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  • THE GOD(S) WE WORSHIP

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Culture

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    1god

    noun \ˈgäd also ˈgȯd\

    1 capitalized :  the supreme or ultimate reality: as

    a :  the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe

    b Christian Science :  the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit :  infinite Mind

    2:  a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically :  one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality

    3:  a person or thing of supreme value

    4:  a powerful ruler

    Who are your gods?  Can you name them?

    In the Christian tradition, there is one true God whose name was revealed to Moses as YHWH and was personally revealed in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah.  However, the religious marketplace of the Ancient Near East was vibrant, as Baal, Zeus, Aphrodite, and many others vied for attention.  And the Bible captures this quite well, as the stories recount the clash of cults between YHWH and other gods (Elijah and the prophets of Baal is probably the most memorable).

    If I can be so bold to say: in American society, work is a god.  Busy-ness is a god.  Beauty and prestige are gods.

    Throughout the annals of history, the gods of this world competed for our attention with a refrain of constant noise.  In the ancient world, Israel’s God—YHWH—claimed to be the only God among the other false gods.  There simply was no other.

    Today, there aren’t too many idols on desks at work.  Instead, we have idols of a busy calendar, bigger paycheck, better looks, more sex, and a better society.  Productivity, paychecks, taking care of ourselves, and building a more just society are all good things; however, they became nefarious when they become the only thing.  When they become the highest thing and our lives gravitate around the position.

    As I close out this musing for the day, I want to ask you to consider whether a god competes for your attention.  What vies or your focus?  Busy-ness?  Fame?  Wealth?  You?

    What god clamors for your worship?

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  • BLESSED ARE THE UNCOOL

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story, Theology

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    Following Jesus, we will have moments of being uncool.*

    The crowd is a fickle friend, and following it will often lead us down roads that are not in step with the Kingdom of God.  Our thoughts and positions need to spring forth from faithfully following Scripture (with a measure of humility, see: When You’re Theologizing).

    Following Jesus is countercultural and following him will require courage.  Courage to speak truthfully.  Courage to be winsome instead of a blustering bully.  Sometimes, we will have to be fearless and resist the pressures of the crowds, choosing to fear God instead of a man or woman.

    —-

    *some more than others

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  • WHEN PEOPLE CALL YOUR ART CRAP

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Growth, Story

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    It’s inevitable.  You will have at least one critic in your life.

    It could be that jerk in the art section of a newspaper, or that troll on Twitter, or perhaps it’s the crazy cousin twice removed.  

    Prepare for it.  If you want to try to add value to the world through writing, singing, creating, selling, or ____-ing you will be criticized.

    I was driving to a doctor’s appointment and the broadcaster came on the classical radio station (yes, I listen to classical music in my car) and told a story about some Russian dude.  This guy had image problems.   He had issues with love and artistic worth.  But this man, believe me, he was brilliant.  He composed a violin concerto with such beauty and grace that you can still hear certain themes explored in the piece in current movie scores.

    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s brilliant violin concerto was not well received though.  The critic called it long and pretentious.  Ouch!

    The critic thought the violin was beaten black and blue, instead of it being played in the right manner.  He also went on to say that it “brought us face to face with the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear.”  Apparently the critic never lived long enough to hear Justin Bieber.

    But truth be told, everybody can be an artist.  If you don’t believe that, go read Seth Godin and let him convince you that you can be an artist in your work.  And all artists will be critiqued.  In those moments of despair though, keep producing your art.  Your art could be incredibly important to other people.

    However, with that being said, make sure to reflect on whether the critique is valid and make a course correction.  When you hear criticism, ask yourself first if it is true (maybe you do sing out of tune!).  Better to learn that you are not the next Michael Buble before you get in front of Simon Cowell.

    If the art is important to you like Tchaikovsky’s music, then keep going though.  Critics will always arise when you’re doing something of worth.  Keep plugging along and add beauty to this world, whether it is in a product, song, or friendship.

    How do you handle critics?

  • WHEN YOU TRY TO BE DIFFERENT AND FAIL

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Francis, Wisdom Wednesday

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    I live in the best of places and the worst places.

    OK, maybe that was a little overdramatic, but living in a privileged area like Orange County brings its share of  blessings and cursings.  In a land of diverse people and wealth, there is a significant upside to this area.  Nice roads, manicured land, and an abundance of things to do and see.  It truly is an incredible place to live.  

