Reason

Since I used Augustine's theory of Just War in a previous post, I've had several people ask me more about him. So, I thought it might be a good thing to spend some time exploring who he was and why his thoughts continue to have such a lasting impact on Christians centuries later.


Augustine was primarily concerned with figuring out how faith and reason go together. To illustrate this, imagine you take the same bus every day to work or school. As you run to the bus stop in the morning, do you ever stop to think that the bus you're about to board might not take you where you want to go?

Probably not.


It's probably because that bus takes you where you want to go every day. If it takes you to the same place every day, you have a good reason to believe it will take you there today, right? You've read the bus schedule. You know the bus numbers. You see the bus number, and the schedule tells you that this bus number goes to your destination. You've got reasons.

Still, you can't prove that when you're getting on the bus, can you? It takes some amount of faith that this particular bus will take you to that particular place on this particular day.

Faith is believing that something is true -- even though you can't be absolutely certain that it is true. Every religion involves a measure of faith since religious truth is not the kind of truth that can be "proven" like a math equation can be "proven". Religious truth is not like scientific truth -- it cannot be experimented with in a laboratory.

However, faith is usually based on some evidence. Most of us have been convinced by some kind of "proof" before we really put the full weight of our hopes and desires in a religious system.

A lot of people prefer "reason" to "faith" because reason seems certain and faith seems vague. Everyone, though, has to act in faith every day:

When you step onto a bus, it's an act of faith.

When you tell a friend a secret, you have faith that they'll keep it.

When you step on your brakes, you have faith that your car will stop.

You may have plenty of good reasons to back up your faith, but you still have to have faith. In your daily life, faith and reason go together. But which comes first? Is there a proper sequence? That's part of what Augustine spent his life trying to figure out.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Rules of Engagement For Us

We've talked about the different perspectives different people have on the subject of war. We've even talked a little about how we each have arrived at our positions, and I've encouraged you to think carefully about where your opinion might lie on the spectrum between "Realists", "Just War Advocates" and "Pacifists". For the record, I am in the Just War camp, but I am closer to "Pacifism" than I am to the "Realists".

I cannot personally square the idea of pre-emptive strikes for a number of reasons. Primarly, it assumes the worst in someone else, and the Bible tells me that love, while remaining far from naive, assumes the best in others. I want to do that until I'm given a reason not to.

None of that is the thing I want to talk about in this post, however. What I want to do here is give a couple of suggestions for how we can all co-exist and hold onto our own convictions without disrespecting others. I will offer two thoughts today:

1. When you reach your conviction, please stay open and capable of being moved in either direction as the Holy Spirit and further study leads you. One of the worst things that can happen is for a person of faith to believe they have arrived at some final position and refuse to be open to God's further leading.

2. When and if you find yourself moving to a new place of conviction, please be mature enough to respect people who hold different convictions. One of the other worst things that can happen is when people of faith demean and belittle other people. Jesus said the supreme value is love. Involved in love is respect. Involved in love is the determination of your will to seek to understand, to listen first, to maintain peace. Instead of judging others, we should ask, "Would you help me understand how you arrived at your position? Was it your parents? Was it something you read in the Bible? Was it a teacher?"

There are brilliant, godly people who hold a position a little bit different from our own. We can all come to the same church and be involved in a loving community. We don't all have to vote and believe the same way. We all got different input and are trying to figure this out and be led by the Spirit of God, but we can still love and respect one another. We must.

Friday, November 18, 2005

When We Disagree

We've been discussing different views on war, and how people come to their convictions. To review, there are three different views: (1) Realists believe that pre-emptive strikes are acceptable because all is fair in love and war; (2) Just War Advocates believe the force is sometimes appropriate but should only be used as a last resort for a good cause; (3) Pacifists believe that violence always begets violence and followers of Christ should be the ones who break the cycle.

Those are gross over-generalizations, but they're helpful for review.

It is also helpful to see these as three areas on a continuum rather than three fixed positions. There are degrees within each position, and someone might find themself (like I do) in the Just War Advocacy -- but more towards the Pacifist side than the Realist side.

Yesterday, we talked about how our convictions are formed. We all received input at important times of our lives from parents, friends, communities to which we belong(ed) and teachers. As Christians, these various sources are important, but not the most important factors. We are to take all that input and filter it through what we find in the Bible and what the inner witness of God's Spirit communicates to us. Then we are to form our convictions.

