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

Aug
26

heaven

Where do we go when we die? This is a question we are intrigued by. Even people who are not religious are interested in this question. In 2010 Clint Eastwood directed a movie entitled Hereafter. The film was about the afterlife but the focus was more on psychic powers rather than religion.

The question of where we go when we die draws a lot of interest, but it is not an easy question to answer. There is not a definitive passage on this one subject, but instead various passages have to be strung together in a systematic way in order to arrive at an answer. This question is not as important as resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-34) or the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21-22). Whatever conclusion we come to, we should be careful about binding it on others. Instead, we should always keep an open mind and seek to have conversations that edify one another.

We need to keep in mind that this question addresses events prior to the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. The return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the new heavens and new earth are events that are clearly taught in Scripture. What happens when we die is not a question about where we will spend eternity. It is a question about where we will be until Jesus returns and we receive a resurrected body.

Three Views

Three answers have typically been given to the question of where do we go when we die. People who hold these three different views all use Scripture to explain their position.

State of Unconsciousness/Soul Sleeping – This is the belief that when a person dies, they are dead. They go to sleep and they are unaware of anything until Jesus returns and then they are awakened from the dead. They point to the many passages in the Bible where the dead are described as being asleep. (See 1 Sam. 28 esp. vs. 15)

The problem I have with this view is that it is never fully described in Scripture, and it relies heavily on the assumption that the word “asleep” is literal and not just a figure of speech. People often say nowadays that a person has “passed away”, but no one means that they have literally “passed away.” It is a figure of speech. To fall asleep in Scripture seems to me to be a figure of speech and not a literal description of what happens to people when they die.

Hades – This is the belief that when a person dies they go to a waiting place called Hades. This word is found in the New Testament and seems to correlate to the Old Testament term Sheol. Although, the view of what happens to a person when they die in the Old Testament is very sketchy. Sheol is never described in positive terms. It is a place where people do not want to go. The most vivid description of Hades is found in Luke 16:19-31. This is the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

The problem I have with this view is that an extraordinary emphasis is placed on Luke 16:19-31. It is argued that this is a true account that literally happened and that the purpose of this story is to explain the afterlife. Luke 16:19-31 reads more like a parable than a real life story. It is found among other parables (Luke 15; 16:1-13). The purpose of the story is not to explain the afterlife, but to teach about riches and how we treat others in need (Luke 16:14). This issue of wealth is a theme that repeatedly shows up in the Gospel of Luke. The question also needs to be asked, “Where did this view of Hades originate from?” It is not found anywhere else in Scripture, nor does it seem to originate with Jesus. It was a traditional view that was held prior to Jesus. None of this negates that there ever existed a place called Hades and that people went there. We know that Jesus died and went to Hades (Acts 2:27). However, I would be leery to place all my bets on one passage, when there are others that also speak of what happens to a person after they die.

Heaven –  This is perhaps the most common view held by Christians (This does not prove it is right). It is the view that when people die they go to heaven to be with the Lord. This is the view I will argue for in the rest of this post.

Five Clues

Clue #1

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)

The stoning of Stephen does not answer the question for us, but it does offer some helpful clues. As Stephen is about to die, he looks up and he sees Heaven. Stephen says, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” As he is looking up and being stoned to death he prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” I will admit that all these events are things that happen just prior to his death and as he is dying. We are never told what happens to Stephen after he is dead, but what we have leads us to believe that Stephen’s spirit went to be with the Lord in Heaven.

Clue #2

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21-24)

Again, these passages do not answer the question for us, but they do give us something solid that we can put our hope in. Whatever happens to us when we die, we will be with Jesus. This is Paul’s hope! He longs to “depart and be with Christ.” He “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Where is the Lord? He is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

Clue #3

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

This is perhaps the most famous passage about what happens when we die. Paul wrote this to try and comfort the Thessalonians who were wondering about these things. It says that “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Later Paul writes, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with THEM in the clouds to meed the Lord in the air.” Jesus is coming back and he is bringing those who are dead with him. Where are the dead? This passage never answers that, but the most likely assumption is Heaven. Jesus is in Heaven. This is where he is coming from. We are never told that he goes to Hades or some other place where the sleeping dead are waiting. The only two places we can absolutely identify in this passage are Heaven and Earth.

