Friday, March 28, 2008

7 Deadly Sins for the 21st Century

Forbes has just released an article on the most sinful cities in the U.S.

America's Most Sinful Cities

Interestingly enough, Oklahoma City showed up on two different lists. Oklahoma City ranked number 9 on the list of the top 10 most gluttonous cities. It also ranked number 8 on the most envious cities.

The results of this study are based on the editors equivalent categories. So the gluttony sin was measured by looking at obesity statistics and BMI (body mass index) to find that Oklahoma City has a population of 27.5% that is obese. Envy, on the other hand, was measured by looking at property crime rates such as burglary, larceny, and auto theft.

What I have to wonder is: why do this kind of study? Were the Forbes editors sitting around, thinking to themselves, "Hey, I wonder if your city is a greater place of sin than mine?"

And if you just have to know, that cesspool of lust, Denver, Colorado was number 1. (By the way, Washington D.C. did make the list - #6. But it was beat out by Salt Lake City, UT, home of the family value religion of Latter Day Saints, at the #5.)

Each of the 7 Deadly Sins were covered in this list. Which is kind of funny. The 7 Deadly Sins really have no connection to our modern culture. Gluttony, Avarice (the pursuit of stuff), Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, and Sloth are the outline for most of the new televisions shows that are produced. The "deadly" nature of these sins has been reduced to plot points for entertainment.

A few years back, I did a preaching series on the 7 Deadly Sins. But I came at it from a different angle. What would the 7 Deadly Sins look like in our culture today. This is what I came up with:

Pride's modern equivalent is Entitlement.
Envy manifests itself today as Debt.
Lust is known today as Pornography.
Anger has only changed its name to Bitterness.
Gluttony is seen in Consumerism.
Sloth has been replaced by Busyness.
And finally, Greed has reared its head in Gambling.

These are the costumes that the traditional 7 Sins wear today. Where the tradition of the 7 Deadly Sins was about destruction of the soul, the 7 Deadly Sins of the 21st Century are not just destructive to the soul but to the whole life of a person.

The church has been called to rally against the work of the Devil in lives. The question we must ask ourselves is what kind of defense have we made against these attacks in our lives, homes, churches, and communities?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Socialism in our schools

This from the, "Take it for what it's worth" category.

Last week I visited my 5 year old son's school for his Easter party. Being in Oklahoma, it is still acceptable for a school to have an Easter party. As long as we only talk about Easter bunnies, and eggs, and candy. Don't bother with that historical Jesus event.


It came time for the egg hunt. They kids all grabbed their baskets and trooped outside. My son has inherited my non-competitive nature. He leisurely wandered around the playground, not bothering with the objective of finding and gathering eggs. That were obvious. It's not like it was hard to find them.

18 seconds later, all the eggs had been found. My son had 2. Out of 500. Luckily one of his friends was a merciful type and shared from his bounty.

But the point of the story is that when they got back to the room, the kids had to pool all of their eggs and then the eggs were redistributed equally to everyone.

And I scratched my head. And I looked around for the picture to Karl Marx. This was a practical lesson in socialism.

You say, "Oh, you're just overreacting. This is 5 year olds."

My wife said, "The teacher didn't want to deal with crying kids who didn't find as many eggs."

I say, "Look at the bigger picture."

What this taught the kids was that your hard work and effort is repaid by having to give up what you have earned so that everyone can have an equal portion. The kids were told that they couldn't open the eggs (they were all plastic with candy inside) and eat the goodies that they had found. They couldn't enjoy the benefits of their hard work. What they were being taught was that you must work for the greater whole.

My Mom was there also. She works with a state agency. Her observation is that it was teaching welfare. She felt that they were learning that if you don't find enough eggs, then someone else will provide you your fair share.

I am not a big fan of the rampant capitalism that has been the trademark of American business (mostly because I am not a big fan of the rampant consumerism that is a trademark of American lives). But I also understand the power of concrete teaching to younger children and youth. They learn through concrete experience. This was a lesson in socialism.

Our nation has been on a trend of reversing the free enterprise system and personal responsibility mindset for some time now. We are moving to a system where the people who work hard and produce capital have to pay over more and more to support state-run programs to take care of those who do not produce or who do not use the resources they have responsibly.

I know that this is a small, insignificant episode in the lives of a child. But it is also a glaring example of the fact that our nation is moving closer and closer to a socialized form of business.

That's why, this Sunday, our children will participate in a Capitalist Easter Egg Hunt following worship. And if my son only has 2 eggs at the end of the hunt, then he will have earned those 2 eggs.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Word of the week: hypocrisy

There are some weeks where an image or an idea seems to follow you wherever you go. The past couple of weeks, the idea of hypocrisy seemed to be everywhere. I have been reading unChristian where they are discussing the attitudes of outsiders toward the church. In it they explore the opinion outsiders have of Christian's being hypocrites. We also had the very obvious case of Governor Spitzer: crusading law man turned simple, albeit it affluent, john. The word has also popped up in conversations I have been party to.

