Do yourself a favor and click on over to Donald Miller's recent blog entry on Loving Your Enemies. If nothing else, watch the video he has there. It's especially appropriate given all the time we've been spending together in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. We only have a few lessons left and I'm feeling sad about that right now. I'm not sure where we're going next, but I need to decide. Any thoughts? I think a lot of you would really like Miller's book Blue Like Jazz if you haven't already read it.
A couple of weeks ago I pointed you to an article in Relevant Magazine about Chuck star Zac Levi and his faith. The cover article of the latest issue is about Bear Grylls, the star of Man vs. Wild. It’s a great article, in which he talks about his faith and his life. You can click here to read it. Be warned, Relevant uses a digital format for their current issue that isn’t very user friendly. They do it so you can read the entire magazine as it appears in print. If you want to read the Grylls article, you can just click on his name on the cover. It will take you directly there. Here some of the quotes I just loved:
What does [faith] mean? It’s about being strengthened. It’s about having a backbone run through you from the Person who made you. It’s about being able to climb the biggest mountains in the world with the Person who made them.
I remember having one moment when some really good friends turned their back on me in a really nasty way…And I remember praying a simple prayer up a tree one evening and saying, “God, if you’re like I knew you as a kid, would you be that friend again?” And it was no more complicated than that.
Jesus never said, “I’ve come so you can feel smart and proper and smiley and religious…[Faith] is about finding life and joy and peace, I am not at church a lot because I’m away a lot, so I kind of cling to the simple things, like, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”It’s worth trying to read the whole article. He talks about the parachuting accident he had when he was a member of the British SAS that left him with a broken back. He talks about rehab and his quest to become the youngest Briton to climb Mt. Everest. He also talks about his family and their domicile of choice (a houseboat on the Thames). I love the section about how his wife came to faith in Christ. It makes sense the guy’s a Christian. You’d have to have some crazy faith to eat some of the stuff he eats. But what do I know? Is it really that much worse than what they serve at 7-eleven?
I'm a subscriber to Relevant Magazine, even though you can read a lot of their stuff online. Sometimes I feel a little too old for it. The same way I feel when I go to a rock show at the Norva. I realize I've become that old guy who stands in the back and just kind of nods his head to the music. Anyway. Thought you might be interested in this article about Zac Levi, star of the the NBC comedy Chuck. Click here to read it. I don't watch this show regularly but I'm told by a lot friends that I should. Check out this description of Levi's house:
“Zac’s home is like a fraternity house,” explains Jeremy Boreing, Levi’s business partner, “home church” pastor and close friend. “You can’t walk in without meeting someone you don’t know. Two of the bedrooms are always used by someone who needs a place to stay while they’re struggling financially. Saturdays are open for barbecues and Sundays are for home church.”Sounds like someone is living out their faith. The article goes on to describe the church that gathers in Levi's house and how it provides a helpful anchor as he seeks to live as a Christian in Hollywood. I hope you're taking the Good News about Jesus wherever you're going today.
Just wanted to give a slightly overdue plug for Keith Cuthrell's Sunday School class, currently running in the auditorium at 9:30 am. If you're the kind who likes to be passive, this class isn't for you. Every week, Keith has challenged us to reflect on some aspect of our life in Christ. What I mean by that is he has given us a thought-provoking question and asked us to write the answer as it applies to our lives. Don't fear. Whatever you write, you don't have to share with anyone else. It's strictly a chance for you to do more than just sit and listen to someone else. I'm getting a lot of positive feed back about it. If you're not coming to our Sunday morning classes, it's worth the effort required to make it there by 9:30 on Sunday morning. Between Len Driskell's great class on Leviticus during the first quarter of 2010, Keith's class now and the other classes we have planned for the year, there are great opportunities to learn about God and ourselves. See you Sunday.
Last Sunday I preached on Jesus' command that his followers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. I talked about how difficult and "unnatural" an act it is to love our enemies rather than seek revenge. Immediately following worship Andrea Bolton told me about this video. Since then, Sharon Tomey mentioned it as well. You would have seen it on Sunday if I'd known about it beforehand. I'll just let you watch the video and meditate on it. It really makes my point quite nicely. Great, now when someone tells me they're praying for me I'm just going to be paranoid.
