Archives For Risk

On April 13, 2013

Everyday Idolatry: Security

“Jesus said ‘go into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ he didn’t say anything about coming back.” -my missionary friend before going to Sudan

Temple in Chennai, India

A few months ago I took Samuel (our 2 year old) on our first trip together, we called it a man-cation, and it was a blast, which isn’t to say that it was easy. I told Leslie, I will never again complain about you being late anywhere.

We had total strangers helping us get around in the airport, they took pity on us when they saw the whining and melt downs and temper tantrums (Samuel was doing okay though). And this was before the plane had left Abilene. We were delayed for like 4 hours, and at one point, Samuel heard Leslie coming back to give us some snacks, and he runs right past the security rope at the airport…and they don’t like that

So the TSA agent pins Samuel against the wall like he’s Bin Laden. And Samuel is trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

Now the TSA lady is just trying to do her job, but one of the things that happened later, was that I was trying to explain what happened to Samuel and Eden.

Because kids have that annoying habit of asking Why.

So Eden, who saw this, happen, and Samuel were wondering why he got form tackled. And have you ever tried explaining the TSA to a kid?

And I told them that the TSA people help to keep us safe.

And they said why? I said, because we want to be safe.

And they said why? I said, because security is a really big deal, and they said why?

And I said, I guess because we are really afraid.

And then I didn’t have any more questions, because fear, that’s something that we all get.Trade Center Ads

The Language of Fear

Last week I saw an article on NPR that talked about the way that our language has changed over the past several decades. It was a fascinating look at the way we’ve described our world. When the researches first started looking, they thought what they would find was that we would have constant emotions. But they found that each period had words that were much more emphasized. So in the 20’s we talked about joy and happiness. At the beginning of World War II, we were overwhelmed with language of sadness. And ever since the early 80’s we’ve been terrrified.

Think about the language we hear and use consistently. We are so very afraid about everything. Last month, the Teneesseean ran an article about how some Tennessee lawmakers had proposed a new bill because they had confused a mop-washing sink for a Muslim foot-washing sink.

The Idols We Riot For

In Acts 19, there is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. Paul has gone to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus, which seems innocent enough, but he actually winds up inciting a riot.

Actually the people who started a riot were the ones who had a vested interest in the dominant religion of the day. They were silversmiths and craftsmen who made shrines for Artemis. They worked for the system and the system worked for them. And they certainly didn’t need some punk Christian coming in and saying that those idols were just decorative, powerless trinkets.

So they gathered a group of people, got ‘em all riled up and for two hours these people shouted, “Great is Artemis, God of the Ephesians.”

Now before you write this story off as some weird, ancient religion you need to know something else.

The name for Artemis is based on the root Greek word for Safety or health.

Artemis sounds like some ancient religion, but the truth is she is worshipped by millions everyday.

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On May 24, 2011

Risk

Institutions, by their very nature, don’t like risk. But Faith, by it’s very nature, is risk. So what does the Church, an institution that tries to form a risk-taking people look like?

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On October 22, 2010

What Could Be

This is one of my all time favorite Graduation speeches. And it’s not because Steve Jobs is so eloquent here, to be honest, it’s the least charismatic I’ve ever seen him. He’s reading from his notes the entire time. He seems rattled at times, and he makes as much eye contact as a nervous accountant. Continue Reading…

On July 19, 2010

Terra Incognita

To go places you’ve never gone, you have leave what you’ve always known. This is at the heart of Scripture, from Abraham to Paul, God loves it when we take risks toward Him.

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On October 12, 2009

The Risk of Security

It’s tough to talk about the possibility of dying at the Olive Garden.

Maybe it’s because of the breadsticks, or because everything just seems so nice, it just feels off somehow.

Last week Leslie and I had lunch with the resident missionary couple at RHCC. They are headed to a place in North Africa that I can’t write about here for security reasons, but you need to know they are a fascinating couple.

She is an ethnomusicologist, he is a community development guru. Their plan is that when they leave people will have clean water, better returns on their harvest, and songs, poems and stories about meeting Jesus. Which sounds pretty good to me.

And so it was strange that at the Olive Garden they were talking about what to do in the case of their village, or home being attacked by hostile militants.

In Acts 19, there is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. Paul has gone to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus, which seems innocent enough, but he actually winds up inciting a riot.

Actually the people who started a riot were the ones who had a vested interest in the dominant religion of the day. They were silversmiths and craftsmen who made shrines for Artemis. They worked for the system and the system worked for them. And they certainly didn’t need some punk Christian coming in and saying that those idols were just decorative, powerless trinkets.

So they gathered a group of people, got ‘em all riled up and for two hours these people shouted, “Great is Artemis, God of the Ephesians.”

Now before you write this story off as some weird, ancient religion you need to know something else.

The name for Artemis is based on the root Greek word for Safety or health.

Artemis sounds like some ancient religion, but the truth is she is worshipped by millions everyday.

