Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pro Choice (but not like you think)

Just when you think the lightning-rod of politics and Christianity couldn’t get any more polarized, I saw this headline “Pastor’s Wife: Counseling freed Haggard of gay urges”. Of course, I left homosexuality off yesterday’s post as the other issue that does Christianity more harm than good when muddied with politics. But this article wasn’t what I expected when I clicked the link. It discusses Gayle Haggard’s new book chronicling her coping with her husband’s homosexual infidelity and “recovery”. The headline is a bit inflammatory because of the notion that you can counsel away homosexuality (or pray it away, and so forth). But the interview on the Today show heads this off as she states clearly, “That’s not true for everybody. That’s his story.”

It also brings up an important point about love, heterosexual and homosexual: it is a choice. This goes back to my distinction between lust and love- lust is selfish while love is sacrificial. This goes beyond the notion of love being the same as a feeling of affection. We choose to love our spouse, our children, our lovers, etc even while they drive us crazy because it is a choice. We may not “feel” love when we are most hurt, but we have to choose to continue to love those who hurt us. That is independent of sexuality. I would hope both gay and straight could agree on that point.

Gayle is a great example of this, choosing to love and not reject her husband regardless of fidelity or sexual identity. That trait is rare these days (another headline today: John Edwards and wife formally separated) and is hard for so many to understand. One justification for divorce is attempting to advocate for the children- that it would be better to be raised in a broken home than in a loveless one. But again, love is a choice. Maybe it would be better for a child to be raised in a broken home than to be raised in a home where one or both parents intentionally choose to be selfish and not love.

Back to sexuality, there are homosexuals in committed heterosexual relationships. Why/how? Because they choose to be. This is another example that is so hard for many in the world to understand but I cannot express it enough, love is independent of sex. I think if more embraced this view of love, many of the prejudicial barriers between Christians and homosexuals could be broken down.

Maybe we need a refresher of 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

-1 Cor 13:4-8

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Feeding The Political Stereotype of Christians

If it's not clear by now, my politics are mostly conservative though I like to think of myself as a moderate. I don't like extreme stances on any political topic, recognizing the political process is designed to force compromise. And few things make my blood boil as much as the mixing of politics and religion, as if voting a particular way makes me more Christ-like.

One issue that is always right in the center of the politics/religion debate is abortion. Another is... guns. Guns? Well, didn't you know the Bible Belt holds a holster? (insert laugh track here) When either of these topics come up, the Left almost always overreacts, regardless of whether religion is involved. But if you mix both of these with religion, you can imagine the reaction in the Main Stream Media and even more so on teh internetz. And both issues have come front and center recently.

First, a week ago ABC "broke" the news that a supplier of gun sights to the military has been encoding Bible versus in their serial numbers. I watched the news clip and I didn't get it. An example serial number would look like AOOCX32JN8:12 (taken from this photo). So you'd have to actually look for the serial number, care enough to read it, and notice the scripture verse at the end. To a Christian, the reference would be obvious with the abbreviation-number:number format. But to a non-Christian, it would be gibberish. And I say "broke" the news because as was quickly pointed out, this really is old news. Though there are several concerns: one, if the weapon falls into the hand of an enemy (in this case, Islamic terrorists) it would send the message that yes, the Global War on Terror is a "Holy War" (which it is, by the way, on one side anyway); two, that this is offensive to the non-religious; and three, that this violates the Separation of Church and State .

One and two don't hold water because they would first have to find and recognize the "code" and I highly doubt that would happen by accident. This did come to the media's attention because of number two however. Not because someone noticed the Scripture, but because he heard others talking about it, which caused him to make the argument of number three. Yes, the Federal Government purchased the sights, but a company supplied serial number, logo, or anything else does not represent the government, only the company. It's not as if there is a law that only Christians can use this weapon. Of course the media was quick to inflame the issue by noting the irony of using a gun with a Scripture reference to kill Islamic extremists. Of course, the point could be made without making pot-shots. (Funny, when I bookmarked this to use in my blog, there were only a few comments. As of this posting there are 168 while most posts on this particular blog average less than 10) And even if you legally prevented the company from putting whatever they want on their product, you cannot prevent a soldier from carving anything into his stock, painting the nose of a bomber, or writing a message on a bomb like "say hi to Allah for me". And if you think that doesn't happen, then you are willfully ignorant of the reality of war.

