Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jesus vs the BCS

What if the BCS existed in the days of Jesus? His bio would read something like this:

Jesus made his first splash on the Division 1 scene with an early season upset of eternal heavyweight Satan. In a slow-paced game that felt like it lasted forty days and forty nights, Jesus scored three key touchdowns to ensure the win. Jesus took advantage of the momentum from that game into the rest of his season as the mid-major to beat, taking that torch from John the Baptist who lost his head in a key matchup against Herod. Would Jesus be the first mid-major to bust into one of the key Passover week bowl games? Critics debated Jesus’ résumé, noting that some of Jesus’ wins were gimmicky, especially his overtime win in Cana. Long-time powerhouse conferences the Pharisees and Sadducees argued that the BCS bowls were earned by those who have paid their dues over hundreds of years and were able to sell-out the Temple. Jesus, by contrast, was a newcomer to Division 1 and at most played in front of 5000 men. In fact, after a big win against the Loaves and Fishes his attendance actually went down when the two faced off again. Jesus’ strength of schedule was also debated as he mostly faced off against rural teams like the Demons and Lepers. (Mid-major fans would argue that the BCS formula is stacked against them looking at a team like Legion, whom few power-conference schools would dare schedule. “We can only beat the teams we schedule,” they would say as they argued for a playoff. Meanwhile the Romans would point at their conference schedule saying they played teams like Legion “week in and week out.”) Yet Jesus continued to pile up wins and each year preseason polls would rank him a little higher. Then, in his third year Jesus began the season ranked in the top-10. Conference realignment rumors surfaced as the Pharisees were looking to expand and split into two divisions: David and Abraham, aka Leaders and Legends. But Jesus wasn’t distracted by the rumors and continued his winning ways with his biggest win coming against Death, avenging a blowout of his close friend Lazarus. Fans were sure this would be the year he would make a Passover bowl. Finally speaking out against the system, Jesus claimed that he would destroy the BCS and rebuild it in three days. That statement would prove to be his undoing as poll voters never rated him high enough to have enough points in the complicated computer ranking system used for bowl selection. Mid-major Peter, who had a vote in the coaches poll, when pressed by reporters answered three times, "Jesus, who?" Fans were hoping for Jesus to square off against Herod in the postseason, but instead he would end up facing Barabbas in the Golgotha Bowl- a small bowl held outside of Jerusalem, as Pilate and Caiaphas would play for the championship in a rematch of game played earlier that season. Jesus would go on and lose his bowl game, getting nailed at the end, but for some reason three days later bowl officials would crown Jesus with the win. And just as Jesus predicted, fan outrage forced the BCS to change to a four team playoff. Yet, as if he were sent from heaven to force change upon a broken system bound too tightly to tradition, Jesus was never seen again.

Repost: What Would You Take?

Reposting as it seems half of Colorado is up in flames. I wrote this when a relatively small fire by comparison threatened my community a couple of years ago. That was nothing. The Facebook updates from my friends are downright scary as these fires continue to spread from Fort Collins, down to Boulder, and on to Colorado Springs (where these pictures are from). Please pray for cool weather, no wind, and especially rain. Pray for the safety of the hundreds of firefighters risking their lives to fight these blazes and for all those who have lost or will lose their homes. Pray, pray, pray.


Last week a blazing fire came perilously close to my community, momentarily displacing many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Though I was still a few miles away, the reality of losing it all hit home. Upon receiving the notice of evacuation, this is what one of my friends posted on Facebook:

For some reason,the desire for a bigger,nicer home was always a desire deep within my heart..after the events of the last two days, reading Matthew 6:19-20 has burned that desire into an ash heap, especially upon the realization that the most important things we took with us were each other, visual memories with our family and friends (pics), and some "important" papers (wouldn't have cared if those burned actually).
One of my friends from campus ministry always used to say about things, "well, it's all going to burn anyway" in response to everything from losing a CD to giving more on Sundays. Yes, it will all burn someday. So what's important?



If a fire was bearing down on your home, and you had little time to choose, what would you take with you?

(Photo credit: Courtney Colby submitted to the Colorado Springs Gazette and Helen H Richardson, Denver Post respectively)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Repost: Sanctuary

I'm dusting off this old post in light of the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's illegal immigration law yesterday. Though written five years ago (!) the issues are still the same and the Word of God hasn't changed.

