Tuesday, April 29, 2008

enough already

There is a part of our Presidential nomination process that doesn't make sense to me. Hillary and Barack have been campaigning for their party's nomination for over a year and a half. McCain had to go for just over a year to get the Republican nomination. But when it comes to deciding a President, there will only be a few months of head to head campaigning between McCain and the Democratic nominee.

Doesn't that seem backward to anyone else? It seems like the parties should choose their nominee earlier in the process and allow more time for comparison between the two parties' Presidential candidates.

The way the process is going now is expending an extraordinary amount of money, energy and time. By the time American's get to the poles in November, the nation will have "over-campaigning fatigue syndrome." I wouldn't be surprised if what we find at the conclusion of the Presidential race is a tired electorate which serves up an anticlimactic ending.

Friday, April 25, 2008

MJ on failure

“I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games.

26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot…and missed.

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

tragedy and punishment

Three cops open fire on a man named Sean Bell. He dies and later was found to be an innocent man. The three cops opened fire because they believed he was a threat. They got it wrong and Sean died needlessly. This is the definition of tragedy.

But today the courts found the cops innocent. Apparently there was enough reason for the cops to open fire that it was not considered a murder or manslaughter. So while this event is truly a horrible tragedy, the cops were not punished for their mistake.

From what I have heard of the details, I agree with the verdict. The evidence did not support the theory that the cops intended to kill Bell that day. Instead, evidence revealed that while they did make a mistake, their mistake was founded on reasonable split-second decision-making.

But what is interesting is the American tendency in these situations to demand punishment. If there is a tragedy of any kind, we want someone to pay. If someone is wronged, someone else must be punished. This is why our civil courts are jam packed with even the most trivial of cases.

But tragedy does not always mean someone is criminally at fault. We anesthetize ourselves from all forms of pain. And when unjust suffering comes along, we need someone to be punished. When we can't blame another person for our pain, we turn our wrath toward God.

In our world, unjust suffering exists. Blame, punishment, and distance from God doesn't make it better. In most cases, it fosters more injustice. Sometimes unjust suffering is just that. It is unjust and unfair. Suffering is just that. It is painful and gut-wrenching. Sometimes no one is to blame.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

pro-choice but anti-abortion

There is a new camp in the abortion debate that is growing among some Democrats and politically progressive Christians. It is the "pro-choice/anti-abortion" position. It is the position we hear defended by Rudy Gulianni, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The argument usually goes something like this: "I personally don't like abortion. We should be doing everything we can to help women with unwanted pregnancies get the help they need in order to avoid abortion. Better yet, we should focus our energies on reducing unwanted pregnancies with educational programs that focus on contraception rather than abstinence. But I am pro-choice because I don't think the government should invade women's right to privacy. I don't want government making such a difficult decision."

Usually the person goes on to site what they believe to be legitimate cases for abortion like rape, incest and the health of the mother. They assert that while they are morally against the idea of ending what they call "potential life," they wouldn't want government to tell a woman what she has to do, particularly in the afore mentioned cases.

This all seems fairly legitimate...at first. But let's do some homework. I wonder how many abortions are actually done in such tough cases such as rape, incest and the woman's health?

According the a study found here, 0.33% of abortions are done because of rape or incest; 1.2% are due to maternal health problems; but 98% are done because of personal choice.

Those statistics are staggering. That means 98% of the abortions in the U.S. are done out of convenience. And of that 98%, only 32% are done because the potential mother believed she was too young. That means an incredible 66% of all abortions are done by people who consider themselves old enough to have kids but simply don't want one.

The days of arguing that abortion should be legal for crisis situations is over. The truth is that they aren't done for crisis situations. They are done because humanity is selfish. If abortion was legal for crisis situations only, the abortion rate would drop 98%. If people who claim that they are "pro-choice but anti-abortion" really were "anti-abortion" they would have found a way to work with pro-life people to make that happen long ago.

People with the "pro-choice/anti-abortion" view are often concerned with issues of social justice. They are often proud of their concern for human and civil rights. But for some reason, when it comes to the unborn, their burning hot passion for justice runs cold. If we want to be a truly just society, the laws need to change. We can't be a just society when we allow the murder of unborn babies all in the name of "convenience." Social justice and human rights demand that the government end our society's practice of killing unborn lives.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

a sign that reads "Please Remove Sandals"

What makes space sacred? Is it just the presence of the living God in our midst? Is it mediating objects like candles, crosses and altars which tune our hearts Godward? Maybe some of both?

