I remember a time when people were so mad about who had been elected president that dumb news stories, whether they were true or not would get posted. I got so tired of it, that I unfollowed people on my Facebook or just stayed off of it for a time. Fast forward 8 years and now I see it again.
I’ve gotten cynical about the whole political scene. Most of which is done for show on TV. The 24 hour news channels eat it up or make it up so that they can sell advertising. Most people don’t realize that they are basically being sold to those to the advertisers.
I’ve long subscribed to the saying, “If it bleeds, it leads,” to the whole of the news media. I try very hard to pick and chose my sources carefully, and then double and triple check them for facts left unsaid, or left out, because all the journalists are political operatives with a byline.
I see friends and family being lead down the path. I was there a long time ago. I turned a corner about halfway through Bush 2’s second term, realizing all that was happening. I tried to tell people that they are being used, but to no avail. As humorist Scott Adams says (I’m paraphrasing here), they are living in their own movie, and so are we. I’m not adept to being a persuader. I have to be careful with who or what I listen to. It is possible that if I look at Facebook too long, I’ll get depressed. I’ve pretty much stopped looking at twitter. I listen to a new deconstruction podcast, which helps to lighten my moods, because they are pretty funny, but my moods still swing.
As I watch the news, there are those that tell me that I’m irrelevant. That my opinions don’t matter, because I am privileged, judging me before I even open my mouth, or do anything. The pendulum swings, “fight the (blank)!” The pendulum swings back, “fight the (blank we said was good before)!” I’m beginning to realize the meaning behind the book of Ecclesiastes. “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)
Fight, fight, everything is fight. What about Love? I realized recently that nobody wants to love unconditionally, because they don’t want to love those that wronged them, the original sin. They say they follow Jesus, but really they follow Moses (the law). And now we have fallen into the time of the book of Judges (Everyone did as they saw fit).
I was driving around recently, as I was looking for some shots of Boyne City, and was listening to the podcast from Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO. They have been doing a series on some of the prophets in the Old Testament. Which got me to thinking about a few of them, when I felt like we were being given the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:38-42, and Luke 11:29-32), when Jesus was talking to the pharisees. It felt like we are missing the point on the sign of Jonah, if you stop reading a verse too short.
A lot of people stop at the verse that says (from Matt 12:38-42, The Message), “Like Jonah, three days and nights in the fish’s belly, the Son of Man will be gone three days and nights in a deep grave.” And while this is true, there is more to this section, like the next verse: “On Judgment Day, the Ninevites will stand up and give evidence that will condemn this generation, because when Jonah preached to them they changed their lives. A far greater preacher than Jonah is here, and you squabble about ‘proofs.'” Other translations are very similar with the next verse in Matthew about the Ninevites condemning this generation. I think as Stephen Grabill says in a recent Seedbed video, that the church is struggling with not being the dominate force in the culture. So we have become like Jonah. The church currently comes across as loveless, like Jonah, and would rather see our “enemies” destroyed, than repent and be saved.
So many times in my Facebook feed, I see angry Christians with their conservative bent, sharing articles that seem more like they would prefer their enemies smited, than loved in to the kingdom. If you look at Jesus who says, “take up your cross and follow me,” but little do we realize, that if we follow him, we may have to die, literally, to do his will. This may mean to challenge the status quo. However, the church isn’t into challenging it, but rather would put out anyone that doesn’t hold together with the health and wealth gospel (notice that is with a little g) afraid someone is coming for them, when they rarely step out and look at the systemic sins of our society. You know the systemic sins of society, slavery, lack of justice, or when there is justice, lack of mercy. Fear of the foreigner, etc.
I also have liberal friends that would rather that the conservatives be smited, than loved into the kingdom as well. So many times the P.C. bullies talking about microaggressions, while they use just as hurtful and words and tactics on conservatives.
Part of the problem is they all listen and put their faith into the fear mongering stations of the cable news system (and I mean all of them, from MSNBC to Fox News) which constantly spout half true, superficial stories meant to make you cower under your blanket with your guns, if you are conservative, or your drug du jour to numb you if you are liberal. They say they are there to inform you, but they are all accountable to large corporations, bent on making money and if they threaten to pull their money, then stories are whitewashed.
But what do I know…
I’m not a great writer. I’m good, to the extent that I do get compliments when somebody reads these posts from time to time, but not great. Sometimes, I wish that more people read my blog and commented on what I had written, if only to learn from others as they read what I said.
However, it has occurred to me that 1. I’m searching for approval from my interactions. This is not what I wanted, I shouldn’t/don’t need validation, but those feelings have occurred, as I recently noted to my wife. And 2. that I don’t think that I need to be out there among the Christian blogosphere writing who’s right and who’s wrong. Recently, there was another dust up between bloggers which you can read about here, and why that particular blogger decided to step away.
