Carts

Carts

The other day I went to Home Depot.  I had a small list of things to buy, and decided that a shopping cart was in order.  I have this broken part of my brain that won’t allow me to grab a buggy upon entering a store.  No, instead I go walking through the place grabbing items and juggling them in my arms until I either drop them all, or successfully make it to the checkout line.  The benefit of this is that I don’t often impulse buy, and only get what will fill my arms without falling out.

But on this particular day I knew that I needed to get more, and a cart was in order. Home improvement stores have some strange practices regarding their carts.  There are the regular carts in the line outside the doors, but there are also different types of contraptions for larger items.  These carts (pull carts, and those vertically divided ones) are hidden throughout the store randomly.  This makes shopping more fun, because you have to first find the cart before finding the items you came to buy.  It is like a little Easter egg hunt.  I needed one of these.

The first one that I found was in the paint aisle.  It was staring at me, daring me to just try and take it.  I grabbed in victory, and headed to find the first item on my list. Thumpity-thumpity-thumpity it dragged, a worn out mule.  Looking underneath the cart, I noticed that one wheel had a flat spot where the rubber had worn off.

I abandoned that one, wondering why they didn’t just retire it (no pun intended).  I had already been down a host of aisles before I found that lame cart, so I wondered where the others could be.  I felt like Magnum PI, looking for clues to the case of the missing cart.  I pretended to have a bushy mustache.

Finally, down the lumber aisle I found a grazing herd of carts.  I snuck up behind and grabbed one, quickly heading off to get what I needed, both because now I was behind schedule and so as not to spook the rest of the carts.  A few aisles into my escape I noticed that I, like a hunting lion, seemed pretty good at picking off the weakest of the pack.  This cart pulled constantly to the right, making me muscle it left with every push.

Not to overly spiritualize (OK, I’m over-spiritualizing), but as I sat in my devotions moments ago, I realized that I am very much like these carts.  Broken wheels, I clack along, my progress slower than it should be and loudly complaining the whole way.  With every step forward, I turn my attention to things around me.  I take my eyes off of my goal and soon I find myself headed straight for those distractions, and toward a crash.

In Deuteronomy 30:17-20, God told His people that the wonderful promises He had given them were indeed conditional.  His blessing would become a curse if they turned away.  His promised life would become death—a scary thought.  We scoff at the faithlessness of the Israelites in syncretism and enslavement to idolatry.  How could they be so foolish?

Yet, like my wounded cart, we prove ourselves unable to walk out the things that we commit to.  We list and complain in the deceitfulness of our hearts.  The very things we say we want to do, we forsake.  And the things that we claim to abhor, these are the things we find ourselves doing.  Who will save us from these bodies of death?  Thanks be to Jesus.  On our own, we are nothing but terrible shopping carts.

5 Keys to Reading the Bible

BibleHeaderHere is a list (by no means exhaustive) of a few guidelines to help in reading and applying the Bible to your life.

1. Read the Bible with an eye for genre.

Some biblical critics (meaning people who examine the actual literature of the Bible) look at the text as nothing more than ancient literature.  This causes some Christians to react with statements like, “I take the Bible literally.”  This statement sounds devout, but it is quite absurd.

Psalm 36:7 says “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Jesus follows this same metaphor in Matthew 23:37 saying, “I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”  No one actually suggests that the Bible is saying God is actually a bird.  The text is using a picturesque metaphor.

The Bible is quite robust as literature.  It contains narrative (Genesis, Matthew, et al.), prophetic literature (Daniel, Revelation), Poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), epistles (instructional books like Ephesians), personal letters (to an individual like Philemon), and others.  A person wouldn’t read a love letter the same way that they would read an instruction manual.  In the same way, they shouldn’t read Psalms the same way that they read Galatians.

A lot of problems in understanding the Bible come from not considering the intended purpose of the book they are reading.  For instance, the purpose of Psalms is to glorify God and remember His goodness, not to teach doctrine.  This is not saying that Psalms cannot teach doctrinal truth, or even that it is not the inspired word of God, just that doctrine is not the point of the book.

