Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chris Pratt, Stephen Colbert and Daniel's Den

I didn’t know who Chris Pratt was until he was attacked for being a Christian.  I learned he was a voice actor for the “Lego” movie series, which I will confess to watching (with my grandsons). I did know who Stephen Colbert was, mostly from reading clips from his Late Show monologues. I would not have guessed either man to be a ‘religious’ practitioner.  That’ll teach me.

Chris Pratt, a famous actor (22.9 million Instagram followers!), was being interviewed by Stephen Colbert when Chris explained that he had recently completed the Daniel Plan diet. Stephen asked, “So, is this the prophet Daniel?”  When it was confirmed that it was a diet based on that Daniel, Stephen asked Chris if life as a famous actor was like being in the Lion’s Den.  Stop for a moment and think about this.  In our secularized society, here are two famous Hollywood-types talking about Daniel and the Lion’s Den on national television. That’s more late-night TV air time for God than any church could ever afford to purchase!

Chris took that opening to talk about a clue his Pastor had given him about handling fame.  After the interview aired, an actress took to social media to attack Chris because of the beliefs of the church Chris attended. Chris’ responded with an Instagram post defending his church as being one that loved him through his divorce and, he explained, regardless, he followed the ‘New Commandment’ of Jesus to love one another. He concluded: “This is what guides me in my life. He is a God of Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. Hate has no place in my or this world.”

And just like that, millions were exposed to the true Christianity.  Jesus warned us that it would be a bad thing if everyone spoke well of his followers. (Luke 6:26) If we speak the Truth those who oppose the work of the Church will attack us. Chris offered a model response to those attacks. God opened my eyes to see how, while it may seem that God is losing the battle for the world’s heart, nothing is ever as it seems. God is still winning. “God is love” is still a message which God is sending to millions of hungry souls.

Nice to know you, Chris. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Ron Reagan, Religion and Hell

Ron Reagan (no, not the former President but his son) and I agree on some things.  We also disagree on some more important things.  But, following the lead of my theological ancestor, John Calvin, I am going to let positive thoughts about Ron dominate my thinking today.  Trying to find places we agree is always a better way through life.

Ron supports “Freedom From Religion.”  In a commercial for the organization, Ron encourages others to join in advocating for the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of Freedom of Religion.  Do you see the difference?  I do advocate for Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Religion, right along with Freedom of Speech, made and keep America viable.  But, the Founders never anticipated that the government would guarantee freedom from religion.  The government is not here to protect atheists, like Ron, nor agnostics, from God-believers invoking God’s providential care.  Just like the government doesn’t protect me from atheists publicly denying my God exists. Can you agree with me on that, Ron?

The tag line of Ron’s commercial, delivered with a small smile (smirk?), tells us that he is “Ron Reagan. Life-long atheist. Not afraid of burning in Hell.” On this last point, Ron and I share a common belief. I am not afraid of burning in Hell either, Ron.  In fact, I am certain I am going to spend eternity with God (“Heaven”), not apart from God (“Hell”).  The Bible tells me so. (As does John Calvin.) Now, I don’t know if Ron is not afraid of burning in Hell because he doesn’t believe Hell exists, or because he doesn’t believe there is a God to be separated from. Maybe it is both.

This morning, at 3:00 a.m., I received an email with “????” as the subject line. The only message was 2 Peter 3:9, quoted below. I replied “Truth. Amen! Let’s talk.” Peter gives me Hope that neither Ron nor I will be separated from the love of God.  There’s time, Ron, for you and I to agree on even the more important things.

God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (2 Peter 3:9, The Message)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mike Pence, Lady Gaga and Jesus

Which follower represents the real Jesus? Vice-president Mike Pence or entertainer Lady Gaga? The public spat between these two famous Christians represents the current state of affairs in North American Christianity.  The divide in the modern Church has fallen between ‘conservatives’ on one side and ‘progressives’ on the other. (Some writers will use the terms ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘liberals’, but I do not believe they fairly capture the 21st Century groupings.)

Some advocates on both sides have said that any Christian must choose a ‘side’ or a ‘label’ in the current debate. Each side will claim that the other side does not represent a truly  ‘Christian’ point of view.  Sometimes history has, I think, proven that to be true: both sides cannot be right. For example, the so-called Christian Crusades are one of the blackest marks in the history of the Church. Advocacy for slavery, arguing it was somehow supported by the Bible, is another example of Christians abusing the Bible for their personal, economic or political goals.

However, I would like to sound a note of caution to those who claim one must fall in the camp of either Mike Pence or Lady Gaga.  The danger every Christian and every church must guard against is using Jesus to promote personal, economic, social or political views. By this I mean we always stand in danger of getting it backwards:  “I believe ‘X’, and here are words of Jesus which support my point of view.”  The proper use of Jesus’s words is to allow Jesus to speak for himself first: “Jesus says ‘X’, and I make Jesus’ beliefs my own.” 

I believe that both Mike Pence and Lady Gaga are children of God and followers of Jesus. Both are sinners saved by grace.  So are you. But, they are not Jesus.  Neither are you. Only Jesus is Jesus.  Read what Jesus says, then decide what you, as a Christian, are called to believe and to do. 21st Century Christianity has created a false choice for Christians. You are not required to choose sides: ‘progressives’ or ‘conservatives’. Choose to be on the side of Jesus.

Now, go read Luke 4:18-19.  This was Jesus’ self-chosen mission statement. Make it your own. And pray for Mike Pence and Lady Gaga to find unity in Jesus.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Seeing the Winemaker

Did you hear the one about Jesus turning water into wine?  Jesus’ mother asks him to help save a groom from the embarrassment (and potential lawsuits from disgruntled guests!) for running out of wine before the party was over. Jesus, in a quiet, hardly-noticed way, provides. (John 2:1-11)

Modern ears, rendered skeptical by science, hear that story and respond,  ‘Really? This sounds just like some ancient Greek myth about their god of wine.’  

