Monday, December 17, 2012

Sad old thoughts on Newtown

Its now been several days removed from horrible massacre in Newtown. When tragedies like this happen, we all have defense mechanisms to help us cope (I'm talking about we bystanders-not the victims or families of such victims). Sometimes we run to agnosticism: how could God exist in this mess? Sometimes we assume God could have done nothing to stop this from happening. Sometimes we protect ourselves by just not allowing ourselves to feel such pain. I know I do that. Not that we become apathetic, but we don't allow ourselves to go to such despairing depths. 

Much has been written about this tragedy and how to process all this mess. These are simply some of my thoughts, that serve as counsel for myself, a distant bystander, and possibly other bystanders.
This is not advice, but how I, simply as a Christian first, and pastor second, think through this mess, and/or need to think through particularly rough acts of injustice. If you want to know how you can pray,  Scotty Smith gives a great explanation for how to pray for the families involved.

1.) Agnosticism. When suffering and injustice happen, the first response may be one of agnosticism. How can God be real and loving, and allow this to happen?  It makes sense at first to think like this. It really does, particularly when injustice happens to Christians, whom claim to be alone in receiving full favor from God (Luke 2:14). However in order to be consistent with the promise of Christianity, we have to remember that a life of no suffering is not promised to us; in fact, it is very much the opposite. Jesus promises us suffering. So does the writer of Hebrews (12:7-11) and Paul in II Tim 3:12. 

But Tim Keller also reminds us that if we use the existence of evil to conclude that God does not exist, we are ultimately committing intellectual suicide. Either God created us in His image and we know and can declare activity like this wrong, or we are a collection of atoms and chemicals without any way to declare this activity evil. Did precious children die or did molecules and chemicals become re-arranged? If there is no God, nor man/woman created in God's image, we can have no ultimate standard of goodness and cannot call this act evil. And we know this is evil!

2.) God can't control everything. This is comforting at some levels, because it makes God out to be gentle and loving and caring. He would have liked to stop these actions, but He can't because His hands are tied. Remember Free Will? But if this is the case, then you probably should limit your prayers to things that don't cause God to step on anyone's free will. Not sure how that would be possible though. If God can't stop these things, He is not a God worthy of your prayers. So we can't go there.

3.) Protective Apathy. Now I don't know anyone apathetic to 9/11 or this Newtown Tragedy. But sometimes I do try to distance myself from sadness. I don't want to think about it, or guess what, I feel sad too! I honestly don't dig sadness. Who does? But our Savior was no stranger to sadness, even entering into it. When sadness comes upon us, we don't need to protect ourselves by simply focusing on the positives. Below are John Piper's words from his daily advent devotional:

Many of you will feel loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don't block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections-both in life and death? But O, do  not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter....Jesus came at Christmas time that we might have eternal life.

Running from sadness is not life. Jesus is life. Sadness about death can be good when it drives us to Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

This injustice sucks. People are messed up. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but there are special punishments for leading children astray (Mark 9:42). I can't imagine what happens to those who murder children. Lanza is not in a better place.

Yet nothing short of the Final Resurrection will bring back our believing loved ones. We grieve with hope, but we still grieve.

I'm actually quite saddened as I write this. I'm ready for Jesus to come back. Today. I don't get a vote, but I do get a prayer, found in the penultimate verse in the bible: "Come Lord Jesus." In Him is life forever more and in Him alone is, as Rich Mullins (whose life was cut short by car accident) sang, "a hope to carry on."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why I'm glad we did a Xmas play

I asked a good friend of mine why she thought we were doing the Christmas pageant this year. She surprised me by her response, "Because you wanted us to do it." While I won't say this couldn't have been farther from the truth, it wasn't all that close to the truth either. I responded, "No, you wanted to do it. I never wanted to do it at all."

Now I wasn't ever against the Christmas play, but it was not my vision. It was the vision of another extremely creative and helpful volunteer laywoman.

Our pageant and dinner afterwards exceeded my expectations like Usain Bolt turning the corner in the 200 meters and leaving everyone/everything else looking forward. My expectations could only see reality from a distance, and then simply stand there amazed after the race.

Let me share with you several reasons why I now hope that the Christmas Pageant becomes a regular staple in Redeemer's celebration.

1.) Gifts. It takes a variety of gifts to pull off a pageant. Acting, administrating, artistic, planning, musicians, singers, technical, audio, "engineery" type people, leaders, followers. Pageants expose gifts in people that they or you (as pastor) didn't know existed. Now they always expose the need for the fruit of the Spirit (patience), but at the same time they also give Spirit the opportunity to produce fruit of the Spirit (patience). I witnessed that fruit.

2.) Outreach. This is always my concern with most children's activities: is there an outward component to our activity? We spend much time discipling our children in churches through regular Sunday School most of the year. If you want assistance in discipling your children, you have it. But what about spending a little energy on the kids/folks outside the church who don't know the hope and forgiveness of Christ? Since it was our first play, we didn't focus too much on outreach (we wanted to see a little of what we had before inviting those outside the church to see it), outside of ladies printing some very creative invitations. However, our church was packed for the play. Packed. And packed with folks outside the church. Were there unbelievers present? I can assume many were. Next year, we will make a more concerted effort to reach out. Regardless, many unbelieving folks outside the church were invited, and several came. Henderson's were 0-4, but I know of one woman who batted .333. Not bad!

These are great reasons to do a pageant. But let me tell you one more reason why I so thoroughly enjoyed doing the pageant and it had nothing necessarily to do with the performance last night.

3.) Discipleship. Children today know so much about so many things, but little about the bible. In a season dominated by Santa and toys, it is so important not only to keep Jesus in front of them, but to teach them the Christmas narrative. Isn't a Christmas play simply for parents to see their kids looking cute in costumes and mention Jesus when they can? I'll admit they looked super cute dressed up as a donkey, camel, or cow, but I think it can be much more than that.

At the beginning of most practices, I reiterated EVERY week, why we were doing the Xmas pageant: "To teach you guys the story and let you tell it back to us so that we can believe it too."

In Sunday School, before the pageant was performed, my wife began asking some kids about Gabriel, Mary and Elizabeth. The kids' thoughts quickly turned to, "Hmm...well first Mary sees Gabriel and is scared and drops her basket, and then...." They started thinking through things that they remembered from the play. They learned the Xmas story through the pageant. It was supplemental discipleship, and particularly helpful for visual and kinesthetic learning types. 

