When I was in high school, my best friend Bub and I made a decision never to have a bad day again. We were talking about the hope of Heaven, how great it was going to be, and the idea was that basically since we were going there we shouldn’t allow the day-to-day life to get us down.
It was a good idea at the time. It helped me to get a bigger perspective on life’s problems at the time, like acne, or no girls liking me, or my genetic height problem. And we stuck with it. We were genuinely happy, and didn’t let the little stuff get us down.
But I have had several bad days since then.
Since my freshmen year of college I have had six close friends die. I learned that death sucks. And it’s not just death, it’s death in all the form he takes. Relationships that fail to communicate, marriages that end in divorce, Homelessness, poverty, betrayal, AIDS, Fox News, and Tsunami’s.
For where I was at during that season in my life, it was a good thing to choose to be optimistic about life. And my general personality type is to be an optimist. But I have noticed that over the past few years that has changed.
I have had deep seasons of cynicism. I dug up children’s shoes while cleaning debris for Tsunami relief in Sri Lanka. There was a short time where I didn’t like God. While doing a funeral for my closest childhood friend I wept over the casket and prayed a very angry prayer. I went to a Children’s ICU this week for a 4 year old girl who was in a coma. I sat in a room this week with a dear friend who tried to kill himself the day before (and should have succeeded) because despair had beaten him down so much he thought he had no choice.
But I still hope.
Hope is a very different thing from optimism isn’t it?
Optimism says that the glass is half full. Hope says that the cup will one day be refilled. It’s ironic that on this holy week so much suffering is going on right around our church. On this week we have tasted death in all his forms. But on Easter we celebrate that death is being undone.
I have noticed that the more I see and taste suffering the deeper my hope goes. Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is looking fully into the darkness and choosing to see the dim light. Hope is the enemy of despair. Because it believes that the way things are is not the way things will be. During Stalin’s reign, the anti-god regime (that was a real name) tried to stamp out religion in Russia. And one of the officers said something interesting about Christians.
He said, “Christianity is like a nail. The harder you drive it, the deeper it goes.”
Easter may seem like naive optimism to some, but to me it is the exact opposite. It’s the day where we celebrate the one who entered into the darkness fully to show it has no finality. Because hope is the most powerful thing we have in the midst of suffering Easter makes sense this week.
May this holy week you come to see that death in all it’s forms has been defeated. It doesn’t win. May you come to believe that even if you suffer, you don’t do it alone, and it is not permanent. May you come to hope in the one who meet evil at it’s worst, dealt with it fully, and walked away saying, “You should see the other guy.”
And that one of course is Jesus, the Victory of God.
Archives For Archive
When I was in high school, my best friend Bub and I made a decision never to have a bad day again. We were talking about the hope of Heaven, how great it was going to be, and the idea was that basically since we were going there we shouldn’t allow the day-to-day life to get us down.
Michael Guglielmucci is a worship leader for the Hillsong church. He’s recently made news because he wrote a song called “Healer.” It’s a particularly powerful song for Guglielmucci because he has a terminal form of cancer. On videos you can see him leading the song with oxygen tubes in his nose just to help him breathe. It’s a very powerful scene. Only one problem.
Michael Guglielmucci doesn’t have cancer.
He made the whole thing up.
And no one really knows why. Even Gugliemucci.
In the beginning of the Scriptures, right after Adam and Eve disobey God they are expelled from the garden of Eden. And this is the story of how evil enters into the world. For Genesis 3-11, we see several different responses to evil from man. A guy named Lamech threatens to mess anyone up exponentially if they do anything wrong to him. His way to limit evil done to him would be what we call redemptive violence.
In Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel mankind decides to build a tower to the sky, to make a name for themselves. This was a huge moment for them because as Genesis says, “They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.” The brick was the PlayStation 3 of the day. It was innovative, it was progress.
And God’s response was interesting. He stops their little project. He says that if they put their minds together then nothing will be impossible for them. God doesn’t seem to think that progress is always a good thing.
For the past few hundred years modernity has told us that the best way to deal with evil was through progress. We thought we could invent or organize our way into a better world. But along with good inventions like antibiotics we also developed things like gas chambers and A-bombs. And we learned that evil has a tendency to stick around.
