Thursday, December 22, 2011

Misfits

Remember the claymation classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? You should, it's been broadcast continuously since 1964. Rudolph and rebel elf Hermy leave the North Pole in search for greener grass (or would that be whiter snow?). What they find instead during their adventure is an island filled with discarded and defective toys, The Island of Misfit Toys. There is some very interesting group psychology going on here, but I'll leave that for your observation. What is fundamental however, is that these toys never got a chance.

Jesus, himself was rejected. A rabbi with no formal training. A prophet from Galilee. A "sinner" who didn't wash his hands when he ate and healed on the Sabbath.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

And Jesus made a habit of hanging around sinners and tax collectors, going outside of the city and healing lepers, and even striking up conversations with Samaritan women.

We have this image of a perfect Christian either by what they say, what they wear, or what they do. Our church's doors are open wide for Christians like these! But who wants to sit next to the broken and the rejected, the defective and discarded?

When we gather together to celebrate Christmas we welcome family, but only reluctantly the black sheep child or the stereotype drunk uncle. We gush about our latest accomplishments and look down our noses at the single parent or the grown child without a job. Funny how we act the same at church and at home.

We forget that Jesus, even on the night he was born, was rejected. There was no room at the inn. Instead a baby was brought into this world in a stable, surrounded by livestock, feces, and feed. Unclean. Unwelcome. Rejected.

Praise be to God for that misfit! Who so humbly was willing to love a misfit like me.

Jesus and I, "We're a couple of misfits..." (sing along!)

Do you feel rejected? Do you feel unwelcome? Most importantly, at this holiday season, do you feel alone? You don't need to. Jesus was rejected first and he loves you. If you are not welcomed by family or by church this Christmas, you are welcome to feast with Jesus.

"'Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests." (Matthew 22:9-10)

There's a seat saved for misfits like us. Come, let's celebrate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Worship at the Mall

I'm taking today off to do some last minute shopping and decorating. (And got to sleep in, too!) I expect to encounter mobs of people all struggling to find that perfect gift. Impatience, selfishness, materialism and so on all get in the way of "the reason for the season" and "keeping Christ in Christmas". So I am going out with my mind set on worship. But worship what exactly?


 
Are practicing


 
 By the joy of their


 
But be on your gaurd while worshiping at the mall because real worship might spontaneously break out.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gifts We Bring

So yesterday my son had is Broadway debut as one of the Magi, or Three Kings. Ok, so the stage was smaller, but he performed flawlessly to a packed house and in front of a ton of paparazzi (moms with video cameras) none the less. It has been pure joy the last couple of weeks as we have rehearsed for this. My son's big part was to follow the other two wise men around. Pretty easy. He didn't have a single line to speak. But he had one of the hardest parts. He had to be the first one on the stage to give his gift of gold to the newborn King.

My son, being a fan of pirates and treasure, quickly latched on to the idea of giving a box of gold. And it is easily identifiable in every nativity and creche. We couldn't walk past one without him stopping, looking for a wise man carrying a box, and proudly proclaiming "look, that one's me!"

As excited as he was, it gave me the perfect opportunity to explain what the gifts of the Magi meant. Gold for a King, frankincense for a Priest, and myrrh to anoint One who would die. And with each gift I was able to explain the birth of Jesus, his ministry/mission, and his ultimate sacrifice. My son was fascinated.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:


“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”


Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”


After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

It was refreshing to look at this story from a child's eyes. The magnitude of the birth of Jesus and the significance of the gifts took on a whole new meaning.

The Magi gave their gifts to Jesus because of who he was, not because of what he had done or was about to do. They came to honor and to worship for the same reason. Today we live in a culture where the first question is often "what's in it for me?". And sadly, many approach Jesus the same way. We need to give our lives to him not because of what he has done, but because of who he is: King, Priest, atoning Sacrifice.

(For other posts on gifts, check out these posts from last year)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All Eyes Are On You

I've been putting off an "official" post on Tim Tebow for a while (and this post from a couple of years ago doesn't count). I'm falling behind the news cycle and was expecting to change the tone of this post after it looked certain that the "Mile High Messiah" was finally going to lose one Sunday. (For the record, I have only seen that nickname used once in an article by the Evil Four Letter and I am sure Tebow wouldn't accept such an anointing) But alas, he pulled out another win. One of my friends noted when I replied to his Tebow blog post that if I wait until the last two minutes, then this blog post will be a "win". Does that mean that the other 3+ quarters of all my other blog posts are terrible? (if you don't get the joke, don't worry)

Anyway, I could go on and on about his throwing motion, his "yards per touch" ranking, his quarterback rating, etc, etc. I could even tell you that he has "it" without ever really identifying what "it" is. I could talk about how hard it is to hate the guy because he's just so darn nice (see his last postgame comments about Brian Urlacher for example). And of course I could write about how divisive this man of faith is to believers and football fans alike. But I'll let the following articles do all that for me.

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7319858/the-people-hate-tim-tebow

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/story/2011-11-29/broncos-qb-tebow-stirs-debate-on-religion-and-sports/51663956/1?csp=34news

http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/Denver-Broncos-Tim-Tebow-showing-detractors-he-is-learning-to-be-nfl-qb-112811

http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/Tim-Tebow-why-the-heck-do-we-hate-him-110211

But this post isn't about Tim Tebow. At least not totally. In the second chapter of Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman calls our attention to Jesus' late night conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus, not Nostradamus like I thought as a kid, was part of the religious ruling class- the Sanhedrin- and was a Pharisee with respect to religious conviction. He had a lot to lose even being seen near Jesus, let alone sitting down and having a conversation with this alleged heretic. So Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night.

Idleman is right to point out that fans of Jesus are comfortable wearing their favorite uniform so long as their star is winning. That's because it doesn't cost them anything. But when the star is controversial or doesn't act the way a fan might expect, the jersey comes off. Meeting with Jesus at night didn't cost Nicodemus anything. Idleman writes: "There is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life." (pg 30)

Which brings me back to Tim Tebow. No, he's not a great quarterback. And no, I'm not necessarily a fan (but as a Bronco fan, I'm glad he's winning). But does he deserve the mocking and scorn he receives? Here's a sample conversation I heard last week on sports-talk radio: "So Tebow prayed for God to help him with his spiral? Well either God didn't answer his prayer or God can't throw a spiral either." To which the other commentator replied, "Or maybe his God doesn't answer his prayers." It's gotten to the point where not only Tebow is mocked, but so is the sovereignty of God.

Even other Christian players have backed off from him. Kurt Warner, notorious for his faith, admits that maybe Tebow should "put down the boldness" to prevent critics from becoming "calloused".
Jake Plummer, who Tebow essentially replaced in a round and about way said, "I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ then I think I’ll like him a little better ." But both quarterbacks completely miss the point.

