Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Think He May Be Serious

It's really too bad that the word epic has been overused and likely lost some of its power. It's also a shame that when I tell you Numbers 16 is epic, most of you will roll your eyes and choose not to believe. But this would make for some really cool scenes in a movie. Here it is;

Moses is being opposed by his followers and this time it's not about food and water. This time it's old-fashioned jealousy. The main guys opposing Moses are Korah, Dathan and Abiram. The Levites can't stand that Moses is so holy. Moses can't stand their whining, so like every smart child, they take it to the parent, in this case, God.

So God sets up a showdown. Everyone lights a censer, though they won't be needed, and are told to appear at the entrance of the Tent. God shows up and tells everyone to step away from Korah, Dathan and Abiram. It's at this point that one has to assume it's either because they are super-holy and no one should stand near them. Or it's because they are about to be smited by the Mighty Smiter. God smiting people always makes for great blogging.

Unfortunately for the threesome, it's the latter. Moses starts talking about how the unnatural death they will die shows that God has sent Moses. Before he finishes, God opens the ground beneath them and swallows the Terrible Three whole. Well, that indeed is unnatural.

What happens next is bizarre. The rest of the Israelite people blame Moses for killing God's people. Right, because Moses made the ground split apart. So God tells Moses and Aaron to step back from the people so He can do some more smiting. Thinking quick, Moses tells Aaron to take fire from the altar and hurry to where the people are so he can make atonement for their latest of sins.

We're told that Aaron runs into the midst of the assembly and stands between the living and the dead, in effect stopping the plague from killing anymore Israelites. The picture is breath-taking, Aaron with chest pounding, creating a one-man line between the living and the dead. It would be an amazing movie sequence.

All that aside, I think God may take His holiness and the calling of His people seriously. And I think that most of us would have no problem seeing God this way. We may not totally understand it. We may prefer to see and discuss a God of love. But we are quick to acknowledge it.

Yet how quick are we to acknowledge that God is Love? Despite the gross misinterpretations of what Jesus did, most will admit to seeing a different picture of God in the New Testament than we did in the Old Testament. If the Old Testament shows God's justice, then the New Testament shows God's grace and mercy.

If the last two paragraphs are true (albeit very, very basic) then why don't we take God's love as serious as His justice? We're so quick to assume that tornadoes and hurricanes are the judgment of God. There is no shortage of articles talking about America's impending doom because we're not treating Israel as we should. (They may be right, what do I know?)

But when good things happen, no one asks why they happen to bad people. We know how to live in fear. What we don't know is how to live in God's promises. God has told us He loves us and wants to give us good things. Maybe we should take Him seriously.

Friday, May 27, 2011

If Darwin Prayed


If Darwin Prayed appears to be a resource book. I'm not sure it's one I will use. Written by Bruce Sanguin, it is subtitled Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics.

Bruce offers prayers for every season in Church life. Are you looking for something that hasn't been overused for Christmas, Easter and everything in between? You'll find that here. But you may not like what you find.

Bruce begins by offering an explanation for what he has offered. He's just a pastor trying to ensure that prayers and liturgy offered up match what he believes to be true. But he's done a lot more than change 'thee' and 'thou' to 'you'. Convinced that Darwin was on to something and offered theology a gift when he made Christians consider how science and theology match up, Bruce decries that it's taken too long for our worship to catch up. Thus, the new prayers.

I'm sensing that my own bias is starting to come through. Yes, I believe I may have to differ with Bruce on his conclusions for what Darwin has offered as well as the veracity of evolution. But that's not my problem with this book.

The idea that other Christians may not believe exactly as I believe or live exactly as I live is not a scary thought. After all, if God can be creative enough to make all this diversity, I am small enough to celebrate it and not decry it.

My problem is that the focus of these prayers may not be on God.

It would seem that a resource like this that offers itself as beneficial to evolutionary mystics is more focused on the evolutionists and the mystics than it is God. What I mean is that, when we pray, if our prayers only remind us of what we already believe to be true, then it makes me wonder if that prayer is really a prayer. Perhaps it is. But maybe it is another manifesto of what we think.

It might be like the Calvinist who thanks God for being predestined or the Wesleyan who thanks God for potlucks. While those both may be true, should we pray details about us...or God?