Now, if you do all that and find yourself in identifying with the Just War Advocates, and there's a rally downtown to show support for our troops and the war effort, go downtown and get involved in that rally. Carry the signs, vote your conscience. Do all that. If you end up in the Pacifist camp, act on your conscience as well. If there's a peace rally, go carry those signs for peace.

Here's the rub: these two things often happen at the same time in the same place. And there are oftentimes Christians on both sides.

That shouldn't be a problem if people have thought and prayed through the issues -- and they express themselves in God-honoring ways. But this isn't often the case.

So, how are we to behave when we disagree over things like war?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Looking For the "Why" Behind the "What" on War

I do a lot of different things. I am a theologian, a teacher, a philosopher and a writer. Mostly, though, what I do is look for the "why" behind the "what". Why does a person do what they do? Why does that organization or institution do what it does? I'm one of those people who believes that people tend to reason or act FROM something rather than TOWARDS something. In other words, we're motivated to act because of some core belief.

In my previous post, I did not mean to say that there is only one "Christian" view of war. There are some who are called "Realists". They believe and advocate pre-emptive war. There are also some who are called "Pacifists". They believe that war is always wrong. Some "Soft Pacifists" believe that force may be used but only to restrain and never to kill. Others believe that violence always begets violence and must never be used.

I understand these points of view and have friends in all three camps. You could see the "Christian" views of war as a continuum. As with many things, Christians are often characterized as all being uniform. This is hardly the case -- as one can easily tell by reading the comments from the past few days here.

But I believe that there's a more fundamentally important question than what you think about war. The most fundamentally important question in this regards is, "Why do you believe what you currently believe about war?"

For most of us it would have to do with what our parents believed.

It also may have something to do with our own unique personalities. Certainly, some of us are more tenderhearted than others and can only see the pain and suffering caused by war; others are more strategically-minded and see wars as a series of cause-and-effect events.

It may also have to do with highly influential people -- professors and friends -- who have influenced our thinking and helped shape our core beliefs.

So many factors. Where we received our education. What we studies. Where we grew up (those who grew up near military bases may have a different perspective from those who grew up in more urban areas). All of this adds up to your conviction. But my theology leads me to the belief that these factors are inadequate by themselves.

Those who claim to follow Jesus must have a fundamental allegiance to a higher authority. We belong to a higher kingdom, and we must receive input from a higher source.

So, take the input you received from parents and professors, friends and your community. Take all that and compare it with the input you receive from the Holy Spirit. Now ask yourself a tough question: Were my parents right? Was my professor right? Do my political affiliations have any scriptural basis? Can I justify my perspective on war in light of what the Bible and the inner witness of God's Spirit are telling me?

Now form your conviction.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Just War Theory

My friend Gabriel asked me to detail the arguments for "Just War". So, that's what I'm going to attempt to do here.

The underlying assumption is that people are broken (fallen, depraved, whatever you want to call it -- the Doctrine of Original Sin is the one doctrine that appears to be emprically verifiable from even a cursory examination of human history). There is something unmistakably wrong with us, but we are not savages. We have it in us to live in civilized ways, establishing rules to live by and actually restricting our personal freedoms on occasion for the benefit of others.

Sometimes, however, people choose to use their personal freedom to exploit others and rule over them via domination. What are we to do when we see people being cruelly oppressed? Is it ever appropriate to take up arms in defense of helpless people?

Centuries ago, St. Augustine looked at the world and at the Bible and said, "It is sometimes appropriate to do that, but we need rules about when to take up arms and how to do it."

He established a set of rules -- rules of engagement -- that have been tweaked and modified over the years. I will do my best to summarize these rules of engagement here. I know there is some disagreement over some of these, but this is just an overview.

First, there must be a "just" cause. There must be a good reason that is clear and conscionable (to stop genocide, human rights violations, the immoral treatment of large numbers of people or an invading force, etc.).

Second, there must be a "just" authority who will announce that there is going to be a war. This must be a recognized and legitimate authority -- not a faction or a group of radicals. It must be appropriate, internal leaders who follow some form of a constitutional law. Since World War II, it has been recognized that the international community should be involved on some level.

Third, it should only be viewed as a last resort. All means of non-violent action must be exhausted (discussion, diplomacy, economic sanctions, boycotts, etc.).

Fourth, it must be entered into with "just" intentions. A war may only be waged if its outcome imagines a secure peace for everyone involved. The motives must not be any kind of imperial conquest or economic gain.

Fifth, there must be a probability of success. We must not send people to fight a battle that cannot be won. I think this is the point at which many people might speak up in regards to our current war.

