Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Can Righteousness be a Flaw?

I appreciate art with a purpose. Whether it's a song that drives home a point or a TV show or movie that champions some ideal, I find great fulfillment in purposeful art. You can see it in my lists of favorite movies. The Shawshank Redemption tells us, in the words of Andy Dufresne, that "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." Dead Poets Society urges us all to Seize the Day -- "gather ye rosebuds while ye may." I think it goes back to my days in campus ministry with Gators for Christ. We used to have movie devo's & talk about how whatever film we watched related some spiritual truth or lie.

One of my very favorite movies that's not on my Profile's list is the movie Training Day. In the film, Officer Jake Hoyt (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) has one day to prove to Narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris (portrayed by Denzel Washington) that he can cut it as a NARC working under Harris. Hoyt becomes extremely troubled when he sees how many corners Alonzo Harris cuts. However, you can't argue with Harris' "success." In the movie, Harris says:

"Today's a training day, Officer Hoyt. Show you around, give you a taste of the business. I got 38 cases pending trial, 63 in active investigations, another 250 on the log I can't clear. I supervise five officers. That's five different personalities. Five sets of problems. You can be number six if you act now. But I ain't holding no hands, okay? I ain't baby-sitting. You got today and today only to show me who and what you're made of. You don't like narcotics, get the ---- out of my car. Go get you a nice, (w)ussy desk job, chasing bad checks or something, you hear me?"

(As you can see, I'd recommend that you catch it on cable, where it's edited it out, rather than checking out the copy at your local Blockbuster.)

As the movie progresses, you are given the stark impression that it's Harris & people of his ilk that make a real difference on the streets of L.A. The normal officers in "uni's" who roll around in their "black & white's" can't make a dent in this kind of gang sub-culture. But these guys who have just a little dirt under their fingernails, they're cleaning things up. The fundamental proverb of the entire movie is this line delivered by Alonzo Harris when he's trying to sell Jake Hoyt on his team's methods: "To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf."

Sounds so good it's almost Bible, isn't it?! "God helps those who help themselves." Almost Bible.

My sister & I have been watching another police show via TV on DVD. It's a show about an anti-hero cop who leads a team of "unclean" cops who are trying to, you guessed it, clean up the streets of L.A. They use unorthodox tactics, take a little money on the side, & compromise a little for the main character's sense of the greater good.

We were watching the commentary of one of the shows the other night when they were talking about the flaws of each of the characters on the show. The main character's flaw is clearly his penchant for "compromise" -- he goes overboard & pays for it in spades. And in the end, some justice is done, but you're left with a sense that it's incomplete.

However, there is one detective on the show who always stands up for what's right -- even at one point when it goes against the entire system. The cops in her station, the Chief of Police, District Attorney's Office -- everybody is against her, but she will do the right thing no matter what. And she pays for it in spades. In the end, some justice is done, but you're left with a sense that it's incomplete.

And in the commentary, they're left with the conclusion that this detective's flaw must be her righteousness, or self-righteousness. And they leave the question hanging out there: Can Righteousness be a Flaw?

And as I think of this in relation to ministry, it's an important question. Could it be that in all of our attempts to be shaped like Jesus & formed in his likeness we lose a sense of humanity and, in turn, ability to reach humanity? Is it possible for us to become too pure to reach out & touch the impure? In our fulfillment, joy, & wholeness, do we lose our ability to relate to those who are empty, sad, & broken?

Where do we go for Scriptural reference? Do we look at Ephesians 5:3 where Paul says among us there is not even to be a hint of immorality? Or do we look at Jesus, who hung out with prostitutes & was named with the wine bibbers? I mean, really... how is it you can be called "a friend of sinners" & NOT have any dirt under your finger-nails?

I ask these questions of Scripture. And the more & more I've asked this question of the Bible, the more Scripture comes back with a resoundingly definitive & overwhelmingly unequivocal response:

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

No darkness AT ALL! 1st John 1 doesn't leave any room for grey. How was Jesus able to spend most of his time around people who had spent most of their time learning how to debase themselves? Some would say divine nature. I say baloney. I chalk it up to strength of will & self-control. The man was a man. Yes, He was God, but he was a man, too. It took all his discipline, but he resisted & maintained his integrity in the face of the devil's temptations.

And Jesus had the opportunity for short-cuts, but he didn't take them. Luke 4 gives us a peak into how Satan presented one short-cut for Jesus:

5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

"Come on, Jesus. Saddle up, partner! You want to start a Kingdom? Let's do it right now -- you & me! Think about it, Messiah:  no more hatred or war; no more hunger or famine; no more poverty; no more disease; no more corruption. The perfect Kingdom here on Earth. You can ease the pains of society. You can perfect what you had a hand in creating in the first place. You can make it right, Jesus. If only you will compromise just this once: worship me. Bow down to me, and all you want is your's!! You won't even have to go to a bloody cross!"

