Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Jul
17

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“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Eccl. 4:9-10)

Everyone needs a friend. Friendship is a valuable thing. It is something that cannot be purchased, but must be earned. A friend is someone who can be trusted. A friend gives true advice (Prov. 27:6, 9). In order for trust to develop we must spend time building relationships. Trusts involves vulnerability. We must be willing to open ourselves up to someone who has proven trustworthy. A friend is there for you in good times and in bad (Prov. 17:17). A friend is someone who loves you by seeking your best interest. The greatest love one friend can have for another is sacrificial. This is the kind of love Jesus had for us and he calls us to have this same love for each other (John 15:12-13).

We all want friends, but how does one go about making friendships? It begins with us, not others. If we want friends we should not sit around feeling sorry for ourselves because we have none, but instead we should be a friend first. We should take the first step. We should invite someone out to eat. We should pick up the phone and make a call. Friendships are not created overnight. They take time. Once we have made the first move, we must then prove ourselves trustworthy. There are certain characteristics that will destroy a friendship. Anger or a short temper is not something that fosters lasting friendships (Prov. 22:24-25). The author of Proverbs informs us that “gossip separates the best of friends” (Prov. 16:28). The psalmist warns about “taking up a reproach against a friend” (Psalm 15:3). We are not to be accusatory toward our friends. Instead, we should seek to encourage others. No one wants to spend time with someone who is constantly finding fault with people. As Christians we seek to lift each other up, not bring them down.

The idea of sacrificial friendship that Jesus calls us to means that we must constantly be contributing to the friendships we have created. True friendship must be an endless cycle of give and take. We do for others and we allow others to do for us. If we are unwilling to give or receive, then our friendship will become out of balance and it will likely not last. This begins in our conversations with one another. We must both talk and listen. If we notice we are doing all the talking in a conversation, then we are not being a good friend. We must learn to listen. We must learn to ask questions. This give and take should continue in other areas as well. Someone who always takes, but never learns to give is a burden on others. A healthy balance of give and take will lead to a lasting friendship.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)

Jul
14

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I am a fan of the Planet of the Apes series. I believe the original with Charlton Heston is a classic. Even if the ape costumes are dated and it is a little corny at times, it still holds up very well. I enjoyed the Tim Burton remake even though it was a flawed film. I appreciated seeing an updated version of something I loved. I was pleasantly surprised by Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was glad to see the franchise was starting at the beginning with the promise of more to follow. These were all entertaining films that I would still watch today, but nothing prepared me for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The newest film in the series takes it to another level and is the best one yet.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up several years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes left off. A disease that is carried by apes has wreaked havoc on humanity. There are very few humans left on the planet and apes have become the prominent species. The apes continue to evolve. They build communities and places to live. They have developed laws and they teach them to their children. The apes are happy to just enjoy life, but one day the community led by Caesar encounters some humans who have begun their own town not too far away. There is tension between the humans and the apes. Both groups wrestle with whether or not they should trust each other. The humans need to get into the ape’s territory so they can fix a dam and restore power to their town. The apes are hesitant to allow them access. Both communities are divided over how they should treat the other.

The CGI in this film is impeccable. For much of the movie you are watching apes converse back and forth and it looks real and believable. Although there are many similarities between this film and the original Planet of the Apes I believe it is unfair to compare them head to head. They are both great films for different reasons. One big difference is in the portrayal of the apes. With the early film you were always aware that you were watching humans in ape costumes, but in this movie the apes come to life. They have personalities and facial expressions to go along with them. It is truly a remarkable thing to see how far special effects have come in just a few years.

This film probably takes itself more seriously than any of the original films, but that does not mean it cannot have some fun. There were a couple of great shots in this film and one of them was of Koba riding a horse with a machine gun in each hand.

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Some may dismiss this as unbelievable or silly, but I saw it as an ode to B movies who do crazy stuff like this all the time. It sort of looked like a scene Robert Rodriguez would throw in if he was directing a Planet of the Apes film. One must remember that this is a film about apes who have taken over the planet and the bending of the imagination should not be a problem.