2.      Get yourself into the heads of the original readers.

Many Bible experts will make the statement, “something in the Bible can never mean to us what it didn’t mean to its original hearers.”  This doesn’t quite make sense, as original readers of prophetic books like Daniel couldn’t quite have understood the completeness of the prophecy.  But this is a generally good guideline to follow in most cases.

For instance, Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10 both state provisions against eating blood.  Some religious people use this as reason for God to be against blood transfusions.  While the Bible neither speaks supportively nor prohibitively specifically about blood transfusions, an original hearer of God’s message in these passages would have not thought about a medical procedure to save someone’s life.  They would have connected it to pagan idol worship that required drinking blood.  Therefore, it is doctrinally quite dangerous to make a leap in applying these passages to a life-saving medical procedure.

3.      Practice Exegesis not Eisegesis

No, this isn’t misspelling Jesus.  These two words refer to interpreting scripture.  Gesis refers to the text of the Bible.  Ex (ek) means out of and eis means into.  For any student of God’s truth, the goal should be to find out what the Bible means, and then apply that meaning to life, even if that isn’t quite what a person really wants the Bible to say.  The opposite of this, eisegesis, is to twist the scripture (or cherry-pick verses out of context) in order to get the Bible to say what a person wants it to say.

A good way to remember the difference is that exegesis is to find out where Jesus is, and place an X in that spot (x-a-Jesus) as the marker for where God wants people to be.  Eisegesis is like putting Jesus on an ice rink, where a person could push him to wherever he’d like Jesus to be (ice-a-Jesus).

4. Allow the Bible be a little bit mean.

Actually, the Bible isn’t really mean.  It is the loving word of God.  But unless a person is perfect, the Bible is going to point out a lot of ways in which humans cannot meet God’s standards.  It has been reported that Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said that if we always find the Bible to be our friend, perhaps we haven’t read it.

The Bible was clearly not written as a self-image booster for humanity.  Whenever a person comes face to face with the presence of God, the first realization is always how unworthy, frail, and weak humanity is when measured by God’s standard.  The second understanding is that God forgives and loves us anyway.  Before a garment can be cleaned, a person must admit that it is dirty.  The same is true with a person’s soul, and the Bible is one of the major ways that God teaches this lesson to humanity.

5. Let the Bible change you.

The Bible is not meant to be merely literature.  The serious student of Jesus should read the Bible asking 3 basic questions:

  • What did God mean by this (especially to the original readers)?
  • How does this meaning apply to me today?
  • What should I do about this?

God never intended people to read His word, smile to themselves, and then go about their daily lives.  He meant it to be poignant, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and potent for changing lives.  Swords were not meant to be decorative wall ornaments.  They were meant for stronger stuff, as is the Bible.

In Defense of “God Damn!”

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Now that I’ve gotten your attention, yes I am talking about the epithet, but no, I am not really defending the curse.  Actually, I would just like to discuss language in general and why it seems to me like we are damning the wrong curse while completely ignoring its far more dangerous cousin.

This weekend I worked an event at the Texas State Fair.  It was for a campaign to screen people for COPD (just google it).  I will be doing a lot of work with the company running this campaign over the next month.  I know that this information seems to move away from any discussion of coarse language, but a few events this weekend made me spend a lot of time thinking about the words that come out of our mouths.

During my work, I had a great time meeting a lot of the people from the advertising company running the campaign.  They were nice, bright, and around my age.  We talked about all kinds of things and as always, they eventually asked about what I do for a living.  I told them.

The life I have chosen is not one which goes by unnoticed when I mention it.  I often try not to broach this subject until I know people a little bit, not because I am embarrassed, but because they always instantly put me in a little mental plastic box.  I become the somewhat strange person that they can observe, but must be kind of careful around.  It is like I’m suddenly Hannibal Lector.  It isn’t very fair to me, I must say.  I haven’t had someone’s liver in years.