Ever so slightly, the focus turns inward rather than God-ward. After reading several of the prayers, I couldn't shake the word agenda from my mind. The prayers themselves, if I heard them without the commentary of this book, might seem harmless. Having the author's purpose clearly in mind, however, it was hard to get past phrases like evolutionary grace, oneness with the Universe, and the constant pushing of a billion-year universe that has evolved over time.

While I enjoyed reading of a different perspective, I would have to search carefully before using anything in a worship service I was leading.

I received this book from my good friends over at SpeakEasy. They give me books and I say things about it. That's just what friends do.

Bruce's helpful companion site: http://ifdarwinprayed.com/

A YouTube introduction to the site, and book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGV1ZEZBd_I

#SpeakEasyDarwinPrayer

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Is This Really About?

I have a cousin who was once an extra for a big movie. Let me re-state that. I have a friend whose cousin's sister's best friend was once an extra in a made-for-TV movie. Yeah, that's right. I have connections to Hollywood. You may now commence admiring me.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone like that? They know someone who knows someone who landed a spot in a big crowded scene of a movie. "Yeah, I was the third person to the left of the truck in the way back when (insert real star here) went walking by. You have to look real close and be sure not to blink, but I'm there."

It's not exactly the 'big break' that we make it out to be, is it? And yet we'll talk for years about that one scene, especially if it was us in the scene. Then maybe we'll talk about it for a lifetime. Thinking about this led me to this question;

Have you ever watched a movie and hoped it was about one of the extras? Of course not. It would be sheer madness to go to a movie and then be upset when they did not show enough about the extras.I really wanted to know more about taxi driver #3.

So why do we do that in life? We make life to be about us, when it's not. We become exceedingly frustrated when we do not see enough time and energy spent on ourselves. But we rarely see that the frustration stems from a plot that has been stolen and made to be about a stage hand or a stuntman or yes...an extra.

Because, after all, this story is not about us. I hate to be the one to break it to everyone, but...we are the extras. Hi, I'm random guy #5,397,427.

One of my favorite verses is found in Paul's letter to the Colossians.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. ~Colossians 2:16-17
The reality is Jesus Christ! He is the mega-star that this whole story is about. Up to this verse, Paul has been going over how we need to live our lives in Jesus. We need to not be fooled by other 'extras' who try to divert our attention. After all, it's not about them either. Who is this really about?

It should be enough to us that we are even allowed in the same story. But we should never become confused and think that we are co-stars. We are the extras. Our significance is found in Christ.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's Not A Crisis

I have been thinking about the differences between motorcycles and moped recently. This is because I purchased one. Which one will be revealed as you read on. Here are the differences I thought of.

When you buy a motorcycle you also purchase a leather jacket and a helmet, preferably one with flames on it.
When you buy a moped your wife laughs uncontrollably when you mention buying a leather jacket and a helmet with flames on it.

When you buy a motorcycle you do not ask questions.
When you buy a moped you ask your wife how fast she's comfortable with you going on said moped.

When you buy a motorcycle you pity any animal that gets in your path.
When you buy a moped you worry that any animal might cause you to flip, then laugh as it continues across the road.

When you buy a motorcycle people hear you coming from a mile away.
When you buy a moped people wonder what that buzzing noise is until they hear you honking your horn that is reminiscent of a clown horn.

When you buy a motorcycle and you see other motorcycles on the road you give the rider that tough-guy nod.
When you buy a moped and you see other mopeds on the road, you think twice about waving so that they don't swerve into oncoming traffic.

When you buy a motorcycle you travel in packs of other rough-looking riders.
When you buy a moped you travel alone...so very alone.

This is me with my biker babe.

My wife refuses to buy me a leather jacket and she's been hiding my flame-filled helmet. When I told her that I noticed women pointing at me as I rode by, she told me it wasn't for the reasons that I thought it was. She may be right.

I'm a dork!

Don't be fooled by the beautiful girl that was begging for a ride. All 3 of my children think this is the coolest moped ever. What they don't get is that it is still...a moped. Their ignorance of this fact is evidenced everytime we see a group of motorcyclists go by. My oldest daughter screams with excitement, 'You should join them, Daddy!' Since I have no desire to be mocked, I simply decline.

Just trust me when I say that I have not fallen short in some mid-life crisis.
I plan on living well into my hundreds, so this could hardly be called my mid-life crisis. Perhaps this was my 1/3 of the way speed bump. But...

I think I messed it up. I've messed plenty of stuff up before, but I never would have figured I would have messed this up. I've watched plenty of people go through this, so I thought I had it figured out.

