Saturday, July 31, 2010

Weekend Reading, 31 July

Grateful for my kids letting me sleep in this morning! Grateful too looking back at blogs throughout this last week. I am blessed to have found a community of Christian bloggers that call me higher, challenge me, encourage me, and make me think. A (long) roundup of my favorites:
  • God is not a cosmic vending machine, plus other insight as Katdish meditates on Pete Wilson's book Plan B.
  • Aarron Reddin reminds me that us addicts like to make excuses. Especially when it comes to picking and choosing which of Jesus' commands to follow.
  • There are a lot of possible reasons David might have slipped. j4man considers a few.
  • Chad Missildine will never be a super-Christian. That's ok, neither will I.
  • Are we spending time storing up worldly blessings or eternal? Dusty Rayburn asks.
  • Glynn Young gives a thoughtful and personal review of the late Michael Spencer's book, Mere Churchianity.
  • Michael Perkins observes first hand that yes, God does use Facebook and Twitter.
  • Tips for how to destroy your marriage with an affair by Perry Noble.
  • Ryan Tate reminds us not to ignore our inklings.
  • In spiritual warfare, we need a band of brothers. Jay Cookingham measures his life in "friend years".
  • Sometimes a building has to be torn down before it can be rebuilt. A lesson we can apply to our lives and our writings, encourages Barbara Scott.
  • Meanwhile, driving over the potholes in life requires realignment, writes Billy Coffey.
  • Finally, Peter Pollock asks if we have the guts after watching one of my favorite movies, Freedom Writers.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flashback Friday: This is where the healing begins

***Originally posted 5/6/10 during my study on Romans 12. Reposted on the last day of Air1's summer pledge drive. I've written about this before and about the costs of maintaining a Christian radio station. I'm reposting this instead because I want to stress that music ministers to each of our hearts differently. Some songs catch our attention (Jay Cookingham went on a recent music kick with Sanctus Real's Lead Me and I'm Forgiven, and Bebo Norman's Nothing Without You for example.) and inspire us, motivate us to change, or just bring us to tears. Not all of us are affected by music this way, but if you are, consider supporting Christian radio be it Air1, K-Love, or whatever.***

Tenth Avenue North has a new song out, This is Where the Healing Begins, that I encourage you to check out their video journal explaining the song here. Meanwhile, look at the lyrics (emphasis added):
So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you're good
And you can't believe it's not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside

So let 'em fall down

There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground

We're here now

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Afraid to let your secrets out
Everything that you hide
Can come crashing through the door now
But too scared to face all your fear
So you hide but you find
That the shame won't disappear

So let it fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now
We're here now, oh

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Sparks will fly as grace collides
With the dark inside of us
So please don't fight
This coming light
Let this blood come cover us
His blood can cover us

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark
(C) Tenth Avenue North

I heard this coming home from work yesterday and the highlighted sections stuck in my head thinking about where we're at going through the R12 book- "Coming to grips with the real you". I just couldn't shake these lyrics. The word "wall" kept resonating in my mind.

I was thinking about walls and I thought of The Wall, by Pink Floyd. I have to admit I was psyched when I heard recently that Roger Waters is going to tour for the anniversary of this album. Maybe that's why The Wall was fresh in my head, I don't know. I was sober the first time I saw the Wall (really!) and like many in my generation, I heard the album before I ever saw the movie. So I had a preconceived notion of an Orwellian/Phillip Dick sci-fi-ish movie and I was surprised by what I saw. No, not by the nearly pornographic animation, but by the darkness of underlying story. I admit that I instantly related. Roger Waters is soliciting videos and names of friends or family who have died in the wars going on overseas to include in his stage show. He freely admits the strong anti-war sentiment that runs through the storyline. However, this part of the plot only deflects from the real story- the Walls "Pink" built around himself. The irony is that Waters embraces the anti-war message, which is one of the bricks in Pink's wall. Relating back to R12, Pink denies part of himself by using the War, and the loss of his father, as an excuse for is antisocial anarchist behavior. (He also blames his mom for his relationships with women, but that's a whole other story) Even though he sings the song, and the animation shows the wall coming down, he is never really free. He never comes to grips with the real him.

I had quite a few Facebook comments on Tuesday's post. An old friend that I grew up with reminded me that there are a lot of things out of our control (our gender, our parents) that shape who we are. I agree, except that our character is defined by how we respond to those things. We can either blame shift (my dad was an alcoholic, my parents divorced when I was young...) or we can do something about it. Yes, those things affect who we are, but God frees us from all of that.

So how do we do it? How do we come to grips with the real us? Yes, Romans 12:3-8 is a good start and a great scriptural foundation to build on. But the truth is, we'll never break down the walls we built around us until we open up about who we are; share our deepest and darkest secrets; and stop blaming what we cannot control for who we are. And that is where the healing begins.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blockbuster

In the movie biz, summer means three things: big explosions, big-name actors, and big receipts. If it’s not a big-budget shoot-em-up, it’s the innovative star-studded thriller. If it’s not pushing the limits of special effects, it’s pushing computer animation. Whichever, it is the summer blockbuster.


