Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spiderman, Batman and Jesus?

I must admit that I have not been a huge connoisseur of comic books or superhero stories.  More recently, however, I have begun to really enjoy the epic stories of superhero tales.  Movies like the latest Dark Knight series, Spiderman, Iron Man, and the like, have really been good.  And by good I mean more than just entertaining.  They have been thought provoking, asking questions about evil and our attempts to combat it. 

Certainly, I am not expert on superhero stories, but my most recent outing to the theaters to see the new Spiderman movie has caused me to reflect on these types of stories and make a few observations.  For those of you more informed in superhero lore, I'd love to hear your opinion about the observations I am here making.    

Observation #1:
There is a danger in unbridled hope in science and technology to fix humanity.  The power of science and technology to improve humanity and make our lives better and stronger is matched only by its ability to enslave us or turn us into something worse than we were before.   

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is Mitt Romney the Messiah?

It is election time here in America. Election time is a fascinating, if not an extremely annoying, time to be alive. The hype is made even greater because the highest office in the land is up for grabs. So much power hangs in the balance.

The Republicans are shouting at the top of their lungs. Their message is that our current President, Barrak Obama, has failed miserably in his leadership of the country. Obama, so they say, has failed to use the power of the Office of the President to its fullest extent. The President has failed to properly use the power of the office to fix the economy. He has failed to use his power correctly to work for peace and stability and our American interests in the Middle East. Former Governor Mitt Romney charges Mr. Obama with simply not knowing how to fix the country’s problems. The office of the President is a powerful office, and President Obama has failed to wield its power effectively. So the Republican story goes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Empire Strikes Back: Segregation and the Lord's Prayer

There is something transformative and subversive about the Lord’s Prayer. Subversive in that it challenges our notions about the way the world is supposed to work, about our notions of how we are to live our lives in this world. To pray for God’s Kingdom to come, and then to ask to participate in bringing that Kingdom, is treason in the existing kingdom. To pledge allegiance to a King that is not the current king (or President, Prime Minister, or Dictator) will often get you killed. To seek to reorder the way things are structured will, at the very least, get you yelled at. (Just try to change something in the church!)

The Lord’s Prayer, with its petitions for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done, with its requests for equity, faithfulness, justice, love, and hope, with its urging for debts and transgressions to be forgiven massively challenges the systems and structures that guide our society. As we’ve realized, these petitions and requests aren’t just for God to do something, but they are for God to use us in helping God. As Christians, we are called to be God’s hands and feet in our culture and world so that debts and sins might be forgiven, that there might be equity, faithfulness, justice, love, and hope. This call that Christ makes upon our lives is a dangerous one. It amounts to treason against the powers and principalities, the systems and structures that have so unfairly ordered our world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Monopoly and the Kingdom of God: Forgive Us Our Debts…

When I was growing up, my sisters and I would often play Monopoly. As a general rule, our family is a family that likes to play board and card games. And we are competitive about it too. Being the youngest of three and the only boy, I was eager to assert my own independence from my sisters. As my sisters counted off the spaces they were to travel on their turn, I would wait anxiously for them to land on one of my rental properties. Like a cat ready to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse, I was ready to yell “rent!” at the top of my lungs. Because I was young and bad at counting (let’s face it, I’m still bad at counting), I would often yell rent before my sisters had finished moving their game piece.

I did this so often, and my sisters got so annoyed by it, that they began to fine me every time I called rent for a property I did not own. This, of course, is not in the official rules of the game. No amount of reasoning or arguing would keep my sisters from fining me. I suppose a simple fix for the problem would have been to stop yelling rent before I was absolutely certain a player had landed on my space. I would try, but my eagerness to win the game trumped any self-control I might have had as an eight-year-old. As you might be able to imagine, the inability to control myself coupled with my sisters’ dogged sense of justice led me to have some serious cash flow problem. Not long into the game, I was unable to meet my obligations and, thus, needed to mortgage properties and take loans from my sisters. My overzealous attempts to take control of the game for myself led to debt and an ultimate early exit from the game.

Friday, September 21, 2012

You Can't Be a Christian Without Giving (We aren't talking just money)...Or at Least It's Really Hard. More Thoughts on the Lord's Prayer

Every time I get discontent with something I have or own I have to pray the Lord's Prayer. Specifically, I have to repeat to myself, over and over, this one line, "and give us this day our daily bread."

I think to myself,

"My computer is really old. It's slow and lame and out of date. It freezes all the time. I wish I had a new computer... Sigh. 'And give us this day our daily bread.'"

"My house is small. The floors creak when I walk down the hall or to the bathroom. The appliances are old and out of date. The lawn is full of weeds. I wish I had a newer house that was bigger and less squeaky. I wish I had a new lawn full of grass.... Sigh. 'And give us this day our daily bread.'"

"Man, that new iPhone looks really sweet. My current phone isn't all that old. It works just fine. It does all that I need it to do. But man, I wish I had that new iPhone... Sigh. “And give us this day our daily bread.'"

