Monday, November 9, 2009

New Sermon - Psalm 55:22

Here is a short sermon I preached at the evening service at church. Feel free to listen, comment, and all that good stuff.

The old link stopped working. Try this one instead if you are interested:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The New Trilemma

Beknownst to many, I dread the idea of going to a karaoke bar. Unbeknownst to many, I have regular covert karaoke sessions on my commute to work. I drive an SUV with no tint on the windows, which means I'm afforded about as much cover as a fishbowl. Moreover, I possess none of the externally obvious signs that would indicate that I deserve to be rocking out like it's nobody's business (e.g. I don't care what you think musician outfit, “cool” ethnicity, etc.). Therefore I must daily find a way to perform my latest hits without the hundreds of people I see in traffic noticing.

So I improvise. At the stop light, if I pull up in between the two cars in the next lane over, neither of them can really tell what I'm doing. Rock on my friend. If I can't hit one of those sweet spots between cars, I might just do every other line ...wishin they was dancin a jig... ciga-cigar right from Cuba-Cu-ba ... They might think they saw something, do a double take, but looking over they see I'm just another regular commuter. They can't prove a thing.

But the reality is, at some point, somebody notices. Either I go too big (hand gesturing and long, high notes are sure ways to go too big) or they're just too observant and bang. Busted. Then I feel obligated to either slow down or start speeding until I know I've put some distance in between me and that over-observant commuter.

Then things changed. I purchased a discounted, middle of the road bluetooth headset for my cell phone. What's that have to do with it, you might ask? Well, before, if anyone caught me, they'd have two easy choices in regard to my virtuoso renditions: Either that guy is crazy or I just caught him singing to himself in the middle of traffic. Neither of these options is particularly appealing.

But now--now they look over, catch me getting my groove on, but they also see the bluetooth headset and they're not so sure anymore. The simple dilemma is now, yes that's right, a trilemma. Sure, they have good odds they caught me doing something embarrassing, but there's that unsettling chance that I'm actually talking to someone. Ooh, not so sure of yourself anymore, are you Mr. Over-observant fellow commuter? I might be raving mad, I might have the entire corpus of Enrique Iglesias music memorized (no really, I don't). But you'll never know, because I might just be ordering take out after a long day at the office.

And just like that, the hits just keep on coming. Gettin' jiggy wit it, na-na-na-na-na-na-na...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finding God in an Orange

So I'm eating this orange. This juicy, delicious, liquid ball of orange juice. And I can't help but ask: Why? Why should this fantastic piece of fruit taste so good? Why doesn't it taste completely ordinary and bland? Why doesn't it taste boring and gritty, like a mouthful of the dirt from which it sprang? You could answer that this orange has developed its appealing taste because that taste helps it to get eaten by animals, have its seeds spread far and wide and grow lots of other orange trees. Okay, fine. I'm glad you got that out of your system. But how about this: That orange is one more proof that God made a creation that is delightful. And even though money still doesn't grow on trees, guess what? This stuff does. A creation that is beautiful, and not just a creation that is useful.

Take sunsets too. When was the last time you sat down and watched the sun set? Maybe you could care less. Maybe you're too busy. Maybe you have a hard time sitting still that long. But sometime you need to take ten minutes and go sit down with a drink and watch the sunset (if you're married and do this with your spouse, it might even be considered “quality time” and then your spouse is happy too, win-win situation). When the sun sets, why don't things just go dark like when I dim a light bulb in a room? Instead, plain white clouds turn to molten gold. Vibrant splashes of orange and red and purple streak across the sky. In the face of God's daily canvas, nature grows quiet and still. Far more than just a great artist, God is the one who inspires art itself.

Even a creation that groans under the weight of the curse reveals a creator who delighted in creating the delightful. Truly it has been said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The glory of the Lord is all about us. In golden beams across the horizon, in an ordinary orange dripping juice down to the ground.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Everybody's Doing It (Theology, That Is)

Few things mystify like telling others that you like theology. I mean, who does that? Theology can seem like one of the most abstract and irrelevant pursuits around. It conjures up visions of monks and philosophers doing calligraphy and asking stuffy questions like, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” If words like aseity, supralapsarian and imputation mean little to you, well, they don't mean a whole lot to many other people either. But the fact is, however you talk about it, everyone is doing theology, including you.

So, let's just say that theology means the study of God. Perhaps you've never spent any sort of concerted or formal time studying theology, the fact is every day you are living out your beliefs concerning God. It could be saying, “God doesn't care if I (fill in the blank).” It could be the popular arguing point, “The God I believe in would never do that!” It might be the refrain of the prosperity movement, “God wants you to be able to pay your bills.” Whether formally or informally, somewhere along the line we all end up with our beliefs on God and we live those out everyday. The question then becomes, “Where did you get your beliefs?”

This question humbled me one particular day several years ago. In a discussion with a more mature believer, I voiced some claim about angels (my memory has mercifully blotted out the specific claim). Though he did not call me on it, as I reflected on the discussion I realized I had basically lifted that idea from the movie Dogma. It wasn't a result of any philosophical or biblical reflection, it was just some mental debris mined from the depths of a movie about renegade angels wreaking comedic havoc in the world. The other person graciously gave me some good counsel and let the issue run its course from there, perhaps realizing that my poor theology (well, I guess that's angelology, but let's not be sticklers here) would wither and go away on its own.

