Monday, January 15, 2018

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or Myopic Nostalgia?

Millions of Americans will celebrate the legacy and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, oblivious to the well-documented fact that MLK's Christian faith was the very foundation, substance, and rationale behind all of the reforms for which he advocated.  An ordained Baptist minister, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a tangible application of the teachings and principles of the Bible, and he organized multiple marches based entirely on the principles of non-violent resistance which were derived straight from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (inspired by Gandhi's example, who also derived his understanding from the Sermon on the Mount).  King's legendary "I Have a Dream Speech," indisputably ranked as one of the greatest speeches of all time (by nearly every speech and rhetoric group there is) is laden with Biblical imagery, metaphors, and concepts, and its principles and applications cannot be rightly understood nor accomplished apart from Christian faith.  King is undoubtedly an example of Christianity lived right and it is good that that we celebrate.

Sadly, he will be referred to tens of thousands of times today as a "civil rights leader" and praised for his civil rights reforms, but seldom will he be called a "pastor" or "ministry leader," even though this was his primary identity while he was alive and how he was most often introduced.  Rarely will those who laud his accomplishments acknowledge the source of his reforms was his Christian faith nor that the inspiration for his efforts was the work of Jesus in his life.  This is cultural appropriation at its most perverse: Celebrating the outcome while repudiating the means, claiming the results while distancing oneself from the motives, iconizing the messenger while categorically denying the man behind the image, and categorically reducing the sum total of a ministry leader's tangible application of Jesus' teachings to a mere accolade of "civil rights reform."

Ironically, thousands of those who detest Christianity and who most vehemently protest Christians' insistence that it is impossible to separate one's beliefs from behavior in public and the marketplace and that Christianity is only rightly expressed when it is lived out as Jesus taught will simultaneously champion King's legacy today while categorically rejecting the efforts of dozens of other well-known "activists" who have stood up to heavy-handed societal and governmental injustices and chose instead to live and act according to the teachings of the Bible, even when it's unpopular or has been made illegal to do so.  Have we forgotten that King was beaten, jailed, criticized, condemned, and ostracized for his actions?  

Indeed, many who praise King today would have vilified him in his day. Right now there are dozens (actually hundreds) of Christian leaders who at this very moment are facing lawsuits, unjust fines, repossessions of their property and shutdowns of their businesses simply for choosing to live out the teachings of their faith in practical, tangible ways where they live and work, amidst a society that would rather Christians keep their faith private.  One day their efforts, too, may be championed as "civil rights reform" and their beliefs and behaviors validated, but right now it's a living hell of fighting an unjust system which seeks to silence all dissenters rather than embody the civil discourse and mutual respect which enables a civilization to thrive.  And sadly, many of their worst critics are those who claim to share their faith but think it's preferable to keep such matters private.  I, for one, am grateful that King chose not to keep his faith to himself!

Yes, let's give the man his due today.  Martin Luther King, Jr's life and legacy deserve to be celebrated.  But please don't stop there, or you'll simply be doing him and his legacy lip service, invalidating his efforts by disassociating the reason for his reforms from the outcomes he achieved.  Instead, work to end the tyranny of persecution no matter the source (even when it's us) and no matter the recipients (even when it's somebody we don't like or can't stand).  And don't even pretend that King's work is finished or try to rest until "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."  Until the day comes when King's descendants "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," King's dream has not yet been realized.

King's speech (transcript, audio, & pics) can be viewed on American Rhetoric's "Top 100 Speeches," where it is #1:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Obsessed With the Wrong Kingdom?

Sage wisdom from Jeff Piepho, pastor of Revolution Church (Salina, KS)...

If you've ever had trouble sleeping because "that person" might get elected, but you've never had a sleepless night praying for someone to be saved...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If your blood boils when you hear candidates lie, but your blood never boiled because of your own sin...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If you've said "Trump" or "Hillary" or "Gary" or even "Jill" more than "Jesus" lately...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If you have said that "Christians have a duty to vote!"...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If you spend more time trying to convince people to vote a certain way than you do trying to share the gospel and save them from the fires of eternal hell...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If you find it more embarrassing to pray for someone, than to share your political ideology...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If you spend over an hour watching a Presidential debate, but "don't have time" to do serious Bible reading and prayer...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

If you are more fired up by/annoyed by/excited by political discussions than you are by sermons...
 might be obsessed with the wrong Kingdom.

"Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him
who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not
grow weary and lose heart."      ~ Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Written by guest blogger Jeff Piepho, pastor of Revolution Church (a contemporary Brethren in Christ congregation in Salina, KS).  A graduate of Biola University, Jeff obtained a Masters degree in Christian Apologetics.  He is politically informed and involved, but knows how to keep his priorities straight.  Jeff hosts a popular weekly radio show called Truth Revolution, which is where “faith and reason meet” as each week he and associate pastor Dave Waggoner tackle science, mathematics, archeology, and logic, integrating them into faith, Biblical studies, and religion. Truth Revolution can be heard on thirteen radio channels and podcasts, as well as broadcasts on YouTube: Truth Revolution Live!

Copyright © 2016 Jeff Piepho (used by permission).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The "Pokémon Go" Phenomenon: Friend, Not Foe

I was one of those ministers in the early 90s who was adamantly opposed to Pokémon and I strongly felt that no Christian should engage in it, and further, that parents (& churches) should protect their kids from it. I had just come out of Bible college, was in some of my first youth ministry assignments, and although Pokémon was all the rage then, I did my research and concluded that it was a doorway to alternative (Eastern) spirituality. In hindsight looking back, it's hard to believe that trading cards could lead people into demonic possession, but we had some pretty convincing information back then (albeit a bit overhyped and exaggerated), and when I saw a few episodes of the cartoon show later, my worst fears were realized because they DID portray some clearly Eastern religious themes which contradicted Christianity. However, as a student of semiotics & future studies (a Biblically-informed trendwatcher) with many geek friends these days, I've been really watching this Pokémon Go phenomenon from its earliest announcement, and to be honest, I prepared for the worst. Instead, I've found that it's not at all what I imagined (or feared). I have been playing it with my 14-year old son as a way to not only engage with him but also find out why it's so popular and determine whether there's any concern. As an active player, I HAVE YET TO FIND A SINGLE SPIRITUAL CONCERN. We're now 9th level (of some 20+), already have a few "rares" (higher level characters), and have played around with "evolving" a few characters into more powerful ones, and I simply cannot find a single thing in the entire game/app to criticize or condemn, and nothing which suggests an agenda of alternative spirituality. If Niantic (the American company which developed the app in coordination with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company) had ulterior motives in releasing it, I certainly can't find evidence of that. On the contrary, it's just fun! It IS quite addicting because you want to collect them all, and like all games and activities, it does raise time management issues. I've also read some accounts of people doing stupid things while playing the game (driving, walking off a cliff, mobs chasing a rare appearance, etc.). But the game itself isn't the problem here; it's people not using common sense, failing to balance work & leisure, and/or doing stupid things because they've allowed themselves to get caught up in something without proper boundaries. People do that in all sorts of areas of life, and much of our ministry deals with the fallout from that kind of stuff. Beyond that, however, I see lots of positives. It has forced millions of kids and young adults (& even middle-aged adults) to get out from in front of the TV, Netflix, Xbox, and computer and WALK (we have, too), and since most of the PokéStops and gyms are churches, community buildings, and civic interest features, it is quite informational. I have walked alot in this game and found all kinds of neat historic markers and information about my town's heritage, things I never would have discovered if I hadn't been trying to chase down an elusive virtual Pokémon character who was missing from my Pokédex (collection). It's positively transformative on a community, too. I used to avoid my town's downtown square at night because of the several bars which surround its perimeter, but now it's a happening place overrun by Pokémon Go players! (the last few nights, I've counted well over 50 players of all ages, including entire families and groups of teens playing together). I've met and talked with more people on the square and in local parks this last week while playing the game than I have met in the last 2 months combined! We're total strangers, but we immediately have something in common to talk about. I can understand the hesitation to embrace the unfamiliar (especially if you grew up in the 80s or early 90s and know its checkered past). But past misperceptions don't equate to present realities, so I encourage you to look beyond those. I can't help but think that God can use this for Kingdom potential and that a wise ministry leader would look for opportunities to engage! (the pic here is what our downtown courthouse square & vicinity look like within the game)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bored Naysayers