Sixth, there must be proportionality of cost. In other words, the total good achieved by a war must outweigh the evil and suffering that the war (or absence of war) would cause. No war should produce a cure that is worse than the disease.

Seventh, there must be a clear announcement. Those declaring war must announce their intentions, AND they must announce what could be done to avoid the conflict. There should be no surprise attacks like at Pearl Harbor. Acts of terrorism are not preceded by clear announcements of either intention or what could be done to avoid them. Therefore, terrorism is not just.

Finally, the war must be waged with "just" means. According to most advocates of Just War, the use of weapons of mass destruction would be wrong because they tend to create too much collateral damage. No chemical weapons allowed. No bombing of villages. No killing civilians. No torture.

Just War advocates believe that under certain circumstances, it could be a God-honoring thing to use force in order to secure a better world -- especially in defense of marginalized people groups.

What about you? What do you think? Do you think it's ever acceptable to take up arms and kill someone in a war? Could you do it? What about if someone broke into your home and threatened your loved ones? Is it okay to use violent force then?

These are not easy questions, and they have no easy answers. Please don't insult anyone's intelligence here by pretending they are. Respond thoughtfully, please.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Take THAT Broadman & Holman

The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code is done. At least my part of it is done. At least it is for now.

My wife has been the most amazing person through these last few weeks. When it became clear that B&H was unwilling to extend our deadline more than a few days, we had to devote our lives to getting this thing done. We wrote -- get this -- 32,000 words in the last 15 days. That would not have happend if not for her (and Angie Fann).

Don't ask me how. Don't ask me if it's good. Don't even ask me what we said. I'm cross-eyed with fatigue.

But it's done.

Now, I go to bed. Tomorrow I wait to hear back from them if they think it's good or not.

BTW, check the time of this post to see how close it was! Take THAT Broadman & Holman.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Conflicted Applause

Today I flew home from Denver and had a strange experience in the Atlanta Airport. A group of military personel were flying out -- maybe 40 of them. As they walked through the airport in a group, people started spontaneously applauding. I saw young men slowly turn red and break out grinning in spite of themselves. I saw young women staring intently straight ahead lest they turn to look and catch someone's eye. They looked sheepish and humble. There was no strut in them, but there was the unmistakable tinge of youthful embarassment.

I normally walk through the airport quickly and with my head down, but I stopped and watched and clapped my hands along with everyone else.

Well, almost everyone else.

There was a family who did not applaud. They had dark skin. They looked Middle Eastern. The children started to applaud, but the adults quickly stopped them. The adults didn't look angry or frightened; they looked sad.

I stood there for a moment and thought about what was going on. And I found myself conflicted.

There was a part of me that wanted to clap and shout and go pat those young men and women on the back and say how proud we are of them, and how we're all praying for them. There was another part of me that wanted to yell, "Don't go! Stay here with your moms and dads and husbands and wives and kids!"

Of course, I respect these young people and their willingness to put their lives in harm's way to protect innocence and spread freedom and democracy around the world. I believe we are a safer nation because of our military, and I want to honor that -- especially the weekend of Veteran's Day.

But there's so much about the whole "military mindset" that I don't like. I realize I am woefully unqualified to speak on this, and I want to learn to speak more intelligently about this subject. As a starting point, I want it to be known that I have tremendous respect for the military and want to show proper respect, but I also have some major qualms about exactly what it is we're supporting.

I don't like the fact that we take young people and program them to stop thinking individually -- breaking them down and re-training them to practice group-think. At its worst -- in scandals like Tailhook or Abu Ghraib -- it takes on a distressing kind of mob-mentality that leads to grotesque violations of human rights. I sometimes wonder if boot camp itself isn't a violation of human rights.

And I don't like the fact that these young people are trained to kill. To some extent, they are taught to stop considering the value and dignity of human life and see only targets. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that's stuck in my head. It's simplistic and reductionist, but I can't stop thinking about it. It said something like: "Maybe when Jesus said we should love our enemies he meant we shouldn't kill them."

I understand the biblical arguments for the Just War theory. I've always considered myself a Just War advocate -- in a true Augustinian sense.

I also understand the biblical arguments for Pacifism. I was raised in a church that had strong roots in the pacifist movement. From earliest childhood I was taught how to explain the phrase "conscientious objector".

I understand the arguments for Pre-emtive War -- though I must admit I find very little that is biblical about them.