Clue #4

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Heb. 12:1)

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:18-24)

I am indebted to John Mark Hicks for this clue and would encourage you to read what he has to say about this passage (See Witnesses in the Presence of God). Hebrews 11 is about the faithful who are now dead. How are they described in Hebrews 12:1? As a “cloud of witnesses.” This does not sound like they are unconscious. Later in the chapter we are given an even better clue. Hebrews 12:18-24 is a passage contrasting Old Testament worship with New Testament worship. The author of Hebrews is explaining why they should not go back to the way they used to worship. His main argument is that worship under the new covenant takes place in the presence of Heaven. When we worship we are in the presence of “God”, “Jesus”, “the heavenly Jerusalem”, “innumerable angels”, and to “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” The author of Hebrews describes Heaven and in Heaven are “the spirits of the righteous made perfect”. This is the “cloud of witnesses”. This is Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, and many more.

Clue #5

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. (Rev. 7:9-15)

I saved the best clue for last. Revelation is a book written to comfort Christians who were being persecuted and who had lost loved ones. The Christians John is writing to had family members and friends who had died. This is part of the reason for writing this book. In Rev. 6:9-10 John sees a vision of martyrs who are now in Heaven crying out to the Lord. In Rev. 7:9-15 John sees Christians who have remained faithful to God throughout the tribulation and they are now “before the throne of God.” Would John present a picture of Christians who had been martyred in heaven, if this were not so? He is writing to their loved ones. He is striving to comfort grieving family members. Is John giving them false hope? I don’t believe so. I believe John is presenting an accurate picture of where the dead in Christ now are.

Aug
25

airline-weight-tag 

The following links are posts on labels and why they often do more harm than good.

The Ambiguity of Labels by Ben Williams

Those Unhelpful Labels by K. Rex Butts

Labels Hurt by John Dobbs

Labels and Lies by Pita Horne

The Tower of Label by Johnny Bond

What Label Would Jesus Choose by Scott Elliott

The Problem With Liberal and Conservative Labels by Scott Elliott

Labels, labels, labels by Tim Archer

Aug
21

school

Father of heaven and earth and all creation, I praise your holy and glorious name. I thank you for the privilege of learning. You have filled this world with things too wonderful to comprehend. You are the source of all goodness, beauty, and truth. I am amazed by the little I have come to know and understand. The design of your creation, the beauty of language and words, and the intricacies of the human body take my breath away. I give you glory for being the author of all that I have come to learn.

God above, I thank you for teachers, educators, school nurses, secretaries, principals, and the many others who have dedicated their lives to teaching others. I know that this is not an easy job, and the people who have chosen this profession are not paid what they should be paid. Thankfully, the teachers I know understand that their reward is not in a paycheck or any benefits they might receive. The teachers I know understand their position as a calling rather than a job. They understand the importance of making a difference in the lives of young people. I thank you for these special people.

Lord, you know how precious children are. You understand what it is like to send your child off to a place where they may encounter trouble or pain. I pray for our children. I pray that you keep them safe. I pray that they will make good decisions and be a light to others in their school. I take comfort in knowing that you are with them, even when their parents are not.

Be with those parents who are anxious or nervous. Calm their nerves. Grant them peace. Help all parents to be an encouragement to teachers, and a good example to their children. Give them patience in troubling times. Provide them strength when they are tired from work and they must come home and help their children with schoolwork. More than anything else, I pray all parents will live like Jesus and show Jesus to their children through their actions, words and behavior. The ways of Jesus is the most important education anyone will ever receive. May we all be educated in these ways and come to know Jesus more. I pray all this in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Aug
13

silhouette-faces

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

With the inception of social media the way we mourn has changed. When someone dies many people now choose to post tributes on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. When someone famous dies these social media sites are flooded with memories, quotes, and videos. This has become commonplace. We witnessed this just this week with the death of Robin Williams. Before I ever heard anything on the news or radio about Robin Williams’ death, I learned about it on Facebook.

Sadly, some Christians have spoken out against those who mourn. Occasionally they have objected to the attention a celebrity or famous person has received. Other times they have objected to the life of the celebrity or the way they died. I will be the first to admit that we are a nation obsessed with celebrity. We often lift people up who should not be lifted up. We glamorize people who do little or nothing to contribute to society. Our emphasis on celebrity has gotten out of hand, but does this mean we should reject anyone who has become famous? Does this mean we should never mourn the loss of a celebrity?

