Friday, April 29, 2011

Flashback Friday: It's the End of the World as We Know It

***Originally posted September 10, 2009 when the Large Hadron Collider became operational. Reposted because of news this week that the "God Particle" aka the Higgs boson may have been found. To save you from digging out your old physics textbook (surely you still have it) the Higgs boson is the subatomic particle that is theorized to give objects their mass. In layman's terms: it's what all the fuss in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons was about. But maybe we shouldn't get our hopes up quite yet. I wonder if this discovery will be confirmed before the actual end of the world which we all know is going to be May 21. (And I need to remind everyone of this scripture: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. -Matthew 24:36)***

It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine.

I'm behind my posting, but I had to get something up because today is the end of the world. What, you didn't hear? No I didn't get this information from someone locked away in a commune in Idaho or from a guy on a street corner holding a sign and asking for change. In fact, I don't have any religious reason for saying this at all, rather purely scientific. You see, today scientists turned on the Large Hadron Collider, a super-collider in Europe that is intended to create subatomic particles and replicate the big bang.

So what does that have to do with the end of the world? Well some are so afraid of the science behind it that they believe small black holes will be created that could eventually swallow the Earth. They're so afraid in fact, that they've tried to sue to keep it from operating. Not exactly how my Bible describes the end of the world. On the other hand, if they can create a singularity, and wormhole theories hold true, then maybe after the Earth is swallowed up our promised "new Earth" will emerge on the other side. Of course, that would require Jesus to have already come back and depending on which-millennialist doctrine you subscribe, another 1000 years or so to pass. So maybe today's not the day. But I'll be keeping oil in my lamp.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Any Other Sunday


Yesterday's post by Mike Ellis reminded me of my kids' Easter egg hunt. I was chasing our son while my wife was herding our daughter. All the while I was worried either of them would make a mess of the clothes they were wearing.

I wonder if my parents felt the same way when I was that age. Of course you have to dress up at Easter. For many kids, it is likely the only time they will have to wear a suit. Yet we're released into the wild only to scuff our shoes, mash grass stains onto our knees, and tumble head over heels to get that last egg. I wonder how many curse words my parents might have said in their heads (or out loud!) as they watched me ruin my Easter best.

Honestly, I wrestled with the thought as I dressed my children Sunday morning. I'm not big on dressing extra spiffy for Sundays, but I do want to at least look nice. Yet Easter added that extra pressure. As I'm picking out the usual clothes a voice in my head kept saying, "but it's Easter!" And my stubbornness would reply, "but there's an egg hunt!" I expect many other parents shared in that same internal battle.

Why is that so? Yes, Easter is one of the "Big Two" church services that people feel compelled to attend every year, regardless of whether they are regular pew-fillers or not. But what sets it apart to make it so special? Shouldn't we be celebrating Christ's resurrection every day, not just an arbitrary Sunday set by the phases of the moon?

I admit, I came to church Sunday looking forward to a great show. I'm glad I didn't get it. Not to say it wasn't a great worship service, it was. (One of my best friends is the worship minister, please don't take this personally!) But it wasn't the dog-and-pony show so many churches put on for Easter. The sermon wasn't extra "fluffy", full of platitudes about Jesus' love, but rather what we'd expect any Sunday- challenges on how to live like Christ and lessons to be learned from His sacrifice. The songs were nice and there were a couple of soloists to mix things up a little, but that was it. It was just like any other Sunday. And looking back (and looking at the grass stains on my son's pants) I'm glad it was.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Two Temptations

We've all been there. We've read a book that dramatically stirred our hearts, or heard a sermon that cut us right to the core. But then we close the book, or we walk out of church... and nothing changes. The first temptation of a moving lesson, book study, retreat, or in-depth Bible study is to nod your head, pat yourself on the back, give each other hugs and just walk away. It's like taking a class- you learn the information, you take the test, and then you perform a data dump thinking you'll never have to use that information again.

Information is taken in is knowledge. Knowledge applied is understanding. Understanding through repeated failure, learning anew each time, becomes wisdom. A simple study leaves us with knowledge, but the Bible calls us to wisdom:

 My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:1-6)

Yet the source of knowledge from a book is just that, a book. Paper bound and reprinted. Placed on a shelf and sold. Just like a commodity, it is only worth its price if someone is willing to purchase it. How many books sit on the shelves unsold? How much knowledge is being missed out on?

