Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Church as Product?

It can be fun as an expat in this internet age to listen to local news radio stations to get a taste of what is going on “back home.” Then again, you have to put up with the radio advertisements that seem to be getting stupider every year that goes by.

One particular station really takes the cake for idiotic advertising—not silly, but really dumb and annoyingly bad.

For instance, one spot opens with a series of Either\Or questions:

“Do you want x or y? A or b? Y or z? If you come to our store, the answer to all of these questions is… Yes!”

What?

Another spot opens something like this:

“This commercial is for all of you who have had damage to your home. For the rest of you, thank your lucky stars that you don’t have a mess to clean up. For that job, professionally done, belongs to…”

So is the commercial for people with damage, or without? And are we supposed to be thankful that we don’t have a mess, or that we don’t have to use that company? Are they bad at what they do or something?

Perhaps the worst, however, and for a more serious reason, is the local big Baptist church. The church spot is obviously aimed at people who are already Christians, which is probably good since radio advertisements are not the best way for the church to accomplish the task of reaching the lost. But that begs the question: are they hoping to get “Christians” from other congregations? Another problem is the fact that the Gospel is never presented. The message of the spot is that this particular church is “a church you can believe in.” Talk about taking the materialization\ church as a consumer product problem to the extreme!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Romans 5 (What you don't need to believe to be saved.)

The fact that Paul doesn’t address the origins of sin or the fall itself until after he has finished explaining salvation and moved onto the saved life brings up an interesting consideration. What do you need to know—what needs to be believed in order for a person to be saved?

The fact is that we often introduce facts into the equation that muddy the water. Do you need to believe all the stories? Adam and Eve, Noah and the Arc, and all the others? In some cases, and insistence in teaching and demanding people believe in those facts throws barriers up against people seeing their need for a savior.

Paul did a great job of showing that sin and its affects can be seen and understood clearly. Once a person has accepted the truth of the cross, those other truths can be taught and accepted in faith.

So what are some examples of things we push on people before they believe?

Creation ex nihilo.

A world-wide flood.

A single original human couple.

Behavioral demands.

Or even worse, we push things that are completely irrelevant such as political philosophy, or our ever so beloved “American Dream” corruption of the Gospel.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wargames. Don't Pick a Fight, But...

Twenty seven years ago, a movie made about the Cold War was not a period piece, but the reality that people lived with when they let themselves think about the insanity humanity had got itself into. It was not just a threat from a small fraction of the world involved in extreme ideologies. The whole world was split into two powers that had the ability to eradicate life as we knew it.

One of the best movies from this time that still holds up and has a simple yet powerful message was Wargames. Everyone should be familiar with the plot: 1. The US government automates its nuclear weapons. 2. A kid hacks into the system and accidentally starts World War III. 3. Everyone has two days to try to teach the computer the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The message was also simple as well: “The only way to win the game, is not to play.”

That is a wonderful message and it does work most of the time. There are many things in life that are tempting and yet ultimately detrimental. The best advice in life is to be willing to listen to people who know more than you and avoid mistakes that you will regret later.

However, the message is also really na├»ve. When it comes to conflict, there are times when we have to play. Not just in war, but all aspects of life. You see, in the nuclear war scenario, not playing was the only way to win. It was no garantee against losing. All it took was for one side to decide to attack and everyone would lose. There are times in life when we are confronted with a fight, when we have to either take a stand for something or give up. In those times you really have three choices. Don’t react and lose. React and still lose. Or take a stand for what is right and you might win. Today we teach kids that fighting is ALWAYS wrong. Unfortunately, we also teach kids to not stand up for what is right.

In the case of the cold war, there was an end, and there was a winner. The key was to take a stand and find a way of beating the opponent without destroying ourselves. Sometimes it is best not to fight. Other times it is best to fight smart.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Little Man: An Allegory

The cat had been on his own for a few weeks. He didn’t like the way life was going either. It was a cruel world he had been introduced to, and ever since his mother had disappeared he had known nothing but hardship. There was the constant feeling of hunger. His whole existence was nearly a never-ending search for food. However, that was not quite the case, because his most overwhelming constant urge was that of fear and an unceasing attempt to avoid danger.

There were dogs, coyotes, other bigger cats, cars, and worst of all: kids. He had several run-ins with all of these dangers and his state of mind remained frantic most of the time.

