We live in a culture where to be unhappy is a thing of treason. After all, the pursuit of happiness is literally on our charter. And after a while that stopped just being a line on some document in a museum, and started to become our lives’ mission. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for happiness. I love to celebrate, and I think the Christian faith should be pioneering the way in showing the world pure joy. But….Continue Reading...
Archives For Bible
So for the past few days I’ve been spending time in the Gospel of Matthew. Each time I read a Gospel I think, “no, this one is my favorite.” And it’s happening again. This is seriously some powerful stuff he’s dishing out. Matthew’s gospel is about a King and a Kingdom, it’s about an upside down world that thinks it’s right-side up, and it’s about a Jewish carpenter that says the most bizarre things that turn out to be the way things are.
Matthew is about choices.
Like the wise men at the beginning of the gospel. The dominant reality that people are being told is that Herod the Great is King. To be honest he looks the part, he’s regal, wealthy, and knows how to get things done. If you were to see Herod in a line-up of royalty from that time, he’d blend right in. But he’s not the King Matthew is wanting to tell us about. Because Matthew tells us in that the baby being born in a shed is actually the King of the Jews. And the wise men have to choose which reality they are going to choose to believe. Continue Reading…
So I’ve been wrestling with the eighth chapter of Acts for the past few weeks, trying to figure out what was going on then, and what that could mean for Jesus’ followers today. The story is pretty bizarre to be honest. A guy named Phillip is swept up by the Spirit (whatever that means) and is taken to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch, a man who’s in a high political position, who’s driving a chariot back to Africa. Continue Reading…
Last night on a flight to St. Louis I had a conversation with a very unique man. He was agnostic, and really, really interesting. He was the assistant Grand Marshall of Arms in D.C. And he had rubbed shoulders with the elite and powerful of this country.
When he asked me what I did for a living, the conversation turned toward the Bible. He knew the basic characters, and I guess was trying to be polite and make conversation. But then he said something that I felt needed a reply. He said he was glad that the Bible was around, it gives people something to strive for. But he could never be as good as those characters in the BIble.
So I told him that he already was.
And here’s what I mean by that: Continue Reading…
It’s been years since I’ve been back to the little 10 person church I grew up in. But I have no doubt about what the sermon is going to be about this weekend. There weren’t a lot of constants at my home church, you never knew who was going to be speaking from week to week, and there was always a pretty good chance it was going to be you. Every week, that is, except for the Sunday after New Year. Continue Reading…
So when I was in high school my best friend Bub and I made a pact never to watch rated R movies again. We weren’t supposed to be watching them anyway, so it really wasn’t that hard of a sacrifice, but it was one that we stuck to for years. We thought that was part of what it meant to be a Christian. When the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, it kind of threw us for a loop. Jesus himself was starring in a rated R movie. So what was an honest legalist to do?
Looking back on it I think we had a pretty narrow view of what following Jesus was. We defined it primarily by what we did not do. And we didn’t do it well.
It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I watched another rated R movie again (at least one that Jesus didn’t star in). And my immediate reaction was guilt. I had broken a promise. And I had probably ticked God off.
I know this probably sounds silly, movie ratings really no longer say a lot about the content of a movie. PG-13 can be worst than plenty of R movies. But I’m telling you this because in my junior year I discovered something that changed the way I thought about what I watched.
I found that God was good, and that Jesus wasn’t just waiting on me to mess up so he could deep-fry me. I started to get a larger perspective on the purposes of God in my life and in the world, and suddenly what I watched started to seem pretty insignificant.
But I’m starting to change my mind.
For a while, I watched whatever I wanted. No restrictions. I was free after all. And if you were to call me on it (Mom) I had a well-thought out theological explanation for why you were an idiot Pharisee. But I noticed after a while that I didn’t like who I was becoming, how I was responding to people, or how I was thinking.
When I watched movies devoid of hope, I became more cynical. When I watched movies that were excessively violent, I got angry easier. When I watched movies that exploited or demeaned women, I looked at women differently.
Now we actually have a set discipline about what kind of movies we will watch (it normally has nothing to do with ratings, but content, story etc.). I know this makes me sound antique. I kind of feel like my parents even writing this. But I’m not Amish,* and what I think is acceptable is certainly going to be considered unacceptable by others. And what doesn’t work for me, maybe fine for others. There’s no hard and fast rule for this. But I’ve learned to think about this in different terms.
What if it’s not about angering a God who’s already kind of mad? But what if it’s about who God is wanting you to become?
In First Peter, Peter is talking about this strange way of relating to God that frees a person up from sweating bullets. And Peter should know. He’s had plenty of opportunities to learn. He knows now that it doesn’t matter how well you wash your hands before you eat, God isn’t concerned about the outside, but the inside. That may sound like common sense, but let me assure you it wasn’t. Religion always veers toward the externals, and black and white rules are great at keeping people in step.
There’s a time where Peter is chilling on a roof and he has a dream. God shows him in this dream a bunch of pigs and tablecloths. And tells him to eat. Now Pork chops have not caught on with Jewish people and Peter knows better, despite what some Pigs in a Blanket dream is telling him. So Peter refuses, eventually God convinces him, and Peter learns what many of us have known for years. Pork is also from God.