I don't mean to start a new thread here to unpack all of this. But I wanted to share with you my feelings this afternoon as I watched those young men and women -- so full of youth, so full of promise, so full of hopes and fears and anxiety. I don't know if they'll come home or not. I don't know if they'll kill anyone or not. I don't know if their mission will be successful or not. I'm not even sure if this whole thing is necessary or not.

I'm sure there are folks who have thought through those questions. I remain unconvinced of a lot of the answers I hear coming from various sources, so I'll continue to search out the wisdom of God on this matter.

Until I figure it out, though, that'll be me in the corner listening to the sound of my own conflicted applause.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

First Things First

The Bible is an amazing book and is filled with all kinds of great principles. But it's possible to read the Bible and come away from it less like Jesus than before you started. In fact, most of the meanest people I've ever met have known the most Bible. They even use the Bible to justify their meanness.

What's their problem? How can they read the Bible and still be like that?

Their problem is that they read the Bible (big word alert) anthropocentrically. That means they read the Bible as if humans are the center of the universe. Of course, they would never say that. But they read the Bible and immediately begin asking the wrong questions -- questions that reveal their false assumptions -- questions like, "What does this mean to me? Is there a command I should obey? Is there a promise I can claim? What is this text telling me to do?"

That's anthropocentric hermeneutics.

But the Bible's not about us. We're in there, but we're not the main character. The Bible is about God. It was written primarly to reveal his character and nature. That means the first question we should ask is, "What does this text reveal about the character and nature of God?"

That's theocentric hermeneutics.

So, let's go back to the story of Naaman and read it properly, asking the proper questions in their proper order. If we think of first things first, does that change anyone's answer regarding what the story is really about?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A lot of you already know the story of Naaman (it's found in 2 Kings 5). He was the commander of the Aramean armies, but he had leprosy. At some point in time, he and his wife had stolen a little girl from Israel, and she grew up in their household.

When he could no longer hide his leprosy, the little girl went to his wife and told her that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal Naaman.

This is a strange idea to say the least. How odd would it be for Naaman to go to Israel and say, "Hi, remember me? I'm the leader of the armies that come over here every spring and steal anything that's not nailed down. I was wondering if I could ask you a favor. Could you heal me? It sure would be great if you could. Then I'll go back hom and we'll pretend this never happened."

Anyway, to make a long story short, he comes to Elisha, and Elisha sends his servant out to say, "If you want to be healed, go dip yourself in the Jordan River seven times."

Naaman thinks this is a stupid idea and gets angry. He almost goes home, but his servants talk him into trying it by basically saying, "What do you have to lose?"

He goes to the Jordan River, dips into it seven times and gets healed.

You know the story. Can anyone help me figure out what it's really about? I have some ideas, but I want your input.

Friday, November 04, 2005


I work fulltime for The reThink Group. We help churches rethink why they do what they do the way they do it.

Today I'm in Texas at the Farmers Branch Church of Christ, and we're meeting with nearly 30 churches. Unlike most of my trips, I'm part of a team today. Reggie Joiner, Lannny Donoho, Jeff Sandstrom, Emily Hill -- a whole bunch of us have come to see lightbulbs come on for these church leaders.

It's an amazing thing.

Oh, and in the room are people I know -- people who have asked me to consider leaving what I do to join them in what they're doing. I have made some hard choices this year. One of the hardest was the decision to stay where I am and continue doing what I'm doing. As I sit here in the back of the room listening to Reggie tell the story of baby Jessica stuck in the well -- I'm convinced: I made the right choice.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bigger Picture

I am such a proponent of God's creation of community that I love hearing how your local church feels like a family. That really is good to know.

But is that all you can think of? When I asked what's so great about the Church, I was thinking more like Kerry. I was thinking about Hospitals and Universities. How many of them are named after great atheists? I was thinking of scientific discovery and legislative genius, artists and poets and composers. I was thinking of Newton and Wilberforce and Rembrandt and Handel.

Come on, folks. What's so great about the church? Yes, the fact that you get to experience community is fantastic, but what has the Church contributed to the world besides a place to belong?

Let's hear your favorite contribution from the Church to the world. Think bigger picture.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What's So Great About The Church?

Lots of people love Jesus. Not many people love the Church. And God knows I do my fair share of criticizing churches for failing to think strategically or failing to be brave enough to make necessary changes or failing to...well...just failing.

Of course, throughout the ages, there have been plenty of examples of the Church blowing it. No one is denying that.

And yet....

The Church has also been responsible for lots of good things, too. Hasn't it?

What do you think? What's so great about the Church?