Why is this film different? Why is it so much better than the others? Other films in this series have made points about this or that, but not like this one. This is a film with a message. It is a critique of how we love to divide ourselves into groups, and how fear and hatred play out in the divisions we have created. This is most obvious toward the end of the film when Caesar’s son exclaims, “Fear makes others follow.” When we divide ourselves into groups we almost immediately demonize the other side. We make it about us and them. Throw fear and hatred into the mix and it can become deadly.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes plays out like a parable of what happens when we create divisions and allow fear and hatred to take over. The movie brilliantly does not define the groups for us. It could be any group, and maybe it doesn’t even matter. People have turned such meaningless divisions as what sports team a person roots for into reasons to harm and even kill another individual. It could be anything, and this movie asks us to take a step back and examine ourselves. Where have we drawn lines and created divisions? Is there fear or hatred in our hearts? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an entertaining and enjoyable film, but it is also much more. Go see this movie, but don’t just see it for the action and special effects. Pay close attention to the lesson this modern day parable has to teach us.

 

Jul
08

It’s important to listen to the poets. They move and motivate us. They have a pulse on the culture that we often do not have. Good poets are aware of what is going on but don’t acquiesce. They are voices calling attention to what is good, beautiful, and true. Here are the voices I have been listening to in 2014.

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The times they are dark, darkness covers the earth
But this world’s filled with the beauty of God’s work
Hold tight to your promise, stay righteous, stay strong
For the days of miracles will come along

From the song This is Your Sword

Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan both have a knack for dropping an album of so called extras and outtakes that didn’t quite make it onto an album and it being just as good or better as anything released in a given year. This is the story of High Hopes. It is an album of songs that had previously been passed over, covers, and a few others that Springsteen recorded while on tour. Amazingly it doesn’t feel like an album that has just been thrown together. It fits nicely in the body of work Springsteen has put out since reuniting with the E Street Band. Bruce’s songs have always contained Biblical references and this album is no different. He mentions figures such as Gideon, Saul, Abraham, and Jonah. He sings about walking into Canaan land and mentions an ark of gopher wood. Springsteen also comes off as prophetic in several songs where he is not afraid to speak truth to power. He becomes a voice for the voiceless in American Skin (41 Shots) where he speaks for the unarmed individuals who have been brutally murdered in our country. He speaks up for those on the margins of society in The Ghost of Tom Joad, and calls out politicians who apologized for mistakes that cost many people their lives in The Wall. One can only hope that Springsteen has a lot more songs that didn’t make albums hidden away in storage somewhere.

henry

This is my body
Already broken for thee-
The black coal at my soul not a diamond
But cracked open and free.
The dark rushing river sweeps
Pushing away and along,
Like light through the pines
And I want you to lead me on

From the song Lead Me On

Joe Henry’s Invisible Hour is an album that can be listened to over and over again, and you’ll probably discover something new each time. It is slow mellow and jazzy. It is full of deep and meaningful lyrics that sometimes sound like modern day psalms. The music is great but the focus is clearly on the lyrics. Henry sings of love but he is not afraid to reveal all the blemishes that go with it. This is a deeper love one associated with covenant and commitment, rather than lust and sex appeal.

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When you’re like a broken bird tell heaven
Battered wings against the dark and day
When your worries won’t let you sleep tell heaven
When the tears won’t ever go away

From the song Tell Heaven

Rosanne Cash has given us a beautiful ode to the South and her best album to date. One can simply put this record on and be whisked away to places like Memphis or Biloxi. It is a near perfect album of storytelling, soothing vocals, and musicianship that wonderfully compliments the songs.

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May your nights be filled with laughter
And your days with honest work
May you wake up smelling roses
When you’re facedown in the dirt

From the song The Flyboy & The Kid

Tarpaper Sky by Rodney Crowell may not compare musically and lyrically with some of the other albums on this list, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. Crowell has returned to his roots and made possibly the best country album you will hear all year. Frankie Please begins with one of the greatest opening lines I’ve ever heard in a country song. Crowell sings, “You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park.” If you are looking for a solid album that you can return to time and time again, this is it.

sisters

‘Go to the river Jordan’, said the prophet to the king
‘Wash in that murky water seven times and you’ll be clean’
Yeah, that deep rollin’ river’s gonna make you new and whole
And the faith acquired in you will save your soul

Let’s go down to the river, raise our voices and pray
And get ourselves a snow white robe to wear
Take away all the stains, remove each and every one
In the name of the Father and the Son

From the song River Jordan

Put Your Needle Down, the second album from The Secret Sisters, is quite different from the first. I listened to it a couple of times before I warmed up to it. I was such a big fan of the sound on their first record that I hoped it would be repeated on this one. Instead you can clearly hear T Bone Burnett’s influence all over this album and that’s not a bad thing. The harmonies are still intact but there is an edge to this recording that wasn’t present on the first. I hope The Secret Sisters stay true to their roots while continuing to evolve as they have done on Put Your Needle Down.

