Monday, August 31, 2009

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Substance Over Delivery)

Paul himself, one of the greatest evangelists/ missionaries in Christian history, and his ministry to the Corinthian church are evidence of what he has been teaching in this letter. He came to them with no great eloquence nor might. We do not see the master strategist that many (even me) have at times made him out to be. He is not the philosophical genius that showed the world how to make the Gospel “relevant” to another culture in Athens. He had a simple message that was successful because God’s Spirit used it to open hearts and people were saved.

No one could point to any clever arguments or slick advertising. God alone gets the glory for what was accomplished in Corinth. The reason the Corinthian Christians responded to Paul’s self-described weak attempts to reach them is because God was reaching out to them through Paul. The reason Paul knows that their salvation is true and will endure all the problems he is hearing about and addressing is because God is the author and perfector of their faith. This is why Paul was able to thank and praise God in chapter one. He is the one who convinced them. He is the one who will sanctify them.

Lesson to those who come after him? Don’t get too caught up in strategy and methods and reading the latest account of a new, better way to reach people with the Gospel. The same old simple and un-frilly way that has been around for nearly 2000 years is the best one to use. Simply open your mouth and do the best you can. It’s OK if it seems like it isn’t good enough. Apparently Paul’s delivery was pretty lame too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s whole schtick is creating a sort of you-had-to-be-there type of humor, only where you have to know the subjects he is talking about. Usually they are high brow philosophical subjects or bits of academia. The result is you don’t really laugh out loud, but you force a chuckle so that everyone watching with you knows that you a smart too. If you don’t get the jokes, you laugh anyway so that no one will realize you are ignorant. That may go a long way to explaining the popularity that he achieved among his generation. In fact, it helps that he has never achieved huge popularity because part of his mystique is that his audience feels like they are a sort of elite.

He does manage from time to time to almost create an interesting (if never completely entertaining) film by exploring some of the deep questions man has always asked about life, purpose, and the infinite. However, they are rarely fulfilling explorations because one gets the feeling that he never takes the questions seriously. That is because; while Allen likes asking the questions, he never expects an answer—he believes that there is not an answer to be had.

Some of the more noteworthy efforts:

Annie Hall: Allen’s popularly deemed “masterpiece” it has influenced every romantic comedy since, but ironically it is not particularly romantic or comedic.
Manhattan: One wonders if people defended the sexual relationship between Allen’s character and the minor in this film as “art” only to have it backfire in their faces when Allen was revealed to really be “into” teens.
Stardust Memories: Allen engaged in some heady navel-gazing, and simultaneously voicing his audience’s biggest frustration, “When are you going quit making these bizarre films to make another funny movie?”
Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy: How do these things ever get the go ahead? And how can you call this a comedy?
Zelig: A pretty amazing effort of film construction, but really too pointless and boring to be considered a story much less entertaining.
Broadway Danny Rose and Radio Days: Again, sort of pointless meanderings, but this time they are strangely some of his most entertaining efforts.
The Purple Rose of Cairo: One of his more interesting philosophical explorations.
Hannah and Her Sisters: Allen’s effort to correct his self-perceived error of not making Annie Hall depressing enough.
Crimes and Misdemeanors: Allen’s true masterpiece, full of interesting questions about God, right and wrong, and guilt with the only problem that it concludes that there is either no greater truths or they are at least irrelevant.

[Update: Midnight in Paris, a must see and perhaps his most satisfying film to date.]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Was Fun While It Lasted

The United States of America has been a pretty great experiment. The only problem is it requires a lot of work. There has always been the danger of people becoming too lazy. This whole freedom and self-determination thing requires a certain amount of responsibility and education. There is a lot of uncertainty as to whether the country has enough people willing to do the work required to keep the thing going.

Back in the early days of the United States, voting was considered a privilege not a right. The founders required land ownership to vote, which presumably ensured that the voters would take the direction of the country seriously. Of course, there were a lot of people unjustly disenfranchised and everyone should be able to vote, but it would be nice if somehow people would see it as a responsibility and not just a way to get things that they want.