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? [Where is the best selling author?] Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

The second temptation is to make the study, the book, or the author more than they are. A friend recently told me, while discussing this book, "we can be tempted to worship the spirituality of someone whose spirituality we admire, rather than the object of their worship." He's right. I didn't want to admit it at the time, but he is absolutely right. As our group wraps up Crazy Love, it might be tempting to worship Francis Chan, or at least worship what he is doing. Of course, the content of the book should leave no doubt who the true object of our worship should be, but it is a temptation nonetheless.

So we have these two conflicting temptations: treat the study like it was nothing, or make the study more than it really was. Like in Greek philosophy, wisdom is found in the middle.

I have no doubt the first temptation is true. The book's website boasts "New York Times Bestseller!" and "Over 1 Million Copies Sold!" but are we seeing the transformation in our churches that Francis talks about? Radical, by David Platt, is another in wave of books by young pastors raising the bar of personal discipleship. Also a bestseller. I could go on and on, and you'd think that with all the books, all the conferences, the availability of YouTube sermons, the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans we'd see something of a transformation. Maybe not to the level of a new Great Awakening or another Reformation, but but I'd hope we'd see more than a few (in the grand scheme) of us bloggers callousing our fingertips writing about it.

At the same time, I know the second temptation is true because I am personally attracted to it. I'm tempted to have stars in my eyes and make Francis Chan into something he is not. I also know this second temptation is true because Francis, himself, sees it. In fact, he sees so much of it that he stepped down from leading the church he founded in-part because people were coming to see him and not to hear the Word of God preached.

So how do we avoid either temptation? First, we need to make sure we're building our personal doctrine on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) As long as that is true, we can read book after book and be assured of our foundation. We can discern the words on the page using the words of Jesus. Second, we need to continue to return to the Bible as the ultimate source of our wisdom. "There is nothing new under the sun," (Ecclesiastes 1:9) So no author can add insight that we cannot already find in Scripture. Third, and this is probably the most important, we need to do something. Both of these temptations lead to inaction. The first temptation obviously so, but the second leads to celebrity worship rather than action as you would expect.

Simple formula really. Build on Christ alone. Continue to rely on the Word. And go do something.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Flashback Friday: Reading is (still) Fundamental

***Originally posted March 2, 2010 for Read Across America Day. Reposted last October after a Pew Forum poll showed atheists and agnostics are more knowledgable about religion than most Christians. Reposting yet again because we're heading into the weekend before Easter and it worth checking out the books at the end to help us focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.***

Today is National Read Across America Day. Celebrated on the birthday of Dr. Seuss, events are held all around the country to "motivate children to read." A worthwhile event and a noble goal.

The American Christian Church needs something like this. Maybe not your priest/pastor/evangelist dressing up as the Cat In The Hat for the Sunday sermon. But something needs to be done in the Body of Christ to encourage reading and studying. Charles "Tremendous" Jones has often been quoted saying, "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read." Reading was so important to the Apostle Paul that he asked Timothy to "come to [him] quickly" and bring his "scrolls, especially the parchments" while he was believed to have been in prison (2 Tim 4:9,13) While this most likely at least included Scripture, it was just as likely it included Rabbinic teachings given Paul's education. Paul also taught that the Bible is "useful... so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Our reading shouldn't be limited to the Bible however, though as a Body we sadly fall short in this area. The number of Christian books are limitless, some of course better than others. I encourage you to find a niche that appeals most to you- history, biographies, theology, apologetics, etc and dig in. Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide lists 166 different categories of books. If you can't find something you like, well you're not really trying. It is important to remember though, that books should compliment, not supplement, your Bible study. This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way a year ago as I felt myself spiritually withering away even though I was reading about a book a month. I was convicted listening to a lesson that reminded me that spiritual books should never take the place of the Word of God. So I have recommitted myself to my Bible study and any book I read is intentionally tied to a specific Bible study.

