Forgot to post this when it came out, but the January issue of the 9 Marks newsletter can be read here. 9 Marks is a church resourcing ministry out of Capital Hill Baptist Church in DC where Mark Dever is the pastor. This issue covers the topic of friendship and community, which we have been talking about a lot at Christ Church as we make our way through Hebrews. Good stuff and will keep you occupied for awhile at 37 pages.
When I was on staff at Faith Church in Birmingham, my uniform on Sundays consisted of a suit and tie (casual Sunday was rolling in wearing a sportcoat). I actually didn't wear a tie one Sunday and was promptly reprimanded by several parishioners, but I had already taken the gig here in Georgia and was done with that kind of hooey. But that was the uniform and if I was still there, I'd still be spending money at Jos. A. Bank and Brooks Brothers to stay pretty.
Fast forward three years later and my hair's a bit longer and I haven't worn a tie on Sundays since August 2004 (much to the chagrin of chief fashionista Matt Churnock who'd have me in tails and a top hat if he had any say in the matter). I went to a sportcoat for awhile and then borrowed Nick Saban's grey suit (you know, the only one anyone has seen him wear in public since he got to Tuscaloosa) and wore that without a tie somedays. Then we started to work in the 'business casual' attire and before you know it, I'm standing on stage wearing untucked shirts (designed to be worn that way) and even jeans every now and then.
Now before you hit the comment button, I'm responding to nothing about what I'm wearing. I mean it - there's at least one other post in the archives about what preachers should be sporting on Sundays. Find it and post there if you'd like.
All I want to do here is to explain the method behind this madness. For me and for our leaders, this is part of refinement of doing contextualization and exegeting our culture. Shouldn't have been too hard - I got here and pretty much no one was wearing a tie or a sport coat. Then as we began to shape ourselves contextually to speak into the worlds of 18-35 year old men, we began to wonder why I was dressing like I was 45.
So I get to be myself and also be part of creating a culture that we hope continues to transform the world of some guys in our community. It's been fun to see over a dozen guys actually join Christ Church as members since last summer because we're trying to create an environment that helps men develop as men (which is another post altogether).
Moral of the story: solid theological and cultural grounding frees us to pursue cultural relevance, mediating the timeless story of the kingdom into a form which is intelligible to non-Christians and speaks into their questions of plausibility and credibility. Ed Stetzer has more to say about it here.
I have the privilege of writing a monthly article for The Oconee Leader, a weekly newspaper that ends up in every business and residential mailbox in the county. Here's my latest article about our aversion to the reality of Jesus as King:
was hanging out with a friend who wouldn’t consider himself to be a follower of
Jesus but brings up religious stuff whenever we’re together. Somehow we got to
talking about these guys on TV who make predictions about anything from world
politics to the number of tornadoes that are going to sweep across west Texas in 2007 – all in
the name of God apparently. I seriously dislike those conversations because
they rarely lead to talking about Jesus and usually make me wonder how much
peyote one has to smoke in order to come up with some of these ‘prophecies.’
This particular conversation, however, did turn to Jesus as my friend started
talking about the fact that one of the TV guys was basing all of his
whacked-out predictions on the fact that Jesus is the ‘King and Ruler of all.’
His question – do Christians really believe that Jesus is a king?
Have you heard about this? Jay Stein, writing in the LA Times, hits at the heart of the issue with virtual worlds like The Sims or Second Life, which as of this post had 2,941,375 residents who had spent close to $200,000 USD in the last 24 hours alone in this alternate universe where you create your own avatar (computerized image of yourself) and live out another life. Check out some of the statistics - people spending over $5,000/month to buy imaginary property and possessions. Stein talks about the effects and implications of one woman who was married in real life but had a serious, steady, monogamous online relationship with another man.