On this particular morning, the cat was being drawn to a house. He had no logical reason for his attraction to it, if cats can even be accused of having logical reasons, but he couldn’t stay away from this house. He had known on occasion for houses like this to be a likely source of a free meal, so he cautiously approached the door and meowed.

It wasn’t long at all before the door was opened and a big man stood at the door. Noticing the cat he crouched down and held his hand out. The cat eyed him with some suspicion. This big man looked a lot like a big version of the kids that had chased him before and he didn’t know whether to trust the man. He was tired and hungry though, and ready to give up, so whatever the outcome, he stepped across the threshold into the house.

The man shut the door and reached up behind the cat’s ears and scratched them in a way that sort of reminded the cat of good times long forgotten, of his mother. Then he stood up and walked off into the house. “Come on, Little Man. Let’s get you something to eat.”

Little Man, as he came to be known, learned a lot about domesticated life in the first days of living in that house. His transformation into a house cat had cost him nothing, he had merely accepted the invitation into the man’s house, but in a way it had cost him everything for he was no longer his own cat. Not that it bothered him. He had all the food and water he wanted. He had the companionship of the other cats in the house. He had the care and love of the man, or The Master, as the other cats called him. Most of all, he had a freedom from fear for the first time since that fateful day when his mother had simply not returned to the crawlspace under the shed where he had first opened his eyes.

There were also, however, some demands placed on him in the house. He was not allowed to be a wild cat anymore. He had to use a litter box to relieve himself, he was not allowed to mark any part of the house as his own, and while he could look at the fish in the aquarium he could not touch.

He got to know many of the other cats in the house, and after an initial urge to mistrust them; he even had raised his coat and hissed at them at first—a part of his wildness coming to the surface—he soon learned to accept their friendship. There was Old Tom, who had been wild for ten years before he came to the house and was generally solitary and slept all the time. There was a female called Daisy whom Little Man seemed to remember from the time under the shed, but he wasn’t sure. Then there were a couple of young males his age who Little Man spent most of his time with playing in the care free atmosphere that only the house provided.

While there was a freedom from fear in the house most of the time, Little Man soon discovered the one danger that did exist, at least potentially, in the house: the other cats and the latent wildness. Two weeks after his arrival Little Man noticed that Daisy was keeping to herself and licking a raw sore on her flank. As he got closer, he noticed the stench of rotting flesh in the wound. He felt a surge of the old fear well up within him. Where had she gotten such a wound, and in the house! It was soon discovered with a visit from the vet, that Daisy was recovering from an abscessed wound—the cause—cat bite!

Little Man feared at first that he would be the prime suspect. He was, after all, the newest cat there, and had been wild most recently. But many, it turned out, suspected Old Tom, for he had been wild for so long that much of his old ways lay just under the surface. The truth was harder to believe. The least likely suspect of all had attacked Daisy. The real culprit was Kitty. Kitty had never even been in the wild! She had been born after her mother had shown up, pregnant on the doorstep of the house. She had been the only kitten that had stayed at the house when all the others had left. She had lived at the house for nearly ten years. Little Man realized that the wildness was not something you learned and had to unlearn. It was inside each of the cats even after they had been domesticated.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mentalist



Another emerging gem in the genre of detective fiction is The Mentalist. In this television drama, we have a detective that has incredible powers of observation and a great grasp of human behavior. As a result, he has a seemingly supernatural power to divine the truth. In fact, he used to make his living by conning people portraying himself as a psychic. The event that changed things was when a serial killer took offense at his grandstanding and killed his wife and daughter. Now he works with the fictional California Bureau of Investigation, hoping to find this killer and exact revenge on him.

The formula of the show is an interesting take on adding variety to the genre. It is almost as though the creators looked at a show like Psych, where the detective is a mentalist conning people into thinking he is a psychic, and turned that comic premise into a drama. This character has been burned by his conning games, and is now a motivated skeptic.

Patrick Jane, our titular mentalist, is not exactly a heroic character neither is he particularly admirable. He remains a very self-centered, almost sociopathic character at times. He tells a character in one episode “Revenge is a poison. Revenge is fit only for fools and madmen.” Later in that same episode, however, he admits that he does not believe what he said. His life’s goal is to kill the man that killed his family. He claims that there is no difference between justice and revenge. He also regularly disregards laws and makes ethically dubious judgments. He thinks he is a law and Justice all unto himself.

