Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tuck in your tweets

It seems like just about everyone and their mother involves themselves with some sort of social media. Even the Pope has joined the ranks of twitter. I actually have an account with (for some reason) followers even though I've never actually "tweeted." I may never get the urge, but I try not to use the words "never" when referring to something I don't want to do. I usually eat them.

Not that I'm against Twitter or facebook or other social media, like blogging. I actually like the latter two. And I think those can be great tools to disperse good information and connect with folks, provided they only supplement, not replace, visible community. 

But there is a dark side of them that is oft overlooked, but not by N.Y. Giants Defensive End Justin Tuck. You may remember him from some Subway commercials. In response to Eagles running back LeSean McCoy calling Tuck's teammate Osi Umenyiora "soft" and "overrated," he fired back with this overall reaction to social media.

“I honestly think social media has made people cowards,” Tuck said on Mike and Mike in the Morning, via “Where I’m from, if you had a problem with somebody, you said it to their face and that was it. I think now people are hiding behind computers and smartphones to get out something they got on their chest.”

How true. Social media doesn't just reveal our stupidity, it often reveals our cowardice. People like to hide behind things. Sin makes us do that, and has since the beginning when we first started by hiding behind fig leaves. Soon after we tried to hide from God.

Social media does expose a latent cowardice in all of us. It's not just with facebook or twitter, but it comes with texting and emails. It's easier to hide behind a text message when giving someone news that they don't want to hear (b/c you're scared to enter into a place of disagreement). I've given and received texts like this, so I've got fingers pointed at myself (you'll just have to take my word for it). 

Tuck's reminder to us has a biblical odor. If we have a problem with a brother, we are to go to that brother or sister (Matthew 18). If a brother or sister has a problem with us, we are to go (not text or tweet them) to that brother/sister (Matt 5:23). Sometimes I wish we had an "out," but it doesn't look like we do.
Pastors who seem to regularly call out other pastors before picking up the phone, athletes who call others "soft" (which I guess is the worst thing a football player can be called), and Christians in general would do well to examine their own cowardice. 

The gospel, when we believe it, makes us both bolder (we've been declared righteous before God and others) and gentler (God has been gentle to us, not treating us as our sins deserve). Thus it frees us up to use, not hide behind, various forms of social media.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I include the gospel in every sermon

Fish Fail

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Fish Fail Pictures - Pictures

There's a reason why I try to preach the gospel in every sermon. Well there are actually a number of reasons, but here are two of them: 1.) the church needs to regularly hear the gospel 2.) the preacher I needs to hear the gospel. Every time God's word presents any sort of command, or I give applications consistent with the passage, that elicits some sort of response from the hearers. And that's good. Sermons need to be applicable and challenge the head, the heart, and the hands.

But without the message and power of the gospel, those applications will lead to despair, particularly for the preacher. Applications not couched in the gospel will leave the preacher a big fat hypocrite. It doesn't take me very long to forget what I preached and specifically fail to apply the text in the way I've instructed God's people on that previous Sunday.

The other day I preached on griping from Philippians 2:14-18. It seems from this passage that one way we can witness to a dark world is with our silence: by not griping. Well it didn't take long for me to gripe to an umpire in a softball game from the outfield, with hand gestures indicating that the ball was not fair but foul. I griped. Without saying a word, or at least one that he could hear, I had done the exact opposite thing I challenged the congregation with my lack of silence and use of non-verbals. 
It didn't take long. And it doesn't usually take too long for us to misapply or fail to apply the very things we've been challenged by in the sermon (whether hearing it or preaching it-preachers are preaching to themselves as well). 

So I was definitely bummed for a bit. How can I preach against griping when I do it? I felt like such a hypocrite-which I am anyway so I don't know why I felt surprised. But then I remembered the gospel. I will still struggle with griping, but Jesus has taken my gripes with Him to the cross. My gripes are covered, and so I can now rejoice in the gripeless one who not only empowers me but forgives me when I regularly fail.

That's why the gospel always has to be present in every sermon. Without it people will be left with will power, guilt, despair, or feelings of hypocrisy or learned helplessness (I didn't apply it today, therefore I can't apply it later). Without it preachers will soon feel like big fat unforgiven hypocrites and eventually fail to make sermons applicable (if I can't apply it, why make applications). So I try to make sure the hope of the gospel message is included in every sermon. Not just for my congregation, but for myself. 

I need it because it doesn't take me long to fail, so I always try to make sure the ultimate application is the short hike back to the gospel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Susan Enan, and why bad news can be good to listen to

Yesterday my reading of Psalm 49 definitely helped frame my frustrations with an apparent dip in my neighborhood housing prices. Houses just don't last forever. Nothing man-made necessarily will last forever, just like "cold November rain." Thank you Axl Rose. 