Not only do we have Read Across America, but it is also almost exactly a month before Easter. If you observe Lenten fasts, you may have given up chocolate or Facebook. Some also add spiritual disciplines to their fasts. If you're taking this season to dig deeper into your Bible study or read that spiritual book gathering dust on your bookshelf, amen! If not, don't fret because there's plenty of time. Many devotionals are written for a month's worth of study so now is a perfect time leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

With that in mind, here are some recommendations keeping to the theme of Easter: Calvary Road by Roy Hession, He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, Praying the Names of Jesus by Ann Spangler, Thirty Days at the Foot of the Cross edited by Tom and Sheila Jones, and Your Jesus is Too Safe by Jared C Wilson.

Happy reading!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who You Are Is What You Wear

What identifies you? Are you labeled by the logo on your clothes? In sports, we become part of the nameless mob of thousands attending a game. But if you put on that jersey of your favorite player, you are now identified as either old-school- sporting throwbacks, naive- wearing a jersey of a player just traded to the hated rivals, loyal- wearing a jersey that doesn't need a name on the back, band-wagoner- wearing the best-seller, or an out-of-towner- wearing the jersey of the opposing team. In a heated rivalry, that last one can get you in trouble. Bryan Stow was identified by his Giants jersey at a Los Angeles Dodgers game and was beaten nearly to death for it. He was not identified by his name, his career, his family, or even his race. He was judged merely by the shirt he was wearing.

Yet as heated as the Dodgers-Giants rivalry goes, it does not begin to compare with one of the oldest rivalries in soccer (er, football), the Old Firm in Glasgow, Scotland between the Celts and Rangers. In that rivalry, the kit you wear does not just identify you as a fan of either team, it labels you as Catholic or Protestant, Irish or British. The 100-plus year rivalry is marked by employment discrimination (the Rangers would not employ any Catholics until the 90's), sectarian taunts, mob violence, and most recently mail bombs. Sure the competition is heated which contributes (Last year's final match between the two was postponed until the Rangers clinched the Scotland Premier League title so that less would be at stake. The two teams have occupied the top two spots in their league every year but one since 1995.) but the hatred goes far beyond the final score.

Yet despite the rift between religions, the dispute isn't about the Pope, views on homosexuality, or any real doctrinal issue. Here, religion identifies your background, your nationality, your culture. It doesn't matter if you never even attend church, if you cheer for the Celts you are Catholic, Irish, and an immigrant. Funny how much you can learn about someone just by the team he roots for.

So Catholic/Protestant has been reduced to cultural identifiers more than religious. I fear the same is happening in this country. Call yourself a Christian in certain parts of this country and that instantly means you're white, Republican, homophobic, and anti-science. If you challenge the assumption and say you vote Democrat, then you're Social-Gospel and progressive. More broadly, just based on the numbers, if you even call yourself an American then it's safe to assume you are also Christian. Of course our doctrines, politics, and behaviors are more nuanced yet "Christian" has become more a cultural definition than any statement towards one's beliefs or activities. Just like wearing a jersey to a game, I can assume a lot about you by calling you a Christian.

But about that label; it's not political, it's not racial, it's not even doctrinal. The name identifies you with Christ. Wearing a Giants jersey does not make you part of the team. Yet calling ourselves Christians does identify us with Christ. It is that identity that should matter most. I don't only root for Christ, I'm on his team.

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28)

Here's the irony of the bomb threats in the Old Firm rivalry: the next time they play is Easter Sunday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Psyche!

So after yesterday's post, I was expecting to share some exciting discussion from my Crazy Love group last night. Nope. The truth is, stepping out on faith is scary... for everyone. When asked the question, "if you had unlimited faith, unlimited resources, and unlimited support what would you do?" the group drew a blank. Sure we thought of some broad things like travelling the world to personally end hunger or to intercede in some conflict to bring about peace. But we were unable to come up with something that we, as Joe Shmoe Christians, could practically do right now.

My brother in law was in town this weekend, and we all got together for dinner Saturday night. He was telling us about his one time trying out skydiving. He said it wasn't that scary; he was confident because of all the practice and prep that came before. But when he was on the plane, and the person in front of him jumped out of an open door into nothing, he was paralyzed. It's not the jump that scares you, it's the anticipation right before.