Jul
05

Lego

The Lego Movie

I cannot recall the last time a major Hollywood studio put out a movie this funny and original. The Lego Movie is visually stunning, meaningful, and a great time. The film invites you into the creative world of Legos (Transformers take notes) and makes you feel like a kid again. It has some of the best lines in a film that you will hear all year, and a creative screenplay that will surprise you in the final act. My five year old loves this film, but its not just for kids. The Lego Movie is a great film for all ages.

Ida

Ida

This is a beautiful film and is visually pleasing in a much different way than The Lego Movie. Ida is shot in black and white and is not afraid of long takes. It is a reminder of films of the past and what the beauty of film can be. Too often nowadays films do not allow the viewer to stay in a shot long to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the image on the screen. Films are shot to entertain the masses who have very short attention spans, instead of being shot as a work of art. Ida is a work of art. It is also a brilliant film about a young girl’s journey into the outside world and her allegiance to the faith she has grown up with. It is an intriguing movie about faith that should not be missed.

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

I saw Snowpiercer the same weekend Transformers: Age of Extinction opened and I wanted to stand out in the lobby and usher everyone into this film rather than have them watch a two and a half hour commercial. Snowpiercer is the summer action movie that we deserve! It is smart, action-packed, and full of great performances. Tilda Swinton, in an Oscar-worthy role, plays one of the best bad guys you will see all year. Snowpiercer will have you on the edge of your seat, and after all is said and done you will be wondering why they even make something called Transformers when there are films as good as this.

Mistaken

Mistaken for Strangers

I love rock & roll documentaries and I have seen a lot of them, but I have never seen a film like this before. Mistaken for Strangers is one of the funniest films you will this year. It’s Don’t Look Back meets This is Spinal Tap. I love The National and would have watched a documentary just about them, but this is so much more. It is the story of two brothers who could not be more different. Matt is a good looking successful lead singer of a critically acclaimed band. Tom is a train wreck waiting to happen. You know this from the beginning. It is obvious what is going to happen, and yet you cannot take your eyes off the screen. There were times I was literally laughing so hard I could not stop.

Fault

The Fault in Our Stars

I did not know anything about The Fault in Our Stars going into this film. My wife had read the book and I know many other people had as well. I was a clean slate and I loved it. It reminded me of some of the great teenage films with great music that I have come to love. There are plenty of bad teenage films that come along every year hoping to make money off of this profitable viewing market, but I’m talking about the good ones. Films like John Hughes used to make. The Fault in Our Stars reminded me of these films. It is a story about kids with cancer (How they sold this to a major Hollywood studio I’ll never know), but it quickly becomes more than this, even though this remains the focal point of the film. It is a funny and engaging movie about mortality and the deeper questions of life. Shailene Woodley is absolutely brilliant once again. She carries the film and that is not a bad thing.

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Noah

Noah has easily been the most controversial film so far. I understand some of the backlash. Some of it was just, but much of it was completely uncalled for. I wish Christians would take a deep breath and watch this film again. If they did I think they would discover two things. It is a really good film, and it is a film that takes God and sin seriously. Noah is not Scripture and it never claims to be. It is good midrash. It takes a story from the Bible with very few details and attempts to fill in the gaps. People of faith have been doing this for thousands of years. I hope major Hollywood studios are not put off by the reactions of some Christians. I hope they don’t wait another 60 years to make a Bible based movie. If we could get some more films like Noah, that take a seriously look at sin instead of simply celebrating it, then we would be better off.