The post is long so if you go there, be prepared to sit and read the post for about 10-15 minutes. He feels that he needs to be a positive voice in Christianity, so closed down his current blog, and will be reopening a blog that will be more positive. I have to say that his take on the exchange between the other two bloggers was right on. There was a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist. However, as I read the post, there was little grace or mercy. Oh sure, they talked about defending the weak and why they were right, but still there was no grace or mercy.
I’m big on grace and mercy as of late. With the move back to Gaylord, and some other issues, I have been struggling to not lose my cool, because things aren’t the way I want them. Don’t get me wrong, I try to effect change into the situations, but when the advice gets trampled on, I have to remember to show grace. Die to myself, just like Christ.
However, for the foreseeable future, I’ll write about grace and mercy. Everything I have been running into as of late has been pointing me in that direction. I will sound like a broken record probably in the months and years to come. However, I don’t care. I’m going to tell stories of grace and mercy. That is loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus commanded.
As I have been in the process of writing this post two things have popped out at me. One, is what Rob Bell said in his latest video (at the bottom) and the other is Brian Zahnd in several sermons lately. It’s about the saying, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I think that Rob is right when he says that the problem is that we have lost the childlike wonder, because churches have told us dos and don’ts. Brian Zahnd says that the community of the church (body of Christ) is needed, but the church itself has been going down a dos and don’ts road for about 100 years or so. That there is a shift beginning to happen. I agree.
We can’t be loners. We must be a community. We must show grace and mercy to those within our community and those outside. When they fail, and we will all fall sometime, we can’t be about dos and don’ts, but be about love. People (and specifically the media) give Christians such hard time because of what we are against, because typically it is said without love (not that they are interested in that, remember if it bleeds it leads). We should be more.
Jesus gave grace and mercy to the woman caught in adultery, not condemning her, but sending off with, “Go and sin no more.” What if we did this? What if we granted grace and mercy, and told people to go and sin no more? I’m starting to think that more people would be willing to come to church and live life together in love, than is happening now.
Here is what Derek Ouellette (the blog writer) concludes with:
Brothers and sisters, that’s why I’m moving on. That’s why I’m creating a blog around “inform.inspire.imagine.” That’s why I want to find new, creative ways to pass along my ideas, without tearing down another person. I want to exhort without attacking. I want to teach without ad hominem. I want to see people grow. And I want my place to be a place that contributes to a positive image of God’s Kingdom online.
This is the same tact that I am going to continue with on my blog. Maybe someday more will read it and realize that this is what we always should have been doing.
HT to John Meunier
Recently, I feel like God has been leading me into something. I’m not sure what, but the verse that much of this feeling is based on is Matthew 9:13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (NIV).” Couple this with what one theologian calls the “Jesus Creed,” Matthew 22:37-40, “…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (NIV).”
I see a lot of pain in this world. You can tell me that people should do “this or that,” but if the “this or that” (I’m talking about the Law) is hanging on to these verses, then don’t forget that we are to love one another, and show mercy.
During my time as an adult volunteer for the youth group, that is something that I have seen time and time again. Well meaning adults, telling the students what they should do, without any grace or mercy attached to it. This kind of starts a path down legalism within a person’s life. Which then reminds me of the line in the Orange County Supertones song Go Your Way,
“Not long after my rescue
I let my failures get me down
My sin had robbed me of the joy I had in you
Then you saved me from that too”
While I was listening to a sermon, within the last six months, the parable of shrewd manager was taught. So many look at the parables as morality stories, when they are so much more, and in this case, this parable isn’t a morality story. It has always puzzled me until I heard this sermon. If you’re not familiar with it (Luke 16:1-9), the manager was crooked, and the owner was going to fire the manager. Since the manager wouldn’t beg and was too old to do anything else he went to each of the people who owed the owner something and cut their amount owed. Now, the owner could have had the manager arrested and restored amount owed by the debtors, BUT…he didn’t, the manager risked that the owner, who was an honorable man would show him mercy and wouldn’t raise the amounts on the debtors.
God is like this. We are so crooked, but God will show us mercy.
With that in mind, I’m starting to see so much of the political process, not in left and right, Republican/Democrat, or anything else. I vote, but I don’t put my hope for change in anything that is tainted by humans, we are too self-centered. I vote for where the mercy is. I wrote that I lean libertarian. I’m willing to let people do whatever they want, but if they find themselves hurting, then I am willing to show them mercy. I’m here to love the Lord with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my heart; and my neighbor as myself. Which brings me back to learning what this means…I desire mercy and not sacrifice.
If you remember from the past, I wrote a series on Grace and Guilt. Here is a post from College Ministry Thoughts:
Shame/guilt and conviction are not equals. In fact they couldn’t be more opposite. They stem from different “sources” and lead us to two completely different places.