Which is this year’s big blockbuster? Salt failed to dethrone Inception over the weekend and I hear Inception is as good, if not better, than it looks. Earlier this summer Iron Man 2 left many underwhelmed, while Toy Story 3 made everyone cry. The Last Airbender may not be this year’s Avatar (bonus points if you caught the pun), but there’s nothing that looks like it will break box-office records like James Cameron’s 3-D spectacle.

“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

Why do we shell out $30+ (for two) to see the latest hits when we can wait a month and watch it at the dollar theater?

What is it that drives the blockbuster? It needs a compelling theme (Avatar knocked this one out of the park), a big name (I couldn’t tell you the main actor in Avatar, but everyone knows James Cameron), and memorable special effects (again, Avatar blew this away). But to be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of that movie. Maybe I’m the only one given all its hype. I found it entertaining and enjoyable and I have to commend the special effects. But the mythology introduced (which many found to be so alluring) was derivative and unoriginal and the acting was flat (mostly because the Navi were perilously close to the “Uncanny Valley”). It was a sight to behold on the big screen, but was it worth waiting in line for hours the day it was released on DVD? (Maybe more people have a 52” plasma screen than I thought)

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:2)

What is the best movie you’ve ever seen? What is your favorite?

The Gospel of Jesus is called “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, but if it were a summer movie release, would it make any money? The Passion of the Christ exceeded box-office expectations (no I won’t talk about Mel Gibson’s recent issues) but had the advantage of being released to coincide with Easter. I’m not sure that movie would have seen the same numbers if released during the summer. Yet the Gospel encompasses every crucial ingredient to be a blockbuster. What could be more compelling than the Son of God, Prince of Peace, Savior of the world? God is a pretty big name, I sure hope his son can live up to the hype and doesn’t fall prey to the temptations that befall many Hollywood protégés. And don’t get me started on special effects- raising people from the dead, driving out demons, re-growing some dude’s ear! The story is filled with action, betrayal, love, and passion. What is there not to like?

But there’s plenty not to like about the Gospel. It’s challenging. It’s exclusionary. It’s (gasp) religious! Most of all, its message is positive and hopeful, contradictory to the cynicism that is so pervasive in today’s entertainment. So why do we watch?

"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’


Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’…


From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:60-61,66)

Have you ever walked out on a movie? Why?

Driving to work today, my carpool buddy was telling me about Inception. He liked the special effects and the action, but didn’t like the message it delivered. This time last year, many derided Avatar because of its not-so-subtle politics. Personally, I don’t give movies (or more accurately, movie makers) that much credit. I don’t think it is some political conspiracy and oftentimes I don’t think there’s intention behind the message beyond what either reflects current events (you write what you know) or what is expected to strike a chord with the audience (and we relate to what we recognize). It could be argued that art is meant to be interpreted, so the messages are intentional, though I don’t consider movies to be art. But my friend countered that whoever first conceived the story was inspired by something and that something shaped the final product. There, he has a good point. I write what is on my heart. If I didn’t feel passionately about it, I wouldn’t write it. I expect the same to be true of novelists, screenwriters, poets and musicians. At the same time, the audience is also influenced by their pre-existing values and expectations. We will read into something what we choose to, independent of the artist’s inspiration.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

What inspires you? What influences your worldview?

Evangelicals have coined the term “Biblical worldview” to define everything from media to politics. I agree with the principle- our values, convictions, and faith should influence how we view the world. In fact, that is the underlying theme of this blog- seeing everything that passes through the public square through our Christian lifestyle. I believe if you want to find an inspirational message in something you can in anything. I fully expect there to be several sermons preached based on the themes in Inception, just as there were for the Matrix, or Lost, or Gladiator. That doesn’t make it a Christian film, nor does one (of probably many) Christian’s negative opinion of its themes make it inherently nihilistic or anarchic. Our interpretation is based on our preconceived attitudes.

At the same time, we are inspired to be creative. After all, creation is an attribute of God and we are created in His image. That creativity may manifest itself in different forms- music, writing, career, hobbies, etc. Regardless of the medium, the outlet is still inspired. Just as we can interpret media based on our values (our worldview) we can influence the world with our values (the world viewing). It goes both ways. We cannot simply sit on the sidelines pointing our fingers at what we disagree with if we are not also engaging the very things we desire the world to overcome. Back to our summer blockbuster analogy, you cannot have the blockbuster if we’re not buying the tickets.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Who is your audience? What story is your life telling?

Last weekend alone, over $150 million was spent on the top-10 movies. Assuming $10 per ticket, that means 15 million people went to the movies this weekend. I don’t know if that’s more or less than the number who showed up to church on Sunday morning. I’m not advocating turning our worship into a spectacle. But I do believe we need to turn our lives into something worth viewing. We need to capture the audience with a big-name star (you), a compelling theme (admit it, your life has plenty of drama, doesn't it?), and awesome special effects (a life transformed by the Gospel of Christ).

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Are you uncomfortable?