Ernest&Celestine

Ernest & Celestine

This is the second “kids” movie on this list, but they could not be more different. Ernest & Celestine is a wonderful film about friendship. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of some of the movies I saw growing up. It was more invested in the story it was telling than the flashy visuals displayed on the screen. In fact, there are no flashy visuals in this film. It looks more like a children’s book than the latest computer generated attention grabber. It was nice to see a children’s movie slow down and be something different, and my five year old was entertained just the same.

BeginAgain

Begin Again

Begin Again is the latest from Once director John Carney. This time Carney has a cast full of well known actors, actresses, and musicians. Like Once he has made a modern day musical that feels natural and has a flow that does not feel forced by the music within the film. The movie takes a look into the problems with the music industry and some of the issues they face, but more importantly it is a human story about two down and out people who choose to press on. This charming film is not perfect, but it is better than most of the cookie cutter productions that are spoon fed to us by Hollywood. Begin Again is like a breath of fresh air in a smog filled city.

Life

Life Itself

Roger Ebert is the reason why I review films. He was an important voice in American society not just on film, but on many things. Since his passing there has been a void in movie criticism. Ebert, whether you agreed with him or not, was the source everyone went to first. Still to this day if you click on critic reviews on IMDB Roger Ebert’s link always pops up first. Life Itself is a wonderful tribute to a man who inspired many. It is an insightful glimpse into the life of a man whom many people read, but few knew. Life Itself explores Ebert’s entire life but especially gives the audience a revealing look into his last days. Roger Ebert instilled in many people a love for movies and it is only appropriate that he is given a film tribute as fine as Life Itself.

Jun
29

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And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:27-34)

I have read this passage many times. When I was younger I used to focus on what it said about Jesus. Now that I am older I have often focused on what it said about Peter. As I heard it read recently I began to focus on what it says about me. This passage has much to teach us about Jesus and Peter, but we must not miss out on what it has to teach us about ourselves.

This text invites us to consider the question, “What kind of messiah are we looking for?” Jesus was one of kind of messiah and Peter was expecting another kind of messiah and these two ideologies meet head to head in this passage. Jesus is so put off by the kind of messiah Peter is longing for that he says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” This is some of the strongest language Jesus uses in the four gospels. He calls Peter Satan and suggests that his idea of what a messiah should be does not come from God.

What kind of messiah was Peter looking for? He was looking for a messiah that would not suffer and die, but would lead his people to victory. He was looking for a messiah that would pick up the sword and march on Rome. He was looking for a great military and political leader, someone who would parade through the streets and make his presence known. Jesus was not this kind of leader. Jesus was a teacher who did not care about riches or fame. He connected best with those on the margins of society. He did not seek power over people, but instead humbled himself and served others. Jesus lived a sacrificial life. He looked to the needs of others and he willingly laid down his life for everyone.

The type of messiah Peter expected and the type of messiah Jesus came to be could not be more different. Peter expected the messiah to conquer and take lives, but Jesus came to humble himself and give his life. It is important that we understand this because he asks us to follow in his footsteps. Immediately after Jesus rebukes Peter he says to everyone present, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus expects us to imitate his version of messiah and not Peter’s.

The question comes around to us again, “What kind of messiah are we looking for? What kind of messiah are we trying to imitate?” Are we looking to conquer everything and everyone in our sight? Are we looking to overcome people by strength and power? If we don’t get our way are we going to fight and rebel until we make it happen? If so, then we are following the messiah Peter envisioned, a messiah Jesus associates with Satan. Instead, Jesus calls all of us to pick up our cross and follow him. He calls us to lay down our life, so that we might save it. He calls us to deny ourselves and to look to the needs of others.

This text has more to do with ourselves than we might have realized. When we come to this passage we are forced to choose between two messiahs. One is a worldly messiah that seeks fame and fortune and rules by power. The other is a humble messiah that thinks of others first and rules by serving. Which messiah do we want? Which one will we follow? We must choose and people will clearly see what we choose by the way we live our life.

At times in my life I have been like Peter. I have wanted fame and fortune. I have wanted to use power to get my way. In many ways I am a lot like Peter, but I have encountered another way of living. I have seen the ways of Jesus and I know there is no going back. I still wrestle with temptation. I occasionally have grandiose visions of what could be, but I try to quickly put them away and pick up my cross and keep following in the footsteps of my Savior. Although the world may not see it the same way I do, I know that the ways of Jesus lead to life and I have chosen to follow this Messiah.