Tebow is not a fan of Jesus. If he was, he wouldn't talk about him so much. If he was, he wouldn't open up every postgame press conference by thanking his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". (He doesn't even shorten it for simplicity like Warner's famous "Thank you Jesussss!" And he definitely wouldn't take a knee and "Tebow" for the whole world to see and mock.

No, Tim Tebow is not a fan of Jesus. He is not afraid of being seen with him. He is not afraid of talking about him. He is not ashamed. He does not need to come to Jesus in the dark of night. He does not mind that his relationship with Jesus interferes with his life, his popularity, and yes even his play on the field.

So put yourself in Tebow's shoes. Would you continue to praise Jesus with every camera on you? Would you pray to Jesus both through the good and bad, knowing everyone is watching and waiting for you to slip? Would you allow Jesus to interfere with your life that much? Or are you still just a fan?

This post continues my series blogging through the book, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I encourage you to follow along by clicking on the Not A Fan label to the right. And I urge you to pick up a copy of this book for yourself.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sing Jesus into Your Heart

"That if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13)

"Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." (1 John 4:2)

I'm driving home from work the other day listening to some lesson on Christian radio when it comes time for the standard invitation to pray Jesus into your heart. I change over to the 24-7 Christmas station and hear this verse from Silent Night, "Christ our savior is born. Christ our savior is born."

Something hit me. I don't know whether to call it a dichotomy or a paradox. But the above passages that justify salvation via a prayer in the comfort of my own car while cruising alone down the highway aren't limited by the tradition of the "sinner's prayer." In fact, could they not extend to our favorite Christmas hymns? Consider:
  • "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing." -O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!... Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!" -Joy to the World
  • "The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone him." -What Child is This?
  • "Christ the savior is born... Jesus, Lord at thy birth" -Silent Night
  • And the entirety of Hark the Herald Angels Sing is a song of praise for the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
So considering the basis for praying Jesus into your heart, could not one be saved simply by singing one of these traditional songs of worship?

As you ponder this doctrinal loophole, consider its implications. A local radio station effectively goes off-air from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas to play nothing but Christmas hymns and carols. Yes, many are secular. But others have such theological depth that you cannot help but to praise God while singing along. These same songs fill our shopping malls and department stores. School choirs and bands practice these songs for months to prepare for the annual Christmas concert (where they are still allowed to do so). Television schedules Christmas specials while movie producers plan their releases to time with the holiday season.

Two thousand years later, the whole world stops what it is doing and changes course. All because of a little baby born in a manger.

Now I'm not necessarily suggesting that one can "come to Christ" by singing along to a Christmas hymn, but I am suggesting that maybe these songs are the only glimpse of Jesus someone else may see. If we can go door knocking to invite someone to church, shouldn't the same principle apply when we go door to door caroling?

These are more than just favorite traditional songs. They are hymns of worship and praise. Come, let us adore Him!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Internet Fan

The first chapter of Kyle Idleman's Not a Fan is titled D.T.R. for "define the relationship". Makes sense. Like a good technical paper, we want to define terms up front. And since the focus of this book is our relationship with Jesus it is best to define where we're at right from the start.

Are you a follower or a fan? Yes, it's that simple. Are you in the heat of the game or are you in the stands cheering?

It may not be an obvious difference, but the difference is huge. You might say, eternal. Of course the instinct is to answer with an emphatic "follower!" That's how I would have answered the first 24 years of my life. (at least once I was old enough to speak) But once challenged to look back at the choices I made and the priorities of my life weighed against God's own Word, I saw that I was just a fan.

Eleven year later, by no means do I consider myself to be perfect. Today I'm still tempted to be just a fan. It's easier to sit in the stands and play Monday morning quarterback on internet forums. (sitting faceless behind a computer screen and writing this blog without ever actually doing anything) Being in the game is hard. It risks injury. It risks defeat.

Like I said, easier to be an internet know-it-all. This reminds me of a Bud Light "Real Men of Genius". (Don't know if this ever was an actual add, but it circulated on sports forums and fits perfectly to this discussion. Though the version I remember had a verse about criticizing athletes for their performance though you've never once played the game, you still get the gist.) Read this and ask yourself again if this could describe you.

***
Bud Light presents...Real Men of Genius

"Reeeeal Men of Geeeeniuuuus..."

Today we salute YOU, Mr. Really Mad Internet Sports Fan

"Mr. Really Mad Internet Spo-orts Fan!"

Only YOU can fully appreciate the mind-blowing tragedy of a bunch of 18-22 year old athletes you'll never meet, losing a game.

"Don't you TAAAAALK to me about perspective!!"

While others are too preoccupied with things like real life, you take your anger directly to the place where it will make the absolute least possible impact: An Internet discussion forum.

"Loggin' on now!"

Your unique eye for logic allows you to sling turds of doom every which way, and then brag about how you were RIGHT as soon as one of the pieces sticks to the wall regardless of how many dozens fell limply to the floor before that.

"See I told yooooooooou!!"

And if some idiot newspaper columnist has the gall to not be as incensed as you are, you unleash your fury down upon him with all the tenacity and mercilessness of a rabid pit bull with a tender buttock locked in its jaws.

"Total anonymity!"

So keep clicking away, oh Marauder of the Mousepad. Because when the results you so desire finally come about years from now, you can say it was because YOU demanded it.

"How come they haven't fired that clown, yet? Mr. Really Mad Internet Spooorts Fan"

Anheuser-Busch St. Louis, Missouri...

***

Let's try a not-so-creative rewrite:

Water to Wine presents, Real Fans of Jesus

Real Faans of Jeesuuuuus!

Today we salute YOU, Christian blogger!

Here's to youuu, Christian blog er!

You had an emotional response at a Christian rock concert and now you want everyone to know!

I went to this concert and all I got was saved... and this t-shirt... and this Jesus fish for my car... and this NOTW sticker...

You read a best seller and want everyone to live a Crazy Radical Wild life in devotion to Christ.

You're preaching to the choir!

But don't dare disagree with your doctrine or you'll release the fury of a thousand Twitter followers.

Farewell Rob Bell!

And don't expect you to practice what you preach. You're too busy reading everyone else's blogs, following your Twitter stream, and updating your Facebook account to actually step outside and live like Jesus.

Follow my tweets as I follow the tweets of Christ!

So keep pecking away at your keyboard, Christian blogger, calling out every moral slight. Because since you know Jesus, you also know you're right and everyone else therefore is wrong.

Do as I say, not as I do because I'm a Christian blogger!