Yesterday's sermon was preached out of Matthew 8 relating to Jesus' authority. But like most Sundays, the subject in the foreground was overtaken by my wheels turning in the background. I couldn't stop thinking about the leper at the beginning of the chapter. If you've ever heard a sermon involving one of the many lepers Jesus encountered, no doubt the minister spent some time describing the situation: how leprosy was very contagious and spread via touch, so the leper had to stay out of town and announce his presence to anyone who approached. You've also likely heard that a leper is ceremonially unclean, so Jesus' healing touch carried additional weight.

Now put yourself in the leper's shoes (or sandals). You are outcast from the rest of society. You have to humiliate yourself if anyone even walks by so that everyone knows your condition. And worst of all, you are unclean, unable to participate in the religion of your forefathers. There are several ways you could react, but I think of two extremes. On one end you could be malicious, not caring about the health (spiritual and physical) of others and intermingle with the community as you spread your disease to unwitting victims. On the other end, you willingly accept your fate and you take seriously the severity of your affliction. You shout "Unclean! Unclean!" to every passer-by, not because you're supposed to, but because you genuinely care about that person's health- spiritual and physical. But you cannot avoid feeling humiliated. You cannot avoid feeling uncomfortable.

Last week, Sarah Salter returned from a missions trip to Sudan (no, I'm not calling her a leper!). Recently Duane Scott described one of his experiences as a missionary in Ghana. Me? I've been to Wal-Mart after 10pm. Seriously though, I've never made myself uncomfortable for the sake of the physical and spiritual health of another to the same extent as a missionary. Not saying that missionaries are some sort of uber-Christian, rather that God leads each of us uniquely to places where we are uncomfortable for His sake. Which leads me to my question of the week:

Where has God led you that you have been most uncomfortable for the sake of another?

And did you follow because you were supposed to, or because you sincerely cared about the needs being met?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Weekend Reading, 24 July

Some common threads looking back at this week...

First to set the tone, grab a Big Mac and check out this picture from JesusNeedsNewPR. Then be sure to read the scathing, but deserved, commentary that follows.
Makes me wonder why we even go to church? (via Esther Meek at Common Grounds)
I hope were offering real conversion. If we are, we have mission and a method, even if we don't do a good job of it. (thanks to Kevin Martineau at Shooting the Breeze and Matt Appling at The Church of No People)
At least, I hope our lives are preaching the "best sermon" someone else will hear. Because you never know who that someone might be. (from CNN and Donald Miller)

For a summer diversion, maybe you're taking a road trip. If so, you're not the only one. (Duane Scott and CaryJo Roadrunner beat you to it)
Or maybe you're catching the latest summer blockbuster. Watch Inception, then read this from Cerulean Sanctum.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flashback Friday: Converter

***This week's flashback is inspired by this awesome post from The Church of No People. On the same subject, it is worth linking Jonathan Sigmon writing at Relevant Magazine and John Shore writing the opposite POV at Huffington Post.***

My wife and I have been fortunate in the last couple of weeks to baptize a couple of our friends into Christ. Leading up to the first baptism, I was telling someone I was with that I needed to leave for a Bible study. When asked what about, I stumbled for an answer and said, "conversion." (wrongly thinking that the arbitrary titles given to our studies are meaningless unless you're in them) Naturally, that answer raised an eyebrow. The word conversion has negative connotations bringing images of the Crusades, cliches like converting the heathens, and highlights one of the most common negative images of Christianity in our culture- that we're right and everyone else is wrong.

The book unChristian uses several surveys, many by Barna Research, to identify preconceptions and misconceptions of "outsiders" and Christians, respectively. (I share the author's hesitancy in using the term "outsiders" because it is a loaded term, but is most illustrative of the purpose behind the study) A chapter titled, Get Saved!, brings the attitudes towards conversion to light. A telling number, emblematic of the disconnect between Christianity and our culture, is that "only one-third of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them." While, "64 percent of Christians... believe that outsiders would perceive their efforts as genuine."

Love-bombing visitors then dropping them like bad habits once they become full-fledged members of the church is all too common and only adds to this stereotype. The attitude of "I'm right and you're wrong, so therefore you're going to Hell" that is portrayed when we try and share our faith doesn't help this image any either. Add to that the infighting and competition for numbers within and between churches and you begin to see why outsiders would have a polar opposite opinion of our intentions.

While the word conversion may sound holier-than-thou, it shouldn't. Think of the word. Conversion means change. You need a power converter when traveling overseas so that you can use your hair-dryer (120 V) in foreign wall sockets (220 V). You need to convert electricity from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) to use most electronics. In both of these cases, the electricity is changed into something useful. It is still electricity, but is put in a form that we can use.

Religious conversion is really the same thing. It's not about "I'm right, you're wrong." It is about being changed into something useful to God. Jesus told Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) Being born again implies a new creation, i.e. change. Ironically, Barna defines a "born-again Christian" as one who has only "accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior." The term "Evangelical" narrows down this definition by adding the conditions of "1) saying their faith is very important in their life today; 2)believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; 3) believing that Satan exists; 4) believing their eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; 5) believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; 6)asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; 7) describing God as the all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today." Neither of these definitions say anything about change, even though Jesus said, "unless..."

