The Difference Between The Revolutionary and the Cynic

The revolutionary and the cynic have only one thing in common. Both point out what is wrong. Then there are their differences…

The cynic thrives in broken systems. The revolutionary challenges them.

The cynic refuses to envision a better future. The revolutionary pursues it.

The cynic is talk. The revolutionary is action.

The cynic only looks for what is wrong. The revolutionary looks past what is wrong to what can be.

The cynic wants to silence the revolutionary. The revolutionary wants to silence the cynic.

Christianity is a revolutionary faith…resurrection is a call to revolution. It is a call to new life. Be revolutionary. Don’t settle for just pointing out what is wrong…even fools can spot that. It takes wisdom to take what is wrong and make it right.

Skipping Good Friday

Easter Sunday is just around the corner. It is the time of year Christians around the world focus on Jesus’ resurrection. There is a real part inside us that would just like to skip right over Good Friday and land on Easter Sunday, kind of like watching The Passion of the Christ and using the scene forward button to skip half the movie…we just can’t take it. It would be like reading The Old Man and the Sea and taking out everything that had to do with fish. The story wouldn’t ever become a classic if it left out the tension. It would just be a story about a tired old man’s conversation with a kid that skipped right to a really tired old man talking having a second conversation with a kid.

Sometimes we would rather skip the blood and shame Jesus experienced…and that is understandable. It is just too much for us. Fortunately for God, it was enough. It is easy to feel that way about the Jesus story because the cross is not a comfortable place to hang out. I would rather see Roman soldiers running afraid of the angels than I would see them put nails in the hands of my Savior. I would rather hear a victory speech than words of seeming defeat. I would rather smile and laugh than cry. It is how we are wired…to avoid pain and seek pleasure. The cross hits one of those and the empty tomb the other and so we avoid the cross and seek out the empty tomb.

And we do get the victory…but first we get death. We get the wait. The tension. The questions of his disciples…some of whom had gone back to fishing…will he stay dead or will he rise just like he said he would? You can’t have Easter Sunday until you go through Good Friday.

On a side note, here is a great summary of the Christian imagery in the Old Man and the Sea

Abraham’s Belief in the Resurrection…A Necessary Inference.

Before I get started, this post really has nothing to do with the concept of necessary inference or its adequacy or use in biblical interpretation. What I do know is that Abraham had been told two things by God:

  1. Your son Isaac is the son of the promise. You will have a great number of descendants through his lineage.
  2. Kill your son

Abraham believed God. Abraham wanted to obey God’s commands and yet these two things seem contradictory. Abraham reconciled those two things by reasoning that God could raise the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). That would be courageous enough if Abraham had 1000 pages of scripture at his disposal to inform his view on that. What makes this all the more remarkable is that all Abraham had to base this on were his personal conversations with God. Nothing more. Nothing less. Based on that alone he came to the conclusion that Isaac could be both the lineage of his descendants but could die before having his first child by God raising him back to life!

What is clear is that Abraham had a relationship with God that was strong and he knew God was faithful. His belief in God and God’s faithfulness was so strong that he was all in. Today we have 1000 pages of witness about God, Christ, salvation and all the rest…would we be as faithful as Abraham given all we know about God today?

No New Ideas

How is it that all of a sudden old is new? All you have to do is look at the movies that came out in the last couple of years and the ones currently advertised to see that nostalgia is big. We have seen every possible concept from the 80’s made into a movie except for the flowbee and the chia pet. While I won’t cross my fingers on those being made into a movie it is interesting that remakes, sequels, or comic book characters who have been waiting to be made into a movie for decades finally get their chance. Solomon said it best when he said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Are there any decent new ideas out there? What new concept being written in the last five years will be remade twenty years from now?

We live in a world that is constantly searching for the next new thing but often the most powerful and significant things are old things that have been around since the beginning. The truth is many of the best ideas are old ideas. The best storylines have been told for millenia. What makes a good story hasn’t really changed either. You have some guy going along doing his thing when some sort of tragedy hits. The tension builds. You wonder how it could ever get resolved. Things seem bleak, even impossible. Then through some twist of fate or providence things work out and the tension gets resolved. Life is better than ever and every winds up living happily ever after. It doesn’t matter if it is Transformers, the Terminator, or the Gospel…that’s how good stories are supposed to go.

