Friday, January 20, 2017

A New Era

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me."
-Martin Neimöller

I lost count of the number of times I wanted to dust off this old blog during the election season. Every news article I read about broad-brushing Christians and who they were voting for, every pushback against major candidates in the name of religion, and every headline about yet another injustice urged me to speak up.

But who would listen? That's ultimately what stopped me. I convinced myself that my voice didn't matter- there were already well-known pastors, bloggers, and theologians who were speaking up (some of whom now mocked for it)- and my audience was limited anyway. And to be honest, i felt like it didn't matter. Most everyone I talked to had their mind made up and no bombshell headline or "October surprise" was going to get them to change it. Yet there were also many I knew who felt marginalized, who felt they didn't have a voice, who felt like none of their brothers or sisters in Christ could ever understand where they were coming from.

So I prayed about it. A lot. And I finally heard an answer: "don't be afraid of your voice."

"But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." -Jeremiah 20:9

I honestly didn't think Trump was going to win. Yet despite the polling, I could sense the political winds blowing in his favor so I expected he would make it close. At the same time, I couldn't believe it as I was watching the returns with my family as Hillary lost Ohio, then Pennsylvania, then Michigan (although they stayed too close to call, the momentum was already well in Trump's favor).

I wanted to be hopeful. So many of my friends reassured me that he's surround himself with good people and that his tone would change once the magnitude of his office set in. Neither happened in my opinion. So over the holidays, with this blog looming over my shoulder, I continued to watch the news for every irresponsible tweet, every unqualified nomination, and still more injustice.

And then there were the talking-heads asking the question that ultimately brought me to this point, "what is the church to do now?"

I've been teaching adult Sunday school for the past year and I've been surprised how so much of the Bible is political. I always recognized Jesus-as-Messiah as being counter-political. I recognized the political subversiveness in his teaching. But it wasn't until we studied the book of Revelation that this point really set in. The Gospel is political, there is no denying it. But how we apply that 'Gospel-politic' has been debated for centuries. Obviously, I'm not going to solve that here.

But I will offer my take. This blog began motivated by the unholy marriage between the church and American politics. It returns in a new era, but the motivation is the same.

Today, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. Today, I am a Christian. And I will no longer be silent.

(Don't get me wrong, I will continue to blog about many of the same things I did before. But I plan on digging more deeply into the political messages of the New Testament. This isn't all about Trump, rather our misguided expectations putting too much of our faith into politics, regardless of which sides we're coming from.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Go For Launch

My son's newest favorite joke: "When do astronauts eat? Launch time!" (Just don't let him know you've heard the punch line if he comes up and asks, "do you want to do jokes?")

The countdown to launch is an exciting time. Thanks to the Internet you can listen in when launches are broadcast by NASA television or streamed by Spaceflight Now. You can hear the launch director ask each person responsible for a part of the launch, or a function of the launch vehicle, if they are a "go/no-go" to go ahead with the launch.

"Weather" "Go"
"Flight software" "Go"
"Fuel" "Go"

And my favorite from The Simpsons: "Make rocket go now!"

(For an idea of how intense and involved this is, check out the countdown for a Space Shuttle launch. And that list is only a summary; a lot more goes on behind the scenes.) The countdown may be exciting to those watching or listening in. It is exciting for the lay-person. But I guarantee you it is stressful for those involved. Months, if not years, of preparation have come to fruition. And even the best preparation does not completely eliminate the risk of the entire thing blowing up.

I mentioned before that I'm working on small group curriculum for my church. Well my countdown is now at t-minus two weeks and counting. Am I ready? Are you kidding? There is so much to do between now and "launch" that it is hard for me to picture how we're ever going to get there. Thankfully, I have a group of great people who have been working very hard to make sure the details all fall into place.