Nature often seems sacred. This may at first lead us to believe that all we need is the presence of God for space to become sacred. If we look closer, however, we may realize our need for media even there. The gentle breeze, the swaying trees, the distant birds all function as intermediaries and intercessors drawing us into the Divine.

Maybe all worship is just replicating pieces of creation. We imitate the coming of the new earth and the new heaven. For Israel it was a lit menorah mimicking the sun in order to provide needed light in the Holy Place. It was the bronze basin mirroring the sea. The Most Holy Place became their hidden grove in a darkened forest, which, of course, one wisely enters with trepidation.

All worship then and now is mere anticipation of nature in its redeemed fullness. The heavens declare the glory of God and so do we.

holistic gospel

With passion and conviction a new generation of Christians are being raised up to live like Jesus and spread his message all over the world. Like never before, young American Christians have the resources to travel to the impoverished parts of the world. And like never before, young, American evangelicals have a heart for the "least of these" both at home and abroad.

This trend is both encouraging and dangerous. It is encouraging because it is a sign that we Americans are beginning to learn about the holistic nature of the gospel. The good news is good news for the whole person, body, soul and mind and not just good news for the soul. It is good news for the present and the future and not just good news for the "after-life."

The danger in finally learning to live out a holistic gospel is that it would slip into a "social gospel." But the failed experiment of the social gospel in America should die here. If we export it to Africa and Asia, it will have the same devastating and materialistic affects that it has had in the U.S.

The holistic gospel recognizes people's "whole person" needs. It recognizes that people need food and clean water and that as Jesus' hands and feet on earth, it is our job to help them get them. It recognizes that people need basic health care and that the church should be the leaders in promoting solutions to fulfilling these needs for people globally. It recognizes people's need for education so that they might glorify God with all their minds and have opportunities that are self-sustaining.

It also recognizes that the greatest need of all for people is to connect to, worship and receive love from their Creator. It admits that while physical and social needs are part of the gospel, the gospel is incomplete if it does not address the person at the level of their soul.

The social gospel often forgets this last and greatest need. It assumes that it is enough to fulfill physical needs without ever addressing the deeper needs of the spirit. The social gospel is like a person who waters their indoor plants everyday yet keeps the plants in a dark closet. A plant needs both light and water to grow. Water without light kills the plant and does a good job of growing mold. Light without water kills the plant and dries up the soil. Both are needed for healthy plants.

This is also the case for the gospel. For people to grow into the fullness of what God designed them to be, we need a holistic gospel. We need a gospel that offers the hope of transformation for the inner life and the outer life. The good news of Jesus offers both.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

springtime olfaction

Spring is in full bloom. The colors and smells of new life are all around us.

I smelled one of my favorite spring smells wafting through my window this morning. If life were a perfume, the smell of cut grass would be an essential ingredient. The smell of cut grass is unique among all smells. It is a primary, indivisible smell. Like a primary color or number, it can't be broken down into parts. It can't be described by other smells.

The smell of cut grass stirs up nostalgic memories of little league baseball, lazy Saturday afternoons, and family reunions. It is the smell that rewards the suburbanite dad for a job well done on the lawn. It is the smell that heightens the senses of the athlete at the start of the game. It is nature's version of the new car sent.

The smell of cut grass does something to our soul. It makes us want to get outside and take a deep breath. It has a way of sneaking through the crevices of our dark, damp buildings and drawing us out into the light of the sun.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

what is the emerging church?

If you are confused about the emerging church or the group that calls themselves "Emergent," I found a good article from Christianity Today that can help. Here is how the article begins:

"It is said that emerging Christians confess their faith like mainliners—meaning they say things publicly they don't really believe. They drink like Southern Baptists—meaning, to adapt some words from Mark Twain, they are teetotalers when it is judicious. They talk like Catholics—meaning they cuss and use naughty words. They evangelize and theologize like the Reformed—meaning they rarely evangelize, yet theologize all the time. They worship like charismatics—meaning with their whole bodies, some parts tattooed. They vote like Episcopalians—meaning they eat, drink, and sleep on their left side. And, they deny the truth—meaning they've got a latte-soaked copy of Derrida in their smoke- and beer-stained backpacks.

Along with unfair stereotypes of other traditions, such are the urban legends surrounding the emerging church—one of the most controversial and misunderstood movements today. As a theologian, I have studied the movement and interacted with its key leaders for years..."

Read the rest of the article by Scot McKnight here and you will get a good primer on the emerging church.

