Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm Moving!

It's official, my blog has now moved over to our church blog. James Tippit (our senior pastor) and I will be blogging more frequently and switching off. You can follow this blog by going to this link: http://harriscreek.wordpress.com/

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ready to Squall

Yesterday at Lake Day we talked about Mark 4:35-41 and the story of when Jesus calmed the storm (squall) on the Sea of Galilee. Mark points out some important details in the story such as Jesus was asleep with his head on a cushion, the disciples were afraid, and the fact that Jesus has power over nature. But, perhaps the most important detail Mark lays out is that Jesus gets upset with the disciples for waking him up. Now I’m not always Mr. Rogers when someone wakes me up, but I think this goes beyond Jesus being frustrated about not getting his beauty sleep. I believe he is upset because calming every storm that comes in this life is not what Jesus’ Gospel is about. In fact, usually it is something of the exact opposite.

I would say there have been times where I felt like Jesus was asleep when life was storming around me, but what I’ve learned on the other side of those storms is that the storm is not what matters most. What is of the utmost importance is if you have Jesus “on board” with you or not. Every life encounters storms and we will all eventually meet a tidal wave called “death” which is inescapable. And when you reach the shores of eternity after that great adventure, the question of did your life count and make a difference will ultimately turn back to those times you encountered the many storms this world can throw at you. So rather than building a bunker and attempting to avoid all storms (which is impossible, even if you do build a bunker), I believe you should make yourself “ready to squall.” I think you should prepare for the storm that is coming either sooner or later. There are five ways to prepare for the storms of life that may come your way, and these pieces of advice are adapted from advice you would get from sailors that frequently encounter literal storms like the disciples and Jesus did in Mark 4. (Note: These 5 points are adapted from Leonard Sweet, one of my favorite authors/speakers and are not my original ideas in any way, shape or form.)

1. Get out of the harbor.
  • Times of storms are when you get out of the harbor. The most dangerous place for a boat to be during a storm is anchored in the harbor because it will get battered against the shoreline. What this means for you is that you must go deeper with God during stormy times, not shallower. This is counterintuitive, but it is the safest thing to do when trouble comes. A quote that may help you is one that sits on my desk at work everyday from Oswald Chambers. He says, “If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters just inside the harbor, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbor into the great depths of God, and begin to know things for yourself—begin to have spiritual discernment. Beware of paying attention or going back to what you once were, when God wants you to be something that you have never been.”

2. Steer into the storm.
  • This, too, is a little counterintuitive, but the fact is you cannot escape some storms no matter how hard you try. Trying to go around it or away from it will only prolong the inevitable, and it will put you in a position of vulnerability. The best way to describe this is paying attention to difference between how cows and buffaloes naturally respond during storms. Cows tend to leave the herd trying to escape the storm. Buffaloes react just the opposite way and put their head down and persevere the storm. In doing this with the other buffaloes, they greatly increase their chances of survival.

3. Get rid of excess cargo.
  • You probably have seen this on movies and TV shows, but when storms come to boats at sea the sailors almost immediately begin throwing things overboard to lighten the boat’s load. As Americans, we carry so much baggage. I am the world’s worst; every time I travel I pack three times more than I actually need. Stormy times are not a time to worry about “fringe stuff” in your life. It is actually the time to get back to the basics and the most essential and important things in your life (God, family and friends).

4. Lash yourself to the mast.
  • When storms got really bad in the old times, you would see sailors do something a little odd. They would chain or tie the captain to the mast of the ship. This, of course, is dependent upon your willingness to “go down with the ship.” As I said, there is one time in every person’s life that you encounter a wave bigger than your boat, but if the storm you are in is not that one, then your best chance of survival is lashing yourself to the mast. This means you need to tie yourself to God’s Word (Jesus) and God’s word (Scripture). Absorbing all that the Bible has to say about who God is through the person of Jesus is your best chance of survival no matter how big or small the storm is.

5. Enjoy the ride.
  • This last piece of advice boils down to one thing: you know storms are coming, so you might as well enjoy the process when you can. It may be a rollercoaster of emotion, but sometimes you pay good money to go on coasters, so cheer up! Find joy in the small things and know that every storm eventually passes. Also, you may never know what ways the storm has benefitted you from your limited perspective. Just as a tornado can be destructive and terrifying, the rain that comes can be nourishing and life-giving. Take joy in the fact that you are not God, thus you do not have the full picture in mind. If you do these five things when storms come, you will see that God’s grace will carry you through anything on this side of eternity, and His kindness will carry you into the other side of eternity.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Love that Surpasses Knowledge

In Ephesians 3:18-19, Paul prays that believers a Ephesus “may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” This idea of being filled with the “fullness of God” also shows up in another letter written by Paul called Colossians, which our church has been studying this summer. He says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

This is quite a dramatic thought if you believe that God is the Creator of the universe. The Being that spoke and it was so can dwell in His entirety within the confines of your temporal body. Before you start shaking your head, this is what happened with the incarnation of Christ and is why Paul can say that we are to live “in Christ.”

When I read such thoughts by Paul, I struggle with the reality of his words when I look at my life and the lives of those around me. My life rarely, if ever, has felt the fullness of God. But why is this the case? Is Scripture or my life wrong? I cannot tell you how often I hear people’s sin get brushed over in two words and one simple phrase: “Nobody’s perfect.” This is a correct truth, but only a half-truth if you are living “in Christ.” We tend to dwell on Scripture’s understanding of original sin and think far too little of the Bible’s words on the weight of our eternal glory as Saints. Perhaps we rush to say this phrase because we feel inadequate when we look at our lives and the life described by Jesus and Paul in Scripture.

One area in which I know a large number of Christians excel in is knowledge about God and the Bible. This is quite a different thing than knowledge of God. Before, during and after my time in seminary, I have been amazed by the incredible minds that I have run into when it comes to knowledge about God in the Bible. In fact, I can clearly recall just last week at Pre-Teen Camp thinking, “These kids know all of the right answers to the questions we are asking them.” That is why I think by and large we have missed the boat when it comes to what it is that God desires of us. Jesus reminds us of one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, which is Hosea 6:6, that says, “For I desire mercy (hesed – which means steadfast love or loyalty), not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

As Christians, we live in a subculture that is breeding a mass of people that can say the right answers but fail to embody them outside, or even inside for that matter, the church walls. Is this possibly the reason that we rush to say, “Nobody’s perfect” when we encounter each other’s failures? Is it because so few people who show genuine love and move through life without superiority, insensitivity, or gossip? Or is it because we continue to be impressed by people’s ability to quote philosophy and those who can clearly articulate the Bible as opposed to those who humbly walk in the beauty of Christlikeness by possessing humility and love for God and others? What if we stopped settling for less when it comes to spiritual practice just like we do when it comes to mental knowledge? What would your church look like if less people could win a debate over Calvinists or Arminians, but habitually showed love and kindness to annoying people without even thinking of it as a personal sacrifice? What does someone that knows “this love that surpasses knowledge” even look like? I’m not sure I could tell you. But I know Jesus and Paul would say that it is a sad state of affairs when we know more about God than we do of Him. I believe they would also say we have completely missed the point of being in relationship with God, and I think they are heartbroken over how far we are from experiencing the “fullness of God” in our lives.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How He Loves by Brady

There is a song called “How He Loves” that the David Crowder Band is putting on their new album titled “Church Music,” which will be released this September. I found out that the song was actually written by a guy named John Mark McMillan the day after one of his close friends named Stephen was killed in a car accident. The extraordinary thing about this story is that John Mark’s friend had prayed to God the morning of his wreck and stated that he would give his life if it would spark a movement amongst the youth in our nation. As I mentioned, that night he was killed in a car accident and people were left feeling as though Stephen was a sacrifice of a lesser kind than Christ.