If you have a small group campaign or a curriculum launch, please pray for those preparing it. They need to seek the best way to launch the small groups, make sure they cover the essentials, take the proper steps, and prayerfully figure out the secret to being successful. (and as helpful as all these links are, I'm not really doing any of these- at least not in any traditional sense)

So to say the least, I'll be pretty tied up the next couple of weeks. Not to mention it's my "busy season" at work which means I haven't had the down-time I usually have during the day to work on this like I would normally. And I still have a lot of irons in the fire.

In the meantime, here are a couple important announcements. First, the Antelope Valley Christian Writers' Conference has been cancelled. While that takes some burden off my shoulders it is bittersweet. I am friends with the person who organizes this and I know how much hard work he's put into it. Second, I haven't been as active in social media as I would like. One reason is the busyness of work, but the main reason is that I haven't updated my phone in pretty much forever so none of my mobile Twitter clients work. What also doesn't help with respect to this blog, is that StumbledUpon no longer supports link-shrinking with, so I've been using HootSuite. I like that platform a lot, but I don't like its interface on my phone. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers. Regardless, this post needs updating when I'm finally back up and running fully.

Given all that, you won't see any posts here for a while and you might not see me around on social media (but I'll still be posting links on my Facebook page!). Please pray for my "launch" and I'll be back in the swing of things before you know it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Will People Remember?

I remember as a kid debating his "worth" with a friend. We were trading baseball cards and I needed his to complete my All Stars. But he wouldn't give it up. "He's the best hitter in the game, and one of the best all-time." I didn't believe it. I'm a National League guy myself, so the best hitter in the game was obviously Tony Gwynn. And as far as all-time? At that age, my knowledge began and ended with Ted Williams. So of course I figured fair value was one of my "doubles" like Jerry Hairston Sr. (respect the specs!)

But the numbers don't lie. One of only four players to have hit 300 home runs, 3000 hits and hit for .300 average (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Stan Musial being the others). He's a Hall-of-Famer. He is the only player to have won batting titles (for best average) in three decades, and his best season is the closest anyone has come to .400 since Williams did it in 1941.

With that last one, if you're a baseball fan you've figured out who I'm talking about- George Brett.

For the die-hard baseball fan, stats mean everything. They offer comparisons across generations and eras (no, I won't get into steroids here) which means you can say George Brett and Ted Williams in the same sentence. (Or even George Brett and Hank Aaron, but that feels weird)

But ask a casual baseball fan about the legacy of George Brett and they are likely to remember this:

This happened 30 years ago; an outburst memorialized with an anniversary. I don't even have to play the video. I've seen it so many times I know exactly how Brett looks as he storms out of the dugout. I know, because I see that face in the mirror sometimes. And sometimes I see it in my son.

I showed this video to my son not long ago after one of his epic temper tantrums. I told him, "here is one of the best players to ever play baseball, but all most people remember is this." I continued with the fatherly pep-talk of he can be anything he wants to be in life, do anything he wants to do, but if he can't control himself none of that will matter. All anyone will remember about him are his outbursts.

I think he took the lesson well. Of course, I don't set a good example. My temper is probably my greatest vice.

There's a story about a boy who struggles with his temper. His dad tells him to go pound a nail in the fence every time he gets angry, to take out his frustrations there. Over time the son grew tired of pounding nails into the stubborn old wood so one day he approached his father and handed him the hammer. "I'm done," he told him. "Good, now go out and take out all the nails," the father replied. "But dad, the fence will be filled with holes!" His father then explained how that's what anger does. And no matter how much you try to fix it, it does damage that can not be so easily repaired. Anger leaves holes.

Yes, this lesson was for my son. But it was just as much for me.

"In your anger do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26)

Monday, August 12, 2013

When We Love the Least of These

A little over a year ago I was part of a book club reading Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis, which documents her time in Uganda eventually adopting many of the kids she went to care for. I was reminded of her when I first heard the story behind the award-winning Documentary Blood Brother. Similarly, this documentary tells the story of Rocky Braat who went to an orphanage in India for a "short term" missions trip to find himself and found much more instead.