One of the most common reactions is “Oh, I’m sorry about my language.  I’ll try to be more careful.”  When they say this, I wonder if they secretly think that they are teaching me to use new forbidden words that I have never before heard.  Like some two year old child, I would be at the platform the next Sunday saying “Screw You” (OK—worse) and then claiming, “I dunno, I heard it at the fair.”

In all truth, I do appreciate their reaction.  It means that they recognize that some of their language is not healthy and that they should do something about it.  I know that it isn’t them fearing me feeling judgmental, because I always tell them it is OK, that they can be normal, and people always then tell me that they need to stop cussing so much anyway.

But in all of these situations, what never seems to change is their use of “god” as a random interjection in sentences.  Sure, if they get angry and say “God Damn it!” they look at me with a guilty look.  This has happened on numerous occasions.  But when they say “Oh god, I’m so tired,” or something like it, they think absolutely nothing about feeling guilty.

This isn’t unique to the secular world, though.  In church, almost on a weekly basis I hear the “God, I _____,” quote emanate from some teenager’s mouth.  In my little kingdom at church, I can say something about this.  I stop and kindly remind them that it is rude to God when we do that, and that He thought it important to even include this as part of the Big Ten.

When someone say s, “God Damn it!” what they are saying is that they are really angry about something.  This phrase literally means, “send this thing to hell.”  I don’t think that this excuses the comment  at all, really.  If someone had done something blatantly blasphemous, or persecuted God’s people, I suppose one could make a case for the appropriate use of that phrase.  I am not sure what I think on that.  It is not our place to play judge and jury, or to call for vengeance.  On the other hand, David and the prophets were often asking for God to do such things.

But when we slip “God” casually into every sentence, the word has no meaning whatsoever.   When I was a teen, I used to say “like” almost every other word for a while.  I wasn’t really comparing things.  In fact, like I didn’t know I was even like saying it at all usually.  Sometimes it still slips into my sentences.

I really think that was the point of God’s prohibition in the Ten Commandments.  In the Exodus 20:7 mention, the one that everyone knows, the word translated from the Masoretic text as “vain” is the Hebrew word “shav.”  In the rest of the Old Testament, this word either refers to meaninglessness, worthlessness, or falsehood.

Psalm 108 uses this word when it says “vain is the help of men.”  Psalm 144 uses shav saying “…whose mouth speaks vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.”  Both of these uses are commonly repeated in the Old Testament.  So which one is the case for the Exodus passage?

Partly , I think it doesn’t really matter.  There is no real doubt that God would want His name to be used falsely.  In fact, that would break another commandment anyway.  The real danger is in using His name without any meaning.  For when God’s name is used in falsehood, the person is trying to use God’s authority for trickery, not something we are commonly tempted to do.  That takes a real desire to rebel against Him.

But when we use God’s name without any meaning at all, it is lowering God’s position in our life to no different than an “and” or a “but”.  Yes, I know that this isn’t consciously done.  But doesn’t that make it even worse?  The fact that God’s people would be throwing His very name around with meaninglessness is deeply offensive to Him.  I think that this is just another reminder of the casualness that we have applied to God.

So let me say something a bit controversial in response to all of this:  There is no biblical precedent for approaching God casually.  It seems to me to be an American concept of God, that he is your best buddy who you can just hang out with.  When I was a kid, I used to tell God jokes at night that I heard during the day.  I still tell Him those jokes.  I think we all should, and I think that He loves that.  I bet He laughs—hard, even though He has already heard them all, and many of them were His inventions in the first place.

But under no circumstances is God our buddy.  He’s the Father, the Maker, The Omnipotent Mover.  Any response to truly being in His presence is nothing even approaching cavalier, but an immense feeling of being altogether different, and a healthy fear, reverence.  When we lose that, we lose our understanding of our place in the universe.  We begin to believe that it is all about us.

We talk about the cross as if God got in a really bad situation ‘cause He just couldn’t live without us, so He had to send His Son for a sacrifice, a last-ditch effort that luckily worked out.  This is very far from the truth, and dilutes power of the cross.  God didn’t need us, he loved us.  We don’t deserve this miracle of atonement.  We deserve judgment.  God never owed us.  He paid a debt we owed Him.