The lyrics to the song are powerful because it uses terms of desperation and brokenness with words of love, grace, and hope. Here is just a sample of some of the lyrics: “Love's like a hurricane, I am a tree, Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy, When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me;” “If grace is an ocean we're all sinking, So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest, I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way, that he loves us, how He loves us, how He loves us, how He loves.” This last line changes the entire message of the song and seems to imply that it is about the manner in which God chooses to express His love for us rather than being about the amount or depth of love that God has for us. I believe the imagery this song presents of being broken by love and almost drowning in grace is consistent with the message of Christ.

Out of all of the different and beautiful elements of this song, the most impactful thing to me is the title of the song. The title is not “How He Loves Us;” rather it is “How He Loves.” This song is addressing the way that God loves us, not the fact that God loves us. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus addresses the nature of this life many times. In a famous portion known as “The Sermon on the Mount” he uses birds as an example. He says, Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)

To be honest, my wife has had a problem with this verse for a long time and never more than today probably. The lot that our house sits on has seven mature trees and 30 plus bird’s nests in them. This spring alone we have buried seven baby birds that have died, the most recent one being today. Today’s case was different because a baby dove had fallen and was still alive, yet the mother couldn’t get it back up into the nest high above. My wife did what she could to save the bird, but ultimately ants ate the bird alive before she could save it. And in this small fragment of the rhythm of life we see the pain that we experience as humans. This pain comes from what Charlie Hall calls “the beauty of the ash of love.” In short, it is the fact that spring means new life and also baby birds dying. It is a soldier dying when his wife is back home giving birth. These moments are why Jesus can say that to truly live, you must die.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that one of the few other times Jesus mentions birds in the Gospel of Matthew is when he is telling a potential follower what it will cost to follow him. He says, ““Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”” (Matthew 8:20-22) These are undeniably some of Jesus’ harshest words, but he is getting at the root of what Christians believe this life is ultimately about.

Did God grant the request of Stephen and allow him to die because of the prayer he prayed that morning? I’m not sure, but I know beauty was birthed out of this tragedy in the form of a song that has potential to transcend this life. I do know that the nature of God is to allow suffering to happen because of His love for us, not in spite of it. Just like the song says, it is simply “how he loves.” Because “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” And this is the hope that we have as Christians. That God is not some distant deity smiting us by causing us pain and heartache; rather, He is love that chose to enter into this world full of pain and hurt with us, live a life worse than the birds of the air experience, and die a painful death in order that we might have life. And the call to us is to follow him in the way of love represented here: to die in order that we might have life. If we die to self for His glory in whatever way we are called, whether it is social, economical, material or literal death, He will produce something transcendent that is far more beautiful than anything we could create on our own. And that is the promise of Jesus in Matthew: “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:32) This is the true nature of life found in Christ; this is the how He loves us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Information vs. Wisdom by Brady

I recently finished another book by Malcolm Gladwell called “Blink.” He analyzes in his normal, off the wall kind of way, the art of a gut decision. There are several intriguing stories that back up his theories and make for an entertaining read, but his conclusion at the end is what has me thinking right now. He says, “We live in a world saturated with information. We have virtually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips at all times, and we’re well versed in the arguments about the dangers of not knowing enough and not doing our homework. But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding.”

I frequently say it a slightly different way: “Information does not lead to transformation.” The Bible has a ton to say along this same line, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. “Lady Wisdom” is an ancient Hebrew concept that is described as a person calling out to people in the noisy street looking for someone to listen to her (Proverbs 1:20-21). This reminds me of today’s “Information Age” and the crowded blogosphere world we live in (and to which I am adding to at this moment…irony). If you are on Facebook or Twitter, you know exactly what I am talking about. There are so many gurus and “pearls” out there telling you the key to life, yet it seems like it boils down to two things in Scripture: fear and discipline.

Gladwell says that learning to trust your gut instinct is a no-brainer, but you must learn to train it first. He talks about the obsessive discipline it takes to gain enough understanding to trust your gut. This means that you’ve got to be disciplined when it comes to your intake of information. All information is not equal or equally valuable. All advice is not equally beneficial. The only way to move from knowledge to understanding is to be disciplined in filtering out the bad information and looking for the few important pieces of data that are required to make sound decisions. In our quick-fix society, no one wants to take the necessary time to be disciplined, and certainly no one wants to receive discipline from God. But Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes the son he delights in.” Tough words for an undisciplined society to swallow.

The other key to this is, as I said, is fear. This is the ability to take in the brutal facts and important data and learn to use it as motivation. A book by Peter Senge talks about our inability to deal with the truth when it comes to our own life, and our propensity to lower expectations when we are confronted with the brutal facts of our lives. He says, “If the first choice in pursuing personal mastery is to be true to your own vision, the second fundamental choice in support of personal mastery is commitment to the truth.” This means that we must learn to be ok with failure and be willing to confront the facts. It also means that we cannot fear the information we receive, rather we learn to fear (have a healthy respect) for God over all other things.

Malcolm Gladwell closes his book by saying, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” I think all of us hope that our leaders in government and other important positions in our life have wisdom and understanding, but I fear that the majority of us are simply knowledgeable. Rare is the person that seeks out wisdom because it takes humility, discipline and fear. My prayer for myself and others around me is that God will raise up a new generation that is wise and full of understanding about the times that we live in. My hope is that this generation will be able to confront the major problems in our world today with full wisdom and understanding. And I believe that the more information we receive and the necessity for truly wise people rises, that masses will begin to understand where wisdom and understanding come from. It is as Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To Have Had and Lost by Brady

With the season finale of Lost being tonight, I think they are going to address a fundamental question of life that many people seem to be asking today. That question is, “Is it better to have something and lose it or not have it at all?” Kate has already asked this in the previous episode when she asked Jack if he was willing to change the future plane crash and not meet her or anyone else from Oceanic flight 815 at all.

What is interesting is that Coldplay and Jay-Z ask the same question in Coldplay’s EP called “Prospekt March.” Jay-Z says the line, “And the question is, is to have had and lost, Better than not having at all?” I would say this is more than a philosophical question that has no answer; rather, I see it as a spiritual matter that determines the way you see the world.

I believe that Christianity offers a way to view the world which allows for suffering because of one intrinsic human quality: love. The world of “religion” is turned upside with one verse from the Bible: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) John goes on to say in verses 20-21, “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” If you are a follower of Christ or believer in God, this is not really a question for you at all. The answer every single time must be, “Yes, it is better to have had and lost.”

C.S. Lewis addresses this same question after suffering the sorrow of losing his wife, Joy. “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I know several people going through searing pain of loss right now. I have family members that have experienced deep loss of husbands, fathers, and children. I personally have experienced that pain as well. But to be Christian is to be willing to love even though you will experience the pain of losing that which you love. Christians (as my pastor James points out, Christians means “little Christs”) are reflections of God in that Jesus is the embodiment of this principle. He had infinity and took on finitude. God could have forced us to follow him, but He chose relationship and freewill instead. We, in turn, are forced to make a similar choice each day: Do we continue to love those people and things that will ultimately hurt us, or do we lock ourselves up in an airtight casket that is impenetrable hoping to avoid the pain of this life? I don’t know what the characters of Lost or Jay-Z will choose, but I would say “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Christmas and Good Friday by Brady

We've all seen the iPod commercial that puts Peanut Butter and Jelly, Cookies and Milk, and Hammers and Nails together. But the marketing geniuses at Apple left one out: Christmas and Good Friday. Christmas and Good Friday? What do those two things have in common? For me, it is next to impossible to separate Christmas and Good Friday. At first glance to the casual observer, these holidays have nothing in common. One has a bunny and another a fat man with a beard. One is in the dead of winter and the other on the cusp of Spring. Even in Christianity, one celebrates the birth of Jesus and the other his gruesome death. I guess it could almost seem a little sadistic to tie a celebration of the birth of a baby and the death of that same baby together, but I believe this is what the gospels do for us.