The problem with the way we think and have acted against evil in the past is that we have forgotten that evil is not just “out there.” It’s in us too. Think of the shock that we had when America was fighting the “Axis of evil” and then saw the pictures of American soldiers mocking and torturing the Muslim extremists.
The comic book “Watchmen” is actually a post-modern commentary on this. The heroes are also the bad guys, and the catch-phrase for the book is “Who watches the Watchmen?”
Right after the whole, tower of Babel fiasco, God does something interesting about the problem of evil. He calls Abraham. He develops a people to be a solution to the problem of evil in the world. But this story is different than your typical hero story. The main characters of our stories are revealed as deeply flawed human beings who have a lot of evil in themselves. They themselves, are exiled from the land God gave them as punishment for their evil, or sin (this part of the story is written to mirror the exile from the garden of Eden). The solution to the world’s problem, turns out to be carriers of the problem.
But as a Christian I don’t think the story ends there.
The Christian story says that Jesus died to forgive sins right?
But forgiveness of sins to them doesn’t just mean to take away guilt. It meant a return from exile. They could be the people of God again. They could make the world better. Abraham’s family gets a mulligan.
The problem that any worldview faces in talking about evil is that we are all kind of infected with it. We all have this selfish bent in us. And the greatest offenders tend to be those who don’t see it in themselves. The line of good and evil runs through every single one of us.
But the Jewish-Christian faith has something to say to this. Because the solution to evil came through us, but also for us. We are just as jacked up as everyone else. When we don’t admit that we fail to acknowledge one of the unique things about the gospel.
Western Christianity (or at least Bible-Belt Christianity) has acted like for the past few decades that what it means to be a Christian is to be nice. We are polished and kind…sometimes. And when we aren’t we hide it. We want to act like our junk is in order. But the gospel has two stages. It was God’s dealing with the evil in us, so He might do something about the evil in the world through us.
Which brings me back to Michael Guglielmucci. Yeah what he did was really, really bad. In fact, you could say it was evil. God doesn’t take it lightly. But the gospel is that God can still redeem him, to use him for the redemption of the world.
But I’ll write more about that next week.
So Leslie and I have been in a discussion over the past few weeks about what to let Eden listen to at night while she sleeps. She needs some music to keep the other house noises from waking her up. We happen to know that she loves oldies, especially the Rat Pack, and Nat King Cole, but we can only listen to “Fly me to the Moon” so many times, so we had elected to go with a radio station.
And here is the problem. Which radio station do we choose to let out baby girl sleep to? Which voices are we going to let her listen to while she dreams?
There is a radio station in our city that is known as The station for Christian Radio. They play music about God and they are always upbeat. So we had been trying that for the past couple of weeks. But this week I was getting ready for work and I heard an advertisement for a weekend spa get-away.
In this commercial, they were talking about how Oprah’s dietician would be there, some other famous person’s beautician would be there, and just how over-all fabulous it would be. And then they had this one line. “Bring your friends. Because even if they say they feel fine about themselves…They don’t.”
Are you kidding me?!!
Recent studies have shown that as early as 6 years old, girls are starting to have concerns with how much they weigh. At 6 years old a girl is learning that how much they are worth is in direct correlation to their appearance.
What kind of world do we live in where six year old girls feel fat?
And while that advertisement was not created by the Christian radio station, it was played by them. And it absolutely contradicts the message of Jesus.
Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” points out that the word Christian in the Scriptures is a noun.
It refers to a person.
The danger in using Christian as an adjective is that we begin to stop thinking critically about the things that we allow in our heads, simply because something has a label on it. But I have seen some of the most un-Jesus like things labeled Christian.
Full Disclosure: I have serious issues with the Christian sub-culture. It seems like the majority of the time it is only cheap imitations of what we admire in popular culture. We like Guitar Hero but we don’t like Bon Jovi so we make Guitar Praise. And a lot of the time what we are producing is just second rate. It’s lacks creativity, it’s not beautiful, it’s 3 chords and cheesy lyrics.
I don’t want to come off as just being cynical and jaded, even though I probably am a little of both at this point. But this is the danger of labeling things Christian. Let’s be honest, you can make a lot of money off of God in the Bible Belt, there is a market for everything. But God is not a product, He cannot be commodified. He is not interested in being reduced to a marketing campaign.