***

Do you remember Elvira Arellano? She was an illegal immigrant who made headlines in fall of 2007 for claiming sanctuary in a Chicago church. This headline led me to study my Bible about the role of sanctuary cities and a word study on refuge. At the time, the debate over illegal immigration died down, although as current headlines show the debate never went away.

Also in the fall of 2007, the city of Simi Valley, California sent a bill of $40,000.00 to a local church for the police required to keep order during a protest outside their doors. The protest wasn't organized by them, wasn't planned by them, and really wasn't even participated in by them. But the rationale was that since by their actions, allowing an illegal immigrant to seek refuge in their church, they incited the protest and that they should be the ones held responsible. Yeah, that made perfect sense.

If this would have held up, it would have set a dangerous precedent for the church. Would a church be held financially responsible if there's a protest on their stance against homosexuality? Or what if a synagogue is vandalized with anti-Semitic tagging, would you hold them responsible? At the time, most agreed that this was an infringement on that church's First Amendment right and a ploy to passive-aggressively stake their ground on the illegal immigration debate.

But is this something we, the church, Christ's ambassadors, should be getting involved in in the first place? There's no legal standard for a church being a sanctuary for fugitives. Rather it's an unwritten rule, kind of like fighting on Holy Ground in Highlander. But what's the history behind it? Obviously our country began as a refuge for many seeking religious freedom. The motivation behind the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment was to keep the government from dictating a state religion so any faith could be practiced freely. Churches were central as sanctuaries pre-abolition just as they were involved during the Civil Rights Movement. So there's historical precedent. But is there Biblical precedent?

When settling in Israel, the refugees from Egypt were given instructions by God to set aside "sanctuary cities". These were cities where one could flee if accused of murder so that their case could be heard by the elders before they were killed in revenge. The fine print though, was that they had to be innocent. Romans instructs us that we should obey the law of the land because every authority on Earth is there but for the grace of God. So is it right for a church to be a sanctuary for someone breaking the law, even if we don't agree with that law?

Another refugee from authorities wrote many Psalms about God being his only refuge. David was being hunted down and though he lived in caves and some towns let him hide, he knew that his only refuge was God Almighty.

But we are also commanded not to "oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9) And let's not forget about the Good Samaritan, a foreigner. We also read in James, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16)

So what should we do? Where's the line between giving to a "foreigner" in need and giving them employment? Where's the line between being sympathetic to illegal immigrants and offering your church as a sanctuary? First, we need to heed to existing laws. Second, we need to reach out to meet the needs of those who are here illegally. They are here for a reason, after all; Mexico is an absolute mess between its economy, political corruption, and rampant violence between rival drug lords. Finally third, we need to be careful not to skate on the thin ice of the hot political topic du jour. We need to let our lights shine, be the salt of the earth, and represent Christ in all we do. My question for all those "safe churches", are you doing everything you can to help the immigrant you're harboring to get on a path to citizenship? What are the circumstances of him or her facing deportation (immigration officers have their hands too full to want to deport someone 'just because')? Or are you just seeking headlines?

Yes, families are affected, and depending on where you live chances are there is someone in your congregation who is here illegally. But the church as an institution exists to meet the needs of its parishioners. In this case, that means helping them gain citizenship, legally. Sanctuary in the Bible requires innocence, and unfortunately none of us on either side of this debate are wholly innocent.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sacred Cows

Authors/pastors such as Francis Chan, David Platt and Kyle Idleman have challenged our conventional wisdom on how we "do" church in the United States. Others like N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Mike Breen are redefining Kingdom and Gospel in the context of the first-century Jews who initially heard those teachings. Could it be, that more of what we take for granted as our "old-time religion" is wrong?

I've already hit on two extremes of salvation doctrine, the Sinner's Prayer and baptism as sacred cows that need to be re-examined. But what if more of our religious practices are merely "traditions taught by men"? (Mark 7) For example, from a young age, we are shown images of heaven as white fluffy clouds inhabited by angels with wings and halos and often playing instruments such as harps. Yet no such imagery exists in the Bible. The cute child-like cherubs of Hallmark porcelain are a far cry from Ezekiel's description of the Cherubim he saw in a vision: "I knew that they were the cherubims. Every one had four faces apiece, and every one four wings; and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings." (Ezekiel 10:20-21, KJV) or Isaiah's description of Seraphim: "Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly." (Isaiah 6:2, KJV) My son overheard a study I was doing once on the holiness of God and instantly connected the descriptions of angels in Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Revelation with the comforting teaching of guardian angels such that he is now literally afraid of angels.