From very early on, the birth and life of Jesus is pointing to one end: the cross. Even when he is being dedicated in the temple by a man named Simeon, this is the prophecy spoken over the baby boy: ““Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”” (Luke 2:28-35 NIV)

I am not a parent, but the word “gulp” comes to mind if this prophecy is spoken over my firstborn. The proclamation begins with a promising and rewarding tone, and Jesus’ parents are overjoyed by this message. But then Simeon makes a U-turn and begins to speak of the conflict that this child will cause. He will cause many in Israel to rise and fall. Not only that, “but a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” The immediate connection is drawn between Christmas and Good Friday, birth and death. I have been told that there is no love like the one a parent has for their child, and it must be paralyzing to hear that your child will pierce your own soul at some point.

One of my favorite songs right now is “O Church, Arise” by Keith Getty. (Disclaimer: It’s not a “cool” song, but the lyrics are deep and true.) Part of the second verse says, “And with the sword, that makes the wounded whole, we will fight with faith and valor.” This statement is a little oxymoronic and is much like tying Christmas and Good Friday together. A sword, by definition, cannot heal wounds, it can only inflict them. But that is the truth that is presented in Luke 2, and it is predicated on the fact that “many hearts will be revealed.” From being in ministry for almost 4 years, I have seen a lot of hearts and all of them have been wounded. Some have been healed from those wounds and others are still gaping wide open, but all are wounded indeed.

In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in a loving relationship is exposing your true self to someone else. That is why so many people become “cat ladies” or “dog lovers.” It is far easier to give your affection to a fury creature that does not know the depths of your wounds when your true heart is revealed. And because the Bible states that “God is love,” there is no choice but to enter into that wound in order to heal it. The problem becomes that most people would call God vicious or unloving for doing such a thing. A person that would pierce the soul of his own mother has to be vicious! But I have yet to hear someone call a doctor unloving for inflicting wounds in order to heal. No one ever complains about the scars of surgery when that very surgery has given them new life. And that is what God does to us: He is willing to use a sword, to inflict pain and wound us in order to heal us. That is because He knows our condition, our hearts have been revealed, and they need to be pierced.

And that is the connection between Christmas and Good Friday. It is something as oxymoronic as a virgin mother or being born again. But that seems to be the business that God is in. Using great pain to bring much joy. Using our weakness as strength. Sending a king to serve. Causing the first to be last and the last to be first. Such is the kingdom of God. So may you during this Lenten season reveal your true heart to God and allow it to be pierced by the sword “that makes the wounded whole.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rhythm, Depth, and the Connectedness of Life

Over the last two and a half weeks I have been battling a sickness that has been kicking my tail. It started with nausea, led to a 9 point cold on a 10-point scale, and now is in the “cough up your lungs” stage. What I am experiencing is not uncommon for this time of year. In fact, a number of people in our church have a similar illness that they’ve been battling for weeks as well. But what is interesting to me is that I have been sick at least 6 out of the last 8 years around this exact time period. How do I know this? Well it’s not because I track my colds and viruses on an Excel spreadsheet.

Today (March 3) is a day that will always be seared into my family’s memory. In my opinion there are three types of days. There are normal days that you need to look on a calendar or internet site to figure out what happened on “this day in history.” These dates are the majority of our days. Then there are dates that we are supposed to remember and commit to memory. These are birthdays, anniversaries and important dates in history. These days are important in your life, but the very fact that you have to work to commit them to memory puts them in this category. The last category is filled with days that you could never forget even if you tried. I am sure that September 11 is one of these days for a large majority of Americans. And, as I said earlier, March 3 is one that my family always remembers without effort. Eight years ago today my youngest sister was killed in a car accident as a 16 year old. The events that transpired still ring fresh in my memory even with the passing of nearly a decade.

And that takes me back to my sickness. My personality is one that usually buries emotion and hides weakness. But this terrible habit of mine usually catches up with about this time every year. Now I may get sick around this time of year because my immune system is lower in the winter and more susceptible to illness. But somehow or another my body has become worn out and fatigued at this exact day almost every year for the last 8 years. I also usually become a little more irritable and moody. All of this happens even without me consciously anticipating the anniversary of her wreck. I’ve got to admit, last Tuesday I did not sit around and think, “only one more week until March 3.” In fact, two days ago I couldn’t have told you it was coming up. It is not something I have to cognitively dwell on to have it affect me. My body responds and reacts because it is engrained in my rhythm. I also believe that it reacts because we are so intimately connected with the created world around us. When we experience the death of something we love, a piece of our lives will also forever be gone with that person or thing.

And that reminds me of what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

Paul begins by talking about the nature of life and how fragile we are as humans. He describes life as one where we are troubled, deeply saddened or in despair, and even stricken with illness. He goes on to say, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” And this speaks to how intimately connected we are with one another. This is the glory of the Gospel, which is truly Good News: that we must die in order to have life. It is also the true meaning of being a Christian. Not that we just “believe in” Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that we actually “identify with” Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is why Paul can say in Galatians 5:24, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh.” And that is why he can go on to say in Romans 6:3-5, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

To me that is what Lent is about. Going through a 40 day “wilderness experience” and letting parts of your life die so they can regenerate into something new and holy. And that is why I will embrace the sickness in my body that I carry around in part because of my mourning. To know Jesus in his death is to know him in his resurrection. I am aware that Jesus has risen and remains alive during Lent, but this is a period for Christians to experience a connectedness with God in his suffering. This is my only hope during times of deep grief over my sister or other friends and family that have passed away: that God took it upon Himself to be subjected to suffering and death so that we might have life. And there is a time to celebrate this life as Christians, and that is Easter. There is also a time to celebrate my sister’s life, and that is March 4 and June 28 (her birthday). But today, just as in the Lenten season, we mourn and experience the depths of the pain of death so that we can experience the heights and joy of eternal life. Because we know that “if we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lost by Brady

I am enjoying this season of The Office, but I must admit that I am looking forward to the 3-hour season premier of Lost this spring. A couple of my friends and I were talking about the show and rehashing the storyline, and it made me start thinking about the appeal of the show. Even though a couple of seasons have been far inferior to the first one, my friends and I all agreed that we couldn’t give up on watching the show now because we have invested too much into it. In fact, I would go as far as to say that there is a cultish following of the show, and I am completely caught up in it. Last year I registered on some weird Dharma website that kept sending me junk e-mails, and they started freaking me out a little bit so I requested to be removed from the list. But in this cultural phenomenon known as Lost, what is it that is causing so many people to get sucked into this quasi-Sci-Fi plot?

I think that it is the fact that Lost is the definition of a postmodern show. There are deeply “spiritual” or “supernatural” things that go on with the characters on the island, but none of it is exactly orthodox when it comes to faith. There is also the element that the audience is not aware of the full story going on, and we are only getting pieces of it episode by episode. This is a distinguishing characteristic of postmodernity, in that the majority of postmoderns do not feel connected to a story that is larger than their own lives (it is called a loss of metanarrative). But the thing that I think that is most telling why people are so intrigued by the show is the battle between good and evil is distinctly postmodern.

The show has a cast of characters that are dynamic and “round” individuals. I overheard some people a couple of months ago talking about the show, and one guys said, “I hate Jack. He’s so self-righteous.” Only in a culture as jaded as ours would a show’s primary “hero” be as unimpressive as Jack Shepherd. Sure he’s a spinal surgeon, he’s good looking (so I hear), and he’s decisive, but he’s also an alcoholic, narcissistic, noncommittal, and schizophrenic at times. The person we should all be cheering for is not innately good or evil. He is a conglomerate of both the best and worst of humanity.