Most of the time it’s really hard to view all of the things we have and own as gifts. But that's in fact what they are. Even if you've worked really hard, even if you've saved all your money, even if you've sacrificed and sacrificed, everything you have is a gift from God.

"And give us this day our daily bread."

To be Christian is to believe that our good Father in heaven provides us with all that we need. I realize that this can be extremely hard to grasp in those circumstances of life where our needs don't seem to be met.

But for us, here in America, our needs have been met. We are, and have been, the not so gracious receivers of God's good gifts. This prayer calls us and challenges us to believe this and to believe that these good gifts we have are enough. To pray this prayer is to be content in what God has given us.

As we've said from the beginning of our journey praying the Lord's Prayer, this Prayer isn't just about what God wants to do in us or wants us to realize or believe, it's about what God wants us to do. Yes, we are receivers of God's good gifts, of the daily bread which sustains us from day to day, but now we are also givers.

To be Christian never stops with receiving. It always moves toward giving. The end goal, for us as those who have received, is to give as Christ has given.

Praying "and give us this day our daily bread" only hoping to be taken care of or to learn to be content with what we have falls short. There is one little word in this phrase that refocuses the whole thing – the word "us". "Us" is plural. To pray "give us" is to include a hope for all those who don't have. It is a prayer that hopes and believes that God will provide for the needs of all those, everywhere, who are starving and hungry.

But it's also a call for us to answer that prayer. As receivers, we are now called to be givers. God has called us to be his sons and daughters, apprentice sons and daughters. God is the giver of all things great and small. As we pray this Prayer, we are learning what it means to be like our great gift giving Father. So, now we must go praying this Prayer, learning to see where there is no bread, and to be givers like our Father in heaven.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Give Us This Day Our Daily Super Mario Brothers...

Not too long ago I was enjoying a day off at home when my son, Nate, approached me to tell me a secret.  The secrets he tells his mother and I are not actually secrets.  Nate thinks he is being sly, but in reality, we know exactly what he wants – to play Super Mario Brothers Wii.  He really enjoys this game and so do I for that matter, but if we let it up to him, he would be playing Mario for seven hours each day of the week. 

On this particular day, at this particular moment, we had already played more Mario than our brains should be exposed to.  So, as I have done so many times before, I responded that we were not going to play Mario anymore that day.  The reaction my response elicited from Nate was similar to professional mourners.  Deep wails of pain and agony rang through the house.  Nate can wail with the best of them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Not this...But this

Knowing what it means to pray the “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” part of the Lord’s Prayer can be tricky. We don’t often know or realize what exactly the Kingdom of God is or what exactly it looks like to do the will of God. It is really easy to see, however, that our world and the kingdoms of the world are not as they should be. So, perhaps some visual aids might help. I had prepared fuller explanation of what I think it means to pray this prayer (you can read it here), but it is a little long. Pictures, on the other hand, are worth a thousand words.

The question of the day is, What does the Kingdom of God look like?

It doesn’t look like this…

It does look like this…

Not this...

But this...

Not this...

But this...

Not this...

But this...

You get the idea. The world, which was created good and perfect, is not that way anymore. It’s a broken, hurting, violent, and sad place. Jesus came to undo all of the brokenness. He came to bring the peace and wholeness of heaven back to earth. God’s Kingdom is here, but it’s not yet fully here.

Praying the Lord’s Prayer isn’t just a prayer that we pray to move God to action. God has been and is still moving. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is about our participation with what God is doing. As we realize that we are now sons and daughters, apprentice children of the God who created, sustains and is now restoring the universe, we are moved to see what God is doing and join in the work. To pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a petition on our part to ask God to help us participate in the salvation God is bringing.

Learning to See: Your Kingdom Come...

Last week, as we looked at the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, we mentioned three things.  First, we mentioned that we are not God.  We can only pray this Prayer when we realize that we are not ultimately in control and cannot bring about our own salvation.  Second, we mentioned that God has drawn us into a parent-child relationship with himself.  We are now not orphans, but children of God.  Finally, as children, we are apprentices who are to be about learning how to become like our Father.  Now, onto the next phrase, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  

The World Isn't as it Should Be:
It doesn't take much imagination to realize that the world isn't in the kind of shape that anybody wants it to be in.  You don't have to be a Christian to know that this blue sphere of gas, water and dirt is out of shape.  One only has to watch the news to see and hear tragic stories of death, pain, injustice, and suffering.  Everything, everybody, and every nation on this globe has problems.  If we are honest, and if we are serious about praying this Prayer, we must realize that we can't fix these problems. 
Realizing that the world is not as anyone would have it be does not leave us without hope.  Deep in Israel's consciousness is the understanding that, even though they were God's people, things were not right.  Yet, they dared to hope that one day, in a very real way, God would be King in Jerusalem. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

God Didn’t Just Save You from Hell: The Lord’s Prayer –Our Father…

This week is the second week of our series looking at the Lord's Prayer.  Last week we had a short introduction to the Prayer and why we should and need to study and pray this Prayer.  We said that we will be using the Lord's Prayer as a filter and a lens through which to pray and to see the world.  I've put together a prayer guide that will lead us in praying the Lord's Prayer in a different way each day.  It's available here. 

