Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Jesus?

Why Jesus?

It sounds like a very callous question, especially written by a pastor. But there it is and I’ll ask it again.

Why Jesus?

After all, we live in a world that offers us many choices, especially for those of us who live in the U.S. And since we have so many freedoms, I have to ask...why Jesus?

Why would someone choose to submit their lifestyle to a Jewish Rabbi from 2,000 years ago? Why would anyone decide that the teachings of Jesus make sense? This is the guy who said we should turn the other cheek if we are hit. This is the guy who said we should love those who hate and despise us. The same guy who said that less of me means more of Him also said my life should be lost. Why would anyone choose Jesus?

Jesus, the same guy who claimed to be God, an absurd thought for the people He came to serve. This is the guy whose own generation didn't seem to get Him, whose own people group didn't really like Him.

But what if referring to Jesus as 'some guy' is a dangerous attitude to take? Are you actually willing to truly investigate who Jesus really is? And if, upon further investigation, you find His words to be true, are you willing to submit your plans to His plan? Why would you be willing to do that? Why would anyone be willing to do that?

Unless everything Jesus said was true....

Why Jesus? Because He is who He said He is.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I Want To Hear

Can you please just tell me what I want to hear? Puh-lease?!? I’ve already given at least 5 seconds of thought to this. Clearly I know what I’m doing. So when I ask for your opinion, you are supposed to understand that ‘your opinion’ is code for ‘just sign off on this.’

I do this mostly with my wife, Jennifer. After being married for almost 15 years, I figured she understood the code. (I say ‘almost 15’ even though we just celebrated 14 a month and a half ago. I think 15 sounds more impressive.) Despite our many years together, she doesn’t understand the code. She insists on giving me her true thoughts, much like Brainy Smurf reminding the other Smurfs of what Papa Smurf always said.

But, much like the other Smurfs, I do what I want. This inevitably leads to any number of conversations that end with Jennifer saying, ‘I told you so.’ Supposedly she doesn’t find great thrill in that. I’m not so sure. Predictably she’ll remind me of when I originally asked for her opinion. Geesh! Some women clearly don’t understand communication.

This reminds me of the boys in Jeremiah 42. I already discussed Jeremiah 42 here. Without retelling the entire story, let’s just say that the boys, some army guys go up to Jeremiah to ask for prayer. They want God’s opinion on their next move.

Jeremiah doesn’t understand the code anymore than Jennifer does. He actually gets God’s opinion. It turns out that God knows what the army guys want to do and He wants them to do something different. In fact, God goes so far as to describe in detail what bad things will happen if they carry out their plan.

They do what they want anyway.

Does this sound like any child, teen or adult you've ever worked with? Why? What do people say to deceive themselves? It seems to me that people can hear about consequences but answer with the following.

~That person must be jealous of my great idea.
Never mind that we respect them enough to seek their approval. Never mind that they may actually make a good point. Somehow, someway, they are jealous.

~It can't happen to me.
I think it was when I had my first child that the possibilities of every harmful or dangerous thing in this world first entered my mind. I’d thought of death, but that was clearly reserved for people that weren’t me. Storm warnings? No, this storm will die before it comes near my home. Car accident? Nope, I know how to drive.

Warnings are clearly a waste of your breath because of my imperviousness to any harm. What? I’m not impervious? Oh.

~It'll be different when I do this.

Yes, I know that 10 guys just jumped off a diving board into a pool with no water. Yes, I can see they all have broken arms and legs. Yes, I am still going to jump. Why? Because I will land differently.

~Maybe God is kidding.
Ok, maybe they don't say this. But the people of Judah were clearly not taking God's words seriously.

Do you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cliff Falls

I'm trying to figure out which kind of childhood star to tell you to imagine. Should I give you someone like Drew Barrymore who was first seen in E.T.? It seems like it would be more fun to poke fun at Danny Bonaduce. Not that the Partridge Family wasn't top-notch. Everything else has come back. Why not that family?

But if we are to actually talk about this book, you're going to want to imagine Gary Coleman or Todd Bridges, you know, poster children for troubled childhood stars. Because that seems to be the mold that author C.B. Shiepe has gotten Clay Grant, childhood star from the fictional Little Guy Mike.

Clay Grant is as troubled as they come. Used and abused by adults who should know better than to view a kid as a cash cow, Clay grows cynical. And why not? He doesn't know who he is or who he even wants to be.

