Monday, December 28, 2009

Things I’ll miss about the 2000’s - Not

George Bush



The war in Iraq

cryptic messages of doom from Osama

how fast resorts were rebuilt in South East Asia after the tsunami

Liberal leaders: Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff

Candy Shop – 50 Cent


The Purpose Driven _____________________

selling the Astro

changing diapers

church drama

having ‘mennonite’ stalkers

the hoopla round H1N1, bird flu, etc

American Idol

the iconic status of the Hummer

episodes of The Office that weren’t hilarious


any time I spent listening to Country music

the love I wasted on my wife and kids

The cross at Christmas…

If you were in church these last few days you probably heard someone talk about Christmas in light of the cross – or some configuration thereof. It seems that trend is rather popular these days. I must admit that this was a powerful thematic bent that I have taken in the past with regards to Christmas. the basic idea is this: The significance of Christmas is deepened by viewing it as the starting point to the ultimate redemptive act – the cross. Preachers, songwriters, etc use the images of suffering to draw us away from the party party attitude that is so prevalent at Christmas and ask us to pause to think about the destiny of the child in the manger. To be sure this is a sobering image. The Christmas tree morphs into a rugged cross, etc., etc.

If you look at the passage in Matthew a few significant ideas pop out which I think are overlooked. The instruction from the angel in Mt 1:21 is to call the baby Jesus ‘for he will save the people from their sins.’ That is where this cross in Christmas theme tends to stop. Saving his people from their sins must refer to the cross. Mary did you know…

If you read further however you see that the complete message of the angel to Joseph is that the baby would be Immanuel – God With Us. In fact it is not out of line to read the text in verse 23 as a direct explanation of how verse 21 was to be accomplished. Salvation comes through incarnation.

Read on a little further and you get to the story of the Magi.

Great story but something struck me.

Why not have Herod kill off Jesus with all the other babies. I mean the baby Jesus would have been just as perfect as he was at 33 years of age. And coming back to life again would have been an exceptional triumph. Jesus could have paid the sin debt almost directly after coming to the earth and foregone the bulk of his earthly life. Of course there would have had to have been some wiggling with prophesy but…

It is my contention that paying the sin debt could have been accomplished a myriad of ways even with the boundaries of prophesy. What could not be altered was the fact of the incarnation. God becomes human. God becomes human – not dog, not angel, he becomes human to save his people from their sins. It is in the becoming human that the salvation occurs. Paying the sin debt is not insignificant – far from – it is an important act of payment of debt. But the really significant act is the incarnation since it the way people engage with God. God shows us how to live life like he designed and allows us to see how we can be free from sin debt but even more actually please and love the God we claim to believe in. That is powerful stuff. That is why Jesus has to live with us – to show that salvation is not just some magic trick that we can access like we tack on an app to our phone. Salvation is getting hooked into the life changing power of the principles he taught and more importantly lived out in front of us.

Maybe that is why I get a little perturbed at the cross behind Christmas messages. To me it seems like so much commoditizing: Christmas becomes little more than a cheap ticket to the already cheap grace that is doled out too often especially in evangelical parlance. Christmas is ugly, confusing, messy, gross, and disturbing – unsettling – ALL ON ITS OWN! God becomes human tell me you can boil that down to 4 easy steps or neat little outline for your next blockbuster ‘Christian’ book.

Here’s the deal  - talk about the cross at Christmas but when is the last time you heard anyone talk about Christmas at Easter?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Do you think pastors should get paid?

Do you think it is good for the church to have its spiritual leaders remunerated for their spiritual leadership? On what basis should this spiritual leadership be valued? Is there some quantitative standard that can be used? So and so much spiritual leadership = this amount of remuneration? Or perhaps by contract/commission – this many marriages saved = equal such and such a percentage of the weekly offering? Or are there qualitative standards? This there for instance more remuneration for those with higher degrees of knowledge, experience, or expertise? A really good preacher can get “x” amount of money for a sermon? Or the pastor with the best program at the end of the year gets a bonus?

How does that all actually work?

I suppose I should not voice these questions too loudly since I am one of those who has profited from avails of pastor-ing (oops that was a close one - I almost offended someone). Nonetheless, I am really not sure that having spiritual leadership remunerated still makes sense to me like it used to. Please understand this is not sour grapes for being relegated to the ranks of a (less wealthy) student or that I am bitter over not being able to practice in such a position. Instead this question nags at me whenever I have conversations about church systems with friends. I find nibbling around the corners of our conversations questions that few care to voice or are even actually conscious of. Whether it is discussing the politics of leadership or job descriptions or vision, this issue seems to make an appearance.

Here is what I think holds true in most cases. For most pastors, their position is not just a career. There is some sense of spiritual responsibility attached to accepting this type of mandate from a particular church body. In fact the individuals spiritual health is assumed and conveyed to be of exceptional if not at least exemplary quality. Let’s face it few churches would hire someone who would confess to being spiritually bankrupt or deviant. That means that in part the quality of spirituality is tied to the ability to secure a position within a church organization. Granted there are many establishments that do not exercise due diligence and are confronted with horrific results of impropriety and scandal. But on the whole spiritual excellence is more or less expected.

Attach to that the qualities of leadership that typically are associated with pastoral work – developing/maintaining programs, public speaking, doctrinal and theological expertise, relational skills. Now you have some measurable performance to rate the effectiveness of the pastor on. The spiritual stuff is really tricky to measure but this performance stuff is a lot easier. And coincidently there are many situations were performance in is directly tied to spiritual authority. But tying spirituality to performance means that if one of those components fails the other one does too. If it is determined that the pastor is not a good enough speaker and needs to ‘move on’ then inadequacy in the skills department becomes attached to the spiritual dynamic as well. This has to be horrific for pastors who find themsleves weighed and wanting for inadequacies that have left them spiritually wanting as well. In this light it a wholly frightening thing to consider allowing your spirituality to get tied into your ability to earn a living. Fortunately, none of my friends or family should in anyway worry about their spiritual suitability for the job they are doing but I am not sure I would want to enter into that contract again. Not because I doubt my spiritual suitability but because I am loathe to have my spirituality used as a de-facto evaluable criteria for my financial security.

I am going to try to get a job as a teacher. If at some point it is determined that I am not a suitable person to be a teacher – I will be very disappointed-even crushed. But my spiritual standing will not be called into question.

But if a spiritual leader has been discerned to be the right one for a particular context why is it still possible for that person to be fired, let-go, encouraged to leave, terminated – you know? Isn’t that in itself a problematic thing for anyone to consider? Does that not problematize the entire relationship between congregation and leadership? Is it perhaps the root of the stagnation that is all too often present in our communities of faith? I’m not sure but I think I am leaning that way…

There’s more to say on this so feel free but I am tired and I have full day ahead…