The other recent news is of an "anti-abortion" ad starring Tim Tebow for the Super Bowl. If you want to see an example of overreacting, just read the comments from the Women's Media Center. I personally love this gem, "By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers." I wonder if they consider the benign ads by "the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, you know, the Mormons" to be homophobic after the backlash against that church after California's Prop 8? The National Organization of Women called the add "demeaning" even though the context given is actually celebratory of life. I wonder if they consider a baby shower, a christening, or infant baptism to be demeaning against someone who is pro-choice or has had an abortion, because it seems as though this ad is in the same context. Anyway, I appreciate CBS for sticking to their guns. But I don't know if the can withstand another week and a half of political pressure. Of course, this news wouldn't have even caught my eye if it wasn't for the broad-brush headline "Women Oppose Super Bowl Ad". You'd think if these organizations speak for all women, they would be just as outraged by GoDaddy ads. But that would be asking too much.

So what does this have to do with our personal walk as Public Christians? First, there are some whose devotion to the NRA is as strong, if not stronger, than their devotion to God. That is a real temptation that should be resisted. Second, we also have to resist the temptation to elevate celebrities to idol-like status as Tim Tebow has become. (This ad would have never been greenlit if not for his involvement) Yes, he's a missionary. Yes, he's pro-life. And as a football player, he has as much right to endorse his "product" as Payton Manning does DirectTV. But at the same time, we should pick our battles carefully and stand on our own convictions, not those of the Christian celebrity du jour.

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16) The shrewd part we seem to have figured out. Now we just need to work on our innocence.

Nothing New to See Here

I post in spurts. Sometimes I am very active, others... well not so much. Part of that is a function of time and opportunity, part of it is inspiration. I've really appreciated all the posts the 'blog carnies' contribute to the Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley's. This week's topic is peace. Honestly, if I felt more at peace, I'd have something to contribute and time to do it. Trying to make deadlines and follow every blog under the sun does not bring me peace and actually sucks the joy away from keeping this blog. On the other hand, seeing so many different takes on a single subject, knowing that each are doing everything they know how to honor God, does bring me peace. So today I will find peace in the (so far) 29 posts on the subject. I hope you do too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Angels and Demons and Popcorn


The movie Legion, about an angel (Paul Bettany) fighting against God for the survival of humans, opened yesterday. Both my wife and I were captivated by a billboard advertising the movie and I had to look it up because I didn’t know anything about it. My thoughts on the preview? Meh, it looks like the Prophecy, but with roles reversed. Interesting theology though- God is fed up with humans and wants to wipe them out (despite “want[ing] all men to be saved” 1 Tim 2:4) but has to stand against the archangel Michael. The irony is that some Christian denominations believe the archangel Michael referenced in Revelation and Jude is really Jesus. Or rather, that Jesus is really the archangel Michael incarnate and Jesus does, in fact, save us from God’s wrath. Also, “Legion” is the name of the demon(s) Jesus cast out of a man into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:10, Luke 8:31).

Of course Legion isn’t the first movie of its kind, and the eternal struggle between good and evil is a common sci-fi/fantasy/horror theme as noted by a couple of recent online articles. Some movies and literature take more theological liberties than others, so we should be wary in seeking doctrinal relevance in our entertainment. In fact, oftentimes the only real spiritual linkage is a simple acknowledgement of God, Satan, and/or angels. These themes are familiar enough to appease any viewer, despite their theology, so I also wouldn’t attribute the glut of “religious” movies to any inroads the Christian consumer has made as a demographic. I don’t think the makers of Legion, or The Book of Eli, or The Road are banking on the same customers as The Passion of the Christ.
I recommend the Parallel Universe article because it references several movies categorized by spiritual themes. Some of these are classics (The Exorcist, The Omen) while others are less known (Race With the Devil, The Sentinel) and of course some are personal favorites (The Prophecy, The Seventh Sign). One glaring omission, in my humble opinion, is Denzel Washington's Fallen. (That should keep your Netflix busy for a while)

As for comics, which aren’t as well known here's my recommended reading list:
Deathblow (Image): A former special-ops soldier is hired by a clandestine religious order to protect a seal between Hell and Earth from being broken. The location for all you Bible scholars? The plains of Megiddo.