This fits in with what I was getting at, but didn’t get around to posting about conviction. You should read the whole thing.
via Sin is serious, but….
I was reading a story at the Huffington Post about something totally unrelated, but the story used the prodigal son parable (Luke 15:11-32) for an analogy.
Really, this all comes down to an illustration of a parable that Jesus told about two sons. In the wide world, it’s known as the prodigal son, but the story is really about two brothers. The story tells us that a younger brother gets the inheritance from the father (demonstrating his hate for the father through wishing he were dead), goes and spends it and then is welcomed home by the father. The eldest son sees this, resents it and hates the father by yelling at him for taking the younger son back.
However, I want to look at this from the view of the father. In this case, in terms of things that I have talked about in a previous post, grace and guilt.
As I said in a previous post, one of the things that we learned in Celebrate Recovery is that it is a process and, at least in Celebrate Recovery, that this process has 12 steps. Several of these steps are at work here.
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
We’ve talked about this before, but I when I read this the other day, I wanted to approach this from the father’s perspective. In this case, with youth who have been going behind the backs of their parents. As a volunteer youth leader for some time, I have seen where the kids even are doing “things” and have a hard time coming clean with it to us. Usually, we in the youth ministry know that something has been going on, whether from friends or just interactions with the students. The thing is that even though we know, they are reluctant to confess. When they do, I have said to them, “yeah, I knew that was going on. ” The thing is, that we wait for them to make the first move. There are times that they need to be confronted, but once the sin has been done and it isn’t going on anymore, they often don’t need to be confronted, but they do need to confess it. The problem for me is the waiting.
As I have gotten older, I have begun asking God, “Is this what it’s like for you?” This is no different. God is the father in the parable, and is waiting for the younger son to come home. As patient as I can be, it becomes frustrating for me to wait for those things that I know that people need to get out of their system. So I wait. I’ve waited with things from one of our sons, and I have waited for kids in youth group to return to the fold. It isn’t easy. So I wonder if God gets this frustrated with us, when we don’t run to him.
God wants to throw a party for us, if we will just come back and confess. Ease your conscience, confess and set yourself free.
Drew Spanding has been doing a talks at Chosen for a few years now. I have to say that the talk he gave at Grand Rapids on Saturday was one of his best. I didn’t take notes through the whole thing, but here was a point that has been stuck in my brain since then.
I’ll start with a story that Drew has told in these sessions before. There was a kid in a small group that he ran who once called to ask him if it was a big deal to smoke weed. Drew said it wasn’t a big deal. The kid asked, “so it’s okay to smoke weed.” Drew replied, “It’s not a big deal.” The kid was about to say good by and hang up when Drew said this, “I want you to be a big deal.” I’m paraphrasing this, but the point was that God created you to be a big deal. When you go off and do the stuff like everyone else, then you diminish who you could be.
So what does that have to do with sex and God’s plan? As Drew put it, and I agree, if you are avoiding sex, so you don’t get pregnant (or getting someone pregnant), or to avoid an sexually transmitted disease, then you might as well grab some condoms and go forth. However, if you have faith in God, then don’t, and realize that God has faith in you. In fact, to drive the point home, let’s look at what Jesus did.
First, think of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the Pharisees and others drag her in front of Jesus. After Jesus tells them that he who is without cast the first stone, they all leave and he then has the following conversation (NIV):
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus doesn’t condemn her and tells her to leave her life of sin. We never hear any more about her. However, in a way He has faith in her to go forth and follow Him. Some think that this woman was Mary Magdelene although the passage is unclear.
Here’s a more direct story. Matt 14:28-33. This is where Jesus walks on the water. Now, Peter asks if he can walk on water. Why, because Jesus is his rabbi and the disciple wants to be like the rabbi. So Peter walks out there. However, he falters as he looks at the winds and waves. So what happened? did Peter lose faith in Jesus? No. He lost faith in himself to be like his rabbi. Drew’s point is this, Jesus has faith in you, but you need to have faith in yourself to be like your rabbi (Jesus).
Are you or have you been in relationship? Does it have to be sexual before marriage? You think that this person is the one, but are they? We often, in the church, fall back on the shame and honor culture of the Old Testament, when we need to introduce people, especially teens to the New Testament. If we do, the doubt they often experience comes from their own self image, and not their doubt in Jesus to forgive. They don’t think that they can be like their rabbi (Jesus).
Remember this, Jesus has faith in you to follow Him. The disciples often messed up, but Jesus always brings them back and they follow. So you think that there is no way for you to get into a relationship without sex? Think again. God will bring the right one. You have to have faith not just in God to do bring the right one, but also you have to have faith in yourself that you can hold on until He does.
