Not What Our Forefathers Had In Mind [Video]

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy.

There is nothing wrong with making a really great living.

But it feels like there is something wrong with a system that has allowed this:

Here are just a few thoughts that struck me as I watched this video.

Christians should find this unsettling

I would HOPE that this would make even the most conservative, capitalist, free-market Christian uncomfortable. I’m not a socialist by any means, and I think competition in an open market brings out better products. But to anyone claiming allegiance to Jesus, the disparity illustrated here should be unsettling. Our primary citizenship should be as members of the Kingdom of God, not Americans. We do hold citizenship in both realms, but check out what Luke 14 says:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who doesn’t carry his cross and follow my cannot be my disciple.

By comparison, Jesus’ disciples must put their love and allegiance in Him above all else. Jesus followers have a higher calling to view people with an extremely high regard. Seeing such a disparity should tug at our heartstrings, especially because the God we worship cares so much for the “least of these.”

The “next step up” never feels extravagant

Think about it. The level of the “top 1%” seems extravagant to those trying to “scrape by.” But they didn’t get there overnight. They just reached for the next income level, and then the next one. It only seem extravagant because it’s way out of your reach, but when you are knocking on the door of the next income level above you, does it seem extravagant?

To the person in a squalid hut in Africa, an apartment with running water is extravagant.

But to the person renting that apartment, owning a home (probably looking for more space) doesn’t seem extravagant at all.

It just seems like the next step.

No one thinks they are rich. The American Dream, that anyone in America can get as rich as possible any way possible is a sham. Greed drives this “next step up” mentality and causes us to be discontented with what we have. Studies have shown that we are living so far outside of our means that nearly everyone in America describes the perfect salary as about 40% more than what they currently make.

“If only I could afford _____________, then I would be able to relax.”

This is the dangling carrot that you’ll never catch.

To someone else, you are the one with “more”

There is always someone with more, but that means there is always someone with less. It is easy to sit on your high horse and say, “shame on all those rich people.” But here’s the real deal:

You are [almost certainly] not the lowest person on this chart.

There is someone with less than you. All of us can point to where the problem is and it never seems to be with us. Because we don’t think we have enough. We strive for that “comfortable” level, but it never comes. The way this cycle breaks is that we all need to work to break the strangle-hold possessions and money have on our hearts.

Give generously!

And when it starts to hurt, when we start to feel the pinch of giving, we need to give just a little more.

It’s time to debunk the lie that we are poor, and that we don’t have any flexibility in our income. It’s time to start looking out for those that have less than ourselves.

It’s time to let Christ make us generous people and let that be one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the world.

What stood out in this video to you?

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“The Bible” on the History Channel

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The Bible is a 10-hour epic miniseries on History Channel that portrays the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. It premieres March 3 at 8pm EST.

You don’t want to miss this.

In the weeks following this post, a good portion of America might actually be engaging in conversation about the Bible. Let that sink in. Your coworkers may watch. Conversation started. Maybe your kids may tune in. Ice broken. Maybe you even invite someone over to watch, or just invite them to watch. groundwork laid.

I’m talking, of course, about History Channel’s new miniseries on the Bible, produced by Reality TV mogul Mark Burnett, and his wife, Roma Downey. There has been a lot of press around this miniseries, hitting from all angles, to be sure. Without going into the critical analyses (especially having not seen it yet, myself), suffice it to say you cannot produce a 10-hour epic portrayal of the Bible without some push back.

God’s Word, The Greatly Abridged Version

But what should Christians think about such a series?

Glad for the conversation

As Christians, we ought to be very glad whenever discussions are started around what we believe. Heck, we ought to be thankful for conversations about the opposite of what we believe as well! People are about to watch the story of God’s chosen nation, Israel, and his loving provision for them. They will watch and learn about not just Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrection. They may get a visual of what it means to be a disciple.

It’s time we just got excited about the conversation.

But what if it’s all “Hollywood?”