Because that is what it has become. People vote for the politician that promises the most. Everyone even knows that they never deliver and they never campaign on the truth. And that is the way that things have gotten as bad as they have. Someone promises to give the country a magic solution to everything they have ever dreamed of—hope, change and “Yes we can” slogans—all nebulous, meaningless lies as usual. If anyone had bothered to look (actually many did) they would have seen a record and a philosophical position that bordered on Socialism.

Well those concerns raised by a few seem to have panned out over the past few months. Socialism by whatever name it is known these days is what we are toying with, and either 52% of the country got exactly what they wanted or a lot of the voters in 2008 were sorely under informed.

Either way, it is not the end of the world. Socialism is do-able; you just won’t have all the freedoms you once enjoyed in the States. But then, maybe we can’t handle the responsibility and amount of education that requires anymore.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Fixer

Well, the critics seem to be panning Pearl Jam’s latest work, but “The Fixer” sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe some feel that bands like Pearl Jam should stay in a hard rock box, or maybe they just don’t like pop in their music. Here’s predicting it will have a higher “play” than “skip” count on my iTunes.

This is a happy, optimistic song which people only familiar with Pearl Jam’s early-popular stuff might not expect. The text is one of those formulaic patterns where you say the same basic sentence over and over again with slight variations of meaning. It is about someone who loves to make things better. Basically, it is a guy song. That tends to be the way we are wired.

Musically, it is incredibly fun. It is a drummer’s song and the rhythms give that away. It is complex in its structure. That has got to be tough to play, but in a way the fact that they make it work so well contributes to the message of the song.

Honestly, we live in a culture and in a time where very few people have the attitude of this song. We are quick to criticize and complain, but are very slow to do anything to make things better. As Gen-X steps onto the stage and runs things for a while, that is to be expected. We are the generation that sees the negative in everything. This song is about redeeming the good in life. “What’s saved could be one last lifetime.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tied to a Dock

Tied to the dock,
Of a stormy shore.
You have everything in life,
But you can't take much more.
Ropes of false security,
Hold you taunt and fast,
Close to the agony,
Of a cruel and bitter past.

Let Him cut your ropes,
And pull you away!
Out into the storm,
But away from all the pain.
Ride every wave,
Under His guiding hand,
And He will bring a peace,
The world can't understand.

I've been there,
But He's severed my ropes.
Let me show you the way,
To a shore of brighter hopes,
Lean on my shoulder,
And together we will find,
A future so bright,
Only Heaven could ever outshine!

Monday, August 24, 2009

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (Wanted: The Unqualified)

Paul uses some pretty unflattering language to describe the Corinthian believers—and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—all the rest of us believers too.

…not many wise…
…not many mighty…
…not many noble…
…foolish things…
…weak…
…base and despised…

God has chosen us, elected us, and not based on any merit we possess—at least not any good merits. If what Paul is saying here is what it seems to be, God has chosen us for our inadequacies and our weaknesses. Abraham seems to have been chosen on similar grounds. He did so to shame the pride of the world. And He did so to use people in ways they could never claim to operate on their own.

So Christians have no grounds to boast other than Christ. Those set apart for the Gospel, Paul other church planters and cross-cultural messengers are not “the cream of the crop.” Instead it might be that God chooses the weakest and the least gifted of His children to spread the word so that people aren’t saying, “Have you heard so-and-so preach?” Hopefully when people hear God’s message preached it is the message and not the delivery that they remember.

All that being said, laying our own egos aside to shine a light on Jesus Christ is not so bad. And in spite of the fact that there are many so called “ministers” engaged in self-promotion, the main problem in Paul’s day as well as ours is more the fact that there are far too many believers engaged in hero worship of fellow believers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Little Whisper in Your Ear

In our world, we’re among the few,
The ones who trust not, we hide our truth.
Our search is for someone, someone who cares.
Who shares our secrets, believes in our fears,
Can dream along with us, and steer us through pain.
Building such friendships, is never in vain.
Cheryl, you’ve won a place in my heart,
Reserved for the privleged, the few.
Who share the nonsense we can’t comprehend,
The belief that one day, it will all reach an end,
Filled with the joy, of complete happiness,
In knowing that somehow, it made perfect sense.
When one day in heaven, we come face to face.
You’ll know God has used you, to show me His grace.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The General in His Labyrinth

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of those authors that you might feel like you should try reading, especially if you have any connection or affinity for Latin America. Actually, Latin America has a rich literary heritage with quite a list of authors to check out. Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Ernesto Sabato, Pablo Neruda, Isabel Allende, Gabriela Mistral, and Mario Vargas Llosa are just a few of the names that I have an interest in and have either read or want to read.

Until this year my exposure to Garcia Marquez had been what I had heard in a class on modern Latin American literature and a film version of his La Cronica de una Muerte Anunciada. Of course I had always considered Cien Años de Soledad, but lacked the courage to start out with such a complicated book. For that reason, and because it was already on my bookshelf, I read “The General in His Labyrinth as my first GGM novel.

Not too surprisingly it is dark and pessimistic. Only a Latin American could take a figure as “larger than life” as Simon Bolivar and reduce him to a shell of a prematurely aging man who is doomed to die from page one. But that is not unusual in the Latin mindset or in the culture or history of the continent either. Bolivar’s journey to his death in such an aimless vacillating manner is actually a good commentary on the direction that Latin America has had ever since it was discovered by Western Culture.

As for the “Magic Realism” element of the story: as is apparently typical of GGM, it is there but it is so subtle as to almost be missed. If you ignore the recommendation of this post and actually decide to read the novel, see what you make of it. It has to do with a room that the General knows intimately in spite of the fact that he has never been there before—twice.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Three More Great Examples of Sleuth Television

Sleuth television has pretty much always been alive and well. The mystery genre is so basic and communicates truth so well that it has and always been popular. (The very nature of the genre is the pursuit of truth.) That being said, the past several years have had several exceptional offerings that keep the genre fresh through the new angles they present. Three of those are:

Monk takes the often seen quality of some detectives, that their attention to detail is almost abnormal, and goes all the way. Adrian Monk actually is mentally ill. What really made the series stand out in its early days was that the series was incredibly positive in its perspective. It was a bright light in a period of dark, pessimistic mystery fiction. What it does especially well (and shares with a lot of other detective fiction) is differentiate the detective from the world he lives in. Monk may seem crazy, but he is not depraved and corrupted like the world around him.

Psych is a detective show where the detective pretends to not be a detective. His skill is great observation and deductive ability, something that all detectives should have. His problem is that the professionals around him lack those basic skills. To gain a place at the table, so to speak, he pretends to gain his insight through supernatural means. Where this becomes really fun is when the mysteries he encounters seem to have a real supernatural source.

Bones is at first glance just another one of those pessimistic, gruesome mystery shows that looked at the forensic approach to crime solving. Where it differed from its predecessors, however, is in the personal relationship between the two main detectives. One is a scientist and an atheist, the other is a keen judge of character and a religious man. The progress of the discussions about belief between them (as far as I have seen so far) is an interesting case study of evangelism done the way it should be done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To Those Feeling Called: Consider Being a Spiritual Instigator

The experience of being “on staff” in a church can be quite frustrating. You lead by doing. In truth you simply do what should be done. The church sees that its task is being done, that they are accomplishing things, because they are paying people to do it. More often than not a “spiritual leader” in what has become traditional church ministry, has a vision from God and gets it done all by themselves. If there is participation beyond staff it is cultivated, encouraged and prodded every step of the way. It is hard work and in the end, little difference is realized because the effects last only as long as the “leadership” keeps at it.

The experience of being a “spiritual instigator” on the other hand can be quite stimulating. You affect by suggestion. You simply point people in the right direction. Communities of believers see a task to be done, and maybe they will, maybe they won’t. The “apostolic leader” has a vision from God and brings others into the vision. Since there is no perception of “hired help” there is little pressure to force results through. Some of the visions are catching and are cultivated, expanded and multiply every step of the way. It is exciting work and in the end, others see what is going on and want to join in and experience the excitement as well.

Biblically speaking, leadership in the church is given by God to equip and excite the church to accomplish God’s plan, not to do the work for the church. It is so much more fulfilling to have churches look to you for direction and instruction in a pagan environment, than goods and services in a sheltered ghetto.

Monday, August 17, 2009

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (God Loves a "Bad" Sermon)

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Two weeks ago, David Platt shared with us an incredible reminder of the sufficiency and power of the Gospel. It was an inspiration to be reminded of what God has done for us and why we are living the crazy, family inconveniencing, children suffering, danger facing, contempt inducing lives that we live. To be saved by grace out of no meritorious basis is an incredible thing. To be set apart for this Gospel is an honor.

The Gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” but after we sat and listened to the inspiring message I was reminded of the other side of story: to those who are perishing, it is foolishness. In a way, that is also reassuring. There is no pressure on the believer to be eloquent, flashy or convincing. That is not our job. We have been commanded to share only, and what we share will not make any sense to those who hear unless God enables them to understand.

That does not mean that believers should not try to be as clear as possible, but it does mean a couple of other things. First, there is no good reason for holding some preachers or teachers up for special praise. Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? They are both simply tools in God’s hands. Second, there is no excuse for not speaking out. Often we second guess and strategize ourselves right out of doing anything. We are so concerned with connecting effectively with people that we fail to even try.

Feel like you don’t know how to share what has happened to you? Remember, “God is well pleased with the foolishness of the message preached.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

2001 in Film

2001 brought fantasy films into their own. The genre has pretty much single-handedly kept the movie industry afloat through the entire decade. But it also was simply a great year for movies. After Crouching Tiger’s success the previous year, foreign films saw a taste of mainstream popularity… or nearly did. Bill Paxton pulled off a unique and compelling twist on the supernatural thriller in Frailty, but perhaps the most memorable moment in theaters for me was Hannibal. Rather than being the edge-of-your-seat thrill that its predecessor was, it induced out-loud laughing. A case of horrible not horrorific.

(Updated)

Top 10 Personal Movies of 2001
*. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (more)
2. Ocean’s Eleven
3. Monster’s Inc.
4. Moulin Rouge
5. Amelie
6. El Espinazo del Diablo
7. Le Pacte des loups
8. Frailty
9. The Others
10. A Beautiful Mind

Bottom 5 Personal Movies of 2001
1. Hannibal
2. Meggido: The Omega Code 2
3. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavre
4. Zoolander
5. Scary Movie 2

Top Movies I Still Most Want to See or Revisit
1. The Fountain
2. Black Hawk Down
3. Donnie Darko (seen)
4. A Knight’s Tale

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shaken, Stirred, and Reinvented a Few Times

“It’s adventure, fantasy, beautiful women, dashing men and villains of the deepest dye—it’s got everything, really.” —Christopher Lee, Empire Magazine, 2002

When you have a movie franchise spanning nearly 50 years, it can give you an insight into the changes in society. Bond began in the carefree, counterculture sixties. Since that day, society has continually fought to eliminate guilt and say “anything goes,” and yet the franchise itself seems to continually apologize for its attitudes. For example, every actress cast in a bond movie can be counted on to point out that her character is different from all the proceeding Bond Girls by being “stronger” or “Bond’s equal.”

In film, Bond began as a fun bit of escapism. Connery’s first five outings are just a game. The plots are secondary to the travel, the excitement, and the adventure. One could attempt to derive some deeper meaning or message, but they aren’t really there. Roger Moore had a hard time taking the Bond stories seriously (as if they were supposed to be serious anyway) so he injected them with as much silliness as he could. Perhaps it was the difference between the fun-filled sixties and the seriousness of the seventies, but it seems like everyone felt guilty enjoying such mindless entertainment. Dalton’s Bond in the eighties was even less humorous (and entertaining), and Brosnan’s politically correct Bond of the nineties started out with a bit of self-conscious embarrassment.

The newest incarnation of Bond has seemed to change all that by turning its back on the history. In that sense, it sort of measures up to the early Connery films. Craig’s Bond trades in fantasy, gadgets, sex and clichés for action, emotion, and serious stakes. Here’s hoping it continues to forge ahead in its own way and doesn’t let the silliness creep back in.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Small Gods

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Or in this case, do we believe in something because it exists—or does something exist because it is believed? The idea of Thought-forms or Tulpas—basically that the belief of large amounts of people affect reality—has become popular in our culture lately. Everywhere from TV’s The X Files and Supernatural to books like Stephen King’s It and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods have explored the idea.

In Small Gods, Terry Pratchett explores the idea as it applies to religion. In his fictional world, there are millions of small gods. Their power and influence grows and shrinks depending on how many people believe in them. The main religion in this particular book is devoted to the worship of one such god, Om. However, in an interesting twist, the people of that religion have ceased to believe in Om and rather simply follow the traditions and power of the religion. So, Om himself has been reduced to a quite powerless small god trapped in the body of a turtle.

If you enjoy Pratchett and have the ability to absorb satire without getting personally offended as a person of belief, then the book is enjoyable enough. It is not one of his better books.

There are several interesting things about the concepts that Pratchett and others are suggesting. Religion is in fact a creation of humanity that depends on belief and holds power over its followers. The belief of any number of people will not generate a god, but it will affect their behavior and has caused countless problems in the world ever since sin has been a factor. And if you are not a materialist, then there is the real possibility that actual spiritual beings would use this fact to further the evil in the world. Thus the idea that religion is bad.

The other side of that coin exists too, though. What Biblical Christianity… (And here there is the problem of terminology, because religious Christendom is often not distinguished in the minds of most) What Biblical Christianity asserts is that there really is a God who has created everything and wants a relationship with His creation. He does not need His creation, its belief or its worship to exist. He is the source of creation not its result. He does not want religious devotion, but rather creaturely dependence. He wants people to live as they were intended and created to, not as some religious leader tells them they should.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

353!?

When I saw a Pudu, back in the 80’s, everyone thought it was the smallest deer in the world. We were all wrong. Science has a lot of limitations. For one thing it is based on observation. If we wanted to be completely accurate we would have to say things like: “The Pudu of the Andes Mountains is the smallest known deer in the world.” Even that wouldn’t have been true, because back then some people did know of the Leaf Deer of the Himalayas; it’s just that science didn’t know about it.

I grew up wanting to be a zoologist, exploring remote areas of the planet, discovering new species. The only problem was that we were told that there were no more remote areas, and the only undiscovered species tended to be plants and bugs. Again, science was wrong. In the past ten years scientists have discovered 353 new species in the eastern Himalayas. Sure, many of those are plants and bugs, but 16 are amphibians, 16 reptiles, 2 are birds and even 2 are mammals including a new monkey species! Once again, the scientific worldview affects that last sentence. These are not new species really. They are simply new to science.

The saddest thing to see is that science has not just become arrogant enough to think that things don’t count until they are scientifically verified, but science has started to grasp beyond the limits of the scientific method and claim to know truths that are not scientific. The context of the story of these 353 newly discovered species is not that this is a great discovery, but that these species are threatened by global warming. How can this possibly be determined? These species have been observed for less than a decade! How can we possibly determine that a species is on the decline—due to climate change—when we didn’t know the species existed months ago?

The answer: not scientific method, but scientific consensus; not the data, but the dogma.

Mainly though, this story makes me wish I could go on a cataloguing trip in the Himalayas!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The (Extra)ordinary Hassles of Cross Cultural Living

A few months ago I had the joy of cross-cultural experience that was pretty extraordinary, but at the time it just seemed like normal life for someone who has lived in various countries and spoken various languages.

It all began when I drove our dog to some friends for safekeeping while we were at a retreat for a week. On a stretch of highway going down a mountainside in between two tunnels, I was pulled over for letting the car drift a little too fast. If you have ever watched “The Return of the Jedi” where Luke and Jabba are talking with C3PO translating, you have a fairly good idea of how my interaction with the Czech police officer went. I used only English and he used only German, but we both understood the other and had a nice two-language conversation.

I had no Kronas on me, so I was given one month to pay a fine and a slip of paper explaining how to do it.

Three weeks and two trips out of town later, I was able to finally head to my German bank to make the transfer. The teller informed me that I did not have all the information I would need to pay the fine. It turned out I was going to have to take care of it in person.

A few days later I set out for the Czech Republic with:

No idea what city the ticket had been issued from (the cop’s handwriting was illegible.)

No idea where a police station was.

And, not a single word of Czech in my vocabulary. (Czech is the first language I have had any degree of contact with that I have not bothered to even learn how to say yes, no, please or thank you.)

I drove straight to the closest major town across the border. (Interesting trivia: Teplice was once one of the most polluted cities on Earth and also close to where they filmed the battle scenes in Prince Caspian.) There, I found the first police related building I could and took my ticket in. I can’t explain to you how I learned this with no Czech, but I was told that I had walked into not a police station, but a jail.