And standing juxtaposed against this mob chanting for safety, but acting dangerously, is this guy named Paul, who wants to go into the assembly that has basically gathered just to kill him. Everyone else is out of their mind wanting security, but Paul is willing to risk everything.

Because Paul doesn’t worship Artemis.

I have noticed over the past few months something about human nature, including my own. The one thing that will reduce us to our basest instinct is this desire to be secure or healthy. Watch any news channel these days, when we talk about security or health, people automatically can become belligerent, rude and sometimes hateful.

Almost, at times, like a riot.

Which makes me think back to my two new missionary friends. I thank God for bringing people like them into my life. Not just for the great work that they are going to do in North Africa, but for what they remind me of.

They remind me of the story that I belong to. And that’s important, because If I watch any news station for an extended amount of time they have a way of telling a story that makes me think I am in immediate danger from something (swine flu, terrorist attacks, bad economy) or someone.

But that’s not really my story. So maybe that’s why these new friends are so refreshing.

These are two bright, young adults who could do a lot with their lives. But instead of trying to insulate themselves from danger they are taking a calculated risk, to better the world for the glory of God.

They are taking their place in the long line of followers of Jesus who have gone against the dominant impulses of our culture for self-preservation for the sake of something bigger than themselves.

Because the way of Jesus isn’t the way of Artemis.

Because the real risk of security is that you might be worshipping a god who is no god at all.

It’s time to stop rioting.

On October 1, 2009

Re-Incarnation

I have come to understand that one of the missing pieces of Christian Theology is Re-Incarnation. But before you begin to think I’ve converted to hippie, let me back up and explain what I mean.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed that one of the repeated themes of Christian history, especially after the third century, was debate over the nature of the incarnation. That is, we became adept at arguing over what exactly happened in Bethlehem.

Now there was a ton of different nuances to this discussion, much of the time debates revolved around single Greek words. Some people got upset if a word was used to describe the incarnation that wasn’t used in Scripture. It seems like Creeds were drawn up weekly to defend or define Jesus’ nature. Groups split often, and there was more drama than in the Jackson 5.

All over the Incarnation.

A couple of weeks ago in Nashville, a story ran in the local news about a family named the Hazelips. The tag line for this story was, “Imagine living the perfect life in the suburbs, with a big house, green grass, and a pool. But one Nashville couple still felt empty, so they packed up and moved to one of the highest drug ridden areas of the city.”

They left their upper-middle class life, and moved into the projects. Which is not normally the direction people choose with their lives. You rarely hear a C.E.O. saying the next step after a house in the Hamptons is to finally get that apartment in the projects.

But this family did it. They saw it as a part of following Jesus. And now because of this strange move, the kids of this neighborhood have ice cream on Thursday afternoon’s and movies on Friday nights. The Hazelips have helped some of the adults overcome their addictions.

All because someone chose to move in a downward direction.

One of my good friends made a point recently. He said that much of the time our theology is gnostic. But he doesn’t mean that the way you might think. Gnosticism is the belief that the material is bad, and the spiritual, or non-material is good. It was one of the first heresies. And my friend’s point is not that we necessarily believe that, but that we practice that.

A lot of the time our theology is talked about but not lived out.

It is discussed but not embodied.

Which is what I think part of the problem was with Christian’s trying to describe the incarnation. It had become abstract, a theory. When in fact it was the one part of our Theology that was the most concrete of all. In other words God had put on skin, not theory.

God had laid down his divine prerogatives, he had in the words of Paul, emptied Himself.

And we tried to describe this all while fighting for more power, more influence than the other guys.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize that I am in debt to these earlier Christians for wrestling with some pretty tough stuff on describing the birth of Jesus. I am thankful that they had these harder conversations. But this seems to be the one area of Christianity that demands more than just talk.

Because the beauty of the Incarnation is that it didn’t just happen. It happens.

Everytime a follower of Jesus chooses the path of descent. Everytime someone chooses to serve vs. fighting to be served.

That’s re-incarnation. It’s following Jesus in the hardest move of all.

And it can still change the world.

Just ask the Hazelips.

On September 9, 2009

Fearless

The first time I ever met Max Lucado he was sitting in my office.

To be honest, I was caught completely off guard. I had grown up reading his books, the man who had taught me the power of words was now sitting in my chair from Staples. So I introduced myself and then he commented on my office library. He told me he liked my books.

Now I have quite a few books, but in that moment I realized that I only had 2 of his on my shelf. So I panicked, and said the first thing that popped into my mind. I said, “I have a lot more of your books at my house.”

Impressive, I know. This guys sold over 65 million books and I’m trying to assure him that I was a part of that revenue.

Lucado’s newest book “Fearless” was recently released and I just read it on our vacation in Arizona. Typical Lucado, it was great.

He has always had a poetic way with words, but this book seemed different. Maybe it was the fact that he recently had heart surgery (which he mentioned several times) or maybe it was just the more fearful culture that we live in since 9/11, or maybe it was because death has recently claimed his brother, whatever it is, you get the feeling that he’s doing more than just pumping out a quota for publishers.