I have a buddy that goes to our church who was a roadie for a few years with a “Christian” band and he told me that on a regular basis they were stoned.
And I’m not talking about the Book of Acts kind of stoned.
I don’t think this is normally the case. But it is sometimes. And the truth is there are plenty of disciples that play great music outside of the Christian bubble, for example Johnny Cash, Bono, or The Fray.
Sometimes the best Christian music isn’t known as Christian. And sometimes the music known as Christian is anything but.
The labels that we use to categorize life just aren’t working.
Because Christian makes a great noun, and a crummy adjective.
And Eden sleeps to an Ipod now.
I couldn’t write this Monday on Post-modernism and faith, I was out of town. I’ll pick back up this coming week, but first I want to tell you some stuff about being out of town.
We left this last Friday to go to Michigan to spend some time with a church in Rochester. It was a great weekend with Josh and Kara Graves. Josh and I co-taught Sunday morning, and hung out all weekend. I am not saying this just because he is a good friend, he really is one of my favorite preachers.
So while we were there we went to a Pistons game Sunday night, ate some local food, hit up a museum, and enjoyed spending time with a great church.
And we did it all with Eden.
It was her first time above the Mason-Dixon line. First time at a professional sports game, it was her first time ever on a plane. And that was the part that was making us sweat. We didn’t know how she would handle being 10,000 feet in the air. We hear babies crying on plane al the time, and didn’t want to put her through that. But she was a champ.
We haven’t really travelled long distance as a family of three before. And I have to tell you it was a joy. Having Eden there with us made it all feel new again. It’s great watching the world through your baby daughter’s eyes. Seeing her take in everything reminds you to slow down and take it in yourself. She didn’t cry once on that plane.
She didn’t make the trip a burden at all, in fact she singlehandedly made it the most convenient trip I have ever been on.
I am used to being treated as a non-human most of the time by airport staff, it feels like we are cattle being herded. But not this time. At both airports, we were greeted by airport security ooohing and ahhing over how cute she was. I was asked to step to the side for the whole, “air-puffer and rubber gloves” thing, and then the TSA guy asked if I was with that baby. I was waved on, with him saying, “good thing she looks like her mama.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s never happened to me before.
At one point I elbowed a guy in the head going down the aisle on the plane. He turned around like he was going to kill me. Then he saw Eden, and smiled understandingly. Another time in the aisle I was stuck in traffic, with several people blocking up the aisle. It was impossible to get around with a baby in my hands. And so a rather big gentlemen who was sitting down just held out his hands offering to hold her.
Hillary was right, It takes a village.
We had more attention from airline attendants, better seats, and kinder passengers. Forget first class, from here on out I am taking Eden everywhere I go.
This is a fantastic video that I have received from a few different people.
If you haven’t seen it, It’s amazing.
It makes me think of that Scripture from Isaiah 61:
[God will] provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them
a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of
mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
There is something that is powerful about music isn’t there? Scripture starts off with a cadence, a beat. It’s a song. When the Israelites were at their lowest, the way they communicated that was by hanging their harps up on the tree branches. They had lost their song.
Music has the ability to be able to express pain and lament like no other venue. G.K Chesterton once said, “Mathematicians go mad, but not the poets, for they can swim in the abyss of the infinite.” Music connects us in a way that nothing else can, not just to one another but to the mysterious hope that we have that life can be good.
If the video above doesn’t work for you here is the link.
Right before Jesus gets into the whole business of talking about Himself as the Truth, he uses an interesting metaphor to describe what God is up to in his ministry.
He says that He is the way. But what does that even mean? It’s one of the most used terms in Christian circles, but I think the real meat of what Jesus is saying here is totally missed. Think about the day and time that Jesus was in.
The Essenes were a group of people who were claiming to be the people of God, they were known for how they withdrew from society in order to form a “holy huddle” (not their actual mission statement) and preserve the remnant of God’s true people. They wrote off the rest of the world and they kept their religious rules down to the letter.