Either way you look at it, it's not a crisis. That is, as long as I avoid eye-contact with motorcyclists and running into any large squirrels.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chik-Fil-A: My Church Experience

You must understand that as a regular reader of Jon Acuff's blog Stuff Christians Like, my walking into a Chik-Fil-A was filled with expectations. He has written about them several times, but you can read the first by clicking here.

He's written more, but linking you to all of them just may distract you from reading my blog today. Plus, do I have to do everything for you? His blog has a handy search button. (See, there I go again talking about his blog....where was I even going with this?)

So as I walked into the Chik-Fil-A I was expecting it to be like a church service. I wasn't disappointed. This, despite the fact that there weren't greeters at the door. The greeters at my church aren't usually at the door either. But here's a few other ways I did find similarities.

1. Once there, it was my choice whether or not I was fed.

Now obviously I was there to eat. And I was plenty hungry. But just because I knew my need did not mean that I had to fill it. It was my choice to go up to the counter and request some food to eat. Just in case this isn't self-explanatory for the Church, imagine your pastor having to force feed you the Bible and prayer. It doesn't work, plus it'd be kind of awkward for both of you. You know you're hungry. Come ready to eat.

2. The employees look for ways to serve.

It's in their language. They ask questions like, 'How can I serve you?' They are 93.5% friendlier than any other place on the Earth, including Church. (That's part of the problem.) I was inside for less than 10 minutes and yet I had 3 different workers ask me if I had been taken care of yet. The employees weren't looking to do the least work possible.

Like evangelists who had tasted the goods, they were eager to pass on the heavenly tasty experience.

How much better would it be if we who have been in the church were like that? If we've tasted and seen that the Lord is good, how about making sure others are served a plate?

3. The Church should expect to be taken advantage of by others.

As I was waiting for my food I watched a very interesting exchange between one of the workers and another customer. The day I happened to be there, Chik-Fil-A was celebrating kids. They were doing that by offering a free kid's meal for every adult meal ordered. It was presumed that you would have kids with you to eat the kid's meal. This guy did not, but when he asked if he could still have the free kid's meal the worker responded, 'I have no way of knowing if you have kids or not.'

Yes, the customor could have taken that as his hint that the free meals did not apply to his situation. He did not. Instead, he asked for the toy to be removed, since he obviously would not need that, since he had no kid.

The worker was never rattled, even though he was not oblivious. The deal was out there and he met the obligation. He did not lecture the customer or even look like he was surprised. I think the Church should be more like this, ready to give away our all. We have been given a free gift worth far more than some chicken, and we should be ready to be taken advantage of by others.

People want free stuff and Christians should be willing to give. We should not be surprised if our 'customers' take advantage. So, are you ready to be at least as friendly and welcoming and ready to serve as a Chik-Fil-A worker?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Love Wins; The Prequel


I should probably start this out with some understandings about this post.

First, I have not read Love Wins. I titled my post in a cheap attempt to drum up traffic to my blog.

Second, I have read many other blogger's responses to Love Wins by Rob Bell.

Lastly, reading what other bloggers said about a book does not even remotely make me an expert. But it would seem as if all the ruckus is about Bell's beliefs, specifically regarding Heaven and Hell.

So I listened to Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. While I am normally behind the times, I am not (usually) this far behind. I had a 5-hour drive and the audio version comes in at 4 hours in length, making it a good choice.

It seems to em that people having a problem with Rob Bell's theories now from Love Wins should have spoken up about 10 years ago. The same ideas are all right there. They may not be spelled out as distinctly, but isn't that part of the problem. In Velvet Elvis, Rob seems pretty comfortable at throwing what have been viewed as fundamental beliefs outside. Mind you, he doesn't throw them in the trash. Rather, he seems to want to take them out and play with them, similar to when you visited your grandma's house and got stuck playing with your parent's 30-year old toys.

Early in the book he uses a trampoline as a picture of God. He says the mat is God, but the springs around the mat are our ideas about God. He said it better than this and I realize I am likely over-simplifying this. He says that although we must be careful not to replace truth with current fancy, we have to at least be able to talk about our ideas about God.

He spend the next several movements (chapters) describing how Christians have been changing beliefs about God since the beginning of Christendom. Again, we're not changing God or the truth about God, just our understanding of who God is and how He operates.