The first phrase in the Lord's Prayer is, "Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name."  A lot is caught up in this little phrase.  One of the things that I think has to be considered before even beginning to pray the Lord's Prayers, is that God is God and we are not. To find oneself truly believing and praying this Prayer one must first come to grips with the fact that he or she is not able to be their own savior.  In all ways we must realize that we are small, finite, weak and rather ignorant about ourselves and the world around us.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Lord’s Prayer and Works of Mercy

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-14) has been, since my college days, an almost constant companion.  As I have prayed it, it has challenged me, guided me, and comforted me.  It has provided structure and given direction for prayer times both private and corporate.  So, the youth group which I lead will be taking the next few weeks to study and pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  In our group times, we will take the Prayer phrase by phrase, seeking to understand just what Jesus was saying and doing when he taught his disciples to pray those words.  Individually, we will be challenged to pray the Lord’s Prayer in a different way each day of the week.  For instance, one day we will pray, “And give us our daily bread….” Our prayers offered that day will center on being thankful for what we do have while seeking to be content with that and seeking not to worry about what we don’t have.  It’s my hope that by praying and studying the Lord ’s Prayer that we might actually begin to believe it and mean what we pray, that we might truly believe that God is our Father, that we might truly want to do God’s will, and that we might participate in helping to bring God’s Kingdom here. 

So, for the next few weeks, I’ll try to post here the thoughts and insights we learn from praying and studying the Lord’s Prayer.  I’ll also post, when it is finished, the prayer guide we will be using for the Lord’s Prayer.  Perhaps you will pray along with us.  My guides for this journey have and will be N.T. Wright’s book The Lord and His Prayer, as well as John Wesley, especially his sermon Upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount: Discourse 6 (Sermon #26).  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jesus Doesn't Want You To Be A Better Dad...

A few months ago, Jonathan Phillips, a Mission Corp Missionary with the Church of Nazarene came to visit our church.  Jonathan is a friend of mine, a former coworker, and classmate at Nazarene Theological Seminary.  He's been serving in Romania for the past few years on a volunteer basis.  On one Sunday, he shared with our church a simple story of friendship and discipleship.  What Jonathan is doing in Romania isn't anything profound or groundbreaking, but simple, time consuming, and apparently, very effective.  

Jonathan began his talk by reading one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament, the first part of Deuteronomy 6.  The passage itself calls Israel, God's chosen and rescued people, to remember all of what God has done for them and all of the commands that God has given them.  They aren't just to remember these things; they are to talk about them day and night, to write them on their door posts, and to tell these stories to their children at bedtime.  All of this remembering and storytelling is so that Israel could become and remain the people God had called them to be.  Israel cannot become what God wants it to become apart from the constant telling and retelling of these stories.    

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

That Pretty Much Sums it Up…

I’ve been reading The Power of the Powerless, a collection of sermons written by German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, as a part of my daily devotions.  The sixth sermon, The Blessedness of the Peacemakers, is taken from Matthew 5:9 and hit me square in the face.  I’ve copied a rather lengthy quote from the sermon, which I believe, stands well on its own.  It’ll be worth your time to read.  I won’t make any comment except for one thing: I believe Moltmann’s words sum up rather nicely what I believe about what our call is as Christians in a world filled with hate and violence.  He says it far better than I ever could. 
”‘You are the children of your father in heaven.’  This reminder calls us out of the conflict.  Anyone who allows himself to be drawn into conflict, or carries on a conflict, is subject to the law of retaliation.  There is no other way of preserving an equilibrium in the struggle: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth –arm, rearm –rearm, arm.  But anyone who becomes involved in the law of retaliation towards his enemy is drawn into a vicious circle from which he can never escape.  He will become his enemy’s enemy, and a terror to the one who terrifies him.  He threatens what threatens him, and hates what hates him.  He increasingly takes his coloring from his enemy.  If evil is requited by evil, then the one evil takes its bearing from the other, and that is fatal.  We are only liberated from vicious circles like this if we cease to take or bearings from our enemy, and when another person is more important to us.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My Top 8 Books: 2011

Well, January 2012 is almost over.  I fully intended to write and finish a list of the best books I’ve read in the year 2011, by the end of 2011.  But it didn’t happen.  I went through my shelves, compiled a list and began to write.  Then…  No excuses, I just didn’t finish it before the New Year.  So, here’s a list of 8 of the best books I’ve read in the past year.  I haven’t attempted to provide a detailed review of each book, but I have said just a wee little bit about each one in hopes you might be interested enough to pick one of them up.