This is probably true. There will probably be inaccuracies. I’m sure there were some “punches pulled” so that various people groups wouldn’t be offended by the content (see this CNN writeup). But the real question is why are we trying to “punch” people with the Gospel?

It’s Hollywood! Ultimately, Burnett and Downey, as well as the History Channel and the A&E family of networks are after ratings! Liberties will be taken, stories that you and I might consider “crucial” will probably be left out. It is possible that this will be one big 2nd-grade Sunday School lesson, just portraying the biblical stories.

But they’re still portraying biblical stories.

So what do Christians do?

We embrace this, full force. This will be 10x more visually engaging than any sermon, and we live in a visual culture. We live in a world that loves story. To prove it, complete the following quotes:

  • Go Ahead, _____ ______ _____.
  • You had me at _________.
  • Life is like a _____ __ _________.

Most likely, you don’t just know the rest of the quote, but you can picture the scene, context and dialogue surrounding the quote. This is great for our culture.

When we do have conversations, we must “have an answer for anyone that may ask” about the Hope we have, the faith we claim. And we need to “do it with gentleness and respect.”

Let’s embrace this advancement of God’s Kingdom and use it to point people to Christ!

Three Lessons on Faith from ABC’s Shark Tank

These wise investors can teach Christians a lot about knowing what to look for.

These wise investors can teach Christians a lot about knowing what to look for.

I LOVE ABC’s Shark Tank. I can’t get enough of this show. Maybe it’s because of the competitive nature of the “sharks.” It could be because I love keeping up with technology and it’s fascinating to see what innovations are coming down the pipeline (although not everything is a techy gadget). Whatever it is, I love this show.

If you are not familiar with Shark Tank, the premise is that there are five self-made millionaire and billionaire entrepreneurs and investors that are offering up their own money to invest in startup companies that come and make a pitch. It can sometimes be pretty brutal on the “shark bait” end or, in some instances, a great opportunity is pitched and the sharks turn on one another. That’s when it gets interesting. I have seen multi-million dollar operations walk out the door, and I have seen a 15-year-old girl literally name her deal. Check out an episode of the show below (clip via YouTube):

Watching a lot of this show, there are a few things I have noticed that Christians may be able to learn from watching the show.

THE SHARKS RECOGNIZE DECEPTION

It happens all the time. An entrepreneur will come in looking for a Shark to offer the lifeline their dying company desperately needs. But in an attempt to project confidence, they mention all the “good” numbers and hope the sharks don’t ask about their bad ones. But these sharks are wise, experienced and they can smell deception from a mile away. They actually call this scenario “blood in the water.”

For Christians, the Bible tells us that our enemy is a “deceiver.” He wraps his lies in truth so that they seem to make sense. In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus by quoting Scripture (see also HERE). Peter tells us our enemy, the devil, “is like a prowling lion, waiting for someone to devour.” The world will throw all kinds of deceptive teaching at us. In some cases, folks will use the Bible to make their case, even when the basis of their argument goes against the Biblical grain. The things the world throws at us will seem attractive, they will seem to make sense and it will be tempting to accept them.

Believers should strive to learn the Word of God so intimately that they recognize deception at first glance, and treat it as viciously as the Sharks do on the show.

THE SHARKS SAY “NO” TO A LOT OF GREAT IDEAS

Shark Tank airs on ABC, Friday nights at 9/8c.

Shark Tank airs on ABC, Friday Nights at 9/8c.I’m shocked at how often sharks will compliment a business and then say, “I’m Out.” They know their skill sets and they are comfortable with what they bring to the table. In some instances, they know that while it could be a great financial investment, it will pull their time investment away from more important projects.

There are a lot of great things in life. Great opportunities come our way, and it can be tempting to bite on them. Keeping our priorities, our giftedness, our calling in check will help us fish through some of these. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. Is this a good thing? (Philippians 4:8)
  2. Is it going to take my focus off of more important things?
  3. Is it in line with the gifts and passions God has uniquely given me? (Romans 12:6-8)

We each have unique “spiritual DNA.” God made us with special purposes and skills. We will find a great amount of fulfillment in life when we allow those things to guide our decisions.