But this doesn’t stop with Jack. Benjamin Linus, the show’s main antagonist (by the way, Michael Emerson is doing one of the best acting jobs on TV in this role), has qualities that evoke empathy from the audience at times. I find it hard to hate him like I do other villains in movies and TV shows. His childhood makes you feel sorry for his upbringing, and I am still not 100% sure he’s the true “bad guy” in the show. After 4 seasons, the audience still does not know what or who the evil force is, but that does not mean the show has lacked in drama or nerve-racking moments.

All of this is characteristic of what is going on in Christianity today. One of my favorite emergent church authors to pick on is Brian McLaren because I think he is nearsighted in his doctrine, and he is too bold when it comes to pushing postmodernity into Christianity. The root of my major complaints with him is that he rarely filters out society in an attempt to redeem it; rather, he usually slurps up our current cultural climate and tries to make Christianity fit into that box. In his book called The Story We Find Ourselves In, the character that represents the postmodern culture named Neo (pointing towards his neoorthodox theology) discusses the issue of evil and the person of Satan. He says, “You know, if you go back into the most ancient parts of the Old Testament, there is no concept of Satan. That idea comes along much later. It seems to have been borrowed from the Zoroastrians, actually. Maybe it’s no sin to think of Satan as a metaphor—a horribly real metaphor for a terribly real force in the universe, mind you.” (Pg. 145) Does this metaphorical force sound a little similar to the forces at work on Lost? And my other question is, if Satan is merely a metaphorical evil force, then what makes God anything more than a symbolic good force?

What is it about the world today that makes us doubt that anyone or anything can be purely evil or purely good? It concerns me when people justify Adolf Hitler because of his upbringing or mental conditions, but not because I think Hitler is the embodiment of all things evil, but that I think that this is a roundabout way of denying pure evil and unsullied good. I personally believe there is an embodiment of evil and he has a name: Satan. This word makes most people in society cringe, and I think that it is only a matter of a few years that people will cringe when God is mentioned. We are all much more comfortable with donating a couple of bucks towards AIDS relief rather than dealing with the cause of the disease in the first place. We all want children to have clean water, but we do not want to square with the reason that poverty exists in this fallen world. In spite of this growing trend in culture, we cannot escape the fact that we are drawn to the drama that unfolds between good and evil as humans. This is because we all know in the depths of our being that there is an originator of all things good and beautiful; there is also a being that started all things evil and rebellious. Until you come to grips with this reality, chances are you will feel a little lost.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Politically Correct Me by Brady

This campaign season has been a little too much for me to handle. Both presidential candidates have spent more time and money on this campaign than any other before. They also have had their every move covered by the media. But in the midst of constantly waiting for one of them to slip up, it has become apparent how politically correct our culture has become. We all made fun of China during the Olympics for not allowing the press to report certain issues, but we have instituted our own form of censorship. For example, Larry King asked John McCain if he feels like he has gotten a fair shake from the press, and he answered yes. You could see on his face that he was only saying that so a firestorm was not started 6 days before the election. Barack Obama also was forced last night to tout Bill and Hilary Clinton last night in front of a crowd in Florida even though he blasted her in the primaries. This, however, is not just a political issue, but it has also become a religious one as well.

One of my students a couple of years ago told me a story about when he went to a mall in Dallas around Christmas time and was on a crowded elevator with a mixture of holiday shoppers. There was the inevitable awkwardness of being in close quarters for 30 seconds with complete strangers and standing in complete silence. There is not enough time to start a conversation, but there is just enough time to make you start sweating due to the discomfort in the cabin. In the elevator was a group of thuggish looking guys, and one of them spoke up. He broke the silence by saying, “How’s everyone doing?” Everybody remained silent and stared at the floor feeling the tension of the situation. Not to be denied, the ringleader presses on. What he asks next throws everyone for a loop. He asks, “Y’all go to church?” Again, no response from the crowd, but he and his friends don’t really care that they are breaking all sorts of social rules of political correctness.

This guy and his friends were breaking all sorts of social etiquette rules that are unspoken in today’s world. Rule #1: Do not step into an elevator if you are going to cause people to give up personal space. Rule #2: If you do break rule number one, do not talk on the elevator. Just stand silently until you reach the desired floor. Rule #3: Do not under any circumstance discuss matters of faith in public, especially to complete strangers.

I have not even mentioned the fact that most people had already pre-judged this group of “gangsters” before they opened their mouths. But, the ringleader pressed through the thick air and said something incredible just as the group reached their destination. He said, “I just want y’all to know that God loves you, and you should think about going to church sometime. Merry Christmas.”

This situation, which really happened at a local mall, challenges me personally in so many ways. There are rules which we all follow which can be best described as being “politically correct.” Caucasian, not white; Portly, not fat; Vertically challenged, not short; Mentally challenged, not retarded. I could go on even further, but even my typing of certain examples would raise red flags for some of you. The point is that our society is drowning in a sea of political correctness and we are producing more posers than ever before. People are pulled off of TV for racial or sexual comments all of the time (which they rightly should be), but rappers sing about some of the worst stuff imaginable and no one does a thing to stop them.

The truth is that most Christians are being muzzled by the fear of political correctness. I am not a big proponent of the bullhorn preacher (for all of you Rob Bell disciples out there), but I am also not going to say that he or she does not have an important role to play. To be honest, I hide far too often behind the statement: “It’s not my style.” But in a culture where Sesame Street has hurt people’s feelings
, it might be time for a dose of reality. The problem is not people using certain politically incorrect words in public, but it is the mentality behind it. In an age where Christians are usually portrayed as dummies unless they are talking about global warming, it might be time to forget worrying about being politically correct in the sense of American politics.

As one of my professors always says, being a Christian is making a political statement between heaven and earth where you stand. I believe that we are to be more concerned with being Kingdom Citizens than American Citizens. The politics that really matter are not between red or blue, but light and darkness. The more you read Jesus and Paul, the less they seem to fit our mold of political correctness. I think the whole point is that you may start becoming less concerned with being politically correct and more concern with being spiritually correct. Watch less of Fox News or CNN and actually learn the names of the 12 disciples. I am not suggesting that anyone should make racial or sexual degrading comments (if that’s what you heard, you do not read very well), but I am saying that you may think about calling someone out who is living in sin or sharing with a non-believer why you follow Christ.

Just as the guys broke every mold we have created, I pray that we begin to live in such a way where the love of God confronts people enough to shock them out of their comfort zones which are protected by a fence of political correctness. I pray that I say or do something in the next week that someone feels the need to politically correct me
.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are You Emergent? by Brady

“You might be an emergent Christian: if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D.A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem; if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about they myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found; if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, na├»ve, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian.”
-from Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Love God and Love Others and... by Brady

Yesterday I was involved in a conversation about what it means to be a disciple. First we said that a disciple is someone who knows and believes certain things. Quickly we saw that this in itself could not be the sum of what it means to be a disciple. If you simply believe correct doctrine about Jesus without any action, you can hardly called be a disciple of Christ. So we added that a disciple is someone who also does certain things in addition to knowing correct things about Christ. But what we came to in the end is a “yeah, but” answer.

In Mark 12:28-34, Jesus is answering a series of “test” questions from religious leaders in Jerusalem. They are trying to put him on the spot and get him in trouble. He is approached by a scribe and is asked the most important question anyone could ask God. This is how the story unfolds: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

What is odd to me is that Jesus reduces a life of faith down to only two things: Love God and Love Others. He is basically the first person to combine the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 that says to love others. But even when this religious leader agrees with Jesus and affirms his answer, Jesus still tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” This was the “yeah, but” that we threw in yesterday in what it means to be a disciple. Yes you need to know certain things about God and love him, and yes you need to love others and do things for them. But, you cannot say that is all there is to this life of faith. It is much deeper than that. If there is not a dynamic relationship, then you are just going through the motions and are not actually a disciple at all.

