Thursday, September 24, 2009

Forgiveness and Football

I've written briefly about Michael Vick and our willingness to forgive. I just read this post by Jon Acuff applying the same spirit to Kanye West after the MTV VMAs. But I'm posting to link to this great article (though sadly just skimming the surface of a much deeper topic) at Fox Sports about Tony Dungy and his role in Vick's reinstatement.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Making Jesus Popular

That was on a sign at a construction site for a new megachurch being built. Really. But popularity was never Jesus' goal on earth. Just a sample (I love Biblegateway!):

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. -Matthew 10:22

Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. -Luke 6:22

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. -John 7:7

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.' -John 15:18-25

Yet we try so hard to be "seeker sensitive" or to be "relatable" or "relevant" instead of being radical. We dress a certain way, we incorporate multimedia into sermons, we have bands playing contemporary worship music (or cheesy pop music) instead of letting the Gospel of Jesus stand on its own.

Many flock to Saddleback Church because of Rick Warren. Thousands fill the old Alamo Dome to hear Joel Osteen. Celebrity also draws people. The fastest growing church in America is that of American Idol winner Kris Allen. Coincidence?

Once upon a time in my church, growth was used as a "sign" of God's blessing and that if the church wasn't growing at an incredible pace then there was something wrong. Spirituality soon began to be measured with numbers. If you weren't constantly bringing visitors, you were chastised. So begins the pressure to be popular.

But it is not supposed to be this way. Not to say a church that's growing old and withering on the vine is ok, but we need to check our motivations and ask if we're compromising the message of Jesus for the sake of attendance. We need to remind ourselves of what was prophesied about Jesus:

"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:2b-3)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Perspective

Another business trip and another chance to get caught up on posts. In the meantime though, flying I was reminded of how what seems to look big in our eyes is small in God's. Looking at the world from the window of an airplane puts this into perspective. At night, the Port of LA looked like the game Battleship. Taking off from LAX requires you to fly over the ocean for a bit before turning around on a heading to your destination. During the day you can see the waves cresting at Dockweiler beach as you climb from the runway. But the higher you get, the harder it becomes to see the whitecaps. Eventually, you can't even see waves, only a smooth, glassy ocean.

Likewise, I've flown over some of the big fires we've had lately and noticed that the further away you are from the fire, the more the violently rising smoke looks like a still cloud that reaches to the ground. Fire too, looks still from a distance.

No matter how big our problems appear to us, like waves crashing over us, they are small in God's eyes. No matter how hectic our lives feel, we may as well be standing still in God's eyes. And with that perspective, we can take comfort that God is looking out for us. We need not worry or stress. But "be still and know that [he] is God." (Psalm 46:10a)

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?...

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust...

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in...

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing...

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:12, 15, 21-22, 26, 28-31)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Love Your Enemies

I was going to post about this when I first read about it, but listening on Air1 this morning reminded me of the pastor in Arizona who is praying for President Obama to get cancer and die like the late Senator Ted Kennedy. I don't know where to start other than grieve that many who call themselves Christians agree with him. One, in fact, brought a gun to one of the President's town-halls on health care. A caller to Air1 said he didn't "necessarily agree" with the pastor, but "sees nothing wrong with praying that God will remove evil from high places."

So here we see the problem with mixing religion and politics- the label of opposing political beliefs as 'evil'. However, the Bible tells us this is not the case. Paul, writing to the church in Rome wrote, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Rom 13:1) Keep in mind, Paul is writing to the same church that within a generation would be dipped in tar and burned alive to provide lighting in the Colosseum while their brothers and sisters in Christ were fed to lions. This church existed under a government that practiced infanticide and did not value what we'd call traditional marriage. Yet Paul says even this government is established by God.

Well just because we 'submit' to those authorities doesn't mean we have to agree with them. Of course that's true. But disagreeing is a far cry from wishing death or even calling someone evil. Even if our president (or anyone else for that matter) was truly evil in his entire being (can anyone really believe that?), how should we treat that person? Again, Paul gives the answer to a Roman church who justly feared for their very lives.