THE SHARKS EXPECT GROWTH

The sharks know that healthy companies will grow. They look for companies with growth patterns prior to entering the tank. They also only invest if they expect continued growth.

Likewise, for Christians, growth is only natural. We should be maturing in our faith. We should not only know more of our Bible now than when we first believed, but we should grow in knowing it — and knowing God — more deeply. We should be able to explain things that used to be tough for us to understand. The writer of Hebrews actually says that the believers ought to have moved along a natural progression to being teachers already. IT IS POSSIBLE TO STUNT YOUR GROWTH. It is possible to consume, consume, consume church and by never exercising what we learn, become spiritually obese and out of shape. It is possible to keep obstacles in your life that act as obstacles to keep you from growing and keep you from being healthy.

What is your favorite show? Can Christians learn anything from it?

Three Lessons for the Start of Lent

[Credit where it’s due: The inspiration for this post comes from a recent sermon from Pastor Tim Lucas at Liquid Church in New Jersey. Listen to/watch their Lent sermon series HERE]

With yesterday’s celebration of Ash Wednesday, the season known as “Lent” has officially begun. Lent is a 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, meant to represent the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert at the onset of his public ministry (Read the story here).

While in the desert, we are told that Jesus fasted, and so one of the most notable markers of Christians celebrating Lent is selective fasting for forty days — giving up any number of things for the forty day period. Some examples of the most common items are listed below (based on twitter #lent hashtags, source: Christianity Today):

Most common things being given up for lent; size represents frequency.

Giving something up can be a great thing. Denying our fleshly desires and using that energy to focus on God can be a great spiritual discipline. But I think this story teaches a couple other lessons, and that all believers would do well to glean some wisdom from this narrative. (For reference purposes, I will be following Matthew’s account of the story).

THE SPIRIT DID THE LEADING (4:1)

The first fact we see in this story is that Jesus was led by the spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. If the Spirit would lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, he might similarly lead us into times of dryness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness.” We shouldn’t live our lives focusing on staying within a comfortable situation, assuming that trouble is always the Devil’s doing. The devil doesn’t show up in this story until the end of the 40 days. Before that it was just a time of hardship. Times of dryness and periods in the “valley,” offer Christians opportunities to feel their own weakness and rely on God’s strength.

SATAN USED SCRIPTURE (4:6)

We need to be seriously watchful against this. Satan knows the Bible, and probably better than you or I. He knows his opponent, has advanced scouting reports and has watched lots and lots of game film. Don’t take him lightly.

Seriously, though, it needs to be pointed out that Satan knows what the Bible says, and in this story he shows that he is okay with mangling it to serve his purposes. He doesn’t say anything that’s unbiblical, but he tries to apply it to meet Jesus’ personal desires. Likewise, as we approach all kinds of cultural issues, we can see many people support their agenda with Scripture but often times they don’t take into account what the whole of Scripture has to say on the topic.

Sometimes it can be a great thing to challenge the “establishment.” But we must be cautious of Scripture being used to push our own agendas. Lies are simply false statements, but deceptions are lies wrapped in truth. Satan is a master deceiver. Be wise in how you accept these arguments and ground yourself in the Biblical text first.

JESUS DIDN’T HAVE A BIBLE WITH HIM

This isn’t explicit. But it doesn’t say that he said, “Wait a minute, Satan, let me look up what the Bible says about this before I respond.” Jesus had internalized Scripture. He knew the tempter’s schemes, and he had Scripture ready to go at every turn. When temptation strikes, it can be a great thing to turn to the Word. If it’s not available, though, you’re in trouble. Believers should know what they believe. We should be ready to combat Satan and his lies. We should invite God’s spirit to speak through us by verbalizing his Words on our lips.