The Sadducees and Herodians were at the other end of the spectrum. They had tossed their hat in the ring with Rome. If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. They compromised their values, got ahead in the system, and then started to use it to their advantage. They could talk like an Israelite and live like a Roman, and they developed a theology to back it all up.
The Zealots were another interesting group. They knew the stories of the revolutions of their ancestors. They loved David and Goliath stories because they knew that their God could save them against the evil empire, all they needed were some stones. And by stones they meant stabbing the Herodians and Sadducees anonymously in crowds.
The Pharisees are commonly known as the people that Jesus was the hardest on, but they were at least trying to live in both worlds without compromise. Though from even a brief reading of the gospels you might conclude that a lot of people wouldn’t have minded if they would have joined forces with the Essenes and just disappeared. They were hard on people who didn’t have their act together as much as they did.
So the world that Jesus entered into was filled with labels and categories, the lines were clearly drawn, and the options for how to be the people of God was limited. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?
Now when Jesus first stood up and started teaching, people probably (much like they do today) were trying to peg which group Jesus belonged to. But Jesus consistently pioneered another way.
When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness there are all kinds of echoes of of another story. Jesus passes through the Jordan just like the Israelite people, he goes into the desert for 40 days, and he is tempted. Just like the people of God after the Exodus. Here, the gospels are saying, is what it looks like to really be the people God wants you to be.
And what’s interesting is that Satan never tried to get Jesus to give up on the end game. He offers him dominion over all things. He just tried Jesus to change the means of getting there. Each of Satan’s temptations had to do with the way in which Jesus would be the Way.
I say this to point out that the other groups of people probably didn’t start off thinking they would be this way. They thought that they were furthering the Kingdom of God, but you can’t honor God with Satan’s tactics.
One of the most controversial claims that we can make in a post-modern world is that Jesus is the way. But I think the reason that’s so upsetting to non-Christian listeners is because this is the one claim that by it’s very nature refuses to be reduced to a conversation piece. It must be lived out.
I believe that Jesus is the way. But the deeper reality of that statement is that the way of Jesus is how He is the way. The way that Jesus ministered, the way he served, the way he was in the world is the Way.
The means are the ends.
The earliest Christians got this, and the old labels of describing them just didn’t work anymore. In the book of Acts you had former Zealots and Pharisees all gathering to be the people of God in a new way with a new name.
And that name was of course, the Way.
There’s a story in 1st Kings 22 about a King named Ahaz. He’s wanting to go to war and so he does what any king would do in that day. He gathers the prophets. He wants to know if he can win this fight, and they all say Yes.
Then one person notices that not all the prophets are there. A prophet named Micaiah wasn’t in the mix and they wanted everyone’s take on this upcoming war. I think that what King Ahaz says in response is kind of interesting. He basically says, “Not Micaiah, that guy never prophesizes anything good for me. Only disaster.”
Micaiah goes on to eventually tell the King not to go up to war. He is the only one of the prophets to do so. And he was right.
There are a couple of reasons I think that is interesting. There are 400 other prophets there, but not Micaiah. Back in that day when a prophet served the king he would be supported and fed by the king. They would go on payroll. But Micaiah’s not there, he hasn’t taken the retirement plan, he stands outside of this system so he can give it a fresh word.
Sometimes institutions can be domesticating can’t they? I don’t think that they are inherently bad, I think some institutions are doing some of the best stuff in the world today. But they can also make us dependent on them. What happens is that a paycheck can really mess things up, because all of sudden you don’t know what you and what’s the job, what’s your heart and what’s your obligation. Reading the Bible can get very confusing, do you read devotionally or homiletically?
Now I get paid by a church. A big, institutional church. And I don’t think that’s wrong, I like to eat, I love my job, and I love my church. But the problem comes when I take my job more seriously than my calling. That’s a problem because my economy is now tied to whether or not I am saying what people want to hear.
I have several preacher buddies who have been chewed up and spit out by their respective institutions, and sometimes they lose their edge to say some of the things that need to be said for their next church. I know of some preachers who have become so enmeshed in the church they serve that they don’t know how to disagree with her anymore.
