823 Years?!?

I recently saw the following pop up on facebook:

Supposedly we are experiencing a once-in-a-millenium month in March 2013

Supposedly we are experiencing a once-in-a-millenium month in March 2013

If you read the caption, it claims that a March with FIVE Fridays, FIVE Saturdays and FIVE Sundays only happens once every 823 years.

This is clearly ridiculous.

March always has 31 days, so it will always be such a situation any time the month starts on a Friday. Depending on leap years, it happens every 5-6 years. The next time it will happen is 2019.

Even if a leap year skipped a March 1, Friday (as it will in 2036), you will only go 12 years without a March like this.

And don’t get me started on the completely arbitrary and incorrect use of “Feng Shui” for the purpose of sounding mystical.

BUT WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

I lost count of the number of times I have seen this on facebook. It’s spreading like wildfire. Are we really so gullible?

This got me thinking about the church.

How much do we just accept whatever we see on the internet?

As believers, do we listen critically to the sermons being preached on Sundays?

When a new-age thinker is being interviewed on TV, do we nod and say, “well that kind of makes sense” or do we take the world’s wisdom and test it against Scripture?

When media can circulate so quickly and be completely inaccurate, critical analysis is critically important (especially of truth claims — even simple ones like the facebook meme above).

Are we thinking about what we believe any more?

Just a thought.

What other false information have you seen floating around the internet?

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?

Thoughtfulness is the new Praise Band

Our world has evolved past “church.”

That’s the general idea behind the term “post-Christian.” We used to be a Christianized (i.e. Westernized) culture, but have now grown enlightened enough that we can glean the teachings and leave the “church” behind. We are past “church.”

My wife and I recently had a very interesting conversation about what that brand of atheism/agnosticism looks like in our society today, and what will it look like in the future. More importantly, how will the Church be able to reach those who feel this way about “religion?”

Praise Bands of Old

Turn back the clock a few decades and the scene in any given church would be relatively rigid. Hymns. Pews. Scripted orders of service. Pastoral prayer. Stand. Sit. Stand. Sit. Stand. Kneel. Stand. Sit.

Enter the Praise Band. Songs that sound like those that you’d hear on the radio. Preaching outside (gasp!) the pulpit. The New International Version upending the iron grip of the KJV and RSV. Church started to become notably more “relevant” and the seeker-friendly movement was born.

Music was the catalyst that re-invigorated people’s commitments to their faith.

Thoughtfulness the new Praise Band

The biggest mistake we could make is to assume that a “post-Christian” society is the same as a “disinterested-in-Christianity” society. On the contrary, there are MANY folks out there that are highly interested in having conversations about issues of faith.

But they desire to have conversation (you know, with talking and listening), and they want to be able to ask questions of the Bible that are not met with “well, you just have to have faith.”

In short, those that have cast off “religion” have often cast off what they see as “empty,” or “mindless,” or “blind” religion. The way we can re-engage these very thoughtful nay-sayers is to be thoughtful about what we believe.

Return to doctrine.

Return to theological discussions.

Return from the land of spiritual lethargy and wrestle with why you believe what we do.

Return from the land of letting the Pastor interpret for you.

The churches that reach the vast numbers of unbelievers in the coming years will be the churches that encourage members to be thoughtful in what they believe and engage in the tough conversations.

Growing churches will be thoughtful churches.

What is your experience with thoughtfulness in religion?

Sinking your boat is not catching fish!

Sunken Row Boat

I’m not a fisherman. But I don’t think that scuttling the boat you’re in counts as a legitimate fish-catching strategy.

Jesus calls his disciples “Fishers of Men.” One of the most important ideas in fishing is that of bringing the fish up out of their world and into one distinctly different. The last century has been defined by Christians sitting in their metaphorical boat pouring water into it, trying to “make it attractive” for all the “fish” they’re hoping to catch.

But here’s the thing: If you scuttle the boat, you didn’t catch the fish — they caught you!

CHANGING TIMES

The Church at large is facing challenges. These aren’t new challenges, they just look new. As we move forward, we must figure out how to be relational and relevant to the world around us, without sinking the boat. I think the key here is the difference between modifying practice and modifying theology.