But Revelation 21 does remind us that there will be business going on and people will be bringing their "glory" into the new heavenly city. So the good stuff of culture will be around: I just don't get a vote or say or knowledge of what might be staying. With that said, we can't take anything to the grave. Especially not homes or kayaks.

"10 For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. 11 Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names." Psalm 49:10-11

Far from depressing me, this Psalm actually encouraged me. The thought that the materials in the world I often envy, like bigger houses, or better fishing gear, will ultimately be in-accessible in the grave encourages me to put them in their proper place in the bigger story.

While I'm not sure where artist Susan Enan stands spiritually (she did respond to an email saying "thanks" after I told her how much I liked her music-so obviously that bumps her up in my book), her music is deep. I don't expect Christian themes from non-Christian artists, but I do expect music to be robust, deep, and true to life. And all her music from is. It actually seems very "psalm-ish" or maybe even "ecclesiastes-ish." Below are lyrics from "The Grave" off her most recent album Plainsong.

All of your work won't fit in the earth
When you're lying underground in the grave
Whatever amount in your balanced account
There's nothing you can buy in the grave

In the next age, no stock exchange
Is going to pass on the money we make
No lottery wins, political spins
When we're lying underground in the grave

No surgery defies gravity
But it all falls away in the grave
And who's gonna care what color you wear?
There's no fashion show in the grave

So swallow it down, no easy way around
Just a pill for the thrills that we crave
But no medicine to stop kingdom come
It's your time, get in line, for the grave

And we'll all be the same
And we'll go as we come
Side by side, as we lie in the grave
We'll all be the same
We'll go as we came
Side by side, as we lie in the grave 

I love raw music. And I love music that is true. So much of this is true. While there are shades of redemption like "kingdom come" and "next age," nothing hopeful seriously emerges. But whether Enan believes or not, she points me to Someone who conquered the grave and will one day usher in the resurrection. The grave is our next stop, and should always sober our idolatry of material, appearance, fame, prosperity, approval, pleasure. That's one reason we have the book of Ecclesiastes. But the New Heavens and New Earth, and the bodily resurrection to a new and physical world, marks the final destination for the Christian pilgrim.

All good music points us to Jesus. Either indirectly to our need for Jesus or directly to what Jesus has already accomplished for us. I definitely recommend checking out Susan Enan's Plainsong, though its no longer free at  You'll be glad you did, as it is worth $8.99 here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Psalm 49 and Appraisals

Last night I was bummed when I heard of a neighbor's property appraisal. It turned out significantly lower than I had anticipated, which of course means my property value is now significantly lower than I anticipated. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that my property value is significantly lower than I "trusted" it to be. Deja vu all over again-my house in FL dropped 140,00o in value. All I've experienced with homes is that they drop in value not long after you purchase them. 

I was bummed. I was angry at God. Then I came to Psalm 49, well off the church Psalm reading schedule. And I'm glad I came, and I'm glad I was behind. Psalm 49 was just what I needed.

"Why should I fear in times of trouble.....those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches..For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names....For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him"

Homes are temporary. They don't follow us to the grave, which is a good thing. They're not worth losing sleep over (though I actually slept fine minus the interruption from a crying infant). I'm thankful for such Psalms, which remind me to place my story/problems within, not outside, the story of greater story of Redemption. Better to be grace rich, then property rich-which I'm now learning will probably never be a possibility. And maybe I should be more thankful for such appraisals.

God places a higher priority on our sanctification than our property value. Now to believe that tomorrow...Guess I'll be going back to Psalm 49 again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trading a catch for gay marriage?

Gay marriage is and probably will always be a hot topic, only getting hotter as the years go on. I think even the most eco-friendly tree-embracing liberal has more confidence in this issue heating up quicker than the Earth.

David Tyree, on the receiving end of perhaps the greatest catch, if not the greatest play (Eli Manning eluding a sure sack started the play) the Super Bowl has ever known, claims he would gladly give up that catch to stop gay marriage. He says:

“The catch was a gift, it’s not like I’d try to do it.  I couldn’t do it again so that was a miracle,” Tyree told Kenneth Lovett of the Daily News.  “There’s nothing worth more than [maintaining heterosexual marriage] right here for me.”

So we he trade the catch for, um, a block?  “Honestly, I probably would.”
Tyree then elaborated on his point.  “Nothing means more to me than that my God would be honored,” Tyree said.  “Being the fact that I firmly believe that God created and ordained marriage between a man and a woman, I believe that that’s something that should be fought for at all costs.

I think this a good example of caring about God's fame more than your own. Obviously you can't go back in time and trade your success, but his phrase, "Nothing means more to me than that my God would be honored," ought to challenge us all. More often than not we may pray "Thy Kingdom come," but what we want is "our Kingdom come." Instead of thinking about our success and God's honor reminiscently, we ought to think smaller thoughts toward our future success and desire "our God to be honored" more than personal accolades.