Yet we are drawn into the show both for Jane’s gifts and the glimmers of hope that he will find redemption, although we know we are likely to be disappointed in the end. Still, the situations the show presents us are intriguing and generate interesting discussion, whether it is about the decidedly uninformed take the show has regarding witchcraft in “Red Rum” or the exploration of myth and belief in “Blood Brothers.”

As it enters its third season this year, it is not too late to catch up with The Mentalist.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Fantasy Bucket List

Carmen, over at In the Open Space (her link is also in the sidebar to the right) posted an interesting list recently. It was a Fantasy Bucket List, one of those lists of things you would like to do before you die, only in this case things you would do if they weren’t mere fiction. It is something all fantasy and scifi fans have done at one time or another, and I thought I would have a go…

I quickly realized that most of the things from fictional worlds that I would like to do involve experiencing the environments. So most of my list involves trips I would like to take:

10. Go for a drive through the Phantom Tollbooth

9. Spend a couple weeks on Perelandra.

8. Go on an expedition with Professor Challenger

7. Explore the Narnian Countryside with a talking mouse and a marshwiggle

6. Go for a “walk” with Gandalf

Some things involve adventures that I’m not sure I would be able to handle:

5. Visit Jurassic Park without all the chaos

4. Discover a monstrous evil and take it on like in Dracula, The List of Seven or The Historian

3. Help Sherlock Holmes solve a case in Victorian England

But the best items on my Fantasy Bucket List involve assuming an entirely new way of life:

2. Attend a year at Hogwarts

1. Travel in the TARDIS with the Doctor

Monday, August 23, 2010

Romans 5:6-21 (Life in Christ)

This passage can be daunting and difficult, when we get caught up in the comparison Paul is making between Adam and Christ. That is not exactly the point of the chapter. Part of the idea is that Adam and Christ are not equivalent. They are, however, both the beginnings of humanity. Adam is the father of all sinners. He sinned and all his descendants have too. Christ is the father of a new humanity, one that is the way God intended it to be.

Paul has waited until this point to go back and describe the origins of sin. In chapters 1-3 he simply described sin as we all know it. That is a better way of approaching sin with most people. Up until a person is saved the ideas of origins and “sin nature” may only cause confusion and debate. Now that Paul has moved on to describe the life in Christ, the comparison between fallen humanity and saved humanity is helpful.

All humanity are sinners, through Adam—not because he sinned, but “because all sinned.” It is as though we are seeing a glimpse of history through God’s eternal perspective. When Adam sinned it was a done deal that all of humanity through all history would sin…

…save one man. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was really a new Adam because He had the opportunity and the ability to live a life without sin, and He did it. Now all those who have faith in Him have their sins wiped clean and can live a life the way God intended. This whole chapter, in the end, is about the life in Christ that we now have available to us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

2002 In Film

One of the better movie theater memories I have is from 2002, and not necessarily due to the film I saw. For the first time since being a small child, I went to see a movie with all of my siblings. All of us were grown, most married. To make matters even better, we had my oldest son along with us. It was a good experience, and it helped that the film we saw ended up in my top ten for 2002.

Personal Top Ten Films of 2002:
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2. Signs
3. Minority Report
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
5. Spiderman
6. The Pianist
7. The Bourne Identity
8. Catch Me If You Can
9. The Ring
10. Lilo and Stitch

Personal Worst & Disappointing Films of 2002
1. Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones
2. Scooby Doo
3. Left Behind II
4. Austin Powers in Goldmember
5. The Hours

Films I Still Need To See:
1. 28 Days Later
2. Chicago
3. City of God
4. Panic Room
5. Gangs of New York

Friday, August 20, 2010

Repo-messes & Vampire-likenesses

Science Fiction is usually smart-sounding-fluff. It has the power to really sneak deep messages into the public conscience, but it is usually fluff. The problem is that, ever since Rod Sterling, it tends to be fluff trying to sound deep.



Repo Men (2010) is one such mess. It tries hard to deliver a message: a job is not just a job; it is a part of who you are. The first problem is that message in and of itself. It is not deep. It is kind of dumb, especially the way the movie tries to play it. Add to that, the obligatory “mess with your mind ending” that is not well executed and far from original and you have a nice waste of two hours.