This story is compelling enough but Braat's friend, filmmaker Steve Hoover didn't stop there and has made a new documentary, Gennadiy about a priest in the Ukraine who "rescues" homeless kids from the streets. I put rescued in quotes because his methods are unorthodox to say the least. Hoover is currently running a Kickstarter campaign that concludes tomorrow.
So this is supposed to be a "music Monday" post, so I added the video for Audio Adrenaline's song, Kings and Queens. As a parent, seeing children suffer tears at my heart but as a Christian, seeing people like Katie Davis, Rocky Braat, Fr Gennadiy, and the Hands and Feet Project from Audio Adrenaline encourage me that there is hope out there.

Without further ado, here are some videos. Grab a tissue.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Daily Worship

As some of you know, I've been busily writing small group curriculum for my church with a group of very talented people. Besides the usual lesson + discussion material, we are also adding daily devotional and weekly accountability topics. During our last meeting this raised an intriguing question- what is the difference between a devotional, "quiet time", and personal study. The worry was people committing to the daily material if they are already dedicated to a personal study.

So what do you think, what is the difference between these three acts of personal worship?

We concluded that you can tell a lot by the name. A quiet time is just that- a time to withdraw to a quiet place (Luke 5:16) dedicating that time to God. There is no script, no manual for what this looks like. I know some people who write poems during this time. Some will hide away in a prayer closet to be free from distractions. Others will sing praises to God. The goal here is a quiet, secluded recharge of your soul. In physical terms, think of rest. (My newest blogger-buddy, Rick Dawson has a great series on this very thing that is worth checking out)

A devotional likewise is self-explanatory. This is not necessarily a time, but rather a topic this is "devoted" to the Lord. Devotionals are short and simple by nature. You can buy daily or weekly devotionals at any Christian bookstore. You can even get daily Bible verse/deep thought calendars. The goal of the devotional to feed your soul; water the soil, if you will.

Which brings us to personal study. There is not a one-size-fits-all description. Some prefer depth, others breadth. Some people will do a word-study on a particular issue of need (purity, boldness, the promises of God). Still others will dig into the original Greek or Hebrew of a specific passage. This is not necessarily daily, but it can be. But it requires more significant time and focus than the other two. This is like eating a full meal, versus drinking milk. Or rather than just watering the soil, this is applying fertilizer.

It is important to note these distinctions. When I was a "baby Christian" I was taught how to have a catch-all quiet time: spend x number of minutes in Bible study (a chapter a day in the Gospels was always recommended as a good place to start) plus y number of minutes in prayer, usually following the "ACTS" outline.

And that was it.

More depth of study (referencing the nobility of the Bereans) and instructions on prayer (considering Jesus' own personal instruction to his disciples) were talked about and implicitly encouraged, but we were expected to figure these things out and mature on our own.

This hurt me spiritually. I soon outgrew the basics of the quiet time and started delving more into personal study. But in doing so, I lost out in my devotional and prayer life. While I've recovered to some degree the discipline of devotion (thank you daily devotionals from YouVersion!) I still struggle with growing in my prayer life as I mentioned in my sermon last week.

But I now see that just like I can't eat the same thing every day for lunch (even though I do), I cannot feed myself spiritually the same way all the time and still walk away satisfied. My meal plan needs diversification and it needs a balanced diet.

What about you? What method of personal worship do you prefer or trend to most? Is there one area you particularly struggle in?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Day in the Life

The following are notes from my sermon last week titled "A Day In the Life". You can listen to it here.

A Day in the Life- from our series of Beatle’s tunes called “Get Back”. I used the song as a springboard for discussion and as the outline for my lesson using Acts 3 as my narrative.

From the song, “Got up, got out of bed, ran a comb across my head…” Are our lives really that different? We all have the same routine: get up, get ready, do what we have to do, come back, go to bed, start over. Our lives fundamentally all look the same. So how do we live a life that stands out, that makes a difference? What does a day in the life of a disciple of Jesus look like?