The consequence of that tradition is easily repairable. But others are much harder to reconcile. Here I need to make a disclaimer up front- I have no formal training; I do not have a seminary degree nor any certification in Bible study; these observations are my own that have jumped out at me from my own personal study; these are not definitive and are not points that are worth me drawing lines in the sand doctrinally, however they are worth studying in more detail so that you can come to your own conclusions rather than relying on religious tradition.
  1. Hell: Rob Bell recently made waves with his book Love Wins which drew sharp criticism and immediate response from the likes of Tim Keller, et. al  and Francis Chan. He questioned the assumption that the lost spend an eternity suffering in Hell in light of an all-loving God. Admittedly, this is a stumbling block to many against Christianity- how can a just God condemn people for eternity for following a savior they may have never heard of. This question makes many uncomfortable when we think about our favorite Aunt Sally whom everybody loved yet never went to church a day in her life. Could a just God condemn her to an eternity in Hell? But what if our definition of Hell is wrong to begin with? What if the eternal suffering refers to the consuming fire itself and not the punishment? That is the premise of Edward Fudge's book, "The Fire that Consumes." Now I haven't read his book yet came to the same conclusion independently. In fact, even Chan in Erasing Hell makes this observation though he intentionally falls short of calling it a conclusion (and humbly so, I might add). Could it be that our religious definition of Hell as an eternal punishment is wrong?
  2. Eternal Soul: One of the counters to the argument above is that God made our souls eternal, and therefore cannot be annihilated. (Though who's going to stop God from doing whatever he wants?) Yet the only evidence anyone has ever been able to give me that our souls are eternal is the scripture that tell us that we are all made in God's image. And if God is eternal, then it follows so are we. Our bodies die and decay, so there must be some eternal component and there comes our common definition of a soul. Yet the word we translate as soul is also elsewhere translated in the Bible as heart, or body. The implication is that the word "soul" refers to our whole being. It is more a philosophical point than a theological one (for example, where in your body do you find thought?). The idea of a "being" or "essence" is where we get our word for soul. (And it even gets more complicated in the Greek when soul is translated from the Greek word psyche, as in "mind".) My son asks me all the time what a soul is and I always struggle to define it. I say it's the part of us that lives forever, but what does that really mean?
  3. Heaven or New Jerusalem: I ran into this one when debating with a Jehovah's Witness. They teach that only 144,000 go to heaven based on Revelation 7 and 14 (Of course, why is that number literal when the others in Revelation are not?) and that everyone else either goes to Hell or inhabits the New Earth. (It is important to note that early JW literature shows each of the 144,000 to be white, Anglo-Saxon while the inhabitants of Earth are Jewish and minorities. I don't know if that was ever intentionally addressed- especially considering their world missions, but I find it amusing nonetheless.) Despite the numerology, the Bible teaches of both a heaven and a new earth. Who goes where? I have yet to find an answer that satisfies my curiosity, but I do think it calls into question our standard dividing lines of heaven and hell.
  4. Gospel: I mentioned above that this definition is being challenged by others, so I encourage you to read their work and come to your own conclusion. But much of what we espouse as the Gospel is self-centered fire insurance. If we call into question our definitions of heaven, hell and our eternal soul, then what we present as the Gospel also needs to be reconsidered as well. Is the Gospel only that Jesus forgives our sin and saves us from hell? Is it not also that Jesus came to dwell among us and that his death reconciled our relationship with our creator? Could it be that the Gospel is more about our relationship with God than it is about our eternal destiny?
I call out these "sacred cows" because of the potential eternal impact they may have. From the Sinner's Prayer and baptism to our common descriptions of heaven and hell, changing our perspective to be more biblical and less religious affects what our churches are built upon and how we share our faith with others. These are no small matters and need to be taken more seriously because it coulde be that how we define church could be completely wrong.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sacred Cow: Baptism

Yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution affirming the use of the Sinner's Prayer. In my previous post, I turned to David Platt, Paul Washer and Francis Chan to refute the doctrine. Interestingly, it was Platt's talk at the Verge Conference this year that motivated the resolution as well as a counter to increasing Calvinist influence in the SBC. Eric Hankins, who wrote the resolution said invitations to the Sinner's Prayer are accompanied by calls to repentance and costly discipleship. Unfortunately that last part isn't in quotes in the Christianity Today article, because I'm genuinely interested if he really said that. In fact Platt's and Washer's criticism of the use of the Sinner's Prayer is specifically because it usually lacks the command to take up our cross, give up everything, and follow Christ.

