Friday, October 29, 2010

Improvisational Worship

I just read a description of the way Quakers conduct our worship meetings as "improvisational worship that dances with the Holy Spirit". I like that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The New Samaritans

Recently, at a Bible Study I facilitate, we got to talking about the Samaritans. The Gospels of Luke and John record Jesus ministering among the Samaritans. There is no such mention in the Gospels of Mark or Matthew.

In first century Judea--at the time of Jesus--the Samaritans and the Jews, though closely related, were staunch enemies. Samaria was the region located just north of Jerusalem (and south of Galilee). It corresponded to what had once been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians (who hailed from modern-day Iraq). The Jewish tribes living in the region were scattered and assimilated throughout the Assyrian empire (this is where we get the term "the lost tribes of Israel"). The Assyrian empire was eventually supplanted by the Babylonian empire and, in about 600 BC, the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah (including Jerusalem) and took the Jews en masse into captivity in Babylon.

A generation later the Jews were released from captivity and, though many chose to stay in Babylon, a remnant returned to rebuild Jerusalem. These returning Jews found the land to the north of Jerusalem to be populated by a people who claimed to be Israelites but, in the returnees eyes, were not. The returning Jews viewed these Samaritans as aliens and interlopers. They were considered racially mixed and religiously apostate and, therefore, impure and unclean. Over the course of hundreds of years this enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans increased and became cultural and entrenched. By the time of Jesus, Jews travelling between Jerusalem and Galilee would not take the direct route through Samaria but instead would go around, considerably lengthening their journey.

For their part, the Samaritans claimed that *they* were the true "Keepers of the Torah" and that they had preserved the true worship of God on Mount Gerizim (rather than Jerusalem's Temple Mount). The Jews forbade Samaritans (along with Gentiles) from entering the inner courts of the Jerusalem Temple. Around the time that Jesus would have been a child, a group of Samaritan men snuck into the Jerusalem Temple during the Passover celebration and desecrated it by scattering bones around--an outrage that fueled Jewish hatred for many, many years.

This deep-seated hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans possibly explains why the Gospels of both Matthew and Mark omitted any mention of Jesus's travels and ministry within Samaria. Jesus's teachings about and ministry among the Samaritans was radical and revolutionary, not to mention offensive to Jewish sensibilities. In particular, the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) would have been extremely challenging to many Jews. Take a moment to read the parable of the good Samaritan and see if you can get a sense of how this story would have outraged many of the Jews who first heard Jesus tell it.

Today, the Samaritan people are largely gone. But a question worth asking is this: "Who do we treat today like the Jews treated the Samaritans?" The answer is obvious: Homosexuals.

There once was a man named Lonnie Frisbee (Lonnie's story is eloquently told in an Emmy-nominated documentary film entitled "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher"). Lonnie was a key figure in the Jesus Movement of the 1970's. He was a flamboyant and fearless young man who was powerfully used by God as a preacher and evangelist among the young people in California. Both Time and Life magazines featured pictures of Lonnie baptizing throngs of teenage converts in the Pacific ocean. Chuck Smith, the pastor of a small struggling church called Calvary Chapel, invited Lonnie to begin preaching at evening services. Before long Calvary Chapel was overflowing with young people who had come to Jesus as a result of Lonnie's ministry. The growth was exponential and there are now over 1,000 Calvary Chapel churches worldwide. Eventually, Lonnie and Chuck Smith parted ways, in large part due to Smith's discomfort with Lonnie's use of charismatic gifts such as healing and speaking in tongues.

Lonnie next connected with John Wimber, who had begun a Calvary Chapel church in Yorba Linda, California that would later become the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Wimber invited Lonnie to speak at a service and as Frisbee ministered, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred which was so powerful that it is still considered to be a seminal event in the launching of the Vineyard movement. Frisbee and Wimber traveled the world together ministering and planting churches. There are now over 1,500 Vineyard churches worldwide.

Besides being a powerfully anointed minister, Lonnie Frisbee was gay. According to one of his friends, Lonnie's homosexuality was "a bit of an open secret in the church community", but Wimber was apparently unaware and fired Frisbee when he found out. Although Frisbee tried to keep it secret, throughout the years that he was ministering, he was also actively engaging in a gay lifestyle. Lonnie Frisbee's name has been removed from the official histories of both the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard. The ironic thing is that God knew Lonnie Frisbee was gay and didn't seem to have a problem working powerfully through him. But when church leaders discovered Lonnie was gay, they prohibited him from ministering.

If you have read books by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or Billy Graham, then you may have read the writing of a gay man. No, Jerry, Pat and Billy weren't gay (that we know of), but Mel White--the ghost writer whom they and many other Evangelical Christian leaders employed to write in their name--is. Mel's struggles with being a gay Christian man are told in his book "Stranger at the Gate." When he decided to quit hiding his sexual orientation, he was shunned by the Christian leaders who previously had entrusted him to present their thoughts to the world.

These are just two examples of how people who are homosexual had substantial ministries that positively effected thousands, if not millions, of lives. Right now, in Evangelical churches and ministries, there are gay Christians and gay Christian leaders who have not come out of the closet for fear of the scandal, attack and banishment they will incur.

But what if the handful of scriptures we have used to exclude homosexual people from the Kingdom of God have been misappropriated and misapplied? What if God isn't buying into our entrenched enmity against gays? What if God's desire is to minister to and through *all* of His people, straight and gay?