But, in our less skeptical moments; in our more faith-filled moments, I wonder if we want this story to be true. We want to see it as the new reality, because deep down, we dare to dream and hope that there will be a day when none will be in want, when all will be invited to the Party. (You should stop here and read Amos 9:13-14)

Jesus is at the party, and he is just doing that which God does every year, but in a super-sped up way.  We see it with every glass of wine, but, like the guests at that wedding in Cana, we don’t see the Maker. So, if when you read about Jesus turning water into wine your response is ‘balderdash’, perhaps the problem lies not in the story but in your eyes.


“God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine.  That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off’ (John 5:19). The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.”

C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

When The World Is Too Much With You

In the human effort to manage time we created calendars. We mark off time by days, months, years.  Thus we created an annual rite of turning the page to a ‘new year.’  It is an artificial creation, the new year, but one we all agree upon. For most of the ‘new year’s’ of my life I have been happy for it to arrive. It gives me reason to feel like ‘this year will be different’. Personally or professionally or relationally.

But this ‘new year’ was different.  My mind couldn’t get to thinking positive thoughts because the stock market had just suffered its worst December in like forever; the government was partially shutdown with no end in sight as the children who govern us play games with our lives; the threats to world stability in the Middle East were growing. Some ‘Happy New Year’, my mind persuaded me to lament.  My thoughts were caught up with William Wordsworth’s sonnet’s first lines:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
…We are out of tune. Great God!

And then another word came to me, a word I credit to the Spirit.  “In every situation, by prayer and petition.” I looked up Philippians 4:6. The formula for overcoming my anxiety was right before my eyes.  Now I pray for our nation and our world because that is the only thing I can control in the midst of the mess.  I cannot alter the stock market. I cannot negotiate an end to the longest shutdown in U.S. history. All I can do is change my focus.  I can offer thanksgiving to God for God’s faithfulness; I can offer petitions in prayers for sanity and stability. I can do what I can to get the world back into ‘tune’, so the notes sound like they should.  I can stop giving my heart away.  I can focus less on ‘getting and spending’ and more on seeing in Nature that which is ours.

I can overcome my anxiety about this new year by giving time back to God, and receiving from God the eternity on the other side of the window.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

God Loves Scrooge

God loves Scrooge, mean miser that he is.  People struggle to love Scrooge because it is so hard to love someone we do not like. But God loves Scrooge just like he is.

God knows that inside the ‘mean miser Scrooge’ is the ‘happy generous Scrooge’.  That’s who God loves, the Scrooge inside, because God can see the Scrooge inside even when Scrooge cannot see who he can be. Until one day he does see who he can be, and then people see the real Scrooge. That’s why people should love Scrooge too. Love him and then maybe one day you can like him too.

So, to the Scrooge, ‘the bad you’, in all of us, hear the good news of Christmas: you don’t have to change for God to love you. God knows who you can be, and God is going to love the real you until you become the real you.

If only perfect people could come to the Manger and hold the Baby, well then, the Baby would be mighty lonely and cold on Christmas Eve.

This Christmas Eve God invites the Skeptics, the Doubters, the ‘Not-yet-Believers’, the ‘I’m-too-Busy’, the ‘I-Have-Other-Plans’, the ‘I-Hate-Hypocrites’, the Scrooges lurking in all of us.  You are all, each and every one of us, invited to hold the Baby.  Be careful though: you know what happens when you hold a baby.  The baby doesn’t change. You do.

And that is the meaning of Christmas too.

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”
-Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (Source: inward/outward Together)

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mighty Warrior, Prince of Peace

Desmond Doss wouldn’t carry a rifle.  That didn’t define his life. What defined him was what, or who he would carry.

As Desmond Doss and the troops of the 77th Infantry Division fought to secure Hacksaw Ridge, recently made famous again by the movie, they came up against seemingly insurmountable odds. One night, with his wounded friends calling out for help, while the enemy kept up its barrage, Desmond Doss ran back into the battlefield. He was on a mission to save those wounded soldiers. He carried the first one to safety, lowering him on a rope down the escarpment to the beach below. Then he prayed to his God that he might be mighty enough to save just one more. And he did. Seventy-five times, seventy-five lives saved by this one soldier who would not carry a weapon, but who would carry his friends.  In the end, Desmond Doss is transformed in the eyes of his superiors from one mentally unfit to serve to a hero who earns the rarely awarded Medal of Honor.

As we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, Joy Sunday, we find that God has a title, ‘Mighty Warrior’. (Zephaniah 3:17) Is this the Messiah whose coming again we await? Don’t we celebrate the Messiah who is the Prince of Peace? Is the Mighty Warrior also the Prince of Peace?

The picture painted by the whole of Scripture is textured with beautiful, multi-layered images of Messiah. When we take in the full picture we understand why we need a ‘Christ’.

The human race, the earth, the universe itself, is at war.  The war against sin and sins. The war against evil. The war against complacency in the face of hate and prejudice.  We are in a war, full of daily battles against so many demons of so many varieties.  We long for peace, a peace that will finally result in joy.

How do we ultimately find joy? We, wounded soldiers all, are carried by a Mighty Warrior to the shores of Peace. And when we are safely there, the prophet gives us one more picture which stirs our souls: The Mighty Warrior ‘will rejoice over you with singing.’  Joy, joy, joy. The Mighty Warrior, the Prince of Peace, sings with joy over you, his redeemed.