I cannot speak for anyone else, but when I hear of the passing of someone like Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman there are several things that go through my mind. When both of these men passed away I posted something on Facebook celebrating their talent. These men made people laugh and moved people with their acting performances. They brought beauty into this world. They brought joy to people’s lives, and they made us think, feel, and perhaps look at the world a little differently. We should be able to celebrate these things without being condemned by someone else. We should always strive to lift up what is good and beautiful.

One of the strangest arguments I have encountered is that instead of remembering a celebrity who died on Facebook, Christians should be posting about Jesus. I post about Jesus all the time. By posting about Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman I am not forsaking God. This line of reasoning is ludicrous. Would these same people stand outside a funeral and criticize everyone who attended the funeral because they should have been out evangelizing? I will be the first to admit I need to do more. I need to speak more about Jesus. I need to do more in the name of Jesus. I need to lift Jesus up more, but taking the time to recognize a tragedy or mourn the loss of a human being does not mean I am forsaking Jesus or loving him any less.

Perhaps most disappointing has been some comments regarding suicide and drug addiction. I have seen numerous comments and a few blog posts on why we should not mourn or pay tribute to people who have lost their life in one of these ways. When this is the way we respond to the death of a human life we are sending the wrong message to the world. When someone dies our first response should not be to condemn the life that has been lost or those who are mourning. The world needs to see compassion from us. They need to know we care. There are people struggling with depression and drug addiction all around us and to dismiss these diseases is to show a lack of compassion. The way of Jesus is not to condemn people who are hurting, but to come alongside them and to help them in their time of trouble. To help, show compassion, or mourn the effects of drug addiction or depression is not to approve of them. When we do these things we are showing empathy. We are trying to understand and help people escape the darkness they feel encompassed by. To fail to act in this way is to turn our backs on people who desperately need help.

There is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4). When someone dies, no matter how they die, it is a time to mourn and weep. For me, the tragic deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman are more sad because of the demons they faced. No one knows how they felt or what they were facing, and we should never pretend like we do know. In the midst of tragedy our response should be to mourn and weep. It is not a time to lecture. It is not a time to criticize. It is not a time to condemn.

So, if you have a favorite memory, share it. If you would like to mourn or weep, that’s ok. If you want to show compassion, that would be a welcome response in a world that often lacks it.

Aug
11

into-the-tunnel

Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

When times are bad where do you look for hope? When evil is all around and pressing in where do you long to be? These questions are important. Although they may seem simple, there is disagreement as to which way we should look. Some Christians look backward and long for days of old, whereas others look forward to a time when God will make all things right. Does it matter which way we look? Is it ok to look one way or the other? Yes, it does matter. Although most people mean no harm, these are two fundamentally different sources of hope.

Many people remember the past as a pleasant time when things were better and problems were fewer. There are several reasons for this. We often remember back to our childhood when we were sheltered from many of the problems of this world. Our parents kept things from us. We did not spend a vast amount of our time watching the news or listening to talk radio. Times were good, or at least that is the way we remember it. We also tend to remember the good things over the bad. We reminisce about the good ol’ days, which really weren’t that good at all, but that is how we remember them.

There are some major flaws with looking backward rather than forward. The first is that it is impossible to go back to those days. No one can turn back time. Society and Culture does not regress, it progresses. Progress is neither good or bad. Progress is what we make it. If the times are bad, we should not long for what is behind us, but instead work to make what is ahead of us better.

We should refrain from longing for former days because those days may have been good for some people, but they may have been terrible for others. There is a myth circulating among some American Christians that the 1950’s were a time of bliss. These Christians long to go back to this time period when they believe things were better. The problem is that there were many problems in the 1950’s just as there are today. Some things may have been better in that time period, but some things were worse. What does it say to people of color when they hear Christians say, “I wish things were like they used to be back then.” This was a time when segregation was still in place and racism was rampant. In the 1950’s people lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust, women were limited as to what they could do in society, and poverty was a problem in the South.