So what is necessary for salvation? The obvious answer, which the Sinner's Prayer addresses, is faith in Christ alone. But if you dig into the Bible, you'll find that salvation is more nuanced. In fact the word that we often point to in scripture as "saved" literally means delivered. So context is very important to discern from what we are delivered and if saved in that context actually refers to our eternal salvation. With that in mind, a quick survey of "saved" scriptures leads us to either inconsistencies or contradictions. One cannot simply cherry-pick a single scripture to justify their position. And if you take each scripture reference as being true and not contradictory, then you get what looks like ingredients, if you will, for salvation. These ingredients are hear the Gospel, have faith in Christ, repent from your Christless life, confess (or call on) Jesus as Lord, and be baptized. It is not one or another, it has to be all the above.

A friend of mine and I were talking recently how the Churches of Christ and Baptist churches have always been "at war" and the battle is fought over where in that sequence above one is saved. The problem with the Sinner's Prayer is that it only addresses three parts of this: hearing the Gospel, responding with faith in Jesus, and responding to an invitation to call on his name. Hankins above quickly notices this discrepancy and notes that the Sinner's Prayer is followed by calls to repentance and costly discipleship.

It is here that we diverge. "Costly discipleship" includes baptism because Baptists argue that one is baptized out of obedience, which puts baptism on the same level as other "fruits" of discipleship such as practicing hospitality, forgiving others, loving your neighbor, etc. Yet I read in the Bible that the "alter call" from the very first sermon preached was to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2)

So the Baptists have planted their flag on "faith alone" while Churches of Christ planted their flag on baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And sadly, just as the Sinner's Prayer does not include every ingredient for salvation, the dogmatic adherence to baptism by some in the Churches of Christ has come at the cost of the other ingredients. This brings me to my next "sacred cow", baptism.

One problem is that the symbolism and significance of the act is not frequently taught (Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3 are good places to start). Because of this Jeremy Myers, blogging at tillhecomes.org, wrote a whole series on how and why baptism needs to be reconsidered. He starts from the right point, in my opinion, but comes to the wrong conclusion. He argues, in essence, that since we no longer know what baptism means or is about that we need a different, culturally relevant, ceremony to signify our conversion.

I would argue instead that we need to renew instruction on the whats and whys of baptism in the New Testament while looking back on the covenant relationships in the Old Testament. (for more, see the comments on Jeremy's post "Buried in the Trees and Sky")

Baptism can also easily become a box that one checks to make sure they're doing everything right without the heart being behind it. It is then used as a measuring stick for church growth and effective ministry. Baptism is no longer a means to salvation, but the ends of a church's or ministry's effort. Some argue that baptism is a "work". It is. When it becomes the central focus of your church as the ends and not the means, then it is in fact a work as our faith is no longer placed in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, but in the water and ceremony of our church's tradition.

Yet if submissively allowing yourself to be dunked in water is a work, then isn't also the alter call and Sinner's Prayer? Are not those also "efforts" expended in order to be saved? Don't we also count how many "accepted Jesus" at a rally or crusade? I believe the line to be drawn between surrendered humble obedience and a salvation of works is who the emphasis is on. With the altar call and Sinner's Prayer "I" invite, "I" accept, "I" pray Jesus into my heart. While in baptism I allow someone else to do the work for me. Yes, a preacher, minister, father, spouse or friend may be doing the act, but if my faith is not in the water nor in the one baptizing, then I am literally drowning myself to die and allow God to raise me up into a new life.

A scripture that really helped me come to terms with this was 1 Peter 3 where we read that baptism is a "pledge of a good conscience" (v 21) The NIV footnote says pledge can be replace with response, but I believe that also misses the point. The Greek word eperotema is translated by the English Standard Version and Holman Christian Standard as "appeal". That makes the whole tone of this verse more passive. In baptism, we appeal to the grace of God- it is not us doing the work, but Christ in us.