The description on the back was enough to intrigue me.
In a world where entertainment has become our religion and religion our entertainment, Cliff Falls wrestles with the question of what it means to be truly human -comfortable in our own skin when everyone wants us to be someone or something else.


I was not disappointed. This was a quick and easy read with more than one character leaving you asking questions throughout. If you've ever asked questions about identity, then I recommend you take a spare day to read thsi book.

Cliff Falls is a novel by C.B. Shiepe, given to me for review by my great friends at The Ooze.
http://clifffalls.com

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Job's Friends or Job's Foes

So in the midst of the story that never ends, between hearing Job's friends accuse him and Job proclaim his innocence, a thought occurs to me.

Job's friends weren't all wrong.

This story is too often painted with a hero named Job and 3 guys who could have been better friends. Ok, maybe their theology was a little too simplistic and Job wasn't the mass murderer that they may have considered him to be. After all, God did tell Satan that Job was righteous. but God never did say Job was perfect.

In Job 22, Eliphaz makes some good points. Are any of us actually innocent? In fact, Elihu, that young punk of a man, makes the best points when he accuses Job of placing his own self-righteousness above the righteousness of God. After all, if we aren't the ones in the wrong, then someone else must be. And in this story, who is left? Do you really want to blame God?

Job took awfully great pains and many, many words to convince his friends he was blameless in all this. We often do the same, don't we? 'I'm not worthy of being mistreated like this,' we'll say. We may have sin, but not enough to warrant punishment, certainly not enough to necessitate God getting involved with plagues or anything like that. That should be reserved for politicians and people named Pharaoh.

But when we see our sin as God sees our sin, it is a different story. Our sin, even one little sin, is as black as black can be. Contrast it with the perfect unblemished whiteness of God and it becomes easy to see how even a little sin can be spotted. Like a spaghetti stain on my son's yellow shirt, it will not be missed.

It's ok though, because God has us covered. The sacrifice of Jesus was more than enough to cover the sin-stains on our hearts. Your heart, my heart...even Job's heart. The next time we get all wordy and start talking about how innocent we are, we should keep in mind that Job's friends weren't all wrong.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Longsuffering & Suffering Through Long Reads

Why is the book of Job so long? Seriously.

This is the book of Job in short form.

God was chillin', ya know, doing what He does, when the angels and Satan show up.

God: Check out Job. I like him so much better than you, Satan.
Satan: You know I could put the hurt on him and he'd hate you.
God: Try it.

The Satan beat down on everything Job had, killing his animals and children.

Job's Wife: Your life really stinks.
Job: I love God. I'll deal with it.
Job's Wife: Whatevs.

Back up in Heaven, God and Satan raise the stakes.

Satan: I've got this new beta-test of a disease I'd like to test out on Job.
God: You're so full of yourself. Go for it, but prepare to be owned.

So Satan makes Job actually regret the day he was born.

Job: I regret the day I was born.
Friend 1: You probably did something wrong to deserve this.
Job: No I didn't.
Friend 2: I'm with Friend 1. I think you're a sinner.
Job: I'm telling you, I didn't do anything wrong.
Friend 3: Sinner.
Job: Stop saying that.

Then a 4th friend stops in to say hi and tells all 3 friends that they're whack. Then God shows up and, instead of answering any questions, asks a whole bunch of better questions, putting Job and his friends in their place. After Job agrees, God restores Job's previous wealth and adds even more.

Job: Thanks God. I knew I could count on you.
God: You're welcome.
Job: There's just one thing I'd like to know. Why did you even mention my name to Satan?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Coffeehouse Theology

Sometimes what you expected and what you get are two different things. Take for instance, this book I got called Coffeehouse Theology; Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, by Ed Cyzewski. I know you can't judge a book by its' cover, but...

On the cover is a cup of coffee and some napkins with doodles on them. On the back cover we read quotes like, 'Theology should breathe life and unity among God's people...' and 'Whether in a community, in a coffeehouse, or by e-mail, discussion and application of theology is essential. Joining the conversation is easy.'

According to Ed, ummm....no it's not. Not unless 13-step processes are easy. What I expected was a discussion on pressing issues of our culture today and how different viewpoints can coexist. What I got was a very in-depth study on how to do contextual theology.

Ed tells us, quite correctly, that none of us have a corner on truth. We can know and value truth, but we must acknowledge that we don't have all the truth. Great point, although in another section he writes that God is someone we get to know after we know who we are and how we see the world. I can't agree with that. Rather, I would argue that we can only truly know who we are after we kno who God is, for it is God who gives us our true definitions.

