weekly clips: "follow me"

In light of my posts this week - "We all follow..." (Part 1 & Part 2)...

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" Mark 8:34-36


We all follow...(part 2)

Part 1 here...

In a world where we all follow something, for Christians to we follow Jesus needs some clarification. “Follow me” is one the most familiar, inviting, challenging, confusing, difficult invitations in the Bible. Add to it the many different ways we follow in our lives, and Jesus’s invitation is far from simple. “Follow me” involves dropping everything coupled with a willingness to die, while at the same time promising to bring light and life to all. No wonder the concept remains a difficult, challenging, misunderstood aspect of our faith.

And in the process, following Jesus can simply mirror the other things we follow in life. There are different ways of follow Jesus (not all bad):
  • Paranoid Jesus follower
  • Popular Jesus follower
  • Intellectual Jesus follower
  • Entertained Jesus follower
  • Fashionable Jesus follower
  • Sound-bite Jesus follower
Consider this: What’s your default mode of following Jesus?

“Jesus follower” becomes a label we tack on to our existing identity. Following Jesus, unintentionally in most cases, becomes secondary – faith is an add-on in our lives.

And so we struggle to be faithful to Jesus’ call. We fail in relationships. We get angry. We’re selfish with our money. And we read the teachings of Jesus and think, “If only it were that simple!”

Following Jesus is just another choice among many. It’s no wonder, in the words of sociologist Reginald Bibby, we end up with “religion al le carte” – order your favorite religion from the smorgasbord of faith!

How does Jesus compete with that!?! “Drop your nets” or “pick up your cross” doesn’t sell in a world of cable news, Twitter, and self-help advice!

And so long as we view following Jesus as one of many choices, it shouldn’t sell. That’s not following Jesus anyway.

Instead, following Jesus is about our whole identity, out of which everything else follows. To “be yourself” is to be true to Jesus - to have your identity rooted in Jesus (Col. 2:6-7, Jn. 15:4).

We modern Christian tend to ask questions like this: How do I schedule in time with God? Or when do I need to make “Christian” choices? These questions make sense from our culture’s practical approach to life. But these questions limit faith to certain actions or specific times in life. But if following Jesus is about identity, we realize this: I’m always a Jesus follower! I don’t schedule in time with God or certain parts of my life where I need to do “Christian” things. Sure, I might schedule prayer, or bible reading, or volunteering at the food bank. But I’m no more or no less a follower of Jesus when I’m doing those things as I am when I’m mowing the lawn or walking to the park. 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, 
but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

**This post is developed from a recent sermon - "We all follow..."**

We all follow...(part 1)

“Be yourself!”

So goes the gospel of modern Western culture. Personal freedom and fulfillment define what it means to be human - individualism the way.

And this isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. I can think of numerous times when the phrase helped me greatly. Whether it was protecting me in the face of negative peer pressures or sustaining confidence in the face of failure, “be yourself” has helped maintain contentment with who I am. I like me.

Yet for any regular reader of this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that “be yourself” has limits. To make it our mantra in life exposes the irony that it is. In our quest to “be ourselves” we all follow something.

Even the path of complete personal freedom and fulfillment is a very recent value historically – a value that...we follow.

And so even in a culture as “free” as ours, we hear of and practice following all the time:
  • News (radio, TV, smartphone, newspaper-maybe!)
  • Twitter (Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are in a race to get to 30 Million followers!)
  • Authors (e.g. Rudy Wiebe - one of my favorites)
  • Movies (e.g. Dark Knight series)
  • Fashion (not a reference to myself, by the way)
  • Advice (e.g. Seth Godin)

If we all follow, our goal shouldn’t be to free ourselves from all forms of following - impossible! Rather, to be ourselves, we need to understand what it is we follow.

Some questions to consider:
  • What are the ways people “follow” in our culture? 
  • What do you follow? (i.e. What are you most passionate about? What takes up most of your time/energy/focus?)
  • How does your following shape who you are?
Part 2 to follow...

**This post is developed from a recent sermon - "We all follow..."**

weekly clips: "International Day of Peace 2012"

As I posted yesterday, September 21, 2012 was the International Day of Peace.

Here's some insight into the motivation and vision to "make the world a better place," encouraging all people to "make peace a choice."

International Day of Peace - 'Sustainable Peace"

Today is the UN International Day of Peace.

This year’s theme is sustainable peace - challenging the world to consider how our perspective and use of natural resources influences peace. Sustainable, far from just an environmental issue, has huge social implications. Today, let’s not forget that.
There can be no sustainable future without a sustainable peace. Sustainable peace must be built on sustainable development.
And I think the nature-imagery of Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom offers a glimpse into the type of vision needed to sustain peace through sustainability that today is intended to represent.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
   the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
   and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
   their young will lie down together,
   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
   on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Isaiah 11:6-10.