I could go on and on, but I encourage you to study this out for yourself. The latest issue of New Wineskins has many articles this month on baptism that are well worth the read. I also want you to honestly go back to Francis Chan's video that I posted yesterday. He goes further in this video below:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sacred Cow: The Sinner's Prayer

This week, the Southern Baptist Convention will be voting on a resolution to "commend" the Sinner's Prayer as sound and biblical. (h/t to David Croom who blogged about it here) The Sinner's Prayer has become the centerpiece of salvation for some Baptist churches and many in the Evangelical movement. For the record, I am not Baptist. In fact I am the polar opposite, fellowshipping with an offshoot of the Church of Christ. So I come at this with a certain degree of hostility.

So rather than jumping on my soapbox, I'll let others do that for me.

David Platt:



Francis Chan:



Paul Washer:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kingdom Dreams

One of my good friends was just hired on to the full-time ministry staff of my congregation. This has been a long-time dream of his, going back to his days leading a campus ministry almost twenty years ago.

Twenty years. That’s a long time to hold on to a dream. But when I made the decision to follow Christ, I did so with the dream of shaping my character and my lifestyle to be like Jesus, knowing full well that I would never achieve this dream this side of heaven. But that does not mean this is a dream to put off or take for granted.

One of the first books I read as a baby Christian was The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz. Its premise was straightforward: Paul gave a list of qualifications for elders, deacons and overseers in 1 Timothy and Titus and since there is no separation between clergy and laity when it comes to aspiring to live Christ-like lives, it follows that everyone should emulate the character traits of ministry leadership regardless of our "position" within our church. An elder, pastor, bishop, or deacon are no different than you or I; we all aspire to live as Christ. After all, the word "christian" means "little Christ", hence to be Christ-like, and "disciple" means "student" or "pupil" in the context of disciples in the days of Jesus giving up everything to follow a particular rabbi. And those labels are true for everyone who declares Jesus as Lord.

So by that same token, shouldn't we all also have aspiration to ministry? Even if we are never in a paid or formally defined ministry position, should we not approach our lives, our jobs, our families as our own personal ministries? And if so, then shouldn't we strive to live, pray, and study like a minister?

Matthew 6:33 instructs to "seek first the kingdom..." This scripture can be used for everything from justifying mandatory meetings of the body to vaguely desiring to accomplish the will of God. But what if it meant to seek first doing ministry? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3 that, "...our work will be shown for what it is..." In context, Paul is talking about our personal responsibility and what we choose to do (build on) with the Gospel (the foundation) we have received.

I always find myself going back to Ephesians 4 where it reads, "...as each part does its work." The idea of "church" as we apply it today was foreign to the first century disciples. The division between ministers and congregants did not exist like it does today. Yes, there were leaders and specific instructions were given to them. But all disciples of Christ had the same responsibility to obey the commands of Jesus; to use the unique gifts God has given to build up the church.

So would it be crazy to desire to "go into" ministry? Is it strange that I think about church planting, the missional movement, and building effective discipleship communities? Am I weird to daydream about visiting some impoverished Third World community to do missions work? Or should I be "normal" and settle for just showing up on Sundays, knowing full well that it is unlikely I will ever do any of the above?

Yet don’t I do all the above in my own personal ministry? Do I not plant the church in people’s hearts when I share my faith? Aren’t I being missional as I seek new ways to serve in my community? Am I not building community when I open up my home to dig deeper into the Word? Isn’t my neighborhood, made up of multiple ethnic groups and varying degrees of affluence my own personal mission field?

So in the context of right where I am, I am a church planter, missional community builder, serving diligently on the mission field. If that's the case, when do I get paid?

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Eternal Praise

A friend of mine once told me that she didn't want to go to heaven because the thought of sitting on a cloud for all eternity strumming a harp sounded boring. I don't know exactly what heaven will be like- we're told of mansions and streets of gold- but when you look at it that way, it doesn't sound that appealing, does it?

But we cannot avoid it.

We are promised in Revelation that every nation will ultimately worship the Almighty. And Paul tells us that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, whether we want to or not. Standing in the presence of infinite glory, we will be overwhelmed by worship.

"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
 
 
'Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.'

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
 
 
'Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!'"
(Revelation 7:9-12)

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,  
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."
(Philippians 2:9-11)

To be honest, I am jealous of professional Christian musicians. As I struggle with expressing my faith in the day-in day-out routines, all I have to do is turn on my radio and hear them praising God through song. It is almost as if they don't have to do anything to share their faith because their faith is continuously being broadcast over the airwaves.