I tend to agree with Scot's take on the emergent church. I agree with what he likes about the movement and what he dislikes about it. As an evangelical seminary theology professor, he has a very informed, balanced and theologically articulate view of the emergent conversation.

intuition of comedy

Comedians are not unlike preachers. They stand in front of crowds of people talking about life. They both are responsible for being able to interpret culture in a way that gets at the truth of things. They both reveal the silly way people act and that, if we would just stop and think about things, we would see how ridiculous most of our normal behaviors really are.

The main difference is that while the comedian interprets culture in order to be funny, preachers must interpret both scripture and culture and they do so in order to transform lives.

But preachers could learn a thing or two from comedians.

Comedians are masters in timing and delivery. They are also brilliant in the way they see the world. They pay attention to life in order to really see it differently. They can speak a hard truth to their audience, while simultaneously making people laugh at themselves. That ability is something most preachers are wildly inept at doing.

Comedians seem to be able to get people to see a truth about themselves by sneaking it in the back door of their heart and mind. Many preachers try to knock down the front door, which as been locked and double bolted shut. They think being forceful with truth is the way to get it into people's hearts and minds. Comedians, however, intuitively understand that a truth sometimes needs to come at people from the side rather than straight on.

Jesus understood this principle as well. That is why he told parables and stories most of the time rather than just spewing out propositional statements about the Kingdom. Jesus didn't just tell his audience, "Stop running away from God." Instead, Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son. He didn't just tell Jews to stop being prejudice. Instead, He told the parable of the good Samaritan.

The ability to help people see themselves for who they really are is rare. Unfortunately, these days we see this ability more often used by comedians than preachers.

I wonder what would happen if preachers gained the intuition of comedians and applied that wisdom to preaching the word of God. I imagine people in the pews would finally begin to receive the truth rather than just ducking as it is thrown at them from the pulpit.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Forgiveness costs more than we are able to pay.

When we forgive someone, we tell them that they no longer have to repay the relational debt that has been incurred. But the debt must be paid for us to be whole. True forgiveness means that not only do we not ask for the payment but also that we don't keep the debt on the record books. Again, the debt must be paid for us to be whole. But we don't have the resources to pay the other person's debt in our lives.

This is why followers of Jesus can truly forgive. We have received a payment that not only covers the debt of others but also our own. It was the perfect payment. It was the offering of a life. But not just a life - The Life. The Life in whom all other life exists. And it was given as a payment for our relational debt with God. But the payment was so huge that it overflows into other people's relational debt to us.

Forgiveness costs more than we are able to pay.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

being right

The problem with being right is that you begin to think that you are always right. I was reading a blog post written by one of the big named evangelical leaders of America. Every other word seemed to be about how his denominational doctrine was right and how the Catholic Church was wrong. He was convinced that he fully grasped the truth and everyone else didn't.

Permeating his writing was the consistent theme of "Being Right." For this particular leader, being right was the ultimate goal of life. And who can blame him. He has probably been told he was "right" for decades now by everyone around him. This is what happens to big named leaders.

It happens to Presidents and Popes, movie stars and religious leaders. They begin to be surrounded by "yes" men and women. Saturated in their own ego, they begin to believe the voices that tell them how right they are. Soon their lives are consumed with being right and defending their view against everything that might make it seem like they could be wrong.

Since when did Jesus call us to be right? Is that our chief goal of life? I think not. The problem is that so many denominational leaders, radio preachers and big named Christian speakers get all caught up in this obsession. They build their life like a tower of cards and must, therefore, protect it violently against the winds of dissent.

These folks have traded in the humility of Christ for the arrogance of thinking they have cornered the market on truth. It has probably been years since they have said the words, "I was wrong." And it has probably been decades since they have uttered the gentle request, "Please forgive me."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The veil that covers our eyes is the illusion of control. The paradox of living is that the very thing over which we believe we have the most control is the thing we have the least. We are told to make good decisions because our decisions will shape the rest of our lives. While this is true, it often leads us to misunderstand the level of control we actually have over our lives.

Decisions are important, but we don't actually have very much control over our life. The thing we have the least control over is the actual "life" part of our life. And this is what terrifies us the most.

A student walks into a college classroom and begins to open fire. Dozens of innocent lives are ended abruptly. The nation is horrified.

Two planes crash into twin towers. The nation watches in shock.

A car smashes into a truck and creates a pile-up on the highway. Cars creep by as their passengers stare at the wreckage.

A mother finds out that she has cancer. It's terminal. Her family mourns.

These events are the kind that scare us the most. My hunch is that there is something deeper in our fright than just death.