Water to Wine, Jerusalem

Monday, December 05, 2011

Under-horses

So the Bowl Championship Series match ups are set and we are lucky enough to watch a rematch of Alabama and LSU in the BCS shampionship, er I mean championship. But where is the underdog? The dark horse? Where is the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl or the Utah-Alabama Sugar Bowl? No such luck this year.

But everybody love to cheer on the underdog (except for the rabid Sooner and Tide fans in the games above). Why is that? What captures our collective conscience when it comes to cheering for the little guy?

That, and more deep thoughts related to sports and football in particular, will be reflected on over the next few weeks as I go through Kyle Idleman's book, Not A Fan. Please join me in the weeks ahead as I explore the difficult question, am I a fan or a follower?

But in the meantime, some tunage:



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Counting the Cost (of college)

I haven't had the chance to get online much lately, so I've been checking other blogs and news remotely on the run. Yesterday, these three articles were literally lined up in my Google Reader, so I figured that's too much of a coincidence to pass up. It's odd to see this much coverage right now. College application deadlines aren't for another couple of months and it's been a couple of months since the annual "best of" lists for colleges were released. So maybe they're filling a slow news day. Anyway, all three articles tackle student load debt and the cost of college. If you're in that stage in life or have children approaching that milestone decision, these are worth reading:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

God Sets the Lonely in Families

It was our second date. My wife-to-be and I were browsing books at Borders and making small talk. She was talking about her family and her childhood. She said something about her birth certificate and I told her mine was the same.

She was stunned, unable to process what I just implied. In all her time praying to God for a husband who is like this, from there, does that... one prayer always stood out, that he would understand her like no one else could. And my nonchalant comment sealed the deal in her heart. (Me, I was slower on the uptake. It took me a couple more months to recognize what God was doing.)

You see, I could understand her like no one else could because like her, I am adopted.

I admit I have selfishly held this post back. November is National Adoption Month. I've been wanting to post something. I have friends who have adopted. We've made efforts to get tied in to the local Foster system. And there are a hundred other better reasons to post this than my own selfishness. Because writing this is hard. It exposes emotions, and I don't like to feel. But today, Thanksgiving, I realize I am thankful for nothing greater because I see God's divine providence at work in my life and my wife's through our adoptions.

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27, emphasis added)

So as I thank God today for my family and the course my life has taken I cannot ignore the role my adoption played. So I thank God that I was adopted. And I thank God for my friends who have adopted or taken in foster children from the inner city to China and everywhere in between. I thank God on behalf of all those who now have homes who otherwise would not.

But the work is not done. Davd Platt shares in Radical Together how he approached the county Department of Human Resources to find out how many families it would take to meet all the adoptive and fostering needs in the county. He was told 150 families. When he invited his congregation to a later meeting if they were interested in serving in this way (after preaching from James 1:27) 160 showed.

I heard on the radio the other day that there are more Christian Churches (broadly defined) than there are foster children in North America so if every church only took in a single child, that need could be completely eliminated. I have trouble believing that when I see the needs in my own community. In California there are 63,000 in foster care and 12,000 children waiting for adoptive families.

And so I thank God for those who are presently moved to meet this need. One of my blogger buddies, Jason Stasyszen is going through the process to adopt from Japan. You can follow that progress on their Facebook page. Here's a video they put together. (grab a tissue)




Thank you God for blessing me with a family who loved me and raised me. Thank you for the same for my wife. Thank you for bringing the two of us together. Thank you for those who have hearts for the fatherless. Move our hearts to not be ignorant of their needs. Thank you for the many blessings you have given us so that we can share them with those in need. Amen.

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families
" (Psalm 68:5-6)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On the Verge

I try not to be too self-serving in my posts, but this was too good to pass up. If you've never heard of Verge, it's a conference and ministry whose mission is to encourage and equip "Gospel-centered missional communities". I admit to finding them by accident through their YouTube channel. I'm an unashamed Francis Chan junkie, but I discovered more there than just Chan: tips on how to be missional, other speakers/authors like Alan Hirsch and Matt Carter, and through their links, articles on building missional communities, how to build a culture of disciples making disciples, and so on.

So here's the deal. I want to go to their conference this year. I'm not interested in any specific speaker, or checking out the music scene of Austin, but I want to fellowship with others who are like-minded to seek and save the lost, make disciples who make disciples, and practice the pure and faultless religion of taking care of orphans, widows and our communities in need.

I've already been piling on to my reading list thanks to Verge: For the City by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter and Building a Discipling Culture and Covenant and Kingdom by Mike Breen. Now I want to learn practicals- hands on and first hand from those doing it.

So here's what I need from you. Follow Verge on Facebook. Then when all the entry blogs are posted, vote for your favorite. It's that simple. Thanks for your support!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Label or Content?

Which of the following lyrics would you expect to hear on a Christian radio station? (answers at the end of the post)
  1. Save me, I'm lost. Lord, I've waiting for you.
  2. My tongue dances behind my lips for you
  3. All alone, smoking his last cigarette, where were you?
  4. I wanna get right with God, you know you gotta get right with God
  5. You make my teeth clench and my hands shake, do you ever see what you do to me?
What defines "Christian music"? (I'm thinking specifically here of Christian rock. Worship music and Christian pop are a little more obvious.)

Is it the record label? Switchfoot brushed off the description and for a long time resisted playing in Christian festivals even though their first label before going mainstream was Christian rock powerhouse Tooth and Nail.

Is it where it is sold? Evanescence vehemently opposed the description even though their first album was heavily promoted in Christian stores by their label. It took a near lawsuit to remove their album from the shelves.

Is it the radio station that plays it? Take the lyrics above. Sometimes you can find more redemptive value in mainstream rock than in some songs that are labeled Christian. I'll cheat and give you one answer from above- #5 above is from Anberlin's "Impossible" and is played frequently on Air1. The chorus, "Take what you want from me, it means nothing now..." sounds like surrendering to God. But the verses have more of a double entendre. The song, thematically, is very similar to Hoobastank's "The Reason" yet Hoobastank pulls a fast one in their video.

Disciple, Thousand Foot Krutch, Flyleaf, POD I first heard on the "new rock" stations. Switchfoot, Lifehouse, Mat Kearney, Anberlin, Mutemath I am just as likely, if not more so, to hear on an alternative hits station.

Is it the faith of the artist? Mat Kearney was interviewed a year or so ago in Relevant magazine and didn't once mention God. Yet, he has become more explicit in expressing his faith on his second album.