12From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing…(Matthew 11) Sometimes American pop culture is able to transcend itself. Last night’s episode of American Idol is an excellent example. The evening’s theme was “Inspirational Songs.” Crystal Bowersox, held by most to be the frontrunner for season 9, put down her guitar and served up this cover of “People Get Ready.” More after the jump: I never stopped to listen to this song or consider how it will preach. Had Jesus preached in a modern setting, it wouldn’t have been surprising to hear him use this train metaphor for the Kingdom of God. Check out some of the lyrics:
People get ready, there's a train a comin' You don't need no baggage, you just get on board All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin' Don't need no ticket, you just thank the LordHow many of us are still struggling to understand that last sentence? Still trying to buy a ticket, and all we have to do is jump on with a thankful heart. But be warned. This message does have a bit of a sharp edge:
There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throneI think the key word here is hopeless. Hopeless, not because God refuses to help, but hopeless because we refuse to be comforted. That’s what’s behind Jesus’ invitation: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” It’s also behind his exasperation: “37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing (Matthew 23).” Today, let’s be willing. Let’s stop searching our pockets for a ticket we can’t buy anyway and just jump on… I would be remiss if I didn’t throw in a link to Curtis Mayfield singing this one, too. After all, it was his song first. A more qualified historian could speak to this song’s importance to the Civil Rights Movement. Since Mayfield, dozens of artists have done their own versions. (I’ll spare you the Bob Dylan cover. You’re welcome.)
A couple of weeks ago, when Rachel and I were hunkered down in a foot of snow in Charlottesville, reveling in our weekend of solitude, one of the movies we watched was Julie and Julia. It’s adapted from two books--Julia Child’s autobiographical My Life in France and Julie Powell’s memoir of her daily attempt to cook a different recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child is played by Meryl Streep. It’s probably cliché to love Meryl Streep, but I do anyway. She’s just as amazing in this as she is in everything else. I love what AO Scott says about her in his review of the film: "By now this actress has exhausted every superlative that exists and to suggest that she has outdone herself is only to say that she’s done it again.” Streep captures Child’s lust for life so well. In one scene, she springs out of bed early in the morning [I can’t recall, but I don’t think an alarm even goes off] so she can set about doing what she loves—cooking great food. I have since wondered, “When is the last time I sprang out of bed in the morning?” And why don’t I? In the interest of keeping it short, I’ve decided that it has a lot to do with how I feel about what I have to do. Did you get that? What I have to do. When Julia Child jumps out of bed, it’s because she’s found something that she gets to do. Isn’t it easier to get more excited about a privilege than an obligation? And so I’ve noticed lately that it helps to remember what a privilege it is to care for my kids and get them to school and come to work at our church. I’m still not popping out of bed, but my attitude is a little better. I think the same thing happens with meditation. That’s the spiritual discipline we’ll be talking about on Wednesday night as we begin talking about Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. The most common reaction I get from people who try meditating on scripture or on their relationship with God is, “This is hard work.” Yup. It’s not easy for a lot of reasons. We’re going to talk about that on Wednesday night. But one reason is because it’s often more of an obligation than a privilege. It’s hard to meditate on God’s presence when it’s something I do out of obligation and there’s something else I would like to be doing. Or, more importantly, there’s something else I feel like I should be doing. It’s the difference between presenting a report to God and resting in the presence of God. It’s the difference between making myself get out of bed in the morning and falling into bed at the end of the day. Which sounds more appealing to you? Anyway. There’s a lot more to be said about meditation, and we’ll be talking about it tomorrow night. But more than just talking about it, I’ll be encouraging you to practice it--maybe not during class, but sometime during the week. If you come to class and listen to me talk about the spiritual disciplines, you’ll get something out of it. But not nearly as much as if you actually practice them yourself. And I know I’ll learn a lot more than I would just hearing the sound of my own voice. In the meantime, I hope you’ll stop running around and take a moment to practice being in the presence of God. “The Light of God surrounds me. The Love of God enfolds me. The Power of God protects me. The Wisdom of God guides and directs me. Wherever I go, God is.” 1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. --Psalm 139
Rachel’s sister-in-law, Brittany (Is she my sister-in-law, too? I never get those rules.), posted this on my Facebook wall. Enjoy:
I know, I know. It’s been a long time. It usually takes something particularly interesting to draw me back in. This time it was because I wanted to direct you to this recent article on Time’s website about having “the talk” with our kids. One of the things I appreciate about the article is that it actually encourages having multiple “talks” rather than just one, each one being age/situation appropriate. I also wonder about having “the talk” in Christian households. How is it different? How can we speak about sex with our children in a way that is open and honest and reflective of our faith? Anybody out there who has more experience than I do, feel free to jump in. Both of our boys have shown some curiosity about "where babies come from," but were satisfied with the most cursory of answers. This article makes me think we will be dealing with this sooner rather than later. What about you?