We all know we are going to die one day. We don't like to think about it but somewhere in the recesses of our mind we know it is true. We even know that some will die earlier than others. Early death is often shocking but not really a surprise. We know it has happened in the past and will continue to happen in the future.

Beyond the fear of death, I believe a greater fear lurks within. This fear is the life altering truth that we are not in control of death and, subsequently, life. Death can come in an instant. It doesn't need a reason to come. It doesn't need some meaningful cause. Death can come whenever and wherever it wants. It is not limited by logic, reason, or time. It can come in any form to any person in any moment.

It's not so much death itself, but our utter inability to control death that haunts us. Not being able to control death means that we do not have ultimate control over our lives. We can pretend that we do. But it is those who have gotten close enough to death to smell its breath who understand the reality that we are not in control.

As a reaction to this silent and haunting truth, some choose to self-medicate with wealth, pleasure, drugs and other forms of escapism. Still others wallow in the despair of it all. The first reaction tries to give life a temporal meaning. The second assumes life has no meaning. Both are different roads to the same emptiness.

Only hope of the eternal gives life eternal meaning. Only hope of life after death takes the fear out of death. Only trusting in the truth of Someone in control takes the terror out of being out of control. Only Someone who has defeated death can offer this sort of hope.

When the inevitable comes and when it comes suddenly, being out of control won't be so bad. Acknowledging that we are out of control is really just the admission that there is Someone greater to whom we can trust our life and death and new life.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

3 theological temptations

Matthew 4 reveals that Jesus experienced three temptations in the desert. His first was the temptation to turn stones into bread. This was more than just a temptation to satisfy his own hunger. It was a temptation to be the ultimate provider for all who were hungry.

Theologically, this temptation manifests itself in the materialism of the "social gospel." The lie buried deep within this temptation is that the physical needs of the masses is the most important need. Churches and denominations experience this temptation today. This temptation is especially strong in more liberal churches that tend to emphasis social justice issues.

Jesus responds to this temptation by reminding Satan that the real hunger inside people is not just for bread, but for the Word of God. Jesus never rejects people's real physical needs. And on more than one occasion he becomes the provider of bread and fish for thousands of people. But Jesus resists this temptation by bringing to light the deeper human need.

His second temptation was to fall down from the temple and be saved by angels catching him. If he were to pull off this miracle right in front of all the religious elite at the Temple, he would instantly be upheld as the Messiah. The temptation here is to become the leader of the religious elite by way of the miraculous.

Theologically, this temptation manifests itself in the sometimes Montanist-like charismatic views of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The lie buried deep within this temptation is that miracles give birth to faith and should, therefore, be the primary mode of evangelism. This view often misuses scripture and slips into a sort of "spiritual elitism" based on who has had certain manifestation of the Spirit and who has not. This temptation is especially strong in churches that tend to be Pentecostal or charismatic.

Jesus responds to this temptation by reminding Satan that no one should put the Lord to the test. God should not be treated like a miracle vending machine. Miracles and manifestations of the Spirit are not the litmus test of spiritual maturity or power. Jesus often did miracles, signs, wonders and healings. The early church often experienced the various manifestations of the Holy Spirit. But miracles never produced faith. They merely affirmed and strengthened existing faith. Doubters still doubted even after the miracles. And Jesus healed among the common people. It wasn't ever a show for the religious elite so that he could be their leader. His miracles were often a sign to the people that the Kingdom of God had come.

His third temptation was to be the political ruler of all the kingdoms of the world. It was a temptation, essentially, to be Caesar. All Jesus had to do was bow down and worship Satan in order to have all of that power. This was a temptation to take a short cut to being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It was an offer of power without going through the cross. It was a political temptation that required submission to Satan rather than to God the Father.

Theologically, this temptation manifests itself in the tendency to marry the church with politics and the tendency to try to bring about the spread of the gospel by force. The lie buried deep within this temptation is the idea that if Christians have more power in society, the gospel will reach more people. Historically, the gospel spreads more through subversive, underground movements than it does through political power. We see the damage of falling to this temptation in things like the Crusades and the Inquisition. This temptation is especially strong in conservative churches who reject the historically Christian principle of "separation of church and state."

Jesus responds to this temptation by telling Satan to leave. Jesus is clear that he will worship and serve God the Father only.
Jesus refused the seduction of power. And he refused the compromise of having a "short-cut" to honor. Jesus knew that it wasn't the first who will be first but the last who will be first. Jesus stayed on the path that requires submission and sacrifice before honor and exaltation. Jesus was the King. He already ruled the earth, but his coronation was yet to come.