Hellshock (Image): About a fallen angel recruiting a young woman into his battle against evil. But is he who he says he is? (If the story doesn't grab you, it's worth checking out for some of the best artwork by Jae Lee ever seen)
Lucifer (DC/Vertigo): About you know who, who is tired of his role in the eternal struggle of good versus evil and leaves Hell in search of a "higher" calling.

Hellstorm (Marvel): A once campy character, was revitalized in a 1993 series written by Warren Ellis (among others). That series alone is worth checking out following a similar theme to Vertigo's Lucifer, but in this case it is Satan's son who is rebelling against his father.

Ghost Rider (Marvel): This character has a long history (and no, I have not seen the movie), but was recently retconned (meaning, his history was changed for the sake of story) to no longer being possessed by a demon, but by an angel. I haven't yet checked out this storyline which started a year ago, but sounds intriguing as the Ghost Rider goes to fight against heaven, angry for being used for so long as a pawn.

Spawn (Image): A soldier dies and makes a deal with the devil to see his wife one last time. The deal? Be a soldier in Satan's army (that for some reason fights clowns). I only followed this series for the first few years in the 90s, but it has remained popular enough that it's still published, has had several spinoffs, and of course a visually stunning movie. (The cartoon ain't bad either)

Of course there are others (I spent the last hour trying to find a comic that I could've sworn the movie Legion was based off of when I saw the font of the title in the billboard) so please share favorites. Include movies too! My Netflix queue is only 200 movies long, I could add a couple more!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Do You Take For Granted?

I've been home sick for the past couple of days with a stomach bug. As I was lying in bed in agony yesterday I was thinking of those in Haiti who are suffering much worse. Yesterday I had a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. I didn't even go a full 24 hours without something to eat, yet I was miserable. I imagined being in someplace like Haiti after a natural disaster, or even anywhere in the Third World where I would be grateful for a half a sandwich a day. When I went to bed last night, my head was pounding and my muscles and joints were aching- symptoms of dehydration. Yet I drank about a liter of water. Again, how many in Haiti right now would do anything for a liter of clean, bottled water?

I was miserable. But I am lucky.

The news continues to pour in, and it's not pretty. My heart continues to hurt for the hundreds of thousands who are suffering right now. You can catch some of the updates here.

Even though the setting is different in this video, the need is the same. Can we honestly say, "I'll follow you" anywhere when we have so much?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help for Haiti

Despite what Pat Robertson thinks, we shouldn't see this tragedy as he did Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami as the objects of God's wrath, but instead as opportunities to serve. There were already several ministries serving in Haiti when this hit and there are many more standing up to help in the recover from this tragedy. The first to come to mind is Audio Adrenaline's Hands and Feet Project and my own church's benevolence arm, HOPEworldwide. Please give. Please pray.

For other charities, click here.

***UPDATE: The American Red Cross' text 90999, which automatically adds $10 to your cell phone bill has rasied over $8 Million (that's a lot of Hamiltons!). Also, you can follow the progress of a group of missionaries from Lifechurch in Pennsylvania as they try to get into Haiti here.***

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lust or Love?

Is it lust, is it love?
Whatever it is, I can't get enough
Is it lust, is it love?
When I look around tell me who can I trust
Is it love?
-Scorpions, Lust or Love

A while back, I speculated on the high divorce rate in this country especially amongst christians (intentional little-c). The primary reason, I figure, is the notion of "irreconcilable differences." In other words, you're in an argument and you just refuse to give in. I think sadly, one of the reasons divorce is so prevalent is that our society has confused lust and love. I don't necessarily mean the desire to marry out of carnal passion, but more the contrast of lust and love and their root in our hearts.