Paul instructs us to "be transformed" (Romans 12:2) and reminds us that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is conversion. That's why I so appreciate the ministry of Paul Washer (Heartcry Missionary Society- see link on the sidebar). His emphasis is that simply praying the Sinner's Prayer doesn't convert you. Without evidence of change brought about by the Holy Spirit, can you really argue that you've been converted? I always joke that praying Jesus into your heart works. It's just that once Jesus is there, he's hanging out asking "now what?"

So when I share my faith, of course I want to convert them. But that doesn't mean I want them to conform to my way of thinking, or my personal theology/doctrine/denominationalism. It means I want to see the Holy Spirit come into their lives and change them. Maybe that is still judgemental, thinking that they even need change. But I see addiction, abuse, selfishness, and pride on a daily basis. Our media drowns us with greed and lust. I see no evidence in the world-at-large to make me believe that others don't need change. I can't do it. I can only offer it. I'm nothing special. But Jesus Christ is.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trip Planner

Last weekend my family decided to take a last-minute spontaneous road trip to the beach. One of my best friends growing up was in the neighborhood, i.e. the same state, camping on the beach and invited me to stop on by to say hi. How could I refuse? The problem however, was that I'm not good at acting spontaneously. I get wound up and stress out too easily when things aren't planned out in my head. These plans also conflicted with plans we already made, nor did it really fit in our budget, rocking the boat even more. But we persevered, hitting the road at 3:00 when we were shooting for 11:00. Despite saying several words I shouldn't have, and stressing out far more than necessary, it was completely worth it. It was the first time my son was brave enough to play in the ocean. Plus my friend has a son roughly the same age and they hit it off right away. As I posted on Facebook when I got home, I've never seen my son have so much fun.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

What's the most spontaneous thing you've ever done? (and are willing to share online)

As much fun as that was, however, I still prefer to have a plan. Normally when we road trip as a family and aim to leave at 11:00, we get out the door at around 1:00. That's even with a plan. In other words, I need to be a better planner.

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21)

Are you a good planner? What's your secret? (really, I need all the help I can get!)

Every long holiday weekend is filled with "news from AAA that more people are planning on hitting the road for vacation than last year..." combined with news about gas prices, drunk driving arrests, and of course lists of the most popular destinations. The same news can be heard throughout the summer. Kids are on vacation, the weather is great, and highways are... under construction.

You have to go into the summer with a plan. Where are you going? Which weekend? Will the family you plan on visiting actually be home then? Will you be back in time for so-and-so's wedding? Is there a baseball game in town while you're there (actually this is usually the first thing I check)?

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

What are your priorities when planning your vacation?

Our spirituality should be no different. We need a plan. I mentioned yesterday how we need to plan out our spiritual work-out regimen. Too often we close a book not knowing what to read next or rely on flimsy verse-of-the-day calendars to guide our spiritual growth. And we wonder why we get stuck nursing on milk? Planning a whole season is an even greater challenge. What books to read? What topics to cover? What specific prayers to pray? It helps to enter into the season with a plan. You can't go on your road trip without a map.

"The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty." (Proverbs 21:5)

What are your spiritual plans for this summer?
If you don't have a plan, now is the time to build one. If you can't think of any plans, ask for input (Proverbs 20:18). Don't let this season pass without a measure of growth. Look back at your vacation photos with no regrets.

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What are you studying?

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:11-12)

This came up during my small group last week and is a regular dilemma. When you wake up in the morning, how do you decide what to study from the Word of God? Do you go with a "verse of the day" calendar? Do you have a study plan (Bible in a year)? Have you just picked up a great book that's challenging and inspiring you? (Then what do you do when you're done?)

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (v 13-14)

I liken it to training. An athlete has specific training plans. A basketball player struggling with free throws will be practicing free throws. A football player may be practicing pass-blocking. All of their training revolves around improving in that specific area: hands-on training, weight training, even diet are intentionally geared towards getting better.

In the passage above, our own Bible study is training us to distinguish good from evil. But our diet needs to compliment our exercise. We cannot grow on milk alone, we need solid food. In fact, we should be teaching one another, but cannot because we are so immature. So we need to identify our weaknesses and focus our training.

In what area of growth do you need focused training?

What does your diet consist of?

Does your blogging/blog-reading consist of milk or solid food?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekend Reading, 17 July

What you may have missed, or what's worth reading again...

News:

Blogs:
  • Inspiring history that led Glynn Young to the High Calling Blogs.
  • You could spend all weekend getting in the summer mood by reading all the posts at Bridget Chumbley's blog carnival. But why are you doing that? Go outside!
  • But if you read any of the entries, read this. The post from Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact is honest and vulnerable and reminds us that the tragedies we face in life often lead us to where we are today.
  • And if you're looking for something to do while on summer vacation, maybe you could go on a mission trip to the Sudan. That's what Sarah Salter is doing. Please keep her in your prayers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Flashback Friday: Take me out to the ballgame

***Originally posted 8/02/08. Posted again in honor of the Midsummer Classic and the upcoming trading deadline (the hot stove is as much fun to follow as baseball itself, IMO)***

So we're now officially in the playoff race with the passing of the trading deadline. Just a couple no-name players got moved. I mean, who's this Manny Ramirez guy anyway? And Ken Griffey Jr? Who does he think he is, Ken Griffey Sr? Of course I'm kidding. But in the spirit of trying to get away from my obsession with politics, I want to instead focus on my greatest passion here on earth, baseball. And of course, I'll make it relevant.