For Peter, grace tastes an awful lot like bacon.
But Peter also knows the dark side of freedom. So he writes to a group of people like us, and reminds us of this: “Live as free People, but do not use your freedom to cover up evil.” I think Peter knows exactly what he’s saying. He’s soaked in grace long enough to know that there are some deeper truths it has to offer.
See the subtle temptation of freedom is to think there are no consequences to your behavior. But I’m learning more and more this isn’t true.
For the past few weeks I have been in a Church History class with ACU, studying and learning from the earliest followers of Jesus. And if there is a word to describe them it’s this: different. They weren’t like everyone else, in a good way. They had learned how to be holy.
Have you ever met people like this? People who seemed to just have a different demeanor or spirit? Maybe it’s that they are patient or kind, or filled with joy. Or better yet, have you ever tried to be like those people? Just set your jaw and try to will-power better behavior? And failed?
The basic human truth about our nature is that you will become like the person you practice being. That is, the way we spend our days, the habits we develop over time, shape the core of how we act for a lifetime.
This is why I have been trying to discipline my life more lately. I have learned that the behaviors I try to control typical are just symptoms of a deeper issue. Richard Foster says this is the gift of Spiritual Disciplines. It allows you to If you battle with addictions or over-indulgence…fast habitually. If you battle with materialism, try the discipline of generosity.
The historic, Spiritual disciplines help to put the finger on the real issue.
This is not a way of transforming yourself. It’s about opening yourself up to the Spirit of God in a way that makes your habits more accessible. If the Spirit is the wind, than think of Spiritual disciplines as a way of setting up sails.
In case you are wondering this really isn’t a blog about what movies you watch or don’t watch.
It’s about laying down cheaper freedom to find a deeper version of it.
It’s about allowing God to form you into who you were always meant to be.
And that’s grace too.
*Blogging Tip: If you are going to make fun of someone on your blog, make it the Amish. They’ll never see it.
So for the past year and a half or so I have been interested in names. I guess the fascination started for me when Leslie and I wrestled through trying to decide what to name Eden. How do you give a little person a word that she or he will hear to describe them for the rest of their lives? Someone, somewhere once made the mistake of Gertrude, and we didn’t want to repeat that.
You have to worry about nicknames, what the name might rhyme with, or how it might impact their psychological development. So we steered away from the clever ideas (my apologies to my pal Brady Bunch) and settled on Eden.
This may seem trivial, but it really is a central thought in the Scriptures. After all, God’s first task to humanity is to name the world around them. The Jewish people thought of names as the essence of a person. This is why if you wanted to know the emotional state of a Hebrew woman in the Old Testament, you just had to look at what she named her children. There are kids named in the O.T. the equivalent of “I’m depressed” which has to feel a bit disappointing to the kid.
This theme is especially prominent in the book of Genesis. Almost every chapter the storyteller is telling us who is named what, and why.
But in Genesis 11, a different concern creeps in.
The builders of Babel’s tower are interested not just in their names, but in making their names great. So they build, and God does his whole Jenga thing, and their building project falls apart. In trying to make a name for themselves, they actually become more disconnected from each other.
But the real apex of this theme is in found in the story of a guy named Jacob (meaning heel-grabber or liar). When we meet Jacob, he’s doing a good job at living up to his name. His brother actually says after being betrayed by him, “is he not rightly named Jacob?” Jacob had stolen his brother blessing, he had tried to be more than he was, and found out that just made him exactly more like himself.
Just like the builders of Babel.
In Genesis 32, Jacob is alone, and so the story tells us a man wrestled with him till daybreak. As if that was a perfectly ordinary thing that happens to people when they are left alone.
But this is not your average wrestling match. Jacob finds out later that he is wrestling with God. He gets God in a headlock, like you do, and asks for a blessing.
But his wrestling partner doesn’t say what do you want? He asks “what is your name.” Jacob tells him, and then the man renames him. He calls him Israel.* But Jacob wants to know who this guy is. Who are you to give me a new name?
But the guy doesn’t answer Jacob. Not yet.
It’s a few chapters later that Jacob finds out what was really going on. God comes to Jacob again and tells him that his name is now Israel. And the very next words are “I am God Almighty.”
Jacob gets his answer, and his new name.
The implications of this story are both subtle and profound. We spend most of our lives trying to live up to who others say we are. If you know that others expect you to be somebody, chances are you will pursue that identity, if the people around you have written you off, chances are you will as well.
But Jacob asks the one question many of us fail to. Who are you to give me this name? What gives you the right, mystery WWF man, to say this about me?
The Book of Revelation has a ton of allusions to the book of Genesis, mainly because on many levels it’s a book about a fresh start, about a new Creation. And in the beginning of Revelation we’re told that in God’s reality, God’s plan is to give us each a white stone with a new name.
The end of the story of God is all of us finally know who we really are.
Because if we’re made in God’s image, maybe he’s the only one who knows really knows who we are in the first place.
*If I was Jacob, I would ask for a more normal sounding name like Steve or Gary.