On the first page, Lucado tells about his brother’s final night. He had drank for years before finally kicking the habit. But the liver doesn’t forgive easy. And so when the ambulance came Dee Lucado told his wife and son he’d meet them at the hospital.

He died on the way.

But when they went in to identify the body, they noticed something. Dee’s hand was folded into the universal sign for “I love you.” And here is Max’s own words to describe this:

“I’ve tried to envision the final moments of my brother’s earthly life: racing down a Texas highway in an ambulance through an inky night, paramedics bussing around him, his heart weakening within him. Struggling for each breath, at some point he realized only a few remained. But rather than panic, he quarried some courage.”

Told you it was a good book.

In college and most of grad school I traded Lucado’s books in for Brueggemann and Bell. Maybe that’s why only two were on my office book shelf that day. Harding and ACU have taught me well how to love God with my mind. But reading this book reminded me why I wanted to get in ministry in the first place. When I was a kid the first book I read on my own was “He Still Moves Stones.” And I will always be thankful for that book.

See I hadn’t heard too much about how good God was. And in a very real sense the Jesus I still see in the gospels today was shaped by reading those books early on.

That’s not to say that Lucado’s new book doesn’t have depth. In fact, that was one of the surprises for me. He quotes Brueggemann and N.T. Wright repeatedly, not to mention C.S. Lewis, Fredrich Buechner and Yann Martel. Not just anybody can take deep theology and make it as accessible as Lucado.

Tony Campolo once said that when he was in college he finally understood the gospel. He was angry with his home-town preacher for never having preached it before. He was so upset that he went back to his home congregation to confront him. But then he listened to his preacher again, and realized that he had been preaching the Gospel the whole time.

That’s kind of my experience with this book. Reading this book felt both new and nostalgic. He writes in a way that feeds both me head and my heart.

I have a lot to be afraid of. I could be the next victim of terrorism, in the past month I was in an almost serious car accident, I have a great daughter and wife. In other words, I have a lot lose. And I bet you do too. But above all the uncertainty and worry is a God who knows and cares about the hairs on our heads.

And we call that Gospel.

On July 14, 2009

The Danger of Distance

I just finished writing a teaching about the Rich, Young Ruler for the weekend, probably one of my favorite and least favorite passages of the Bible. It’s my favorite when I’m talking about other people. But it’s getting harder and harder to make it about somebody else.

The same week that I was chewing on this story, we discovered that we have foundation problems on our house, our roof needs to be repaired, and our ceiling just started caving in.

We have some housing issues to say the least.

So I’m living in these two worlds for the last week. One is the word of Jesus to this man to sell what he has and be generous. And the other is the crumbling of my little empire. And then this week something interesting struck me. A roof problem is a rich person problem. Having bad foundation is a rich person problem.

I’m grumbling about the stuff that I have that is falling apart, skipping right over the recognition that I have this stuff. That’s the problem with being rich. We rich people don’t consider always know we’re rich, we compare ourselves to the person who has a little bit more than us, not the majority of the world who barely has a portion of what we have.

So last week I have this profound realization where I am mowing and preaching in my head, and it struck me. I’m probably as rich as the Rich, young ruler was.

He lived in a time, and place of oppressed people and deep poverty. So rich was a relative term for them. He probably had quite a bit of stuff, but I bet it’s not as much as we thought.

This is kind of indicative for us of how I/we read the Bible. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear a preacher say that the Rich man was probably a good guy, we would have liked him, made him an elder etc. I still try and demonize him in my head.

And the reason I think that I/we do this is profound.

It’s because we want distance.

If we can just separate ourselves from this guy, than Jesus isn’t talking to us.

If there is one thing I have learned from teaching and preaching, as well as just personally following Jesus it’s this: the implications of the gospel are dangerous, and not always popular.

So we develop these hermeneutical loop holes to prevent us from really listening.

Remember what the Israelites tell Moses when they first meet God on the mountain. They say, “Moses, you speak to us, but don’t make us get close to Him, or we will die.”

Keep us at a distance.

Which I think may just be the unspoken request of many pulpit committees. Keep us informed but don’t get us too close.

I like the way that Soren Kierkegaard says this:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

The truth is that I am the Rich, Young Ruler. And you might be too.

And maybe that recognizes that is the first step to hearing the words of Jesus again. Not just as something that was said thousands of years ago to someone else. But something that Jesus is saying, right now, to us.

I know that following Jesus can be dangerous. That has always been true.

But maybe the greater danger is in keeping a safe distance. We can fool ourselves into thinking that what it means to be a Christian involves only pew-sitting, and 10%. We can trick ourselves into thinking the abundant life happens just an hour a week and then wonder why God doesn’t seem very real.

But the person who never steps out in faith, never takes a step closer, might never learn the joy that comes from watching God squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle.