Even Jesus couldn’t resist the temptation to grab his cell phone and take the ubiquitous looking in the mirror Facebook pic.
Continuing today’s theme of bad Christian movies, here’s a trailer for Home Safe.
I’m not really sure.
But based on the trailer the moral of the story here is “spank your children or tigers, snakes, and senile old men will run wild and destroy everything you hold dear.”
“How far can a man run as a fugitive from God?”
With a tag line like that I can’t believe this movie wasn’t a hit.
Even without the recent election, it’s clear that we the people have some sharp disagreements with one another.
This isn’t anything new. There have always been sharp disagreements in every place, among every people, and in every era of history.
That won’t change anytime soon.
What I find particularly interesting about the current state of discord is the approach most often taken towards resolution. Whether it’s in conversations over coffee, a heated debate online, or an op-ed piece in a major newspaper the tact is usually the same: the person making their case almost always either explicitly claims or implicitly implies that their opponent’s disagreement is a matter of simple ignorance that can be solved by that person acquiring more information about the given subject.
We hold this “truth” to be self-evident because we are heirs of the Enlightenment, taught to believe without question that reason and the acquiring of more knowledge are the keys to truth and understanding. They are, as it were, the path to enlightenment through which all discord will be resolved and all ills will cease.
Sometimes that is true. Sometimes scientific, technological, medical, or philosophical breakthroughs do force us to change the way we look and act in the world, but I’m becoming less and less convinced that the simple acquisition of knowledge is really all that is necessary to change hearts and minds.
Rather, I’m becoming more convinced that it is experience or at least experience combined with knowledge which is the necessary agent for transformation.
Think about it this way, when you were a small child your parents told you over and over again not to touch a hot stove lest you burn yourself. They gave you all the information you needed to avoid trouble. But almost all of us needed the painful experience of touching a hot stove in order to fully understand and appreciate the consequences.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I could pour my heart out to you, and gladly would, in a effort to convince you that the avocado popsicle at Las Paletas in Nashville is not only better than it sounds, but a truly wonderful treat for the senses. But even if you’re willing to give me a suspicious benefit of the doubt, you won’t truly appreciate or understand that wonderful frozen treat until you try one for yourself.
I think it is because very need for encounter and experience that Jesus declares himself rather than knowledge about himself as the way, the truth, and the life.
If you think back on the Gospel stories, then you’ll remember that even the disciples who gained first hand knowledge from Jesus’ teaching didn’t always, and in fact usually didn’t, understand his teachings until they experienced for themselves what Jesus was talking about.
There are, of course, few better examples of this than the apostle Peter. He stood before Jesus and heard Jesus declare that his identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God was the foundational rock upon which the Christian faith would be founded. Yet, not long after acquiring that knowledge, Peter denied not only Jesus, but Jesus’ importance in his life. It wasn’t until the rooster crowed and it dawned (literally) on Peter what he had done, that he came to understand the importance of Jesus’ teaching.
The same thing happened to Peter again in the book of Acts. While sitting on the roof of his house trying to decide what to eat for lunch he had a strange vision of a sheet descending from heaven full of “unclean” animals that he was instructed to eat. Peter refused because he knew this was against the Law of Moses. Yet, Peter had stood next to Jesus when he proclaimed to the Pharisees that it is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them, but what comes out of it. So once again, Peter needed to experience Jesus’ teaching before he fully understood it.
Finally, there is not greater example of the importance of experience in Scripture than the resurrection itself. Even though the disciples had heard Jesus teach about his own resurrection, they hid in fear after the crucifixion, not “knowing” what to expect next. It wasn’t until they encountered the resurrected Christ that they truly understood what he was talking about.
Very rarely, if ever, will we argue someone to the faith or to our way of looking at the world, but an encounter with the risen Christ can change a person’s mind, body, heart, and soul.
This is why incarnating the faith, or living like Jesus, is so important. Since Jesus isn’t walking around on earth like he was on Easter Sunday, the only chance a person has to have a life changing encounter with the risen Christ is through us, through the incarnated Body of Christ.
This is also why I personally believe in Jesus and the truth of the Christian faith, not because I can intellectually prove the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible, but because I have experience the risen Christ in my own life through friends, family, and strangers whose Christlike words and deeds have given me a glimpse of another, deeper, truer reality.
If changing hearts and minds in order to make the world a better and more just place is really our goal, then incarnation is our best hope. It should not be wholly divorced from information, but if we do not embody the truths we claim, then no one will believe us no matter how powerful our rhetoric or truthful our information may be.
That being said, we must accept the fact that ultimately even an encounter with the risen Christ through our incarnating the Truth will not always be enough to change people. Countless people go on mission trips, attend worship services, or have life long Christian friends that give them a glimpse of the kingdom, yet they choose not to accept that reality.
Likewise, ultimately, some people will always simply disagree with us. It is not because they are ignorant or need more information, but because their life experience forces them to disagree even when that experience may be one they share with us. In other words, even as Christians our encounter with the risen Christ may lead some of us to different understandings and interpretations of that experience. The fact that there are tens of thousands of denominations on this planet testifies to this reality.
At the end of the day, or perhaps I should say at the end of our debating (if that end ever comes), the mark of our character and fidelity to Christ will not be continued argument or arrogant put downs of others’ ignorance. Rather, our Christian identity will be found in our continual incarnation of the kingdom of God.
That is to say, the truth of the gospel we proclaim will only ever be found in living a resurrected life which itself proclaims that the way to the truth is through life in Jesus.
Grace and peace,
I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come.
But Pat Robertson has finally said something that’s not completely insane.
Which means you need to prepare yourself.
The Mayans were right.
The end is nigh!
For Christmas this year, make sure you pick yourself up a rubber duckie nativity scene.
Because being a Christian isn’t something you can just put on hold while you’re taking a bath.
If you were paying attention at church yesterday, then you probably heard that the season of Advent begins next Sunday.
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of God as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. It marks the beginning of the Christian calendar, a year that culminates at Easter, with the celebration of the resurrection.
Advent also marks a moment in time when God needed us.
I don’t mean that there was, or is, some deficiency on the part of God that only we could “fix” or help God with. I mean that in God’s sovereignty, God chose to need us.
God chose to rely on us to accomplish God’s will.
That might sound strange, perhaps even a bit blasphemous, but think back on the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels.
Mary was the woman God need to say “yes” to the daunting task of carrying God in her womb.
Elizabeth was the person God needed to comfort and console the mother of his Son.
Joseph was the man God needed to stand between Mary and her persecutors, to protect her and care for her needs.
The innkeeper was the person God needed to provide a place for God to enter into the world.
And as a couple, Mary and Joseph were the people God needed to ensure the survival of the infant Jesus, providing food, shelter, clothing, protection, and love. Everything a helpless infant needs to live.
To put it simply, even the Good Shepherd needed good shepherds to watch over him.
For many of us, our knee-jerk reaction to this may be to argue that God “could have” somehow miraculously done all of this without the help of people. But God didn’t. And that should tell us something.
God may not intrinsically need our help, but God has chosen to need our help. God has chosen to invite us into the divine drama of redemption and to trust us to be more than just audience members, more than just scenery filling up the background.
We see this particularly in the season of Advent, a time that reminds us of the audacity of an infinite God.
It tells us about the Godhead being veiled in flesh, but it also reminds us not only that God took on flesh, but that the incarnation was a collective effort that required both a Holy Spirit and human hands to see it through. That, in turn, reminds us that God has faith in us, faith that those whom God called “good” in the garden could be the ones to help make the world a garden once more.
Though we may not realize it, the season of Advent, when we prepare for the coming of God, is in many ways a prophetic moment in which we declare a second coming of God when the work that began in a manger will finally be brought to completion.
This means that as people who live between the sound of an infant’s cries and the trumpets’ blast, we, like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and the innkeeper, and all the other anonymous actors in the drama of Jesus’ birth, have a calling to to care for the great gift we have been entrusted with - the Body of Christ.
We do this in much the same way that Mary and Joseph cared for the baby Jesus.
When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty something to drink, and tend to the sick we are caring for the least of these, the helpless who depend on others for their survival.
The infant Jesus was helpless. He depended on others to be fed, to be clothed, to be given something to drink, and the be cared for when he was sick. For a time, Jesus was the least of these. Which means in a very real way, whatever we do for the least of these we are doing for Jesus.
When we do care for the least of these we are very literally incarnating the past and future hope of the Advent season. By incarnating the Advent season we become participants in a prophetic reenactment of the nativity story as we ourselves make the necessary preparations for the One who has come and is coming again,
So this year during Advent, don’t just sit back and wait for the arrival of the King.
God needs your help.
Go out and prepare the way for His return.
Grace and peace,
If all the excessive shopping has you feeling a bit guilty today, then wear this shirt while you’re out fighting the crowds.
It’ll take the guilt away.
Or maybe not.
I came across this quote yesterday from Jeanne Kilde’s excellent book, When Church Became Theatre.
To attract converts to worship, services increasingly were led by better-trained clergy, who demanded higher salaries, incorporated more music performed by paid professionals, and featured a host of elaborate accouterments, including vestments and Communion articles, unknown to earlier generations. The growth of voluntary associations within churches – for women, for youths, for men – also increased the activities and raised the expenses of churches. But it was congregational competitions that most significantly raised costs. To recruit new members from the “cultured” middle classes who could contribute to the financial well-being and social status of the church, congregations were wiling to pay large sums for the best ministers and most artistic musicians and to build and furnish the most beautiful church buildings. Given the shrinking base of affluent citizens living in the heart of the cities, it is not surprising that many congregations chose to build new churches their the new homes of old and potential new members. Yet within the more socially homogenous new residential areas, they often found themselves locked in intense competition with other denominations and congregations for the same members.
Well, here’s the catch…
Kilde isn’t talking about the present state of the church. She’s talking about the church in 19th century Victorian America.
We have a tendency today (although it’s probably been true of people throughout time), to think of our problems as wholly unique and ourselves as the apex of human existence. The reality is that neither is particularly true.
Sure our problems today have a particular 21st century bent to them and we have certainly invented unprecedented technology, but even as the world around us changes our core humanity does not and because that core does not change we continue to come back to many of the same basic issues and problems that have challenged humanity throughout our existence.
This is why historians like to talk about history being cyclical. The players may change and the technology advance, but history demonstrates that we continue to circle back to the same basic struggles, controversies, and challenges time and time again.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.”
You’ve probably heard it said “if you don’t learn from your past, you’re doomed to repeat it.” Well, that’s only sort of true. The sentiment there is that we should learn from our past mistakes and that is certainly true. But as the quote from Kilde demonstrates, we’re all but certain to repeat our past either way.
I think it would be more helpful, though admittedly less catchy, for us to understand that we will inevitably repeat our past no matter what we do. So, let’s learn from it, and do a better job the next time around.
Such is the case with the church.
As we saw above, many of the struggles we face in the church today are a repeat of what we already went through not that long ago. Now, we could take the position of the writer of Ecclesiastes and just declare that “everything is meaningless.” Cathartic though that may be, it’s not particularly helpful in avoiding our previous mistakes even as we embrace the inevitability of reliving the past.
Instead, I think this particular example of our 21st century repetition of 19th century church growth strategies should serve as a healthy reminder that the church doesn’t need growth strategies. They worked momentarily for the 19th century church, but eventually failed as times and tastes changed. The same will happen for us.
Rather than trying to constantly reinvent the church or development new schemes for getting more butts in the seats, our not so distant past should remind us that in our distant past the church exploded in growth not because of a formulaic strategy from some business guru, but because the church had the simple audacity to be the Body of Christ in and for the world.
Rather than worrying about attendance, the church focused on the things the church is supposed to focus on: caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, defending the oppressed, comforting the broken, and preaching the gospel.
The early church exploded in growth because these things were their primary concern and they did them well, not because they competed with one another for the nicest building, the best music, or the most cutting edge program.
Despite the hype that consumes the church today, we don’t need radical innovation, at least not the sort of radical innovation some are calling for that bemoans the imminent death of the church if she doesn’t become more relevant or, perhaps we should say, competitive with current cultural tastes.
The church has always been at her best and has always been the most “successful” when she didn’t care about being “successful,” but instead focused on loving, serving, caring for, and discipling the world around her.
There is nothing new under the sun, but if we learn from our past and have the audacity to boldly repeat the best of it, then the church will be exactly who she needs to be – the Body of Christ.
Nothing more and nothing less.
Grace and peace,