    But with the brightside, comes the shadowside.  It’s tough being a young couple in this area that is not making a ton of money.  It’s tough trying to live like no one else now, so that later on we can live like no one else and be debt free.  It’s tough trying to plan to live on one income when you don’t work for a large biotech company or law firm.  

    You know what?  It might be tough, and it might get old that the high schooler at the stoplight next to you is driving a Mercedes, but I know that I don’t have to be trapped.  I don’t have to be caught in the vicious cycle of jealousy.  I will never compete with trust fund babies and those who might have had a few extra opportunities than me.  I don’t want to be crippled by envy, I want to be different.

    Francis of Assisi came from an emerging family.  His father was in the merchant class, a middle class group that was growing in the 13th Century.  After several trials on the battlefield, Francis underwent a conversion to Christ. He renounced his possessions and his former life, even going as far as stripping naked to make a point to his father and Bishop.  Francis was done with commerce and military valor.  Francis chose to live as an impoverished hermit, becoming a totally different person than what society thought he would be.  

    His life of prayer, preaching, and helping the needy attracted other people.  He soon had a fraternity of sorts, and they all got hammered every weekend.  Er, I mean, they all lived a life based on the life of Jesus.

    Francis lived differently in his time.  St Clare of Assisi also lived differently, in coming from a prominent household and choosing to follow the footsteps of Francis.  Both were reformers of the church at that time, and their band of brothers and sisters spread the love of Christ across the region.  Francis even ventured into the Middle East (during the Crusades!!) to share Christ with the sultan in Egypt.  That’s being different!

    Yes, he preached the gospel, and he used words because they were very necessary.  But he also attracted other people to this message through his life.  He lived differently and through this life he was able to share good news with others.  

    I wonder what this might look like in our world.  Whether it is in suburbia, a major city, or rural setting, I wonder what living differently would appear to be.  How might followers of Christ in modern society attract others, apart from bumper stickers and those people holding condemning signs outside sporting events.  

    What do you think?

  • PROBABLY SHOULDN’T HAVE PICKED THE EPISCOPAL ONE…

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story, Theology

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    Over the Easter weekend, my wife and I were out of town up at her folks house.  With our afternoon arrival, we decided to go to a Good Friday service later that evening.  Noticing that there were no Anglican churches in this city, I recommended that we attend the Episcopal service at 7 in their hometown.  I mean, why not?  How could a church mess that up, right?  Boy, was that an interesting experience, to say the least.

    In case you didn’t know, the Episcopal church recently underwent a large event where churches split off from the main denominational body.  From what I have been told (and this is an oversimplification, so please chime in the comments if you want to further unpack or clarify it), it was a long time coming.  The more conservative bodies took the name Anglican and aligned themselves with other Anglican churches throughout the world, placing themselves under the care of established dioceses of African churches.  With few exceptions, the Episcopal churches are currently more left-leaning in their approach to Scripture and those who broke away to become Anglicans are more traditional.  

    Which leads me back to the Episcopal service.  

    Politics at the pulpit

    I have sat in on services at a few churches that were overly political on the conservative end of the spectrum.  I recall to my horror when a pastor denounced a state assemblyman from the pulpit for voting with the Democrats.  Pastors can have political views, which can be said privately in conversation, but when it comes to speaking about a budget vote in Sacramento from the pulpit, well, that is a little too far.

    At this Episcopal service, it was on the other end of the political spectrum.  The meditations on the crucifixion of Christ were accompanied with a call to action about gun violence.  

    Listen, I’m all for the call for Christians to be agents of peace in a culture of violence, I get that.  But when the pastor is reading a congressional testimonies from people for awhile, then it is veering into uneasy territory for me.  

    A call to action could be needed in an American Church that might not want to challenge the culture on the consumption of violence.  Indeed, the “already, but not yet” tension between the Kingdom of God transforming the world will have political consequences.  Whether it is in the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, or a call to the sanctity of life in every stage (not just in the womb), our union with Christ ought to overflow into action.  Yes, political action could be a means to the end, but it is not the only means.  To borrow from Paul, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead needs to give life to our mortal bodies and give us strength to be a witness in our communities and act when needed.  

    Have you had any awkward church experiences?

  • SOWING SEEDS OF PEACE IN SOIL OF STRIFE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Culture, Story

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    But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
    James 3:17-18

    What’s your first impression of the above passage?  I know mine, those marks are intense!  Too intense, I fear.  I’d like to think that these marks and characteristics are ones that I embody, but I know all too well that if I looked in the mirror long enough, I would find a different picture.  I still have a good ways to go to fully embody these traits, and I am hopeful that one day I will operate from a position of grace, not fear.