The best way I can describe this is from an illustration my senior pastor used yesterday. I am married to Becca and we have been married for just over a year now. But what is it that makes me married to her? Is it that I believe that we are married? No, because Becca’s mom and dad love her, yet are not married to her. So, is it that I perform certain functions that would result in us being married? Just because we share an apartment, bank account, and bed does not mean that we are now qualified to be married. There is something more that makes us married, and I would argue that this other ingredient is hesed. It is a steadfast covenant, a commitment to never leave or forsake one another. It is the promise to be there through thick and thin. And it is that we love each other and share a bank account. So to be a true disciple, you must believe certain things and do certain things. But this will only get you close to the kingdom of God. What will get you in the kingdom is a steadfast love and dynamic, covenant relationship with the Creator and his created beings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vertically Challenged by Brady

Oswald Chambers once wrote, “If I am devoted solely to the cause of humanity, I will soon be exhausted and come to the point where my love will waver and stumble.” In this election season, I keep hearing which party is more devoted to the causes that benefit humanity. Whether it is healthcare, energy, climate control, abortion, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each party is asserting that they care more about humans than the other party does.

An instrumental part to the word hesed is that the vertical relationship we can have with God ultimately affects our horizontal relationship with others. But what I see many people in my generation doing is glossing over the vertical components of this word. In an attempt to “fix” the Christianity our parents have passed on to us, we have forgotten that you cannot love horizontally adequately without the vertical changing our lives. So we march forward building social institutions that are going to change the world and create heaven on earth, only to invoke the name of God when it can advance our cause. This is the reason I believe you see organizations such as Invisible Children blowing up in popularity and church attendance shrinking at alarming rates. Is it possible that our attempts to correct our horizontal image, we have become vertically challenged?

I think it is humorous that my generation believes it will eradicate hunger, disease, and war, yet it obsessed and paralyzed by consumption, acquisition, and greed. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach would say this is due to our lack of development on the vertical side of life. He says, “Incurable insecurity, Prozac, and Paxil are the rewards for a generation that has learned to define its very being through material and professional success—productivity—rather than through being G-d’s children, whose value is immutable and immeasurable. No wonder then that we thirst endlessly for more money, bigger homes, faster cars—anything to obviate the inner feeling of worthlessness that haunts us at every turn. Since we have failed to develop vertically by acquiring more depth and sublimity, we compensate by increasing horizontally, through acquisition and consumption.”

Not only do we struggle with vanity in the material sense, but also by believing that we can change the world. We can cure all diseases. We can solve all political conflict. We can reverse climate change. Yes we can! To me, there is nothing more vain or self-absorbed than the idea that an institution or human willpower can solve the world’s problems. No wonder there is no room for the doctrine of sin, depravity, and a need for forgiveness in popular Christianity today. If you look around, the majority of the popular and well known preachers are famous for either preaching self-help formulas peppered with verses from Psalms and Proverbs or social remedies camped in selective stories from the Gospels.

My pastor told a story a few weeks ago that I thought drove home this point really well. It was about a pastor of a small congregation who had a wealthy rancher who would attend his church every once and a while. One day, the pastor went out to this man’s ranch to visit him and got a tour of his land. They drove all over the property and the rancher bragged endlessly about his commodities. As they reached the top of a hill on the land and parked the vehicle, and the pastor confessed that he has been worried about how the rancher is doing. The pastor and rancher both stepped, and the rancher said, “Pastor, look around you in all four cardinal directions.” The pastor went along with him and followed his instructions. He went on, “No matter where you look, I own land as far as you can see. I would say I am doing pretty well.” The pastor thought for a moment and said, “I am not worried about how you are doing in this direction,” as he pointed around horizontally. He continued, “I am worried about how you are doing in this direction,” raising his hand and pointing towards heaven.

When you are growing and maturing physically, it is important to grow both horizontally and vertically. If you only grow vertically, you will be rail thin and not capable of normal physical activities. If you only grow horizontally, you will become overweight and not able to function properly either. And if you don’t grow at all, you will eventually die. My hope is that my generation does not becoming vertically challenged while attempting to save the world.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Purpose Driven Gospel by Clint

I recognize that I am probably one of the last confessing Christians on earth who has not read The Purpose Driven Life or The Purpose Driven Church. Especially considering I am a pastor, that is especially terrible. Apparently, Rick Warren has sold over 83 billion copies of each. I’m just joking- I made that number up, but he has sold a lot of copies of both books. I began thumbing through The Purpose Driven Church a week ago. The church I am pastoring is looking at starting small group ministries. In addition to that, we are a relatively new church, and we are looking to define our mission and purpose. The main point that Warren keeps hitting on in defining a church’s purpose is that it needs to be short (a sentence or two), it needs to capture the heart of your ideals, and it needs to be just vague enough that there is room to imagine and innovate. Using these guidelines, a church can define a statement that is motivating and easy to remember.

In studying the Gospel, I see that Jesus is the originator of this tactic of which Warren teaches. When posed with difficult questions, such as “how can I inherit eternal life,” or, “which is the greatest commandment,” Jesus often gives memorable and relatively simple answers. For instance, a brilliant scholar in the law who was also a Pharisee asked Jesus the question, “which is the greatest commandment.” The man who asks was one that debated all aspects of the Old Testament all day long. He knew rules upon rules upon rules. He certainly expected a long monologue from Jesus that was complicated and wordy. However, Jesus responded simply with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Everyone must have left that encounter with those words ringing in their ears. After all, they only had two commandments to remember. After that, everything would just fall into place. One of the beautiful things about Jesus is that he came to fulfill the law and prophecies of an infinite God, but he made it simple. If we do these two things, we are fulfilling the greatest of God’s command.

We forget this, though, and we make things very complicated. We set off on personal conquests and vendettas. We get sidetracked by new philosophies and trendy teachings. We get enamored with cultural arguments. Of course, there is right and wrong, and we are not to live as the world lives, but what happens when you really focus on those two commands? I think the Spirit leads you in finding purity, seeking righteousness, finding wisdom, and striving after the ultimate prize- following Jesus to eternal life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hesed Now T-shirts

We are excited to now have official Hesed Now t-shirts available to you with our new logo on it. The logo has arrows that span the globe pointing both vertically and horizontally (i.e. "Becoming Vertically Horizontal"). The best news is that these shirts are only FIVE American dollars (even with a slumping economy). If they need to be shipped, then we will ship it at cost, and not a penny more. We only have adult sizes available at the moment (S, M, L, XL). There are five color combinations to choose from and you can check them out on our t-shirt page. So think of it this way: you can buy five different shirts for the amount you get other t-shirts in stores. Please support Hesed Now by purchasing a few for family and friends. We are trying to use these as a way to promote our site as well as to promote hesed. You can order a shirt by emailing info@hesednow.com or by writing to our address at Hesed Now Ministries, PO Box 23164, Waco, TX 76702. Thanks in advance for the support!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Unsung Heroes by Brady

Have you noticed that all of the recent superhero movies lately are different from the ones 20 and 30 years ago? New movies like Hancock and Hellboy 2 have the protagonist being slightly less than our memories of Christopher Reeve as Superman. Even the new Spiderman and Batman movies seem to be darker and have the main character always doing deep soul searching, wondering if they should continue fighting evil. I think this phenomenon is happening in more places than our local theater though; I believe it is because we continually ruin the reputation of any who might be able to achieve this status. There is also a blurring line on who the actual hero is and who the villain is. The students we work with are in desperate need of a few heroes, and I truly believe the ones that have the power to play this role are the people they live with. In this day and age, if you are involved in your kid’s life, working hard to provide for their needs and teaching them the truths about God, then you are doing something truly heroic by not settling for mediocrity. There is a real enemy and an actual struggle, and it is one that needs a heroic effort from you. Rest assured that your work is being watched, and your consistency in the daily grind makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

False Prophets by Clint

Lately I’ve been fascinated with false prophets. I am aware of the fact that’s a strange way to start a blog, but it’s something that has been troubling me lately. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus states, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name cast out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23) This text is a startling text. It is one of those scary texts in scripture in which you read it and say, “uh-oh.” How can I know God, or how can God know me, when He doesn’t even know those who are prophesying, exorcising, and using His name? Like most, I have never cast out a demon, and I haven’t ever really tried my hand at prophesying, either.

