Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Re:Following Me

I noticed today that 180 people visited this blog this week, and I feel bad because I have not written since October 2009. This is because I have been busy with family stuff and Village Church. If you would like to follow me in any way search for me on Twitter, and see the links below.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Aren’t

Last night I went to see Where the Wild Things Are. It was not a great a movie. It wasn't even that good in my opinion. At any rate while I was watching it I thought deeply on the themes of kids, imaginations, and the existence of evil. Today I read this article from The Gospel Coalition blog about how these stories help kids connect to the gospel.

This past Saturday I took my three oldest sons to see the movie Where the Wild Things Are. Some Christians are all exercised about the fact that the movie might be too frightening for children. They’re wrong. The movie is not a great one, but that’s not the reason why. As a matter of fact, Where the Wild Things Are fails because it’s not scary enough for your kids.

And there’s something there Chrisians can learn about children, horror, and the gospel.

From the time my sons were babies I’ve read to them the Maurice Sendack classic picture book. They love it, and so do I. They’d sit attentively through Goodnight Moon, but they’d squeal “Let the wild rumpus start!” whenever we’d journey with Max to the place of the wild things.

Children, it turns out, aren’t as naive about evil as we assume they are. Children of every culture, and in every place, seem to have a built-in craving for monsters and dragons and “wild things.” The Maurice Sendak book appeals to kids because it tells them something about what they intuitively know is true. The world around them is scary. There’s a wildness out there. The Sendak book shows the terror of a little boy who is frightened by his own lack of self-control, and who conquers it through self-control, by becoming king of all the wild things.

The Sendak book, with its muted words but fantastic drawings, achieves this sense of wonder and wildness. The movie doesn’t. That’s because the movie tames the wild things too much. It’s not that they’re too scary for children. It’s that they’re not believable as scary. The dialogue sounds like it was lifted from an old episode of Thirtysomething, as the beasts talk through their psychodramas and jealousies and interpersonal offenses with one another. Kids will be entertained because the special effects are good. But they won’t “get it” deep inside like they do the book.

I’m amazed though by the way some Christians react to things like this. They furrow their brow because the Max character screams at this mother, and bites her, even though this is hardly glorified in the movie. They wag their heads at how “dark” the idea of this wild world is. Of course it is “dark.” The universe is dark; that’s why we need the Light of Galilee.

Where the Wild Things Are isn’t going to be a classic movie the way it is a classic book. But the Christian discomfort with wildness will be with us for a while. And it’s the reason too many of our children find Maurice Sendak more realistic than Sunday school.

Too many of our Bible study curricula for children declaw the Bible, excising all the snakes and dragons and wildness. We reduce the Bible to a set of ethical guidelines and a text on how gentle and kind Jesus is. The problem is, our kids know there are monsters out there. God put that awareness in them. They’re looking for a sheep-herding dragon-slayer, the One who can put all the wild things under His feet.

Your kids might be bored by the Wild Things movie. They won’t be bored by the Wild Things book. It’s their story, and mine. But read them the story of Max and his monsters, and then show them the Story they were knit together to love.

And let the wild rumpus start.

Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Is Everything Sad going to Come Untrue"?

Yesterday I got to preach something that inspires me every time I have the privilege to study, think and then speak about: the hope Jesus offers the world in the face of its pain. Let me share some of those thoughts that seemed to challenge and encourage many people yesterday.

One of the most profound resources Christianity offers the world is its unique message of hope. Unlike Secularist theory, that there is nothing beyond death or history, nor like some Eastern mysticism which speaks of our individuality being swallowed up in the All-Soul, or even the religions that speak of a consolation in Paradise. The hope Jesus offers is different. Its unique. That God is one day going to reverse the pain, and more than consolation he is going to bring about restoration.

He is one day going to take the pain, death, drowning, loneliness, hurt, doubt, and fear of our lives, and will reverse it all. Unlike those who perpetrate a prosperity gospel the Bible never says we will always be happy, protected, healthy and wise. The Bible says that those things are not necessarily God's ideal for us, but that when that is our experience we are to take comfort in the fact that they are happening under the sovereignty and lordship of Jesus. He is in control. The Lamb is on the throne (Rev. 5).