At the end of the article, Mike Florio dismisses Tyree's concerns and thoughts regarding marriage to the point of even saying,

"And regardless of where one stands on the matter (personally, I tend to be Libertarian on social matters, as if any of you care), it could be the last time any of us will ever be considering anything Tyree ever says or does."

Its amazing-although I don't know why I'm still amazed-when "open-minded" folks accept all opinions except those birthed from an ultimate religious allegiance (ignoring their own presuppositions). Sometimes when they disagree, the other is vilified or "stupid-fied" and put on what amounts to "talking probation." Seems fairly "closed-minded."

But it's also interesting that Tyree doesn't say anything much more than Tony Dungy or Tim Tebow would say. Yet neither of those two are dismissed. In fact, Mike Florio speaks positively about those lads. Perhaps their "body of work" has earned them more of a right to be heard? Or perhaps gay marriage isn't as primary in their off the field work like prison ministry, pro-family, or pro-life venues. Perhaps these are more socially tolerable?

Maybe there's another rational reason for Florio's take? Or maybe there's something else going on. Sometimes folks will like us when we are obedient (I Peter 2:12) and sometimes folks will hate us for our obedience to Christ (John 15:18). We can expect both. Perhaps the same folks will both like some Christians, and hate or dismiss other Christians.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Adoption Thoughts

Amy and I have begun to think through the possibilities of adoption recently. It's always been something we'd leaned toward, ever since mentors, pastors, and close friends, (and even my own brother) have adopted. The beauty, both the practical and the theological (picturing God's adoption of His children) has left an imprint upon us.

In addition, the scriptures inform us to look after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27). I'm not saying it is God's moral will for everyone to adopt-nor should you feel guilty if you don't-but with the plethora of references, coupled with the practice of the early church, it is probably something to at least consider.
Much of the evangelical church is pro-life, but I wonder how many have thought through the logistical issues of folks NOT having abortions on babies they do not want. If I'm against women aborting their babies, then the babies have to go somewhere, right? I mean someone has to take care of them, because not all women will have the same reaction as Keri Russell in The Waitress and immediately fall in love with their previously unwanted child.

I recently read this post on the CNN belief blog titled "My take on adoption: Christians should put up or shut up." In it he challenges the church away from simply engulfed themselves in the culture wars and toward doing something more tangible and biblical than arguing, picketing, or shouting. He writes:

In the United States, there are approximately 116,000 foster children waiting to be adopted. That means a judge has either severed the rights of the original parents or the parents have voluntarily signed their children over to the government.

To put this into perspective, we might compare the number of American orphans to the purported 16 million Southern Baptists who attend more than 42,000 churches nationwide. Quick math reveals that there are roughly 138 Southern Baptists for every child in the American foster care system waiting to be adopted. To say it another way, this single denomination has an enormous opportunity to eradicate the orphan crisis in America.

If you’ve spent any time in church, you’ve probably heard a sermon on Noah or Moses or David. But how many sermons have you heard on the biblical mandate to care for orphans?

Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics — the Christian Church — can provide safe, loving, permanent homes for these kids. Our faith dictates that we fight for a better way in both words and deeds.

Some challenging, yet at the same time, fairly realistic goals. I'm not sure where our family's path will lead us: to closed doors, to surprised pregnancy, to a changed vision, to adopting, locally or internationally, or just diligent research?

I'm not sure how much Israel practically displayed that this is who God really is: "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation (Psalm 68:5)." But in whatever capacity, I think local churches can and may once again tell something about God simply through their actions.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to learn from Israel without pride: A Lesson from Pimps and Preachers' Paul Thorn

This past Sunday I preached "Gripes Go up" on Philippians 2:14-18 which speaks of doing all things without "grumbling or questioning" so that we would shine like lights in our "crooked and twisted" generation. So in other words, one way (not the only way) we witness is actually without using words at all: without griping, tantamount to a verbal expression of an inward disbelief in the gospel. 

And we know what griping looks like, not so much because we see so many examples of this Philippian congregation griping, but because we see what griping looked like with Israel in their wilderness wanderings. Israel in other places in the N. T., become examples of how not to live, or rather more appropriately, how not to believe.

1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

So we are to take advantage and learn from others' mistakes in OT church history, in this case (Phil 2:14) faithless griping, and instead find ourselves "holding fast to the word of life."

But how do we look upon the failures of others without becoming prideful? Looking at mistakes in others and then becoming prideful go together like summertime and humidity.

Noisetrade has been one of my dear friends for getting music (I appreciate the convenience and legality of it, which in regard to the latter, Christians in my generation don't care too much about anymore for some reason) by more obscure or up-and-coming indie/rock/folk singers. Joe Thorn sings about griping in "You're not the only one." Look how he responds to hearing his neighbors fighting.