Flyleaf has been quoted, "I don’t know what you mean by a “Christian rock band.” It’s hard to say that because people all have a different definition of what that means. If it means that we’re Christians, then yeah, we’re Christians, but if a plumber’s a Christian, does that make him a “Christian plumber?” I mean we’re not playing for Christians. We’re just playing honestly and that’s going to come out"

Meanwhile, Chad Wolf from Carolina Liar (not a "Christian" band) said about his song (#1 above), "If someone thinks I'm singing about God in this song then I'm honored to have made that connection."

Or go back to Anberlin and their lead singer Stephen Christian, "I don't care who listens to our records. If it helps people in whatever circumstances they're in, that's amazing, but I definitely don't classify us as a Christian band." and elsewhere, "[My faith] affects every single aspect of my life, but I'm not a preacher, I'm an entertainer."
 
My favorite though has to be from Switchfoot frontman Jon Forman, "For us it's a faith, not a genre."

And isn't that the bottom line? Isn't the label Christian about describing one's faith, not one's marketing campaign? If the stats are correct that roughly 80% of Americans call themselves Christian, then wouldn't it follow that many music artists would identify themselves as Christian? And wouldn't it therefore be expected that those values come through in their music even if not labeled as such?
 
Listen outside of the box. You might be surprised what you hear.
 
(And the answers above: 2, 3, and 5 receive regular airplay on Christian stations. 2-Flyleaf "All Around Me", 3-The Fray "Where Were You?", 5-Anberlin "Impossible". #1 is Carolina Liar "Show Me What I'm Looking For" and #5 is Lucinda Williams "Get Right With God".)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Point Of View

This picture was a hit on the interwebs last week. Follow the link to the original and instructions on how the picture was made.


Step away from your computer, what do you see? But come closer and the image changes. Yet again, what do you see?

Even though the image in your mind is different, in both cases you see the same thing- a face. It is only as your point of view changes that the image changes.

When I saw Peter pick the topic of "secular" for his blog carnival I was stumped. But then my wife found a picture on Pintrest that uses one of the Urban Dictionary's definitions of Christianity:

The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...

Yeah, Christianity makes perfect sense.

And I remembered the picture above. (Yes, my brain works in odd ways. I'm having that checked) But the point that stood out to me was that the "definition" above is only one point of view. Secular it may be, but is it really that far off?

Before you scream "blasphemy!" consider- your perspective and my perspective are different. If we were to each give a description of Jesus, chances are we would say different things. You say loving, I say faithful. You say merciful, I say bold. We could go on and on. Francis Chan makes that point in Crazy Love with respect to God- that if every person in the world used a different word to describe God, we would run out of people before we ran out of words. Your experience with Jesus is different from mine. Different still from the secularist. Yet like in the picture above aren't we all seeing the same thing, Jesus?

So the Urban Dictionary description makes Christianity sound crazy. But isn't it, really? Has Christianity in our day and age become so "normal" that we forget just how crazy it is to give up everything and follow a Jewish zombie that told us to eat his flesh and drink his blood to atone for some internal demon that we all have just because some naked chick in a garden ate the fruit of a magical tree because a snake told her to? I'm not offended by this. My faith in Christ is crazy, I am ready to admit. But that's just my perspective.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength." (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

This post is part of a blog carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. This week's topic is "secular". Be sure to click the link to check out other posts and other perspectives.

Monday, November 14, 2011

All Things to All Men

Tomorrow, Seventh Day Slumber's new album, "The Anthems of Angels" drops. This band is a case of those "behind the music" clips on the radio working. I bought their last album, "Take Everything" after hearing about the band on Air1. Their song, Oceans from the Rain, received a lot of airplay, but I didn't know anything about the band. But when I heard that they were motivated to do a worship album to praise God for delivering them (namely, lead singer Joseph Rojas) from their addiction, I had to check them out. As an alcoholic myself helping to lead a recovery ministry, I was drawn in. Needless to say, despite calling myself a metal-head, their hard-rock versions of songs I knew well like I Can Only Imagine were disarming, yet authentic. Once I got used to the driving chords, I now listen to that album frequently as their harder edge more often reflects how I feel than softer versions of the same songs from Chris Tomlin or Mercy Me.
I am also inspired by lead singer Joseph Rojas' testimony. Check out the video below.



Now, there's a lot I don't agree with doctrinally. But in dealing with addiction I have come to the conclusion that the Grace of God is not limited; that the redemptive, healing power of Jesus knows no lines. I praise God for his recovery and his ministry.

Seventh Day Slumber catches a lot of grief for their ministry. Being rooted in the Bible Belt, they face their fair share of fundamentalism condemning their image and their music. But to quote Paul, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, emphasis added) The tatted-out, hard rock, felon and addict may be the only Christian some may ever know. He is likely the only Christian some will ever trust.

If you haven't heard this band, I encourage you to check them out. They're not what you might expect. But isn't that just how God likes to work?

Below is the first single of their new album, Love Came Down

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Green Eggs and Sin

***Update: Added the full Green Eggs and Sin poem at the end of this post.***

So I mentioned I liked Sunday's sermon so much I would dedicate two posts to it. Click here for part 1 (and an awesome video!). You can also listen to the whole thing here.

That was the meat of the sermon. But the outline was taken from Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. In that story, Sam I Am pesters an unnamed man to try green eggs and ham.

Would you eat them in a house? Would you eat them with a mouse?

The man resists and resists.

I will not eat them on a boat! I will not eat them with a goat!

After running though nearly every scenario imaginable (I mean, who eats with a mouse or a goat?), the man (SPOILER WARNING!!!) gives in and tries this unique delicacy.

And. It. Is. Delicious!

Satan is the same way. He pesters and pesters, pokes and prods.

(In fact Satan was pestering Ivan during the sermon. His phone went off. The wireless mic wasn't working. And the video I shared Monday didn't play.)

Will you sin in your house? Will you sin with your mouse (click)?

And sometimes we get so tired of resisting we give in. And sin tastes delicious! Just ask Eve.

But remember what I referenced Monday: if you "resist the devil, he will flee from you." (James 4:7) Think about how adamant the man was against trying the green eggs and ham. That is how we must oppose Satan's schemes.

I will not sin here nor there! I will not sin ANYWHERE!

Here's the full version. All credit goes to my friend, Ivan Strean. I'm not that creative!

Would you could you in your house?
Would you could you with your mouse?
Would you grumble will you groan?
Would you be with your girlfriend alone?

Will you have sin in your life?
Would you sin against your wife?
Will you allow yourself to hate?
Would you could you? It's your fate!

Do you need to make your relationships deeper?
Are you really your brother's keeper?
All this work seems hardly fair.
No one else does, so why should you care?

Do you need to read you Bible every day?
Aren't you tired, why go pray?
Haven't you heard all He has to say?
Who needs church anyway?