In response, we have changed His name to an “um” in the middle of our sentences.

I am not suggesting that we start screaming and acting like Pharisees to anyone who accidentally copies the same speech patterns of everyone around them.  Instead I am suggesting that His Church start acting Christianly.  I am suggesting that we stop making it cool to be a Christian because we can look like everyone else.  I am suggesting that we stop approaching church as a hang out time with God, because He misses us so much, and we really should stop by and see Him once in a while.

I don’t see God writing a letter to the Church today asking if we could tone down the fancy clothes and the formality.  He might see that as extraneous, but not offensive.  But I am sure that He is hurt by His people making the Cross nothing more than jewelry, His House a hang out place, and His name an interjection in our sentences.

Reference: James Chapter 3, Ephesians 4:29

Back to My Nets

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Peter

I have always felt a strong bond with the biblical character of Peter, one of Jesus followers in the New Testament.  The first time we meet Peter is in Matthew chapter 4.  Peter is a fisherman, the family business.  Like all Hebrew boys, he had done his time in religious school as a small child.  During that time, he learned large sections of the Torah (the Old Testament).

Maybe he stopped after he memorized the first five books, like most Jewish children.  Maybe he promoted and memorized all of the rest.  We don’t know.  But we do know that by the time he met Jesus he had stopped that schooling, meaning that he wasn’t judged good enough to continue.  He would never be found worth carrying the yoke, or teachings, of a rabbi, and no rabbi would assume that Peter would ever be good enough to follow him and learn to do the things the rabbi did.  He just wasn’t good enough.

We don’t know what Peter’s thoughts about all of this were.  Certainly somewhere in the back of his mind he had imagined that he could someday be a famous rabbi, commanding the attention of everyone and gathering followers who had traveled for days in order to hear him speak.  The rabbis of that day were like baseball or movie stars today.  I imagine young Hebrew boys in their backyards, instead of batting at some makeshift ball, playing Sanhedrin with the neighbor kids and making supreme religious judgments as their parents looked on, smiling at their words and at their own beautiful dreams for their children.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, becoming an apprentice fisherman under his dad had to have been a disappointment.  I bet that his parents had put a smiling face on it.  They had all really known that this is how things would end up, but still they had hoped.  Going into the family business isn’t usually the dream of small boys, especially when it is something as inglorious as fishing.  Peter settled into the life that everyone assumed he would always live.

But then, some random Thursday, a rabbi who was achieving sudden stardom amid reports of miracles approaches.  Peter hadn’t seen him on TV, but the rumor mill preceded Jesus travel.  This rabbi looks at Peter and says, “Follow me.”  Peter’s response isn’t surprising in this light.  Someone great was looking at Peter and saying, ‘you are worthy. I believe in you.’  Maybe Peter could achieve what everyone always knew he couldn’t.

Failing

Peter dealt repeatedly in the New Testament with failure.  He was always getting into some kind of trouble.  I am often amused by the fact that in every story of the New Testament where Peter, a fisherman,  and a boat are mentioned, he is failing at his nautical task.  Whether he is simply using a boat as transportation or he is fishing, he is failing at the job.  Even in the later New Testament, Peter is getting into trouble with Paul for taking some controversial stands.

Peter also has some great triumphs, and ultimately Peter stands as one on the list of the most influential men in history.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Peter gives the very first evangelistic sermon.  Peter is one of the most celebrated martyrs.  Peter wrote several books in the New Testament, and Catholics hold Peter up as the first Pope.

But all indications are that Peter constantly battled with feelings of failure.  When Jesus walks on the water, and Peter jumps out to the boat to meet Jesus, he sinks.  I had always assumed that Peter doubted Jesus-that he looked away from Jesus and doubted His power over the waves.  But this just doesn’t make sense.  He saw that Jesus was doing it.  Jesus wasn’t sinking.  Peter was.  He cries out, “Jesus save me!”