The big adventures in faith are like that. Once we step out, we realize it's not that bad. But thinking about it ahead of time. Praying about it. Planning it. We can  psyche ourselves out before we ever take that first step if we're not careful. That's why it was so easy to make excuses when confronted to follow Jesus.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:57-62)

Peter, on the other hand, didn't think ahead. When he saw Jesus walking on water he stepped right out. It was when he started thinking about it that he began to sink. (Matthew 14:22-36)

I guess the moral of the story is don't think! Actually, I'm curious: has there ever been anything you've wanted to do that you talked yourself out of because you thought too much about it?

And since I couldn't get this song out of my head when I heard the topic for this carnival (and it helps that I have two small children) here for your viewing pleasure is some Sesame Street:



This entry is part of a Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. This week's topic is "adventure". Be sure to visit the carnival and check out all the other posts!

Monday, April 18, 2011

This Time, It's Personal

I've read countless books, been leading small group Bible studies for several years, blogged enough posts and what do I have to show for it? No, this isn't a mope. It's a slap in my face; a cold splash of water. Chapter 9, the penultimate chapter of Crazy Love, "Who Really Lives That Way?" challenges me to put the book on the shelf, log off the computer, and take that small group God has blessed me to lead, and do something.

Of course, this isn't anything new. I've written about this before (for example these three posts off the top of my head). But this is the first time I've actually had a group mobilized ready for action and enough external encouragement to overcome my own insecurities in serving.

Yet this won't be easy. There are cultural, religious, and basic life-events that have to be overcome. It will take time and planning. It will take money and investment. It will take more than a flash-in-the-pan idea from me. But here is what my wife and I, with help from the Holy Spirit, have come up with (I'll let you know tomorrow how this discussion goes tonight; it should be fun!):
  • My wife and I desire to step up in leadership in our church in this area, i.e. be point-persons for outreach ministry.
  • Open up a "community house" for after-school programs, life-skills training, and to be a safe-zone in a rough neighborhood.
  • Travel abroad for a short-term missions trip. Our plan A was a cushy long-weekend to Central America. When we didn't hear back, we considered that opportunity closed. Plan B looks like a week in Haiti. Wow, talk about a leap of faith!
We're hoping that by us stepping out in faith, we can encourage others who have similar calls on their hearts to follow. We also know that we have caught lightning in a bottle with our Crazy Love group right now and have people to support these efforts.

But like I said, there are still obstacles. Things that need to be overcome:
  • Religiosity: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) Does that mean that all other religion is full of fault? About a year ago, I was sharing some of these thoughts with a brother and his response was, "I know the Bible says that true religion is looking after orphans and widows and whatever, but..."
  • Numbers: This point was raised in yesterday's sermon and I don't disagree with it. To maintain consistency in service, we need the numbers to support it. But I'm also of the mindset of "build it, and they will come." I think we have the numbers right now, but too many people don't know what to do with the God-given passions on their hearts.
  • Calendar: It is easy to just add another event on the church calendar. In fact, this is what stood in our way when we first started Crazy Love. So it is important to us that this doesn't become just another event, just another church activity. This is a ministry. It is optional.
  • Mission: The latest Christian buzzword is "mission minded" when talking about service and outreach. But when you think of missions, you usually think of people in some country far away preaching the Gospel. What we're doing is not going to take away from "making disciples of all nations." In fact, I think it will enhance it, giving us a new forum and a new audience.
  • Politics: I hesitate putting this one up here, but it is a reality. You mention community outreach and someone is bound to think "social justice". Yeah, I guess you could call it that, but that term has become too politically charged. I'm not doing this for any political reason. I strongly believe this is what the Bible calls us to do.
To quote Toby Mac, "why not here... why not now." We're going to talk about this tonight. Hopefully we'll come up with some other ideas and opportunities. Please pray for us. We're stepping far out on a limb.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flashback Friday: That's Just Jesus Being Jesus

***Originally posted June 23, 2009, right after Manny Ramirez' first suspension under Major League Baseball's new Performance Enhancing Drug policy. Earlier this week, Manny chose to retire from baseball rather than face his second suspension (and third total) which would have lasted 100 days. I guess that's just Manny being Manny and I wouldn't have mentioned it again if not for this post from GetReligion which includes the following quote from Manny when asked about his future plans: "God knows what's best (for me.)" Huh? Meanwhile just for fun, head over to the blog Flip Flop Fly Ball to see just how much time Manny actually "played" for the Tampa Bay Rays.***

Today Manny Ramirez will begin a 'rehab' assignment with the Albuquerque Isotopes (I miss the Dukes, but love the Simpsons, so I'm conflicted) after serving a 50 game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Steroid policy. For some reason, ESPN is going to give us each of his at-bats. As far as I know, this is the first time ESPN has had such media coverage of a rehab stint. But you know, it's just Manny being Manny.