Hypocrisy is a definite issue for the church to face and be honest about. The original understanding of the Greek words for hypocrite and hypocrisy come from the Greek theater. The hypocrite was the actor who performed a role behind the mask of a character. Hypocrisy was used in a broader sense. It could apply to any type of acting or faking.

When we think about a hypocrite or hypocrisy in today's language, we think about someone who says or does one thing while holding a different set of beliefs. For Christians this is usually leveled against people who preach against or denounce certain behaviors while turning around and doing those exact things they preach against.

Biblically hypocrisy is any form of putting forward beliefs through word or action that you do not actually hold. The Pharisee's claimed to believe in God's law but, according to Jesus, did everything in their power to subvert the law. Jesus warns his hearers of the "leaven of the Pharisees". Jesus points out that nothing that is hidden will remain hidden. It will eventually be revealed. The point comes around that God will see and hear and know everything that is done in secret and the dark.

The book unChristian makes the point that outsiders see Christians as hypocrites because they claim the love of Jesus yet do not show love to those who believe differently, those who live outside our "rules", or anyone we disagree with. As many Christians are confronted with this we see the fallacy of this argument.

But it does not alter the fact that we are in a culture that is sensitive to hypocrisy as well as looking for opportunities to point it out. Our lives are lived in the realm of the visible and obvious. We live in glass houses. Not by our choice. But because we live in a culture where Christians are weighed by the words we say and the actions we live out.

So we have come full circle. The lives of early Christians was also weighed by their words and actions. Simon Peter was caught in an incident of what could be called hypocrisy. Paul and Peter were engaged in active fellowship with Gentiles. There were no problems hanging out with the Gentiles. That is, until some Jews appeared in town. then Simon Peter began to judge the Gentiles by a different set of standards. It was so obvious that Paul had to call Peter to task for his actions (Galatians 2:11-14).

I don't want to claim that I'm perfect. In fact I am the first to say that I mess up. I don't measure my mistakes on a daily basis. I have to count it by the hour sometimes. But that doesn't make me a hypocrite. I am honest about my failure. But I do not stop trying to live a better life everyday. Christ calls us to perfect love, obedience in service, and love without boundaries. So my challenge to myself is to make the public person everyone sees and the private person only God sees as close to each other without any hypocrisy.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Experiences of worship

One of the catch phrases of the emerging church movement is experiential worship. The substance of experiential worship is to move from recipient to participant. An experiential worship service attempts to draw everyone in the congregation into some aspect of worship beyond just singing or reciting prayers. It may call participants to touch or smell something that connects the people's lives with the message of the Gospel. It may have them actively respond to the worship or prayer through movement or an activity. It may move worship away from a traditional setting by going to a different place or changing the environment of the a familiar place.

Last weekend I served as the worship leader for a confirmation retreat. A retreat setting always provides the opportunity to draw people into a more experiential service due to the unfamiliar or less familiar setting. But I was also asked to design more experiential services for two worship times. Since the retreat was for youth, I felt some freedom to explore services that were a little more outside of the boundaries of "normal".

I was given a suggestion for the message of each service. The first was the participation of each member in the body of Christ. The second was the active nature of faith. As I wondered about how to draw youth into the experiencing these messages. As I considered the image of the participation in the body of Christ, the image of a mosaic came to mind. Each piece in a mosaic is unique and individual. It also contributes to the overall beauty of the final image.

In order to bring this to a tangible experience, I discovered the fun and flexibility of tile mosaics. The youth were led through a worship serve and up to a sermon hearing about how they each have a part to play. As the response to the worship, the youth were invited to come forward and select tiles from a variety of colors then add them to the image of a cross. The youth responded very well to the tiles and worship service as a whole. But what they produced was a unique cross design.

The second worship service used the passage of scripture where Jesus sets out with the disciples in a boat. As Jesus slept, a storm blew up and began to toss the boat, causing fear in the disciples. Jesus is awoken and calms the storm. The preacher, Rev. Chuck Horton, had the participants arrange themselves on the floor in the outline of a boat with some folks sitting inside the boat. As the scripture was read, there were artwork images of the scripture projected on the screen. As a meditation to the scripture, the lights were turned off and the sounds of a boat on the water and a growing storm were played over the sound system. The sounds ended with the gentle calming of the storm and the return to the boat on the water. Worship ended with communion, the original experiential worship.

Worship is about everyone participating. Many of our worship services are spectator events. The congregation enters and then sits back to receive what they can from the service. Maybe they want the good feelings of the music or to get "fed" by the sermon. Then they get up and go back to their lives, having "worshipped".

But worship is a verb. It is an activity. The root of the Hebrew and Greek word for worship involved the activity of bowing before another. Worship is supposed to be an action and not a noun. Although that is how we use it today. We go to worship, meaning we to church. Praise has also be transformed in this manner. Praise and worship has become a genre of music instead of a lifestyle activity.

Experiential worship is the effort to restore the original meaning of worship: the deed of Christ's people. And it is the function of worship leaders to draw people into the experience. Whether the leader is the preacher or the liturgist or a named worship leader.