Jesus rescues him and replies, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter doubted himself.  He doubted that he could ever actually do what Jesus did.  He had been rejected by the rabbis, deemed unworthy.  Maybe Jesus just hadn’t figured out that Pete was a loser, yet.

Of course the greatest failure from our perspective is Peter’s promise to follow Jesus to the death, followed hours later by multiple denials of even knowing Him.  When things got hard, Peter retreated into the failure that he always knew he really was inside.  He went back to fishing, after falling short in his one big chance for greatness.

Greatness

For me, the most powerful moment of Jesus resurrected appearances comes when Jesus is standing on the shore and the disciples are out fishing together, and again not succeeding at the task.  The men were facing their failure together, and Peter was most likely keeping a secret of his treason, which to him must have seemed ultimately greater than all the others’.

Standing on the shore and calling out to them, was Jesus.  Peter wasted no time and dove in to swim to Jesus on the shore.  He left his nets again.  Jesus asks him three times if he loves him, and then indicates that someday Peter will face persecution for his relationship with Jesus.  This moment changed him.

I identify with Peter for his boldness, for his desire to jump in without a net, to walk on water, and to repeatedly fail at almost everything he did.  I deal with failure and repeated feelings of never measuring up.  In my mind festers a million promises I’ve made and not kept, a thousand times I set out to do something only to quit when it got too hard, or once I got distracted by something new.

I remember my childhood, and Monday, dreaming dreams of what my life could become, only to sink into the harsh reality of just not being good enough.  Never the smartest, nor the fastest, nor the prettiest, just normal enough in all of the normal ways, and abnormal enough to be not quite normal.  This isn’t a pity-party.  It just is.  These feelings aren’t paralyzing.  They just are what I am, and probably what most people out there are too.

But my God is not a good of the pretty people, the fastest, or the smartest.  My God is a God of fishermen and nobodies and not quite good-enoughs.  I serve a savior who said, ‘You aren’t good enough, and you never will be, and that is why I am here.’

I follow Jesus in the footsteps of Peter, not the first Pope (whatever that means), but the guy who failed and went back to failing as a fisherman—the Peter who desperately wanted to follow his rabbi out onto the water and sank.  I try and I fail.  I lie and I lose, and every day I find Jesus on the beach of my failure saying, “Do you love me?”  I fall into His arms and I cry.  He looks me in the eye, and in His gaze I hear, “You are not a failure—because in your weakness I am strong.  I love you and I put destiny inside of you.  Feed my sheep.”

And that is always enough.

Leading a Mutiny?

OldYoungI need to start off this article with a short disclaimer.  I got started down this philosophical road by an article in Matt Crosslin’s blog, which he started as a response to a Relevant Magazine article, “Is There a Church Mutiny Afoot?” I started my part of the discussion several weeks ago, but was unsatisfied with what I’d written.  I felt that my thoughts on the issue were too muddled, and in some ways I still feel that way.  One of the reasons I write this blog is to put legs on ideas, and in so doing, bring a little clarity to them.  That is the only reason I have put this up.  It is important for any reader to understand that none of this is combative, although the issue of Christian ambition does strike a bit of a sore spot with me.  Further, I have no animosity toward Matt or Relevant.  In fact, I feel the opposite.  Some great illumination has come to me through the reading of both.  It is in the healthy debate that I feel the greatest good is served.

“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” G.K. Chesterton

A recent article in Relevant Magazine equated ministry to young adults as a mutiny, particularly when it is “a young adult service” aimed at creating a new expression of worship in a gathering at the church.  I must start this rebuttal by saying, I wholeheartedly agree.  I think that young-adult ministries trying to create their own worship service with younger sounding music and younger-sounding preaching (whatever that is) is at its core born in rebellion.  But in my mind, the real questions are “Why is rebellion always bad?” and “How can younger leaders take over the reins of Church leadership without it being seen as rebellion?”