I believe this weekend marks the 104th installment of the Red River Shootout. (I refuse to call it the Red River Rivalry, just because AT&T is sponsoring it.) For many of you that means nothing. That’s because: A) You don’t watch college football. B) You’re not from Texas or Oklahoma. The Red River Shootout is the annual football game between the University of Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma University Sooners. It’s almost always a huge game, because one or both teams are usually in the National Championship picture. The game takes place every year at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas during the Texas State Fair. If you’re a college football fan, this game is one that should make your bucket list. This year the starting quarterbacks are Colt McCoy for the Longhorns and Sam Bradford for the Sooners. Both have been talked about as HeismanTrophy contenders (though Bradford’s chances have been diminished some by an early season shoulder injury.) Both really want to win this game. Both must be incredibly competitive to play a sport on this level. But there is one thing they can agree on. Check out the video below. It was posted on Facebook by the Christian Chronicle. When you’re done watching the video, you can go read an interview with Colt McCoy at the Chronicle website. He attends a Church of Christ in Austin.
Rachel finally had a chance to watch this week’s episode of The Biggest Loser last night. I acted like I wasn’t watching it, but I was. If you are inclined to watch it and you haven’t yet, go do so and then come back, because there are some big-time spoilers ahead. This week was Sean Algaier’s swan song. He and his partner, Antoine, fell prey to some truly “Survivor”-style game play by one of the other contestants. It would be easy to vilify her, but I think she’s got real issues. (At least that’s the way the show’s editing makes it look.) Some of you will remember that Sean and the rest of the worship group, “Watershed,” performed at NCOC some time ago, so I was rooting for him, and I was sorry to see him leave. But if anyone had to go out like that, I’m glad it was him. He and Antoine basically sacrificed themselves and asked to be sent home rather than another contestant. The way it works is the show sends them home, but provides a personal trainer so that they can keep working and then come back for the live finale sometime around the holidays. S & A argued that they would stand a better chance than this other contestant, because they both had a good support network at home. It appears that they were right, because they both look great. If I remember right, Sean’s already lost over 100 lbs. Sean acted like we would hope a Christian would act. After being thrown under the bus by this other contestant, he and his partner took care of someone else rather than look after their own interests. And THEN, Sean was able to treat this person who had essentially caused his elimination with decency and compassion. You know me, and you know I’m not one to rail against the biases of “our liberal media.” But I can’t help but wonder if anyone will comment on the fact that a self-confessed Christian managed to go on a “reality” show and actually behave like a follower of Jesus. We sure hear about it when they’re jerks. And, unfortunately, they sometimes are. But no matter. It was nice to see someone go on the Biggest Loser and act like “The Biggest Loser.”
Been a little while. I just wanted to direct your attention to Mike Cope's recent entry about being brave enough to be a parent who sets boundaries for their kids rather than trying to please them all the time. Click here to read it. One of the readers calls it:
...true encouragement, the actual pouring of encouragement into the heart of another at the point of need.Yes it is. Hope to see as many of you as possible for dinner & Bible study tonight.
My new favorite show is Mad Men. It also gets my award for favorite opening sequence, but more on that in a minute. Set in the world of an early sixties Madison Avenue ad agency, the show follows the lives of Sterling & Cooper’s various employees. The central characters are Don Draper, a junior partner in the agency, and his wife Betsy. Don has a lot of secrets. Raised somewhere in the Depression era Midwest by an abusive father and a mean stepmother, his real name is Dick. He has stolen the identity of his Lieutenant, Don Draper, after the latter was killed in Korea. Now “Don” is living multiple lives. He has a wife and two kids, but he is a notorious philanderer. Meanwhile, Betsy is suffering from depression or anxiety (I can’t tell for sure) and can only talk about it to her therapist. Then there is Peggy Olson, the young woman who started as a secretary, but who has worked her way into the world of copywriting. Peggy has had a child out of wedlock that no one (except perhaps Don) knows about. The boy is being raised as her nephew. Given just this description, the show sounds like a soap opera, and it sort of is, but it’s a very intelligent one. The characters couldn’t be more real. Each one is complex and flawed—capable of both kindness and cruelty. And the dialogue is wonderful. The show makes good use of the era in which it is set. Taking place in the sixties, it has its feet in two different worlds. It holds on to the stiff propriety of the early 20th century. The characters work hard to keep up appearances. It is still a world where white men are in charge, at least on the face of it. Everyone smokes everywhere: at work, at the breakfast table, in the office, on planes, etc. And everyone drinks excessively. But we can see that the façade is wearing thin, and the modern era is approaching. The prosperity and propriety of the fifties are about to give way to the chaos and upheaval of the sixties. This world that everyone has constructed for themselves is not going to hold together. The serenity of everyone’s outward demeanor cannot be maintained. Their inner lives are too tumultuous. Nothing represents this dynamic as well as the credits. (You can watch them by clicking here.) A man appears to have “arrived,” and then the ground gives way beneath him. He falls past all these images--illusions of happiness and perfection created by the advertising industry. Then, just when his doom seems inevitable, he lands in an oversized chair, confidently smoking a cigarette and giving no indication of the turmoil that he is experiencing. It’s all about appearances—both in advertising and in real life. So what does all this have to do with church stuff? I’ll let you think about it a little bit. And then I’ll come back and give you my two cents a little later. Here’s a hint though. There’s a brilliant little exchange between two of the characters that takes place. A young account executive named Peter is talking to Peggy. He’s bemoaning how dysfunctional his family is. When Peggy admits that she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about and suggests that he should just go home, Peter makes this very self-centered (and false) observation. Peggy’s response could not be more insightful:
Peter: Everything’s so easy for you. Peggy: It’s not easy for anyone, Pete.And that right there is a message that will preach. But it will have to preach later, because I’m done for the afternoon.