That's a quote, from him speaking in third person, in response to criticism of his play with the Boston Red Sox. If you don't follow baseball as religiously as I do, I'll give you the quick summary. Manny Ramirez reported late for Spring Training and loafed for half a season in an effort to force a trade from the Red Sox last year. The Dodgers were the only takers. Even after he lead the Dodgers in a surge to the playoffs and a first round sweep of the Cubs (weep), the Dodgers were reluctant to re-sign him for this season. Contract negotiations dragged through Spring Training before being resolved and Manny played almost a month before being suspended for using Performance Enhancing Drugs. The other day I was in a local Wal-Mart and saw on many clothes racks t-shirts with the saying 'Manny's Back!'. Everybody loves him, even though everybody hates him.

But that's just Manny being Manny. It goes to show that you are what you do. At work, someone could say of me, "that's just Frank being Frank." At home my wife could say the same thing. The question is though, is the "Frank being Frank" at work the same Frank as home? Is Manny being Manny the same Manny all the time? In both cases, it should be.

One of my favorite Proverbs is Proverbs 12:17 which reads, "A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies." It's so simple it took a commentary to help me figure out what it means. It simply means our character is reflected by what we do. So Manny Ramirez is a cheater not just by baseball policy, but also in character (as evidenced by his departure from the Red Sox). So when I lose my temper at home, or slack off at work, that's my character. And those parts of my character are in need of repentance. We should forgive Manny for being Manny, but we should not accept Manny for being Manny. Baseball fans are willing to forgive (see Jason Giambi) but ESPN wants to force us to accept. I'm sorry, but acceptance won't change until the character changes.

"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) In other words, don't say you're something you're not. Don't call yourself a Christian and not act like it. If you're truthful, you will be honest. And if you're Manny, you'll be Manny. I hope by the end of my life someone will say of me "that's just Frank being Jesus."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Conspiracy Theory

Put on your tinfoil hat! You know the story, someone in authority makes a claim and you don't believe it because of your own personal convictions. Experts come out and support the claim, but you still cannot believe it. People who would have an interest in discrediting the claim come out and support the claim, but you still will not believe it. Documents are produced that validate the claim, but you question if they are real. You are convinced there is more to the story.

In today's Internet Age, you can log in online to discussion forums, user groups, and social media pages to support any idea out there. So it doesn't take long to find others who believe like you do. They too do not believe the claims being made. In a virtual version of groupthink, you begin to believe these strangers, only because they subscribe to the same skepticism as you. So together you weave an elaborate explanation to dispute the claim. You have now come up with your own Conspiracy Theory.

This scenario played out in my mind when thinking about "birthers" and President Obama's claims regarding his nationality. Honestly, I haven't paid much attention to this debate. I figure if there was something to it, someone more credible than Donald Trump would come out exposing it. And so I read this article earlier in the week, mainly because I saw Trump's interview and couldn't believe my ears. I clicked the link more out of curiosity than expectation of any real "scoop".

The article follows the outline of the first paragraph: a claim is made by the President, experts validate the claim, and even someone who would have an interest in discrediting the claim comes out to support it. It's that last one, from then-governor of Hawaii, Republican Linda Lingle, that got my wheels turning. Here is the quote that got my attention:
"Why would a Republican governor — who was stumping for the other guy — hold out on a big secret?"
In a few days, Newsweek will put out their annual issue questioning some aspect of Christianity by interviewing some hand-picked "expert". It has become a tradition for them to release this issue right before Easter. There have been articles on Mary, the Jesus Seminar, the evolution of Christology to name a few. But I don't know if they have dared to tackle the biggest conspiracy theory of them all- the death, burial, and resurrection of this man called Jesus. Which is ironic, because that is what Christians celebrate Easter for in the first place.

There are many conspiracy theories one could attribute to the events 2000 years ago: the "swoon" theory, paying off the Roman guards, the Apostles stealing the body, questioning whether the events even happened at all.