So if this is rebellion, what is being rebelled against?  Is it the adolescent rebellion that says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do the opposite”?  I don’t think so.   It is less a rebellion of theology, or a rejection of older people in the faith, but a rejection of structures that have been broken for a long time.  Erwin McManus is one of those rebelling.  He has said that his goal is to dismantle the Church, and rebuild it as Christ would want it.  He isn’t rebelling for the sake of wanting to do his own thing.  He is rebelling because he says a deep fundamental brokenness that needs to be fixed.

We also have to look at modern church history and realize that these people aren’t rebelling against Christ-instituted structures that have been in place for more than 2000 years.  In fact, many younger people are more counter-rebelling against a rebellion that started in the late 60’s and flourished through the 80’s.  During that time, much of what the defined the Church was thrown out, sometimes because it was not working, but other times because it was “old.”  I recall hearing a successful Christian leader in the early 90’s say, “People are just interested in hearing about things like salvation anymore.  They just want to know how to fix their marriage.  We can’t talk about those old concepts any longer.”  That was rebellion.

But we have to admit that things seem to be broken at the moment.  Church influence in America is waning.  Fewer Americans are claiming a Christian allegiance.  Young Americans are leaving the Church in droves.  The Relevant article points to this statistic as a sign of arrogance and in some sense, I must agree.  This generation is an arrogant one, and this arrogance must be partly to blame.  But all statistical analysis of this trend shows that the primary reasons for young people leaving the Church is that they just don’t find it essential to their lives (see The Essential Church).  This is also not because the young have decided to go it alone, but because the Church has often made itself irrelevant by continuing to do things because “that’s just what we do.”  Often times people walk away from these events thinking “That simply wasn’t valuable to me at all.”

Younger leaders in the Church see all of this happening and want to do something about it.  After all, eternities hang in the balance.  Matt Crosslin writes in his blog that

“People in the 20 somethings age bracket really do feel that older adults have nothing to offer them. I have heard them say it directly occasionally.”

He says that this disdain is often veiled in an explanation of how older adults advice on how they dealt with a problem 20 years ago is not helpful in dealing with similar circumstances today.  I would agree with Matt that any person who thinks along those lines would be falling prey to the same fallacy that Chesterton’s quote in the beginning of this article mentioned.  I would also agree that there are significant numbers of 20-somethings who would think this.  But I don’t think that forms much of the basis for why wise leaders of this movement of young adults are doing what they are doing.

Why are wiser leaders leading this rebellion?  The common cliché is that “leaders lead.”  But I am sure that the truth of that quote goes far beyond stating what leaders do.  The depth of the statement comes from its reflexive nature.  Those leading are often leading because they are leaders.  Leadership is in them.  It is who they are, not just what they do.  Young leaders are doing exactly that.

Steve Robbins, the director of Vineyard Leadership Institute, points out that one of the reasons that churches must church-plant is that young leaders will leave when not given the opportunity to lead.  He point out that this isn’t because these young people are arrogant or rude, but that they feel they have a call from God to lead.  They feel that they can do something to make a difference in the world around them.

But much of Christendom seems to think that any time that younger leaders want to lead that is inspired by some form of insipid disrespectful, ego lead, rebellious zeal that undermines the Church.  For some reason, the Church is one of the few institutions where it is seen as somehow evil for young people to have ambition and a desire to lead.

Paul instructed Timothy to not allow others to look down on him because of his youth (1 Tim 4:12).  He set up Timothy to lead, and took joy in him.  He also taught him how to lead, and instructed that he learn from those more mature.  Isn’t that what any good leader would do?

I think that we primarily bristle against the idea of young Christian leaders in general because it seems to smell a little like ambition.  We all know that ambition is against God’s will…Um…oh wait…is it?  The Bible guards against “selfish ambition” (Gal 5:20, Phil 1:17, Phil 2:3, Jas 3:14, et al.) and “vain conceit” (Phil 2:3).  But the Bible doesn’t decry ambition on the whole.  In fact, it was Paul’s ambition to take the gospel to Rome.  It was King David’s ambition to build God’s temple.  It was Hezekiah’s ambition to rebuild Jerusalem.  Proverbs 25 somewhat cryptically says, “it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.”  One must interpret this as a validation of ambitious pursuits.  If ambition were an unbiblical quality, then those positive examples would be antithetical.