The scary thing is just how many such beliefs exist out there. Probably a vast majority of the country could quote “Thou shalt not judge” or “God is love” though they've never read the books those quotes are found in. Many people could resonate with “love your neighbor as yourself,” but few of those people realize just how high that standard is (and furthermore what we're supposed to do once we fall short of it). “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” might be famous, but it's largely not believed. We find that large amounts of our spiritual beliefs are not actively pursued through reading or serious thinking, rather they are passively received from billboards (Got Jesus?), bumper stickers (God is too big to fit into one religion), television shows (Touched By An Angel) and movies (more than I feel like listing). And this is what we rest eternity upon.

Everybody is doing theology, but not a whole lot of people are doing it well. That's not to say, “Oooh, look at me and my perfect theology.” But the fact is, people base their lives on what they think about God. This is true for everyone from the unaccountable atheist to the ambiguous agnostic to the driven zealot, and a lot of these beliefs are as thoughtless as my Dogma moment. People generally don't vote for people they know nothing about. Nor do they work for companies they know nothing about. So why would anyone live life based on theology they know nothing about?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dear Christians: What if the Gospel is really true?

When I read the Bible, I like to ask myself a question: What if this is really true? It's not that I am a big skeptic, as far as I'm concerned the Bible has already proven itself to me. But that said, I can read about jaw-dropping truths of God and not even bat an eyelash. Perhaps it's familiarity. It is a rare talent to be able to delight in the treasures one has constant access to. Perhaps it's cynicism. Just about every time someone starts getting all grandiose on me (generally a politician or an advertisement) they generally fall through. But perhaps it's worse than that, maybe I don't actually believe what I'm reading. After all, could I just gloss over the earth-shattering words of God if I really believed what they are saying?

As an example, take one of my favorite chapters of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5. It took me almost no time at all to pull out 5 of these so-called “jaw-dropping truths”, take a look:

1.Believers in Christ have eternal life awaiting them (2 Cor 5:1) – Some think that a belief in heaven is a psychological defense. People can't handle the idea of their existence ceasing, so heaven is invented. There's some logic to that, I think many of us fear the unknown, especially the unknown of death. But there is another perspective as well. In one way, it is easier and far more believable to say we die and that's it. Since we're not sure what the other side looks like, then this life must be all there is. More difficult is to try and wrap one's mind around the staggering treasure and blessing promised in the Gospel. It would be easy to imagine that death is just sleep. Or that heaven is like having a big party with all your best friends. It is near impossible to grasp that believers will be united with their God and Creator for all eternity in perfect bliss.

2.Believers have been given the Spirit as a pledge (2 Cor 5:5) – To comfort a miserly, rebellious and fallen people, God has given his very Spirit to assure us of his faithfulness. The Spirit himself, the third member of the Trinity, has deemed it worthwhile to babysit, so to speak, the redeemed people of God.

3.We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) – Judgment comes for us all. The believer has been spared, not for being good but for having faith in the One who truly is good. The one who does not believe, however, will have no such pardon. Wrath, like the wrath Christ bore for his people on the cross, will be poured out undiluted on those who don't believe.

4.Those who have faith in Christ are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17) – Before Christ, all of us stand condemned in our sins. We sin constantly because at our very hearts, we are sinners. Before Christ, we are doomed to a life filled to the brim with sin. Before Christ, we are spiritually dead people dying a slow physical death. When Christ saves us, he makes us new. Not new like fresh-coat-of-paint-new. He makes us completely new. The believer is still living out the rest of a fallen life, but with a new nature, with new desires and with new abilities. “The old things passed away, behold, new things have come.”

5.Christ the sinless one bore our sin so that we would be made righteous (2 Cor 5:21) – The perfect Son of God died a criminal's bloody death so that his chosen ones might live. His chosen ones are no longer guilty in the Father's eyes. More than this, they now stand righteous before their God. From spiritually bankrupt to spiritually rich, all through the work of Christ.

So what if that is all true? How am I to respond? If that is all true (not to mention everything else in Scripture), then I have more awaiting me in eternity than I possibly imagined. Until eternity comes, God has more abundantly provided for me in the pledge of the Spirit—than I possibly imagined. If this is all true, my family and friends who live in godlessness are not playing meaningless games; rather they are teetering on the edge of judgment with nothing but God's burning wrath awaiting them below. If this is true, the chains that held me in my sin have been shattered, sin's grip on me is lost and my Savior's grip on me is unbreakable. If this is true, the perfect One of God suffered in agony on my behalf, bleeding forth a redemption price dearer than words can express.
My God, my God, what if it's all true?

