Sunday, March 30, 2008

Autistic Christianity

I recently read an article in the March/April Edition of the Discipleship Journal entitled “Overcoming Spiritual Autism.” It caused me to think about the two grandnephews that I have who have autism and how their condition points to the condition that many Christians find themselves in.

These young guys are wonderful and yet a challenge. They use language functionally only in areas where they have a high interest that motivates them to communicate. They have a hard time looking at you face to face and often look at you out of the corner of their eye. Often change, crowds, noise, and a lack of clear boundaries (at least in their minds) can send them into fits of frustration trying to process all of the data swarming around them. Routines help to make their worlds more manageable.

Since learning about autism and the many forms it takes I’ve noticed a correlation between my autistic nephews and my own relationship with God the Father. It seems that my Heavenly Father desires to have me look full in His wonderful face. Unfortunately, I spend most of my time glancing at Him from the corner of my eye.

In Autism, Aspergers, Steven Gutstein, autism researcher and clinical psychologist differentiate between two different forms of contact, static and fluid communication.

In fluid system most people create temporary lines of communications that flow like liquid. These lines of communication include not just words, but also inflection, non-verbal (like body language and facial expressions) as well as volume. Think of how we relate with friends when we shoot the breeze at a coffee house or while watching sports.

On the other hand, in static communication there are clear boundaries. These boundaries allow you to communicate in a comfortable way. Everyone knows the rules and no one is required to converse outside of a predictable manner. Once could say that the relationship is purely functional. This type of communication is most often seen when we get in a line to order at a fast food restaurant or get in a queue at the bank. There are limits to our involvement with the people in line or even the person at the counter. We don’t need to really communicate anything other than our specific request.

Often our relationship with our Heavenly Father can best be described as a static system: “clinging to routines, uncertainty about what God wanted or how he spoke, confusion and fits of frustration when a pattern changed and I didn’t get what I expected.” Our relationship with our Father is often out-come based where I stand in line waiting to communicate my requests and desires to the person at the counter, while desperately longing for a deeper relationship. I never delve deeper into establishing a true relationship. Our relationships can be defined as a series of choreographed routines, unable to communicate our deep longing to know and be known by another. Yet God has been calling me to break the static routine and enter into a fluid relationship, to be loved and to love in a face-to-face relationship with Him.

I need to cut through the static of the world around me so that I can hear the voice of Father. When I hear His still small voice I need to learn to respond to His voice. I need to grow in knowing Him not just knowing about Him.

Needing an authentic relationship with the God of this universe, I’m

Dr. Val

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Here’s Your Sign

Do you remember “playing post” office as a kid?

This is the game in which involved a group of kids who start off whispering a story to the person next to you and so on around the circle. At the end of the circle the last person would tell the group what they heard and the first person would tell everyone what was actually said. It’s always a stitch to see how the message morphed.

Unfortunately “post office” happens in real life much to often.

Usually it happens in “well-meaning” gossip. What happens is someone questions something that they heard, saw, or read and instead of going to the source and clarifying the situation they share it with another person and that person shares it with the next person and so on and so on. Ultimately we have a mountain that was simply a molehill and potentially a life or reputation is ruined.

Number of years ago a pastor friend of mine was doing research on the Internet searching for some resources on Christian body life. He was studying in his office and at his computer he typed in the phrase “the tie that binds” and hit search. What he found was a list of websites that were S&M sites. He was mortified and absolutely scared that someone would find out and accuse him of surfing the Internet for porn.

He told me the story in confidence some ten years ago and has since said it was OK to pass this story along.

The fear has long since died down but the humor has not passed.

We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 (NIV)

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends. Proverbs 16:28 (NLT)

Suspicion and lack of trust runs rampant in many churches and reputations can be ruined and ministries affected by the loose lips of well meaning people. We are all prone to doing foolish things that can take on a life of their own.

As Bill Ingval would say “Here’s Your Sign!”