I was raised in an "either/or" world. And while that may sometimes be helpful, it often is not. I’ve found that I’m often better served taking a "both/and" approach. That is certainly the case when it comes to science and faith. Seems like most of the current dialogue shouting match sees the whole thing as Science vs. Faith. That’s because of the attitudes of people on both sides of the issue. There’s a take no prisoners kind of spirit that sees the whole thing as a battlefield. But what if, instead of pitting one against the other, we could let each have its own domain—domains that occasionally overlap? This week Mike Cope linked to an Op-Ed piece in USA Today that was written by two men who are Scientists and Christians. It’s a wonderful and inspiring read. I can’t help but quote from the opening paragraph:
We’re scientists and Christians. Our message to the faithful: Fear not.A good reminder, since fear seems to be what drives most discussions fracases today over all sorts of topics: religion, politics, etc. You can find the Op-Ed by clicking here. Have a good weekend. How about resting some with your families?
And from my 3 year old son, nonetheless. The other day I was straightening up the bathroom when he came in and said, "Dad, did you know that there are TWO Gods?!" "Really?" I said. (As I began a surreptitious search for something with which to stone my wicked, heretical son in accordance with Leviticus. Can you stone someone with a bottle of Johnson & Johnson's Lavender Baby wash? That would be ironic considering its claim to be "No tears.") "Yeah," he said, "There's a Big one in the sky..." (He said this with his hands spread wide apart and standing on tip toes. Then he made himself really small and brought his thumb and index finger close together)"...And there's a little one in my heart." Touché. It appears someone has been paying attention at church and then filling in the gaps for himself. That makes him a theologian.
H/t to Ray Stiff for forwarding this. You or someone you know may be eligible for free school supplies and backpacks. Follow the link below to register:
Military families of E-1 through E-6 ONLY are encouraged to sign up for free backpacks and back-to-school supplies which will be distributed before school begins, this year. Registration is limited to the amount of backpacks and supplies donated and the registration is open from now until all slots are filled. Families with the greatest need have priority. Military ID cards showing rank of E-1 through E-6 must be presented by families at their pick up. This program has been made possible through kind donations from all branches of the military, as well as corporate and private donors throughout the Hampton Roads area. Please go to: www.operationhomefront.net/hamptonroads to sign up for backpacks.
I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. [ Friends ] Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers. (Song of Songs 5:1) Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7) You’ve got to see this. A friend from Grad School posted this to her Facebook account. As with the Sound of Music video, I defy you not to smile. I defy you to resist the urge to move. It’s like a Bollywood movie. What a great way to start a wedding. Check out my thoughts after the jump. Let me say a couple of things. First, if you want a picture of a Biblical wedding, there you go. The wedding feast was a party. The betrothal (engagement) was long. So when the long-awaited day finally arrived, the groom and his friends would go as a group to the house of the bride and fetch her and her friends. Then they would go as one raucous procession to the place of the feast. Then the marriage would be consummated and a feast lasting several days would follow. There would be music and dancing and wine. Weddings were not solemn occasions. They were blowouts. That’s why Jesus uses the image of a wedding when he’s asked why his disciples do not fast. He basically says, “Why should they fast? The groom (Jesus) is here; it’s time to party (Mark 2:18-20)!” Second, I wonder if we would do well to make more room for rejoicing in our church services. In one sense, we are still waiting for the groom to return. In another sense, the promise has been made. It’s just a matter of time. I’m a pretty serious guy, so I don’t always go to the rejoicing stuff very naturally. But how would our times together benefit if we could? Just a thought for you this Friday. Keep reading the Good News according to Mark. Can’t wait to see you all on Sunday morning.