Now, once I knew what I had, there were many great aspects of this book. First, Ed writes that 'theology - the act of reflecting on God - should change both how we think and how we live.' Then most of the rest of the book is revolving around all the different points of view one should take when considering God and His book, our Bible.

Contextual Theology involves reading the Bible, considering how other cultures read and interpret the Bible, considering how previous cultures read and understood the Bible, considering the many Traditions of the Church, the Global Church, the Local Church...oh, and the Holy Spirit. If that list sounds involved, it is.

And while I agree that we should be considering all these things, it made for somewhat involved reading, nothing like what William Dyrness wrote on the back cover recommendation, 'With wit and grace, Cyzewski shows how theology not only connects us with God but also moves us out of ourselves into loving ministry next door and around the world.' Ed certainly wrote intelligently and proved his point well, but this is no light coffeehouse reading.

It felt sort of like a movie that spends most of the time introducing characters and then 15 minutes of action. The last couple of chapters got into some discussion on how all these differet viewpoint will affect topics which Christians disagree about. I suppose like the movie, I could wait for the sequel to have more action.

Coffeehouse Theology was given to me for review by Viral Bloggers (www.theooze.com).
http://inamirrordimly.com - Ed Cyzewski's Theology and Culture blog and book information
http://edcyz.com - Ed Cyzewski's Professional Writing blog

Friday, September 17, 2010

I'm Not Guilty

So Reggie Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy. I don't want to get into the ins and outs of USC and how they did or didn't break the rules. But when giving it back, Reggie said that it wasn't an admission of guilt.

It sounds to me like he got advice. 'Give it back and you keep people off of you either way.' I could be wrong. But I'm not sure what else makes you give back an award you won if you believe you won it fair and square.

In Job 27:5-6, Job is speaking back against his good friends who keep telling him to admit he's a sinner. Job remains stubborn. 'I will not deny my integrity.' Good for you, Job! If you didn't do it, don't admit to it.

I realize that the guilty people aren't prone to admit their faults either, but that proves nothing here. If someone says they didn't do it, we should at least acknowledge the possibility that they are saying that because...they didn't do it!

I'm not a college football fan. I'm no fan of USC or Reggie Bush. I'm also not to keen on Job. Sometimes he strikes me as a whiner. But I know at least one judicial system that says that innocence is the default, not guilt.

Have you ever been accused of something you didn't do? Have you ever paid the penalty for something you didn't do?

My kids have been complaining lately about the recess time they have lost because others in the class are talking. But sometimes innocent people are wrongly accused and suffer the consequences. If only I could think of One Guy who did no wrong and yet paid the price for all.

He was innocent and He will not give back the prize for which He fought. That's a prize we can all keep.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

VeggieBands

I could be a millionaire if only I took my nonsense thinking to the next level. Isn't that what's making people money these days? Take a stupid idea and see if you can get other people to emulate you and give you money to do so.

Take these silly rubber band bracelets that have exploded in popularity. I have been wearing plain old rubber bands for years. People have always asked me why. By 'people' I mean my wife and by 'asked me why' I mean 'ridiculed me for wearing rubber bands. I was wearing old rubber bands long before the rubber bracelets to support Haiti, Lance Armstrong and my youth group ever came along.

If only I had applied myself and discovered this market of small people. I really don't understand how this is supposed to work. My daughters both collect them. The youngest puts her entire collection on one arm. She remind me of a toddler version of Gem and the Holograms. Or maybe one of those dance videos with Cyndi Lauper. Either way, they spend more time taking them off to show the shapes to their friends.

And now, in the height of their popularity, you guessed it, rubber band bracelets that shout out your love for Jesus. Now your kid can rock the cross, or an ichthus symbol, or the outline of a church building. For kids who want to go more street, there are VeggieBands. Whew. I was concerned my kid might not connect with the other children at recess.

At least when I was wearing the plain rubber bands I had a purpose. You never know when you might need to hold together a group of pens, pull back a girl's hair, or retaliate when a full-on rubber band war started in your office. When the time comes, I'm locked and loaded.

My real question here is this. Does the introduction of a Christian version of something this popular signal the end? Will this become something within the month that Christians hold on to because of its' witnessing power? I hope not. As a pastor who works with children, the ability to pass these out as prizes could help my budget. My order for 10 cases is already sent and paid for.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

For Love of the Game

A love for the game has been born. I took my 7-year old son to a high school football game recently. Granted, high school football isn't always the most quality, but I'm not sure it mattered that a field goal was not going to be made...at all...ever.