The Holy Spirit saw fit to teach the children the story. We accomplished the first part of our goal! The 2nd part is up in the air and will be less quantifiable. But why not aim big and trust the Spirit to finish the work He started? He may just use our feeble efforts to put people in the path of grace.

I could go on and on about other reasons for such a pageant such as the joy it brings people, the fellowship time it offers, the blessing it could be for the community. But I still can't get over the fact that the play, at least in part, accomplished what he had hoped set out for it to do. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Xmas questions from a Xmas Prude

I will confess something, I don't think I've ever been called a prude. But I'm beginning to think I am one, at least in part. I'm a self professed Xmas Prude. No one has ever called me that, at least to my face, or facebook, but I think I am. 

I must confess I do have strong opinions on how the Henderson family celebrates Christmas and Advent. We have convictions, but God gives me neither the right nor platform (pulpit, blog, relationships) to demand people to conform to our convictions. Our lives, thoughts, desires are to conform to Christ not to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:1-2). But our convictions are the applications of the transforming work of the Spirit, and we know that convictions will differ from person to person (Romans 14). Even to the point where some things might be sin to some and not to others.

We live, or at least I do and probably the few readers I have do, in America. We have American Christmas traditions. As a result, our celebration, will have an American feel to it. And that is fine. The celebration of Xmas is isn't in the bible per se, but we do say many folks celebrating our Savior's birth. So it's probably a good idea to do so.

But our celebration of Jesus' birth takes place within a culture; if he were born today in America, we wouldn't be bringing gold, frankinsense, and myrrh. Gifts and celebration would look more American. And they should today.

Yet that is only part of it. Because culture is shaped by people made in the image of God (good stuff will be present) yet fallen (bad stuff will also be present) we can't simply say, "We're Americans and this is what we do today."

So in lieu of a Christmas rant from a Christmas prude, I want to pose a few questions that may be helpful in discerning what God would have you do this Xmas season. I realize people have strong convictions about other issues, so this is how I would want them to treat me. Ask me questions, and trust I'm in God's Word, prayer, and in community. If we do those things, we can be confident that we're in God's will. So here they are!

1.) How does God want us to celebrate Xmas today? It is scary how fewer and fewer professing Christians even ask this question (in reference to anything). We all do a number of things to celebrate Xmas that are culturally conditioned, but the question is to what extent should that be the case? Does he want me to continue with Santa, Elf on Shelf from Hell(f), etc.....? Or in other words, is Jesus really cool with Santa, Elf on a Shelf, Frosty or any other myth we feel the need to perpetuate? On a side note, I think we all need to evaluate what we do each year (did we spend too much on our kids, did we bless other needy families or widows, did we care about others then but now?).

2.) Are these extra cultural figures things which harmlessly add to the anticipation of Xmas Day, or do they detract/distract/take away, serving as replacement saviors? In other words, are they primary or supplementary? I can see how kids enjoy Santa and Elves (though personally they are kind of freaky to me), and how parents find joy in them. But they need to be made supplementary. Just because kids enjoy them, doesn't make them good. I stole that idea from this article on kids and Sabbath keeping. Novel isn't it? Anything good can distract us from He who is great, particularly when it is something kept in front of us for a month.

3.) If you decide that they are supplementary, then how will you intentionally make them supplementary? If we don't intentionally make Jesus big (or rather reveal to our kids He is bigger), then these things will naturally replace or overshadow Jesus. This of course applies to the whole year. Idols are never satisfied with a 50-50 share of the glory. Its probably more like a 75-25 % kind of thing, just enough so that we can still think we're honoring Jesus in theory without actually honoring him in practice. There are only so many hours in the day, and after that only so many teachable hours in the day, and now we're really talking more minutes than hours. So it does take effort and intent to pull it off.

4.) Santa traditionally understood- and I"m less familiar with Elf on Shelf but I think its the same deal-seem to promote shallow moralistic manipulation, doesn't it?  I made it into a question! If you're good, then you'll be rewarded. If not, well, tough stuff. But no one ever really follows through on the "if you're bad scenario," and I'm glad. However I heard of a kid say, "I don't want anything for Xmas, so I'll just behave how I want!" Smart kid. 

Yet Santa could actually be turned into an example of grace, if he were to give good things to bad boys and girls much like God our good Heavenly Father lavishes grace upon His undeserving children. In teaching your kids about grace, how helpful/hurtful are some of these cultural forms of Xmas? Maybe you don't feel these things hinder, but certainly something each parent has to discern.

5.) Isn't it presumptuous to assume our kids cannot have the same excitement about Jesus that they do with Santa or Elves or whatever? OK that was rhetorical! Sorry. Now I know my kid gets excited even when a vacuum salesman comes to the door, but isn't it possible that other kids can still love this season without Santa? My wife did growing up. I know other kids who are full of joy now despite never believing in Santa. I'm talking kids who have faced real trials with joy. You shouldn't feel sorry for them that the "magic" has been taken away. Perhaps making much of Jesus the whole year had something to do with that? 

And if our kids can't get as excited, is that an indictment on the faith of the parents (that Jesus isn't exciting to them)? After all, Jesus is as exciting as He is glorious.

If you made it this far, thanks. I'm fine if you disagree with me. We don't need to be a people who always arrogantly and angrily have all the answers at our disposal, we but I think we need to be a people who always ask ourselves questions. That is how we sharpen and shape our convictions to conform them to Christ's design for our lives.
If you celebrate Christmas with or without Santa or Elves or Blake Shelton, just remember to make much of Jesus, because He has made much of us by coming down here in the first place.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Brady Quinn, Real Relationships, and Aunt Bessy's Hemarrhoids

I have to say I never was much of a Brady Quinn fan. First of all he came from Notre Dame, and then there was some weirdness with he and Tebow in Denver. But after yesterday, count me among the converted.

In case you didn't hear, Kansas City Chief's linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide at the Chief's complex this past Saturday. The Chief's then turned around and played the next day without their starting linebacker and beat the Carolina Panthers.

What "converted" me was not his ability to help lead his team to only their 2nd victory but what he said in the post game comments. Comments that had nothing to do with football but instead everything to do with relationships.

“The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people,” Quinn told reporters after the game.  “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently.  When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it?  When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?

“We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us.  Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

Here are some of my thoughts on his comments.