I can't believe how much they fuss, sometimes they sound just like us.

Thorn gives us a helpful hermeneutic of humility useful when reflecting back upon the faithless griping of ancient Israel. Sometimes they, and others who don't believe the gospel, "sound just like us." We can see our lack of faith in others' lack of faith. We have to. That's why the gospel is not a ladder that you need for a little while, but a beach for all ages you never outgrow. The gospel both humbles and grows us in grace at the same time. Thanks Joe for helping me see that. What would you expect from a guy whose most recent album is entitled Pimps and Preachers?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Post-Father's Day Post

In light of yesterday being Father's Day, I thought I'd share one NBA player's fatherly thoughts. Dwayne Wade was recently awarded full custody of his kids, and reflects upon the glory and opportunity of being a father. He described fatherhood not simply as an opportunity but also as a necessity, reflecting upon his own father's example to him.

All children need their fathers, but boys especially need fathers to teach them how to be men. I remember wanting that so badly before I went to live with my dad. I wanted someone to teach me how to tie a tie and walk the walk, things only a man can teach a boy.

Dwayne Wade is definitely on to something here. Moms can teach lads to tie ties, but exactly how to "walk the walk,"is something best taught by dads. I found Dwayne Wade's take on parenting particularly appropriate given the backdrop of athletes, like one N.Y. Jets defensive back, who has so many kids (with different women) that he actually couldn't remember all their names. That's pretty sad. At one point, the NBA comprised a number of people like him, when it was regular for NBA dads to have kids with different last names. I hope that we can see more Wade's and fewer Shawn Kemp's.

I even felt challenged by Wade's fatherhood.

My dad and I bumped heads a lot—we were so alike, both of us born competitors. My older son, Zaire, is exactly the same way. We’ll battle on the court when I’m 39 and he’s 19. He’s 9 now, and he’s grown up with basketball. Zion could take it or leave it, which is cool by me.

Connar loves baseball, which is "cool by me." But what if he didn't? What if he changes to hockey (hypothetically speaking of course) or something not using a ball or a rod? What if Cade doesn't? I hope its "cool by me."

Dwayne seems to have had a decent dad. But what about kids without Dads due to divorce, death, or because they are deadbeats? Is there hope? Are they doomed to repeat the cycle? While many folks do fall into that pattern, the gospel does offer us hope. Seriously, and practically. I've seen folks who have had bad dads or no dads at all become good dads. So I know its possible. And here's why I think its possible.

1.) There are plenty of unbelieving good dads, but one way Christians have a "leg up" on the "competition" is that we take our cues from a Heavenly Father. We can know what a good father looks like because we have a good Father in heaven (Matthew 7:11). God provides for his children, therefore we provide for our children. God invites us into a special relationship with Him allowing us to call him "Abba" (Rom 8:15 ), therefore our kids ought to have a special relationship with us. A special relationship that our neighbors' kids will not get. While we don't necessarily share the same sense of "abba" as Jesus did since he is the eternal Son of God, we do have a special familial closeness now.  There is a special backstage pass our children are granted. They have special access. Our sonship is distinct from Jesus, yet it is nevertheless real. So real that we have an idea of what a Father looks like.

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Some folks don't like using language of God as a "Father," because they read back into our Heavenly Father the baggage from our earthly fathers. But it is more than just feminists who've had bad experiences with their fathers. Even bible translators as part of "Insider Movements" have begun to translate the word "Father" as "Guardian," because it is more palatable for Muslims. But I think we miss something of our Heavenly Father when you take away that word/concept, and my denomination seems to agree.
2.)  I think there's another resource a Christian can draw from when discerning how to be a good father when he himself didn't have one: the church. We know what good dads look like because we can see them. We can ask them questions. We can learn from their mistakes, as well as their wisdom, which naturally come best through their mistakes. But even those of us who don't have fathers, can find a number of fathers in the church. Good fathers have the opportunity to be a father figure to kids who may have never had one. There is hope to break the cycle of bad dads in this world: good news in a world without a shortage of them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rings and things with Tom Brady

I had breakfast on Monday with a church member and we briefly discussed LeBron's failed quest for a championship. He pointed me toward this interview on 60 minutes, which I somehow managed to miss.

In it Tom Brady discusses that even with all of his accomplishments (at this time there were 3 Super Bowls) "There has to be more than this."

The gospel goes far deeper than granting a Christian existential peace: a deep satisfaction at the end of the day that we truly "have found what we're looking for." After all, it is the good news that the curse of sin and all its impact has been reversed. But to deny an experiential component to the gospel is to deny what Jesus claims to offer. It is more than simply experiential peace, but not less than it.
The reason the woman at the well had so many men in her life, and her current one wasn't even her husband, is because she was looking for life in someone other than Jesus (John 4). Jesus claims to be the solution. And the experience of a true satisfying relationship with him is what helps us crush our idols.

At the end of the video, Tom Brady is dumbfounded by the question: so what's the answer? He considers that maybe some sort of self-discovery could be the answer. The problem with self-discovery is that in the end, the best person you can discover is yourself. Scary thought. Jesus is way better.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Salvation in different tenses and senses

In my most recent sermon I discussed what I believe "working out our salvation" really means as found in Philippians 2:11-12. In it I surmised that some of the difficulty we evangelicals have with this expression comes from limiting the term salvation to its past tense usage. Yet scripture will often use the term salvation, or salvific terms like redemption in both a present sense (I Peter 1:9-"obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls) as well as a future sense (I Peter 1:5-"salvation ready to be revealed in the last time") to show that salvation is more robust than just getting "saved." However, I feel I used the phrase "how many salvations were there at church" in a fairly pejorative manner-though I didn't intend to use it in that way. I seldom have time to caveat anything, particularly when I'm trying not to say too much so I can focus on what I feel led to say. 

So I do want to go back to salvation in the past tense: what many folks call "getting saved." I do hope that many in the congregation who don't know Christ will repent and believe in Him alone for their salvation. I hope and pray for that in every sermon, folks who don't know Jesus at all will be saved from the punishment of sin. At the same point I hope and pray that everyone who doesn't know Jesus as well as he/she thinks he/she does (all Christians) will repent and believe the gospel more that day than the day before. 

This is the present tense, or sense of salvation, which we seldom ask ourselves and others: "how is God saving you today from the dominating power of sin in your life?" I think this is a question seldom asked, but is part of our "salvation," just as important as the start and finish of it. And its usually much harder than pointing to a date!

Still, in a zeal to emphasize how the gospel saves us now, and will save us then I often don't take enough time to explicitly explain how salvation starts.  I, as well as many Presbyterians seldom give folks enough of a chance to respond. While I don't see anywhere in the bible which instructs pastors to call people forward like an altar call (that really didn't happen until the mid 1800's thanks to Charles Finney) or raise their hands if they believe, I still know that the church is the place where new Christians are to be born. The church is to be a hospital for sickly believers in need of grace, but also a place where all believers are technically on staff and can serve as spiritual midwives delivering baby Christians. 

I'm definitely envious of churches which regularly see "salvations" start each week. And Presbyterian churches can learn much from and be challenged by them. But I'm also aware that new births and new breakthroughs in growth may happen gradually as folks eventually get the gospel (for the first time or thousandth), and need not happen solely through a response prayer. Such "salvations" may be happening as well but not be as visible.

Regardless, churches need to consider salvation in all tenses and senses so that the full gospel is preached, cherished, and responded to each week regardless of differing denominational mechanics.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rings and things with James and Nowitzki

I sat mesmerized last night while I watched the Dallas Mavericks take down the Miami Heat in Game 6. Aside from the fact that Lebron James confidently claimed not not one, not two, but 8 future championships, I actually thought fielding (or maybe "courting" is a better word) a team comprising arguably the best (if not better when it comes to Chris Bosh) players in the NBA would serve as a recipe for success. And they achieved some success in some sense: getting to the Finals. However they, but primarily James, fell short of getting that elusive championship ring upon which athletes center their effort, as well as their hopes and dreams.

And on the other side of the court sat someone else-though Mav's owner Mark Cuban hardly sits still during games-vying for that elusive ring as well. In addition, Dirk Nowitzki, spent his whole career trying to win a championship. And each will finally will get his ring. 

I wonder what it's like for both parties today, the morning after.

For the losers: Sometimes in God's grace he will not allow you to get something which has become an idol. Sometimes the Lord actually withholds things which seem so good to us (whether it be an NBA championship ring or wedding ring) because to give us something which seems good-but it has become an idol, the reason we live or die-may not be loving. Sometimes he wants to spare us from the inevitable result of making something or someone else an idol: divorce, depression, anger, disappointment, emptiness, etc....He doesn't withhold anything good from those who walk with Him (Psalm 84:11). While I often fail to  believe this, God nevertheless proves this to me over and over.

For the winners: On the other hand, sometimes God may actually grant us the idol out of love. This sounds strange, but it can also be an act of love for the Lord to give us the desire of our hearts even when that desire is not healthy. For instance, if my main reason for living has become an NBA ring, wedding ring, or ring like Gollum's, then God may in His goodness grant that. Yet I will then soon be sorely disappointed that the ring didn't fill the God-shaped hole in my heart. I will eventually turn back to him for the first or the hundredth time.

How many of us have thought if I could just be married (I did), if I could just have a kid (I did), if I could just get a job (I did) that it would be well with our souls? Then we got those things, and those things left us empty, only to pursue something, although ideally Someone else. In love, I think God may sometimes grant us those things, in order for us to see the true emptiness in those things, and run to Him instead. 