I went and got some lunch.

As I ate, I started to study the ticket alongside a map and decided that I might be looking for a miniscule border town near the tunnels I had driven through. So I set out down some back mountain roads looking for a town called Petrovice. When I found it, it was tiny, but I couldn’t find a police station anywhere. I resorted to once again multilingual communication and amazingly, found it at last.

All in a day's life here in Europe!

Monday, August 10, 2009

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (The Corinthian Problem that Persists)

One of the problems that prompted Paul to write a letter to the Corinthian Church was one that persists in many churches to this day. In fact, it is a problem that makes 1 Corinthians 1-4 seem to be written specifically for the American Church of the 21st Century. We are a church of divisions and arguments, or at the very least we love to form “camps.” In Paul’s day it was: “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos.” Today there are any number of “Christian leaders” that people follow and define themselves by.

What Christian book are you reading at the moment? How is it helping you out? Have you been recommending it? Why is it not the Bible?

Paul reminds us (or them) that we are all of Christ. We have been saved in and through Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. What good does it do us to be in any leader’s “camp” of teaching? Supposedly some might be teaching “Christ crucified” while others teach things that are heretical, but in that case we would do well to affirm, “We are Christ’s” and not make the focus whatever teacher is in vogue at the moment.

All that is not to say that we should not have variety in the church. Many smaller churches in an area will nearly always reach more people than one big church. Even a variety of different points of view on the minor issues are good for reaching a variety of people. However, within that multiplicity of Christian expression and community, we should all unite under the common message of the cross.

So what exactly is that message?

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Trouble With Harry ...and Today's Audiences

Hitchcock had a well-developed sense of humor, but it usually emerged as he was torturing the audience with almost unbearable suspense. You have to let the tension out from time to time, be it through a scream or a nervous chuckle. When he set out to film a straight comedy, you get almost the opposite—an absurd situation punctuated by the macabre.

Harry has gone and died in the woods and plenty of people have reason to believe that they have killed him. Also, for such a relatively remote place to die, plenty of people stumble across his body. Between trying to figure out who killed him and whether or not to let the authorities in on the whole thing, Harry gets buried and dug up multiple times. In many ways, it could be seen as a companion piece to “Rope.” Only there we find a murder and a body that no one knows about, here we have a body that many see and any number of people could have killed.

In the midst of all of this silliness, there are deep conversations concerning guilt, responsibility and punishment. Much of the movie revolves around perception and reality. So many characters think that they are the ones who have killed Harry, and the appearances and presumptions begin to take on more importance than the actual facts.

Sadly, for today’s audience much of the charm of this film is missed. The macabre and shocking bits are too subtle for the hardened fans of shock, and the humor is too intelligent, verbose and subtle for our present generation… but it is both shocking in its attitudes and funny in its delivery.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jesus Did It, Why Shouldn’t We? or Not “Why” but “What For?”

When Job’s friends try to figure out why he is suffering or what he has done to cause it; he gets no answer from God. God shows up, but does not explain why. Perhaps that is the point.

In passage after passage in the Bible, it seems that suffering here in this sinful, fallen world is linked to the glory of God. Most of the time people are to caught up in their suffering to notice, but God is there. For the Christian salvation is not a protection against suffering. The children of God are told they will continue to suffer in this world even more for having followed Christ. God tells us He will use the sufferings we face to cause us to grow, to make us more holy and to glorify Himself through our lives. In our sufferings we grow closer to God.

People have a tendency to take verses from the Bible and, removed from their context, make them into things they were never intended to be. People love to use Romans 8:28 to say that the bad things in their lives will turn out good in the end. It really says God will use the bad in our lives to do good, not that He will always make the bad things better. Another favorite of these misquotes is Jeremiah 29:11. “I know the plans I have for you…” Everyone uses this one to say that God’s plans for us are always for good things to happen to us. They fail to even see that here God tells His people they are going to have to endure 70 years of exile. His plans are for good—a couple generations in the future!

Never let anyone lie to you in saying that suffering is not a part of the Christian life. It most definitely is—but so are the rewards that come through it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Prickly Prayer Patches, Job and the Big Question, or Do God and the Devil Occasionally Make a Wager?