The arrival of 2015 brought with it a deluge of articles from a variety of  news outlets, all acknowledging that Back to the Future II was set in 2015 and then critiquing all of the things which didn’t come to pass as imagined.  Unfortunately, most of these articles are are misguided in their facts - about both the movie and technology - and are overly critical.  So as a die-hard Back to the Future fan who graduated that magical year (1989), allow me to counter their shortsightedness.

First, it’s not Oct. 21st (the date in the “future” when Marty McFly arrived), so these articles' criticisms are 9 months premature.  With technology innovation, that timeframe is like eons.

Second, we DO already have many of these technologies:
  • Video calling (through Skype, FaceTime, and a variety of cloud-based webconferencing systems) are fairly common now, as well as card-based financial access like Marty used in his call from Needles.
  • No, we don’t have flying cars in common usage…yet, and no, our cars don’t all have angled designs modeled after a Lamborghini on steroids.  That looked cool and “futuristic” in 1989 but it turns out it’s not that aerodynamic.  However, flying cars do exist: Check out the AeroMobile and the Terrafugia Transition.  It may be a few years before they’re practical and their usage is widespread, but B2TF wasn’t too far off.
  • No, we can’t hydrate a pizza in 30 seconds…yet, and such machines aren’t in common circulation.  But all of the technology involved already exists; we can dehydrate and rehydrate food efficiently both on planet Earth and with lightweight space food for astronauts. It just isn’t that practical or lucrative of an idea. 

There are also many more of B2TF’s technologies which currently exist or are in beta stages, just not in widespread usage yet:
  • A prototype of self-tying power shoes has been developed and its inventor is actively trying to get them to market:
  • Hoverboards do exist…sort of.  Two models have been proposed and working prototypes of them are in circulation (one is even trying to release them by the Oct. 21st date).  I’m not impressed with either; their inventors struggled with some very obvious practicality issues and I don’t think either of the current solutions reflect B2TF’s design intent at all, but I am certain my kids will get to enjoy something very similar to Marty’s hoverboard within my lifetime.
  • Robots filling your car up at a fuel station may be non-existent, but we have robots in active use now for nearly all repetitive tasks, from vaccuming your floor to milking a cow to machining a car or laptop.  And let’s not forget the electric cars with inductive charging stations like the Tesla which make B2TF’s depiction seem archaic compared to what we have now.  It’s not that we can’t, it’s that in general the public is simply not ready for trusting their car fueling to a machine…yet (but we’re getting closer to it since we have no problem paying at the pump with automated systems).
  • We also don’t quite have an indoor garden center fruit dispenser.  But with all of the advances in hydroponics as well as the 4x4 gardening movement, it’s only a matter of time before something along these lines becomes a practical reality.

The two things they didn’t get “right” were Jaws 19 and the Cubs winning the World Series.  But keep in mind, these supposed “predictions” were satire anyway: Nobody wants to see 16 more editions of that movie; we’ve long since moved on to piranhas, anacondas, and vampires.  And the Cubs winning a World Series?  Well, as this article suggests, don’t give up just yet; what seemed impossible in 1989 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

So what on earth does this have to do with church communication?  Church folk are notorious for being bored naysayers, criticizing every new idea, approach, and innovation.  And most of the time, we don’t have our facts straight nor even take the time to understand what’s really being proposed before we shoot it down.  In so doing, we make a cynical media seem lame in its debunking of ideas.

An irrelevant but well-timed question or a critical and skeptical groan from a respected board member can kill a Spirit-inspired idea before it even has a chance at consideration.  Much of the science fiction I read as a kid has become today’s technology, and I continually admire those thinkers of the past whose revolutionary ideas seemed preposterous back then and now are commonplace.  As my mentor pastor Jess Gibson often said, “He that says it can’t be done should not interrupt the one who’s actually doing it.”