Jun
25

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For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)

Why is forgiveness so difficult? It might be because we often think of forgiveness as a word. We say “I forgive you” and we think that is it, but it isn’t. Forgiveness is more than a word. When we have been deeply hurt by someone, simply saying the word will not take care of the problem. Forgiveness is a process. It is something that takes time. It is something that does not end with the utterance of a single word. It is something we must continue to work at. I believe many people struggle with forgiveness because they think saying the word is going to magically make things better. When it doesn’t they then think they have done something wrong or that they are terrible at forgiveness. In reality deep wounds are not quickly healed.

We must begin changing the way we think about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just a word we say. It involves our feelings. It has to do with our attitude towards other human beings who sometimes do awful things. Forgiveness is about following the ways of Jesus. It is about loving others who do not always love us in return. It is also about not allowing bitterness and hatred to take over our lives. When we refuse to forgive the person we hurt the most is ourselves.

What does it look like to be a forgiving person? What sort of practices must we commit to if we want to truly forgive?

We must forgive more than once. Forgiveness involves saying “I forgive you” but what some people don’t realize is that these words may have to be said over and over again. We may say “I forgive you” and even feel good about it afterwards, but then a few days or weeks later those same feelings of bitterness come back. When this happens we must forgive all over again. Sometimes forgiveness does not come easy at all. Sometimes it is difficult to even get the words out of our mouth. Just saying “I forgive you” may be an accomplishment in and of itself. When this occurs we might want to treat forgiveness as a discipline. We might want to keep saying “I forgive you” until it becomes easier. Words have power and meaning, and when it comes to forgiveness we often have to return to these words multiple times.

We must pray. Forgiveness and prayer go hand in hand. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It is difficult to be like Jesus when people hurt us. We often struggle with feelings of revenge and bitterness. These feelings do not go away overnight and they don’t go away on their own. We need God’s help. We need to talk to God about how we feel. We also need to pray for those who have hurt us. Praying for our enemies will help with our own feelings.

We must change the way we think about others. Forgiving someone who has hurt us does not mean we must be friends with them, but it does mean we must change the way we think about them. We must wish the best for them. We must not hate them or wish something bad happen to them. Forgiving someone often involves changing our attitude towards that person. This happens through prayer and speaking words of forgiveness, but it also happens through our actions (Rom. 12:20). When we are struggling with how we feel about another person we can commit to doing something good for them. Our actions influence how we feel and think about others. An act of kindness may make all the difference in the world.

As Christians forgiveness is a necessity. We cannot be a Christian and refuse to forgive. We must also recognize that forgiveness is a lifestyle. It is something we commit to and it often takes time. Forgiveness is about the words we speak, but it also involves our feelings toward others, prayer, and acts of kindness. Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be willing to live a life of forgiveness.

Jun
22

emerging-butterflies

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)

What kind of person do you want to become? This is an important Christian question. This is a question all Christians need to contemplate. Becoming a Christian is the beginning of a life changing journey. It is a transformation into the image of Jesus. If the kind of person we want to become does not look like Jesus, then we have the wrong model.

To become like Jesus is not some flowery language we use while never expecting anything to happen. To become like Jesus is not something that happens after we die. To become like Jesus is something that is real, practical, and concrete. We have been given four accounts of the life of Jesus. We know what kind of person he was. We know the things he said and did. The writers of the New Testament believed the life of Jesus could be lived out in our own lives.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

If we are going to get serious about becoming like Jesus, then we need to ask ourselves some practical questions. We need to be open and honest. We need to examine our lives so we know what we need to work on. This self-examination needs to be combined with prayer and Scripture meditation.

Questions

Here are some questions we need to ask ourselves. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start.

How are we like Jesus in the conversations we have? Is the focus of our conversations more on ourselves or others? Do we listen to the people we are conversing with or are we simply waiting for our turn to speak? Are we an encouragement to others or do we just like to complain? Do we only have conversations with people we like or do we seek to engage people on the margins?

How are we like Jesus in how we treat others? Do we put the needs of others before our own? Do we value some human beings over others? Do we notice people who often get overlooked? Do we show compassion to people who are suffering?