Followers of God in the Bible did not look to the past for hope, but consistently looked to the future. The psalmists who often took their problems to God longed for God to act. They looked forward to God coming and judging the world. The prayer of the early church was not to go back to days of old, but was “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20) Our longing should not be for a time when things may have just been a little bit better. We should long for a day when all things will be made right. Wishing to go back to the 1950’s or any other time is not hope for the world. There are some people who would probably like to go back to the 1950’s, but there are many more people who would not want to go back. Going back will not solve our problems. Going back will not alleviate pain, hatred, violence, disease, and death. All the problems we face on a daily basis will still exist if we go back to another time.

Our hope is in the future. Our hope is in a day when Jesus will return and make all things right. Our hope is in resurrection and new heavens and new earth. We long for new creation, not simply a slightly better version of what we already have. God has made us promises better than anything we have ever experienced in the 1950’s or any other time. God will wipe away every tear. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain. Darkness will vanish. All evil will be done away with. We will receive new bodies and we will live with God forever.

Confusing the past with the future is a big mistake. We can learn from the past. We can get ideas from the past. We can remember the past with fondness and talk about it with others, but we long and hope for the future. We do not pray to go backwards. We pray for what is to come!

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

Jul
31

compact-cassette

I have asked a few of my friends to write posts on the labels Christians use. This post is by Peter Horne.

Confession: I like to use labels.

Labels break the world down into bite sized chunks. If you’re from a particular state, or city, I feel like I know certain things about you. If you’re from a particular church with a particular label outside its building, I don’t need to spend a week getting to know you, the label provides me a huge amount of theological information that I can attach to you as an individual.

Labels are natural.

The church had barely existed more than a few years before the world needed a handle to refer to this group of people with a new set of beliefs. Acts 11:26 tells us that the name “Christian” originated in Antioch and has stuck for 2,000 years. Perhaps it started out as a derogatory label, but these followers of Jesus took pride in that label and claimed it as their identity.

Labels Lie.

When the followers of Jesus were first designated as Christians this label distinguished them from particular sects of Pagans and Jews. It seemed that one label was all it took. After all, unlike the Pagans who gave varying degrees of loyalty to a diverse array of gods, these Christians just worshiped one God.

1 Corinthians 1 reminds us of how quickly people seek to establish independence as Paul accuses some in the church of identifying themselves with Peter, Apollos, or Paul rather than giving primary allegiance to Christ. On the big picture it only took a few hundred years for different expressions of Christianity to arise and different groups desired their own distinct labels to distinguish themselves from others. The label “Christian” no longer adequately described each of these different groups.

Over the years the segmentation of Christianity has only increased. The Lutherans have a variety of Synods. Baptists have a plethora of conventions. And Churches of Christ have a secret code that distinguishes congregations from one another while maintaining the same label at street level.

Among Churches of Christ we use some belief-based labels such as “one cuppers” or “non-institutional” or increasingly “instrumental” churches. Sometimes we use descriptive labels including “black”, “Hispanic”, “older”, or “college”. But we also revert to subjective labels like “progressive”, “liberal”, “conservative”, and “traditional”. The lie in these labels is that we think we know everything that church stands for because we’ve determined the most appropriate label to stick on it.

Labels are Impersonal

The greatest deception of labels is that they remove a person’s individual identity. We think we know a person because they associate with other people that we’ve labeled. People find themselves guilty by association with no opportunity to differentiate themselves because they’ve been labeled and now no one is listening.

Lastly, labels are inadequately equipped to address the complexity of humanity. Very few people are completely one thing or another. If I worship in a Church of Christ but believe instrumental worship is ok, I might be labeled a “liberal”. But if I hold to a traditional view of male elders and teachers in the church, I’m obviously a “conservative”. If I agree with the majority that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated each week and that individual cups are okay, I’m “mainline”. I also look for the church to grow in certain areas, so the label given to my church may or may not describe my theological bent. How should I be labeled?

Yet how quickly we tend to slap a label on others as though we now know them.

I learned this lesson a few years ago when the preacher and his wife from [what they would have claimed] was the most conservative and Bible-based church in the state came to visit my parents. My dad is a minister and they were trying to get my parents church to support their annual retreat. This couple talked about how “sound” they were and how the camp ran and the modesty guidelines they put in place and how they don’t allow mixed swimming.

The whole time my Mum, who has worn dresses almost her whole life, is looking at this preachers wife thinking, “You came to make a formal visit wearing pants?” For many reasons, including the pants, my parents never attended that camp.