We see these temptations still bombard the Church today. Jesus faced these different distortions of his messianic role with the truth of scripture and by maintaining intimacy with the Father. We as the Church must do the same.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April 9th

In 340 on this day, the Roman Emperor Constantine II was assassinated.

In 1483 on this day, the King of England, Edward IV died.

In 1626 on this day, English philosopher and scientific theorist, Francis Bacon died.

In 1770 on this day, English explorer Captain Cook discovered Australia.

In 1859 on this day, Samuel Clemens (pseudonym "Mark Twain") was issued a steamboat pilot’s certificate.

In 1860 on this day, the Pony Express began delivering mail for the first time.

In 1865 on this day, Lee surrendered to Grant at Fort Appomattox to end the Civil War.

In 1926 on this day, Hugh Hefner was born.

In 1940 on this day, Nazi Germany invaded Denmark and Norway.

In 1954 on this day, Dennis Quaid was born.

In 1957 on this day, the Suez Canal in Egypt was cleared and opened to shipping.

In 2001 on this day, Van Stephenson, my uncle and the former lead guitar player for the band Blackhawk, died.

But the best was yet to come.

Two years ago on this day the love of my life honored me by saying "I do."

Today we celebrate two years of marriage and many more to come!

like love

We had a great conversation last night with a group of friends about "loving" and "liking." As Christians we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love covers over a multitude of sins. This is how we know what love is, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And we love because God first loved us.

But where does "liking" someone come into play with all of this. Most of us find it easier to love someone if we "like" them. But there are other times that we don't really "like" people and we know we must love them.

My sister made an interesting observation that helped us have a more truthful conversation about all of this. She noticed that "like" was more particular and "love" was more holistic. Meaning, it is often more true to say that we "like" or "dislike" a certain part of a person rather than the whole person. When we are referring to the whole person, love is a more appropriate term.

It is often the case that we can like a person's personality, but dislike their actions. We can like a person's humor, but dislike certain aspects of their character. We can like the way a person works hard but dislike some of the decisions that they have made. "Like," more often than not, seems to be "particular."

It is rarely true that "we don't like someone." It is also rarely true that "we like someone." Most of the time we don't "like" or "dislike" every single aspect of the people we are in relation to. When we say "I don't like him" or "I like him," what we usually mean is that from what we know of the person, the balance of scales has moved in one direction or the other. It is more true to say, "I like many things about him" or "I dislike many things about him."

So since "like" tends to be more "particular" in nature, as we talked, we noticed that loving someone has an impact on that. Even if we "dislike many things about someone," as we strive to love them, our eyes are opened to more and more things that we like about them. We begin to see their value more and more. We begin to see their strengths more and more. We begin to see them with all of their potential and possibility. We get glimpses of who they are becoming. In a sense, we begin to have eyes to see the way God sees them.

Most of the time, we love people where a good portion of "like" is already there. But in following Jesus, we are called to love people whom we don't automatically see things in them to "like." We may, in fact, dislike most things about them. But as we chart a course of love to navigate our relationship with them, we will likely be surprised at how much about them we end up really liking.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

holy spit

It might be strange to think about, but even Jesus' spit was holy. We find spitting incidents throughout the New Testament. Jesus used his own spit three times to heal. Mark 7 reports that Jesus spit and touched a man's tongue with it in order heal the man's ability to speak. Mark 8 reports that Jesus spit right on a guys eyes in order to heal his sight. John 9 reports that Jesus spit on the ground and made mud that healed a man's sight.

Holy Spit indeed!

But we see other cases of spitting that are not as fun and exciting. Jesus found himself spit upon numerous times just before his death. Matthew 26 reports that Jesus was spit on at his trial before the Sanhedrin. Matthew 27 reports that he was spit on by the Roman soldiers who mocked him with a crown of thorns.

While Jesus' spit healed, the spit of humanity was used to mock and degrade.

What about after Jesus died and rose from the grave? Do we ever hear about him spitting again? We do. But this time his spit does not bring healing. Instead, it brings judgement. In Revelation 3, Jesus warns the church in Laodicea and all churches like it who are "lukewarm" that he is about to spit them out of his mouth. Here are his words to them:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

It is interesting to think about the fact that we could become God's "holy spit." If we remain lukewarm, we will be spit out. But if we repent and allow Jesus to be close to us again, we could become the kind of spit that can loosen the tongues of the mute and heal the eyes of the blind.