The boy was hooked. I think it was mostly the snack money his mom sent with him. But by the second half his cheers and jeers could be heard above all others in our section. He got excited at all the right times, and sadly for the home team, disappointed at all the disappointing times.

This wasn't all that surprising. He watches sports with me at home. But the level of intensity that he maintained the whole game almost made me want to calm him down. (He screams really loud...and it's high-pitched too.)

It kind of reminds me of when someone becomes a new Christian. Have you ever been around this person? As Lieutenant Dan explained to Forrest Gump, it's always, 'Jesus this and Jesus that.' They can't be stopped. They become a 1-person evangelism monster.

Newbie Christian: I want you to understand that God loves you. I want you to know that I've been there, wondering if life was worth it and who had the answers. I want to pray with you right now to receive Jesus as your Savior. That's what I want!
Unprepared Person: I meant what do you want to eat.

Like a cross-culture student, the rest of us veteran Christians stand awkwardly to the side, hoping that our friend will learn the ropes soon enough. If they don't, it will be time for an intervention. We'll explain to our hyper-evangelist that sometimes learning someone's name is a good idea before sharing with them the 4 spiritual laws.

We'll do all this with a twinge of guilt, not wanting them to think that our own fire has died. But perhaps, instead of hoping the newbie Christian will calm down, we should remember what it was like when we first understood that God loved us. Unlike the football game which may grow tired, God's love never grows old.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Star Light, Star Bright

I woke up very early this morning. I saw a sky full of beautiful stars. I love mornings like this. Less than two hours later, the stars had disappeared. But I didn't worry about where they went. Though I can't see them, I know they are still there. I do look forward to seeing them again. I can picture them in my mind.

There is a Morning Star which I have seen. Though I cannot see Him now, I am not concerned. I know He is still there. I see evidence and can still picture visions of Him in my mind. I long for the day I can see Him again. Face to face. No more veils.

He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). He shines bright.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just Do What You Want

'What is going through your head?' That's what my parents said to me while I was growing up. Even without the question, the look on their face said I should have known better. So I probably should have listened when they warned me about possible dangers.

The most vivid example I have is when I was 5. My parents were avid bowlers, complete with the checkered plaid and matching shirts. They would take me along. That's right. It has left a mark on my life. Whenever I enter a bowling alley, I instinctively crave Kool-Aid in a sippy cup.

They would tell me not to jump on the seats. 'You could crack your head open', my mom would say. Nooooo, that couldn't happen to me. This couldn't possibly be foreshadowing.

I wasn't even wearing those slick bowling shoes, but the next thing I knew, my head had met the corner of the scoring table. I saw blood. Lots and lots of blood. I'm sure I ruined my father's handicap that night as a trip to the ER does not help anyone's game. 5 stitches later I was fine. Only a faint scar reminds me of my disobedient ways. At least I'm not the only one...

In Jeremiah 42, some army officers come to Jeremiah. They are looking for direction. They want to know what God wants form them. They even say things smart Christians have learned never to say, 'No matter if it is good news or bad news from God, we'll listen to what He says.' I'm not saying God is like me, but if someone said that me, I'd deliver the bad news just to see how they would react.

Nevertheless they said it. What they meant was, 'Jeremiah, we want to leave and go to Egypt. Can you pray to God about this and then tell us what we want to hear?' But that's not how Jeremiah rolls. Jeremiah prays and comes back with God's message. God tells them exactly what He knows they're already thinking about doing. He tells them why it's a bad idea. He tells them how He'll punish them if they do it. It's pretty detailed.

They do it anyway.

I have worked with people who do this. They ask my opinion on something. I'm not sure why. Their mind is already made up. It's like my asking my wife if I should have cookies after the kids go to bed. We both know the minute after the last kid is tucked in bed, the Oreos are coming out.

Sometimes we see it coming. Many times our friends see it coming, like the relationship destined to end. All the time God sees it coming. Perhaps next time you ask God what He wants from your life, you should want what He wants more than what you want.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Colors of God...part 3 (of 3)

If you've fallen asleep to my previous 2 posts, you know that I read and reviewed Colors of God by Randall peters, Dave Phillips and Quentin Steen. It's subtitle is Conversations about Being the Church.