Unfortunately many of the things/people we've sought and found have become to us empty wells. But instead of turning to Jesus, we turn to someone/something else. That's often why folks want to divorce: the other person, as advertised in scripture, has become an empty well no longer producing the respect, love, importance, power which we demanded. But in God's grace we've received that idol, so that we can see the emptiness, and return to the spring of living water. 

I do hope that Lebron either never gets that ring, or that he does (although not 8 times over!), and he realizes how the hole in his heart is not ring-shaped but God-shaped.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Baptism thoughts

This past Sunday, my 8 month old Cade, now free of chicken pox, received the covenant sign of baptism. We took my three year old boy Connar out of the nursery so that he could be a part of it. During the prayer he asked if he could put water on Cade's head too. Nice.

He expressed a desire to be a part of Cade's baptism from the get-go, even telling random people Cade would be getting baptized. His desire to play an active role in Cade's baptism is admirable. And playing in active role after baptism is quite attainable, yet often over-looked.

One of my favorite parts of the baptism is the question asked of the covenant community. Do you promise to assist the parents in the raising of this child? Sometimes I wonder if people really believe what they say.

I have no reason to believe my current church Redeemer's members are anything but sincere. Each month we have to use nearly 50-60 adults for the two nurseries, Sunday School, children's church, and youth groups. That's probably even a conservative estimate. When people promise to help the parents, that doesn't mean ONLY serving an existing children's ministry, but I think it would be disingenuous to quickly rule out serving in an existing children's ministry. Such are opportunities designed not to replace parents, but to assist them. And we all need assistance.

But formal existing ministries like programs are only part of the picture. In their book Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer claim one of the few consistent factors present in the youth who continued their faith in college was adult relationships. Most had a number of them. The more the merrier. A youth pastor and parents are not enough. Our youth need more than that, and that's why I try to include a team of adults and parents as often as possible in youth ministry.

I wonder how seriously I, and other parents take their children's baptism. It's not just a "precious" time (though it was quite moving to watch the video). You are vowing before God and others to raise the child in a Christian home, dedicating him to the Lord. That's pretty serious stuff.  I play baseball with Connar in the front yard on my lunch break and before/after dinner about every day. But I think baptism reminds me of something more important: that God will be faithful in my "informal" ministry times (which definitely outweigh the number of "formal" times like Jesus Story Book Bible reading), so I should take advantage of every available "teaching" moment.

Finally, I also wonder why Presbyterian parents sometimes don't take advantage of, or want any covenant community involvement in raising their children. Over the years I've seen folks who just don't want any help, and I can't figure that out. I've seen folks agonize about whether or not their children will attend their own church's VBS. Still, other folks just don't care about discipleship of their children and so don't make the necessary lifestyle adjustments. Both seem to goes against the flow of the covenant community structure called the church with which we've been so blessed. 

I'm thankful to have (and have had at my previous church) a covenant community who has shown love to my two baptized boys and assisted Amy and I in training and raising them. I hope the same is true for you, both in serving or being served by your local covenant community: the church.

Anyhow, these are my baptism thoughts for the day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Should sports be a platform for Jesus?

With the Jim Tressel debacle behind us for a few moments, a CNN beliefnet blogger had a take on Evangelism and Sports. He questions whether or not sports and Christianity really do go together as "peanut butter and jelly" as Deon Sanders once put it. He quotes another athlete, former Houston Astros 3rd Basemen Morgan Ensberg: “The entire reason I play baseball is so that I get a chance to speak about Christ.” The question he raises is fairly simple and straightforward: is big time spectator sports really the best venue for the promotion of Christianity.

I can't say that I totally agree with his take, but I think he does bring up some valid concerns. 

1.) The number of Christian athletes who profess Christ, but fall into some serious public sins. Eugene Robinson soliciting a prostitute the night before the Super Bowl is sadly only one example of many. Some folks, for some time, might do better at just (said tongue in cheek of course as all work can still glorify God) being a Christian ball player: not speaker, not writer. Their teammates will know, even if the media doesn't. And that's OK. It might not be a bad idea for some players to turn down speaking engagements. Perhaps for a season, perhaps longer. I don't think its a bad idea to wait some time (and mature) before you publicly promote your faith and join the "circuit." We've seen how easy it is for folks to fall. 
2.) Perhaps Christian athletic promoters have borrowed a bit too much for the marketing of this world. If someone is promotable, go and promote them. Make money off them. Or get them in front to tell people about Jesus. Sounds good on the front end, but what about the back side? Perhaps those promoting athletes like publishers need to offer or require more discipleship, accountability, fellowship? Or perhaps those promoting Christian athletes need to be choosier? It's tough to argue against his penultimate paragraph: 

The ability to draw a huge audience does not make a given cultural venue an appropriate platform for promoting Christian faith — not if that venue promotes win-at-all-costs behavior and values that are in such deep tension with the central message of the religious “product” being sold.
3.) Skeptics will be present regardless, and "fallen" Christian athletes probably don't necessarily hurt the spread of the gospel. While one hostile to Christianity may point to Tressel as an example for why he or she doesn't believe, or why he or she doesn't think Christianity belongs in sports,  the same person will overlook the Dungy's and Tebow's. There will always be "haters," and people will always blame their lack of belief on something other than their own hardness of heart.