Virtue After The Hunger Games

I’m always a little bit behind in reading popular novels. Last summer was the Harry Potter Series. This summer I narrowed the relevance gap a bit and read The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Overall, I thought it was pretty good and not overly predictable. The narrative is paced well with enough character interaction to provide (some) depth. The series’ post-apocalyptic setting offers insightful critique of where our culture could potentially end up. Far from deep - it is still popular fiction, let’s remember - the novels present a challenging depiction of culture, oppression and violence, but does well not to glorify violence in the process. And while I don’t think the conclusion of the series offers much hope in the face of violence, at the very least it’s honest about the problems of our culture and world.

Now onto the heavy reading - I also read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue this summer. MacIntyre skillfully and thoroughly traces history and philosophy in analyzing modern morality, suggesting that we’ve lost the capacity to form virtue. We live in a world “after virtue.” Virtue, as MacIntyre describes, is our innate ability to “sustain practices and enable us...in the relevant kind of quest for the good.” Without virtue, people are more interested in getting the right answers individually (pragmatics) than becoming the right people in society (character/virtue). Of particular note, MacIntyre concludes that for morality to make sense we need to recover our connectedness - connectedness to history and to one another. The person I am relies on the people I relate to. Community is essential.

Reading The Hunger Games and After Virtue side-by-side, while unintentional, was an interesting exercise. In some ways - and this may be a bit of a stretch - The Hunger Games illustrates an extreme of MacIntyre’s thesis. The Capitol, completely absorbed in themselves and maintaining their particular culture, is oblivious to what is obvious to the reader: they are immoral. Their citizens are brainwashed. Or worse, they are animals. The Districts, on the contrary, begin to look beyond the facade and start to remember - they remember life before the oppression of the Capitol. After Virtue insists that moral health is rooted in knowing our history; knowing our rootedness to the people around us. In remembering the Districts retrieve aspects of goodness (i.e. virtue), albeit still incomplete and uncertain.

In assessing modern culture, After Virtue doesn’t offer easy solutions to the problems of modern morality. And The Hunger Games doesn’t resolve these problems smoothly either. But from popular novel and moral philosophy alike, I was reminded of an important reality: Who I am is bigger than myself - i.e. other people and history shape me. Fulfillment isn’t escaping my reliance on others and history, but embracing it.
"I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ We enter human society, that is, with one or more imputed characters - roles into which we have been drafted - and we have to learn what they are in order to be able to understand how others respond to us and how our responses to them are apt to be construed." (After Virtue, 216)
**NOTE** I do worry, especially with the Hunger Games movie, that folks will completely miss the important moral implications of the story. With no culture of character - i.e. “after virtue” - how can we be expected to navigate the moral implications of a story such as the Hunger Games? Action and violence, instead of the profound cultural critique they offer, are merely entertainment for consumption. Basically, I’m afraid that MacIntyre’s thesis still holds true - the moral message of the Hunger Games falls on deaf ears - it succumbs to the very culture it critiques.

weekly clips: "everybody hurts" REM

One of those weeks where this song came to mind more than a few times - encouraged to see loving relationships in the midst of loss and sorrow.


gospel of peace

Continuing to reflect around 9/11 and violence, I came across this passage that illuminates any discussion around the role of peace in Christianity: 

“It is important to see how this ‘peacemaking’ work of the cross - reconciling Jews and Gentiles and creating one new humanity - is not just a by-product of the gospel, but is at the heart of the gospel itself (Eph. 3:6). Paul includes it in the work of the cross. In other words, Paul is not merely saying that now that lots of individual sinners of different nations have got saved and are on their way to heaven, they really ought to try to get on with each other in the meantime. He is saying that the creation of a new humanity is the good news that Christ came to accomplish. ‘Peace’ is part of the good news - exactly as Isa. 52:7 announced. And Paul says that Jesus is our peace, made peace, and preached peace” (C. Wright, The Mission of God's People).

Good news indeed!

How beautiful on the mountains
   are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
   who bring good tidings,
   who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
   “Your God reigns!”
Is. 52:7

  • Do you view peace - on small and large scales - as merely an 'extra' part of Christian belief? Or is peace, as Jesus asserts and models, central to the gospel and our lives? 
  • And, how do we balance peace while being realistic about suffering and violence and the pursuit of justice?

9/11 - how we remember

Once again, today, we are reminded that September 11 is no longer just the 11th day of the 9th month - memories stir, emotions rise, and we are once again confronted by the terrible and tragic events of 11 years ago.

How we approach our remembering, however, is crucial. How we remember reveals our true character and loyalty in a world mired by senseless suffering and war. In our remembering, do we perpetuate violence, feeling justified in our grief as we seek out justice? Or as we face the violence, no less grief-filled, do we engage in acts of love, thus reflecting and returning justice to where it belongs?