Lately, I’ve come across some videos on the internet of certain preachers and evangelists doing some pretty crazy things. One video had a man baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and ‘Bam!’ I don’t know what ‘Bam’ is, and the video was very strange and unbiblical. The sad part is, many treat such leaders as true prophets and true voices of God strictly because of their charisma and showiness. Such leaders are certainly invoking the name of God in everything they do, but is God truly present in their activities? Psychologists would tell you that the sense of belonging and the power of suggestion can drive people to do all sorts of things. Furthermore, emotional experiences can captivate people and convince people of all sorts of things. False leaders prey on such manipulation. Certainly faith is emotional, and beautiful worship comes from a passionate heart, but faith is rooted in obedience and truth. Paul writes, “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (2 Cor. 9:13, emphasis mine) When Christ teaches the disciples how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, the emphasis of the prayer is God’s will. Jesus was faithful to pray in God’s will, even in facing death. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see that God’s will is for us to need Him. We need His forgiveness, and His daily bread. Being obedient to God is following His law through Jesus Christ AND being dependent on Him. God is not to be portrayed as a name or being that we use so we can do things for our glory.

Have you ever known a “name-dropper?” You know, the guy or girl that insists he or she is really close with someone popular or well known. They always drop the name and say, “Yeah, we’re really close.” Or, “Yeah, we used to hang out almost every day.” I get the image of high school freshman claiming they hang out with the star senior quarterback in the summer. The thing is, the quarterback might not even know the freshman’s name. So when Jesus says, “I never knew you,” what does that mean? It means that a person can do all sorts of things in His name, and a person can claim to have His blessing and His power, but it doesn’t mean He knows that person. In examining the gospels, you get a clear picture of the people that Jesus knows. He knows people who clearly need Him. He knows people that are honest about their brokenness. He knows those who are humble before Him and do not seek Him for earthly power and prestige. He knows the hurting, the sick, the weary, the broken, the honest, the thief on the cross next to him. And yes, Jesus does know those who prophesy and do great things in His name, but He knows them as they come before Him in need of grace. And those who do things in His name with their own gain in mind while manipulating the faith and hope of others, they are just name dropping for popularity.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wake Up! by Brady

“Sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is. Sleeping is giving in, so lift those heavy eyelids.” These are the lyrics to a song by a band named Arcade Fire. What in the world is this band trying to say? Let’s suppose that you are one of the lucky ones that gets to live the average 27,058 days (or 74.1 years) on earth, that you will spend 8117 of those days (or around 22.2 years) sleeping. To be honest, I am one of the world’s worst when it comes to sleeping in. I love sleeping so much that I would probably choose to sleep 12 hours a day if I could. But recently I’ve started to realize that this affinity for sleep may be an escape route built into my life that I need battle. I’m beginning to think that, no matter how much I need and love it, sleep actually might be a tool of the enemy.

Paul Valery, a French poet/philosopher, once said, “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” But maybe the problem with most people today is that we have lost our ability to dream while we are awake. I’m not sure if it is because we do not believe that we can make a difference anymore or if it is because we are all gradually losing our belief in a transcendent God, but we all are guilty of attempting to numb ourselves to the world’s pain around us. All I need to point to is America’s obsession with one of its favorite pastimes: golf. Ronald Sider points out that it would take $27 billion spent over eight years to prevent 30 million people from becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. This figure is far less than what we spend per year on golf alone. I have seen far too many people become absolutely obsessed with hitting a straight shot on lush grass because they can forget all of their problems while they’re out on the course. While I play golf every once and a while, how many people do you know that play recreationally and don’t let it dominate the majority of their thoughts and time?

Another way I believe that we are “sleeping in” is by the amount of time spent watching TV. The average American spends 4 hours a day (108,232 hours or 12.4 years of your life) wasting time watching TV. Again, while I do not believe TV is the “demon box,” how sickening is it to lose 12 years of your life to inactivity in front of a lifeless screen! We will spend time at work or school thinking about who the bachelor is going to give a rose to (and then not even date after the show is over), but we won’t let the thought that over half of the world lives on less than $2 a day enter our minds. How can this be?

There is an age old question that asks, “What do you give the person who has everything?” In a society where our poor are actually rich comparatively, the answer is “any mindless entertainment which will numb me to the surrounding world.” In “The Broken American Male,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says, “The absence of intimate relationship and an inspiring institutional structure explains why deadening ourselves to life has become the all-American pastime, embraced by all strata of society. We’re just not very happy with ourselves or with our lives, so we choose various forms of escape, the drugs of choice being TV, movies, alcohol, marijuana, the Internet, pornography, impulse purchases, and celebrity gossip.” (pg. 61)

As a society, I believe we are all collectively at a crossroad. We are a point which Zechariah reached when he said, “Then the angel who had been talking with me returned and woke me, as though I had been asleep.” (Zechariah 4:1) As a nation, we are the person on the reality TV show about to eat our own feces so someone else can benefit from our stupidity for 5 minutes of entertainment. Someone needs to snap us out of our idiotic ways and we need to wake up so we can see what is happening in the world around us.

The Bible provides us a different worldview, a greater reality to live in, and calls us to live life to its fullest. In Ephesians 5:14, Paul says, “for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”” He is saying that if you take the risk to get out of your spiritual bed, Christ will help you live out this deeper reality. Or maybe Jesus and the Bible are too archaic for you; in that case, Arcade Fire says it this way: “People try and hide the light underneath the covers.” So awake, O sleeper; this is your wake up call. It’s time to get out of bed so that you can start dreaming.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Emerging or Diverging? by Brady

I’ve got to admit that the new Mac commercials are a brilliant piece of marketing. Apple® is doing such a good job at this that their computer sales are actually up 54% from this time last year. The commercials feature a young, scruffy, quasi-Emo guy and a nerdy, overweight, middle aged man. Of course the young guy represents the Mac and the old guy represents the PC. One of my favorites is the newest one with the support group that contains four other nerds and the one that begins to repeat, “I’m pleased to report that I’ve been error free for nearly a week.” What Apple® has done is market to a younger, hipper audience of trendsetters and it has translated into success across the board.

If you are involved in church life at all right now, I think another commercial could be made with the same characters but having them representing “Traditional Christianity” and the “Emerging Church.” Right now, the Emerging Church is led by people such as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones and Erwin McManus who have a “Hipper-Than-Thou” attitude and are in touch with the cultural climate. What the Emerging churches are doing, at least the one I have had extensive involvement with, is defining their churches by what they are not instead of what they are. Most leaders and members of these churches would say that they have been scarred by “Traditional Christianity.” Christian bookstores, church structures, and even the “fruits of the Spirit” are made fun of as disgusting to these new trendsetting churches.

The problem I am growing to see with the theology being put out by this movement and taught in these churches is that they are overcorrecting problems and diverging from orthodox Christianity in many cases. C.S. Lewis was quoted once saying that Christians are like drunks, who get up from one ditch only to fall into another ditch on the other side of the road. I believe this is happening once again as the pendulum begins to swing back the other way in Christian practice and thought.

For instance, Rob Bell says in Velvet Elvis that he believes, “I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God.” This sounds cool and was actually appealing to me personally for a while until I examined this train of thought rationally. Roger Olson explains better than I could why this is incorrect and actually damaging. He says in The Mosaic of Christian Belief, “If “Christianity” is compatible with any and every truth claim, it is meaningless. It would then be indistinguishable from, say, Buddhism or atheism. Truly it would be chaotic, shapeless and devoid of identity.” So, while saving enough money to build a house in order to not incur debt is a good principle and a Muslim practice, it does not need to have Christianity’s stamp on it for you to practice it.