"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary:
'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:19-21)
And earlier, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." (Rom 12:17a)

The caller this morning said he wasn't afraid of being called crazy for standing up against evil and even went so far as to suggest those who don't are 'watered down' Christians. Well there are a lot of instructions in the Bible on how to deal with evil that we can turn to. I personally like this one from Jesus and I'd recommend Pastor Anderson reads it: "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:39) Though I admit that's a bit of a cliche. But interestingly most of the time when Jesus is talking about evil, he's talking about our very own hearts. In other words, we need to check ourselves.

But there's more. Again Paul writing in Romans after describing "all kinds of evil" in Chapter 1 begins the second chapter by writing, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." (Rom 2:1)

If you want to be militant, you could look at the "armor of God" in Ephesians 6 where we read, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Eph 6:12) But even here, the struggle "is not against flesh and blood" and the evil forces are spiritual, not physical. So we use weapons "not... of the world" (2 Corinthians 10:4ff).

But again, this battle is personal. We do not fight on others' behalf. "Our struggle..." When it comes to facing evil personally, we are instructed to "flee the evil desires of youth..." (2 Timothy 2:22) to "get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent..." (James 1:21) "do not conform to the evil desires you had..." (1 Peter 1:14) to "turn from evil and do good..." (1 Peter 3:11) to "not imitate what is evil..." (3 John 1:11) and to "resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7) for "the Lord will rescue [you] from every evil attack." (2 Timothy 4:18)

I see nothing in here that advocates fighting evil in others or wishing harm on anyone. It's a shame that a pastor (the word means shepherd) is spreading such false doctrine. But we shouldn't be surprised. "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matthew 7:15)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fake Plastic Jesus

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake chinese rubber plant
In fake plastic earth.
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plants
-Radiohead Fake Plastic Trees

Roughly 80% of Americans claim to be Christians. Woo-to-the-hoo. I look around, and I don't see it. Granted, I don't expect to see Paradise. Not so long as sin reigns in this world. But I would hope it would look better.

So what's the problem? You could point at many things: sin, lukewarm churches, cheap grace, a watered down gospel, politics, and I'm sure you could think of more. But this video, I think, does a great job summing it up. (Thanks Luke for sharing this Sunday!)



There's much of this to which I can relate, and as I watched it last this last Sunday I could help but feel challenged. And what came to mind was The Fellowship of the Unashamed. It's been a long time since I've heard it and just as long since I've felt it.

I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed.

I have the Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.

My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, back up, let up, or shut up until I've preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes.

And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My colors will be clear for "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.." (Romans 1:16)

This is often attributed to Dr. Bob Moorehead, though I've also heard it attributed to "an African missionary who recited this right before he was martyred." This also may not be the correct version. In a sad demonstration of the division in the Church, some versions leave out "Holy Spirit Power" and others leave out "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ". Ironic that some versions of The Fellowship of the Unashamed are ashamed to call themselves disciples of Jesus. Maybe their Jesus is plastic.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What is a Hate Crime?

One of the key pieces of legislation the late Senator Edward Kennedy was working towards was hate-crime legislation named after Matthew Shepard, the gay college student brutally murdered in 1998. Now I could write a dozen blog posts about whether this crime was actually a bonified hate-crime, but you cannot excuse the brutality. For that alone, the crime should be treated differently. Much like the grisly murder of Brandon McClelland in Paris, Texas a year ago.

The argument against hate-crime legislation is that all crimes are motivated by hate, or at the very least, a disregard for fellow human beings and/or their possessions. But when I equate hate with crime, I think about the Apostle John who wrote, "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer..." (1 John 3:15a) and with murder I think about Jesus' words, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22a) It's obvious how anger links to hate, and it's easy to see that not all crimes are motivated by either hate or anger. So I do think that not all crimes are created equal. (Though to be fair, all sins are equal in the eyes of God)

But the focus of hate-crimes are generally race-related and to a lesser extent sexual-orientation. But what is often lost in the culture-war debate is that religion is also included. With the Global War on Terrorism, it seems obvious that a practicing Muslim in this country could/would be at risk of a hate-crime. But Christians may also be victims. Look no further than the shootings a couple years ago in Colorado, or many church shooting since (the Amish school in Pennsylvania, the Crystal Cathedral, and so on). While we may be shocked by the magnitude of those cases, they don't compare with the case of Carol Daniels who was gruesomely murdered a week ago in Anadarko, Oklahoma. While the crime itself may sound 'typical' given the location and her ministry, the details are what are shocking. Yet I have yet to hear anyone refer to this as a hate-crime. How can it not be? She was obviously targeted because of her faith being found "behind the altar with her arms outstretched" in a mockery of the crucifixion.