We can see this in Christian history as well.  Was William Wilberrforce’s ambition to eradicate slavery in the British empire against God’s will?  Was Martin Luther’s ambition to return the Church to Biblical truth ungodly rebellion?  How about Mother Theresa’s dream of changing a nation, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a nation free of racism?

Leaders lead.  Young leaders lead.  Some of them lead out of selfish ambition.  Others lead because God built them that way, and for them to exercise the gifts that God made them is glorifying to Him who made them.  Sometimes they will make mistakes.  But they will do what God made them for.  To prevent that is the real rebellion.

I heard Leonard Sweet once say that God leaders in the post-modern Church must lead like a child on a swing set, leaning back into a rich Christian history and tradition, but kicking forward into the newness of God’s present and future calling.  Good leaders will not forsake the wisdom of those who went before them.  They will stand on those elders’ proverbial shoulders.  They will see farther, Christ willing.  They will stand taller.  Some will think that all old ideas are bad, but I bet on the whole that they will embrace those ideas more than many in past generations, and seek to reach out across generations.  The worst thing we could do is to throw out all of the good that this new leadership will do simply because of the ignorance and childishness of a few.   -Ryan

Think love, Piece

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I have a friend in the ministry who is a big Beatles fan.  We often playfully debate philosophy and music history together.  She included this quote in a recent email, and I thought I would respond.

“Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace and breathe peace, and you’ll get it as soon as you like.”
John Lennon

Friend,
I have thoughts about your John Lennon quote.
Now, I know that you don’t just quote him because of his philosophy, but mostly because you are a big Beatles fan…

We have the extreme luxury of being one of the few generations to grow up with almost no understanding of war.  Yes, in my lifetime there has been the Iraq war, Kosovo, Iraq 2, War on terror, and other small conflicts.  But those weren’t of the scale or effect of wars in past generations.  Wars now are things we hear about on the evening news, not things that actually claim the lives of our friends and relatives (for the most part).
Think back on what it must have been like to live through WW2.  Germans were using their submarines to destroy ships off of the East coast.  Hundreds of ships were sunk right off of our coast–even passenger cruise ships.  Japan attacked HI and we were under constant threat of invasion on the West coast.  At one point late in the war Japan launched helium balloons with bombs attached into the air.  Those fell in Alaska, but no one was ever hurt from them.

Women in America couldn’t buy leggings (which were a fashion essential back then) because the fabric was needed for parachutes.  Other things that were rationed state-side: tires (most people couldn’t buy them), many cosmetics, gas, cars, certain grocery products.  Women and children saved money for the government war effort.  Cities had “bomb drills” where everyone turned off all the lights and hid in their closets and basements.  It was a difficult and scary time.  This all is not to mention the fact that we were fighting a war on two fronts (Japan and the Axis powers of Europe), and there was the very real possibility for much of the war that we could lose.

Why did all of this happen?  Evil.  When Hitler invaded Poland and Austria the British PM, Neville Chamberlain said “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.”  He signed a peace treaty with Germany, allowing them to keep Poland, Austria, and giving them parts of Czechoslovakia and said “I believe it is peace for our time…peace with honor.”  Merely months later, Germany attacked France and Britain.

Fast forward to the 1960’s: America was involved in a war that we probably shouldn’t have been involved in, Vietnam.  It was a very unpopular war.  We weren’t fighting in a way that we could win, and against an enemy we couldn’t really identify.  Young men all over America lived under the real threat that they could be shipped off to Asia to fight in a war that they didn’t really believe in.  Those that went either came home in body bags, or with permanent mental and emotional scars.