How are we like Jesus as a parent and a spouse? Is the love we have for our spouse like the love Jesus had for the church (Eph. 5:25)? Do we make time to spend with our spouse and our children? Do we exemplify the life of Jesus to our family? Do we act one way around our family and another way in public?

Prayer

We cannot be transformed into the image of Jesus on our own. We need help. We need people in our lives whom we trust, people we can share things with and who will pray for us. We need to be connected to mature Christians who are able to mentor us, but this is not all. Most importantly we need to be connected to God. In 2 Cor. 3:17-18 Paul informs us that our transformation into the image of Jesus is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. If we are struggling with something in our life, the first place we should turn is to God. God uses our weaknesses to his glory. God is able to do what we cannot do on our own. We cannot expect to change if we do not have a healthy prayer life.

We must set aside time for daily prayer. We must get in a prayer rhythm so it becomes natural and a part of our lives. This can be difficult and many people struggle with prayer. If you are having a hard time praying you are not alone. If you cannot find the words to pray, then use a prayer book. Pray the prayers of others until you are able to pray on your own. Some people find it helpful to record their prayers in a prayer journal. Whatever struggles you may have be encouraged to press on. We need prayer. Prayer is able to change lives.

Scripture

How we approach Scripture is important to whether or not we are going to be transformed by it. It is possible to know lots of Scripture and even be able to quote it but not be transformed by it. In order to be transformed by God’s holy word, we need to spend time regularly meditating on the word. Meditating is different from reading or study. When we meditate we open ourselves up to transformation. Meditation involves choosing a smaller portion of Scripture and reading it several times, praying over it, and seeking ways to apply it to our life. We can be changed by any passage within the Bible, but there are several passages which speak directly to the transformation we seek. Here are a few.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippian 2:3-8)

This is a good meditation to return to often. We naturally think of ourselves more than others and we need to be reminded that the Christian life involves sacrifice. The life of Jesus was a life concerned with the other. Jesus lived for others and he died for others. To have the mind of Jesus is to humble ourselves and look to the interests of others.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)

Conflict is a part of life and when we experience conflict we often want to seek revenge. This is not the way of Jesus. Meditating on this passage from Romans will help us deal with difficult situations. Through prayer we will learn to be a calming presence, instead of a person who only adds fuel to the fire. Our mission as Christians is not to seek revenge, but to do good deeds to all and share the love of Jesus with others.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

There is much in these four verses to dwell on. To be like Jesus means we are to have “compassionate hearts” and act in “kindness.” It means we must be patient while we are “bearing with one another.” It means we must forgive. Jesus gives us the ultimate example of what forgiveness looks like. From the cross he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus forgives! He does not wait for the murderers to come to them. He does not wait until they feel sorry for their actions or admit any wrong. He forgives and this is what we are to do as well. When we are wronged we must forgive as quickly as we can. This is not an easy thing to do, but if we are going to be like Jesus we must practice it.

What kind of person do you want to become? To wear the name Christ means that we seek to be like him. This is not something that happens overnight. It doesn’t even happen in a month or a year. It is a journey that will take us a lifetime. To become like Jesus will take discipline, patience, and endurance. In a culture that wants everything right now, we are not always accustomed to things that take time. The life of a Christian is abundant and rewarding, but we must not get in a hurry or we might become frustrated. To become the kind of person we want to become involves us committing to a life of examination, prayer, and meditation. If we trust ourselves to God, then God will make something beautiful out of our flawed and imperfect life.

Jun
17

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We are accustom to reading the Bible as truth, which it is, but if truth is the only thing we see then we are missing much of what the Bible has to offer. The Bible is also full of beauty. It reflects the glory we find in Jesus. To miss the beauty of Scripture is to miss the glory of the Son of God.