Some argue that minorities or homosexuals do not need "special protection" afforded by hate-crime legislation. But I think a different way to look at it is punishing the crime reflecting the brutality of the crime. That applies to any and all victims, even Christians.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Standing Firm in the Pocket

For the non-football fan: The 'pocket' is the space formed around a quarterback when his offensive line (the big guys in front of him trying to keep other big guys from tackling him) is pushed into the backfield (where the quarterback and running backs are before the play starts).

I've given an example of what to do and what not to do, standing firm in your faith while in the spotlight of fame or your career. With the college football season kicking off this weekend, perhaps no spotlight is greater than that on Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Florida Gators, returning national champion and Heisman Trophy winner. I've talked about him before, but I wanted to give him some more column length (as if he doesn't have miles of it already).

He is well known for his missions work, his prison ministry, and his celibacy (Pat Forde took a cheap shot in his opening Forde Yard Dash by saying, "A freshman is starting at quarterback at USC. A virgin is starting at quarterback at Florida."). And his openness with his faith combined with his notoriety make him an easy target for criticism. AOL's Fanhouse speculates how long it will take for someone to write "There Is" "No God" in eyeblack to counter Tebow's "John" "3:16" and "Phil" "4:3" to get under his skin. As I already pointed out, his chastity is already mocked by the hyper-testosterone sports nut. And you know there are girls out there who are actively trying to tempt him- it's a tired cliche: every girls wants to hook up with the starting quarterback. Amidst the trash talking every player receives on the gridiron, he must also contend with his own temper and pride (he drew criticism for doing the "Gator Chomp" in an Oklahoma player's face in last season's "championship" game).

Under this scrutiny he has held up remarkably well. He's not boastful, not proud, nor rude or self-seeking. Sounds like he walked right out of 1 Corinthians 13. But we must be careful not to put him on too high a pedestal. He can't be the object of our worship. Ted Kluck in Christianity Today begs us to cut him some slack. And we must always be careful when crowning the next sports messiah to remember how the mighty fall.

Regardless, Tim Tebow is a heck of a QB and a great role model of a Christian standing firm in his faith, even if he's scrambling out of the pocket.

Friday, September 04, 2009

... You Will Not Stand at All

I posted recently about Jim Caviezel standing firm in his convictions regarding abortion despite the risk to his career. Of course, standing firm in one’s faith is more than a stance on a disputable political issue (though his objections aren’t politically motivated, there are Christians on both sides of the “right and available” debate). And I admire those who are consistent in applying their convictions even if I don’t agree with them, such as Ted Olson and LeRoy Carhart. I admire and respect them because holding on to their convictions carry risks to their careers, their relationships, and in the case of Carhart, their lives. It would be no surprise then to hear about someone being fired from their job because they would not waver from their convictions.

But I have no respect for those who cherry pick their convictions for personal gain or notoriety. Of course I’m talking about Carrie Prejean. I’ve mentioned this before, but now that she’s filed a lawsuit for “unlawful termination” I’m appalled. I would defend her if her “faith” was demonstrated in anything more than her views on gay-marriage. This is a woman who underwent cosmetic surgery for the sake of a vain competition, who flaunted her newfound fame in the wake of her honestly expressing her opinion. Sure, she attends a large evangelical church in San Diego. Good for her. But that’s not why she was stripped of her crown. Like I said, I would expect to hear about someone being fired on the basis of their convictions. Say the dividing issue was gay-marriage. Was she stripped because she wouldn’t bless or officiate over one? Obviously that’s not in her job description, so her opinion had no bearing on the expectations of her role. I would be more sympathetic if that were the case, but being fired for having an unpopular opinion, while wrong, does not equal discrimination.


It could be argued she is standing firm in her convictions. Fine, then denounce the pageant and all it represents with the objectification and subjugation of women. Speak out on any other faith-based (not politics-based) issue. Stop trying to sell yourself and your book. Stop seeking fame, and be humble.

"If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." (Isaiah 7:9b)