The importance of narrative/story has grown. We realize that good stories aren’t just in books and don’t just happen to someone else. We are in the middle of a story as well. Our lives are narrative. You see this reflected in everything from psychotherapy to biblical theology. As Christians we know that story is God’s story and it gives us identity and direction. While that is not a new idea, it is a powerful idea. What is more, God is in the business of taking old things and making them new. I like that because we are all growing old and that our lives are on a march toward the grave but God shed new light on that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God took and old story and gave it a new twist and out of the tension of sin and death came new life, not just for Jesus but for all who believe. While that story is now 2000 years old it is lived out in our lives in new ways each and every day. Praise God for that!

Gospel of John 20 – The Empty Tomb

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

From bad to worse. First he had been crucified and now it seems his tomb had been desecrated! “They have taken the Lord…we don’t know where they put him!”

Dead men don’t move themselves. Dead men don’t remove their burial clothes. Dead men don’t leave tombs. But alive men do!

Mary went to get Peter and John. The last time Mary was with John was at the foot of the cross and now she sends him running to the tomb only to him there was no mistaking what happened to the body. “They” had nothing to do with it. Jesus was alive! Don’t you wonder if John’s mind went back to the last time he saw grave clothes off a formerly dead person was back in Bethany when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the others, John didn’t have to first see the risen Lord for the puzzle pieces to fall into place. He knew then and there that Jesus was alive. When Jesus said that if he was lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32) he was not speaking only of his crucifixion, which is the immediate parallel we draw when we hear the language of being lifted up. The cross is not very attractive. But Jesus was speaking simultaneously of being lifted up from death and the grave. The resurrection is the drawing force of Christ because in being raised from the dead he eliminated any and all obstacles that could keep mankind from having the same new kind of life,

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-18

The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

Gulfcoast Getaway 2010 in the Books

Every year I look forward to going to Gulfcoast Getaway, a college rally in Panama City, FL. This year didn’t let me down. I had never heard Earl Lavender speak before. You can tell everything he said came from a richness of study and reflection over years of teaching, preaching, and living Christianly. Randy Harris didn’t disappoint and I look forward to listening to the messages again on CD. The theme this year was On Earth as it is in Heaven with the questions “When?” When will this happen? The answer we heard repeatedly was “NOW!” We don’t have to wait “to get to heaven” to live this out. I want to mention several joys and several concerns for what is ahead for Christianity.

Joys:

  • Our young people are zealous and will make a difference for others.
  • Church is moving from insulated assembling to living missionally
  • Worship is improving. I know that is subjective and God can be just as displeased by energetic vain worship as he can by lifeless vain worship. I say worship is improving because our young people want a celebration and that is what worship should be about.
  • There is a sense of empowerment among our young adults. This is seen in several things: 1) They aren’t afraid to ask tough questions or assess traditions. 2) They really believe they can make a difference for others and so they aren’t afraid to put their hand to the plow of mission if that is what they think God wants them to do.
  • We are going to see a lot more expression of the full range of emotions in our worship. Thank you to our college students for reminding us that God made us to experience a full range of emotions and not to be afraid to bring our whole selves before his throne.

Concerns:
Every single generation has its own set of concerns so I am not just picking on anyone here. Here are a couple of concerns that it is at least important to be aware of so that we can address if necessary. Good leaders (not that I am claiming to be one) know how to identify and address concerns early on before they become major. So that is why I point these out. Feel free to disagree, agree or ask questions in the comment section:

  • Need to understand the place of scripture in the Christian life – College age people seem like they want authority in their lives to help them have a solid foundation. So they are looking to God for answers through studying scripture. It is important that we teach them the unique nature of scripture and its place in our lives. It is also important we teach them how to read scripture on their own and make application for themselves.
  • Need for spiritual depth – Mark 4:5-6 says, “5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” Zeal is often the product of rocky soil. I am so excited about how zealous our young people are but I fear that some of it will be short lived. I am not saying it will be, just that I fear it will be. What I see in our young people is so refreshing and real that I just know Satan will do whatever he can to get it off track. One way he does that is by slowly tossing pebbles into the soil of people’s lives. In and of themselves they don’t seem like much and don’t seem like that would hinder us but slowly they pile and leave no room for roots to grow deep. It is important that we help our young people grow deep and that their zeal drives them further and further into the soil so that they can find nutrients when water is lacking.
  • An anything goes mentality in regard to doctrine – Because past generations held so tightly to traditions as if they were law there has been somewhat a rejection of tradition but what can easily get blurred is where the line between tradition and scriptural doctrine is drawn.
  • An anything goes mentality in regard to morality – More generalizations and things to be aware of and not a judgment on each and every one of our young people. Our young people are bombarded with a constant message that what you do really doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t affect anyone but yourself. Here is the key in my opinion. If we stay with the old message that church is about 1 hour a week and God’s mission is solely in heaven and getting you there they will be ill prepared to meet the challenges they will face. But if they are taught about discipleship, holiness, and their purpose in the kingdom of God (rather than the kingdom of this world) then they will be ready to uphold a Christ-like morality in their personal and private lives.
  • A rush to put immediate ministry opportunities ahead of sharpening and equipping – Several of our Christian college graduate departments set up booths at this event. But the majority of booths at Gulfcoast Getaway are for missions and intern opportunities. The Christian graduate education booths get very little traffic as people are far more interested in doing something immediately than they are being trained to be more informed and effective in ministry for the rest of their lives. I love our young people and admire their willingness to jump right in to serve others and make a difference but we cannot diminish the value and importance of being equipped either formally or informally. We need more campus ministers talking with students interested in ministry to look at our graduate programs. If we are not careful we will end up with a generation of spiritual snackers, jumping from one spiritual sugar rush to the next rather than people who know how to find spiritual depth and are willing to be equipped and tooled for effective ministry.

Again, all of these are generalizations. I love our young people and I pray that God would equip them to engage this world with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, him crucified and the new birth that comes through his resurrection and conquering of sin and death.

Attractional or Distractional – Part 2

The Attractive Draw of the Cross:
When I watched the crucifixion seen in the Passion of the Christ I had to force myself to keep my eyes glued to the screen. I didn’t want to see all the blood and violence but I figured if Christ endured it, I can at least witness it. On the surface there is something repulsive about the cross. But when Paul talked about the one thing he wanted to preach on over and over again it was Christ crucified. On the surface that doesn’t sound like a very attractive message. It is messy, bloody, andgorey. Then you have Jesus who talked about what would draw all men to himself. It wasn’t plush auditoriums, hip music, or motivational speeches. Jesus himself said if he is lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32), speaking of the cross.

What makes the cross attractive in spite of everything inside of us that wants to look away? It is the same answer to the question, Why did Jesus constantly refer to his crucifixion as his glorification, which sounds quite the opposite of what we would think of the shameful cross. Because on the cross and later his exaltation from the grave and back to his throne in heaven, Jesus was demonstrating the power of God over sin and death and the ultimate objective of God for all to come to repentance and live in relationship with him forever.

The irony of the cross is it attracts those who thought dying was the only option. Through the power of the cross the door is opened to newness of life. Let us never shy away from the true and powerful message of Christ and let it attract who it will attract and drive away who it will drive away. Christ himself experienced both reactions when he lived among us, should we expect any different? He didn’t sugar coat, water down, or hold back the difficult parts. And still, against every grain of our upside down thinking on what would be attractive, his message has changed the world.

One last disclaimer – I don’t mean to make straw men out of energetic worship or anything else. I am just saying when we keep the main thing the main thing then we will draw who we will draw to something honest, worthwhile, whole, and salvific. That doesn’t mean all new methods are shallow or that all emotion is distracting. I hope I have made that clear enough in the last two posts.

Attractional or Distractional – Part 1

We hear a lot about attractional models of worship, evangelism, and all the rest “doing church.” I wonder at what point attractional becomes distractional.

Moving Away from Worship as Penance:
I don’t want you to mishear me here. I am not trying to say the duller and more irrelevant our worship services are the more pleasing they are to God. In my childhood I attended one church that almost made worship seem like a penance. If you could endure all the things that went on any given Sunday and still come back week after week then you paid your penance and God must be pleased with such a selfless endurance. That is clearly not what God wants! God wants spirit and truth AND wants us to be joyful, enthusiastic and energetic. Those two are not mutually exclusive! At the same time we can get so caught up in the form that what we intended to use to attract people becomes a distraction.

