Love Your Enemies

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.

New Sunday School Class

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.

Dirty Jobs: Classical Edition

"...and he was transfigured before them. 3And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them." (Mark 9:2-3, KJV) File this under “random gross Bible trivia.” A while back, during one of our dinners at LIFEgroup, someone made the mistake of wondering out loud how ancient people cleaned their clothes. Then I made the mistake of telling them…at the dinner table. While I don’t know how the ancient Israelites cleaned their clothes, I do know how the Romans went about it. There’s a particularly interesting description of the process in a book I got for Christmas called Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World by Vicki León. One of the “prized professions” that León describes is that of fuller—the classical equivalent to our dry cleaners. Fullers cleaned garments by soaking them in a giant vat of cleaning solution and then transferring them to another container to stomp them clean. They would then ring out the clothes—a job that might take two people, depending on the size of the garment. Perhaps you’re wondering why this should make for less than germane dinner conversation. I haven’t told you about the cleaning solution. The Romans hadn’t yet adopted the use of soap. Ironically, the German “barbarians” of the day were using it, but not the Romans. Instead, the Romans used a mixture of potash and urine. Yes, urine. Since it is rich in ammonia, it actually has cleaning properties. According to León, the fuller would place chamber pots at various street corners. (Although I guess it’s not really a “chamber” pot if it’s not in a chamber--more of an extremely portable potty.) Throughout the day, various citizens would provide the vital ingredient, and the fuller would then retrieve the pots. The stomping process was called the saltus fullonicus, or “fuller’s dance.” It’s believed that managers even kept their fullers moving with live music. Yup. Just another reason to be glad that we live in 21st Century America. I trust you’ll breath a sigh of relief the next time you load up a dishwasher and add a cap full of something that’s not urine. I wonder if Mike Rowe would take this job.

Kings, part 2

Aland left a comment following my last entry about the NBC show Kings. He makes a good case for why it’s NOT worth watching. Take a moment and read it. Aland’s frustration makes sense. Kings co-opts the biblical account and twists it to its own ends. It turns the story into a reflection of 21st Century moral values and abandons those that are inconvenient or uncool. If I’m not misreading, I think Aland is lamenting a very real truth: Film and TV don’t understand evangelical Christianity. (There are possible exceptions to this--Walden Media and the “Tyler Perry Empire” among them.) I’ll be watching with interest to see what they do with the “Jack” character. It’s possible that they’re not going to bother making him anything like the biblical Jonathan. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see what looks like a rivalry turn into a friendship between David and Jack. Characters develop. Here’s why I’m going to keep watching Kings: It’s entertaining. It would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that it’s just fun. It’s beautifully filmed. It’s dramatic. And there are some great cast members (Ian McShane as King Silas and Susanna Thompson as Queen Rose). I continue to love the scenes with the prophet, Reverend Samuel. After watching episode 2, I’m actually thinking it’s more like Shakespeare than anything else--complete with two palace guards for clowns and a very King Lear-like scene where Silas stands on the palace roof while the rain pours down. It’s (somewhat) biblical. While it will pick and choose, Kings does reflect some of the Bible’s ethics. The most prominent is the issue of power and what it does to us humans. The story of Silas/Saul is of a man who is corrupted by power. He takes what he wants by any means necessary. And once he has ascended to power, he will do anything to maintain his position. He refuses to acknowledge his dependence on God. He acts as though everything he has, he has gotten on his own. And, therefore, he is not to be bothered with what is right or wrong. I’m assuming the same thing will happen with David Shepherd on the TV show. At least that’s what happens to the biblical David. He is just as good at abusing power as Saul is. The Bathsheba incident is the most prominent example. In addition, his family becomes a train wreck. Even his final words are of vengeance rather than of devotion to God. In the TV show there's this quote from David Shepherd's mother that I love. She's explaining to the King's daughter why she hopes that David doesn't stay in Shiloh. She says that she knows that David has a destiny. Then she says:
“People with destinies, things don't go well for them. They die old and unhappy, or young and unfinished."
There is good evidence that the David of the Bible dies old and unhappy. I have to say, I’m no longer sure that David is supposed to be a role model for us--at least not in any carte blanche way. I love how his relationship with God endures his flaws. I love his honesty in confession. I love his ability to maintain his respect for a corrupt king. But let’s be honest, the guy can be a real stinker. I actually love him less as a hero and more as a reminder of myself. Maybe we make too much of this “man after God’s own heart” idea. Unless I’m missing some other example, this statement is made about David early on in his life and only as a comparison to the corruption of Saul. I wonder if the same thing can be said about him at the end of his life. It seems like, if you do, you have to qualify it significantly. Which is what ends up happening. After all, he may be a “man after God’s own heart,” but he’s not fit to build the temple, a house for that same God. Whenever David is mentioned in the Christian scriptures, he is mentioned off-handedly as the author of a Psalm, or to make Jesus’ identity legitimate to the Jewish people, or (most importantly) as a foil for Jesus. The most common statement about him goes something like: “David was fine and everything, but he’s just rotting away in a tomb right now. Now let us show you how a real man/real King does it.” And then they point to Jesus. It’s worth repeating. The true hero of scripture is God. All the rest have feet of clay. But that’s why I like Kings. Hopefully (at least until NBC drops it), we’ll get to see our own humanity reflected back to us, for better and for worse. And, hopefully, they’ll continue to do it in a quality way. What do you think? Leave a comment.