What if Jesus were walking around in the flesh today, teaching and ministering, but instead of having a friendly dialog with the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:4-42), it was the lesbian at the laundromat in Seattle? What if, instead of the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus told the parable of the righteous gay man?

Would you be outraged? Are you outraged now?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

"In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal relationship with the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them.

Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy.

Later it moved to Rome, where it became an institution.

Next it moved to Europe, where it became a culture.

Finally it moved to the United States, where it became an enterprise.

We’ve got far too many churches and so few fellowships."

- Richard Halverson (former U.S. Senate Chaplain)

Friday, October 22, 2010

All terrorists are Muslims (except the 99.6% who aren't)

This is a very eye-opening report. By studying Europol and FBI statistics, the author determined that 99.6% of terrorist attacks in Europe between 2007-2009 were by non-Muslim groups (94% of terrorist attacks in the U.S. from 1980 to 2005 were by non-Muslims):

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why are ________ so _________?

This is fascinating... Someone used the Google autocomplete feature (which adds the rest of what you're typing into the search field based on popularity) to finish the statements "Why are Muslims so ...", "Why are Christians so ...", "Why are Jews so ..." and "Why are Buddhists so ..." The results are sobering, especially when displayed in a Venn Diagram.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hearing God

I recently received a message from someone who read my story on my blog ( and wanted to know if I have ever asked God why he doesn't speak with people who genuinely want to know about him? Since I'm a lazy bugger and hate to waste something I've spent time writing, I thought I would share my response:

No, I can't say I've ever asked God that, but I do have an opinion about it. I think that God is speaking all the time, but we often don't hear him. Are you familiar with this story in 1 Kings 19:11-13?:

The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

I think, in part, this scripture touches on our tendency to have expectations about how God is going to speak to us. Jesus used to say, "He who has ears, let Him hear." During the time when I was not yet a Christian but was beginning to be drawn towards God, certain things would happen and I would think to myself, "Well, I can choose to see this as a message from God or I can choose not to." I can remember instances where I thought "I will choose to accept this as a message from God." Later, after becoming a Christian, I did hear God clearly and often and had conversations with Him, but I never heard God as an audible voice. What I experienced was all internal--in my head, so to speak--yet it was clearly not my own internal voice or thoughts, but the voice of Another. In the verse above from 1 Kings, the word "whisper" is rendered in the King James Bible as "still small voice." That is a good description of what I've experienced. Could it be a delusion? There is no way I can prove that it isn't. I can only choose to accept that sometimes I "hear" God speaking to me and that, upon further investigation, I've found that it is not an uncommon thing for people to experience.

But what I find is that if my mind is filled with "stuff" -- TV, music, etc., then there is too much noise to hear the still small voice of God. It is when I get still and small myself that I'm apt to hear God speak. One of the reasons I became a Quaker was because they seem to have realized this and made it a central part of their worship. The idea is to be still and listen. Patience is required. Unlike Eastern meditation, the idea isn't to empty one's mind. Rather, the idea is to simply wait and listen, expectantly. During the times in my life when I make this a practice, I find that I gradually *do* begin to hear God again and I find that the fruit of the Spirit --love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--begins to manifest in me with little or no effort on my part. It is in Paul's letter to the Galatians--where he wrote about the fruit of the Spirit--that he also advised Christians to "live by the Spirit", to be "led by the Spirit" and to "keep in step with the Spirit" (see Galatians chapter 5), all of which indicates a continuous listening and following--not just to the Bible--but to the living Spirit (after all, the Spirit who gave the scriptures is the same Spirit that still speaks).

The author of 1 John was concerned about believers being led astray by false teachers. He wrote "As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in Him." John seemed to think that it was quite possible to be taught directly by God and that it would be sufficient. I should add that I also believe it is beneficial to be in community with others who can provide council and discernment.

Having said all this, I also think that people are wired differently and it would be a mistake for me to assume that what works for me will work for anyone else. Likewise, God may speak to you in a manner that would not get through to me. Your question was about God speaking to people who genuinely want to know about Him, but I think what God is really interested in is people knowing Him (not about Him). I know a lot of things about my grandparents, but I never knew them, as they died when I was quite young. I would rather that I had known them instead of just knowing about them. I think that God's desire is for us to *know* Him in a deep and relational sense.

I also believe that there are many people of many different faiths who know Him, not because they practice a particular religion, but because they have experienced Him. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and a Quaker, wrote: "The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls everywhere are of one religion and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wore here make them strangers."

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Hey, tomorrow's date is 10-10-10 which, if converted from binary to decimal, equals "42" which--if you've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--is the answer to the question of "life, the universe and everything". Plus, if you convert 101010 (or 42) to hexadecimal, it is "2A", which is a very desirable First Class seat on an airplane. What does it mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN!? Plus, if you convert 101010 to ASCII, it is the number "52" and--as we all know--there are 52 weeks in a year. But the ASCII value of 52 designates the asterisk (*) character--which comes from the Greek "asteriskos", meaning "little star"--and is used to denote that additional information is available elsewhere. WHAT DOES IT MEAN!!!???

Monday, October 04, 2010


On my car radio I have the Conservative AM station on the right-most button and the Progressive AM station on the left-most button. I like to switch back and forth between them sometimes as I'm driving. It didn't take me long to realize that the single most used word by both stations is the same: They. Each side seems preoccupied with the other. They, they, they. I wish there was less "they" going around and more "we", as in "We the people..." or "we are working together, despite our differences in opinion, seeking common ground".