This is like crack for suburbanites who live to create the illusion of perfection. We avoid each other because we're not perfect but our craving for community has to be met. And because we so often missed that community exists because Jesus is putting broken people back together, we have to pursue connections with random people in Grenoble, France if we're ever going to actually feel good about ourselves (I actually signed up and 'played' for about twenty minutes under the name 'Mat Branagh' which was totally random but they only have a limited number of last names available and Kenneth Branagh's a good actor, so what the heck - I talked with about three people who were just getting started like me. Got hit on twice - by a guy and a girl; found manuevering around using my arrow keys to be more trouble than it was worth; and knowing that I'd like to be in a world where everyone thinks I'm perfect, I logged off and removed the SL software from my laptop).
So I'd like to propose a different second life - a community that offers perfection and life together in which you're valued on the basis of perfection. I call it the church - a people connected together deeply and with great affection and admiration because we've been made perfect by Jesus. Pipe dream? Sounds like it if you've ever spent more than one weekend in any given church. But what if this gospel work that Jesus is doing now - redeeming and renewing everything - includes putting perfect community back together. What if we've broken and shattered what is real and complete and perfect by our narcissism and neuroses, hang-ups and hostility - and what if Jesus intends for you and me to work with him in getting us back to what is and should be reality: to love and be loved the way we are loved by Jesus.
Question 18: What's one new way you could encourage the people you work with this year?
To Jan, I'd give timely expense reports. To Bev, a proper foot stool for her to put her feet on during the day. To Jared, I'd suspend time whenever he reads so he can actually catch up on all the books he wants to read. To Aaron, his own recording studio.
In reality, what I hope is to create an environment where people feel like they have a clear purpose in what they're doing and the resources available to help them get things done. Oh, and the freedom to come up with completely preposterous ideas for the sake of God's kingdom.
Question 17: What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year?
Get my office organized. Seriously, I moved into my home office almost a year ago with grand delusions of applying lessons learned in David Allen's Getting Things Done. But I keep telling myself that I'll need a day or two straight to plow through everything and that simply doesn't happen around here. So manila folders are stacked on my floor and I still have books in boxes. Freakin' pathetic.
I heard nothing about the implications of setting aside a day to remember the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in our church or from the people I know in our community. I guess it's not difficult to ignore systemic racism and classism when you live in a world that very much enjoys being white and above the poverty line.
So I'm hanging out downtown with a UGA student who had a bit of a thing with a girl last semester, only to see it fall apart because he was too immature to lead her spiritually, at least in the opinion of this young lady.
Ugh. I fully admit that I only heard one side of the story and I have no doubt that this young woman thought she was doing the right thing by insisting that she be in a relationship where the guy is...leading, whatever that means. But this seems to be an artificial barometer, created out of a desire to ensure a healthy relationship, that at best adds a layer of qualification on top of the Scriptures. I have yet to hear a definition of such leadership that holds water from a biblical, theological, or historical perspective. In the way it's articulated most often to me, it's no more helpful than a guy demanding that his girl be able to name the entire starting offense and defense for Georgia's football team.
My greatest fear is that there are couples - courting, dating, engaged, married - whose worlds are seriously jacked up because of some ridiculous expectation of performance that has little to do with Jesus and the gospel. Little consideration is made for someone's personality, strengths and weaknesses - to the point where people are no longer allowed to be people who screw up far too often and actually need Jesus.
This really bugs me because it's creating an environment doomed for failure. I've seen it jack up a good number of relationships because frustration thrives in environments where the impossible is demanded. We forget that this person we're involved with is just like us - in process and desperately in need of grace.
I've thought alot lately about simplifying my pre-marital counseling to something this simple: base your marriage on the reality that you belong to Jesus and make decisions in light of that. I know it sounds far too simple - but putting that into practice is an impossibility that Jesus had to die for and will spend a lifetime moving us towards.
So there it is. Maturity=knowing I belong to Jesus. Wisdom=living in light of the reality that I belong to Jesus.
Ladies, it is reasonable to expect your man to point you to Jesus. It is unreasonable to expect him to be Jesus. Fellas, learn to take the first step in loving your girl by making decisions in light of the reality that y'all belong to Jesus. If you don't know how to do that, suck up your pride and ask someone in your church to walk you through it. At the very least, put you and your girl in large group and small group environments in a local church where you'll both be moved towards Christ.