In the final book of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, the hobbit Samwise Gamgee sees that Gandalf the Wizard is not dead when he thought he was, and he says to him "Your alive! Is everything sad going to come untrue?" Its a great question. A profound one. And the answer Christianity gives to that question is “Yes!" God is going make everything sad come untrue. One day he will wipe the tear from our eyes, there will be no more pain, sickness, sadness, or death (Rev. 21.4).

But more than just reversal of fortunes the Bible speaks to a deeper mystery here. The death and resurrection of Jesus points to a profound reality: that the eventual glory of that day of reversal, and the eternal experience of those who trust in Christ will somehow be greater for having once experienced brokeness and lostness in this life. "For the sufferings of this present time" Paul says "are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8.18). The hurt, pain, and suffering we face will somehow be put into context in the new creation and make sense in a way which we cannot right now even fathom.

My wife often has bad dreams about me, in fact she informed me this morning that she had another one last night. Sometimes, in the dream, I get hurt, or even die. She experience a profound sense of loss and pain. Then she wakes up and sees me sleeping beside her, and she is overwhelmed with a profound sense of relief and appreciation. When that happens she tends to appreciate me more (at least for a little while!). Why? Because her joy, and love for me as been enriched by her nightmare; it makes me all the more glorious (so to speak). This is the promise and hope Jesus offers to those who entrust their life to Him. Glory on the other side which will do more than console us about the life we never got to live, but restore us to the life we were always intended to.

All of which is why the Apostle Paul says, in 1 Thess 4, that though we mourn in this life, we do not Mourn like those who have not hope. It is a different kind of mourning, a cruciform mourning with anticipation attached to it. An anticipation of something coming.

Which is the reason at least one lady I heard of, buried beneath a large 150-year-old Oak Tree in rural Louisiana, has only one word carved on her tombstone: "Waiting."

That is the difference Jesus makes.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Discipleship of the Mind

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12.2)

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12.30)

If we want to reach and change the world we must reach their minds. Not many Christians are saying this today but I believe it is essential. People are what they think. And the gospel must change the heart, yes, the soul, yes, and the strength, yes - but it must change the mind or else it will not stick or change the life of a person. 

In 1980, Charles Malik came to speak at Wheaton College about evangelism at the grand opening of the Billy Graham Center. He said this:

"At the heart of all the problems facing Western civilization—the manifold perversions of personal character; problems of the family; problems of economics and politics; problems of the media; problems affecting the school itself and the church itself—at the heart of the crisis in Western civilization lies the state of the mind… The true the task of the evangelical world is not only to win souls, for if you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world. Indeed it may turn out that you have actually lost the world.

The Gospel is not about one aspect of a persons life (i.e., their "soul") but offers a new mind as well - because it is all connected, God is redeeming it all - body, soul, mind - everything you are. He promises to do nothing less. 

This is why it is so important to know, teach and hold to sound doctrine. Paul says to Titus "teach sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1.9). Why is this necessary? Because we are teaching people how to think, we are constructing a new worldview for them and that is a very serious, fragile job, especially because both outside and inside the church doctrine is always under attack. It is amazing therefore that evangelicalism, while certainly being aware of the so-called 'culture war' has marginalized the mind so much. It says 'doctrine is under attack!' and yet it does not focus on discipleship of the mind. What it does focus on, often times, is a discipleship of the heart (which usually expresses itself in sentimental sermons, studies, and leaders), or the soul (which expresses itself in sentimental evangelism) or the strength (which expresses itself in an emphasis on 'works').   

One could say that nothing the church does is more important than teaching doctrine, theology, and the Bible. Some say, 'No the most important thing the church does is helping others.' But, we don't know how or why to help others unless the Bible is first explained. If the Bible is clearly and properly explained, helping others will naturally flow from what our minds are being trained to do. 