To which I reply:

I will not sin in my house.
I will not sin with my mouse.
I refuse to grumble or to groan.
I will not be with my girlfriend alone.

I will not have sin in my life.
I will always love my wife.
I won't allow myself to hate.
Understand this... It's not my fate!

I will make my relationships deeper.
And yes I am my brother's keeper.
I know God's will and it's totally fair.
I know my brothers and sisters and they totally care!

So I will read my Bible every day.
And I'm never too tired to pray.
I haven't yet heard all He has to say.
And everyone needs church anyway.

No I will not sin here nor there!
Nope I won't sin anywhere!
Satan, Satan, can't you see?
I won't life in sin
so GET BEHIND ME!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Lions and Water Buffalo and Crocodiles, Oh My!

Huge hat tip to Ivan for a powerful sermon yesterday. So powerful in fact, that I'm dedicating two posts to it.

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)

The following video has been seen 64 million times. It is that cool. In fact, all you have to do is start typing "battle" in YouTube and this is the first thing that comes up. I'll let you watch before babbling further.



Satan is like a lion looking to devour. Who does he devour? The young, the weak, and the alone. In the video, the lions pounce and go right after the young water buffalo. But just when you think the lions have won (out comes a crocodile!) the water buffaloes come to protect their own.

The spiritual application is obvious. Satan preys after the spiritually young, the spiritually weak, and the spiritually alone. But when we stand by our brothers and sisters in their most vulnerable times, we can help defend against the roaring lion. Just as important, as the baby water buffalo proved, no matter how beaten down you may be you can never give up fighting.

"Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (v 9)

"Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7b)

For more, I recommend the book The Lion Never Sleeps by Mike Taliaferro.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Face of a Movement

I could have waited to post this next week, but since today is November 5th, it is appropriate to post today. This article in MSNBC brought this to my attention. The mask of Guy Fawkes, brought to recent fame with the graphic novel and eventual movie, V for Vandetta, has become the symbol of the Occupy movement. Anonymous, smirking, almost mocking those he (or she) is protesting against, this is the face of the Everyman. Whether fed up with the profits on Wall Street, or some other en vogue cause, all one has to do is don this mask and join the throng of the opposed.
But I wonder if this symbol would be so embraced if people actually knew its origins?

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I can think of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
So who is Guy Fawkes, other than a popular Halloween mask and political symbol? These entries on wikipedia (Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot ) are worth reading. The poem above, and the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, are celebrated by anarchists, were used symbolically in V opposing fascism in Britain, and continue to inspire anti-government sentiment.

The poem sounds inspiring, but it continues:

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
You see, the poem wasn’t celebrating his treason, but was celebrating his getting caught. And it continues further:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!
Why did he do it? His treason was in response to discrimination by the British Monarchy towards Catholics. That’s right, this treason was over religious freedom. Even more ironic was that the Monarchy was a borderline theocracy led by King James, the commissioner of that version of the Bible bearing his name.

So I wonder if the Occupiers recognize Guy Fawkes as not only a symbol against the government, but as a symbol of religious freedom. Somehow I doubt it. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, I wonder if proponents of a "Christian America" recognize the irony. I doubt that too.

So as you burn your “guy” in effigy, launch a firecracker, or light a bonfire tonight to celebrate some new world order, remember that it was for religious freedom that this country was settled, for freedom from tyranny this country was founded, and opposition to theocracy that inspired the Gunpowder Plot. Remember, remember the 5th of November.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Flashback Friday: Are Winners More Blessed?

***I admit I "Tebow" every day. I just don't take a picture of it and post it on Facebook. Tim Tebow is a lightning rod presently and when I went back to dig up old posts about him, I discovered I haven't really written much about him at all. So the following post, from almost three years ago, is more about how the mix of religion and success on the sports field makes us uncomfortable. I think that's appropriate given the Tebowing phenomenon. But I also want to link to this post by Jen Engel at Fox Sports. She raises an interesting question: if Tebow were Muslim, would anyone dare mock his faith? Something to consider.***


I'm a total sports nut, and I've had draft after draft of blog posts dedicated to this subject, but I never seem to get around to posting them. Well, here's my overdue post on the role of God in sports, motivated courtesy of Mark Kriegel and Foxsports.  [author's note: this article isn't cached by Fox Sports, but talked about how Kurt Warner's faith and return to the Super Bowl made him uncomfortable]

This is a hot topic right now because of the building media hype leading up to the Super Bowl, magnified by Tony Dungy's retirement and Tim Tebow winning yet another BC$ Championship. If you're not as much of a nerd as me, let me give you a quick rundown. Kurt Warner, the blue-collar come-from-nowhere Super Bowl Champion quarterback is back with a new team and another shot at glory. He isn't shy about the role his faith has played in motivating him through tough times, of which he's had many. Tony Dungy is retiring from coaching the Indianapolis Colts, whom he led to the 2007 Super Bowl. A well-respected and regarded coach with high expectations, he too would give credit where credit was due and was criticized following his Super Bowl win by boasting that he and his opposing coach, Lovie Smith, were the first to "do it the right way" supposedly by not cussing and being religious, implying that the other 30 coaches in the NFL do it the wrong way. (This is not meant as a knock on Dungy at all, just the way the media responded. In fact, I have a great deal of respect for him and would cheer for the Colts because of him. He is definitely a fine example to follow as summarized in this article from OnFaith.) Finally, Tim Tebow is a a phenom-quarterback at the University of Florida who not only thanks God for his accomplishments (only a couple of championships and Heisman trophies but who's counting?), but even goes on mission trips.

Of course it's no surprise that these outward displays of faith make others like Kriegel uncomfortable. If God has no place in our government or our public square, then certainly God has no place in sports, right? Faith is even harder to reconcile in sports, where there is a clear winner and loser. Who's to say God favored one over the other? Does God really care who wins a championship? (If he did, the Cubs would've won it all last year, but I digress) Some denominations recognize this and even go so far as prohibiting sports because not only does competition bring out the worst of us (just go watch your church's local softball team) but it also puts God in a box, forcing Him to choose a favorite. Of course, the Bible tells us over and over that God doesn't play favorites, so this would be a sin on our part.

The rivalry game between the University of Utah and BYU is called the Holy War (really, only recently so when both teams have been good enough to generate national attention). Does God really care who wins that game? What if Baylor (a Baptist school) plays Notre Dame? Does God care if the baseball player that crosses himself before his at bat strikes out or hits a home run?