Dr. Val

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eight Days A Week

The Beatles had it right whet they sang this song. The ancient church father explored the eighth day of creation during the first 3 centuries of the church. You see God created for six days and rested on the seventh. But two thousand years ago He recreated a new creation and the New Adam when Jesus Christ rose on the first Easter Sunday the eighth day of the week.

Yeah I know there are only seven days in a week. But the creation of the cosmos and the new creation are not antagonistic to each other; we do not have to leave the physical world in order to participate in the new creation in Christ. The first day of the week and the eighth day, or second first functions much like an eight tone harmonic scale. The first note and the eighth note are the same note just an octave apart. They resonate in harmony just like the first and eighth days resonate with each other. The first is the foundation of the second first. Christ’s resurrection resonates with the truth of the first day of creation. This second creation is spiritual but will one day recreate this physical world into the creation that God originally intended it to be.

Time is a concept and a dimension that God created. As creator he observes outside of time and yet can enter time at His discretion. So when the time was just right God sent His Son to enter the world to redeem the world by recreating all things and making a way back to the Father.

In the symbolism of numbers (Numerology) the number “7” signified completion or Creation but 8, extends beyond 7, and is the number of redemption. This concept of redemption is referred to in the letter that Peter wrote to believers who were scattered throughout the Middle East due to the persecution that they experienced in Jerusalem. He says: “who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,” 1 Peter 3:20 (NIV) and we see the ark as a picture of redemption just as the cross became the symbol of our redemption.

Father is the God of the second chance. With Christ’s resurrection we have the beginning of the New Creation, the New Covenant, and the New Adam. We have a new way back to Father, a way that allows us to relate to Him in a new way with a new courage to come into His presence.

We worship as a body of believers because Christ rose on the first day of the week. This established for us the importance of the first day of he week

The church’s first day and eighth day recalls not only the formation of the universe but also the inauguration of the reign of God in Christ in the resurrection. So for Christ followers one and eight are synonymous with the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection!

Thank God for eight days a week!

Have blessed Easter for He is risen indeed!

Dr. Val

Friday, March 21, 2008

God and the Gallows

I owe today’s posting to David Brickner from Jews For Jesus and his recent email about Purim (a Jewish holiday that celebrates the God’s providential rescue of the Jewish people because of Esther’s intercession with her husband the king of Persia) You can read all about the events that led to the establishment of the holiday and the actual holiday itself in the Book of Esther found in the ancient Jewish writings (What we now refer to as the Old Testament of the Bible).

This Friday we have the convergence of two important holidays Purim and Good Friday. Both of these events revolved around a gallows a place of death and punishment. There are a number of interesting parallels between each of these events.

Both events took place in the Middle East
Both events were preceded by a triumphal entry into a city.
Both events centered around a plot to kill an innocent man
Both events malignant leaders who co-opted weak rulers
Both gallows were constructed out of wood
Both gallows were designed to kill those were hung on them

There are some dissimilarities, too

Executing Mordechai was part of Hman’s plan to destroy God’s people
Executing Jesus was part of the devil’s plan to destroy God’s Son

Haman’s plot was thwarted by Queen Esther’s denouncement of his plan and
the subsequent hanging of not only Haman but also his sons on the gallows he had
built for Mordechai

The devil’s plot was thwarted not just by the death
of Jesus but also His subsequent resurrection

On Purim, God worked behind the scenes
On Good Friday, God brought salvation
to the entire world to all who would receive it and on Easter Sunday Christ
became the firstborn of the dead, the New Adam and the author of the New
Covenant in His blood.

I’m sure that there are more similarities and contrasts that could be drawn between these two events. What we can say for sure is that both days attest to the fact that God remains constant and He never changes. Whether His activities are hidden or open for all to see, God is a God who saves and can be trusted to save His children.

In the end God always wins and His justice and righteousness will have supremacy in this world when His Kingdom is fully established here on earth.

As we look to the past and how God has overcome evil with good, we can trust Him for the present and for the future, too.

Have a great Easter season

He is risen…

…He is risen indeed!

