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".