4.) This lad seems optimistic about the future of sports and Christianity, citing Athletes in Action as a positive example that winds of change are blowing.

The new currents are tugging sports ministry toward a model where it’s not about exploiting sports as part of a marketing strategy, but about serving them as a prophetic force for their moral betterment.

I just don't know what this looks like, but I would definitely be interested in hearing it explained. Maybe I'll email this lad. 

Just how to practice and express one's Christian faith in sports may not be as simple as I once thought. I appreciate this lad's thoughts even though I'm still chewing on some of them, and may spit one or two out.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tim Tebow, Jon Stewart, and Extreme

Last week Tim Tebow continued to promote his new book Through My Eyes on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. While Stewart takes shots at the left and the right, his atheism clearly comes out from time to time. So Tebow seemed to take a big risk even going on the show.

I think most folks would be afraid to do so. But in basketball, sometimes the best thing you can do to a shot blocker is to take it right to him. Challenge him. But for the Christian, this challenging looks quite a bit different. 

Here's an excerpt from Tebow's dialog with Stewart, borrowed from this article

For example, Stewart asked Tebow how old he is.

“Twenty-three,” Tebow said.

“A lot of people might say you want to wait until you’re 24 to write an autobiography,” Stewart said.

Tebow then talked about his parents’ background as missionaries, and his support of an orphanage in the Phillipines.

“Wow.  You seem like a real a#@hole,” Stewart said.

Replied Tebow without hesitation, “I mean, but that’s how I try to come across.”

When Stewart raised the topic of the struggles of “Ohio State University,” Tebow was quick to correct him.  “The Ohio State University,” Tebow said.

Mike Florio of was quite impressed. In addition, one of the comments on the article included this response: "No matter how hard I try to not like this guy, I can't." 

That's kind of the picture we get of evangelism in I Peter. Our C.D. (community/discipleship) group has been working our way through this very challenging book and has seen that the importance of our actions, particularly suffering, and how such actions can display the gospel. While I Peter 3:15 has often, and I think rightly, been quoted as a reason why apologetics (defending the faith) is important, evangelism in the book of I Peter is primarily done through actions and attitudes, not words. In fact, it is through a submissive life that wives may "save" their husbands (I Peter 3:1). And our conduct-particularly as we suffer and not retaliate-before non-believing officials and bosses may cause them to "glorify God on the day of visitation (I Peter 2:12)."

Sometimes folks will hate Christians when they try to honor God and not submit to the cultural idols. But often, if Christians are truly following Christ, they can gain respect from the same folks.

Your life before others matters. Your words before others matter. Both are evangelistic in some sense. Athletes don't have to mention the name of Jesus every time they get in front of a camera to honor Him. Neither do you. Your words, even when the gospel isn't mentioned or brought up, can be pre-evangelistic. When your words and your life garner respect, you may gain some eager listeners. 
This doesn't negate the need for a verbal proclamation of the gospel. Our sharing the gospel cannot be less than words. There is a message of reconciliation which has to be communicated. But while sharing the gospel cannot be less than words, it cannot only be words. Like the band Extreme's once famous power ballad reminds us, it has to be "more than words."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Bad Samaritan

One regularly sees on the news a story of a "Good Samaritan," a innocent bystander who risks harm to himself/herself to rescue a person in need. The parable of the Good Samaritan comprises more theology and application than this, but certainly not less than less. 

Here is a story of some "Bad Samaritans." A man decides to kill himself by jumping into San Francisco Bay. His mother, who for some reason was near, calls 911 and fire fighters show up immediately. But the problem is that they don't do anything. For an hour. And then the lad drowns. 

If you watch the video you'll see that policy and funding purportedly prevented firefighters and policemen from jumping in to help him. 

This is truly a bizarre and sad story where God's image bearers display scars as well as small cracks where God's image the light of his image breaks through.

1.) Policy and rules trumped life. Regardless of whether or not such men were allowed to jump in the water to save this drowning man, life always trumps policy. When two commands bump up against each other, the weightier one prevails. Saving life is more important than policy. The Pharisees blasted Jesus for breaking the Sabbath when he healed folks, but Jesus emphasized that life was more important. Even the life of an animal took precedent (Lk 14:5).