Creativity and innovation are gifts from God which reflect His character and He delights in it.  Negativity and criticism are foreign to God’s personality and anathema to His character.  Therefore, use your words carefully (Matthew 12:36-37); take care to ensure that you're encouraging your pastor and church leaders as they explore innovative ideas to solve tomorrow's challenges.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Religion's Demise & the Victory of Jesus: How I Know He Lives

You ask me how I know Jesus lives?

Well, it’s not because some kid nearly died and claims he saw grandpa and the kid’s stillborn sister.  And it’s certainly not because some popular TV preacher says a lunar calendar’s normalcy for an event that happens every few hundred years is somehow prophetic.  Or even because some people find significance (or opposition) in political leaders who take advantage of the gullible and betray a nation’s history and purpose.

Those examples of syllogistic thinking just reveal how desperately mankind clings to hope & change…as well as how biblically illiterate and undiscerning people are, especially many who sit in pews of all stripes & colors.

Nor is it because the haters have managed to produce anti-Christian films that sell at the box office by stirring up controversy, playing to Protestantism’s biggest weakness (mindless protest).  We were played, and it’s downright embarrassing how often we keep falling for such overt hucksterism.

No, such examples simply reveal how ignorant of  truth we are and how much we want to have something to believe in, even if it means fighting in support of the enemy of our soul without even realizing it…at the expense of the very community and people we claim to love and opposing the very spirit of unity our Lord prayed we would embrace.

Further, these inadequacies only reveal that the problem IS religion – mankind’s attempts to appease (and please) God.

Sadly, most of what our world sees today isn’t Jesus, it’s religion.  Ridiculous, ill-informed, misguided, lame beliefs passed on to unsuspecting and undiscerning patrons who shove it off on others without thinking about the consequences.  Religion isn’t the opiate of the masses (that’s an understatement); it’s death and depravity disguised in altruistic form.  It’s deception at its most heinous: Pretending to be that which we are not in the hopes we can convince ourselves we’re not as bad as we really are.

And when we act religiously rather than Jesus-ly, no wonder the world rejects our message (after all, Jesus came to OPPOSE the very system our human nature likes to perpetuate).

In Jesus’ life and ministry, I see firsthand somebody who understood this full well…somebody who saw the depravity of man and the nature of God and exposed both for who they really are.  And the world has never been the same since.

Civilization has seen many “good men” and great prophets and leaders with noble intentions, but none that comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable like Jesus did.  Not only did he unconditionally love the lowliest of lowly, defend the innocents, embrace the outcasts and misfits, and redeem those society said could never be; He questioned those in powerful positions, challenged their authority and misaligned beliefs, and overthrew their petty systems of self-reinforcement.

He did not establish a Church and neither did Peter or Paul.  Jesus founded a way of life, a living relationship that transcends and transforms.

And in His very death He played the ultimate April Fool’s joke on the biggest sucker of all: His critics and enemies believed they’d finally silenced Him while in the midst of their celebration He was providing for our salvation and toppling their authority because even death could not hold Him.

I know I serve a risen Savior who’s in the world today because I’ve seen two things:
  1. I’ve seen God at work in the big and the small things of life: Things science still cannot begin to explain (or which science finally confirms that God has said all along), irrational beliefs that bear out and make sense only in light of an otherworldly existence, the creative potential of innovation that bears the stamp of a genius designer, and selfless redemptive actions that even altruism can’t account for.
  2. And I’ve seen the alternative.  I’ve seen the hopelessness and depravity of man and know firsthand the reality of evil – and know full well that man (or woman) at their very best can’t even begin to fix the mess no matter how much we try to brag otherwise.  I’ve seen the worst we can dish out and know it only echoes what the Bible already says is the problem, and I’ve seen the best we can do and know it falls dismally short, affirming yet again what God already told us was true.
Religion has had its day for thousands of years, and you’d think mankind would get a clue sooner or later that it simply doesn’t work.  You can’t fix stupid, and that’s all it does.  It perpetuates systems of control which keep us from experiencing what’s actually real (and yes, it IS a “matrix” of sorts).

But Jesus?  That’s another story!