Mark Noll begins his excellent book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by saying "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." He 

goes on to rightly critique the church for abandoning the universities, the arts, and other realms of 'high' culture. But it wasn't always this way, he says. "Most of the original protestant traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) either developed a vigorous intellectual life or worked out theological principles that could and often did sustain penetrating Christian intellectual endeavor. The Puritans, the leaders of the nineteenth-century evangelical awakenings like John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards (who Noll calls 'the greatest evangelical mind in American history with no intellectual predecessor') all held that rigorous, diligent, intellectual life was a way to glorify God, certainly not the only way, but an important way precisely because they were evangelical Christians." 

One of the reasons for the shriveling of the Evangelical Mind, I submit, is, sectarianism. We are so afraid of the culture we live in, that we run from it, and dare I say, hide from it. We have trouble effecting and influencing the not-yet-Christian culture around us (being salt and light) because we are busy creating our own Christian sub-cultures among already-Christians. Schooling our children in Christian schools and home schools and protecting ourselves from the gates of Hell; meanwhile the imagery of the gates of Hell not prevailing against the church is meant to convey the fact that Hell is playing defense against the church, not the other way around! 

These subcultures we create are not particularly intellectually or artistically stimulating (i.e., Christian Book stores are filled with junk, Christian music is again sentimental and one-dimensional). On the education front men such as Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, despite the absence of formal educational credentials, establish Christian universities. This is not to say what happens at these Universities is not good, needed or used by God unto his glory, or that Christian schools or home-schooling is bad (see here for the latest numbers on home-schooling education vs. public school education) - much that happens here is great, I just think they serve as examples of how the Evangelical Mind has arrived in the present state.

What Do We Do?

We must focus on nurturing the life of the mind. Making disciples is what Jesus told us to do, which literally means "learners" - so in this context we are commissioned to teach (Mat. 28.16-20). Doctrine is important, so the church must not abandon theology and doctrine for fluffy stories and principles. We must not shoot for the lowest common denominator, while at the same time we must be sensible to non-Christians who are seeking and asking questions. But we must not be afraid to have as one of our goals to teach people how to think and what to think. Again this is what Paul calls Titus and Timothy, and every Pastor since, to do: Preach the word, teach doctrine! And when people, like someone I met recently, react negatively toward that concept (calling it 'brainwashing') we must remind them that brainwashing and indoctrination is what is inescapable - it is what rational discourse is. People convincing, and influencing others to think and act in a particular way for a particular reason. It is happening all the time, everywhere we go: every song, every billboard, magazine, classroom, book, internet site - its all unashamedly preaching a worldview; a set of assumptions, beliefs, values and convictions about the world. So why wouldn't the church unashamedly do the same? It is not bad to try to indoctrinate someone, it is the very nature of all discourse and conversation. We must embrace this and seek to train up the life of the mind in people toward the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we should start reading and making more prominent not only evangelical fiction (i.e., Left Behind and not only because I disagree with the theology, which I do, and the Ezekiel Option) but start listening to, reading, and engaging the amazing thinkers within evangelicalism that are developing the life of the mind and bringing credibility to the church through their scholarship: J.I. Packer, John Piper, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Donald Bloesch, Ronald Sider, N.T. Wright, John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga and these are just a few within the last 60 years or so! 

I know popular and more simplistic writing is easier to consume for the masses, and I am not condemning it, but I do wonder about the future of Christian thought if Christians are exposed to this kind of writing and thought exclusively. I wonder about Christian scholarship sometimes, and whether preachers, teachers, and congregations will be able to handle such a thing after a generation has gone through a church-cycle which never developed the life of the mind, but only catered to the heart and left people unchallenged and thus unchanged.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections (so far) on Revelation 1-3

Last week we started a new series at DSF (the evening service at South Delta Baptist Church) - The Jesus Letters: Revelation 1-3. This section of scripture is so interesting and intriguing on so many level. I intended the series to cover one church, of the seven, per night/sermon but realized as I worked on the material that there is too much rich theology and practical instruction here; that we need to take our time on these letters. So the first message was, The Cosmic Jesus, covered Revelation 1.9-20 - the amazing presentation of Jesus Christ as the Son of Man. 