This beauty is found before the Messiah takes on flesh and is born in a manger. The Old Testament is full of beauty. The poetry in the psalms and the prophets contain echoes of better things to come. The Gospel of Luke begins with a story about a childless couple. The righteous prayers of Elizabeth and Zechariah are heard by God and he decides to act on their behalf. As Zechariah enters the temple, he is visited by an angel who delivers the good news. Zechariah questions the angel. He cannot believe after all these years that God is about to do something. Because of his unbelief, he is struck speechless. For nine months Zechariah does not utter a word and then his son is born. The first words that come from Zechariah’s mouth are a poem. He praises the God of Israel for acting in his life, but not his life only. Something amazing is about to happen. God is going to act and this time the whole world will take notice.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

In beautiful, poetic language, Zechariah describes what is about to take place. God is going to “raise up a horn of salvation” from the “house of his servant David.” The long awaited Messiah is about to enter the world, but God is going to do more than send a messiah. God is coming! God will take on human flesh. God will be born. God will rest his head in a feeding trough for animals. God will identify with his creation. When Zechariah speaks of the dawn breaking and the light that will help those who live in darkness, he is not talking about just any light. The Light of the world is coming.

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)

God’s mercy is greater than we could ever imagine. The incarnation is something we still have not fully wrapped our minds around and it has been 2,000 years since God first took on flesh. God is serious about redemption. Since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, no one had ever imagined that God would leave heaven and enter into this world as an infant. The glory of God is not just about how God is different from us. The glory of God can clearly be seen in this radical act of God becoming human. The story of redemption is not about what humans must do to be saved, it is about the amazing things God has done to save humanity.

God entering the world was good news and Zechariah understood this. Things were going to change for the better. God would bring salvation to his people who were being persecuted (Luke 1:71). God would show mercy to his people, and he would remember his covenant (Luke 1:72). God entering the world was “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). God would work to set his people free as he had done long before. The blind would see. The oppressed would be liberated. What people would experience when God came near would be like the year of Jubilee but even greater (Luke 4:19).

Jesus accomplished all these things in his earthly ministry. After his ascension, he passed the torch on to his followers. The ministry of Jesus belongs to us now. We are the torchbearers! Just as holy Scripture reflects the beauty and glory of God, we are to reflect the beauty and glory of God to the people around us. We are to be Jesus to others. Christianity needs to attract people. It does not attract people through worldly means. Christianity should not attempt to out entertain the world. It cannot do this. What Christianity does have is true beauty, a beauty that the world is longing for. It is the beauty of a person feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, and healing the sick. The glory of Jesus shines when we follow in his footsteps and do the things Jesus did.

Anyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on the news knows that this world is broken. God came to redeem the world but redemption is not yet complete. It began when God took on flesh. People’s lives were redeemed when Jesus healed them and forgave them of their sins. The life of Jesus is proof of a better way to live. It is a life we are to imitate. As we are being molded and shaped into the image of Jesus, we bring glory, redemption, and beauty into this world. We are a light on a hill that shines in the darkness. Redemption is happening but creation still longs for something more. We live in the now, but not yet. God’s kingdom is a reality, but we still pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We see evidence of redemption all around us. Lives have been changed. Alcoholics have become sober. Broken relationships have been mended. We know redemption is possible and real, but we also know there is much brokenness in this world. Like in the days of Zechariah, we long for the coming of God. We look forward to the return of Jesus. What God began long ago, he will bring to completion one day. So we, along with Zechariah, look forward to the day when God’s glory will shine brighter than it has ever shone before. We look forward to when all wrongs will be made right. We long for full redemption and to dwell forever in the presence of true beauty.

We pray for what Zechariah spoke of long ago.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Jun
16

slow-church-book

Chris Smith and John Pattinson want to start a revolution, a slow church revolution, and I hope they succeed. What is slow church?

A slow church is one that seeks to follow in the Way of Jesus day by day, even when doing so seems inconvenient or even impossible. A key part of our slowing down as churches is taking the life and teachings of Jesus seriously, not ignoring them or rationalizing them away but really seeking to embody Jesus together within all the particularities of our own neighborhoods. (p. 94)

Many people do not take the time to slow down and even consider how much we are influenced by the culture in which we live. Christianity began as a counter-cultural movement, but recently much of Christianity has acquiesced and embraced our culture. Chris and John are calling for a slow resistance to culture by embracing the teachings of Jesus. Slow Church is an excellent introduction to what this looks like. It combines theology, ethics, and practical examples and presents a picture of what a healthy church who takes Jesus seriously might look like.