Lent would be a great time to start building an arsenal for just such occasions. There will be times when you feel exhausted from the desert you’ve been going through, and that is when Satan will wish to deliver your final blow. God’s wisdom is the sword with which we fight back.

I hope these lessons give you something to think about  as we start this Lenten season this year.

What about you — how are you celebrating Lent this year?

3 Reasons Why the Pope’s Resignation is Important

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

Yesterday, the world was shocked at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning at the end of the month. This is HUGE news in religious circles, whether you are Catholic or not, because this hasn’t happened since before the protestant reformation. That makes it a big deal.

Every protestant takes a different stand on Catholicism, ranging anywhere from brotherhood despite differences, to apathy concerning differences, to condemnation of perceived idolatry (worship of the saints) and perceived heretical teachings. Some see the Roman church as brothers and sisters in Christ. Others are more acrimonious.

Regardless of where you fall, events like this one offer a great platform for dialogue with those who believe differently than ourselves. It’s an open door for conversation, and a great excuse to bring the gospel into your daily life.

Here are a few reasons this is important and questions that this event might raise:

BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?

The Catholic Faith has a different authority structure than do the Reformed/Protestant or Restoration (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) traditions. While the latter would affirm that Scripture holds authority on its own, the Catholic Church argues that we need someone to interpret Scripture. Both would argue for the authority Scripture, but the Catholic Church lets its Cardinals have the final say and absolute authority over issues of faith and morality.

As the highest-ranking Cardinal, the See of Rome (aka the Pope) is believed to be speaking in the role of the apostles, following their succession based on the authority given to Peter in Matthew 16. If this is a divine appointment of infallible authority, how may a man simply “step down” out of that position? I’m sure the Church has a procedure and an answer for this, but your average Catholic coworker probably doesn’t know it, so it could at least make for some good conversation.

WHAT IS REALLY CHANGING?

In his official statement, the Pope cited, “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” as one of the reasons he is stepping down. Yet Solomon (the wisest man that ever lived, by the way) said:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

The first-century communities to whom Paul wrote were corrected for sexual immorality; Our culture is seriously sensualized. They worshiped many gods; our world promotes pluralism, subjective truth and the “different paths up the same mountain” theology. They were greedy; America (enough said). The religious among them were legalistic with judgmental hearts; our churches are criticized for having too many hypocrites.

The question is this: Is the world really changing that much? I don’t know that it is, but that is good news. It means the Bible tells us more about humanity than about specific humans. It is still relevant. It still applies. It is still truth.

THERE’S STILL THEOLOGICAL DISAGREEMENT

How about just having a conversation about where you differ in belief? What about the issue of saints (Catholic v. Protestant view), Justification (Faith v. Works), The Priesthood, Purgatory, Authority, etc. These might drive you into your Bible to grapple with tough questions and that is a good thing. The challenge is to have these conversations and decide where you agree and disagree and whether you can have fellowship as brothers and sisters that is built on the similarities. We are sinners. Christ died for our sins. He saves us by grace. On these and other things, Christians and Catholics tend to agree, and these are pretty big questions.

What other questions does Pope Benedict’s resignation bring forward?

Weekend Roundup

WeekendRoundup

I’ve been a little light on posts this week, as “ChurchPastor” responsibilities have trumped “ChurchlessPastor” writing. But here are a few things I have found of interest around the web that should make for interesting reading this weekend!

  • Interesting read on the Inauguration Bibles.
  • Great observations about the church “Back Door” from Thom Rainer.
  • Great resource for churches wanting better recording options outside the Auditorium. Technology is SWEET!
  • Tongue-in-cheek alert: Internet users ask for less interactivity on websites. Made me wonder, at least, if we (especially churches) are being intentional about what we include on our websites, or if we are just including things because everyone else is.
  • 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Married.
  • If you don’t know about Noisetrade, it’s awesome. Check it out. While you’re at it, check out Dustin Ruth, whose EP is amazing and available for FREE DOWNLOAD (don’t forget to tip)!
  • This strikes me as silly. This isn’t an article about Christians in politics, but can we (the Church) please keep the main thing the main thing? Pray for the President. Be involved in politics. But first and foremost be a light to those around you.
  • One of my favorite iPhone apps is making a splash. AND it’s only $0.99 for a “very limited time.
  • Stop pretending to Love Jesus
  • Can’t wait to try THIS.