The song begins with the verse, “I read the news today, oh boy…” The first point is “I read the news today… oh, boy”

-what is our reaction to the news today? Do we get depressed, angry, stressed out?

-Francis Chan “Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace towards others, or our tight grip of control. Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s ok to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional.”

-Just a couple months before what we read in Acts 3, the disciples witnessed Jesus arrested, beaten, and killed. In fear they locked themselves away, unsure of what was going to happen next. But Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them, giving them confidence to face the world.

--Where do we get our confidence from? -Our response to the news in the world needs to be prayer

--Acts 3 begins with Peter and John going to the temple to pray

--I’m not a prayer warrior. I’m challenged by this quote from Martin Luther, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”

---The “epic quiet time” is an intimidating thought. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to pray. So here’s a tip- pray three times a day for 10 minutes each:

1) In the morning, praying for the day ahead
2) At midday, praying for the here and now
3) At the end of the day, giving thanks for the day that was

-Which is exactly what Peter and John were doing in Acts 3:1. Jews in Jerusalem would go to the temple three times a day to pray: 9 in the morning (see Acts 2), midday, and 3 in the afternoon (or evening in other examples)

-Psalm 55:17 “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.”

-If we can get in that habit, it’s not too much of a leap to “pray continually” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

--rejoice, pray, give thanks / morning, noon, night / three prayers

The middle section of the song begins, “got up, got out of bed…”. The second point is Got Up and Got Out

-we are not called to live a monastic, cloistered life isolated from the rest of the world. The disciples didn’t- they went out. The end of Acts 2 mentions that they spent every day in the Temple courts.

-Acts 3:2-8

--this was their regular routine. We know they went three times a day. We know from chapter 2 that they went every day. We also know from chapter 1 that they lived together. So you have to figure they went the same way, the same time, seeing the same people. The man they met was also there every day and we read later that everyone recognized him. So you have to wonder, how many times did Peter and John pass him by?

-We pass by needs every day. It is hard to break out of our routines to take notice the people we see every day. What a difference it would make to take the time to get to know the cashier that always serves you at the bank, the checker you always see at the grocery store, the beggar you see every day at the same intersection.

--“silver and gold I do not have…” It is easier to throw money at someone’s problem than it is to take the time to get to know them and their need. To quote Gustavo Gutierrez “So you say you love the poor? Name them”

-Peter and John knew that giving this man change would not bring about change. So they offered something that would have eternal impact: “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth…”

--It is Jesus’ name, not our efforts, that has power (v 16). John Stott writes about this verse, “The power is Christ, but the hand was Peter’s.” It takes both. Jesus needs us to be his hands and feet, but we need His power to have a lasting impact (and not get stressed out by relying on our own power).

-Peter and John went about their daily routine, acting in Jesus’ name. Brennan Manning writes, “God is calling each and every Christian to personally participate in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.” And later, “Jesus said the world is going to recognize you as His by only one sign: the way you are with one another on the street every day.”

-Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whatever you do, do for the Glory of God.”. A.W. Tozer writes about this verse, “Paul’s exhortation to do all to the glory of God is more than pious idealism... It opens before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God.”

-every day, every act

--so as you go about your daily routine, ask yourself what you are doing in Jesus’ name for the glory of God. As you get up and get out, consider that there are no small moments, no insignificant actions, and that everything is an opportunity to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

--If you’re afraid, remember Peter who sunk while walking with Jesus on water because of a little wind. Who assured Jesus he would stick by him but gave in to peer pressure and denied him three times. But this same Peter saw the resurrected Christ and “received a spirit of boldness.” Because of this, he would draw a crowd.

The third point plays off the lyrics but mixes it up a little: I Made the News Today, Oh Boy

-When we live our lives in Jesus’ name, people will notice. What do you do then?