There were things I agreed with and things I did not. I'm fairly certain that, at one point, Bell affirms the essentials that we should all agree on. But in that way that has made Bell famous, he continued to push the envelope, asking questions, and often leaving the reader wondering what

he

thought

about

anything!

Perhaps the best thing I got from the book was Rob's focus on how we see ourselves. He differentiated seeing Sin as an act versus Sinner as an identity. God calls us saints. God refers to us as holy. But we say we're just sinners saved by grace, as if that flatters God by acknowledging His grace. He knows He offers grace. Us saying it won't help matters. But finally admitting we are God's children and nothing less could do amazing things as we live. A fat man does not live an athletic lifestyle unless he believes he is becoming an athlete.

We are not done creating. We are not done asking questions. Will Rob Bell ever be done asking questions? I doubt it, but I think that's his point. The only question left for this review is whether or not you'd be interested in reading the book and considering these possibilities. Well?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Attention Is Not Always Good

I remember "those bad kids" that seemed incapable of staying out of trouble for longer than a week in elementary school. Oh, we might have a couple of days go by without incident, but sure enough, they'd soon be spotlighted for something mischievous. They were kind of like Disney-star-turned-pop-music-superstar in that way.

My mom always said they were bad because they needed more attention from adults. I guess that explains why my sisters always got more attention than I did.* I was generally a well-behaved kid, which means I had to do good things in order to receive attention from teachers at school.

It sounds like I am patting myself on the back. I'm not. The truth is, good or bad, it could be said that every kid was performing for their share of attention. It shouldn't be that way. This is not a diatribe against our education system or the way teachers do their job. The simple fact is that if we were all comfortable with who we are, the performance wouldn't be necessary.

But we're not. We have convinced ourselves that we need more. More attention, more applause and more people telling us that we are worthy. It's a disease that is killing us from the inside. So often we look to the outside sins to judge our goodness on our own imaginary scale. But Jesus was clear in His sermon on the mount that sin starts from the inside. It stems from our hearts.

Unlike most of my do-it-yourself home projects, we were created right from the start. God didn't need a second shot at making us. We were created perfectly and had perfect union with our Creator. Then we were fooled...

We were made to believe that a simple fruit could give us what the Creator of that fruit could not. We were told that there was more than everything. We were fooled into thinking if we got more attention and more accolades from someone...anyone, then we would be content.

We who live with God after Jesus are also fooled into thinking that we are the uber-blessed. Without question, we have all we have ever needed with Jesus Christ and more. But I believe the Old Testament gets the short end of the stick when we assume they were under the weight of an unfair set of rules. To be sure, Paul said we're better off living in freedom than under the law. Just read Romans and you get that idea clearly throughout.

But for all of the many laws and regulations, it is almost as if God was trying to use the k.i.s.s. method with His people. We would do well to keep it simple and remember that we are all too often, well, stupid. In Leviticus 26, after going over the myriad of ways that worship would be acceptable to God, it is interesting that it only takes God a few paragraphs to say how awesome life would be if His people obey. But it takes twice as many words to say all the things that would go wrong. This isn't the only place we see blessings and curses, but the contrast is undeniable.

Stop vying for the attention, good or bad. Give your attention to the One who is worthy. Do this and good things are bound to follow.

*I said that because I know my sisters will read this and react. They love the attention!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Jesus Creed for Students


Scot McKnight has written a very useful tool for youth pastors and their students. The Jesus Creed for students is a quick 100-page read that walks teens through the Great Commandment.

First of all, I love books that keep it simple. This premise is very simple. We should be loving God and loving others. No, it's not always simple to do that, but when we keep the simple goal in mind, we can always deal with a little complexity.

Scot, along with co-authors Chris Folmsbee and Syler Thomas, keeps it practical by encouraging teens to begin and end each chapter by reciting the Great Commandment and the Lord's Prayer. Without being explicit about it, they walk the reader through the Sermon on the Mount. It's hard to argue against that for good practical teaching.

I think this would be a very useful tool for youth ministry. The brevity and the breakdown of the chapters would lend itself to a small group study. While not written specifically in curriculum format, there are discussion questions highlighted throughout each chapter. Plus it has the encouragement of reciting what Scot refers to as the Jesus Creed each day and at each reading.

If there is any criticism to offer, it would be that this seems very much like an edit off Scot's original book, The Jesus Creed. While I have not read the original, or the devotional that came shortly after, at time sit felt that the student version was done quickly and that the only edits were to insert words like teenager into appropriate places. For some teens, it will feel like it was too watered down. For others, they might feel like it doesn't seem written for them.