What are your reactions to the links above?

Weekend Quick Hits

Here are some interesting reads for you to consider over the weekend!

See you on the other side of the weekend!

 

On Gun (Out of) Control, Politics and Faith

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Image from Google Images

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Almost everyone has heard this phrase at some point or another. Some may even know its origins. But every time a big story breaks, everyone with a keyboard thinks that they have something unique to say, something that hasn’t been driven into the ground over and over again. We are still seeing the fallout of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT — posts about gun control, Piers Morgan and mental health blowing up facebook news feeds across the nation.

Allow me to add to the fray.

What I will say here comes from a heavy heart. It comes from weeks of wondering if I should voice my thoughts on a very volatile topic. It comes from knowing that what I have to say is not new, but feeling pained that I have not heard more of it in recent weeks. What I have to say is mostly to Christians, but I hope would resonate with all.

In a culture where religious beliefs and political ideals have become far too intertwined, I have been deeply bothered by the reaction of the Body of Christ to a horrific crime. Many have used this as a springboard to the “10 Commandments will fix everything” platform. Others have used this as an opportunity to draw connections between gun regulations and the government telling people not to be Christian. Some have said hateful things and ascribed a vengeful attitude to God that, at the very least, cannot be proclaimed with any real certainty (although these pundits would like you to believe otherwise).

I don’t have answers for why terrible things happen. But I can tell you that the answer is not in legislation, and it’s not in gun rights, either. Christians seem to have forgotten that at the core of what we call ourselves is CHRIST. Our goal is to point back to HIM. Our goal is to be set apart as a part of HIS body. HE is worthy of all glory and honor and power. Our trust is to be in HIM (See how Paul puts it)!

As I see it, the debate at hand is between Christians who just want to cling to their precious firearms and Christians who want to say God sent divine lightning from heaven to judge America for _____________ (feel free to fill in the blank — you’ve read their rantings). We wonder why the Christian voice has lost credibility in our society.

I have seen so many of my Christian friends on facebook posting meme after meme of 2nd-amendment propaganda that in some cases I seriously begin to wonder if they worship the God of the Bible or the Bill of Rights. I have to wonder whether their trust is in God to provide for them or their hope for the future actually rests in their firearms.

Jesus called his disciples the light of the world. His church is the salt that will preserve the Earth (Matthew 5:13-16). The problem here has nothing to do with gun control. It has everything to do with the fact that we live in a world that is broken. It has everything to do with the fact that humankind is plagued with a heart condition called sinfulness. It has everything to do with the fact that we do not know what tomorrow may hold and that Jesus called himself the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE (John 14:6). This has everything to do with loving God before loving anything else.

The Christian position should be to honor our government as God’s ordained means of order in our world (Romans 13). The Christian position should be to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and show the world that we are people who understand, respect and celebrate authority (note: if you would like to say that the early apostles all stood up to the government, those were all in situations where they were being told to not proclaim the gospel, and it was most commonly the religious leaders they stood up to, not the state). Until the day when you are actually told by a government official to stay silent because of your faith, focus your energy where it matters: showing those around you the amazing and unmatched love of Christ.

What happened in Connecticut is deplorable. There’s no doubt about that. But to use it as a means to step up on a second-amendment soapbox is supremely unloving to the families whose lives have been changed forever. Pray for those families. Engage in conversations whenever you can about the reality of good and evil, holiness and sin. Talk about our need for a Savior and how Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).

But please, please, please stop missing the point.