1.) First of all, I love how he is willing to try and learn anything from this malfeasance without assuming blame. Several folks noted that they deemed nothing wrong with Belcher or his relationship with his girlfriend. But obviously there was something wrong with Belcher, if not with Belcher and his girlfriend. And it is clear that someone knew about these problems and was seeking to do something about it. Apparently.......

That detail was among the troubling revelations about a relationship that had more problems than previously realized. According to Kansas City Police Sgt. Richard Sharp, the team knew about their issues and was “bending over backward” to help.

And so it cannot be construed in any way to be the fault of Brady nor any of his teammates, nor anyone else that Belcher followed through on such machinations. In my mind he avoids the "We can't learn anything from this" and the  "It was our fault and his blood is on our hands," response that comes with situations such as this. Yet why not try to learn from the situation?

2.) In regards to "what we can learn," his wisdom exceeds his age (and career touchdowns) by a wide margin. More specifically as how it relates to truth in relationships.

When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it?  When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?

A. Do you mean it? I appreciate his challenge to ask and answer questions with a deeper concern for the truth. We could all do a better job at that. As Christians who live in the time after Jesus' first coming and before His Second Coming, we experience both the joys of redemption accomplished and applied to us now, and but still groan and long for the final redemption of our bodies in new world then (Rom 8:18-27). So we can say, "Yes I'm doing well," or "No life is rough right now." Both are consistent of our Christian experience now

B.Truth WILL ONLY be divulged in safe relationships. The deeper and more personal truths will only be revealed in really safe relationships.  Surface relationships will lead to shallow truth about someone. What you will/can tell about yourself and what they will/can tell you about themselves is probably only going to happen, at least on a regular basis, if you and they engage in deep and safe community. And deep and safe community only results when folks make time and commitment to be in such a deep and safe community.

C. Deep relationships don't necessarily lead folks to know you. 

I've been in community groups where I've come to know stuff about people. Sometimes more than I wanted to know (though I'm glad I did). I've been in community groups, as well, where I've known next-to-nothing about others. In such cases if they were to divorce or murder or commit suicide, or become depressed, I would have no idea. And that is sad but true. Deep relationships and community may be available and offered but just the presence of such a community does not mean folks will automatically take advantage of it. You and I may be in place to share our lives but stay silent or on the surface.

On the flip side you or I can be a part of a deep and safe community, but others may not divulge any poverty of spirit, material, joy, etc....Some folks, even despite deep and safe community, will divulge nothing. And it will be to their great loss.

D. Deep relationships and community always involve you taking the lead.

If you want to take seriously Brady Quinn's concerns, and he's only reiterating what it means to love your neighbor (you probably have heard that one before), then there is something you can do which may foster others being honest about their struggles. Someone has to take the lead. Such deep and safe communities/relationships don't automatically spring up. People will only go so far as you lead them. Yes there are exceptions for the guys/gals who wear hearts on their sleeves (or jackets for this time of year), but as a rule, people have to be led to share truth. And often they will only share something that is on the same level as that which has already been shared. For instance if you share, "I need prayer for Aunt Bessy, because she has hemarrhoid surgery," then don't expect to get back an, "I'm struggling with my child right now, as he is in a very difficult phase in my life, and I need prayer to love him through this, because right now I don't." Aunt Bessy's hemarrhoids will be covered in prayer, but the struggle of a parent to love his/her child will not. You won't even know that problem exists until you take the lead in sharing your personal struggles first. And this is hard. Very hard.

Deep relationships and community take time of course. But time alone is not enough. No one makes the "jump" unless you first lead them.

E. Technology and actual relationships don't naturally coexist. They don't appear to fight like cats and dogs, but the latter slowly loses that fight unless we intentionally value and prioritize real relationships. Emails and facebook can be very helpful, but they are at best only supplemental. You don't know someone, nor are you known by status updates. You know and are known by spending time together. The question is, "Is it worth it?" Brady says yes, and I think the "one another" passages in scripture suggest he didn't say it first. Again this is hard, and we have to get creative amidst certain seasons of life (and no matter how creative we get, some seasons don't afford much community/relationship development), but well worth it in the end.

We could all benefit from Brady's advice to intentionally put ourselves in the path of potentially deeper relationships not only to know but also to be known. Who knows what good could come? I would say a lot.

Consider me a Chief's fan for the rest of the season.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Two Advent Devotionals

Yesterday I preached on preparation, and how to prepare for Xmas. I neglected to mention anything specific about devotionals, due to the fact that I forget.  So I want to commend a two to you.

Here is one from The Church at Brook Hills church designed for families. Short, scriptural, sweet. I ran out of "s-words." I'll take "s-words" for 200 Alex....

Here is one from John Piper called Good News of Great Joy. Also, short, scriptural, and sweet. You can get it as an E-book or as a PDF. I've been digging this one.

Do yourself and your loved ones (and even the ones you don't love or who don't love you) a favor and take a look a these or other devotionals this Advent season. You'll be glad you did, and they will too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Meatloaf, The Myth of Unconditional Love, and Covenants

I often hear the term "unconditional love" used to describe relationships with loved ones. You hear it at weddings. Yep, because we all know marriages in America equal unconditional love....

It is certainly a comforting thought isn't it: to rest in the fact that your loved one will love you no matter what you do? Or that you will love your loved one, no matter what they do to you. Makes you feel good about yourself.

But just as the Spaniard from The Princess Bride said to the man who use overused the word inconceivable again and again, "I don't think that word means what you think it means," so do we with "unconditional." Again it sounds nice, and it gives that warm fuzzy feeling that we all like, but is full unconditional love exactly what we share with our loved ones: our kids, our spouses, parents, our closes friends, pals and confidants (hopefully you got the "Golden Girls" allusion)? I don't think it is. And I'll explain why I think that term used to describe our earthly relationships is inaccurate at best and takes Christ out of the equation at worst.

There are conditions on how we ultimately love

Think about what the word "unconditional" really means when it is used to describe "love." Do you really think that your love for someone else or their love for you has no conditions? 

Maybe I watch too many Dateline and 48 Hours Mystery murder specials where the spouse is ALWAYS guilty.  But without getting too morbid, do you really think your loved one's would love you back if you regularly sought bodily harm to come to them? If you ordered a "hit" on them? If you abused them or neglected them?

I can think of several conditions that would stop me from loving, at least, in the same way.

Is Meat Loaf the only one who in essence says, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that?" Conditions....