Consider lust: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17, NIV) Here, lust is counted as "lov[ing] the world" and is in opposition to loving God. In the NASB translation, verse 16 reads, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world." So both the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh are contrary to the love of the Father. This scripture has always challenged me, because it is a harsh priority-check. Do I love God more than myself? And that's what lust is- loving ourselves, aka selfishness.

It is obvious then that lust stands opposed to love, because love is sacrificial. And this is where society goes off on the wrong track. Often in marriages (and most other relationships) we have the attitude of "what's in it for me?" In an argument? You want to win. Stressful day? You want to relax and be served. House a mess? You want someone else to clean. That's what makes lust, both of the eyes and flesh, so dangerous. We become the center of our relationships. Wife not as attractive as she was when you got married? That's ok, go look at pornography. Husband doesn't listen? That's ok, have an emotional affair with a coworker. Not satisfied sexually? That's ok, have a physical affair. And it doesn't take long before more than half of all marriages come to a sad, selfish, lustful end.

But it was never intended to be that way. Again, love is sacrificial. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). Applied to marriages, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis added) In an argument? Be the first to say I'm sorry. Stressful day? Do something for your spouse to brighten his/her day- you'd be surprised what you get in return. House a mess? Do something about it. Wife not as attractive as she was when you got married? "Rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:18). Husband not listening? There's probably something on his mind. Listen to him. Not satisfied sexually? Give like you've never given before and reap the benefits.

We cannot love if we are full of lust because "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and if we are lusting after the world, "the love of the Father is not in [us]". Remember to love God first and foremost, to love ourselves last, and do not let lust rule in your heart.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Lord, Have Mercy!


So I was pulled over the other day on my way to work. No excuses, I was speeding. When the officer asked why I was going as fast as I was, I couldn't think of any other response than to say, "habit." I was on a stretch of road I figure I've driven at least 3000 times and I drive the same speed every time. In fact, I've had patrol cars pass by me at least a few dozen times without ever a second glance. The officer told me that he pulled me over because I didn't even make an effort to slow down. I was thinking, "why should I have?" But he was right, and I was clearly wrong. Thankfully the officer extended mercy to me by only giving me a warning.

How much does this reflect our own sinful nature? We may openly confess the "serious" sins- those we feel an extra measure of guilt or are shamed into thinking are worse than others. But the habitual sins are what can separate us from God. Pride, envy, anger, lust. Habits. And how often are we reminded of these sins either by being caught in the act, or doing a measure of harm we regret? Yet, the character still remains because we're spared consequence. In other words, we see the patrol car, but we don't get pulled over.

How many times did I deserve a speeding ticket? A few thousand. So I have no reason to be upset for finally getting caught and receiving one. Just like our sinful nature, God lets us get away with a lot. But eventually we will have to face the consequences. We cannot take our habitual sins for granted, just like we cannot take God's mercy and forgiveness for granted either. We need to see our sin as sin and measure it by the stripes on Jesus' back instead of by the number of times we've gotten away with it. We need to remember the humility of the tax collector, who when praying, "stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'" (Luke 18:13)

Monday, January 04, 2010

R12

Today kicks off Living on the Edge’s R12-True Spirituality campaign. Maybe campaign is not the right word- they’re not asking for money, not pontificating any grand goals- they are only asking for churches and/or small groups to pick up their free curriculum based on Romans 12 and lead Christians into becoming disciples of Christ.

Personally, there are a few hills that I would die on with regards to my personal theology and doctrine. One, is that everyone is called to participate in the spiritual growth of the church by applying their unique spiritual gifts, not just leaders/pastors (Eph 4). Two, the ‘ones’ of Ephesians 4 are non-negotiable with respect to Church doctrine. Three, the Church Universal as known only by God, is called to be united and Jesus himself prayed for unity in the church (John 17). This unity cannot happen without numbers one and two above. And finally four, this unity is demonstrated by Christians living out their faith as disciples of Jesus Christ as defined by Romans 12.