In college, I was given the opportunity to lead a small group Bible study. I was filling in for the brother who would usually lead and he left me with this valuable advice, "do whatever you want." Of course, as a young Christian that was intimidating since all I knew was what we've done before. But I was tempted to think outside of the box. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes had Dave Dravecky as a speaker that same night. Besides the "pitch heard 'round the world," he was a well known inspirational speaker and was very open about his faith. In 2004 he wrote the book Called Up, which I still need to get around to reading. But like I said, all I knew was what we've always done before. So I regret to this day not going, and instead offered a re-hashed discussion on one of Jesus' parables which everyone had heard before.

There's another book that's recently been released that I want to get my hands on too, called Free Byrd by Paul Byrd and John Smoltz. Smoltzie you've probably heard of but if the name Paul Byrd doesn't sound familiar, do a Google search of Paul Byrd and HGH. That's right, you could lump him in with "roid heads" like Barry Bonds. But instead of being all surly to the public and press following getting busted, he's instead been openly repentant and just as open about how his faith has seen him through.

But this isn't just a book review either. Kathy Orton, over at her [now defunct] Praying Fields blog at the On Faith online community has several blog posts related to baseball including an interview with Luke Scott, pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles.

And if that doesn't inspire you to follow the pennant races, let me finish with a couple of songs. No, not Take Me Out to the Ballgame, written by a couple of guys who hadn't ever seen a game. But a couple more heartfelt and spiritual.

The First Ballgame
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer, 1947

My sermon today
Said the Reverend Jones
Is baseball and whence it came
If you take the Good Book And you take a good look
You will find the first baseball game

It says Eve stole first
And Adam second
Solomon umpired the game
Rebecca went to the well with the pitcher
And Ruth in the field made a name

Goliath was struck out by David
A base hit made on Abel by Cain
And the Prodigal Son made a great home run
Brother Noah gave checks out for rain

Now ole St Pete was checking errors
Also had charge of the gate
Salome sacrificed Big John the Baptist
Who wound up ahead on the plate

Delilah was pitching to Samson
When he brought down the house with a clout
And the Angels that day made a double play
That’s when Adam and Eve were thrown out

Now Jonah wailed and went down swinging
Later her popped up again
A line drive by old Nebuchadnezzar
Made Daniel warm up in the pen

Satan was pitching that apple
It looked as though he might fan them all
But then Joshua let go with a mighty
And he blasted one right at the wall
Shoutin come along and let’s play ball


Life is a Ballgame
Sister Wynona Carr © 1952

Life is a ballgame
Bein' played each day
Life is a ballgame
Everybody can play
Jesus is standin' at home plate
Waitin' for you there
Life is a ballgame, but
You've got to play it fair.

First base is temptation,
The second base is sin
Third base tribulation
If you pass you can make it in
Ol' man Solomon is the umpire
And Satan is pitchin the game
He'll do his best to strike you out
Keep playin' just the same.

Daniel was the first to bat
You know he prayed three times a day
When Satan threw him a fast ball
You know he hit it anyway
Job came in the next inning
Satan struck him in every way,
But Job he hit a home run
And came on in that day.

Prayer will be your strong bat
To hit at Satan's ball
And when you start to swing it
You've got to give it your all in all
Faith will be your catcher
On him you can depend
And Jesus is standing at Home Plate
Just waitin for you to come in.

Moses is standin' on the side lines
Just waitin to be called
And when he parted the Red Sea
He gave Christ is all-in-all
John came in the ninth inning
When the game was almost done
Then God gave John a vision
And he knew he'd all ready won.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summertime and the livin's easy?

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

There is a season for everything, but why is it that summer is so ingrained in our psyche? Nearly every coming of age drama is set during the summertime. We remember summer loves, family vacations, trips to the beach or mountains in sepia-tone.

What is one of your fondest summer memories?

Even once we grow up and our lives are consumed with the nine-to-five, summer still holds something special. Most of us don't get the summer off (my wife is a teacher and I'm not envious, nope, not one bit) yet we are blessed with longer days, a trick of the sun to fool us into thinking we have more time than we do. So we plan weekend getaways, draft a list of honey-dos, uncover the grill.

How does summer change your daily routine?

Yet summer is just another season, and we are reminded there is a season for everything under heaven. It is easy to succumb to the temptation to take the summer off. School is out, so we stop learning. We fill our weekends with activities and neglect the Sabbath. Summer barbecues are accompanied with summer desserts. We take vacations and sleep in, losing our personal discipline. In a word, we become lazy.

Are you tempted by the lazy days of summer?