At some point the person, because he/she has met terrible conditions, may move from the brother/neighbor/spouse category to the enemy category. Love would still be commanded, but it would look incredibly different.
There are FEW biblical conditions which allow us to not show marital love

Jesus only really gives one in Matthew 19: sexual infidelity. Paul gives one in I Corinthians 7:15 commonly referred to as "desertion of unbelieving spouse." Some folks, myself included, put abuse in that category. 

Sometimes parties can work through these issues, and if both can, and are willing to, it's beautiful. But the fact Jesus gives FEW conditions, should alert us to recognize that our love (given/received) isn't expected to be unconditional in the strictest sense of the world.

There are conditions on how we temporally love. 

These are not conditions Jesus gives us. These spring not from scripture but from an honest recognition of our own sinful nature. I don't unconditionally love my wife everyday. I really don't think I do. You may think you have the best spouse, but I would disagree strongly. I do.

But to say I love the best spouse every day without conditions is incredibly arrogant. I think your everyday love for your spouse or kids has temporary conditions. How well you love is sometimes due to these conditions. If your wife has been nagging or running up credit card debt, or kid has broken out all windows of house, or husband has watched football all day, won't help around house, told you that you looked ugly, you will struggle at that moment to love them. Let's be honest, you might take a "love break" and yell. But let's be honest, you didn't love well and it was because of a condition.

Sometimes those conditions will cause a righteous anger at first (meaning you should be angry), but more often than not what that anger does is suspend your love for them temporally, or indefinitely. It is not just these big deal breakers that condition our love, it is the tone of our voice, the quality of the meal, the season of life, the honey-do list, the false expectations, etc...Conditions.

I prefer a more biblical, accurate, honest term that points me upward instead of inward: Covenantal.  

Covenantal love is far better than the fairy tale of "unconditional" love

Covenantal love binds one to the other. This kind of love involves the person saying I'm committed to you whether I feel like it or not (and sometimes I won't feel like it-it's real and honest). I choose to love. I may not love you today, or do a very bad job of showing it today, but I'm going to repent and ask the Lord to give me love for you.

Tim Keller differentiates covenantal love from consumerism which is most prevalent in marriages and other relationships today. When I fall out of love (what a crock, it just means that the other person has stopped meeting your emotional needs-you've been using them!), I'm out of here. Covenantal love is committed without being perfectionistic. 

Covenantal love points us upward instead of inward

I'm regularly called to love my kids, spouse, parents, those in my congregation. But it is the height of arrogance to say that this is something I do naturally. It is arrogant of me to say, "I love you unconditionally, no matter what, do whatever you want to do to me." Instead I recognize my covenantal obligations, opportunities and privileges to love. I go back to passages which tell me what love looks like to wife, kids, congregation (Sacrificial-Eph 5:25, not provoking anger-Eph 6:4, and sober-minded II-Tim 4:5). I'm a needy man. I need much help. If you claim to love unconditionally, you probably don't think you need much help in this area. That's a pretty big area to not need help since Jesus sums up the Law by saying Love God and Love Others. I don't look inward for my commitment but upward (Psalm 121).

 Unconditional love is really only something God displays for us

Don't pretend that you show the same kind of love to your loved ones that God shows to you. No comparison.

In Genesis 15 God makes a covenant (literally to "cut" a covenant) with Abraham but he does not require him to walk through the pieces of the sacrificed animals. Those animals cut in pieces symbolized what would happen if either party broke their covenant obligations. Abraham should have passed through it, but God realized that he wouldn't uphold his end of the bargain. He didn't want to have the FULL curses of the covenant to come upon Abraham or his descendents. Except one. Jesus, the descendent of Abraham, takes upon himself the curses of the covenant on behalf of those who by faith look to Him and are then included in this covenant. Jesus therefore pays the "conditions" for us. The failed conditions. Jesus' love for us is unconditional because he exhausted the punishment for all conditions.

I don't see how we have a right to describe our love in the same terms as his love for us.

Jesus gives us the indicative/imperative model: we love because he first loved us. Our love is imperfectly modeled and motivated by the perfect model of Christ. Let's not pretend that we're really good at this. But if you want to get better, here's how. The less you look at your performance or lack thereof, and the more you see the Unconditional Love Incarnate, you'll find conditions limiting and tempering your prove less and less effective.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seeing Israel through the Jesus lens

Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach on a very difficult passage in Matthew 5:17-20, trying to discern what Jesus meant he said, "I have come not to abolish but fulfill the Law and Prophets." 

The most immediate meanings I concluded were as follows: 

1.) All the Old Testament points to Jesus, therefore we cannot interpret the Old Testament laws, verses, passages, stories, books without seeing them in light of Jesus. Just like the event of 9/11 changes our interpretations of what we do and don't do now, so we interpret the OT in light of the new era of Jesus' reign on Earth.
2.) Jesus did in the Law for us what we could not do in the Law,  therefore we don't need to relax Jesus' extensive and hard commands in the Sermon on the Mount, but can relax that he did them for us.
3.) Jesus brings out the full meaning/intent/heart of the Law,  therefore we should see the Law as something that trips us up and reveals our need for Jesus.

I wanted to follow up just a bit on number 1. We cannot isolate bible verses in the Old Testament without see what Jesus has to say on the matter. While I do think many people are so clearly pro-Israel because they honestly want to be faithful to the scriptures, it might be worth a second (or third) look to discern whether or not Jesus himself is actually pro-Israel. 

For instance, many folks point to Gen 12:1-3 and say, "God says I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." Unfortunately most forget to take into serious consideration that Israel was blessed SO THAT it would be a blessing to the nations. It wasn't that much of a blessing and so Jesus as an Israelite, or in place of Israel, fulfills that promise and sends his disciples out to bless the nations with the gospel.

We don't blindly apply passages regarding sacrifices, shellfish, or stoning kids. Instead, since Jesus has come, we need to say, "Did Jesus have anything to say or do with how should now understand or apply this TODAY?"

In the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45), Jesus makes a fairly bold claim:

"Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing it's fruits...When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them."

John Piper probably does a better job (I can only assume, since I haven't listened to this respective sermon) of explaining this. Folks at the Gospel Coalition have summarized his sermon on this very relevant issue.
1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.
2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.
3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.
5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.
6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.
7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ's people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.
I'm not anti-Israel nor pro-Palestinian. I actually had a "run-in" with some Palestinians on the Mount of Olives and by God's grace ended up not getting stoned. Literally. Totally destroyed the special experience of being there when one of our traveling companions gets in a fight, which then invited the jeers and stones of "F*$&  you, Americans!" (and they weren't just talking about our college, FU, Fuman University). Crazy times.