Among the many things that came out of this (watch here / listen here) - was the idea that this presentation of who Jesus is (the son of man dressed in a robe, a golden sash, fiery eyes, white hair, feet of bronze, two-edged sword, face like the sun) is the presentation of who Jesus is now. That in John's situation of pressure and tribulation and persecution and temptation the Jesus of the Gospels would have been helpful: the one who change water into wine, and calmed the seas etc., - but that is not what God gives him here - that in addition to that portrait of Jesus, he, and we, need something else - So when God pulls the curtain back to reveal reality as it now is in the heavenly/spiritual we see Jesus in this amazing vision and we realize that this is Jesus Christ as he is now

Cosmic Jesus: Continuity/Discontinuity 
Jesus is different now than he was, but in many ways, he is of course the same. The continuity is that he is the same person, and that he will now be human forever, limited in that sense, which is important when we think of the eternal cost of the incarnation. He will, many think, still have the marks of the crucifixion on his hands and side when we see him in glory (though that is not mentioned here, reflection on Revelation 4 may hint at it). But there is a discontinuity between this Jesus and the one who ministered around Galilee as well. Here he is fully sovereign (holding the seven stars in his right hand), he is resting in his finished work (sash around his chest), his eyes are blazing fire. In fact there is a scandal here as well: the images and description of YHWH and the Son of Man from the Old Testament get fused together and applied to Jesus here. In Dan. 7 YHWH has white hair but now "the son of man... his head and hair were white like wool, white as snow" (Rev. 1.14). This is Jesus as he now is: triumphant Jesus, the cosmic ruler of the universe - this is what the church needs to hear both in John's day and ours. 

Wicked Men
As I read, prepared for and preached Revelation 2.1-3, in the second message of this series, I was struck by one encouragement to the church in Ephesus in particular: "you cannot tolerate wicked men" (v.3). Jesus is congratulating them that there lives and heart and minds are progressively more and more saddened and frustrated and grieved by the evil actions of the world around them, and that this is a sure sign of their sanctification; their growing in Christian purity and maturity. Can we cry out with the Psalmist: "My eyes shed streams of water, Because they do not keep Your law" (Ps. 119.136). He is pained by the disconnect of God and humankind. He is so close to God that when someone works against God and his purposes it pains him, like if someone offends a spouse or friend we are pained. Is this our experience?

The flip side is true as well however: if we do not find ourselves becoming more and more upset, and saddened, and maddened by the evil around us, the sin, the idolatry; then maybe we are not growing at all. If we are not more bereaved now then we were two years ago, than maybe we are not becoming more holy, more other, more set apart unto God and his purposes in our lives, but we are staying the same. This is not good. This is not what we were meant for as humans - we are never static, we are always growing one way or the other. There is no neutral ground, Lewis pointed out, and its true. 

The balance to keep is this: be upset by the evil, be upset and saddened by the sin - but we have to find ways to engage it - we can't leave it unto itself to just continue being evil - evil men are evil because they have not been touched by the light. Followers of Jesus can never forget this. As John Stott pointed out years ago you never blame a room for being dark - when you walk in to a dark room you ask one question: Where is the light? 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sent: The Missional God

God sent because we needed him to. The God expressed most fully and finally in Jesus of Nazareth is not the god of deism who sits back and watches as we live our lives, uninvolved. He is not the god of Graeco-Roman mythology, waiting to punish us if we mess up in life, which we do everyday, which is not to say He has no wrath or anger, He does, which would be expected if He were real - with the injustice and perversion of a world like ours, where, for instance children are raped, kidnapped and sold into a sex-trade which is more pervasive than any of us wants to admit. Where genocide still flourishes, where poverty still kills millions, where wealth is so unequally distributed. God is angry about all of this be sure.