Slow Church is not a fad, a new program, or a gimmick to be tried for a few months until something better comes along. Slow Church is the opposite of all these things. It argues against them and suggests these things are one of the problems with the modern church. We want quick fixes. We want something that will change lives overnight or produce instant growth. When we adopt this mentality we are mirroring the fast-food culture in which we live. We want things our way and we want it now. We try program after program with very little to show for it simply because Christianity does not work this way. Mature Christians are not made overnight. Christianity is more accurately described as “a long obedience in the same direction” (This is the title of a classic book on discipleship by Eugene Peterson).

Slow Church is not something new, although the ideas within the book may be new to some people. It is a way of life that can be traced back to the beginnings of Christianity and has roots in Judaism before it. Western Christianity is facing some obstacles that have some Christians worried. Declining numbers, shifts in thinking, secularization, and many other things are issues Christians are concerned with. We have tried culture wars that have gotten us nowhere. We have attempted seeker sensitive worship that has failed to create a deep and mature faith. Where do we turn in uncertain times? Chris Smith and John Pattinson are arguing in Slow Church for a return to the ancient ways of Christianity. They are calling us to invest in people and our communities. They are calling us to be Christians 24/7 and not just on Sunday. These ways are not always easy, but Jesus never promised us that it would be easy. Fast, easy, and instant are things we have adopted from our culture, the ways of Jesus are much different.

Slow Church is a great read, but I hope that Christians and churches do more than just read it. I hope they will implement the ideas found within this book. I hope it will serve as a conversation starter for many Christians and church leaders. I hope we will take the time to stop, slow down, and think about what we are doing as a people who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth. Do our practices look more like the practices of the Lamb of God, or more like our local fast-food restaurant? I hope Slow Church starts a slow revolution that catches on quickly.

Learn more about Slow Church here.

You can also follow the Slow Church blog here.

Jun
09

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One of the first stories we find within the pages of scripture is a story about the dangers of anger. It is the story of Cain and Abel. This is the first of several stories within the book of Genesis about the conflict between brothers. Each of these stories highlights something different. The story of Cain and Abel is about several things, but most importantly it is about what can happen when anger and selfishness go unchecked.

There is a lot of speculation regarding the sacrifices in this story. God had regard for Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Why? The Bible never tells us and we should leave it at that. The emphasis is not on the offering. God does not even seem to be upset by Cain’s offering (Gen. 4:6-7). God simply blesses Abel, but does not bless Cain. This is the catalyst for Cain’s anger. He is jealous. He refuses to rejoice with his brother, but instead he chooses to sulk and feel sorry for himself.

While Cain is fuming over these events, God comes to him and asks him a series of questions.

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

God does not want Cain to be angry or upset. He wants Cain to pick himself up and try again. He wants Cain to succeed. This is what God wants from all of us. If Cain refuses to heed this advice, then he will be in danger. God warns him that sin will be lurking at the door. It will be lusting after him.

Sin is not to be messed with. Sin is dangerous. Sin is described here as a wild animal. It is waiting and watching, ready to pounce at any moment. It is like a hungry animal that is ready to eat. It will not allow anything to stand in its way.

Cain does not listen to God. He allows his anger to build and build until it comes pouring out. Cain kills his brother Abel.

Anger and selfishness is a deadly mix. When we act in anger we do stupid and sinful things. When we allow anger to take over, we are not thinking rationally. We do things that we normally would not do. The violent and heinous crime committed by Cain began with anger.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Matt. 5:21-22)

What can we do about anger? We must not allow it take charge of our life. When we feel anger coming on we must deal with those feelings before they get out of control. We must continually examine ourselves to make sure we are not harboring ill feelings toward anyone else. If there is conflict between ourselves and someone else, then we need to work to resolve our differences. Cain refused to address his feelings, even after he was warned by God, and because of this the situation quickly escalated. An angry feeling quickly turned into something more deadly.

Cain refused to follow the golden rule. He refused to treat others the way he wanted to be treated. He refused to love his neighbor as himself. We have a choice. We can follow in the footsteps of Jesus and choose to love others, or we can be like Cain who allowed anger and selfishness to be the driving forces behind his actions. The way of Jesus is not always easy. Sometimes we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Sometimes people rub us the wrong way. Sometimes we feel wronged and we want revenge. It is not easy always loving the other. It is a sacrifice. It means we recognize that the needs of others are more important than our own feelings. It is valuing community more than self. One way leads to life and the other leads to death. Which one will you choose?

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