I just think folks should probably temper the zeal for Israel with a recognition that the present state of Israel is not much different than the past state of Israel in the bible. And Jesus wasn't a fan of how things were running then.  

I realize much of Christianity would disagree with the Reformed "take" on Israel. That's OK. This has just come up several times in conversation in the last week or two so I thought I'd chime in. Should be my last. Because I don't think we can interpret anything in the OT without seeing how it points to Jesus (Jesus seems to think that way as well in Luke 24:37), I think it's worth a second, or third look. 

My confession and conviction, in my zeal to see the church (which comprises many nations), as the fulfillment of O.T. singular geo-political/ethnic Israel, is that I can't tell you the last time I prayed for the ethnic people of Israel to come to faith. That ends now as I'm putting on my nifty prayer app  

To conclude, here's some further application from the article

Why It Matters: Wherever you land theologically or politically, the events of the past week mark yet another distressing development in the Israeli-Palestinian saga. This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they'd search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39-40, 46). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place---whether reconstructed temple or geographical partition---but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21-26).

Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they'd turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.
May the Prince of Peace reveal what's been hidden (Luke 19:41-42) and bring everlasting shalom to a Land flowing with blood and hatred---with little milk and honey to be found.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Brief review of Beware of Christians

As I do from time to time, I browsed the "New Releases" and "Recently added" sections on the Netflix site last Friday. This is always a very sad time, and I don't know why I continue to subject myself-and my wife-to such sorrowful futility. Like going again to check what's in the fridge, even when you know there are no more snacks left-but you just check for the sake of checking, I go through these hopeless motions every so often. Always with same results. 

After realizing nothing offered any promise, I decided to check on other sections. For some reason I browsed the "Documentary" section and saw Beware of Christians. I had seen it before and thought the title was captivating enough. So I gave it a shot, and I'm glad I did.

The documentary comprises 4 college students really investigating what Christianity is all about. They know what their pastors and parents have told them about the bible, but they want to remove themselves from their current setting to see what really lines up. Armed with some bibles, video, and enough to clothes to get them through a month or so, these young twenty year old's take an honest look at their own hearts. 

They stroll through a number of different countries focusing on a different issue in each place. Materialism, sexuality, persecution, alcohol, all get their fare share of air time. At each locale, the group picks a theme scripture verse or two regarding what the bible really teaches against the backdrop of each local post-Christian culture. 

But they find themselves more encouraged than discouraged. They see Christian foreign exchange students, and hear a European witnessing about Jesus to ballerinas. They come across people apathetic to the gospel and hypocritical Christians, yet come across one who articulates justification by faith alone. They interview the equivalent of an American idol finalist who is voted off the show fans learn he is a virgin. 

They are college students, so they are goofy. They literally slap each other and steal post cards meant to be sent to a girlfriend. But they are open, honest, and non-judgmental. 

Much is there to commend this documentary, but I will highlight two things.

1.) Church  
Normally a quest to find out what Jesus is "really like" and what he "really says," foolishly takes place in isolation from community and in separation from a local church. While these kids sought to get away from the normal religious expression of American Christianity for a season, they do emphasize being a part of A local church. They actually condemn church hopping! How refreshing.

2.) Prophetic Students?
Churches need young folks to be part of a church body. They think differently, and that's often good, even if it makes "aging" folks (I'm balding and graying, so I feel qualified to say "aging")  uncomfortable. They bring energy, enthusiasm, and honesty. The younger generations are far more open and whereas our older generations are much more guarded. Younger folks often ask the question: should we really be doing church this way? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no.

Students in high school and college will say things that are clearly nutty, and their authenticity may be more a product of popular philosophy than a belief in the power of the gospel. That's why a church needs both young and "aging." 

But I found myself, a 35 year old pastor, being very challenged by these twenty somethings. I know that they don't have jobs yet, and wives or kids. But these kids called me to pursue Jesus more passionately than I am now. College prophets. Make sure you put yourself in the path of both young and aging Christians. They former might make you feel uncomfortable, but then again, that's what prophets do. Be glad for them.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Boobalicious Baptism? Nope, not classy enough

A friend of mine posted a video snippet from the show Big Rich Texas (I guess that's a real show) on how to do a classy and stylish baptism.

It is worth watching because it is quite outrageous. It is also quite funny, but at the same time it is quite sad. A weird mix, like Hope Solo and Jerramy Stevens who married one day after being arrested for assault. Jesus is conspicuously absent, but not in a Esther-esque type way.

Despite the fact that this video misses Jesus entirely, I will try to practice Paul's method in his ministry to the Athenians (Acts 17) when he commended that which he could before critiquing and pointing to Jesus. Here's my best shot.


1.) Breasts should take a backseat to a baptism. Now she doesn't say this exactly, but instead warns against being "boobalicious." I think that church is probably also a time not to be "boobalicious." Then again, whatever that means, boobaliciousness is probably best reserved for the bedroom. 

2.) Baptism is celebratory. I think this lady gets that. It is a big deal. A baptism is something we should get very excited about. Jesus is on the move as a conquering King and we join in the celebration.

3.) Community. Sometimes shy people would prefer to have as little attention drawn to them as possible, and therefor postpone or put off baptism entirely. But our baptism is not an individualistic endeavor. We are being brought into a new community, of which we now have new blessings and responsibilities. And in turn, that new community, the church, has new blessings and responsibilities as well.


1.) Baptism is not about you wanting to change. Baptism isn't primarily about the commitment to live a different life or turning over an new leaf (thought that is certainly the result of the gospel), but about Jesus atoning sacrifice and resurrection which then empowers us to live differently (I Peter 3:21; Col 2:12). It may sound like semantics, but if God doesn't deal with the punishment and power of sin, all is lost. Baptism is not a sanctified public New Years resolution ceremony celebration of your commitment to Him. It's celebrating His commitment to you.
2.) Classy and Stylish? Not exactly God's great and wonderful plan for our lives. I even wonder how "classy" Jesus was. When he describes the great eschatological banquet and party he's going to throw at the end of time, he goes after the classless, scoundrel, smelly, crippled, blind (Luke 14). The classy people you would expect to come to the party didn't want to be there. Maybe they felt too classy? I wonder if we don't at times follow the same M.O., but just don't realize it. Jesus washed feet, touched lepers and bleeding ladies. And that's not to say he didn't have classy friends: I'm sure Zaccheus' house was probably pretty classy. When you steal a lot of money, you probably spend that money on your house. But classy and stylish didn't form some sort of invisible fence determining that which he should or shouldn't do. Now I've never been accused of being too classy and stylish (my high school priest/teacher refused to believe my family were members of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club), but there are things that I should do which I sometimes feel are "beneath me." Am I not then acting too classy but sub-Christian?