But with temptations are opportunities for growth. Many of us have summer reading lists. We plan vacations or weekend getaways with the family to build lasting memories. Last night, I took advantage of the additional daylight and pushed my kids on the swing for those extra minutes. But we need to fight the temptation or our best summer plans will look the same as our New Year resolutions months after we've given up on them.

"The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
and we are not saved."
(Jeremiah 8:20)

Don't let this summer slip away. Don't allow yourself to become too busy or too lazy to enjoy this season under heaven. Make memories. Have fun. Finish that project you've been putting off. Grow. But remember the creator that gives us this time, that blesses us with his sunshine.

This is one of many contributions to Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival. Today's topic is 'summer'. Head on over and see what others have planned this season or reflect on others' fondest memories.

Today also kicks off this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.

What are your summer plans?

It's time for another Virtual Small Group. In case you weren't around, last time we went through the book, Living on the Edge, Dare to Experience True Spirituality by Chip Ingram, aka R12 The Book. I'm not going to share a book this time around (though that's coming) and I'm going to follow a more traditional small group schedule of "meeting" once a week (versus daily for R12). The subject this time around is to share our summer together: vacations, barbecues, times sitting by the pool. Whatever your plans may be, my prayer is to come out of summer refreshed and one step closer to God. I plan on the group "meeting" every Tuesday to give most of the week for any discussion. That means we kick off tomorrow in Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival. This week's topic? Summer. Coincidence? I think not! So to get us in the spirit of summer (as if you're not already!), I offer these questions:

What are your plans this summer?

How do you plan on drawing closer to God in the next 3-ish months?

Please leave a comment and please come back tomorrow as we kick off our virtual small group.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Flashback Friday: Jesus is my Campaign Manager

***Originally posted 10/23/08. Posted today in light of a radio station pulling support for a Christian music festival for inviting Jim Wallis as a speaker in addition to my debate with Sojourners on Twitter and in my post on Monday.***

I made the mistake last night at church talking politics with one of my friends. Actually, she brought up how she can't wait for it all to be over; she's tired of hearing the same arguments over and over. Then she said something that totally boggled me. She commented on how Jesus never talked about abortion or homosexuality. Now I understand where she was coming from. The Religious Right is too narrowly focused on these issues above all else. But the case she makes doesn't apply to her point. She commented on how the world was more "jacked up" in Jesus' day, yet he didn't bring up these issues. The Romans practiced infanticide, but Jesus didn't say anything against it. Homosexuality was common in pagan worship and temple prostitution, but Jesus didn't say anything against it. Well first of all, Jesus ministered to the Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem. He never went to Rome or Corinth or associated with Greek prostitutes. So why would he bring these subjects up? But here's a twist on the argument. Slaves were present all around Jesus' ministry. In fact, the Old Testament gives instructions regarding slavery. And Jesus never said a word about the practice. Should that mean that slavery is not a religious issue of concern to Christians? Someone should've told that to William Wilberforce.

I mentioned that and she side-stepped it by then saying that Jesus never preached politics anyway. Well yes, and no. His comment on "giv[ing] to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" was both a theological and political statement since Caesar claimed divinity. At the same time, he didn't take any side to the dismay of the religious leaders. The same was true when Jesus instructed his disciples how to pray by saying "Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name." The first comment personalized the God of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, which would've upset the religious leaders, but followed that up by praising his name which usurped the divinity of Caesar. If anything, his politics were indirect. But because he wasn't the political leader many thought the Messiah should've been, it was easy to entice Judas to betray him.

The extension of my friend's argument, that she didn't mention, was that Jesus preached about the poor more than anything else, so that should be a political priority. I don't disagree, except for the political aspect of it. Jim Wallis, in his book God's Politics, dedicates a section in his first chapter titled, "The Political Problem of Jesus" and then goes on to turn Jesus' teaching into a political argument. This is where I disagree with him. I don't believe that because Jesus said to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" that that should apply to foreign policy. That is a personal command. Not a political one. And there's a difference between being under attack and persecuted. But he argues that if a political leader claims to be a Christian, then they should apply that to their politics. I agree that faith should guide morality applied through politics. But to apply faith directly to politics turns this pluralistic country into a theocracy, which I believe Jesus would've opposed. A political leader needs to consider the big picture and the good of the country and balance that not against, but rather on, their faith. In other words, their faith should be the fulcrum of their lever, not one side of the balancing act.

Back to the personal aspect of Jesus' teachings. His commentaries on the poor, lack of explicit political stances, and teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven are personal, not national. So we can't apply "love your enemies" or "blessed are the peacemakers" to policy. That's not to say I'm pro-war. But whether or not to go and participate in war is a personal decision that would have to be informed by a personal faith. Whereas the decision to engage in war on the national level must be policy driven. At the same time, I believe our Freedom of Speech also obligates us to speak out against war if our conscience leads us to.

This would then imply that a Christian politician cannot effectively hold an office and still keep Jesus first and God above all. And I think there's truth to that. That's why I'm suspicious of any politician who says I should vote for him or her because of their faith. And that's also why I don't expect our moral problems to be "fixed" via politics, but instead through individual Christians actively living out their convictions.