What tends to happen with guys like Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren is that they use the argument that “blank” word never appears in the Bible. I have either read or heard both of these men say that the words “personal relationship,” “spirituality,” “second coming,” “Trinity” and “eternity” as a timeless state are not in the Bible. (Side note: neither does the word “recycling.” While I am going “green” more and more daily by downsizing to a car that gets 34 mpg and recycling, I can do this in the name of being a responsible citizen and human rather than because God commanded it in Genesis. It’s just funny that they will throw out the second coming or eternal life, but say that the Bible tells you to recycle. See my blog called “Changing of the Guard” for more on this topic. Side note is now over.) In fact, it has gotten so bad that one Emerging Church leader reportedly called the Trinity B.S. This is what happens when Scripture is not the lens through which you gauge experience, reason, and tradition. What I fear is that the Emerging Church is actually a Diverging Church. This is no more obvious than in McLaren’s book title called Everything Must Change. Really ? Everything? And just listen to other titles by Emerging authors: The New Christians, A New Kind of Christian, and A Christianity Worth Believing. That sounds a little drastic and more than slightly arrogant to believe that in 2000 years of Christian history, our forefathers and foremothers have screwed up everything.

So the question becomes, what do I do as a Christian who wants to stay sound biblically and traditionally while also being relevant to the current cultural climate? I’m not talented enough to be like Paul, “all things to all people.” So I guess the only other option is to be the dorky PC guy from the Apple® commercial because I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater while also being a compromising letdown to the fundamentalists on the other side. Or maybe there is a group of Christians who will rise up that will continue to follow orthodox Christianity while reaching the world around them with the love of God. I believe the guiding principle of people like this will be what a mentor of mine told me once: “It is better for your ministry to be warm instead of cool.” Is that what you believe?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Heaven on Earth? by Brady

There are things I have to do as a minister that are just part of the cross I must bear, and one of them is living in Waco, Texas. My brother and sister-in-law live in Vail, Colorado, and my sister and brother-in-law live in Laguna Beach, California. I am actually visiting my family in Vail as I write and looking at some of the most gorgeous mountains in the entire world. The reason Becca and I are up here is to see our new niece who is now two months old. All around me is incredible scenery and loving family. Signs of new life in creation and my niece are capturing most of our waking moments. But in the midst of these incredible moments, I can’t help but let my mind wonder to the idea of heaven on earth.

In many Christian circles, especially amongst “Emerging theologians” such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, there seems to be a push to promote the idea that we as Christians are called to bring heaven to earth. While I fully understand their motives and completely affirm not checking out and watching the world go to hell in a hand basket, I still cannot get beyond the problems which arise out of this “progressive” line of thought. N.T. Wright sums up this belief system when he says that heaven is “a further dimension of our world, not a place far removed at one extreme of our world. It is all around us, glimpsed in a mystery in every Eucharist and every act of generous human love.” (Following Jesus) Wright goes on to say that we are reminded of it when we see beauty in God’s created order.

So is this idea of heaven on earth correct? Is heaven achievable and capable of being found on earth by embracing beauty and doing acts of love? As incredibly beautiful the scenery is here and as much as I would love to spend every moment connecting deeply with family and friends in community, the reality of the world still seems to me that we will never be able to achieve heaven on earth. I cannot simply believe heaven is earth without wars, violence, and sin. I know that I, personally, am too easily dissatisfied with the world as it is even when I am experiencing little “pieces of heaven on earth.” You may believe that this is due to my sinful nature, but I tend to follow C.S. Lewis’ line of thinking that we long for something more because we were created for something better. Lewis says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” He goes on to say, “These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited . . . Here, then, is the desire, still wandering and uncertain of its object and still largely unable to see that object in the direction where it really lies . . . Heaven is, by definition, outside our experience, but all intelligible descriptions must be of things within our experience. The scriptural picture of heaven is therefore just as symbolical as the picture which our desire, unaided, invents for itself . . .” (The Weight of Glory, emphasis mine)

Heaven on earth also seems to be a ludicrous idea because of the depravity of our own lives. I believe that wars will not cease on this side of eternity because we cannot even stop warring against our own selves. Even if we stop sabotaging our own personal, spiritual and emotional lives, a disease called cancer can set in that pits our physical body against itself. The bottom line is that humans have been attempting to play God since the fall of creation. We see this today in how we create video game worlds, are attempting to clone animals and humans, and also believing that we can actually create heaven on earth. The beauty of the cross is that there is nothing we can do about our own salvation. Our redemption comes solely through God initiating relationship with us.

The Bible lays out a clear description of what heaven will be like in sections such as Isaiah 11 or 65. These passages show a total DNA change of both humans and animals. The wolf and the lamb will coexist and children will be able to crawl amongst poisonous snakes. Babies, like my niece, will no longer cry for no other reason aside from a deep dissatisfaction that is inborn at conception. The only way I see this happening is by Christ’s return, from somewhere where we are currently not inhabiting, and making all things new. The only way I believe heaven can and will be achieved in my life is by Christ’s return or my death, whichever comes first. Maybe I am checking out by saying this; perhaps I am just partaking in oppressive religion by hoping for a future kingdom that is not here and now. But I will let Paul’s words in Romans 8 be my hope concerning this subject. “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” (Romans 8:23-25, NLT, emphasis mine)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown by Clint

I often try and imagine what the world will look like in a given number of years. For instance, where will we be in 25 years? How different will our world look from how it looks now? Back in 1983- no one could have imagined the impact of the internet, nano-technology, 9/11, and the war in Iraq. These were things that just couldn’t be predicted, or at least the magnitude of the impact of these things could not be predicted. So, as much as we know now, and as best we try, 2033 is going to look different from our best predictions. Kind of scary isn’t it? It’s even more scary thinking about 2033 in terms of where our culture will sit in relation to faith. One cannot help but notice that the place of faith at the American table and certainly the European table is getting pushed farther down the row. Is it possible that soon we will find ourselves at the kids table, while other philosophies and world views sit at the adult table?
Brian McLaren, in his book Everything Must Change, draws the world into two categories. He splits the world into the colonizers and the colonized. The colonizers encompass most of Europe and the people of the world who have directly benefited from the European colonization of other lands. The colonized are those who have lost land and power and sovereignty to the control of the colonizers. The colonizers brought the Christian faith to the new lands, along with abuse, disease and guns. Up until recently, the colonizers represented the majority of the Christian faith. However, recently, the numbers of growth in Christian faith is marked by the group which would be labeled colonized. Christianity is growing rapidly in places such as Africa, places in which people have had little power and no ability to colonize others. On the other hand, the impact and influence of Christianity is shrinking in the places of the colonizers. In most of Europe, Christianity is rapidly shrinking. Thus, the nations with the power to colonize seem to be turning from faith, as the ones who had no choice but to receive visitors looking to find gold, fertile land, and other resources are receiving faith in great numbers. The face of belief is changing.
In the Coldplay song, “Viva la Vida,” Chris Martin’s lyrics appeal to the vainglorious nature of power. His words speak to castles made of pillars of salt and sand, he even asks, “Who would want to be King?” Earlier he expresses the view of one who had the power of a king. “Seas would rise when I gave the word, now I sweep alone, sweep the streets I used to own.” In this humiliation, though, he expresses strength. In this loss of power, he finds power. This is a beautifully true expression of real power. Christ shows the truth in this. As Paul expresses in Philippians,
Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Where has our humility gone? Should it be surprising that faith is exploding in nations in which people are humbled by daily needs? Is it really shocking that people are turning to Christ in places where they have been trampled on and humbled? And in our culture, we feel entitled to everything- material and behavioral. So, as we imagine what the world will look like into the future, know that faith will still be alive and well. Christ promises that even the gates of hell will not prevail over the church (Matt 16:18). But, unless the current course here is changed, the church may be thriving in a place a little farther from home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Drive for Show, Putt for Dough by Clint