Daybreakers (2010) started out with a much better premise. It takes the vampire mythos and (as is way too fashionable today) turns it on its head. In Daybreakers, the whole world (nearly) has turned vampire. It is not a story where vampirism represents pure evil, but rather vampirism represents humanity—exposing the evil that we all possess to one degree or another.

Beyond that basic message, there are other things this movie has going for it. The production values are good. The story is competent. There are even interesting side aspects to the story. For instance, if you want to stop being a vampire you have to be willing to die. Blood also plays a role in fixing the problem. The story is not quite precise enough to draw parallels between the Christian worldview with its understanding of sacrifice and Christ’s blood, but it is still a fun idea to explore. Almost interesting enough to make the movie recommendable. Almost.

Trivial Pursuits

A few years ago a young seminary grad went interviewing for jobs at several churches. In one particular church (that shall go unnamed) the pastor seemed less interested in anything to do with the candidate or the job he was there to interview for, and instead was keen to share a breakthrough he had come across in scripture. It went something like this:

“You know these worship wars going on these days?” he shared. “We don’t have any problems here anymore. I did a study of scripture and discovered that when it says that they lifted their hands, it really means that they raised their palms! So we don’t let anyone lift their hands over their shoulders here. If they feel led to do anything like that, we just explain to them that they need to put their hands out in front of them and turn the palms upward. It has taken care of all of our worship problems.”

That grad didn’t know quite what to think that day. Perhaps it was all a practical joke, but if so he was never let it on it. Luckily, he did not have to face the choice of whether to work there or not.

The fact that this and other true stories like it are occurring in churches across the evangelical landscape in America is a sad thing. Sad that so many churches and pastors are caught up in questions and arguments over trivialities. Sad that they are not nearly as concerned with being about the task they were called out to do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Worship Experiment

Sometimes you get an urge to try something just to see what would happen. Curiosity can be a good thing when it leads to increased knowledge, or it can get you into trouble. Then again, sometimes trouble is a good source of knowledge as well.

What if the church were to conduct a self examination experiment with regards to worship? Say one Sunday, the worship was entirely made up of songs that were in a style that was 40 years out of date or perhaps from a completely different cultural context. The text of the songs should be Biblical and theologically sound, just the music itself would not “speak to the hearts.” What would happen?

(The truth is that plenty of churches are doing this every Sunday with at least a portion of their members. Many churches are doing it on multiple levels by “providing” more than one service to “appeal” to multiple audiences. There is probably a lot that this says about the condition the church is in today, but that is not the point right now.)

What would happen if “worship” quit being the flavor of the month and the stuff of top 40 radio stations? What if people quit choosing where they attended church (there is a telling phrase for you) based on the style of worship or the appealing nature of the programs?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"church" & church

Here is the church.
Here is the steeple.
Open the doors.
See all the people.
Close the doors.
Hear them pray.
Open the doors and they all walk away.

From the time most kids learn this little rhyme, they also learn that it is not right. Most good little evangelical kids will be quick to tell you that a church is not a building. However, the argument could easily be made that most Christians still operate under a false understanding of what church is. It may not be a building, but it is still just what happens when a group of people gather at that building. It is less about a community of people, and more about programs that attempt to draw people into that building.

In the Bible we see a very different picture of church. It is truly a community of people sharing life and faith together. They do draw people in and multiply as well, but not because of any constructed activity or program. Community by its very nature draws people. Perhaps we ought to come up with a terminology to help us distinguish between “church” and church. Maybe that word has just lost too much of its meaning.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Romans 5:1-5 (More Than Justified)

Thanks to what Christ has done, we have gained so much more than mere “Salvation.” Being declared right in God’s esteem, we are now at peace with Him. Our relationship has been restored. But that is just the beginning. Not that peace with God is a small thing. The meaninglessness in which all humanity has been trapped due to our own acts of rebellion is over. We are now free to live the life that we have been created to live. We can be who we are and have the meaning that a relationship with our Maker provides. This alone would be enough for rejoicing.