I like the way Barbara Brown Taylor talked about this. She was asked in an interview what advice she had for young preachers. This was what she said, “Most preachers I know are afraid of something- divine anger, congregational shrinkage, job loss, their own transparency in the pulpit- so my first piece of advice is to figure out what they are afraid of, then to find something that matters more to them than their fear. Fear is a great gagger of preachers.”
I know that we have to be priest’s before we can be prophets. I get that we must first earn the right to do this. I understand that there is a balance, and if you have a tendency toward being a harsh prophet, then maybe this post isn’t for you. But it seems to me like to be a minister is, at least at times, to say something that isn’t going to be popular, but that needs to be said.
Dr. King Jr. wrote a letter from his cell in a Birmingham jail about this. He wrote that his biggest frustration with the civil rights movement was not the KKK but with the white moderates. The moderates, King writes, were more devoted to order than to justice, to the absence of tension rather than to peace.
The world didn’t need more moderates. It needed a prophet.
To be a preacher is to stand outside (at least on this level) your institution so that you can give a fresh word to her. Even if it’s not popular.
To be a preacher is to find a bigger purpose than all the trivial fears that press themselves on us for the sake of the Kingdom of God.*
*Quick disclaimer: I don’t write this with an angry spirit. I was reading in 1 Kings and thought this applied to my life, and it might to some of you as well.
I was a teenager when my “Indian brother”, Simran Preet-Singh Gujral, came to live at our house for a year. He was from Chennai, India. He wore a turban, had a full beard, hair down to his rear (his religion prohibited cutting your hair), and he was a Sikh.
Did I mention that I grew up in a small town in Arkansas?
There were not a lot of turbans floating around where I came from. But my family took him in and he because like one of the family. He went to church with us, we ate a lot of Indian food, and I was exposed to the truth that not everyone thinks or believes like we did. And here’s the big one, I found out that those people weren’t just inherently evil or stupid.
Flash forward a decade and Leslie and I have led a team of young adults to India to work with an orphanage there. Simran flew to where we were and took all of us out on the town. We were able to meet his new wife and catch up. And that’s where his new wife asked me this question, “Why are Christians so arrogant as to try and convert people of other religions?”
I want to just let that question sit there for a second.
Pluralism isn’t a new thing. Perhaps we are being reintroduced to it because of globalization, but it’s a very old part of being human in our world. In Acts 19, Paul is in the city of Ephesus where he has been preaching about Jesus to anyone who will listen. This fledgling new movement starts to pick up steam, and that’s when one of the Ephesians helps to start a riot. It’s a guy named Demetrius, he has a bit of a conflict of interest, he makes shrines for Artemis (the god of the Ephesians) and he points out that if this Jesus thing becomes popular then they will lose a lot of business. And that’s when the Ephesians go nuts.
For two hours they shouted “Great is Artemis, god of the Ephesians.” Then something happened that I think is applicable to today’s world. The city clerk stands up, gains their trust, then he turns to their concern and says “these men have neither robbed our temples or blasphemed our goddess.”
They hadn’t blasphemed their goddess.
I think that’s interesting. I grew up kind of thinking that is the first step in confronting other world religions was to denigrate or deconstruct them. But here Paul had just preached Jesus, and through that Jesus was held in high honor (vs. 17).
My neighbor is an ex-mormon who comes to a Bible study at my house on Thursday nights. He doesn’t like religion, but he likes us, and he gave me permission to repeat something that he told us recently. He said that he has tried going to other churches throughout his life, Baptist, Church-of-Christ etc. but after a while of going to these churches they would always start talking bad about Mormonism. Even though my neighbor has a deep distrust of the Mormon church, he said if he was to go back to church tomorrow, it would be to a Mormon church. Because, “other religions talk really bad about Mormons, but I have never heard a Mormon talk bad about them. They just talk about what they believe.”
In a pluralistic society, a religion is judged by its worth to its non-adherants. In today’s world the value of a faith is judged by how good it is for those who don’t believe it. In other words, is it good news for my neighbor that I believe it. Does it make me a better, kinder, more compassionate neighbor? Or does it make me angrier, more judgemental, less accepting of him as a person?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that Jesus is the answer to the problem of the human condition. I see God’s activity in Jesus as the climax of human history. His story is the most beautiful, compelling story I have ever heard. I just don’t think in order to make that clear we have to try and destroy other people’s story.