To change the instrumentation we use in worship is to modify practice. Changing the look and feel of our worship service is changing practice. Changing the methods by which you communicate, or collect offering, or dress for church are all cultural. WHY? Because musical style, communication media and fashion norms are all culturally bound and change with culture.

To change what we believe the Bible to be (i.e. to renounce it as God’s word) is theological. To deny the deity of Christ and make him simply a great moral (read: only human) teacher is to change our theology. These types of changes give more “wiggle room” to those we hope to reach, but it ceases to pull anyone up out of their worldview and into new life. It fails to fish. Softening our theology to reach unbelievers is essentially scuttling our boat and calling the presence of more “fish” around us a successful fishing endeavor.

SHORT DOES NOT MEAN CONCISE

We live in a culture of soundbites. You have 140 Characters to get your point across. Therefore, we must be careful about the message we are sending out. Just because it is short doesn’t make it concise. Concise implies brevity with a successful communication of ideas.

Christian communicators in this century have to take more care to use Lexical Finesse. We must give thought to exactly what it is we mean to say, and then say it well.

The church is facing many, many challenges in its future; we must rise to the occasion to fish for men, rather than scuttling the ship and coming to rest where the fish already are.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the church?

Wounds from a friend can be trusted

Wounds from a friend can be trusted.
But an enemy multiplies kisses.
-Proverbs 27:6

So often we want to surround ourselves with “yes men.” We consider a friend someone who will support us, or be proud of us no matter what. Somehow “loving” one another has become synonymous with “eternally agreeing with (or at least not disagreeing with) one another.” We hear this type of thinking all the time, especially from more progressive folks in the church. “God is love. Why would I say something to someone that would offend them? That’s not very loving.” Or we’ll hear, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Jesus did come to preach God’s love. But he was plenty blunt about sin, too. He delivered “woes” to those who were religiously pious but spiritually dead. He talked about living for God. Jesus defined love in what he taught. And the picture that he painted was one where love is a verb, not a mushy-gushy feeling “inside our hearts” for one another.

His Church is here to spur one another to holiness as the primary vehicle to love. We are to be a community (not a collection of individuals) who grow more like Christ and help one another do the same. The most loving thing you can do for someone, sometimes, is to call them out on their junk.

WOUNDS FROM A FRIEND CAN BE TRUSTED

Sometimes, as a friend, you need to tell your friend when they are out of line. If you are working with a neighbor in math class classmate going astray, the loving thing is to look out for their best interest and correct them, not let them do it their way. Those assignments are going to be graded! The loving thing, when you see a friend in an unhealthy relationship is to share your concerns in love, because you don’t want them to be hurt. When a friend is texting and driving, the loving thing is to do or say what you can to remove them from harm’s way and get their eyes on the road.

The key is that these have to come from a friend. It has to be an “I’m concerned for you” conversation, not a “Be better, like me” conversation. I believe this is the key to Christian confrontation. Another thought: to judge a person’s behavior as sinful or not in line with the Bible is not the same as judging the eternal destination of their soul based on that behavior. As long as the prior is done with an acknowledgement that I also behave in all sorts of ways that are inconsistent with the Bible, we’re good. It’s when we say, “you need to fix the sin in your life,” and fail to acknowledge the sin in ours that we run into trouble.

The Bible is the most honest book ever written. It is going to present views that we find hard to swallow. “Love” is not being silent when we see someone straying into a harmful situation, but lovingly expressing concern for them. Being honest. It might hurt, but a wound from a friend can be trusted.

AN ENEMY MULTIPLIES KISSES

History would tell us that we when we surround ourselves with people that agree with us, we set ourselves up for failure. We need people to remind us when we are drifting into incorrect thinking and action. This goes for behavior but also things like worldview and theology. I could metaphorically adorn you with “kisses” and tell you that your ideas are all great, but a survey of most people’s High School careers would suggest that doesn’t lead anywhere good.

If all I hear from someone is positive, I don’t trust their opinion for fear they are just puffing me up.

If I get criticism when it’s deserved, it makes me think, makes me better, and builds trust with that person.

Don’t surround yourself with “yes men.”

Where do you find it tough to “speak the truth in love?”

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.