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Great Escape

His eyebrows furrowed, he bit his lower lip in concentration. Long moments passed, his brain actually felt like it was burning he was thinking so hard. How had he not thought this through before? The questions troubled him, they were upsetting even and they shook beliefs he considered to be fundamental to his identity. Soon his stomach began to twist as the stress spread through his body. He clenched his fists, his shoulders stiffened. Then—then the moment came, and with it bliss and peace. “I guess I just don't know.” He smiled to himself and sighed. The dissonance would fade, the storm would pass overhead. He had successfully ducked another critical moment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Label Me Christian (Wait, What Does That Mean?)

What above all else characterizes a Christian? The Republican party? Opposition to abortion and gay marriage? Is it creationism vs. evolution(ism)? Is it morality? The 10 commandments? The location of the 10 commandments in public places? Is it boycotts of offensive/immoral movies? Is it 7 steps to how to live life to its fullest? Is it don't drink, don't smoke, don't chew (or go with girls who do)? If one were to take a poll of non-Christians—heck, if a poll were taken of Christians themselves—what would be said to be the defining characteristic of a Christian? What would be that sine qua non of Christianity?

Dare I venture to say, it's the Gospel that sets Christians apart? Call me “Captain Obvious” if you want, but this is a point I feel more and more compelled to spread. Christians ultimately are not set apart by their political or moral views or by their personalities, they are set apart by the salvation accomplished on their behalf by the Son of God dying on the cross. They are set apart by their Savior, who rose from the grave, conquering death and paving the way for all those who believe in him to follow thereafter. They are set apart by realizing once and for all that they themselves bring nothing to the table, their only hope is the grace by which God saves them, through the faith that he gives them as well.

If you could see yourself through the eyes of all those who know you, those who interact with you day in and day out, what do you think would stand out? Would you find out that people see you chiefly as a Republican? A social conservative? A creationist? A moral and principled person? Or would they see you as a sinner, saved by a glorious Gospel of grace?

Or from a different angle: If you had only five minutes to talk with an unbeliever of radically different views than you (maybe take a second and envision what that would look like in your case), what would you ideally want to spend that time talking about? If you amazingly managed to change their minds on every view they had but they leave knowing nothing of the Savior who can save them from their sin and wretchedness, how much has really been gained?

So what's the point? My point is not to denigrate politics or morality, nor is my point that it is wrong to talk about anything besides the Gospel. My point is that the most important thing about Christians is that which truly sets them apart, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shouldn't that be what people know us for?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weeping With Those Who Weep

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed in the midst of grieving the loss of his wife. He reflects on why her death should be causing him not only to mourn, but also to doubt in substantial ways his own faith. In chapter 3, he reminds himself that he had always known that such sorrowful things occur daily in the world. Nothing unexpected or unusual occurred in the passing of his wife. Though this time the unfortunate event had happened to himself, and not someone else. Lewis writes that his faith would not be so shaken if his concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. He goes on to say, “If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.”

I found this comment to be shockingly insightful, at least in regard to my own heart. How much do I actually care about the sorrows that go on in this world, especially when they extend beyond my immediate circle? When a child, whom I have never met, suffers through a rare illness, how much do I really care? When a young woman somewhere is kidnapped, raped and killed, am I yet showing “real” concern? When the world's headlines are filled with injustice and murder, how can I possibly react to it all with any level of sincerity?

I find in these scenarios that I simply cannot handle the vastness of the suffering and tragedy this world affords. The sheer magnitude of earthly problems alone overwhelms me. I understand that I cannot in and of myself solve the world's problems, but more than that, I cannot even mourn them properly. Many have perceived their own smallness when they look at the night sky, at stars that stretch deep into the blackness of space. I find new conviction of this smallness, and of its powerlessness, when I dwell on this world's sorrow. Like the seemingly innumerable stars of the night sky, so also the tears and wailing of this world stretch on further than I can comprehend.

But my problem extends beyond inability. The problem for me is not just that I can't properly mourn this world's suffering, it is also that I simply don't. Frightened by the clamor of the world's trouble, I shut the door to my heart rather than open it even a crack to the flood of tears that awaits outside. I fear that sort of grief, I fear its life consuming nature. I fear being kept awake at night as I pray first for those I know and then all the sorrowful things I know of as well. I fear that my small heart cannot bear such a load.

Jesus grieved. He grieved at his friend lying cold in the grave. Though Lazarus would soon be miraculously raised, Jesus wept. Jesus was grieved in Gethsemane, to the point of death the Scriptures add. In the face of his impending arrest, torture and execution, Jesus was deeply grieved. Is it too much to also say the Father grieved as well? In that great exchange of Jesus' righteousness for the wickedness of his people, would not the Father grieve the marring of his spotless Son? If Christ wept for sinful Lazarus, would not the Father have mourned the perfect one's death?

In these divine examples, I find inspiration. But inspiration without compliance will only result in further condemnation, won't it? It will only be one more time in which I sin and fall short of the glory of God. I need more. In my inability to pray and mourn for the world, I find profound new depth to Romans 8:26: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Perhaps the faithful ministry of that Comforter can convert even my halfhearted despair for the world into a fit intercession with the King. Perhaps presenting my fearful and closed off heart—my sinful heart—to Christ provides one more opportunity for him to declare, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”