Which brings me back to Simran’s wife’s question. I never answered her. I didn’t have to. Simran did. He told her that while in America we told him the story of Jesus over and over again. We were not arrogant about thinking Jesus was the way to God. He told her about how we went with him to the Sikh Temple, we even put on the “guest turbans.” We listened to what he thought, and though there were significant differences, we loved him no matter what. And that in us doing that for him, he saw what Jesus must have wanted for the world.*
And that is still good news.
* This happened a couple of years ago, and while I can’t remember exactly the way my friend said it. This was the heart of what he was saying.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Jim Cramer Pt. 2|
I want to start off by saying that this video isn’t for everyone. This was a tough decision on whether or not to put this up, it’s crass even though it is edited. And if you are easily offended please don’t watch the entire interview. But I appreciated it a ton.
Part of the problem with the media today is that we have stations that are dedicated to 24 hour news coverage. And while that may sound like a good thing, it creates a burden on the stations to find stories and broadcast them at an unprecedented rate. And more does not always translate into better. Politicians and Big Business executives have found ways to exploit this, knowing that the CNN’s and Fox News’ of the world are hungry for a story. So they will make sure that they give them a story with their spin.
Credible well-researched journalism is next to impossible because the workload makes it impossible to do anything but take someone’s word at face value. It seems like the days of Mike Wallace style interviews are over. Unless you count last night.
The Daily Show is not a credible news source. They are on Comedy Central and it is a satire. They make no bones about their leanings to the left. But that is where they are different than other news sources. They tell you outright where they are coming from.
Last night’s interview with Jim Cramer felt an awful lot like Justice to me. Somebody was final being held accountable for not being accountable to the public. When Cramer lied, he was immediately exposed by a team of comedians/journalists who had researched and prepared.
It was refreshing to hear someone stand up for those who don’t understand the complexities of our economy against those who do, but have used their knowledge as a means to further their own greed. It was a taste of justice. Now just imagine what kind of difference could be made if it wasn’t just our comedians doing this.
So thinking about that last post about truth being something that you are, I want to ask a question. This is the last time I will mention Scot McKnight’s book “The Blue Parakeet,” but I had one more thing to say about it. I really enjoyed his book, he’s kind, but aggressive, with some pretty important issues. He emphasizes the Bible as story above doctrine, and he stresses that the progressive trajectory of Scripture must be carried forward today.
But there was one point that he had that really disturbed me.
He told about how a college student came into his office one day angry at the way he was taught to read the Bible. His youth minister had reduced the Bible to a series of propositional truths and proverbs to believe in. But, as the college student said, “my youth minister knows stuff about the Bible, but he doesn’t do one thing to help the poor, he doesn’t serve other people, and he doesn’t seem very compassionate. Doesn’t that mean that my youth minister is reading the BIble wrong?”
One of the things that we have forgotten over the years is that to read the Bible the way it was intended means to also let it read you.
And here’s where things get tricky.
There are people that I know who I disagree on things that I think are tremendously important. But they look a lot more like Jesus than I do. So which one of us reads the Bible better?
Do you remember that book, “The Prayer of Jabez”? It was a big hit a few years ago. It basically was teaching people to pray for God to give them more, to expand their territories. And I hated it.
I thought of all the countries in the world, America was the one nation that didn’t need to pray that prayer. We were already consuming a large part of the world’s resources. We were the some of the wealthiest people on earth, and it just seemed like that was baptizing our greed.
But I talked with a guy the other day who told me that when his mom was dying of cancer she read that book and she loved it. She prayed that prayer, not as a prayer for a nicer car, or a bigger house, but as God expanding her influence. She wanted God to use her to show how other what it looked like to trust in a time of pain.
Here is McKnight’s point. A right reading of Scripture is primarily one that makes people look more like the people God intended us to look like. This frustrates me a lot. I want people to know things about the context that the BIble was written in. I have a strong desire to blast people who have what I consider to be bad theology. But some of the most gracious, compassionate people I have met in my life believed things that I am fairly positive goes against some important parts of Scripture.
But if the most major theme of Scripture is the word becoming flesh, than what does a right reading of the Bible really mean?
Who’s really reading the Bible correctly?