Dr. Val

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Empire Building

The “Preacher" tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9b) And yet we continue to think that what we have created is unique to our time, our culture, and us. This latest creation is the mega church and yet in the 1960’s-70’sI grew up in a mega church of 3000 in attendance before the term was even thought up. In fact the first church had between 8000 and 20,000 members within the first month of its existence. Over the last couple of years the concept of mega churches has taken another step in its development. But the satellite and main campus is not a new concept.

In church history the main campuses were know as either metropolitans or dioceses and the satellites were known as parishes. About a year ago I was in a meeting with a church that was considering merging with a mega church to become one of their satellites. A question from the floor asked the question: “What is the plan for the mega church? How big is big enough? And are you considering starting a new denomination?” The senior pastor laughed off the question and went on to the next question. This church seems to struggle being able to articulate a vision beyond adding to their property, or their attendance numbers.

I’ve had the opportunity of seeing this question answered by other mega churches and I applaud their willingness to share their vision. One such church has espoused the dream of 40 multiplying churches and 10 campuses reaching 250,000 churches by the year 2020. In reality they are expecting 80 churches (Each of the 40 churches planting 40 daughter churches who will also plant daughter churches). Now that’s a vision!

This church is well on their way of achieving their goal. They have planted almost 20 churches in the past 10 years and 3 satellite campuses. They have seen the birth of at least one granddaughter church and are developing a church plant is New York.

No hiding their vision, no keeping all of their resources for themselves. No worry about birthing a daughter church and fearing that God will fail to supply their needs at the mother church. They live open handedly, understanding that the financial resources that they have are in reality God’s. They realize that they are stewards of His wealth and resources.

Some churches are more concerned with their survival that they are willing to thwart or slow down the advancement of the Kingdom if it threatens their continued existence.

So what are some of the positives and negatives of mega churches?

Positive: Provide
Conferences created and shared with other churches in the area, region, nation, or even international
Programs that are better due to size
Resources shared with others
Encouragement of smaller church pastors and staff
Less duplication of facilities and staff
More money for ministry

Negative: Mirroring of American culture
Size - Bigger is Better
Monetary - Resources horded
Fame (or false humility) over true servanthood
Influencing of area churches
Siphoning of Expertise from smaller congregations
Drivenness to achieve rather than conformation to Kingdom living
Show over Substance of services and ministries.

Like most things that we humans put our hand to, the results of our efforts rise and fall on our integrity. What do you find in your position? How will you use it? For who will you use it? To further your desires or God’s Kingdom?

Learning to live open handedly,

Dr. Val

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Growth vs. Death

I’ve been talking with people from a couple of churches over the last month or two. During a number of conversations I’ve been asked repeatedly various forms of the same question. Boiled down to its simplest form the question is:

“Why do some churches grow and others die?”

I’ve tried to answer this question several different times but I think each time I’ve failed. I’ve talked about a consumer mentality and the pros and cons of developing a church around this modernity model. And this seems to be more confusing then helpful.

I have been thinking about how to answer this all-important question and I’ll take another swing at this I’ll try to answer this again.

Jesus Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us. Theologians call this the vertical incarnation of Jesus Christ. After He rose from the dead he told us that we were to be his representatives here on earth until His return. We are called the body of Christ, with Christ as the head. As the body of Christ here on earth until His return we are the horizontal incarnation of Christ. It has been said that we are the only Christ that some people will ever see on this world.

As such the reason that some churches grow is because they embody Christ here in this world. While the churches that are dying have forgotten how to be the body. Oh they are still going through the motions but their focus is inward and not outward.

What is the difference?

Inwardly focused people are usually busily fighting each. Quite often these believers are fighting and dying on a mound of nonessentials. (Think worship styles, dress codes, Bible versions, carpet color… you fill in the rest of the blanks)

Outwardly focused believers are willing to die on the mount of nonnegotiables. They are willing to be Christ to those who are the disenfranchised and the people who need the touch of Christ’s love.

Learning to be the Body of Christ,

Dr. Val