It is that topic which they spend the last 3 sections (out of 4) discussing. I appreciated that because while theology and philosophy can be intriguing, it will not make a difference what you say you believe unless it transfers to your daily life. I can talk machismo all I want about being able to stop an oncoming car, but you won't actually find me in the middle of street during rush hour.

Likewise, what we believe about God has implications in how we live out our faith. For instance, they talk a lot about authenticity being a highly valued commodity at their church, so confession is a daily part of church life. In another section they discuss how they feel the word 'sin' no longer does what we as Christians wish it did. This alone will have extreme fundamentalists racing to their favorite pew and hugging their hymnal while crouched in a fetal position. While I don't agree that 'sin' has lost its power as a word, I do like their style of searching for language that will connect us. As God surely knows, we already have too much disconnect.

This is where their chapters on frequently asked questions come in handy. While I would wish for there to be more questions answered, at least they have thought out what they believe.

So, let's get interactive. Do you consider how your faith affects your daily life? What is one area you see us as a Church missing this connection between what we say we believe and what we actually live out?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Colors of God...part 2

Yesterday I gave an overview of a book I recently read, Colors of God". Written by leaders of a church in Canada called neXus, it forced me to consider my beliefs yet again. I don't think this is a bad thing. Jeremiah, in the midst of all his whining..er...weeping, said, "Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD (Lamentations 3:40).

So what the authors, Randall Peters, Dave Phillips & Quentin Steen, did was to write about the core beliefs that drove their actions. This first part was by far the largest section. But laying a foundation is the most important part of any building or project, right?

The part that forced me to pay attention was in their explaining what kind of church they wanted to be. They were at a National Pastors Convention (always a rowdy party) and were listening to an exchange between 'someone from the floor' and Doug Pagitt, an Emerging Church pastor and author and also a presenter at the convention.

Someone: You must have some non-negotiables. I mean, certainly, we must maintain the deity of Christ beyond all other things, right?
Pagitt: Or not.

The Colors of God authors loved this line. I paused.

This was clearly new ground for someone who had been raised, and continues to work in, admit-ably conservative corners of the Church. If nothing else, it made sure I paid attention for the rest of the book, for fear that something would just be slipped in.

As I continued in this book, it became clear that while they were not attempting to start a new fad or religion, they did think that questions were good. I'm not sure I can disagree. If questions lead us to truth, then questions are a very good thing. Why should we fear the process? Is God too small to reveal Himself to a new generation? The language may change a bit and the process may look more like a pre-school art contest than a C.S. Lewis essay.

As I said yesterday, I am not sure I agree with everything they said they believed, but the non-negotiables that we often tend to fret over were held firm. By clearly defining their terms and showing how it impacted how they lived, they perhaps opened up a path to freedom in Christ that many have not experienced.

Know what you believe. Live out that belief. Never be afraid to allow Truth stand up to a new challenge. Lies and deceit will always be told like God told the son of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 5:27, "You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Colors of God...part 1


OK, so the Church is broken, now what?
If you're like me, you've read a lot of books containing theory as to the why and the what of church problems and solutions. But what if we had a collaborative effort of church theorist-practitioners who produce solid paradigms, but do so in the context of sharing and testing in a local congregation? We do: It's called The Colors of God.

That's what the review for this book said, so how could I pass it up? After all, my church isn't perfect. And if someone has usable ideas, I would like to use them. Plus, I like colors.

Lots of books propose to start a conversation. This book accomplished that, helped along by the fact that it was a conversation already. It was written as if the three authors sat down and talked about stuff and some poor fourth guy got the enviable job of writing it all down. This made the book easy-to-read as the authors did a good job of stopping each other when clarification was needed.

They divided the book into four colors. For those of us born before sienna and chartreuse were popular, they went with Blue, Red, Green and Yellow.

Blue = Gospel Faith. This is where they tackled some big topics, like discussing how scandalous God's grace may actually be.
Green = Healthy Living. This is where they took their foundation and presented a new paradigm for thinking about Church and relationships.
Red = Community. Lots of conversation about community and authenticity.
Yellow = Cultural Engagement. How? Why?

The conversational style helped. By the last section I felt like I knew where they were coming from and why they felt the way they did. This is not to say that I agreed with everything they said or their interpretation about all the scriptures they used. But I felt safe to disagree because of the openness in which they shared. They even conclude with a short section on how they see their role with the larger church.

The biggest strength of this book is that it does not leave everything concluded. It leaves me free to think and ponder and share the ideas with friends.

This book was provided for free review by my new best friends at theooze.com.

http://nexuschurch.com - the congregation these authors started