He asked, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Ezekiel 37:3 Can this Blog live? We’ll see. It’s worth taking another crack at it. And what could possibly cause me to break my silence? What else but television! Yay, television! Anybody else catch the season premiere of Kings last Sunday? If the over all numbers are any indication, it’s not likely. I’m sure NBC was pretty disappointed. Which, in this age of network impatience, means the show probably won’t be around for long. If you’re going to, you’d better catch it while you can. You can watch it at the NBC website or on Hulu. For those of you who have read your Bible, it’s more than worth it. Kings is a modern day take on the stories found in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. It’s the story of David and Goliath, King Saul, Jonathan, Michal, and the prophet Samuel. Besides, anything with Ian McShane (King Silas) is worth consideration. The story is set in Shiloh, a booming metropolis and the capital of King Silas’ domain. Young David Shepherd (get it, “shepherd”?) is discovered on a remote farm by the Reverend Samuel, who anoints him by giving him a watch that’s engraved with the royal seal. Cut to a battlefield where David singlehandedly destroys a tank (called a Goliath) and rescues the King’s son, Jack, from behind enemy lines. David returns to Shiloh as a national hero and is given a reputable position in the King’s court. There are numerous parallels to the Biblical account. Too many to name here. My favorite scenes involve the Rev. Samuel, especially the scene in which he comes to King Silas to inform him that the Lord’s favor no longer rests with him and that another king will be taking his place. There are also places where the show differs from the Biblical narrative. (One such example involves the King's son, Jack.) Some critics are calling it a soap opera. Others are calling it Shakespearean. Both descriptions are accurate. For my part, I’d just call it Biblical. It’s not for the kids. But, technically, neither are the stories of the Old Testament--at least not the uncensored versions. The characters are appropriately sketchy, as were the people of Ancient Israel. Remember, the only real hero in scripture is God. The rest are prone to weaknesses of all kinds: violence, lust, fear, jealousy, deceit. It’s all there in the Bible, and it makes for pretty good drama. I doubt it will be around for long, which is a shame, because I’d really like to see the drama unfold. Most intriguing [and tragic] would be getting to watch David, the young, charismatic farm boy, become the deeply flawed king. Equally amazing would be the opportunity to see his redemption. There’s enough source material to keep this thing going for a long time. There just doesn’t seem to be enough viewers. Oh well, I guess I could just read my Bible.

Finding Our Way

Who’s your favorite person in the Bible? And you can’t answer Jesus, because everyone knows that’s who you’re supposed to answer. Who is your favorite non-Messianic man or woman from scripture?

Far and away, my favorite is Jacob. No contest. I like Jacob, because he’s so imperfect. If you were to paint a picture of Jacob, there’s no way he would deserve a halo. He’s a schemer and a scoundrel. He’s so flawed. He buys his older brother Esau’s birthright with a bowl of stew. With his mother’s help he steals Esau’s inheritance by deceiving his old, blind father. After running away and living with his uncle Laban, he manages to leave with all of Laban’s best livestock. And in spite of all of this, Jacob, prospers. Scripture is very clear to say that the LORD blessed Jacob.

But of course, the blessing is never quite what we expect, right? Like they say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Jacob prospers. He has numerous servants, wives, children, and livestock. He is rich. But he is also deceived by his family. He must run from the anger of his brother and of his uncle. And on the night before he is reunited with his brother, he spends an entire night wrestling with God. Finally, toward morning, Jacob asks for a blessing from God. He gets it, but he also walks away with a limp that he carries for the rest of his life.

In Jacob Beuchner’s Son of Laughter, a fictional retelling of the story, Jacob compares the blessings of the LORD to a runaway camel. Eventually all he can do is hold on for dear life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jacob’s runaway blessings lately, and the warning about “being careful what you wish for.” This morning I want us to start talking about how Jesus changes lives. If that’s are theme for the year and our mission as a church, we would do well to think about what it means to ask Jesus to change our lives. And the best place to start seems to me to be this question: Do we really want Jesus to change our lives? Do we dare ask Jesus to change our lives? And if we do, will we get a runaway blessing?

It reminds me of a quote from Ben Witherington’s blog in which he’s talking about the place where Jesus is born. He concludes it this way:

The old medieval Christmas poem said 'though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he's not born in you, your heart is still forlorn.' Let me just tell you however, if you let that Guest into your inner sanctum, even if you put him in the very back, he will surely take over and become the center of attention in due course. (

Jesus will change our lives. Are we prepared for the changes he’ll make?