As for abortion and homosexuality, I told my friend that sin is still sin. That doesn't mean that morality at that level should be legislated. But if my vote gives me a voice, I want to cast it to make a statement of my faith. And that is what I will continue to wrestle with up to, and beyond, November 4.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Celebrity Charity

Oh, to make millions (or hundreds of millions in some cases) for playing a game I love. I often wonder how all that money really gets spent. A woman from Las Vegas recently won the lottery in Texas... for the fourth time. Since her first win in 1993, she has won over $20 million. Yet no one knows anything about her. She doesn't publicise herself or leverage her riches for fame. Contrast that with multi-millionaire athletes and their entourages, their mansions and fast cars.

But thankfully they do give back. Dwayne Wade bought his mom, an ordained minister, a church building. Derrek Lee started a foundation related to a retinal disease suffered by his daughter. Of course those examples are personal, and family related. Others give to their roots, inner city programs that helped them start out in life or the local communities that helped to raise them. As the ESPN article on Lee notes, we don't pick the charity, often the charity picks us.

Which brings me to LeBron James. Tonight's over-hyped made-for-TV-drama dubbed "The Decision" is going to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of America. Jim Gray, who will be interviewing King James, was on the Dan Patrick Show this morning when this first came to my attention (not the press conference itself, how could you miss that?). He mentioned that he thought it was great (while taking credit for the idea) and that it would affect "hundreds if not thousands of kids across the country." I'm not really sure how. James' handlers had to buy the hour of air-time on ESPN and I doubt ESPN is giving up much of their advertising dollars. There's no indication this is a telethon that one can call in to pledge. If anything the hour of television (really, how long does it take to say, "I'm going to Miami"?) might raise awareness for the Boys and Girls Club. Will donations naturally follow?

There's no doubt that LeBron is set to rake in a record amount of salary- or at least close to, given the constraints of the NBA salary-cap. Would it satisfy his ego to have a generic press-conference and then donate a majority of his salary to his cause? If he is fully invested in benefiting the community, crediting the Boys and Girls Club for keeping him off the streets in his youth, then why not make it a personal cause and give as much as he can? I'm sure he gives already, but how much more money does he really need?

Of course, I can't project my morals on someone else and I don't know all the circumstances of his lifestyle and how much it costs to maintain it. But presently my family is sacrificing vacations and luxuries to get out of debt. We put aside money for months to support my church and foreign missions which just finished its big annual drive. If I could make millions doing what I love, I'd be giving millions to the causes I love. I don't need luxury. Comfort would be nice, but not required. And I would have a clear conscience giving to those in greater need. Oh, to make millions playing a game I love.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Is Patriotism an Idol?

My "question of the week" is late coming, just getting back into routine after a weekend spent camping. But the question in the title has been resonating in the back of my mind since I read these blogs from Relevant and Sojourners before I left on Friday. A counter-argument, so to speak, was posted at SoJo this morning.

So I'm throwing the question out to you, the reader. Is patriotism an idol?

Some additional thoughts from past blog posts can be found here, here, and here. And for some humor, check out JesusNeedsNewPR's Jesus Pictures of the Day.

Please keep the debate respectful.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Weekend Reading, 3 July

A lot of church-themed blogs and articles this week to reflect on. Sometimes it hurts to look at ourselves in the mirror, but we need to take these honest looks at ourselves.

"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16)

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:22-25)

  • Do you ever find yourself in a conversation and it just "feels like church"? Jezamama urges us to open our doors to the dregs.
  • If you're not afraid to be judged as a dreg, maybe you'll be judged by whether or not you're wearing pantyhose. At least Matthew Paul Turner's mom used to feel that way.
  • If you're not a dreg, and you don't wear pantyhose, chances are you worship differently than I do. I'll try not to judge, but will you feel comfortable in my church?
  • Jon Acuff has a theory for why Christians are so mean online. Maybe it relates to the same reasons we're so judgemental in the links above?
  • Jake Meador speculates part of the problem is that we've become engulfed in our culture rather than create a "viable alternative" to the world around us.
  • Jay Guin longs for a post-denominational church uniting to serve in Christ.
  • Churches in Atlanta are actually doing just that as Church Marketing Sucks points out. Unfortunately it's only for one weekend.
Have a happy 4th of July weekend. Celebrate your freedoms and remember that those freedoms include the freedom to worship.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Flashback Friday: 4th of July

***Originally posted for the 4th of July, 2007. Enjoy your freedoms this weekend. I'll be enjoying mine camping and worshiping the God of Creation.***

Last Sunday for communion I shared about freedom and what that means to us as Christians. I was inspired after talking with one of my friends who was concerned about the lack of "true worship" in our church and reminded me that God freed the Israelites from Egypt specifically so that they could worship him. So freedom and worship go hand in hand. The wheels in my head started turning and out came this:

Wednesday is the fourth of July. A day to celebrate the birth of our country and the freedoms we have. But how does that relate to us, this morning, as we’re gathered to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? First of all, we’ve heard from this podium before, in fact I’m sure I’ve even said it myself from up here, that we should be grateful to God that we have the freedom to gather together to worship him without fear of death, injury, or persecution. We are guaranteed the freedom to worship publicly. But we’re also given the freedom to worship as we choose. And that’s a part that I think is often forgotten. If you look at the history of this country many of those who first settled here did so so that they could worship they way they wanted to: Quakers, Puritans, Catholics, and others all came to this land because they were required to worship a certain way where they came from and were persecuted for not doing so. So today we have the freedom to worship however we want to. This freedom enabled the different Great Awakening periods as well as the Restoration Movement that we owe our history to. So without this part of our freedom, we may have been able to worship publicly, but it’s unlikely we’d be worshiping in this church.