We also stand in grace. This is a huge statement, but easily overlooked if we are not careful. The guilt that all humanity has carried around since the fall makes us do some really weird things. Most people try to find arbitrary ways to appease the feeling of guilt that they have. They can never hope to do anything to really make right the wrong that they do, but they still try. This is what nearly all religious belief involves. Trying to find a sacrifice worthy of the guilt we carry. Religion in this sense is a sad and oppressive thing. Of course, more and more people are finding ways to cope with the guilt they feel and convince themselves that they should not feel guilt for anything. This only creates people who not only hurt others, but never try to stop since they are living entirely for whatever makes them forget their guilt. Standing in God’s grace, however, frees us from the vicious cycle of guilt and sacrifice.

Finally, we have hope. This is no empty hope and change promise that is never delivered. We have a hope that works in us on two levels. We live in the hope of the glory that we will experience when all is made right and creation is once again as it was intended to be. This hope has already been delivered in part. We have the evidence of a risen Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives to assure us that it is now empty hope. In addition, we have the hope that is grown in us every day as we face and overcome challenges and as we stand against the attacks that come our way. Once again, we do not face the world alone with a mere feeling, but we are strengthened through the Holy Spirit proving the validity of the hope we have daily.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Inception: A (Spoiler Heavy) Critique



Most of the highly visual, intellectual, and philosophical movies like Inception from the past few years have been about the nature of reality—or more precisely about perceptions of that reality. Inception is not that sort of movie. Inception is about storytelling and how stories can influence and change worldviews. Stories have the power to change the way people view and understand reality. The dreams in Inception are not reality and they are not there to represent it. They are carefully crafted stories designed to get people to reveal things they are keeping secret, or—in the case of an inception—to get them to believe that an idea is their own.

Consider the way the new architect character played by Ellen Page is taught the art of dream construction in the film. It is a primer on storytelling. When Cobb warns her not to make the dream jarringly unbelievable it is all about building convincing suspension of disbelief. When he tells her not to simply recreate memories he is teaching her that story is a craft about communication, not archiving data. Finally, Arthur gives her a lesson on the tools of the trade—the nuts and bolts of construction a working story. All of this is not just for the sake of entertaining the listener (or dreamer) but an effort to communicate ideas.



The nuts and bolts Arthur teaches are very important for the art of story crafting. Things like character development and plot devises need to be thought out. If a story is not well told it will be a distraction that keeps the ideas a story is trying to communicate from being seen.

The warning against recreating reality too closely is not about avoiding true stories, but a reminder that any story—even a true story—has to be crafted in such a way as to communicate a specific idea. Even reality TV is not reality. Every story must be edited and constructed to have impact and highlight some aspects and events over others.

The most important advice Cobb (and Nolan) give us is to carefully consider what sort of story we place our ideas in. In the movie, if a dream is to unrealistic the dreamer will reject it. If you want to introduce a foreign or even false idea, couch it in a lot of reality. The opposite can also be true. Hard or controversial truths can be passed in outlandish, fantastic or silly stories.

Human culture has been deceiving itself over and over again through its stories. The very first inception is recorded all the way back in the beginning of Scripture. Ever sense, there has been an epic struggle between truth and lies, reality and delusion, and the battlefield has taken place in the realm of cultural expression: stories and art forms however they come. What Nolan has done has given us a diverting tale that explores the nature of culture at its very essence. This is how humanity sows and spreads ideas.



The big question at the end of the film is: was it reality or a dream? As the screen goes black, we see Cobb’s test of truth still in development. He doesn’t care to find out the truth, and Nolan seems content to let the audience decide for themselves. However, that is not the point. The movie ends with the top still spinning. In the story that signals that Cobb is in a dream. Chris Nolan is reminding us that the story he is telling us is indeed just a story. The dream he has woven is a dream built to communicate an idea. Cobb convinced his target to do what he wanted him to, and Nolan’s film manages to say a lot about the communicative function of art.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Lost Art

It seems like current stand-up comedy comes in one of two varieties—or perhaps a combination of the two. You either get the observational comedy that is still probably best exemplified in Seinfeld’s work, or the cringe comedy that shocks you with inappropriate words or situations. Bill Cosby, at the height of his career, was a different case altogether. Some people would not even consider what he developed to be stand-up. He did start out doing short form “jokes” and observational bits, but when he really reached the peak of his popularity he was nothing more or less than a great story-teller.