But just like the birther claims, these theories fall apart when faced against expert testimony, documentation, and the inaction of those who would have an interest in squelching the claims. John's testimony that when Jesus' side was pierced blood and water flowed out, is consistent with what medical experts would expect to happen to someone suffering suffocation and heart failure. A fact John, nor anyone else at the time, would have had the knowledge to make up. The main characters of the story and the methods used are corroborated by historians. Josephus, a Jewish historian and Roman sympathizer, substantiated the events as described, including calling out Jesus by name, only a generation later. Most importantly, the Romans ruled over Jerusalem with an iron fist. If there was an uprising based on some false claim of someone coming back from the dead, they would've done everything possible to put an end to it with evidence to the contrary. Both the Romans and Jewish authorities responded to this fledgling religion called Christianity by putting to death anyone who claimed Jesus rose from the dead because that was the only way they could. They had no evidence to discredit the foundation of Christianity. Yet they were unsuccessful in covering up this conspiracy theory that remains two thousand years later. That's a lot of staying power for something that's not true. So maybe there's something to it.

"...blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Obsessed

I miss the show "Monk". There's just something about a detective who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder piecing together clues from a crime scene while being afraid of the germs on a doorknob. Of course, that's just one characterization. You can flip through TV and see shows on "strange addictions" and hoarding. You can look around and see people bite their fingernails or pick at their skin. And there are many other examples of such behaviors. The fundamental basis behind these compulsive actions is a need to control one's environment when feeling uncomfortable. That's not to diminish the seriousness of OCD to some people. It can be a serious debilitating psychological disease.

But imagine if Christians felt the same need. Imagine feeling so uncomfortable in this sinful world that we would do anything, no matter how odd it may appear, to control our environment. What would you do if you had a spiritual version of OCD? Would you run from someone trying to seduce you, even if that meant leaving your clothes behind (like Joseph)? Would you leave a successful business to follow around a homeless guy who claimed to be the Son of God (like Peter and Andrew)? Would you allow yourself to be tortured and killed even though you are wrongly accused (like Jesus)? Would you be willing to abandon the religion of your youth, the rigorous training, and the cause you've felt called to (like Paul)? Chapter 8 of Francis Chan's Crazy Love gives more examples.

Disclaimer: There is such a thing as a spiritual, religious version of OCD. It's called scrupulosity. Usually this is manifested as a guilt that is felt so deeply it shows as a serious case of depression. Like clinical cases of OCD, this can be debilitating, preventing someone from functioning normally. But what is normal? Quitting a job because you choose to put Christ first may not be normal, and it can be financially stressful, but is that debilitating? Not giving in to the latest popular fad may not be normal, and it may cause us to be outcast from society, but should that cause concern? I know many who have chosen to follow Christ to such an extreme that their families would seek to "deprogram" them through the same psychological treatments used to treat OCD.

But I don't hear of cases like that too often anymore. I think the "abnormal" behaviors that we should expect from Christians are even considered too weird for our own churches today. We like routine. And so we've created religion around a list of rules that we know and understand in advance. Don't throw any new expectations my way and don't raise the standards, I might feel too uncomfortable. Well maybe I have scrupulosity, because I am extrememly uncomfortable in the comfortable church.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Treasure, Aaarrrgghh!

My son loves pirates. It's one trend he isn't fickle about. Star Wars is hit and miss. He's lost interest in his monster trucks. He no longer wants to grow up to be an astronaut (snif). But you can never go wrong breaking out some pirate toys.

So it was fitting that over spring break we went with grandma to a museum exhibit on pirates. I wasn't sure how well it would hold my six year-old's attention, but I shouldn't have worried. Myself, I'm a museum nerd. I will read the description on every display and I'll be lucky to make it through a single wing in a day. I even bought the audio guide to the exhibit. A lot of good that did, as I would be listening intently, studying what was before me, while my son would be ripping my arm out of its socket to lead me around the corner to see what was next.

There were canons, guns, flags, and of course, treasure. Real pirate treasure! Funny thing about pirates, much of what we think we know are really products of books (Treasure Island) and movies ("Peter Pan", "Pirates of the Caribbean"). For example, did you know that walking the plank is a recent fabrication? There is one known example of this being documented, but it was in the late 1800's, well after the peak of piracy we associate with the Jolly Roger. In fact, the image of walking the plank was introduced to our cultural memory by the original stage production of "Peter Pan".

