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.