    For James, the wisdom God provided is one that operates on a different set of assumptions.  It is a wisdom that bring about peace, not strife.  It is a wisdom that brings about sincerity instead of falsehood.  It is a wisdom rooted in the Kingdom of God instead of any Kingdom of Man.

    With the end of the 2012 Campaign and the beginning of a new session of Congress in Washington, I hope that followers of Jesus will sow seeds of peace in a terrain that unfortunately features an immense amount of strife.  The Christian Right, Left, and Middle (not to mention the Anabaptists) should vigorously advocate for their ideas as long as it is done with the wisdom from above.  This wisdom, of course, being rooted in God’s peace.

    I guess I’ve come to the realization that campaigns come and campaigns go, yet the peace of Christ remains.  Doomsday predictions often times do not come to fruition, but if they do, take heart that the peace of Christ will still remain.  Surely the sun will rise the next day and the birds will sing, yet the love of Christ will still there.

    What I do know and firmly trust is that God is in control, even when your party loses.   God is still the Lord over all, even when your candidate wins.  Kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall, yet God remains.

    So my encouragement to you is to be a person of peace and hold onto the wisdom from above.  Argue courageously for your conviction, but do so with a spirit of peace and purity.

  • RESIDENT ALIENS AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk

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    “Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

    -Jeremiah 22:3

    God spoke these words to Jeremiah as a message to the king.  It was a request and command that the king execute justice in the land.  His reward would be peace and his punishment would be destruction.  What I found interesting in this particular verse (within the broader passage) was that the phrase “resident alien” came up in the message.  It made me wonder what this meant.

    Without looking further into the Old Testament, I wish to hazard a guess.  Perhaps these aliens were drawn in and they should have been compelled to worship Yahweh because of His people.  Israel should have been a bastion of light to the surrounding land, shining brightly in the dark world.  Instead they oppressed them and defamed God’s name.

    I wonder how often Christians defame the name of God when they oppress other people.  I can only think about the awful things done in the name of Jesus in the past history that have broken his heart.  The very people that God wanted his chosen nation to care for were those who were instead crushed.  Instead of acting as a taste of heaven, a colony for the King of kings, I wonder how often the Church has destroyed the poor and powerless in the name of riches and power.  My guess would be too often. Instead of being salt and light unto the broader world, Christians act as corrosive agents and radiation to others.

    How it must break the heart of God to have His Name used in the oppression.  Instead of the spirit of Christ being spread out in the culture, the spirit of anti-Christ is twisted into its place.

    They defamed the name of the LORD, and destroyed people under God’s banner.  Maybe that is why it was such a big deal!

  • “FUNDAMENTALISM AND AMERICAN CULTURE.”

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Culture, History

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    I recently finished a book for a class in seminary that is entitled “Fundamentalism and American Culture.”  In it, scholar George Marsden paints the historic rise of fundamentalism in American society, tracing it back to the 19th Century and moving it up to nearly modern day.  In his concluding thoughts of modern-day fundamentalism (read: Religious Right under Reagan through George W. Bush) Marsden points at the contradiction in their global understanding.  Fundamentalists often viewed American society as a decaying carcass in the world, incapable of hope as “liberalism” continued to root out its Biblically-centered core.  This view is also coupled with a rampant nationalism when it comes to foreign policy related ventures, especially military efforts.  Marsden pointed out this and one can only think back a few years ago when anyone could venture into a Bible church parking lot and see the wide array of patriotic stickers on every bumper.  Running into a Christian who opposed the war meant that they were not patriotic, forget about the historic pacifistic denominations!

    Marsden wrote an insightful sentence clearing this up saying,

    “And although in domestic affairs fundamentalistic American Protestants clearly distinguish between the far-too-secular nation and their churches, in foreign policy they often seem uncritical of American nationalism and treat the United States as though it were unquestionably on God’s side in warfare against the forces of evil.”

    It is my hope that evangelicals, to distinguish from militant fundamentalists, will not follow along the same blind mistakes and be nationalistic in any area, especially foreign policy.  America is a force for good in the world but it also has perpetrated some rather negative acts as well.  “America right or wrong” is not a proper response for an individual who is ultimately loyal to the Kingdom of God.