3.) Don't try to make baptism or Jesus beautiful. You can take something beautiful, such as a baptism, and try to make it more beautiful, and end up making it repulsive. Like Big Rich Texas. We can do this with our pictures of Jesus. CNN actually offered a survey to discern whether or not you were "Red Jesus or Blue Jesus?" When we create a Jesus that has a bigger heart for the 2nd amendment than the 2nd commandment, or a Jesus that is primarily interested in entitlements and more government regulation, we have before us a very ugly Jesus.

We've all tried to make him more beautiful by adding stuff which seems classy, stylish, fitting, and relevant, but we have ultimately presented a repulsive view of Jesus. If not to ourselves, then to others. And he's beautiful beyond description as the disciples found out (Matt 17:2). They were speechless, minus Peter who was apparently a talker.

Anything you try to adorn Jesus with will in the end leave him looking uglier beyond belief, whether it be good works, tradition, politics, etc...That's the irony.

In the end, I'm ok with an non-traditional baptism as long as the person and work of Jesus, and His church, take a front seat to stylish, classy, convenience, and individual.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dealing with cricism: Lessons from Jeremiah Trotter and Paul

Like it or not, I've had a number of chances to watch the Philadelphia Eagles this year. And they look the opposite of good. Not just from my vantage point but from the view of Philly fan, and Philly fan is in a league of his own (Phillies and Eagles scored number two on GQ's worst sports fans just behind WVU) Several weeks ago in their home loss to the Falcons, defensive end Jason Babin believed they crossed the line and became quite upset. 

Former Eagle Jeremiah Trotter (and inactive Buc for one season) had this to say about Babin's complaint:

“Dude, get a grip, this is football,” Trotter said, via “You’re a man. Why are you worried about what people say anyway? I understand that players have feelings, but you’re a man. You’re playing a gladiator sport, and you’re running around worried about what fans are talking about? Even if I did feel a certain way you would never hear me say it because number one, you are showing your weakness right there. You’re playing a gladiator sport, dude. Go play ball.”

There may be some sort of symbiotic relationship with players and fan when it comes to sports. Ultimately if fans don't like the team, and its players, then they can choose not to come. If they don't come, the team could eventually move. Hopefully this won't be the case with the Bucs.

So to ignore the fan completely is probably not wise. But neither is being controlled by the fan. Jeremiah Trotter couches his response to dealing with criticism in the very identity of the individual.

You’re a man. Why are you worried about what people say anyway?

Men aren't supposed to care what people say (true or not, there is something Trotter says needs to be remembered). But even more specifically, he reminds Babin that not only are you a man-as if that weren't enough-you are a football player (yes there is a women's football league so maybe that's why Trotter started with "man" first.) Football players have feelings too, but they are supposed to be in control of them. Based on your identity and based upon your job, this kind of stuff shouldn't bother you as much as it does. 

I think old Trotter may be on to something. He does eventually tell Babin to do something ("play ball") but he gives him an indicative (you are), and reminder of his mission/job (this is what you do) before driving home the imperative (so go do it).

When dealing with criticism, the apostle Paul points us in a similar direction. We can't by-pass the gospel because 1.) we never should by-pass Jesus 2.) it won't work 3.) we will either listen too little or too much to criticism 4.) we worry about the wrong things.

Because there is no more condemnation for the Christian (Romans 8:1), he no longer has to fear false accusations from anyone (you're not doing a good job). But he also need not fear things said about him/her that may actually be turn out to be somewhat-true (you may not be doing as good a job as someone else), yet don't disqualify him/her from that job. Providentially we are where we are for a season, and so for that season, we can plow ahead. When the season draws near to its end, we can evaluate whether or not God would have us in the same job/position/opportunity in the future. Therefore, if we believe this precious truth about our shameless identity, we don't have to respond to, nor be enslaved to unnecessary or semi-accurate criticism.

But there is also a mission connected to this identity that further helps in dealing with criticism. What helped Paul is more than those words he wrote to others in Romans, but also words he wrote to others in the epistle of Galatians.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. -Gal 1:10

If you want to try to please man, there is another line of "work," although the irony of that is that it is impossible to please man but possible to please God through the work of Jesus. A servant of Christ inevitably brings criticism and disapproval. That is part of the job description. I often forget that.

Paul grounds his refusal to capitulate or be moved by this obviously wrong criticism in his identity and mission. The two are inseparable. A servant serves his master. His master's opinion is the only opinion that ultimately counts, and pleasing others is not the servant's goal.

Trotter is just doing what Paul has done 2000 years before him. As a servant of Christ, one's goal is not to please people, but to honor his master. And if your master has already approved you, based not on what you've done, but what he has done, doesn't that free you to care less what "fans" think of you?

Micheal David Smith concludes:

Babin may be right that some of the fans crossed the line by saying vile things about players and coaches. But Trotter is also right that if the players are worried about what the fans are saying, then they’re worried about the wrong things.

We often hear the voice of "fans'" displeasure over us instead of the voice of our Lord's pleasure over us. His Spirit reminds us that we are shameless servants who need not fear. If we believe our very identity, and our mission connected with that identity, we won't be worried about the wrong things. When we start to worry about the wrong things, the answer is not to "toughen up" and be a "man" or "woman" but to believe who God has recreated you to be.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sadly sovereign, mostly sovereign, and mostly believing sovereignty

Christians, at least in America (since I don't know a ton of Christians outside of America I'll limit my target audience to those I actually know) really struggle with the idea of God being Sovereign. Now few people struggle with declaring God is Sovereign, since that's exactly what the bible tells us about God. But when it comes to actually what God is sovereign "over," well that's when two paths diverge. I've "chosen" (or have I?) the road less traveled, but many folks really believe in a limited picture of God's Sovereignty. 

For instance, my son's preschool lays forth some of its theological convictions, one of which is "God is Sovereign over all things." But what they really mean is that God is Sovereign over all things except my individual choice to repent and believe. That is off limits. God does not choose people, God's people have chosen Him. This is an arena God can do nothing about. So in essence God is only mostly Sovereign (still better than slightly sovereign I presume). 