Don't you know that had to be tempting. But God's Kingdom would not be ushered in that way. It would be a Kingdom with one King, and Jesus maintained it's integrity.

If we're going to be about Kingdom business, it has to be done God's way. Compromise is the devil's way. Satan's always encouraging us to get a little dirt under our fingernails. Even tricks us into rationalizing that it will make us better servants of the King:  gaining carnal knowledge of the enemy ... we're doing covert spiritual espionage here! But that rationalization is merely a cover-up for doing whatever it is we know we shouldn't be doing.

Righteousness is no flaw. There's no such thing as being "TOO good." It's a lie, propogated by Satan no doubt, to keep us from pursuing Jesus as radically as we could be. Vigilante righteousness is no righteousness at all. If you really want to be vigilant for something:

"Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the wellspring of life."
Proverbs 4:23

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Netflix & Young Adult Ministries

I recently signed up for Netflix. It's a pretty cool deal. If any of the rest of you out there subscribe, let me know and I'll add you to my friends list. We can compare movies and stuff.

I was recently reading an article about the conversion of a young single woman named Dawn. The last few paragraphs struck me because they completely subverted my paradigm for how to grow a group of Christians.

I think of Christian growth & development in various ways, but one way I enjoy thinking of it is via Rick Warren's Purpose Driven model. It's a good model, to be sure. However, perhaps it's a little too compartmentalized. Because after coming to Christ, Warren would merely have you focus on "fellowship." However, Dawn's advice was altogether different:

If church leaders truly want to reach out to women and men who are looking for an alternative to that lifestyle, said Eden, they must realize that the last thing single adults need is a singles ministry that turns "your church basement into a sort of 'Animal House' with crosses."

What congregations should do is rally single adults around worship, prayer, books, the arts and service to others, she said. Then friendships and relationships can develop out of activities that strengthen the faith of those that choose to participate.

"You really don't have to dumb things down for us," said Eden. "There are plenty of ways for single adults to get less church if that is what they really want. Why not talk to some of your young adults and ask them what they really want. They may want more church -- more faith -- not less."

Real fellowship happens not just when people gather together, but when people of character & like values get together for a purpose. As a minister sometimes I feel the need to filter out some of the tougher elements of faith when trying to bring folks to Christ or maturity in Christ. "Fail people's expectations at a rate they can handle," as is said by one leadership guru. But this article has me thinking that such an approach may be wrong-headed.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I know this is turning more into "Philip's Favorite Videos" rather than actual words, but THIS is great! A Washington State fan takes out a blow-up version of Aubie the Auburn Tiger:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Un-Beattitudes

You won't find these in Matthew 5. You can call it the 21st Century American's Cultural Values:

Blessed are the wealthy, for they will never be found in need.

Blessed are those in the majority, for they will get their way.

Blessed are the well-armed and powerful, because they will win the war.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for power, prestige, prominence, and position, because they will be on top at the end.

Blessed are the complainers, because by-golly they will get EXACTLY what they desire.

Blessed are the ones who wear the right sweater and the right shoes and drive the right car, because they have it all together.

Blessed are the ambitious, for they will go far.

Blessed are you when you have a good time and when the road is smooth and easy, because that is what life is all about.

(I give credit to Jason Ashlock for these. Don't know if he got them somewhere else, but I originally heard him present these in a Harding Chapel Talk)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

No Super Bowl for you!

The Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN was planning on hosting a Super Bowl bash this Sunday evening. They planned on showing the game on a wall-projector. That is until the NFL got wind of the plans & told the church to cancel the party. Dang. And I thought the NFL wanted as many people as possible to watch the game...

Anyways, I'm always interested what different churches do with "the Super Bowl quandry." Super Bowl Sunday has grown into a national holiday of sorts, right in line after Halloween, Thanksgiving, & Christmas. People celebrate it. Folks throw parties for it. Even people who NEVER watch football are intrigued & attracted by this game. If for nothing else, some folks watch for the commercials.

Some churches march on with their Sunday Night "J.V." worship service, trying to be oblivious to the event the rest of the world has it's eyes on. Other churches cancel servies entirely to allow their members to watch the game in their own homes. And still other churches try to incorporate Super Bowl & Church together, usually in some veiled attempt at evangelism or introduction to the church body.

For those who read my blog, I'm interested if you have a strong opinion on the matter. And what will your church's answer be this Sunday with the Super Bowl quandry? And if you're not a believer, what do you think about churches that have Super Bowl parties? Would you be more inclined to visit a church like that? Or does it turn you off to that kind of church? And why?