Of course, most Christians in sports treat this humbly by crediting God for their talents and their health. They don't pray to win, they pray to glorify God and for there to be no injuries. It's usually the fans (and some knucklehead players with misinformed theology, see below) who take it overboard. But even crediting God for talents and opportunities makes others uncomfortable. Look no further than critics of President Bush who never did understand what he meant when he claimed that he believed God chose him to be president. This wasn't a boast, but a humble reference to Romans 13:1. We can joke that Obama is the 'chosen one' but again, referencing Romans and conceding that God has a hand in all things, he really is. But then we're back to the problem with sports- was Florida 'chosen'? If so, where's free will?

So there's a danger in all of this. There's no problem with thanking God, for that's what the Bible commands us to do "in everything" (Phil 4:6) and "in all circumstances" (1 Thes 5:18). But we need to draw a line between divine providence (opportunity and talent) and divine intervention. This is where some fans and athletes cross the line. I mentioned BYU earlier and I'm not shy in saying that I absolutely hate them. But last year, there was a "miracle catch" to beat Utah as time expired and later a "miracle block" to beat UCLA in their bowl game. Their receiver, after this miracle catch was quoted as saying, "Obviously, if you do what's right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part in it. Magic happens." But what about the thugs and cheats that permeate professional sports who are successful? See where this theology leads? (this is also a problem with Prosperity Doctrine, but that's another post for another day)

This isn't a new problem. Look at how David lamented on the success of the wicked in the Psalms. Solomon did the same in Ecclesiastes. Or even the apostles who wondered why a man was born blind. Righteous living does not equate success in this life despite what our favorite athletes might say. We need to look no further than Jesus' reply to reconcile our faith with prosperity, or in our case victory: "[T]his happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:3)

The "his" above could be "us" or "them" with regards to our own success or that of our favorite (or least favorite even) team. Give God the glory. Give him thanks. And humbly recognize that whether you win or lose, God is in control.

(For entertainment, check out this article from a year ago that gives a list of sports colliding with faith. See if you can tell the difference between most of the quotes- the most obvious exception being the boxer- and what the BYU player said.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Battle Plan

As I mentioned Monday, this past weekend's Halloween-themed sermon was on battling our monsters  drawing lessons from David's confrontation with Goliath. (h/t Fred for the lesson and Dave for the additional insight!)

Recall the epic battles in "Braveheart" with each nation's army lined up on opposite sides of the valley below. Remember the shouting back and forth, signaling strength and confidence. Now imagine that continuing on for 40 days and NO ONE ACTUALLY FIGHTING! I figure everyone would've been pretty hoarse after just a couple of days.

That is the scene David walks into in 1 Samuel, chapter 17. For 40 days the Philistine army had been lining up opposite the nation of Israel, daring them to fight. Leading the taunting was nine-foot tall Goliath and not a single Israelite dared to take him on. Except for young, diminutive David.

I think the reason the army of Israel was afraid to fight was because they were thinking of a conventional fight, taking on strength with strength. Of course that strategy works if your strengths match up. But if you know you're at a disadvantage, it is wise not to fight.

"Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace." (Luke 14:31-32)

But this wasn't a conventional fight. The army of Israel wasn't fighting alone. They had the power of the Lord Almighty fighting beside them.

"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Somehow they forgot that in the face of someone stronger. But David didn't. He remembered the LORD his God. But he still needed a strategy of his own.

It is obvious that he was thinking of this while with Saul when he told him he "could not go [in Saul's armor]" because he "was not used to them." (1 Samuel 17:39) He knew his only chance was to match his speed against Goliath's strength.

Also note that he picked up not just one, but five smooth stones. He expected he would need to get off more than one shot. He had a plan and he had a strategy.

But God had another strategy in mind. He only wanted one to stand up for His Name. So David only needed one shot to take down this giant.

Sometimes when facing our own inner demons, the sin that so easily entangles, we get stuck in a stare-down. We are too afraid to commit to the fight. Other times, we try and match strength for strength, but we can not overcome our sinful nature on our own. "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (Romans 7:21) So we need to try unconventional means. We need to plan. We need to be cunning. "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16) We need a strategy.

This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. This week's topic is strategy. Be sure to click the link to check out other posts!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombies vs Monsters

I woke up this morning feeling like a zombie, but that's not what this post is about.
Imagine if Jesus was born in today's culture. I'm not talking about his return, but if he were to come the first time around in 21st Century America. The reaction to the virgin birth would be scandalous enough, but think about some of the things Jesus said and some of the things he did. Imagine the reaction after being told to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Imagine the headlines raising Lazarus from the dead would have garnered. But most of all, imagine the response upon seeing the risen Jesus.

George Romero couldn't come up with a better story. Zombies are this years' vampires, with the success of the TV show The Walking Dead, based on the comic book of the same name. And if you visit a comic book store, you would see that almost every other title involves zombies.

brains....

But this is about Jesus, the original zombie (you can skip to the 3:00 mark, but it's the Colbert Report, so really you want to watch the whole thing.)



While Jesus may have been the original zombie, you and I are also zombies. (now you know what that persistent itching is all about)

"For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:9-11)

BRAINS!

Well that's one interpretation anyway.  Jeff Kinley actually takes the opposite view (see, even zombies have denominations!) that those without Christ are the actual zombies and offers a "zombie guide" to help combat them.



BRAINS!

(sorry, I haven't had breakfast yet.)

Yesterday, our sermon was Halloween-themed about fighting the monsters within. I haven't read the book above, it actually was just released, but in a similar vein I recommend Mike Talieferro's The Killer Within. It relates sin to real disease, not a zombie-like infection. Yesterday's sermon actually centered on the story of David and Goliath, but Jesus talked about this condition himself.

"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." (Luke 11:24-26)

I think we all have felt that monster inside of us. Sometimes it comes out for just a moment and surprises us. Other times it feels like that monster has complete control. What is your monster? Anger? Addiction? Impurity?







Today, Halloween, this zombie is going to fight some monsters.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Reading, 29 October

So it's been forever since I've done one of these and with my computer crashing this isn't a best-of from the last week, more like a must-read from a couple of weeks ago (or longer!). As fast as social media moves, it can be easy to miss the good stuff. So without further ado...

 
First off, happy belated blogiversary to Matt Appling at The Church of No People! His blog is one of my favorites. It helps that it's one of the few that my firewall at work doesn't blog (don't tell anyone!).

 
Next are overdue congratulations to Tyler Braun and Glynn Young on their manuscripts being accepted for publishing. I'm looking forward to the end product!