Yet for those who would profess that God is in total Sovereign control over His universe (Psalm 115:3; Psalm 135:6), there is still yet another bigger problem. Believing it. How do I know if I am, at the moment, truly believing God is Sovereign? Here are some diagnostic observations I've been personally working through (well before, but also during the election) to discern how much I really believe.
  • I might be saddened by a decision/outcome, but will not be depressed by it. 
  • I will be angered by an injustice, and it will move me to prayer and action, but I won't be disillusioned by sin's presence. Sin's presence will be with us until Jesus returns.
  • I will be frustrated by an event or outcome, but instead of a fatalistic apathy or uber-introspection, I can evaluate and discern what can be learned for the future
  • I might be angered by the actions of others, but it won't stop me from loving them
For a more thorough look at the idea of "God is in control" as it relates to the election, I commend to you the article of a friend and fellow PCA pastor

Professing God is Sovereign is the easy part; believing God is actually Sovereign is hard part. Very hard. I'm a decent theologian but not very good at applying my theology. That's what my frustration, anxiety and blood pressure levels reveal. They reveal a disbelief that God is both trustworthy and sovereign. 

This part has much less to do with the election and more with the presence of evil in the world and our moving into it.

There is on often overlooked aspect of God's Sovereignty: that God can ordain something that brings him sadness (though not regret). Think about God not delighting in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11). Think about the cross. That did not come about by accident but by God's decree. Think about Lazarus' death in John 13 and remember that Jesus could have come sooner, but chose not to do so. Yet he wept. An intentionality, plan, and purpose, but not without tears. Think about the way a father has to discipline a son, being in total control of that discipline, yet he is sad that it has come to this point. 

I think we need less an answer as to why we suffer, and more a dynamic relationship with Sovereign loving God who also weeps with us. One of my favorite preachers, Martin Ban of Christ Church Santa Fe, reached this conclusion, even though I disagreed with how he got there. The why is less  important than the Who.

God's Sovereignty doesn't mean that God simply coldly ordains. He is not subject to emotions the way we are, but we cannot assume that things which always fall out according to His plan are without any divine "tears."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don't waste your clout: a high school QB and a gal with Microcephaly

Sometimes athletes, particularly in high school can really be jerks. And sometimes, being a jerk is what they do on a nice day. Yet every so often, one hears (now you can hear-if you hadn't seen this) of a story where the athletes aren't the bullies; they are the defenders of the bullied. The story can be found here, and you'll want to read this one. I know I always say things like that, but this one is a heart warmer. It really is.

A mentally handicapped (microcephaly) gal named Chy was getting made fun of, for guess what, being mentally handicapped. Cue blood boiling.....So her mother resorts to faculty, principal, militia? Nope. She goes to the quarterback of the football team.

Now that Carson Jones agreed to do something about it, he would probably just bully the bullies? Right? Not this Mormon.

He started asking her to eat at the cool kids' lunch table with him and his teammates. "I just thought that if they saw her with us every day, maybe they'd start treating her better," Carson says. "Telling on kids would've just caused more problems."

It got better. Starting running back Tucker Workman made sure somebody was walking between classes with Chy. In classes, cornerback Colton Moore made sure she sat in the row right behind the team.

Just step back a second. In some schools, it's the football players doing the bullying. At Queen Creek, they're stopping it. And not with fists -- with straight-up love for a kid most teenage football players wouldn't even notice, much less hang out with. 

1.) Don't waste your clout

This Carson Jones fellow had been given clout. A QB has clout. He has influence. Instead of using that influence to advance his own agenda, Jones used his clout to see that this young gal was enfolded into the "cool" group. There she could find refuge from the bullying, acceptance, and love. Popularity, clout, influence, in and of itself, is not bad. You can use your clout for good. You can use your clout to advance Jesus' Kingdom purposes. I think more important than this kid being a QB was this kid simply offering himself in relationship to someone who needed it. When people are in need of relationships, and you choose to offer yourself to those oppressed and hurting, that's all the clout you need.

2.) Fighting with love 

If I were the mom, who knows what I would have done? I can't imagine someone mistreating my child and not ordering the high school equivalent of a "hit," something like an atomic wedgie, toilet swirly, paintball raid. But this kind of sentiment is only partly correct. We should be outraged and angered at the evils perpetuated through words. And we should fight back. But the question is how? The Taliban blow themselves and others up, but I heard one missionary describe our redemptive activity in the world as "suicide bombers of love." We fight back with love. We don't fight fire with fire, but with water.

Not a sappy sort of love which simply laments or votes against injustice, but one which actively moves into the world of the oppressed. Something costly. Bringing those oppressed folks into a new relationship. Our relationships. There is always a cost when it comes to bringing someone into our relationships. Relational dynamics change, and that's a cost. The cost of taking on the smell (smelly kids/adults tend to have fewer friends), the risk of loss of reputation (will we be as liked when associated with ___?), time, money, convenience etc...

3.) The cost is still worth it. 

But what about next year, when Carson probably will be on his Mormon mission and all of Chy's boys will have graduated? Not to worry. Carson has a little brother on the team, Curtis, who's in Chy's class. "Mom," he announced at the dinner table the other night, "I got this."

Just because something is costly, doesn't mean that it's not worth the cost. Jesus instructs us to count the cost (Luke 14:28), but what we get is a joyful treasure (Matthew 13:44). The younger brother saw the cost, but deemed taking care of this gal very much worth the cost. Many times the cost of sacrificial love scares us away from, well, love. But consider the fact that the cost may be worth it. Whether it be as simple as sticking up for the unlovely, or as sublime as adoption, we can't forget that the blessings of following Jesus do not only start in the life to come (Mark 10:30).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Your words about and prayers for politicians matter

I had some professors at Furman University I liked. I had some that I did not like. I had one, while on foreign study in Italy, that I actually hated. He made fun of Christians. If we asked a question that had anything to do with Christianity and the Romans (our class was cultural diversity in ancient Italy-a pressing issue of our day...), we were ridiculed. Of course there were other reasons we hated him, that were more academic, literally. He was harder and more strict than the other professor on the trip. So what did we do with that hatred, which we presumed to be justified; after all, he hated Christians and made fun of us? He told us that the reasons the Romans persecuted Christians was because Christians were intolerant. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

So we got together in a small group and blasted him verbally. It was a small group of Christians dominated not the gospel of grace, but by a common hatred for a fellow lawbreaker. Not too long after we got together and vented against this tyrant, the Holy Spirit began to convict us individually. We eventually stopped and pursued more sanctified means of protest and complaint within the proper channels when we arrived stateside: the dean of the school. 