Overall, I believe the content is for all ages. So I will likely use this with my students.

I received this book for free from my good friends at Paraclete Press. They ask me to say something about the book, but not what to say. So I do.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

House

Home. It’s where we come back to at the end of the day. It’s where you hang your hat. It’s where you leave the rest of the world behind and rest. That’s not a bad thing, but…

What if you go home and ignore the needs that must be met? What if the world is being neglected because everyone is hiding out at home?

That’s the start of what’s going on in Israel when the Jews are allowed to return to their homeland. Their focus and their priorities become crystal clear to God. When a prophet named Haggai jumps on the scene, it’s been 16 years and the Jews have only managed to build their own homes.

God asks the question that shouldn’t have had to be asked. ‘What about ME?’ (Gulp)

The people were building and tidying up their own houses and left God’s house a pile of rubble. What’s up with that? That’s what God wants to know. It’s not that He needs shelter from, well, from anything.

But it does say something about a people who were chosen by God that they just haven’t gotten around to building His Temple. This once proud nation had a Temple so glorious that people travelled the world over just to see it. It says something about a group of people who had been banished from their land for, among other reasons, a lack of focus on God.

God begins to clarify a few things for His chosen nation. It leads to action on their parts. The people respond with obedience. But what about us?

Are we in a similar situation today? Have we come home to focus on ourselves at the peril of letting our priorities fall out of whack? Are we in need of a messenger to come point out the obvious? If we don’t see God in action, maybe it’s because we haven’t taken care of Job #1.

Jesus said as much when He encouraged followers to let dead people bury dead people and leave families wondering where the faithful have gone (Luke 9:57-60). Followers of God have to always remember that priorities begin with God. We all have expectations for our time. It’s time we realized that God has expectations as well.

Are you ready to re-focus and re-prioritize? Are you ready to come back to your first love? Are you ready, or will you stay at home?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just One in a Very Long Line

It's not too often when I can say that I starved myself and it was one of the greatest feelings of the year. This past weekend it was my distinct privilege to participate in World Vision's 30 Hour Famine with my youth group. I had 12 teenagers agree, without a gun to their head, to go without food for 30 hours.

With some incentives along the way, they raised $2,025! I am so very proud of them. It would be very easy for me to sit back and applaud myself and my group that this event went very well. But that would be very unlike the insignificance I seek. My response will be like the servant Jesus talked about in Luke 17:7-10, "[I] have only done [my] duty."

See, what we did was a good thing. I have deep hope for the money to have great impact. But we are not the first. Nor will we be the last. We did not raise the most or suffer the greatest. My hope is for us to be counted worthy of serving God in a long line of those who have given up something so that God can be glorified.

This picture has become clearer to me in recent days. I finished the book of Leviticus. (It only took me 2 months!) Near the end, in Leviticus 24, God commanded the Israelites to bring Moses and Aaron oil for the lampstands in the Tabernacle.

"Order the People of Israel to bring you virgin olive oil for light so that the lamps may be kept burning continually. Aaron is in charge of keeping these lamps burning in front of the curtain that screens The Testimony in the Tent of Meeting from evening to morning continually before God. This is a perpetual decree down through the generations. Aaron is responsible for keeping the lamps burning continually on the Lampstand of pure gold before God."
The lamps were to be kept lit continually, generation after generation. God called it a 'perpetual decree'. So that means that once Aaron lit the lamp, the light was not supposed to go out. Keep in mind they weren't using trick candles.

This means that one of the priests needed to be on guard 24/7 at the Tabernacle. They needed to ensure that the lamps did not go out. As they got older they would need to train the younger. When the lamps were transferred to the Temple in Solomon's day they would need to be perpetually lit. From generation to generation.

I imagine a priest during the time of King David, or later, fulfilling his duty. Most days it was all the same. Check the lamps. Add more oil. But perhaps every once in a while he would give it just a little bit more thought. He would remember reading of Moses and Aaron and recall that it was long ago that God first decreed that the lamps be lit.

I imagine he would feel very small at that moment. He was just one priest of many, fulfilling his duty. He was just one priest in a line of priests who had remained faithful at keeping the lamps lit. How awesome to ponder the many years and the many priests that had performed these same tasks, to the glory of the same God.

We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. Each of us is just one in a very long line.