Of course I know that for for every one artist who is successful, there are probably a hundred who didn't make it. (I know many who have aspired to be professional musicians who sell insurance, teach, or are unemployed; to name three.) And I also do not know what their day-to-day looks like. It is not as if whenever their song comes on that they instantly are behind a microphone singing praise. I am sure they have their usual struggles; that "life happens" to them too.

But I ignore the reality and wish it were that easy for me to praise God. That same part of me wishes Jesus would come back today so I could just automatically worship him without having to put forth any effort.

That's just my sinful nature talking. In truth, I know I must go out and live my life as an expression of praise and worship to my Creator. That does not mean I break into song on a street corner, or shout hallelujah after every sentence I speak. What it does mean is that I live my life faithfully, with integrity, and giving credit where credit is due. And if I persevere doing this every day, even when it is hard I don't feel like it, I am promised an eternity where living such a way will be easy.
"...offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship."
(Romans 12:1)

This post is part of Duane Scott's blog-carnival, "unwrapping his promises". Click the button below for more.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Prayer Warriors Don't Fight Alone

When passing milestones, it is a good time to look back and reflect. Remembering old friends, the late-night talks about nothing and everything, the struggles and hurts, and the victories that followed. Wednesday night my congregation had a prayer service. It reminded me of the first midweek service I attended out here, a little more than ten years ago when I can out to interview for my job. That service was also a prayer service, where everyone was given an opportunity to pair up, get on our knees, and lift up our voices to God. It was moving to me then, and it moved me Wednesday night.

"If you believe, you will receive anything you ask for in prayer." (Matthew 22:21)

I cannot say I am a prayer warrior. I go through periods where I am "on", when my heart just pours out and I am left feeling so refreshed. But then I go through dry spells as well, when it is all I can do to even whisper, "please, Lord, help me." I have found that one of the best ways to get out of these ruts is to stop thinking about myself and pray only for others and their needs.

But the other night reminded me of a better way to get out of those ruts: to pray with someone else. As I prayed with one of my best friends, and then later with a brother whose wife is battling cancer, something different moved within me. I did not once pray for myself, yet I felt the weight of the world that I have been placing on my shoulders lift. I was one of the last people to leave as another brother and I opened up about some sin in our lives. And I was refreshed.

It's funny, as I look back over the years I have called myself a disciple of Jesus I can point out a few single times, single events, that stand out as memories that mean something special to me. But what I seem to remember most were the times I wrestled in prayer with someone else. I remember praying with a stranger who would later become one of my best friends as we watched a sun rise. I remember going with my roommate on a prayer walk that I didn't want to go on, and yet probably praying one of the most vulnerable prayers I ever had. I remember just a couple of years later, praying with this friend right before his wedding. I remember an elder who used to be here, and if you asked him what the weather was like he would first pause and pray about it before giving an answer. I remember praying non-stop the days before I was baptised, wrestling over a new conviction that turned my religious upbringing up side down. I remember my wife and I praying on our knees every night before bed; only a memory because we have since allowed our lives to wear us down and distract us from what is most important.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42)

How awesome it is that because of the sacrifice of Jesus we can enter into the presence of the Creator of the universe, that he loves us so much that he listens as we ramble on like little children, and that in his infinite wisdom he answers our prayers. That awe, that refreshing, that faith is forgotten when I neglect the power of praying with someone else.

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:16)

Are you in a rut spiritually? I encourage you to find someone else and make time to pray together. Even if it is someone you do not know who sits on the other side of the fellowship every Sunday morning, there is nothing better to break the ice than to pray together. So who is someone you can call up today to pray?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago I packed up everything and headed into the great unknown. Fresh out of college (roughly; I was waiting tables at Bennigan's for almost a year) I was moving to a place I had only read about before to begin my career.

In that time, I have logged more than 20,000 hours at my desk, in meetings or on the road to support my work. I have commuted 200,000 miles and spent 3,750 hours doing so.

In contrast, in the same amount of time I have spent 1040 hours sitting in church on Sunday mornings, driving 7280 miles back and forth from my home. If I add board meetings, leadership meetings, and other ministry activities I could triple these numbers and still fall well short of the time I have devoted to my job.

Assuming I had an hour quiet time every day in that span (regrettably, not a safe assumption), that is still only 3650 hours spent in prayer and Bible study. Still not close to those 20,000 hours.

So based on these numbers alone, can you tell what my priority in life is?