But this isn’t a patriotic rant or an historical lesson. I’m here worship our Lord through communion. Remembering the sacrifice of Jesus. And that’s where I want to turn our attention. God has consistently used the freedom of his people for worship. Mishach, Shadrach, and Abendigo were thrown in the fire for not worshiping how they were told. And then saved so that they could freely worship the one true God. The Jews in exile with both Ezra and Nehemiah were freed so that they could worship God in Jerusalem by rebuilding the temple and then rebuilding the wall. And probably most explicitly, God freed the Jews in Egypt so they could worship him freely. In Exodus 7:16, when Moses was confronting Pharaoh, God instructed Moses to say, “The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert.” And that reason did not change as Moses continued to confront him through all the plagues.

It is no different for us today following Jesus. Jesus died so that we would be freed from the slavery of our sin. But he also died to free us from the religious tradition that ruled his day. Just because our country allows us to worship however we like, doesn’t mean we should. Paul said not to use our freedom as an excuse to indulge in sin. In the same way, we can’t use our freedom to worship as an excuse to make up our own traditions, our own rules, or bind old traditions to others arbitrarily. Please turn to John 4. Starting in verse 19, we read…

"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:19:26)

To worship in spirit and in truth. That’s what Jesus died for and what we need to reflect upon when we celebrate our freedom. Are we worshiping in spirit and in truth? With the hundreds of denominations that exist today, I’d argue that we’re not. With the countless traditions, expectations, and doctrines that continue to divide, I am certain that we’re not. This morning I want to call us to a higher standard, to worship our Lord in Spirit and in Truth.

So I left it hanging. What does it mean to worship in Spirit and Truth? Does it mean ecumenism, seeker-friendly services, Power Point slides, instrumental music or a-capella, emerging churches, speaking in tongues, etc, etc? I'll leave it to you the reader to search this out for yourself. Let me know what you find.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Stones Cry Out

Tuesday I used the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile as a metaphor for building on the solid ground of Jesus. Truth is, I didn’t have to use those examples; there have been plenty to choose from. This year alone, there have been eight earthquakes of Magnitude 6 or higher, claiming almost a quarter of a million lives. In 2009 there were 52, killing over 1700 (the difference in casualties was that many of these were deep ocean and 90% of this year’s fatalities were from the Haiti quake alone). These numbers have led many to believe that the End is nigh, that Christ’s return is imminent.

There’s good Biblical reason for such fears. A search in BibleGateway for earthquake yields 17 results in the NIV, and all but the exceptions of the LORD’s appearance to Elijah, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Peter’s escape from prison involve God’s coming wrath. Some examples:

"The LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire." (Isaiah 29:6)

"Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake."(Revelation 16:18)

However, before Jesus warned us that “[n]ation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven," he also cautioned us "do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away." (Luke 21:9-11) While it is in our nature to speculate, Jesus also reminds us that “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 25:36)

The access to instant information afforded us by the Internet brings events to our attention that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, this week it was reported that an April earthquake in Baja California moved the city of Calexico two and a half feet. I was in Boston last week and arrived right after an earthquake hit in Ottawa. The 5.0 earthquake was felt throughout New England. I come from earthquake country and when I think of the Northeast, the last thing I think about is an earthquake. Yet Ottawa experiences earthquakes of similar magnitude every “four or five years” and several hundred small earthquakes along the Logan faultline in Quebec strike every year.

Maybe we’re too sensitive to the news that’s reported. There’s no shortage of “wars and rumors of wars” that’s for sure. And with Hurricane Katrina still fresh in our minds, we’re aware of every hurricane predicted and tracked. In fact, as I type this ‘Alex’ has been downgraded from a hurricane to just a tropical storm even though three lives have already been lost and thousands evacuated. Is any of this unusual though?

Of the 15 largest earthquakes in the last century, four have been this decade. Yet with the exception of the 1920s and 1980s, there have been roughly 10 earthquakes 8.0 or larger each decade since the turn of the last century. Yes, the first decade of the 21st Century saw more than most with 13, but it’s not necessarily out of the norm. (The earthquake data at usgs.gov is a lot of fun to pour through if you’re a data nerd like me)

So I’m not concerned. Yes, I live in earthquake country and am looking forward to my ocean-front property when the Big One hits, but other than earthquake drills and keeping a disaster kit handy, there’s not much else I can do. Spiritually, I need to keep oil in my lamp as Jesus instructs and live as though he is returning today. But I find comfort in Elijah’s experience:

“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.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)