Today I read this passage in Titus 3:1-2

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

I wonder if our little "bash sessions" on foreign study were all that unique. I think the general gist of them probably continues with most long after we graduate college. On to bosses. And eventually on to presidents. As Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan reminded us, "gripes go up."

Isn't it amazing how easy it is to get together to bash people who promote or perpetuate what we deem is evil? And sometimes we are right. Sometimes what we bash really is evil, so we feel the right to bash, trash, gossip, slander, make fun of the person behind the evil policy. I don't think we have the right to run our own "smear campaign" behind the scenes.

But how often does this command to "show courtesy to all people" and "to speak evil of no one" really enter into our politically charged impromptu "bash sessions?" This would probably be easier if we actually took seriously Paul's instruction to Timothy in the 2nd chapter of his first letter to him.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I stink at this prayer. I sadly confess I rarely ever pray for the president. And its not because who I want isn't in the white house. I've just not figured it was very important. But as I've gotten a bit older, who is in the white house has become quite important to me. I will not be happy if Obama is elected, and this is one of the first elections where I genuinely care. Because I care, and most people do, these two passages become highly important.

One reminds me that my words about our president are important. My prayers for him are just as important. Thanks to my nifty Prayer Notebook App, I now have a category and will be regularly praying for our president, whoever that may be. I trust that my prayers for our presidents and leaders will then lead me to speak less evil of them personally. Pray despite evil in order to speak less evil.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Breaking Sad: Last thoughts on Breaking Bad

I recently finished the series Breaking Bad with my wife.  Now I'm Breaking Sad because NetFlix only has the first four seasons. Several folks told me to give the show a try, but I resisted, based on the simple fact that the show is about a chemistry teacher turned meth "cook."

But after a number of my Christian friends actually told me to check it out, I decided to give it a shot. We got hooked very quickly. "Must have been love, but it's over now." Roxette once sang that. I feel her pain.

There are a number of shows out there dealing with issues that aren't illegal. I tried several. And there were others I wanted to watch, but instead felt convicted after the first few minutes that I shouldn't be watching them. But what makes one suitable and another one sin (at least for me-Romans 14)?

I think most Christians fall into two categories. Don't watch anything "secular" unless we're talking about Americas Funniest Home Videos. Or they choose what I call "the route of the oyster" and watch anything you want to watch and therefore suck in any "teaching" without thinking.

Here are some reasons, outside the the fact I appreciated the acting, writing, storyline, why I felt Breaking Bad was more than enjoyable, but instead devotional. They aren't from Mount Sinai but the Valley of West Virginia. Yet perhaps they could be helpful to serve as principles to help guide us through the sometimes difficult process of discerning what shows/movies we watch.....

1.) Does the show glorify a particular sin?

In Breaking Bad, I found nothing glamorous about the whole meth making/dealing process. Duh...Of course there is money to be made, and lots of it, but the reality is that this "get rich quick scheme" ended up creating new problems (people asking where did the money come from, more crime like laundering, threat of death, more lying, murder, etc..). Ironically in order to provide for his family, the main character Walt actually destroys his family, hardens his heart, harms little children, kills people without thought, etc....It was kill or be killed, always looking over shoulder. Nothing glorious about meth. Walt becomes the kind of person he initially hates and judges. The specific sin of drugs only hardens and hurts himself and others. Know drugs, No glory.

2.) Does the show tempt you toward a particular sin?

Obviously no temptations toward Meth, only confusion how folks think meth is a good idea.

3.) Does the show expose sin, in any way, for what it is: rebellion, idolatry, deceptive, destruction/decay/death?

One of my greatest appreciations of the show is how it exposes Walt's insistence that this drug making, and the affects of it, were only his problem. Breaking Bad really debunks the popular myth that an action is really only bad if it harms another person. That's impossible. Each "sinful" action has a harmful affect on those within one's community. Stealing affects the person whom the object was given. Affairs negatively the cheater, one cheated with, the children and husband. Lies destroy marriages and harden one's soul to where one can then justify everything. Walt allowed a gal to overdose on drugs when he could have saved her. That in turn led to a horrific plane crash. Sin brings harm to individual and community. All sin does. Jonah ran from God and each step took him further away from life. Walt's sin did the same thing.

In addition, there was really a greater sin behind Walt's meth making: pride. Walt makes Oedipus' "hubris" look like mild in comparison. Drugs and money were merely, as Keller calls them, "Surface idols." Walt sought money and making drugs in order to be meet his need to be seen as successful and independent of others. Money simply provided this temporary prideful "success" and "independence" for him. To the discerning eye, the outward sin was only a symptom of a deeper heart idolatry of pride.

4.) Is there any positive takeaway or opportunity to discuss with neighbors or fellow believers?

On several cases, characters are placed in moral conundrums but have no real basis other than a feeling for whether something is right or wrong. Walt's wife reacts disapprovingly against his incessant lying to her, but then she decides to make up a story for how her husband has so much cash. She used to think lying was wrong, and not reporting income was wrong, but she later participates in a money laundering scheme. A man who has been concealing income from the IRS, later refuses to pay off the 600,000 he owes the IRS with money he believes is obtained through gambling? He says he just doesn't feel right about it. Walt once asks, "Where do we draw the line?" The show clearly shows the inability and inconsistency of an ethical system that is not based upon some overarching standard. Now it doesn't reinforce God as that standard, but it does seem to raise the question: if there is no standard, can we really deem something right or wrong?

I see great opportunities for discussion in future.

5.) Is there anything clearly redemptive? 

At one point, Walt is actually broken. For a short time. His son sees him crying. The next day the father says, "Don't ever think of me like this." The son responds, "This is the best I've seen you in the last year and a half. You were real, authentic."

Brokenness over sin-though this was merely brokenness over the consequences of sin-is a beautiful thing to the world around us. Jesus reminds us of its necessity in our posture before God as well as others in the Beattitudes: "blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are the meek...."

Just for a moment, there was something clearly beautiful.....

If we watch TV shows like an oyster and just suck in everything without thinking, we will do ourselves and families harm. But if we can actively discern messages in shows, and ask several key questions, they can be more than entertainment for us. They can be devotional and evangelistic.