Jesus has been consistently changing the story of humanity, re-framing the rigidity of religion, changing people from the inside out, and empowering people to redemptively transform society ever since.  And I see firsthand the impact when He speaks and I listen…I love the opportunity to participate with Him in doing the very things He lived to do and died to enable.

And I, for one, am very glad He’s alive and well and living in our world today in the hearts of genuine believers.  There are lots of religious pretenders, but the people who actually know Jesus personally and live out His mission in the world around them are a much smaller lot...and they’re out to change the world.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Communication that changes lives (& gets great leaders killed)

I was taught (up through about 7th grade) that bias and subjectivity were to be avoided: All "good" journalism (and often writing itself) is "bias-free," we were told, and I remember even being graded down if I let subjectivity color my writing (unless it were a "creative writing" project, but that of course, was "play").  In other words, we learned to be rational expositors of knowledge that was "pure" and scientific (where was Polanyi in all this?).  But what we got was communication that was devoid of influence, and the people who's speeches changed the world (MLK, Roosevelt, Hitler, etc.) didn't fall for it...or at least ignored it when they were trying to call for transformative change.

As an example, Peter did this in his first sermon (Acts 2): He unpacked the significance of Pentecost using the signs/metaphors/codes his hearers knew well, but gave it new significance - i.e., re-framing.  His sermonic story journey begins with re-framing their misperception of drunkenness by explaining (& justifying) it as prophetic utterance (something they knew from their cultural religious codes).  Then he draws yet another connection to King David (again, a religious and cultural code of his audience), and more specifically, to their messianic hope (a sub-code), making the point via re-framing that the day of their hoped-for destiny had arrived.   Even with his use of strong accusatory verbage (essentially, "You just killed the Messiah you've been waiting for"), they got the message loud and clear.
RESULT: The audience begged, "what shall we do?" and 3,000 people got saved

Here in America we are so wrapped up in ordered rational modernist thinking and half-baked rhetorics (with just enough philosophy and quasi-structuralist thinking thrown in to make us sick) that we seldom distill the codes as they meant to the audience to whom they were first delivered; instead, we rush to "exegete" them (an important teaching function, but not a communication one). Ironically, I've even heard preachers and Bible college prof's suggest that Peter may have misquoted or distorted the OT!

Nor do we (preachers as a whole) very often communicate in the codes of our day like like the great rhetoricians of the past did - for example, check out the full text of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech - note the metaphoric language of promissory notes America had defaulted on, blank checks marked NSF, whirlwinds of revolt, the "summer of [the Negro's legitimate] discontent, etc.  He's basically doing the same thing as Peter did at Pentecost and Paul did on Mars Hill, doing a masterful job of connecting the biblical imagery and metaphors our culture knew well then with the "signs of the times" they were seeing in the early 60's.  And not only did it change the world, but it was a threat to the establishment, too.

What's really come alive for me in the last few months through my D.Min and exposure to several writers in the field of semiotics and narratology is the impact of the first part above...that to connect to today's culture, we have to understand the codes that were at play with the original audience.  I think we neuter our words when we skip that vital step, and then we wonder why they're not pregnant with meaning.  Peter knew exactly what he was doing; he was re-framing their codes & interpreting the events they were observing firsthand in a way that gave the words of Scripture immediate relevance and meaning.  The Word of God came alive for them!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Misconceptions About Church Communication

A Perceptive post on church communication by Len Wilson. Apparently it's been up for awhile, but I wasn't following him when it first went live, and thankfully he just retweeted it today:

A Massive Misconception About Church Communication

Great insight on the predominant protestant misunderstanding that church communication as merely a marketing tool to share information (and I, too, secretly admire those Church Marketing S@cks folks):

          "I am very much for using church communication to strategically shape a church’s story
           and create a covenantal community."

That's the right reason! It has a marketing and informational component, but that's not the purpose...story and community is. Bingo!

Love the quote from Mike Slaughter in response to the debate about whether a church should be “missional” or “attractional” (a false dichotomy - it's both/and: "The gospel is offensive. We’re just making sure you know you’ve been offended.”