Justice in the hands of the Prince of Peace.

May we remember well...

Whoever of you loves life
   and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
   and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
   seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
   and his ears are attentive to their cry;
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
   to blot out their name from the earth.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
   he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
   and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,
   but the Lord delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
   the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord will rescue his servants;
   no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
Ps. 34:12-22

weekly clips: "you are where you live"

measuring church

How do you measure church? 

This coming Sunday is our church’s annual Farmer Sausage BBQ (yes, this is a shameless plug for our super amazing - and yummy - event!). It’s a chance to connect together as a congregation as well as invite folks in our neighborhood to “check us out.”

An inevitable question is this: “Was the event a success?”

And the inevitable answer revolves around attendance, especially if people return the next week. In some ways, this is normal and good.

But not always.

There is the danger in the life of a church to measure quantity while forgetting quality - especially problematic if we forget the Bible’s standards for success. Sure, one could look at the church in the Book of Acts and the records of miraculous multiplication that took place. From a roomful to 3000 (Acts 2:41)! Numbers do matter, right!?!

Numbers can be helpful, but they aren’t the point. Acts doesn’t stop at the quantity - it’s the quality of the event that really matters:
[the believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
This passage highlights how the Christian community committed to life together. Faith, relationships, worship, food, and prayer typified their event, their experience of being together. Normal aspects of everyday life done together. Their event wasn’t measured by sharing statistics - it was about sharing life.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35)
So on Sunday, like the very first church events, I look forward to sharing life together as a church, inviting our neighborhood and community to join us. We’ll eat (it is our 4th annual farmer sausage BBQ after all!). We’ll worship and pray. We’ll play and connect. We’ll eat some more.

Yes, measuring success will be a little more difficult. Heads will likely be counted, but we’ll know this is not the full story. After all, church is about the immeasurable work of God in our life together.

I can’t wait.

sharing the 'good life'

I sometimes feel guilty enjoying life’s pleasures - a weekend at a friend’s cabin being the most recent example. There is so much inequality in our world, in our countries, and in our neighborhoods, that it can be difficult to enjoy modern luxuries “guilt-free.” I have so much in comparison to others with little or nothing.

And so I feel guilty.

I’m not sure I’ll ever remove this guilt, and maybe I shouldn’t. Yes, sometimes it’s unhealthy and narrowly focused in addressing the complexity of 21st Century life. Other times, however, it’s entirely appropriate as I blindly consume in the face of others. Either way, I think it’s healthy to process how and why I experience such guilt and act accordingly.

The Bible talks a lot about the “blessed” life - a concept that has been used WAY TOO OFTEN to justify exorbitant wealth, often at the expense of others. God’s blessing is measurable, preferably in dollars. Most readers of this blog will agree this is a problematic view of God’s blessing. Enough said.

yes, that's me :-)
But that doesn’t solve my guilt problem. I may not be blessed with riches (relatively speaking, of course), but I did just have the privilege of a weekend with friends that involved an abundance of food, lake sunrises/sunsets, discussions, water skiing, reflection, paddle boarding, games and a whole host of other activities considered “luxury” for most. There were many moments I thought, “This is the good life!” as I paused to take in my surroundings. I felt blessed.

But what kind of blessed?

And in a moment of reflecting on this question over the weekend, I realized guilt is the wrong response.

It’s too easy to think of being “blessed” as circumstantial - a concept of comparison. But it isn’t. Am I really more blessed because I got to spend the weekend at a lake? Or happened to grow up in one of the wealthiest parts of the world? No way!

Instead, “blessed” is relational. The Hebrew word shalom sums it up well: to be blessed is to experience complete wholeness in all the world; unity between all things - God, humanity, and the universe. The blessed life is a shalom-filled life.

The good life, then, can happen anywhere, regardless the circumstances.

But there’s more: the good life has a purpose beyond me.

Instead of guilt crippling my enjoyment of the good life, we need to remember this: being blessed means being a blessing. Living the good life means sharing the good life. Shalom is for everyone! As humans, we don’t need to downplay or stop living the good life - we need to share the good life.

Blessing was always intended to be passed along anyway...

“I will make you into a great nation, 
and I will bless you; 
I will make your name great, 
and you will be a blessing.” Gen. 12:2

**Note: By no means do I intend to post this reflection to justify inequality in common pursuits of the “good life.” There is MUCH ROOM to consider how we all contribute to injustice, myself included. But we need to proactively get beyond guilt, practicing hospitality, generosity and the life of love in all we do.**

Weekly Clips: "Feel Inside (and stuff like that)" - Flight of the Conchords

This one has been making its rounds this week and is well worth viewing:


And you have a few more minutes, watch this extended clip which provides the background for the song - hilarious!!!