I was listening to a couple of things tonight. One was the most recent Mars Hill Bible church sermon by a guest teacher Peter Rollins. They are doing a series on Ecclesiastes. However, one of the stories he tells was of somebody person on a train that loses their wallet which has their ticket in it. Because of this she has a lengthy conversation with the conductor. The story ends with the conductor telling the train rider that there is no problem with the lost ticket, because she noticed him. Most would think that he is noticed all the time, but really he is just a part of the machinery. Nobody notices him.
Then I was listening to some music right after that and the song by The Letter Black, “Hanging on by a Thread,” came on in the playlist, and this part of the song struck me:
Save me from losing myself
I’m hanging on by a thread
Can You see who I am
Underneath my scars?
I’m afraid to fall
So I’m holding on to You
No I won’t let go
I’m hanging on by a thread
The song is asking for God to notice them and love them. That’s what Peter Rollins asserts that noticing your neighbor is loving them. People are in need of love, being noticed is a part of that.
So now I take it a step further. With teens, what are they longing for? Belonging, being noticed, by their friends, in their world, and for some in their families. Being noticed, being accepted, belonging. The one thing that I have noticed about the TV show Skins, the kids are all looking for belonging. The show is all based on them finding ways to be noticed by their friends, and in many cases finding ways to be noticed by their families. Many times, it is in not so healthy way.
So one of the ways that experts have found to keep teens and young adults to remain in church, is to give them responsibility in church. When the church notices them, they stay in community. Plugging people into the community is key to discipling them.
I have worked hard at making sure that our kids are noticed by Mary and I. I have worked hard to make sure that kids in youth group are noticed. Has it all worked out? Not always. I still struggle to notice and love people sometimes. Things get in the way. If you read Ecclesiastes, King Solomon admits that everything is futile. In Ecclesiastes 2:1-10, he lists off all of the things that he has experienced: pleasure, alcohol, building bigger houses, accumulations of possessions, etc. Everything is empty. His conclusion? Be content with what you have (Ecc 2:24-26) and enjoy your work. When you skip to Ecc. 12, you find that he has come full circle, honor God, because this all disappears.
So while I was driving into Gaylord the other day, I was listening to the podcast, Pray-As-You-Go. The verse for the day’s prayer was Mark 8:27-33. I had been thinking about this the other day and so when this verse came up, I decided that I needed to share this.
On Wednesday, James had a great message for the kids about the vision you have, being narrowed by the things and people that surround you. The story that he told was of a girl that he knows in a metropolitan area who knew Christ years ago (The verse from Mark 8 of Peter confessing who Jesus is.). So she knew Christ, but in the course of life surrounded herself with friends that hang at the bar all the time, so the guys she dated were losers. So her opinion of guys were that they were only one thing. She thought that maintaining her purity was unrealistic, because the guys that asked her out were always from the bar and they only wanted one thing.
This goes along with a post I recently wrote about the danger of listening to one story. Watch the video from that post (It’s 20+ minutes), but worth getting through. In this case this girl listened only to her story and girlfriends’ story that all guys are losers, and to her the life of purity and doing the things that God and Christ would want us to do, is a fairy tale.
However, as the author from the TED talk points out she would be suffering from the fact that she is thinking about only one story. The analogy of life and story is a pretty good one. So we often hear from kids that they are stuck in their story. Don Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, often talks about life as a story, and recently offered a conference about changing your story. Write a new chapter. This also blends in with what James preached on Sunday about vision and how God and Jesus allow you to have a larger vision, and in essence, find away to write a new chapter in your story.
I think that in some ways in Sunday School and youth ministry we have taught the black and white thinking to black and white thinkers (pre-adolescent kids) that when we are sharing what should be transformative, ends up sounding like rules, and behavior modification. And while modification in behavior is a good things in some respects, I think that has left out the grace that God promises through Christ.
I’m beginning to think that the moralistic therapeutic deism that Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean wrote about, is brought about by rules and behavior modification. Recently, I was reading from another youth ministry blogger, that the kids aren’t leaving the church as much as the church is leaving them. What I mean, is that we teach a form of behavior modification, and once they go to school or find jobs in the world, they get challenged. Since they are locked in on a rules based story, once they screw up with something that they think is major, they think that they can’t change their story.
Grace is the key to change this. Not the cheap type of grace that Paul preached against, but one where if you screw up, you can come back, God will take you back, and change your story. We see this in the prodigal son, and in John 21:15-19, which is where I was headed, where Jesus restores Peter.
Remember, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and then denied Him just before He was crucified. Peter was ready to go back to fishing, seeing that he could only see the story that was laid out for him. However, Jesus shows up on the beach and Peter swims ashore (cue Far, Far Away by Five Iron Frenzy). Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, 3 times. While it is painful to Peter, Christ restores him. Peter then went on as a leader in the early church. Peter saw that he had a different story to live.
So what situation blinds you to a story that you think you can’t get out of? What is limiting your vision? Do you know that God wants to write a new chapter to your story?