I credit Romans 12 as the starting point of my conversion. I grew up religious. I was active in my church. My “spiritual resume” resembles Paul’s of Philippians 3. But I could not call myself a disciple of Jesus. It was one Sunday and I was sitting in Mass and the sermon was based on Romans 12. I had a Bible and I read it. I knew the popular stories and read the Gospels, Psalms, and Proverbs regularly. But I never dug into Romans; it was a hard read and the theology is hard to follow. So this was the first time I remember hearing these verses and my heart broke. This did not describe me. This did not describe my friends. This did not describe my church. And from there, I began a search for true discipleship of Jesus that culminated two years later as I was baptized into Christ in front of a new body of believers.

Since, I have used Romans 12 as the starting point of every Bible study with a non-believer or casual church-goer. And I had the pleasure of reading this passage to my congregation as the teen I mentor was baptized into Christ a month ago.

I was turned on to Living on the Edge a couple of years ago, catching a lesson on my commute to work. It was serendipitous timing- I was running late that day so heard a different program than I usually listened to. I was immediately turned on. I liked the preaching, I liked how sin was called out as sin and not excused, and I liked how the preaching was geared towards the expectation of Christians living Christ-like lives. I now turn to these lessons for most of my small group material. I read the books and apply what I learn. And when they first released this curriculum a year ago, I fervently prayed for this message to reach the ears and hearts of every believer.

I’m not one to regularly sing praises or endorse things so highly, but this is something I believe strongly in and I hope and pray it is something that can be of benefit to you. Ultimately, to God be the glory.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Tebow Cam

Yes, there really is one during this year's Sugar Bowl. I guess it's appropriate since Tim Tebow is the Second Coming. I saw on one website the idea to turn the Sugar Bowl into a drinking game by taking a drink every time Tebow's name is mentioned apart from any play he makes. I don't recommend that practice, even if you have a designated driver.

It's clear how this game is going to turn out (44-10 at the start of the 4th quarter), so we know the winner between Tebow and Cincinnati's QB, Tony Pike. But the game isn't only played between the hash marks, but also in the hearts and souls of the men (and some women) glued to their HD TVs. Instead of competing football teams, let's consider competing theologies.

Tim Tebow has Ephesians 2:8-10 on his eyeblack which reads, "for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." So either he is trying to save the soul of the defensive end trying to chase him out of the pocket, or he's claiming that his unquestioned football gifted-ness was given by God "to do good works" that God "prepared in advance" for him to do. The former I don't argue with, the second, I'm not so sure.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, a Cincinnati player (I never caught his name) has 1 Tim 1:12 written on his bicep. This scripture reads, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service." Simple, humble, giving Jesus all the credit while presuming nothing.

Success in a New Year's Day bowl game ensures a measure of immortality. Nothing compared to what our Lord and Savior offers. But these images will be replayed by the most dedicated sports fans and replayed in the minds of those who played. Which would you want to be remembered for? The Amazing Grace of salvation and a semi-self righteous boast of God's plan, or a humble gratitude to be considered one of Christ's servants?

I'm not saying that's Tim Tebow's intention. But for those sick of hearing about him nonstop this football season, that's how it comes across. At the same time, I'm grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given him strength, that he considered him faithful, appointing him to his service. I pray he finds a way to humbly continue this service on Sundays.

***edit: Ok, I saw the Cincinnati player again. It was Ben Guiduli. And the scripture actually was 1 Tim 1:15-16 which reads, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." So different proselytic emphasis, but the same level of humility."***

***update: Wow, a lot of Cincinnati's players have scriptures written on their arms. I guess I didn't notice it since they've been rolled so badly and there hasn't been reason to zoom in on many of their players. The player who just caught their last touchdown had 2 Tim 1:7-10 on his arm. This reads, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." I think after watching this game I'm going to accept Jesus as my QB and savior. I'm pretty sure there's a prayer for that.***