 
If you've read my blog for any period of time you've noticed one subject I am most passionate about is the present state of the Church, Christ's Bride and our own personal struggles within. So when others write with conviction and concern it always gets my attention. In no particular order:
  • Jonathan Keck wishes that America would experience a "Bloody Revolution" (don't judge by the title, this is a serious read)
  • Collin Hansen writes about "the Rise and Fall" of the Congregational Church of Northampton, once home to Evangelical giant, Jonathan Edwards.
  • Rachel Held Evens wants a faith worth fighting for, one that is not "easy".
  • Mercedes writes about how the "Structure of the Church Must Change".
  • Jay Cookingham reminds us that it is Jesus who "invites" us to follow him, not the other way around.
  • Duane Scott laments that many seek the Truth but only find "Religion". (scroll about half-way down)
  • Matt Appling compares "Big Church" with Big Oil.

 Enjoy reading and have a blessed weekend!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happiness Happens

This is a common thought of mine, frequently wrestled with in prayer: why does fill-in-the-blank rob me of my joy? I fill that blank with my kids, my job, the minutia of adult life (bills, burned out light bulbs, weeds, etc), my computer crashing, and so on. I struggle over this because I am convinced that as a Christian these things should not shake me.

But then I heard a great observation in a sermon: "happiness is based on what happens, but joy is rooted in the eternal." Easy to remember. Happiness happens. I don't think I'm alone in the feelings I describe above and I think our problem is that we confuse happiness with joy.

It's ok not to be happy when you're running late and stuck at a red light. It's ok not to be happy when you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It's ok not to be happy when all those little things get under your skin, on your last nerve.

But the Bible commands us to "be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis added)

Honestly, I read that scripture, shake my head and wonder, how on earth?

But that's my problem. There is no "how on earth". Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). The joy before him wasn't here on earth, it was in eternity with God his father. We have that same hope and therefore we should share that same joy.

Jesus told his disciples prior to his betrayal and crucifixion, "A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." (John 16:21-22) While we did not get to see the resurrected Jesus, we have confidence that we will someday. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace." (v 33)

Thankfully, until that time, Jesus did not leave us all alone.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5:1-5)

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is joy, second only to love. We need to turn to, trust in, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to give us joy as we have hope in Jesus.

Instead of saying @#%! happens, remember instead that happiness happens, joy is eternal. Thanks be to God for his gift of the Holy Spirit and the hope we have in Jesus for eternity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Martyr

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, the US government was quick to remove the body to bury it at sea. There were criticisms from one side fueling conspiracy theories that he wasn't actually killed since no concrete evidence was ever provided. While critics on the other side noted that the Muslim religion required burial within two days.

A few months later, Muammar Qaddafi was killed during the Lybian uprising. His body was kept on full display, long after the two days their religion prescribed, for the Lybian people to see. He is now buried in an undisclosed location.

In both cases, their final resting place was kept secret so as to not become shrines. Critics have pointed out, in both cases, that these leaders should not have been killed but rather held on trial like ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. They argue that killing these leaders elevates them to martyrs, evidenced by how their burials were handled.

This isn't a political post, but Qaddafi's headline was fresh in my mind as I was reading about the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, the first martyr of Christian Church. At the time, it could be argued that the Jewish leaders had enough; after warning the disciples to stop their blasphemy in the Temple and in synagogues, an example had to be made. A later verse stands out to confirm this: "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." (Acts 8:3, emphasis added) I would expect their desired outcome would have been the disciples backing away in fear. I expect government and rebel leaders felt the same about Bin Laden and Qaddafi.

But the disciples did not back away nor did they back down. Acts 8 continues, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went." (v 4) Martyrdom didn't stop this religious revolution, it emboldened it.

Maybe it's a stretch to compare these two brutal megalomaniacs with the first Christian martyr whose "face was like the face of an angel." (Acts 6:15) But I think this example, not to mention others in history, prove that the critics have a valid point.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Downtime

Nothing new from me. I have a couple of posts in the queue, but my computer crashed on Friday so those will have to wait. I'm also on the road most of this week so I won't have the chance to update much. I'm hoping to be back up full swing this time next week.

In the meantime, just 'cause, check out this sermon from David Platt:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Wish I Could Just Show Up

Once upon a time I just showed up. I didn't think twice about it. In fact, if I did think twice it meant I probably wouldn't show up at all. And it wouldn't bother me a bit. Too hungover? Sleep in. Feel too guilty over the sins of Saturday night to show up Sunday morning? No problem, there's always next week.

But then that all changed. One Sunday while in college, God's Word spoke to me like it never had before. I knew at that moment I couldn't turn back. I began to devour the Word. I would spend hours in Barnes & Noble flipping through every book on the shelf in the Christianity section. I started to listen to different preachers on the radio. Like a sponge, I absorbed everything I could read, see, or hear about how to live like Christ. I could no longer just show up.

I look around some Sunday mornings now and wonder if anybody feels the same as I did, or feels the same as I do now. When I reach out to another and they tell me they attend such-and-so church, I wonder if they are just showing up, or if they have a fire burning inside of them like I feel.

But I wish I didn't feel this way. I wish I could just show up. I wish I didn't care. Because the more I read the more I wrestle, and the more I wrestle the more I question. So I read more. And more. And more. I wish I could just show up, nod my head at whatever preacher-man has to say and close my Bible as I close the door of the church behind me.

As they say, you can't un-ring the bell. I wish I didn't care. I wish church was just religion and God was just an idea. Instead I now wrestle over theology that is way over my head. I wrestle over the tension between Gospel and Kingdom; between Paul and Jesus. I wrestle with the New Perspective of Paul and am curious about the Federal Vision. I am fascinated by the subject of soteriology. And yes, all of these are related.

That's this week.

That's why I blog. That's why I read other blogs. That's what keeps my faith fresh and keeps me ever-striving to learn what it means and how to be Christlike. If you're a regular reader here, I expect you feel the same way. If you're another writer, blogger, theo-thinker, I appreciate your unique perspectives and reflections. I thank both of you. We are growing together. Prayerfully, we are doing this as Paul described:

"... being built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:12-15)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Coattails

Are you that guy? You know, that guy? The hanger-on. The coattail-rider. The member of the posse or entourage that just doesn't look like you belong there?

I'm that guy. I look back twenty years to high school (sheesh! already?) and see myself not really fitting in with any one particular group, but finding myself showing up in just about all of them. That continued in college. I was a member of a fraternity, but not the face of the fraternity. Yet I always seemed to be around.

It's funny to see this play out in my job as well. I just pop up here or there and the people who have gotten used to seeing me at miscellaneous meetings always have that look, "you, again?". Even here on the blogosphere, I wouldn't have many of the readers I have or even the friendships I've made if not for another blogger that I already (kinda) knew. (One funny example: one brother at church just got a book signed by Jon Acuff at a Dave Ramsey event. I'm like, hey I know Jon Acuff! But do I, really?)

In each of these, I display some level of popularity or importance, which may or may not be the view others have of me in reality. So what's more important- my view of myself, or what others may or may not think about me?