Peter Horne is the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. Born and bred in Australia he moved to the United States in 1999. You can follow more of his writing at any of his 3 blogs: www.ozziepete.wordpress.com (sermon related Bible study); www.GodMeetsBall.com (God and sports discussions); and www.CulturalMosaic.com (promoting multiethnic churches).

Jul
30

business-1378031945Q69

I never got into the WWJD craze a few years ago. I never had a bracelet or a t-shirt. At the time I thought it was a little simplistic and I never have liked the idea of commercializing parts of the Christian faith. Putting the consumeristic aspect aside, WWJD is a helpful practice. Sometimes questions arise and they deserve more thought or contemplation, but often WWJD is enough. Often all we need to do is simply ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”

This is helpful when it comes to the topic of labels. Christians love to label one another. Some of these labels begin as a derogatory term (e.g. Campbellites, Quakers, Methodists, etc.). Sometimes Christians embrace a label and proudly wear it to distinguish themselves from other Christians. There are premillennial Christians, postmillennial Christians, feminist Christians, fundamentalist Christians, and on and on it goes. There is a never ending ocean of Christian labels. This is not something new. The Christians who began the restoration movement recognized this and sought to throw off their labels and be Christians only.

So, what would Jesus do? Would Jesus welcome and embrace a label? Would Jesus call himself a ________ Christian? We get a good idea of what he would do simply by looking at the gospels and understanding a thing or two about the culture in which he lived. The Jews of Jesus’ day were just as guilty of dividing themselves and using labels as Christians are today. We read about some of these groups in the New Testament. There were Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. Jesus was aware of these groups. He interacted with them. Simon, one of his disciples, was a Zealot, but Jesus also invited Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Jesus did not choose sides. He did not pick one group over another. He did not identify with any of them, but instead worked to tear down the walls that divided. No one would have included a Zealot and a tax collector in the same group, but Jesus did.

There are no longer any Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes, but Christians have managed to continue this tradition of division. Two of the most popular labels used today are conservative and liberal. There were conservative and liberal Jews in Jesus’ day, but because these terms are so vague it is sometimes hard to identify exactly who they were. Most people assume the Pharisees were the conservatives since they were strict and rigid when it came to following God’s law. They went beyond the law in order not to violate it. I have also heard people make the case that the Sadducees were the conservatives since they accepted the Torah, God’s true word, and did not add anything to it. Who was really conservative and who was really liberal? It depends on who you ask. It depends on their perspective. The labels we use often cause confusion and stymie meaningful conversations.

Jesus had the opportunity to choose a label. He could have identified with one group over another, but he did not. Jesus sought out people who had been rejected by others. He challenged Jewish prejudices regarding Samaritans and Gentiles. He questioned the legalism of Pharisees, a practice that separated them from others. He defended the resurrection before Sadducees who saw it as a point of division. Jesus showed us how to follow God without labels. Instead of worrying about what to be called or what to call someone else, he was willing to talk about issues, prejudices, and beliefs that hampered a person’s relationship with God.

Some say you cannot avoid labels and that may be so, but Jesus did. He never once embraced the labels within his culture that divided so many. What label would Jesus wear? The answer is none. Jesus was neither a conservative, nor a liberal. He was not this or that. He was a follower of God and that is what we should all strive to be.

Throwing off our labels will not solve all our problems. It will not even fix all the divisions within Christianity. Christians will continue to be divided. We will continue to find things to disagree upon. Refusing to be a hyphenated Christian is not about ignoring doctrines. It is about imitating Jesus and this is what we are called to do. Instead of writing off another human being because they have been given a label we do not like, we must now get to know them. We must begin a conversation with them and hear their story from their own lips. Refusing to use labels means we give up on assumptions. We begin each introduction with a clean slate. We start each meeting with a belief that is central to Scripture. Every human being is a person created in the image of God. Everyone is somebody. Each person I meet deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, rather than just assigned a label.

What would Jesus do? I think you know. Let us throw off the labels that divide us and often get in the way. Let us refuse to label others and make assumptions about them. Instead, may we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who did not concern himself with labels or groups, but rather devoted himself to simply following God.

Jul
17

friends-1366607373K15

“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

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_p

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.

dawn-planet-apes

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.

High_Hopes_album_Bruce_Springsteen

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.

Rosanen-Cash-The-River-The-Thread-300x300

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.

Rodney-Crowell-tarpaper-sky-album-300x300

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 237 other followers