--1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

--if you’re living your life in Jesus’ name, you need to be prepared to explain why. Why do you make the choices you do? Why do you have the hope that you have?

-Acts 3:12-end

--Peter used this opportunity to share his faith. He was able to share about Jesus because he knew Jesus. He was able to share about the Old Testament promises because he knew them. We cannot share what we do not know.

-how is your Bible study? Can you honestly say that you “know” Jesus? Do you spend time with him, getting to know him, sharing everything with him? Do you know the foundations of your faith so that you can “share your faith” with others?

-if we skip to Acts 4:4 we read that their number grew to 5000. So let’s talk about “sharing our faith”

-imagine Peter and John saying to this man, “silver and gold I do not have, but here’s an invitation for church” or Peter saying to the crowd that gathered, “if you think this was great, come back Sunday at 10:00 and see what we’ll do then!”

--no, Peter shared right then, right there, about Jesus. He didn’t wait- he shared what he knew. He shared about Jesus because it was in His name that this man was healed. It was in His name that Peter and John lived their lives. And it made an impact. When we share our faith, it needs to be more than just an invitation to church, we need to literally share our faith. Who is Jesus to you, what has he done in your life, what is he doing now? Be prepared to give an answer.

-one day, one act, one diversion from their regular routine changed this man’s life forever and saved the souls of 2000 men.

-A.W. Tozer: “Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.” There is no common act when you live your life for the glory of God in the name of Jesus.

What makes A Day In The Life so recognizable is how it ends. An orchestra builds what is called a glissando, building up to a crescendo. Note after note, louder and louder, higher and higher; our lives, if we are living in Jesus’ name are building towards something great. Then unexpectedly John, Paul, George, Ringo pound on pianos in the climax of the song. That last note lasts 42 seconds. What we build will last for eternity.

If we live a day in the life a disciple, in prayer, in action, and in the word.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Short Drive For Forgiveness

I remember when the news came out. It was the turn of the century, a new millennium, a jubilee year for the church. To celebrate, Pope John Paul II declared that Catholics could earn an indulgence by taking a pilgrimage to a [long] short list of churches or holy sites. Conveniently for me, one of those churches was the Diocese of Denver.

It was just a few years earlier that JP2 (as we affectionately called him) visited Denver for World Youth Day- the same event Pope Francis I is currently celebrating in Brazil. Yesterday's headline was how his convoy made a wrong turn and got caught in a throng of pilgrims and revelers. If you're not Catholic, it is hard to describe the celebrity status of the Pontiff- but seeing all those people crowding themselves closer to the non-popemobile is worth more than my words.

I was one of them nearly two decades ago. I remember being shooed away by Secret Service as my friends and I got a little too close to the helicopter landing site at Mile High Stadium and later allowing some nuns a better view (right next to a barricade) of the Pope's convoy on his way to mass at Cherry Creek Park.

All that to say, I get it. But back to 2000 I was faced with a dilemma. I had stopped attending the Catholic church, so I wasn't technically in the "good graces" required to receive the indulgence- a remission of the "temporal penalty" of my sin. At the same time, I had spent the previous two to three months studying the Bible and coming to my own convictions regarding the forgiveness of sins. So I had a choice to make, take a short convenient drive to downtown for a temporary fix to my sinful nature without changing my lifestyle, or actually repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of my sins (Acts 2:38).

I'll leave you guessing which I chose.

At home I have an old Catholic Bible. In the inside cover are a list of indulgences from Pope Pius XII based on the frequency with which one read it. When I open that Bible and look at those I scratch my head, wondering how that doctrine survived the Protestant Reformation. I figure many others felt the same way when they saw last week's headline "Pope forgives Twitter followers". The news resonated, even if it got the theology all mixed up.

I'll leave it to others to recap the subject and correct the doctrine. Meanwhile, maybe you should follow Pope Francis on Twitter to cover all your bases. (or just trust the atoning blood of Jesus instead)