While this sounds like an insecure rant, let me offer up an idea that might challenge you. You're a nobody just like me. You are where you are, not because of anything you have done or ever will do, but rather because of what someone else did. You see, we are all riding on someone's coattails.

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 6:19-20, emphasis added)

We can enter into the presence of the Creator of the universe, the Lord of Lords, God Almighty only because Jesus went ahead of us first. Without Jesus, we are simply "by nature, objects of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). Without Jesus, we are nothing more than sinners separated from God. But with Him...

Every blessing, every single source of joy, we owe to Him. We haven't earned it. We have done nothing to give us credibility or popularity in God's eyes. But because of Jesus' love, we can ride on His coattails. We can be part of Jesus' entourage.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Killer Queen

Several years ago I was helping to plan a campus ministry conference. The theme was One Vision. As a classic rock nerd, I knew the perfect theme song. One of the campus ministers agreed, borrowed my "Queen: Live at Wembley CD" and started to work on a highlight video. The video and song, however, were never used.

Of course, I can understand why. There is the need to be sensitive to a broad range of convictions when putting on a large event like that. And some just didn't feel comfortable with a conference theme being sung by someone who was gay and died of AIDS.

"One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind... Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way." (Romans 14:5,13)

Marc Martel of the Christian band, Downhere (my personal favorite song: "My Last Amen") is auditioning for The Queen Extravaganza- a Queen tribute band that is sponsored by the surviving members of the band. (Sadly, this is only a tribute band. I had to swallow this news at the same time I saw a headline that the actual band was considering Lady Gaga as their lead singer on their next tour. No, I'm not going to link that in principle.)

Instantly Marc became a youtube sensation. With over 4 million views in two weeks (as of this writing) he scored himself a writeup in the Wall Street Journal and a performance on the Ellen Show. But not every Christian is happy for his new found popularity.

Some are criticizing Freddie Mercury's lifestyle, his legacy, the rock and roll drug culture, and every other reason they can think of for a self-proclaimed Christian not to do this. I could go on and on, but I'll let Marc defend himself:

"Freddie Mercury wrote songs that were real and true. Rock and roll reaches people because it’s honest, and doesn’t shy away from the issues. You can have a great voice, but people can spot a fake from a mile away. Our music may come from a biblical standpoint but we don’t shy away from true experiences – doubt, loss, pain, sorrow – we want to deal with all of that. Queen’s repertoire deals with those emotions and feelings too and I love singing their music because at the end of the day, it’s just true."

Amen.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Imaginary Line

(I might be the only blogger in the universe not writing something this morning about Steve Jobs.)

Where is the "wall of separation" between Church and State? In the past week there have been some headlines that show that the line is arbitrary and constantly on the move.

Last Sunday was the "Red Mass" in Washington, DC traditionally done before the Supreme Court starts their session. This is a tradition that goes back 58 years. (though the Red Mass isn't limited to the US government, the actual tradition dates all the way back to 1245) But wait a minute. Aren't the Justices the ones who decide where the aforementioned line should be drawn? And here aren't they participating in a religious ceremony explicitly tied to their governmental role? Interestingly, two of their first cases are Separation issues: a 10 Commandments display and applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to ministerial employment decisions.

The same Sunday, not coincidentally, was "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" (No, I've never heard of it either) where some ministers were preaching explicitly political sermons, sending the IRS their recording, and daring them to take away their tax-exempt status. The problem is, the whole 501(c)3 designation as a non-profit is very misunderstood. This status isn't limited to churches, but any non-profit. So say a charity cannot explicitly endorse a candidate because he or she may support the cause of that charity. The same is true of a church. But it does not forbid the church from preaching on social or political issues consistent with their doctrines. They just cannot actively endorse or campaign for a particular candidate or ballot issue. This is why churches were allowed to rally their congregations in support of California's Proposition 8. Churches are perfectly within their right to assemble political support or opposition. They are only not allowed to endorse specific candidates or political parties from the pulpit. Important note, churches conducted similar activities to abolish slavery and advance Civil Rights. If churches were not allowed to even speak on social or political issues then each of these movements would have died out.
Meanwhile, a student in Northern California was docked points on his grade for saying "bless you" in class. Of course the religious crusade came out to cry persecution! But wasn't necessarily the case. When you read the story it becomes clear it had more to do with disrupting the class than anything else (though the teacher's explanation left a lot to be desired.) besides, who didn't fake a sneeze in school just to get the whole class to start a string of "bless you"s? Keep in mind however, that public schools are an arm of the government.

Finally, California passed a bill banning the banning of circumcision. (if you're confused by the double-negative, you're not alone; MSN's homepage originally linked the article with the headline "California bans circumcision") This was in response to the city of San Francisco trying to pass such a ban. Never mind that the Courts struck that effort down. California feels the need to be redundant to pass a law to affirm what the Court already decided. Of course, the reason for striking down SF's law was that the government cannot restrict an explicitly religious practice (though not all are circumcised because of religious views). Hmmm, I wonder how the court cases are going against The Church of Reality (or Cognizance in some places)?

Ok, so after reading the above can you honestly tell me there is an explicit wall of separation between Church and State? Or is it more of an imaginary line?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Saint and Sinner

I haven't kept track of the Liturgical Calendar for years, so I appreciate Shane Claiborne for reminding me that yesterday was the feast day for Saint Francis of Assisi. Of course all the animal blessings should have clued me in, but I don't have a pet, and I'm not really into that sort of thing.

Though my Catholic background is well behind in my rear view mirror, I have kept a soft spot in my heart for St. Francis. Maybe it's the name; he is after all, my patron saint. Maybe it is his background; I, too, was raised by a clothing merchant. Maybe it's the animals; I've always been an animal lover. No, I never stripped down and walked out on my dad naked to prove a point. And as far as I know, I've never had stigmata (you'd think that's something I would notice). I haven't been imprisoned for my faith, nor have I made a thousand-mile pilgrimage by foot in order to try and convert someone.

So there are some differences between that saint and this sinner. But his life is one I want to imitate. As "missional" and "radical" are themes that have stirred my heart, I need to look no further than the life of Francis to see someone who was willing to eschew his social status in order to walk among the poor. He gave up everything to serve his Christ, whom he loved dearly. He literally lived out Paul's instruction to "offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." (Romans 12:1)

The prayer attributed to him (though no earlier record exists before 1912) is one I still recite today. It is a simple reminder of what it means to be Christ-like - a reminder of where my heart needs to be today.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me show love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
and where there is sadness, joy.

Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen

Monday, October 03, 2011

Beautiful

Ok, this isn't a very original pairing, but I love both of these songs. And some Mondays you just wake up needing "something beautiful".