In response to this artists started talking about peace and love, and how if everyone just gave peace a chance, we could create a world without sorrow, greed, or war.  There is an amazing truth to that.  If everyone gave peace and love a chance, that is what would happen.  That is our view of heaven, really.  “The wolf will live with the lamb…the lion and the yearling together…and a child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).  Peace.  Perfect.
On a plane flight recently I saw a movie called The Invention of Lying.  It isn’t a movie that I can recommend you see, but like most things I watch, I see a tie in to the cosmic and spiritual reality that surrounds us.  In the movie Ricky Gervais’ character lives in a world where no one has ever lied.  The concept of telling a falsehood has just never been thought of.  Somehow he accidentally figures this out.  Hilarity ensues.  He ends up using this power to take advantage of everyone around him.  He uses it to their detriment and his benefit.

The reason I mention this example is that if we all decided to live in a world with no guns, no army, no violence, none of that would actually be what would happen.  Instead we would live in a world where someone, somewhere would realize that suddenly he/she had the power to steal everything from us and hurt us.  We would be led off to slaughter like sheep.  The end result would be a world of slavery and pain—War and chaos, not peace and love.

The only way for this heaven to come about would be for all to place control in the hands of a being who both has ultimate power, and is permanently incorruptible, a king who is perfectly benevolent.  I wait for that day.  A day when all can lay down arms with no possibility of violence propagated against us.

This cannot happen as long as there is sin in the world.  Sin is at its heart selfishness.  Anytime we say “but I want…” we are walking a path toward sin.  This does not mean that we should have an ascetic view and allow ourselves to be beaten down by evil under the guise of living Christianly, either.  In fact, the Bible tells us that we are in a war.  That we must fight.  Our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that exist around us.

Throughout the last 2000 years there has been a dichotomy between those who cling to Jesus world as a call to embody peace, over and against those Old Testament passages where God tells the Israelites to war against other peoples.  This dichotomy is usually a false one.  Jesus gave great instruction to Christians to be known as those who turn the other cheek (which if you study is actually a course in radical non-violent resistance—read Martin Luther King), and to be known by our love.  We cannot believe that Jesus intended that message to mean that countries never defended themselves against hostile forces.  Think about this: what would Jesus want Neville Chamberlain or FDR to have done in 1938-1940?  Would he have had them sign peace agreement after peace agreement while Hitler came marching through Europe killing millions?  I don’t think so.  Either way, it isn’t as simple as ‘think happy thoughts and buy Hitler a coke.’

Artists and musicians often live in an idealized world of symbolism, beauty, and absolutes.  But the world is seldom a thing of perfect beauty or absolutes.  We are all shades of grey, striving to become repristinated, yes all the while getting a little grayer.  When the musician sees the world as different from their dream, it seems out-of-joint and wrong.  That is the greatest truth.  The world is a marred painting.  We can see the beauty there, but we are all ever-aware that some black stain has covered its surface.  Sadly, we cannot paint it back to perfect.  We cannot remove the stain, only try and cover it with something much less than the original, and every attempt reminds us all the more that it is not as perfect as it was intended.  Trying to fix the problems of violence and pain with anything other than the rule and reign of Christ is just as effective as trying to paint the grass greener or the sky bluer.

Finding Meaning in Leviticus

I spy a great sacrifice Many of you know that I just recently finished going through the Bible cover-to-cover in 90 days.  It was a challenge in many ways, but in another sense it was exciting and refreshing.  I don’t think that reading so much scripture so fast is necessarily the best way to study always.  I often counsel students to whom I minister to read it slowly, in bite-sized chunks, and think about it.   I did learn different things than when I’d read the Bible through in a much longer period of time, though. Continue reading “Finding Meaning in Leviticus”

What I Want to Want

light

I started out the day re-reading a section of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  I tried to allow his section on Christian meditation to sink in as I ate lunch, and then headed out.  It was a perfect day today, one of those Texas days that you just can’t waste.  There were no sweeping Spring hailstorms, or silent freezes of winter, and the summer furnace had not been stoked yet.  Outside, there was nothing but miles of blue sky and all of creation going through its April busywork.  I went to the park.

As I turned off the car in the parking lot, I grabbed my Bible.  I was looking for a passage in Philippians, but ended up reading 1 Thessalonians 5:5.  “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” I let that seep in, and I began to walk, meditating on being a son of light and day. Continue reading “What I Want to Want”