Storytelling is something that we have lost as a culture. This is ironic, because most of our communication today is related in the form of stories, but we have forgotten how to do it right. Most people today are far more likely to share stories of things they have seen or done than engage in conversations about ideas or concepts, but they do so in the most crass and awkward fashion. You hear it all the time: “Yesterday, I saw so-and-so and I was like, ‘blah blah,’ and they were like, ‘blah.’”

In a society that desires and relies on relating information through stories, we would really do well to develop the art-form that a god story requires. Consider the point of what you are relating. Take care with the way you let information out and when you reveal aspects of the story you are telling. Make your conversation something that people will hear and listen to at the same time.

Here is a little taste of classic Bill, with his take on Total Depravity:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If Cuba and the Mega-Church Were to Intersect

New churches in Cuba used to get started when a family would donate their houses for remodeling and repurposing. When Castro became annoyed by seeing these houses converted into church buildings, he made it illegal. Unwittingly, he started one of the more successful church planting movements of the past few decades.

When people saw that they couldn’t create new church buildings, they decided to simply do church in their homes without converting the structures. This way of doing church turned out to have a larger, and faster growing, impact on the culture. The way it normally worked would be for people to plan a service and invite everyone on their street. When people said they weren’t interested in attending, they would get prayer requests from the neighbors to pray for during the service. Typically they would start getting questions about a week later. “Did you really pray for that request I gave you last week?” “Yes, why do you ask?” “Because my request was answered!”

This way of doing church produces thousands of new churches a year. The growth in Cuba is explosive.

What would happen if one of these huge, factory-like, multisite mega-churches in the United States tried something like this? Most of these churches are simply hundreds of little churches gathering together, away from their neighborhoods and communities in a little city unto themselves to do “church” in a corporate setting. What if they instead scattered back across the city in the neighborhoods where they lived and impacted these streets for the kingdom? Wouldn’t thousands of houses have more reach than three or four satellite campuses?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Triceratopses


When I was in college, one of my professors (an ichthyologist who taught me Herpetology and Animal Behavior) used to joke that dinosaurs never existed. All we really had, he said, was a bunch of strange rock formations that scientists used their imaginations to turn into an entire elaborate made up prehistory. If you think about it—while he was just joking—a lot of what popular paleontology gives us pure fantasy. How does anyone know what color these things were, for instance?

Well, it turns out, science got it wrong again. The Triceratops—that loveable but cool herbivore that is the favorite dinosaur of so many kids—was never a real dinosaur species. At least it did exist, albeit as an immature form of another species. One of the other most popular species, the Brontosaur, never existed at all. It was just made up.

All this is more than just an interesting anecdote. It illustrates an important truth. Science is just a tool that we use to learn truth about reality; it is not the source of all possible knowledge. It is a system built up of a huge amount of “best guesses” and theories awaiting evidence to disprove them.

While the uncertainty of postmodernism is giving way to a new worldview that admits truth is knowable to the extent that science can discover it, there is another option available. Truth is knowable for certain if there is a God who not only made all reality, but has revealed truth about that reality to His creation. The only problem you have if you accept THAT proposal, is that God remains mum on so many cool things like Triceratopses.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Romans 4 (Solely Faith)

Abraham was righteous because God said he was, not because he lived blamelessly. God declared him righteous because of his faith. In chapter four of Romans, Paul describes this faith by pointing out that Abraham simply believed whatever God said. He trusted God.

In the same way, today, we are saved when we believe God’s promise. When He says that we are justified by Him, we trust that we are. It is not about anything that we do, but rather trusting that God will do what He has promised.

When I was a child, I spent a couple of years worrying about my salvation. I used to periodically re-pray “the prayer,” just in case I had done it wrong. Eventually, I realized that I was trusting in something I was doing and not resting in the promise God had made.

Once we realize that we are sinners and separated from God… and when we hear that He has taken care of that problem and has offered us a chance to once again be in a relationship with Him… all that is left for us to do is believe that God is faithful to do what He has promised and rejoice in our relationship with Him. Then we are free to grow in that relationship by daily walking with Him.

Friday, August 6, 2010

On Your 13th Birthday

(Jet-lag has rendered me too brain dead to think today. Here is something I shared with a friend recently that I meant to put on here eventually.)

Wow. Congratulations on getting to the teen years… I guess. They will be some of the most memorable of your life for a lot of good things and, unfortunately, a lot of awkward things. Just remember, this too shall pass.