That is why it is so important to live out our faith in every corner of our lives. We cannot limit our Christianity to time spent in the pew on Sunday mornings because that is wholly inadequate. But not only must we be active in our faith while punching the clock, we must also ask the hard question whether our jobs themselves bring glory to God.

And after ten years, given the numbers above, I wrestle over that question every day.

"...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

"Be very careful then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Friday, June 01, 2012

Defeating Death

Today, I'm continuing my Avengers theme with a post that has been percolating in my head for a long time. Warning, there be spoilers ahead!

So far I have covered Iron Man and the Hulk. But today I want to key in on possibly the most powerful character to appear in 'The Avengers' movie. Did I mention there would be spoilers?

I figure just about everyone has seen the Avengers, having grossed more than a billion dollars, so you've had your opportunity.

At the end of the first credits sequence (the animated one, not the traditional scroll) we are introduced to a character who is warned that to take on Earth and the Avengers is to "court death." The character then turns and smiles at the camera. No, it's not Hellboy or the Red Skull as those in the audience less nerdy than me speculated (hey, Marvel, just seeing the reactions online tells me you need to do some work post-processing to make this guy purple, not red!). But is instead the character Thanos.

That name doesn't mean much to the casual fan, but to those of us who have been paying attention, we have been anticipating his introduction since 2010 when the Infinity Gauntlet was shown off at the San Diego ComicCon as one of the Marvel movie props. The Gauntlet later showed up in the movie 'Thor'. So even though I knew he would be making an appearance in 'The Avengers' I still got chills when I heard those words, "court death," because I knew exactly what that meant. You see, Thanos has an obsession with death, even "courting" a woman who is the personification of death in the comic book universe. Thanos also makes sense as an adversary in the movie universe because his first story in comic books involved his pursuit of the Cosmic Cube (called the Tasseract in the movie). He later rose to fame in the 90's through the mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet and its many spin-off stories. For more on Thanos, check out this write-up from Comic Book Resources and also his wikipedia page.

So far, we know that he won't the villain in either Iron Man 3 (who will be the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley- seriously, how cool is that!) or Thor 2 (who has not yet been identified, but execs have been explicit it will not be Thanos). So Marvel studios have their work cut out for them to introduce this character and give him a meaningful arc.

Which brings me back to the Infinity Gauntlet and the real subject of this post. (for more on the Gauntlet, check out the wikipedia page) You see, there isn't yet a character in the movies who can stand toe-to-toe with Thanos. The Silver Surfer was instrumental in taking down Thanos in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, but the rights to that character are still owned by Fox because of his appearance in 'The Fantastic Four'. So that leaves us with the Surfer's partner in that story, Adam Warlock. (The golden person behind Thanos with the red cape above; again, check out his wikipedia page) Will he be somehow introduced into the Marvel movie universe? I sure hope so.

So what does Warlock, the Surfer, and Thanos have to do with the subject matter of this blog ("Public Christianity" in case you forgot)? Well personally, I have always been intrigued by Warlock's character, from his introduction as a man-made "perfect human" called simply "Him" all the way through his first death (more on this in a minute) and up to his adventures following his defeat of Thanos. About that first death... Adam Warlock has a bit of a God-complex. So much so that in order to save the people of "counter earth" he allowed himself to be crucified. By the power of the Soul Gems (one of the baubles on the Infinity Gauntlet- see how this all ties in?) he rose himself from the dead and a cult religion would later rise up to worship him (and try to take over the universe, but that's another story).

In my comic reading peak in the 90's, I loved to read both Warlock and the Silver Surfer. They complemented each other perfectly. Though the silver sentinel was conceived as a Christ-like cosmic figure when he was introduced in the 60's, he is written in more of a philosophical tone. Warlock, on the other hand, because of his background is written as much more theological. So when paired together to take on some cosmic foe, this often led to very deep and worthwhile conversations.

Now I am anxiously anticipating how this may be handled on the silver screen, especially after (in my opinion) the Silver Surfer wasn't given his full due in the Fantastic Four movie. And all the bluster about Loki pontificating about the weakness of humanity and the slavery of freedom, coupled with the writer's open atheism, led some to denounce 'The Avengers' as anti-Christian and secular. So is it possible that the movies would dare take on a character whose main story arc involves being crucified, buried, and risen from the dead? If the Avengers have any hope of defeating Thanos, we better hope so.