I see this happening in several ways although I am sure there are more…

1 – Worship Forms – already mentioned above and elaborated on below

2 – The Misguided “If we only…” way of thinking:
There is a strong tendency to start thinking in “If only’s” and let our dissatisfaction become a distraction from the real goal of our lives and worship – to give God honor and glory right here and now. Often our desire to make things better and improve our worship and worship experience (which is a worthy goal) can rob us of the joy of encountering God through worship in the present. In other words, longing for something new and improved can make our worship in the old way of doing things unsatisfying rather than realizing that God is just as pleased even if it is not our particular way of doing things, song selection, tempo, etc. Imagine if Moses had said, Sinai is cool and all and I know I can meet God there but first let’s put together some real rocking praise down here in order to make the experience something really special. Again, I am not knocking trying to improve what we do but I do fear that the process of improving our worship can become a real distraction if we miss the point and audience of our worship. Does God find this attractive? is more relevant than does average non-Christian Joe on the street find this attractive?.

3 – Winning Converts to Something Other Than Christ
One question we must continually ask ourselves is, “What are we winning people to?” Are we winning them to hype and energy with no substance? Are we winning them with money giveaways? Are we winning people to an attractive and easy gospel, health and wealth, forgiveness without true repentance Gospel? Or are we winning them to the message of Christ that includes tough lessons like self-sacrifice, repentance, and dying to self as well as joyful messages like forgiveness and grace (more on that in a minute).

4 – Emotion as a Coverup for Poor Content:
One of the surest ways to see something is shallow is if it is characterized by a constant barrage of emotion. The quickest way to make up for poor content is one of two extremes. You can either shout a poor sermon to make it sound good or you can cry your way through a poor sermon and hope the heart is pulled by fake tears rather than Gospel. Let’s face it, emotion is appealing to some degree. We want people to be genuine, transparent, real…It attracts. But as with any of these things, in extreme or out of the wrong motives it distracts and detracts from our real purpose. That is the whole point here. Many things are good in and of themselves but when taken to extremes or done out of the wrong motives become a distraction.

More in a bit on what God uses to attract non-believers.

5 – What would you put here?

Gospel of John 12:12-19 – Jesus’ Triumphal Entry

What would cause you to join a crowd? What would motivate you to get out of bed and join a group of people for a particular cause? We have seen people march on Washington over health care but I doubt many of you reading this were there. We have seen million man marches but I doubt many of you reading this were there. What would it take for you to show up at a specific time and place and join a crowd, chant their chants, cheer their cheers, and rally behind a cause?

It almost seems like a showdown as just a few verses earlier the Pharisees put out word to be on the look out for Jesus so they could arrest him (11:57). He doesn’t sneak into Jerusalem. He doesn’t walk into Jerusalem as just one of a whole crowd of religious pilgrims there for Passover. He comes in like a king. The crowds shout Hosanna (which means, “Give salvation now!”) as they hail him as King of Israel (12:13). What draws this crowd with such specific, messianic expectation? John 12:17-18 gives us the answer,

17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.”

In John 12 there is one thing alone that brings these people together. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and now he is coming to Jerusalem at Passover where tens of thousands (Josephus said over a million at times) of expectant Jews came to worship God. The Passover pointed back to their ancestors deliverance from the Egyptians and forward to their future Messianic deliverance. What would you think if in the midst of all this expectation you heard someone had been raised from the dead?

Imagine if you heard that on the news at your house and it turns out the events were unfolding within walking distance from your home and that news crews were on the scene…hearing helicopters flying overhead, would you step out and see what all the hubub was about? If you found out it was true, would you be a part of the crowd and share the excitement of such an event? But here in John 12 it is more than that. The events leading up to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at Passover was crucial to the state of their nation, their hope, and the expectation of countless generations of their ancestors. There is nothing more hopeful and universally appealing than the dead being raised. Jesus was performing these miraculous signs pointing to more amazing things to come. Later in John 12, Jesus makes reference to his own death and resurrection with the result of drawing all men to himself (12:32).

John 12 is also the beginning of Jesus’ glorification through people honoring him in ways they do not even totally understand themselves. It starts with Mary and her anointing Jesus with expensive perfume (12:1-11), continues with the crowd upon his entrance into Jerusalem (12:12-19) and continues with the requests by the Greeks to spend some time with Jesus (12:20). And yet some of his very own people refuse to give him glory or recognize who he is (12:37, 42ff). Unfortunately his ultimate glory will come at the cross and empty tomb, where he will twice be lifted up. One on a cross and again from the dead. When he is lifted up in this manner he will draw all men unto himself (12:32).