As I look back on when I was where you are at, I remember noticing how all the teens I knew—even if they were nice people—become full of themselves as they got older. They thought they knew better than all the adults around them, especially their parents. I promised myself I would not do that. I don’t think I was completely successful. As I made it through the teen years and past them, I realized that humility was a good goal to have. No one is as smart or wise as a teenager thinks they are. Even adults aren’t much wiser; it’s just that some of them are humble enough to know their limits. I think that is what the Bible means when it says “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We need to always remember that God is smarter and wiser than we will ever be, and we need to trust and rely on Him.

So my best advice to you, as you enter this stage of life, is to make humility your habit. Don’t think that just because you are getting smarter that you are smarter. Remember that God will always have the best path in mind for you, and that the people he has chosen to help you find that path are your parents.

Beyond that: have fun, enjoy the life you have been given, don’t give in to the negative, irrational sad thoughts that teens are plagued with, realize that—even though it feels like it—the whole world is not always watching you and thinking about you, and… be nice to your siblings—you may still want them to be your friends when you are done being a teenager.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

I had 60 days to visit the land of my birth this year. Here is a little of how I spent those days:

I spent 1 waiting at my house since my plane was cancelled.

I spent 12 days driving 4 or more hours in a wonderfully big car that some very dear friends let me drive. (Much more than 4 hours on several of those days.)

I spent 2 flying to and from the USA and 2 days flying to some meetings I had to attend.

I spent 4 days at those meetings, where they told us what our time in the USA would be like.

I spent 5 days telling churches what it was like to be me.

(I spent 7 days back at home since I couldn’t get my kids out of school for more than 2 weeks.)

I spent the remaining 27 of the 60 days briefly visiting family and friends—many for the first time in four years.

It was tiring. It was hard. But… It was good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Albuquerque

They call this place the Land of Enchantment, and it is magical in a way. Light behaves differently here. Sometimes everything seems washed out and sub-reality—then everything can change on a dime and you have colors that don’t belong: red mountains, purple skies, and green desert. Just when you think this place is a dried up husk of desolation, the wind whips up and the clouds dance in and everything is alive again.

As with any city perched on the skin of a desert, Albuquerque seems a little alien. It is only natural that these people are some of those that started the modern obsession with extraterrestrials; they are E.T. themselves in some ways. Too much time in a place like this is likely to drive anyone into weird ways of thinking. Drive north into the mountains and you may get lost—not so much in the terrain, but in the strange muses and ruminations that creep in.

This is the land of dinosaurs, cave dwellers, conspiracy theorists, and ancient tribes. Bears and lions and deadly poisonous creatures dwell behind every bush and rock. Traveler beware.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Jeff's Story

Jeff serves at a church in the heart of the DFW Metroplex. His ministry is with teens and yet he has a global impact. Somehow or another, his church has a sizeable contingent of Cambodians, naturalized American who emerged from the atrocities that tore their world apart 30 years ago. When Jeff saw that, it was only natural to suggest that they make a trip back to their country to reach people with the Gospel.

Some of these people had decided that they would never ever return to that land again. They didn’t have the heart to tell Jeff that. They soon realized that it wasn’t just Jeff calling. Now that they have made several of those trips, whole villages have received the message of the Cross. Churches have been planted. Long lost and presumed dead family members have been rediscovered. Recurring nightmares have ceased.

Perhaps just as interesting and important—the church there in the Metroplex has changed. They now have a vision for the world, but also for their own city. When the church opens their eyes to what God is doing and does what they are called to do they are changed. They tap into purpose, power and the potential that they have. God has not assembled churches all around the world to simply hang out, learn Bible minutia, and improve themselves. He wants world changers.

What are you supposed to change today?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Romans 4 (Simply Faith)

God’s plan has always been applied to those who believe and trust God, not to those who follow a religious code such as the law. Abraham believed God and was counted as righteous. He did not earn his place with God; he simply did as God said out of his trust in Him.

It is faith leading to forgiveness not works that brings us salvation. Faith is demonstrated in Abraham by how he lived—he went where God told him to, and he did what God asked—however this was merely the demonstration of his faith. His faith and not the actions that the faith produced was what saved him. That same faith is what saves everyone who puts their trust in God today. Not Religion. Faith.
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