Another myth is that pirates buried treasure. This myth was encouraged by the book Treasure Island. But the truth was that the "booty" pirates would collect from captured ships was often spent in port on alcohol and prostitution. It would be unlikely there would be any left after a shore-leave of revelry.

That doesn't make Jesus' parable of the buried treasure irrelevant however. In Jesus' day there were no pirates, but there was buried treasure. It wouldn't be uncommon for a family to hide away some of their possessions by burying them. After all, there were no banks insured by FDIC and they were under Roman occupation. It was a safe (though unreliable) way of protecting what was yours. But there was a risk in doing so. They could forget where they buried it, or they would often be forced to move before having a chance to retrieve it.

So imagine someone's surprise to find treasure buried in a field. In Jesus' parable, it is an honest man. I think today, we'd just dig it up and claim it as our own. But he went and sold all he had so that he could buy the land and its treasure.

This is a parable of the Kingdom of God. What is it worth to you? Are you willing to give up everything you have, risk it all, for the sake of God's Kingdom? After all isn't the treasure being stored up for us in heaven more valuable than anything we could ever obtain on this Earth? Or like the pirates of old are you wasting what you have here on worldly pleasures as if our short life is no different than a stop in port?

Aaaarrrgghh, indeed.

This entry is part of Peter Pollock's blog carnival. This week's topic is treasure. Be sure to check out the many other thoughtful posts.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Later Rather than Sooner

One of Dave Ramsey's oft-repeated slogans is to "live like no one else, so you can live like no one else!" Meaning to make sacrifices now, be good stewards, get out of debt so you can be free from the commercialism and materialism that so consumes the world today. I took his Financial Peace University course and towards the end, he changes the slogan slightly. Once we're out of debt, secure financially, and making prudent decisions with our finances, we can "live like no one else, so we can give like no one else!"

This fits the theme of Chapter 7 of Crazy Love by Francis Chan, "Your Best Life... Later". It's a lesson that needs to be repeated and shout from the rooftops. What we have does not define who we are. Our home is not our things. Our identity, our home, is set in heaven. When we remember this, little else matters.

Easier said than done. But look at the examples that came before. Francis turns our attention to Hebrews 11. He doesn't pick out this particular verse, but it is a favorite of mine on this subject: "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (v 13-16)

Or to quote from one of my favorite songs, "Make us feel like we're still living, in a world, I know, is burning to the ground... It's hard to stay here, but where do we go?"

Friday, April 01, 2011

Flashback Friday: God is Uncomfortable

***Originally posted in November, 2008 on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I'm reposting because the other day I posted a tweet from Paul Washer. For those unfamiliar, I thought I'd re-post a couple of his videos. The video quality isn't that good by 2011 standards, but you'll get the point.***

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We should all set aside some time to pray for those brothers and sisters in Christ who don't live in countries with the religious freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. I posted earlier about how we take our freedoms for granted and suffer a persecution complex and gave a couple of examples of real persecution. I want to add to that that the American Church (TM) is also lazy and comfortable. And our faith suffers for it.

Below is a controversial sermon brought to my attention a while back by another blog. If you don't have the patience to watch the whole hour of it, I posted an interview of this brother (that's right, I'm calling him 'brother') with Kirk Cameron that's only ten minutes. And if YouTube isn't your thing, check out his ministry.



And the interview that cuts right to the heart of it (check out Kirk Cameron's reaction at the end!)



And if your faith isn't challenged enough by all of that, check out what's really going on overseas, where it's not comfortable to be a Christian. Voice of the Martyrs catalogues persecution in the global church and HOPEworldwide gives inspirational stories of Christians serving where it's least comfortable to do so.

Today is a day to challenge our comfort level, to challenge our faith. Pray not only for the Persecuted Church, but also for our own faith, and for God to provide the opportunity to be uncomfortable for the cause of Christ. That's a hard prayer, and we might not like His answer, but that's the only way for the American Church (TM) to grow, Christ to be preached, and God to be glorified.

"Everything is possible for him who believes."

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mk 9:23-24)