Back in the day, kids used to attend Wednesday night prayer meeting. At least they did in our church. And in that day and time, Wednesday night prayer meeting was for praying. We used to sit in a circle in one of the smaller rooms off the side of the sanctuary and pray… forever it seemed.

I remember my brother and I trying to join in when we were old enough. Stuff like: “Lord, thank you for the Bible!” And: “God, please save every person in this whole world!” As I look back on it now it is a little embarrassing. The hardest part for a kid was knowing when someone was done with their prayer and not just pausing to think of the right word or collect their thoughts. We interrupted more than one prayer in those days.

One of the first specific prayers I ever remember praying in church was right after we found out our mom was pregnant again. “Lord, please give mom a healthy baby.” I don’t know what prompted that prayer. I had no reason to suspect anything would go wrong. It probably just seemed to be the thing to pray in such a time. That baby, my second brother, Joshua, was born with cancer and died just over a year after he was born.

That sort of experience probably affects you. It certainly taught me something (be it right or wrong) about prayer.

People say, “There is power in prayer.” Or “Prayer changes things.” I don’t think they’re right. God has power and God can change things. He is like the most powerful and resourceful dad in the world and we are His children. Some people seem to think prayer is in itself a power, but really it is just like a child talking to their father. The thing is (and it is certainly a good thing) God does not spoil His children.

Only, it sure would be nice to be able to understand why God does not give us all the good things we ask for. No matter what people say, no one really knows why God allows all the suffering He does. The Bible’s answer to the question: “Why do good people suffer?” comes in Job. At first it looks like we are granted a glimpse into the secret, but do we really think God sits around making bets with the devil? In the end the answer is basically: “Trust me, my ways are too big for you to grasp.”

You either, accept that and hope, or you don’t.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Praise Problems

[Disclaimer: for anyone reading this from or after the AGM, this post was written before August inspired by events weeks ago.]


Do you ever wonder if God gets bored hearing the same songs over and over again?

Probably not, but think about this. The world is full of churches and Christians and everywhere you go it seems that they are all singing the same songs, sometimes without even bothering to translate them. Of course worship is so much more than the songs we sing, but song is a big part of worship. So, if God equips churches everywhere with every gift they need to accomplish their task, every church should have people gifted in worshiping God and leading others to express worship as well. Shouldn’t every church, or al least a whole lot more churches than are currently doing so, be coming up with their own forms of worship? Shouldn’t the creative expressions of church worship in the world be so much more varied?

One church that did so (and presumably does so) is the church where Matt Redman attends. Everyone knows (or ten years ago everyone heard) the story of how that church felt led to do away with all music for a period of weeks to rediscover what true worship was all about. Out of that experience Redman wrote the song “Heart of Worship.” It is a whole song about how worship is not about music. It was a beautiful story.

Or at least it was until they marketed the story and every church in the world began to sing this song about how worship is more than singing a song. And you still hear the song all over the world today (removed from its context usually.) There is a huge irony that is hard to escape every time you hear the chords sound out announcing the text: “When the music fades…”

We need less worship of the current top 40 on the worship charts and more churches exploring their own creative expressions.

Monday, August 3, 2009

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (Thank God)

“God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1:9

Paul spent much of his second missionary journey in Corinth. From there he likely penned the first of his letters to churches, and there he founded a church, spending more time with it than he had any of his previous church plants. We read in acts that he then went to Ephesus, and (after a short trip home) set out on his third effort to that city. While in Ephesus, he was prompted to write to the church he founded in Corinth to deal with some things he heard coming from there and answer some questions they had as well. Reading the first Corinthian letter, one gets the impression that things were not in the best shape in the Corinthian church.

That is why it is interesting to see that Paul begins his letter to them thanking God. He is thankful that God and His faithfulness sanctifies the church. It is not dependant on anything we do or are. The Church is the Church because God has bought it with the blood of His Son. Believers are saints—not because we live a great life, do more good than evil, perform at least three miracles and skip purgatory—but because God has declared us to be and applied His grace to our lives.

We are righteous because God is. We have received from Him everything we need. We are lacking in nothing. This is who we are. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there is something more you need beyond the Grace of God. Beyond the Gospel, there is no further blessing. It is sufficient.
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