2.) The outrage. The anchor man asks the reporter, "Isn't this a human being?" He has a right to life. You don't have to be a Christian to believe this. In fact, most non-Christian Atheists believe this as well. They just have no real reason to believe it. In fact they have a reason not to believe it, as it goes against everything Darwinian. Regardless, the image of God shines through the cracks even when people suppress the truth. 

3.) Do we get to choose who has the right to be saved and who doesn't? If you watch the video, one of the excuses is, "This man was trying to kill himself." That issue is irrelevant. He is still worth saving. In addition, people sing different songs when they are gargling water and vying for their last breaths. He could have had a different outlook on life as he witnessed people risking their lives to save someone who actually tried to end his. All people are worth saving not because of what they contribute but because of their bearing God's image.

4.) Excuses. Supposedly this won't happen again because there will be new funding and new policy. In the end though, it might have been more self-preservation than policy. Statements like "he could have been armed" and "he was so big, that we could have drowned as well" started bobbing to the surface.
5.) Judgment. People are rightly angered by this incident, since you can argue that public servants like fire fighters and police officers have a higher civic responsibility. With such authority (guns, sirens, freedom to speed and go through lights), comes a responsibility to sacrifice. But on the other end, none of us know exactly what we would have done put in their shoes. We can certainly pronounce an action (or in-action in this case) to be wrong without pridefully saying "that could never happen to me." Many times we are spared falling into sin simply because we've not had the opportunity.

In the end, this tragic incident serves as a good reminder that this kind of thing happens spiritually in the church all the time. It is always safer and easier to let someone drown in their own sin, even when they are clearly content in doing so. To go in after them can cost pain and time. I personally hate doing it. But perhaps if we considered the mess Jesus took on for us, we'd more regularly enter into the mess of others. Ultimately neither their mess nor ours can hold us under water for long.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Oprah, Clout, and Us

Oprah will finally vacate the daily afternoon TV landscape but her presence will certainly not be lost. Her goal of success was never JUST about  money; it was about much more than that. It was  about clout. Clout, clout, let it all out in a Tears for Fears sort of way. That's what she did. 

Clout can be used for good. And in a common grace (she's made in the image of God and will do some culturally good things because of that) sort of way, she did. She had wells dug in Africa, she gave away cars to people in her audience. She did some nice things.

Clout can be used to make others' famous. Oprah brought us Dr. Phil, and I can't imagine where our world would be without Dr. Phil. Or Rachel Ray. Or Dr. Oz. Although I think we would be just fine without their celebrity.

Clout can also be used for personal gain (the aforementioned probably had some of this mixed in as well) in promoting propaganda. Oprah could arguably-and I don't even know it is arguable-be the most influential person in America, and perhaps that may be one of her goals. She describes herself as "messenger" with a "message." And that she is indeed. Below is an article snippet where she discusses her spiritual quest.

What I believe is that Jesus came to show us Christ consciousness. That Jesus came to show us the way of the heart and that what Jesus was saying that to show us the higher consciousness that we're all talking about here..."

The content of her spirituality remains largely gnostic (though she has obviously spruced it up with other bits and pieces of existential philosophy, religions, opinions), a heresy which popped in the church not too long after Jesus folded his own crucifixion clothing. If general history doesn't repeat itself, church history sure does.

Some folks want to rule the world with nuclear power. Some folks want to rule the world with their false spirituality. Regardless, the motive is still the same. Oprah and Kim Jong Il aren't all that different. And honestly, sometimes Christians need to recognize that the same tendencies "freely" dwelling in these folks also dwell in us. They are not our masters, but they often do become counselors.

When we have been given clout or any kind of social influence, we need to take pains that in the end, our goal is that Christ rule in our hearts (Col 3:15) and rule in the world. It would be foolish to think that just because you are a Christian and want to teach, or have any sort of influence in the church, that your motives are pure. Mine definitely aren't. Here are some questions which might prove helpful in your areas of influence, particularly within the local church setting.

Is your desire to rule or control (Col 3:15)? Is your goal that everyone would have the same convictions you do (Rom 14)? Is your ultimate goal that folks would follow you or follow Jesus (I Cor 1). How angry do you get when someone doesn't believe something you teach or take the advice you've given them? The amount of anger can sometimes indicate you're mad because you "lost" more so than righteously frustrated over someone else seeking a beverage from a broken well.

Like all idols, power is fleeting and is ultimately an allusion. Looking to Jesus and pointing them to Jesus and His gospel is not only freeing, but it is effectual. If you look to Him, you'll change. If you point people to Him, and they look, they will change. They may look different than you expected, but ultimately Jesus is molding them in HIS image, not ours. And that's good thing.

Never forget that you're more like Oprah than you think, but Jesus loves us more than Oprah thinks. And that too is a comforting thought.