I have been attempting to play golf lately. I emphasize the “attempting” aspect of my golf playing. I think I’m struggling because I am so used to a baseball swing, and that just doesn’t carry over to the golf club. Don’t worry; I’m not going to continue boring you with the issues of my golf swing. In my recent golf obsession, however, I have noticed interesting things about people who play golf, which probably translates over to people in general. Golf people are all about looking the part. It’s not okay to go out to the course, even if you’re not very good, in just any old attire. You really need the right golf shoes and the right Nike Dry-Fit golf shirt. And don’t forget the glove. You have to have the left hand glove. I don’t feel comfortable with the glove for two reasons.
1) because I’m not good enough for it to be making any sort of difference, and 2) I can’t wear just one glove without feeling a tad bit like Michael Jackson circa 1985. I’m sorry but I’m either wearing two gloves or no gloves- who wears just one sock, for instance? After the shoes, shirts, and glove(s), comes the clubs. I got an Intech driver for my birthday, and I ordered a set of used Callaway irons of Ebay. I like my clubs, but they aren’t up to par with everybody else’s. First off, every year you need to get a new driver which is always larger than last year’s and is starting to look more and more like a metal detector. Also, there are always new irons and putters to get as well. Toss in a professional looking golf bag, towels, tees, and Pro V1 golf balls and you’re good to go. But chances are, with all this, most of the people out on the course can’t honestly break 95, maybe even 100.
Surfers and skaters have a great term for people who look the part but don’t have the chops. These people are “posers.” As a kid, the last thing you wanted to be was a poser. It was shameful to look like you were good and weren’t. Golf is a sport where basically everyone is a poser. Almost everybody wants to look better than they are. There are certainly exceptions (Do a youtube search for John Daly playing golf shirtless and shoeless—it is simply amazing. He looks like he has no business even working at the course and yet he has won the British Open). But if you go out to the local public course or country club, you will see a plethora of posers.
Jesus had no tolerance for posers. He had no tolerance for people who lived as though they were completely different from what was in their heart. Jesus expresses this when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NRSV). Jesus expresses that in denying ourselves, we actually find truth. Attempting to save ourselves on our own accord often leads us to posing as something different from what we are. In saving ourselves, we avoid honest community. By honest community, I mean opening up and confessing our troubles and sins with others. We avoid this kind of community which is a real journey, and we hide things within ourselves which is covered up with the perfect exterior. We might be double bogeying every hole, but at least we look like Tiger Woods. The loneliest people in the world are those who look like light on the outside yet live with darkness on the inside. It’s like turning the porch light on, but leaving all the lights off in the house.
True community begins when we break down the barriers of self aggrandizing. True community and a true healthy walk begin by denying our instincts to pose and becoming humble before God. “And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5, NRSV). Out on the golf course, you don’t want to be the guy or gal with the best equipment but with the worst game. You don’t want to be that guy or gal with the right expressions and right responses but with little faith and little light.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jesus Loves Strippers

For the last couple of months, we have been praying about what Hesed Now should do as a practical ministry . Yes, we have materials, a podcast, and have helped a lot of churches with resources, but we have really prayed hard about having a practical and tangible way of showing hesed to those around us. In comes Brett and Emily Mills who have a ministry called Jesus Said Love. They are worship leaders who live in Waco, but they also have a ministry to strippers. Instead of building a well in Africa (which is obviously good), we have chosen to support this ministry because it is local and it reaches one of the major "unreached people groups" within the borders of our own country. So, some practical ways you can support Hesed Now and this outreach ministry is to buy the "Jesus Said Love" or "Jesus Loves Strippers" (you'll get some looks with this one) shirts. You can also support Hesed Now by donating to their ministry, because this will be a ministry we will support in the coming months. If you want to know more about this ministry, watch the video on our blog or go to www.jesussaidlove.com. And don't forget to check out the shirts on our t-shirt page.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Oprah's Doctor on Theology by Brady

A few weeks ago my wife tricked me into doing something I thoroughly despise: watching Oprah. It was an episode with all males in the audience and she gave over her stage for the first time to “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Mehmet Oz, who I think is a frequent guest on her show. I thought it was interesting that she would give her stage over to a doctor, which I have written about before doctors being the new priests in white robes instead of black ones. But that is not what I found fascinating in the show. Towards the middle of the program, Dr. Oz said something along the lines of, “We have the knowledge to cure almost all diseases, but it takes a transfer into daily life.” What he was implying is that if you would eat healthy, exercise daily, get enough rest consistently, not smoke, and get regular checkups, that we would live longer lives and be able to curb the onset of almost all diseases in the world today.

What he was essentially saying is that you can have all of the knowledge in the world, but unless there is a change in your life, it won’t matter a bit. Now I must admit I am a fan of people getting properly trained and educated before they become working professionals. I think it is funny that we would never go to see a doctor that did not complete their entire training process, but we will get spiritual direction and diagnoses from anyone and everyone. My vocation is especially guilty of putting undertrained and undereducated people in charge of a group of people without batting an eye. Some of these cases are ok when people are leading small groups or other areas such as these. I would compare this to your mom being able to take care of you when you are sick as a child or when you fall down and get hurt. What you would not do though is want a parent performing major surgery or even regular checkups on their kids. This is the same in ministry.

In fact, I read a book for class the other day that was debating whether you should pay a minister more nor not based on the level of degree which they have completed. The book concluded that you should not, and I was losing my mind about it. Only in ministry would an organization not pay more based on a degree when you are trained in so many essential areas during seminary. So as you can see, I am obviously a fan of edu-ma-cation.

But with that being stated, there is a tendency in our Information Age that says knowledge is the answer. The internet has revolutionized the way we see our world around us. Suddenly everyone is an expert on every subject. It is pretty annoying to sit in class with laptops when a professor mentions something in passing, a student Googles it and then corrects the professor. Education and knowledge, as useful as it can be, without values seems rather to make man a more clever devil. But hopefully the Postmodern era will prove yet again that we cannot fix the mess we’re in with more of anything produced by man.

The Modern era brought a hope that technology would eventually progress to a point where we could achieve our own return the Garden of Eden. But we all watched I-Robot and had our dreams shattered of this idea. But now it seems that the Postmodern era is putting the emphasis which was once on technology, now more on education. “If we can just educate about AIDS, then we can get rid of it.” I would say American’s are pretty educated and yet we still have thousands of people every year who are new carriers of the horrible disease.

I am all for making the world a better place and actually working to see this happen. I 100% affirm a holistic view of salvation that says the complete person must be redeemed by Christ, as opposed to handing out a 4-spiritual laws and my duty is done type of salvation. But even with that, I cannot fully buy into humans being the redeemers of this world. This teaching is popular with a lot of the popular Postmodern preachers, and yet I have a hard time seeing how it fits biblically. So I’m in a weird spot of not being happy when natural disasters kill thousands of people because it is a sign of the end times, but also not being able to square with the fact that God’s kingdom will be established on earth in this age.

In fact, I will take this even a step further. I am not certain that if every person in the world became a Christian that all of the world’s problems would be solved. The reason I say this is that I go to school with all Christians, and that place is far from heaven. I say that because I myself often do not respond to situations in a way that fits with my beliefs as a Christian. This pervading hope that screams if we can just make everyone “believe” what we believe then our mission is accomplished. But as Dr. Oz has told us, you can memorize all of the Bible verses you want or explain theology with the best of them, but if there is not a transformation happening in your life then it is all meaningless. The brutal truth is that the Gospel is incredibly simple in theory, and ridiculously hard in practice. I say that if every person gets transformed by Christ, then his kingdom will finally come to this earth.