But instead of just dealing out death and judgment to each of us who is guilty and deserving of it, this God, the one true God, full of grace and truth (John 1.14), does something else: He satisfies his wrath and anger by sending his Son - Why did he send him? To die in our place; because of us, for us and instead of us, so that if we come under that sacrifice by faith the just condemnation no longer gets applied to us, meted out on us, precisely because it was applied to him. This is why 'it pleased the Lord to crush him' (Isa. 53)l not because God oves to punish and hurt his Son, but because He knew what that punishment was actually accomplishing. Salvation for the world. 'God has sent his only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through him...this is love: that God loved us and sent his Son, and whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him' (1 John 4.9-15).

God rescued us, we did not rescue ourselves, no matter what the 'myth of progress' preaches at us everyday from internet, TV, and film-screen. God is the ultimate missionary, the first mover, the Father running out to embrace the prodigal. We live because he died and rose again in our place. Al of this because He sent. He got involved. he became part of this mess. Death by love.

The missionary/sending nature of God is central in to his character.

This is seen amazingly in the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel begins with the incarnation, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14), in John 3:16-17 the Father sends the Son, and the book ends with Jesus sending his disciples in John 20:21. Beyond these three passages Jesus sees himself as one “sent by the Father” astonishingly more than twenty-five times:

John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that whomever should believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

John 3:34
“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God.”

John 5:23
“He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

John 5:24
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life.”

John 5:30
“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

John 5:36-38
“These very words which I am doing, bear witness that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me.”

John 6:38
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

John 6:44
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

John 7:28-29
“But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I came from him, and he sent me.”

John 7:33
“I shall be with you a little longer, and then I go to him who sent me.”

John 8:18
“I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me.”

John 8:26
“He who sent me is true.”

John 8:29
“And he who sent me is with me.”

John 8:42
“I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”

John 9:4
“We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day.”

John 12:44-45
“He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me.”

John 12:49
“The Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment what to say and what to speak.”

John 13:20
“He who receives me receives him who sent me.”

John 14:24
“The word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

John 14:26
“The Counselor will teach you everything and will cause you to remember all that I told you. This Counselor is the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name.”

John 16:7
“If I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

John 17:3
“And they have believed that you have sent me.”

John 17:18
“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

John 17:25
“They know that you have sent me.”

John 20.21
"As the Father sent me, now I send you"

So, we must listen, and embrace the Son that God sent for us, by faith in his finished work on our behalf, and then embrace our own sent-ness - our own missional calling, sent by God to love, care for and minster to people from a gospel-centered life. This is a sending that is not for super-disciples, not only for those traditionally called "missionaries", but for every follower of Jesus. Send to love and proclaim in our work-place, our schools, our relationships, our families. Sent to and for the ones you live and move beside.

If you are a follower of Jesus, one who has believed and confesses him as the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, you've been sent.

If this is you the question is: 'Am i embracing my sent-ness' ? Am I acting sent?'

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Up: An Adventure for the History Books

Every once in a while a movie comes along, that is so good that it is hard to explain it to people. Up is one of those movies. People ask me about it, and I find it hard to contain my excitement. It is just brilliant on every level. It looks great (colorful, bright, graphically stunning), but more than that, the story is great. It reminds us that nothing can trump a good story. 

Not all the graphics in the world can trump good writing and stories that transcend and touch all people. As we will see later this summer when Transformers comes out (already breaking box office records with pre-sales) and is full non-stop, mind blowing visual effects, but is completely void of any story whatsoever (not surprisingly confirmed by Empire Magazine who has seen the film and wonders if it was shot by a 13 year old boy because of its gratuitous obsession with Megan Fox's torso (see here), among other problems.

Up though never looses itself in effects (even though it is Disney 3-D); they are a supporting role to the story. Classic Pixar. Characters we love, adventure and action, funny and above all applicable and touching. It is about the human experience; never getting to go and do the things you and your spouse always promised to do, and then it being too late because life has a way of just getting in the way. Finding love and caring in the most unlikely places. And living so as not to regret. Up is the direction ones heart soars while watching this movie, through the pain and sadness it opens with right on through the laughter to the humbling ending.

When I last checked the film was rated 88/100 on Metacritic, the highest rated mainstream film of the year, and it deserves it.